Budget debate heating up before propsals even released

Published On: Feb 05 2013 10:32:31 PM CST   Updated On: Feb 05 2013 10:52:22 PM CST
LA CROSSE, Wis. -

The debate is already heating up over Wisconsin's next state budget even before Governor Scott Walker releases his proposals.

State Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), the new Senate Minority Leader, joined area Democratic lawmakers for a town hall meeting Tuesday night in La Crosse.

Democrats do not have enough votes to stop Republicans from passing most measures in Madison the coming two years. However, they're promising to make sure the concerns of constituents are heard during the upcoming budget debate.

Staet Sen. Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) says many people remain concerned about the funding for public schools, especially with plans to possibly divert some of that money to expand vouchers to private schools.

"The idea of expanding the voucher program, which does not have the same accountability on students that need to be met for public schools, that's troubling to them," said Shilling.

It's not clear yet whether the program would be expanded state-wide or just to certain areas, but La Crosse County Republican chairman Julian Bradley says Governor Walker will have to explain why it's a good use of taxpayer money.

"They're going to have to make sure they have some real good statistics that back up the reasoning," said Bradley.

Legislation that would pave the way for an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin is also on the agenda. There's only been one public hearing so far on the bill and it could come to a vote soon.

"This is being done before there's been any hearing up in the part of the state where the people who would be impacted the most have a say in the process. I think it's a bad start to the session," said Larson.

Larson and other Democrats say promises by Republicans to make compromises on the mining legislation have so far fallen short.

Bradley believes Republicans in Madison are listening seriously to the concerns of their Democratic colleagues.

"They need to present a bill that can pass and not just across party lines. We need to make sure we have a bill that encompasses what both sides are looking for," said Bradley.