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WISCONSIN STATE NEWS BRIEFS: Assembly passes budget without debate

MADISON - In a surprise move, minority Democrats refused to debate the proposed state budget – and majority Republicans approved it this afternoon on a 55-42 vote.

Three Republicans joined all 39 Democrats in voting no – Steve Nass of Whitewater, Steve Kestell of Elkhart Lake, and Howard Marklein of Spring Green. Democrats had proposed over 211 amendments to the two-year, $68-billion dollar spending-and-policy package. After an hour of debate, thought, the amendments did not hit the Assembly floor – and Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha was the Democrats’ only speaker. He told the GOP quote, “Your budget plan will once again double-down on the agenda that has done so much damage to our economy, and put Wisconsin in the economic ditch.” Barca accused Republicans of quote, “putting extremism before logic.”

Wisconsin Democrats in the state Assembly says their decision to not debate the state budget was strategic.  Democrats say the strategy is to focus on the public's understanding of the budget so that the people vote Republican lawmakers out of office next election.  GOP Majority Leader Scott Suder of Abbostford said Democrats quote, “decided to retreat and go home.” Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington said the minority party did a dis-service to its constituents. He said he would have enjoyed quote, “the opportunity to defend our budget.”

The budget includes a $650-million income tax cut – a limited expansion of private school choice statewide – and a refusal to take new federal Medicaid funds and place those just above the poverty line into the Obama health exchanges. The budget also allows for the private sale of state buildings. There’s a two-year freeze on UW tuition, and police authority to collect DNA from those not convicted of felonies. Vos said it’s a budget that quote, “Wisconsin is proud of.” Earlier today, Republicans, in negotiations amongst themselves, removed restrictions on trespassers at the Gogebic Taconite mining site, and new provisions to benefit school choice students in the Racine area. The budget now goes to the state Senate tomorrow. 

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources say they are looking at starting a program to gather voluntary data of beach and lake conditions across Wisconsin. It's one of many solutions the department is looking at, due to budget cuts. Sequestrations to the federal EPA budget forced the department to get less-than-usual funding to test the water conditions of 192 beaches across the state. The coordinator for Great Lakes quality assurance says there is an existing volunteer program through the Alliance of the Great Lakes called "Adopt a Beach", where volunteers collect litter and look for potential contamination sources at the beach. They also do water testing, but not the same one used by the department - meaning the results can't be used for their data.

Two bear attacks this spring is prompting a warning and safety tips from local officials. Mike Zeckmeister with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says the last the two attacks are a reminder that black bears are a powerful animal and should be respected. Last month, a man got between his dog and a bear in Marinette County. Zeckmeister says it might be a tough pill to swallow, but pet owners should never step in front of their pet and a bear. He also recommends making loud noises and keeping a good distance from any advancing bear. In a separate incident in Burnett County on Monday night, a man was mauled by a bear attracted to a chicken dinner. The victim is recovering at a Twin Cities hospital, listed in stable condition. Zeckmeister says in this case, the bear appeared to have no fear towards humans - making it a very dangerous situation. 

We don’t know yet who will pay for a proposed new indoor sports-and-concert arena in Milwaukee. But we do know who won’t be paying for it – the group that manages the Delta Center convention hall, the U.S. Cellular Arena, and the Milwaukee Theatre. Franklyn Gimbel, who chairs the Wisconsin Center District, said today that his group does not quote, “have a lot of extra cash either for collaboration for an athletic facility, or building one on our own.” He said it’s been a disappointing year financially for the center’s facilities. The district collects taxes on hotel rooms, car rentals, and food-and-beverage sales. It expects 27-million-dollars this year from those taxes – and it expects to pay $18-million in debt service for its facilities. There’s no deadline for deciding on a new arena to replace the Bradley Center. The National Basketball Association would like a decision sometime. Milwaukee Bucks’ owner Herb Kohl has promised to cover part of the costs. There’s also been talk that the Miller Park sales tax could be extended, after it pays off the bonds for that stadium. State approval would be needed for that, and state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) says he wants nothing to do with it. Vos represents Racine County, where voters recalled former Senator George Petak for his last-minute support in 1995 of the sales tax which built the Brewers’ baseball stadium.

Almost seven-thousand people work in the medical imaging industry in Wisconsin. That makes the Badger State one of the nation’s Top-Five employers in that field. The Medical Imaging-and-Technology Alliance issued a new study today, showing the locations of the seven-largest medical imaging companies in the U.S. The firms make such things as X-ray and MRI equipment. The seven companies in the survey account for three-fourths of the industry’s sales. They include G-E Healthcare, one of Wisconsin’s largest employers. It has imaging equipment facilities in Waukesha and Wauwatosa.