The Wisconsin Legislature?s session ground to a halt Thursday after a late-night wrap up of several pieces of legislation.
Throughout the 14 months the Legislature considered thousands of bills. Among the topics, a few rose as the hot button issues on Capitol Square.
Gov. Jim Doyle signed the 2007-09 biennium budget into law Oct. 26 after a four-month-long impasse.
Included in the budget was a $1 increase in the cigarette tax, an additional 500 state jobs, an extra $500,000 for the city of Madison and an increase in funding and grants for the University of Wisconsin amounting to $312 million. In total, it increased state spending by $763.3 million dollars, down from the $1.5 billion included in Doyle?s original plan.
Despite the increases, Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, said he is proud the Republicans were able to ?protect the taxpayer.?
?At the end of the day, Republicans got most of what we wanted out of the budget,? said Ryan Murray, spokesperson for Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.
The budget is now in question since the Legislative Fiscal Bureau announced an expected shortfall of $652.3 million Feb. 13. The Legislature will remain in special session until the shortfall is resolved.
Included in the biennium budget was BadgerCare Plus, a plan to provide free or affordable health care to children throughout Wisconsin.
The service will be expanded in January 2009 to include childless adults, which Huebsch, a supporter of the plan, said should make Wisconsin the top state in the country in terms of providing health care.
Healthy Wisconsin, a $15 billion plan that would have provided health care at a reduced cost to small businesses, failed to make it into the budget. It would have drastically raised taxes and made health care the most expensive item in Wisconsin?s government.
?Healthy Wisconsin was the single most radical policy change in the history of Wisconsin,? Murray said.
Senate President Fred Risser, D-Madison, said that Healthy Wisconsin is where the Democrats want health care to eventually go.
?It was a good talking point. It wasn?t perfect, but it was a good start for where we need to go,? Risser said.
Statewide smoking ban
Of legislation that failed to pass, one of the most controversial was the statewide smoking ban. It would have banned smoking in all workplaces, including bars and restaurants.
Wisconsin Tavern Association raised staunch opposition to the bill throughout the process. Risser said he believes the organization?s influence kept the bill from passing.
Carrie Lynch, spokesperson for Russ Decker, D-Weston, said Decker, along with many of his caucus members, would only support the bill had it been phased-in over a few years in order to protect the retirement of small tavern owners.
?It?s not asking too much to let them have a couple of years to decide if they want to stay in the business, if they want to build a patio to accommodate smokers,? Lynch said. ?Basically time to decide if they want to make the investment or just get out of the business forever.?
Huebsch agreed, but Doyle spokesperson Lee Sensenbrenner said the governor didn?t. The proposed compromise was to allow taverns until 2011 to go smoke free.
?We?ll have passed something by 2011 to put the smoking ban in place so he just wanted to get it done now,? Sensenbrenner said.
Great Lakes Compact
Originally signed by eight states and two Canadian provinces in 2005, Wisconsin?s version of the Great Lakes Compact failed to pass the Assembly. The compact prevents states from building a pipeline and selling Great Lakes water to other states.
Huebsch?s main concern with the compact was the one state veto, which allows governors to slow another state?s pumping.
?We are completely at the mercy of any other governor cutting us off, saying ?Wisconsin, you?ve drawn too much water,?? Huebsch said.
Doyle, Huebsch and Decker are all confident the Great Lakes Compact, the statewide smoking ban and a new biennium budget can be passed in the next session, set to begin January 2009.
Risser wants to begin discussions for a type of health care system similar to Healthy Wisconsin, while Huebsch and Fitzgerald want to pass legislation that will create more of a consumer market for health care.
With elections in November one party may gain control of both houses, ending the gridlock and what Rep. Kim Hixson, D-Whitewater, called a ?do-nothing Legislature.?