MADISON (WKOW) -- Lawmakers are expected to begin debating the state budget this week, but it's already proving to be a controversial issue.
Senate Democrats are hoping moderate Republicans who have spoken out against some of the aspects included in the $70 billion, two-year spending plan will join with them to oppose the budget. They would only need two Republicans to vote against the budget in the Senate to keep it from passing.
Democratic lawmakers and state superintendent Tony Evers held a press conference Monday morning to introduce some of their amended suggestions regarding state funding.
Evers says his proposal, which he calls the Fair Funding Plan, would increase funding for public schools without raising property taxes, ensure funding for all students in the state and it would not expand the current school voucher program.
The existing budget proposal calls for an expansion of the program statewide, capping enrollment after the second year at 1,000 students. Evers says it would cripple the public education system in the state.
"It's painfully obvious that the education debate in Wisconsin has been hijacked by well-funded special interest groups," Evers says. "Taxpayers in Wisconsin will be increasingly on the hook to pay more and more for privately educated kids whose tuition is currently paid for by their parents."
Some Democratic lawmakers agree, saying they plan to fight this week to convince their opponents to hear their case on vouchers, along with other issues they're preparing amendments to address, including tax cuts.
"We plan to stand up tall and strong this week in both the Senate and the Assembly and speak to where we think we ought to be going in terms of our school children in the state of Wisconsin," says state Sen. John Lehman of Racine.
"The Republicans who have been out talking against [vouchers] really have to step up to the plate," says Rep. Sondy Pope. "This is not the time just to fall in and do what the others have done."
One of those considered to be a moderate Republican is state Sen. Dale Schultz of Richland Center. Schultz says he's not prepared to vote on the budget as it stands now.
Schultz tells 27 News he's unhappy with a number of issues, including: vouchers, a state deficit that could lead to further cuts in the future, the budget's proposal to remove the Center for Investigative Journalism from the UW-Madison campus and other policy-related items added to the budget.
"Here [the proposals are] in the budget with a bunch of legislators unwilling to vote on it straight up or down," Schultz says. "They want to hide it in a bill that everyone knows has to pass. I want to see these things removed from the budget and the sooner we get about that business, the better chance we have of getting a budget done in time."
Schultz says he will be reasonable, but he hopes Republican leaders will compromise a bit and see his side. Schultz says at least one other Republican feels the same way.
Gov. Scott Walker remained confident Monday, when asked whether the Democrats had a chance to keep the bill from passing in the Senate, saying it'll go through with only a few technical changes.
Walker says he wants to keep the voucher school expansion part of the budget.
"We made what we thought was a reasonable accommodation, working with all of those lawmakers," says Walker. "One thing l know is that I don't back away from a commitment I made. In that case, that's a commitment I plan on fulfilling, short of any change in the budget."
The Assembly is scheduled to begin debating the budget on Tuesday, with the Senate expecting to get it on Thursday. Governor Walker says it will be finalized and signed before July 1.