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A look ahead to issues facing Wisconsin Legislature next year

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MADISON, Wisconsin — With Republicans holding even tighter control of the Wisconsin Legislature than before and Gov. Scott Walker enjoying his third statewide victory in four years, their agenda will likely move quickly next year. Here is what to expect:

HOW SOLID IS THE GOP MAJORITY?

Republicans had an 18-15 majority in the Senate and held 60 of 99 seats in the Assembly heading into the election. They increased their majority in the Senate by one seat, to 19-14, though it will drop to 18-14 when Sen. Glenn Grothman resigns to serve in Congress. That seat is in a heavily Republican district and likely will remain in GOP hands following a special election as soon as mid-January.

In the Assembly, Republicans have at least 61 seats and GOP candidates are ahead in two other races that were so close they are likely to head toward a recount. If that majority holds, the 63 seats would be the largest Republican majority since 1957.

WHAT ABOUT DEMOCRATS?

With a diminished minority, Democrats are deciding whether to change leadership as they figure out their strategy both for the coming session and future elections. Rep. Peter Barca, of Milwaukee, faces a challenge for his leadership post from Rep. Evan Goyke, also of Milwaukee. On the Senate side, minority leader Sen. Chris Larson, of Milwaukee, is being challenged by Sen. Jennifer Shilling, of La Crosse. Assembly Democrats are set to meet Tuesday to vote on leaders, while Senate Democrats are meeting on Wednesday.

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

Walker plans to meet with Republican legislative leaders this week as he continues working with administration officials on his next two-year budget plan, which will be introduced in January or February. Walker has said he wants the spending plan to pass quickly instead of the typical late June approval. The state is projected to end the next budget with a $1.8 billion shortfall (not accounting for future revenue growth or state agency spending requests), which will make it difficult for the Legislature to cut taxes while also taking care of other commitments, such as funding schools, the UW System, Medicaid and prisons.

WHAT ARE THE ISSUES?

Walker asked his cabinet last week to review everything their agencies do to look for efficiencies and duties they can jettison.

PHOTO: FILE - In a Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 file photo, Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker gives a thumbs up as he speaks at his campaign party, in West Allis, Wis. With Republicans holding even tighter control of the Wisconsin Legislature than before and Gov. Scott Walker enjoying his third statewide victory in four years, there is little to stop their agenda from moving quickly next year. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)
FILE - In a Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014 file photo, Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker gives a thumbs up as he speaks at his campaign party, in West Allis, Wis. With Republicans holding even tighter control of the Wisconsin Legislature than before and Gov. Scott Walker enjoying his third statewide victory in four years, there is little to stop their agenda from moving quickly next year. (AP Photo/Morry Gash, File)

The governor wants to cut income and property taxes, but hasn't put forward a specific plan yet. He also wants to expand enrollment in the statewide private school voucher program, which is currently capped at 1,000 students, as well as replace the Common Core academic standards — something moderate Senate Republicans blocked last session but now likely don't have the influence to stop.

One thing that could have bipartisan support is extending a University of Wisconsin tuition freeze first enacted last year.

Other issues Walker and Republicans plan action on include:

— Requiring drug tests for food stamp and unemployment benefit recipients.

— A new sales tax on gasoline to help fund road-building projects, as the state's transportation budget faces a $680 million projected shortfall and no solution has been put forward. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said a gas tax increase will not pass.

— Enacting a school accountability measure after one last year that included sanctions for failing public and private voucher schools failed.

— Overhaul the Government Accountability Board, the nonpartisan entity that oversees elections and campaign finance law, to perhaps revert to partisan appointees or give more power to the judges on the panel and less authority to the staff.

WHEN DOES THE SESSION START?

Walker and newly elected lawmakers are sworn in Jan. 5. The Legislature will begin its session that month, with a State of the State address sometime in late January and the budget speech following shortly after. The first year of the session typically centers on budget hearings and debate, which usually begins in earnest in the early spring.

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