MADISON (WKOW) -- The Wisconsin legislature is getting ready to pick apart the state budget again. This time around, the ailing economy is causing a hole as wide as $5 billion.
"It's very, very significant," said Sen. Mark Miller, (D) 16th District. "It's probably as bad or close to as bad as any the state's encountered in a generation."
Sen. Miller is hoping tough economic times will inspire his fellow legislators to make tough decisions. With a $5 billion budget hole, he says everything is on the table.
"There could be hiring freezing, there could be layoffs, there could be increased taxes -- any one of a number of responses to this challenge," he said.
Governor Doyle is asking for reduced spending and prioritizing.
"We basically sent agencies back to the drawing board to come up with deeper cuts," said David Schmiedicke, state budget director. "The goal is to protect education as much as possible, protect access to health care."
"The core functions of government include public safety, economic infrastructure like railroads, electrical power, those kinds of things," said Sen. Miller.
Legislators passed the 2007-2009 budget more than 3 months late. Then they had to go back to the drawing board last spring to close up a half billion dollar deficit in a budget repair bill. Budget leaders say cooperation is more likely this time around. With democrats in control of the senate, assembly, and governor's office, they don't expect much partisan wrangling.
"We're gonna have to pull together -- all of us making some sacrifices -- in order to help lift Wisconsin out of the challenges that we face in the years ahead," said Sen. Miller.
The Joint Finance Committee expects to evaluate the budget in late January or early February. Both houses must pass it. It then goes back to the governor to sign. The current two-year budget ends in June.