Wisconsin lawmakers pass state budget, partial repeal of prevailing wage law

By Brendan O'Brien (Reuters) - Wisconsin lawmakers approved early on Thursday a $73 billion state budget that partly repeals the state's prevailing wage law, one of several contentious measures that delayed the two-year spending plan for five weeks. The state Assembly voted 52-46 on the measure, a day after the state Senate approved the spending package. It now goes to Republican Governor Scott Walker, who is expected to announce his candidacy for president on Monday. The $72.7 billion budget keeps property taxes and K-12 education funding relatively flat. It cuts about $250 million in funding for the University of Wisconsin System. Republicans, who control both chambers, struggled over the last five weeks to complete the budget as they quarreled over several fiscal policies. "We didn't always agree. Quite frankly, we disagreed a lot, but that made (the budget) a better product," Republican Representative Robert Brooks said. "Now I can ... go back to my constituents and say yes, it's not a crap budget." One of the major points of contention among Republicans was whether to repeal the state's 82-year-old prevailing wage law, which sets a minimum wage for construction workers. On Tuesday, the state Senate voted 17-16 on an amendment in the state budget that partly repeals the requirement to pay the prevailing wage for local, municipal projects. It maintains that requirement for state projects. "Republicans in the legislature have managed to turn what was a disaster of a budget into an all-out catastrophe," Democratic Representative Lisa Subeck said. The budget was also slowed by lawmakers who could not come to terms on a plan to help fund a new $500 million arena for the Bucks, the National Basketball Association team in Milwaukee. Legislative leaders recently removed it from the budget and have yet to announce when they will take up the issue. Lawmakers also could not agree on how much to borrow for road projects, finally settling on $850 million, far less than the $1.3 billion proposed by Walker. That amount will postpone the completion of some road projects during the next two years. Senators on Tuesday removed from the budget a Republican proposal, created in part by Walker's aides, that would have greatly exempted local officials and lawmakers from the state's open-records law when they are developing policy and laws. Walker has yet to determine when he will sign the budget, his spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said. Walker has said recently that he wishes to sign it before announcing his presidential intentions. (Reporting by Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee)