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Conference committee reports no progress on state budget agreement

A six-member conference committee was quickly formed Wednesday to reach an agreement on the new state budget.

Four Democrats and two Republicans met publicly for 2.5 hours. But they did not resolve any of the 180 differences between the Assembly and Senate versions of the two-year, $63 billion spending package.

Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan said he hoped the panel would agree on some of the less controversial items, but the Republicans wouldn't go along.

The GOP wanted to suggest its own changes, but Sheridan wouldn't allow it until the committee meets today.

The Republican minority leaders in both houses, brothers Scott and Jeff Fitzgerald, called the conference panel a sham.

They said it gave a false impression that the final product was being crafted publicly after majority Democrats crafted both houses' budgets behind closed doors.

Gov. Jim Doyle wants to sign the budget before next Wednesday to meet various deadlines for getting federal aid. And Sheridan says it's still possible.

He said lawmakers are "in the home stretch of passing the toughest budget in Wisconsin history."

It includes $2 billion in tax and fee hikes, plus spending cuts and federal stimulus funds, to cover an expected $6.6 billion shortfall in state revenues caused by the recession.

Senate Democrats are scheduled to meet this afternoon to discuss the budget. That chamber has a full session set for later in the day, where a final vote could be taken.