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Rep. Joe Knilans says he agonized over budget-repair bill vote

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JAMES P. LEUTE
February 26, 2011
— Rep. Joe Knilans said his vote early Friday in support of Gov. Scott Walker’s contentious budget repair bill was the most difficult he’s cast in his eight-week Assembly career.

But tough times demand tough decisions, the freshman Republican said hours after the Assembly passed the bill on a chaotic 51-17 vote in which 25 Democrats, two Republicans and one Independent didn’t even cast a ballot.


The vote shortly after 1 a.m. advanced Walker’s plan to the Senate. It contains a number of provisions designed to plug the state’s $137 million deficit and set the table for stemming a projected $3.6 billion shortfall in the upcoming 2011-13 budget that Walker will unveil Tuesday.


The most divisive elements of the repair bill included increases in health care and pensions costs for public union employees as well as the end of most collective bargaining rights.


“It’s tough for everyone, but we have to make the sacrifices now, and in two years, especially if the economy ticks up, maybe we’ll have a surplus and will be looking at things from a much different perspective,” said Knilans, who was elected in November to represent the 44th Assembly District that includes most of Janesville.


“I have a lot of friends who supported my campaign who probably aren’t going to be my friends, but that’s not why I was sent up here.”


While the bill’s outcome was never in question, the GOP-controlled Assembly abruptly called for a vote on the bill after more than 60 hours of debate.


“It had gotten to the point that the Democrats were saying the same things over and over,” Knilans said. “They weren’t offering any new alternatives.”


In casting his vote, Knilans said he balanced his GOP affiliation with the demands of his constituency in a strong union district. He said his office was besieged early with e-mails in opposition to the bill, but that changed closer to the vote.


“I understand the concerns about collective bargaining, but there really is a lot of money built into collective bargaining,” he said. “Once the dust settles, I’ve told teachers that if they see ways we can add things in to the civil protection system, they can call me, and we’ll talk about it.”


Knilans said that if the budget repair bill doesn’t pass, 135,000 people could lose their access to BadgerCare, one of the state’s Medicaid health programs. He dismissed Democrats’ claims that the bill would give Walker sweeping power to drop people over higher income levels.


“Walker will actually have less control over BadgerCare than (previous Gov. Jim) Doyle had,” Knilans said, noting that any of Walker’s changes would have to be approved by state and federal committees.


“In Janesville, with so many people laid off, my vote was to save BadgerCare for the people who depend on it as a safety net,” he said.


If his budget repair bill vote was his toughest, Knilans said more difficult decisions are on the horizon as Walker presents his budget Tuesday.


“Incremental steps could have been taken in the last six to eight years, but they weren’t, and now we’re in the position we are,” he said. “Wisconsin is out of money.


“I ran to bring jobs to Janesville and Wisconsin, but what company is going to come to a state that’s bankrupt and that is going to ram up taxes?”


HOW THEY VOTED

On a 51-17 vote, the state Assembly approved Gov. Scott Walker’s budget repair bill early Friday.


Area Republicans for: Steve Nass, Whitewater, 31st District; Tyler August, Walworth, 32nd District; Evan Wynn, Whitewater, 43rd District; Joe Knilans, Janesville, 44th District; Amy Loudenbeck, Clinton, 45th District.


Area Democrats against: Janis Ringhand, Evansville, 80th District.


Area Democrats not voting: Andy Jorgensen, Fort Atkinson, 37th District.



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