State Senate begins budget debate

MADISON (WITI) -- The State Senate began its first day of debate over the state budget Thursday, June 20th. Lawmakers say the debate could go well into the night.

Democrats came into the day with a list of 32 amendments they believe would improve the budget bill. During the session that number grew to more than 50. One by one they have all been defeated.

Democratic leader Chris Larson placed a "welcome mat" outside his office as a message to moderate Republicans that they were welcome to vote with Democrats. Republicans inside the Senate, however, seem comfortable staying on their side of the isle.

"Are we better off today than we were two years ago?" asked Republican Senator Alberta Darling. "In my opinion the answer to that question is overwhelmingly yes."

There were sharp exchanges as the full Senate debated Wisconsin's $68 billion budget plan.

"We're on the far right track. We're on the extreme right track," said Democratic Senator Jennifer Shilling.

Republicans rallied against the latest Democratic Governor, Jim Doyle, arguing that his tax increases are responsible for Wisconsin's sluggish economy.

"That's $269 million that fed into the government, came into the black hole of government and was not invested to create jobs," said Republican Senate President Mike Ellis.

Larson fired back,"'They started it' is an excuse that kids give. It's not what leaders do. That's a horrible defense for this bad budget, 'they started it.'"

Democrats proposed passing a new jobs package, removing non-fiscal policy from the budget and eliminating school voucher expansion from the bill.

"This budget is about values, it's about moving forward," said Larson.

During one speech, the debate was disrupted by a group outraged over another Senate action - the bill that requires trans vaginal ultrasounds prior to abortions.

"It's really frustrating because they're not listening to us," said one protester.

Later into the evening, Democrats spent hours fighting for a Medicaid expansion. The federal government would cover 100 percent of expansion costs for the first three years and 90 percent of costs by 2020.

"Whether or not Scott Walker likes it, Obama care is the law of the land," said Democrat Joh Erpenbach. "It's up to us what we choose to do with that."

The governor's budget rejects the Medicaid expansion instead of tightening income eligibility and sending nearly 90,000 people into federal health insurance exchanges.

"We don't have all these revenues coming to us to play this Santa Claus role. We don't have that here," said Republican Mary Lazich.

"I stand here alive, twice, because I had great health insurance and great preventative care and early detection," responded Democrat Timothy Cullen.

The amendment was eventually tabled.

The debate is expected to continue for several hours with a possible vote Friday morning.