Wisconsin Senate approve bond restructuring bill

MADISON, Wisconsin (Reuters) – Democrats in the Wisconsin state Senate returned to the chamber for the first time in more than six weeks on Tuesday to help approve Republican Governor Scott Walker’s plan to close a gap in the state budget for the current fiscal year.

Senators voted 22 to 11 to approve the bill, which includes a $165 million debt restructuring and other fiscal elements left out of legislation approved in March that sharply curtailed the rights of many public sector workers. The anti-union measure spawned massive protests.

The bill now goes to the state Assembly, where it expected to quickly approved later Tuesday.

The Senate had its full complement for the first time since its 14 Democratic senators left the state in mid February to prevent a vote on the proposals to limit union powers by denying Republicans the necessary quorum.

Republicans hold a 19-14 majority in the Senate, but 20 senators must be present to vote on fiscal matters.

The bond restructuring and other fiscal proposals approved Tuesday push debt payments to future years. They also use additional federal appropriations to meet Medicaid costs to close a $137 million gap in the fiscal budget ending June 30.

The Senate vote came as Wisconsin voters were headed to the polls for a normally staid Supreme Court election that has escalated into a proxy fight over Walker’s policies.

The state faces a projected $3.6 billion deficit for the two-year period that begins July 1.

The controversial union curbs signed by Walker into law in March reduce collective bargaining rights for most public sector union workers, eliminate automatic dues deductions and require yearly union certification votes.

The law’s implementation has been blocked by a state judge temporarily who is hearing a challenge to the way it was approved.

Debate over the measures quickly became so polarized that voters have mounted efforts to recall all 16 Senators who are eligible for recall under Wisconsin law because they have been in office at least one year since their election.

Democrats have sought to force special recall elections against eight Republican senators who voted to approve Walker’s budget plans, while Republicans have sought to recall eight Democratic senators who left the state to stall a vote.

(Reporting by David Bailey, James B. Kelleher and Jeff Mayers; Editing by Greg McCune)

Wisconsin Senate approve bond restructuring bill