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Wisconsin Budget Passes Committee

The Legislature's finance committee finally completed its revisions to Gov. Scott Walker's state budget plan after a five-week delay early Friday morning, clearing the way for votes in the full Senate and Assembly.

Republicans who control the panel made a series of final changes to the $70 billion spending plan during a 12 ½-hour marathon session, including cutting $450 million for road projects and reducing taxes for married couples. They punted, at least for now, on two major issues that had led to the impasse: a $500 million financing plan for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena and changes to the prevailing wage law, which sets minimum salaries for construction workers on public projects.

Both of those issues are expected to be debated separately, perhaps next week, but some conservative senators say they won't support the budget if it doesn't have at least a partial repeal of the prevailing wage law. The Assembly is expected to take up the budget on Wednesday or Thursday, but Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald has said he doesn't have the votes to get the budget out of his house.

"It's not a perfect document, but we made it as good as we could," said committee member Rep. Michael Schraa, R-Oshkosh. "We made hard decisions. We made good decisions."

The centerpiece of the Republican's final revisions was a plan to fund road projects. The committee decided to allow $500 million in borrowing initially for road work, with $350 million more to be approved later. That would be $450 million less than what Walker originally called for. The plan would delay $350 million in major highway projects and $100 million in resurfacing and reconstruction projects around the state.

Democrats balked at the plan, offering instead to re-instate tying the gas tax to inflation. They argued that was a more sustainable way to pay for roads, but Walker has said he won't support any gas tax hike.

The new fiscal year began Wednesday, but there is no government shutdown without a new budget in place. Funding simply continues under levels set in the previous budget.

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