FOX47 NEWS - Final, Secret Budget Negotiations

Jeff Angileri
Jun 18, 2009, 10:22 PM

A committee of Wisconsin lawmakers is working on the final draft of the state budget.

They are trying to reconcile differences between the assembly and senate versions.

It is less than two weeks away from the budget deadline.

Compromises have to be reached before it heads to Governor Doyle's desk for consideration.

Controlling the legislature for the first time in 14 years, democratic lawmakers in the assembly and senate passed very similar budgets this month.

There are no across the board income tax increases, no sales tax increases, no payroll tax increases, we've held the line on property taxes, said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Madison). That's true in both separate versions of the budget.

But they are not identical documents. Changes in the senate version include: no new taxes on oil companies, no special cards allowing illegal immigrants to drive, and requiring car owners get auto-insurance.

It's not that they went this direction and we went that direction, Pocan said. We might have gone down the same path and took a divergence, but I think we'll be able to get through this really soon.

Political watchdog groups say the debates on the capitol floor were merely theatrics. Now, an 8-person committee -- 4 representatives and 4 senators -- will oversee the final revisions.

The frustrating thing is for a very long time the process has been very secretive, said Mike McCabe, executive director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The real negotiating, the real deal-making is done behind closed doors, and the public is completely frozen out.

McCabe says members of the special committee wield tremendous power, essentially drafting the final budget.

And when that version goes to the two houses, they have to be voted on up or down without amendment, he said.

Don't expect a stalemate this time around when it comes to budget negotiations.

With democrats controlling both houses of the state legislature and the governor's office, experts say the compromises will happen quickly.

The may even pass a budget on time this year.

It took lawmakers until October 23rd to pass the last 2-year budget.

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