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The Government Watchdog
Updated: 36 min 39 sec ago

Wisconsin in focus: Assembly Republicans embrace new Gov. Scott Walker roads plan as Foxconn enters budget talks

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 06:41

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Assembly Republicans embrace new Gov. Scott Walker roads plan as Foxconn enters budget talks

Republicans in charge of the state Assembly on Thursday embraced a plan by Gov. Scott Walker to drop a proposed income tax cut to free up $200 million for highways.

But the GOP leader of the state Senate said his members weren’t ready to sign onto the plan, which means the budget stalemate will continue for now.

Walker’s plan emerged as efforts to lure a Taiwanese manufacturer to Wisconsin began to be incorporated into budget talks. One senator said Walker’s administration is working on a memorandum of understanding with Foxconn Technology Group and another said landing the company could cost hundreds of millions of dollars in incentives.

Swapping a tax cut for transportation funding is aimed at ending a budget standoff that has lingered because of differences among Republicans who control the Legislature on how to fund highways.

UPI: Wisconsin company hopes to offer microchip implants to employees

A Wisconsin company wants to offer surgically implanted microchips for employees to make it easier to buy snacks in the break room.

“It’s the next thing that’s inevitably going to happen, and we want to be a part of it,” said Todd Westby, the CEO of River Falls, Wisc.-based Three Square Market, a company that supplies technology for micro markets and company break rooms, according to KSTP.

Westby said the implanted microchip makes it easier for people to pay for items at work. Instead of looking for coins, cash or a credit card, they would only need to place their hand in front of a scanner and electronically pay for their item.

The microchip would have other uses, as well, like serving as an electronic key to open doors and identify the user to login at a computer.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Washington County asks neighbors to consolidate services or merge

County governments in Wisconsin are financially unsustainable and must reinvent themselves to survive, even if that means erasing borders and merging with the county next door, Washington County leaders say in a letter to four of their neighbors.

The County Board’s Executive Committee and County Administrator Joshua Schoemann have invited their counterparts in Ozaukee, Fond du Lac, Dodge and Waukesha counties to discuss everything from sharing services, consolidating departments and even redrawing maps to unite as one.

Any talks would build on existing partnerships. Washington and Ozaukee counties merged their health departments last year and already saved taxpayers $300,000. Waukesha County shares its medical examiner with Washington County.

State law allows consolidation of two or more counties and Washington County’s leaders are willing to consider going down that road in order to resolve fiscal problems caused by declining revenue and increasing expenses, Schoemann said.

It was only 164 years ago that Washington County was split in two to create Ozaukee County, and perhaps it’s time to glue the two pieces back together again, he said.

Wisconsin in focus: Tiny town, big bucks: Official earns $142,000 to run village of 4,000

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 07:30

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Tiny town, big bucks: Official earns $142,000 to run village of 4,000

Meet Andy Pederson, who has one of the cushiest government jobs in the Milwaukee area.

Pederson is the village administrator for the tiny suburb of Bayside, a community not much larger than a subdivision. Its 2010 population: 4,389.

In his position, Pederson oversees seven village staffers, including the police chief, and the North Shore dispatch center for fire and police calls. On a typical day, Bayside’s quiet and well-groomed village hall has many more parking spaces than cars.

Pederson is paid a base salary of $142,009 a year.

In many years, he also gets a bonus and a car allowance. For example, all together — including a sick leave payout — Pederson received $155,279 in taxable income in 2014.

Wisconsin State Journal: Scott Walker makes offer to break budget impasse, but no deal yet

Gov. Scott Walker offered a change to his budget plan this week to Republican leaders feuding over how to pay for road projects in an effort to break a 20-day impasse, but it’s unclear if it’s enough to get both houses back to the negotiating table.

“There’s no deal yet. That’s for sure,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Thursday after he relayed to his members the governor’s offer to use $200 million slated for tax cuts for road projects instead, drawing down bonding levels.

But Walker’s offer did win support from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Assembly Republicans, who in letters to Walker and Senate Republicans on Thursday said they accepted the governor’s proposal and want to resume work on the 2017-19 state budget as early as next week.

“The proposal that you outlined yesterday is a positive step forward in our desire to find a long-term solution and we believe the leadership that you have displayed has bridged the gap between our two houses,” Assembly Republicans wrote Thursday.

Channel 3000: Wisconsin unemployment unchanged at 3.1 percent

Wisconsin’s unemployment rate is unchanged for the month of June.

The state Department of Workforce Development reported Thursday that unemployment in June was 3.1 percent. That is the same as it was in May, when it hit its lowest mark since 1999.

The national unemployment rate for June was 4.4 percent.

Wisconsin added 3,600 private-sector jobs between May and June.

Wisconsin State Journal: Rolling series of $26 million referendums could fund Madison School District maintenance needs

Madison School District officials are floating a plan to start paying for needed building maintenance and renovation that would be funded in part by a rolling series of $26 million referendums held every 4 years, with each pot of resulting debt paid off before the next is issued.

The referendums, if approved by voters starting in 2020, would yield $6.5 million per year that the district would match with $3.5 million from operating budget dollars — about double what the district normally allocates from operations, budget director Mike Barry said — for a total of $10 million annually, or $40 million per four-year cycle.

With a portfolio of 52 district buildings with an average age of 53 years, including 50 schools, the district must find a systematic way to start chipping away at an estimated backlog of $220 million in work, he said.

Wisconsin in focus: Charter, virtual schools could expand statewide under Senate GOP budget

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 07:09

Wisconsin State Journal: Charter, virtual schools could expand statewide under Senate GOP budget

The number of independent charter and private virtual schools in Wisconsin could expand under the new state budget proposal put forward by Senate Republicans this week.

The proposed spending plan authorizes a state charter school office to create charter schools statewide without the approval of local school boards. Currently the office is limited to creating the schools in Madison and Milwaukee.

Another proposal would allow private schools participating in the state’s taxpayer-funded voucher programs to create virtual schools using state funds.

In addition, school boards would be able to rescind some increases in revenue from referendums previously approved by voters, and enrollment restrictions for the private school voucher program for students with disabilities would be eliminated under other proposals.

Channel 3000: Wisconsin DOJ to publish list of open record requestors

The state Department of Justice has started publishing a list of pending record requests online.

The agency announced in a news release Wednesday that it has added the list to its website and update it weekly. The list contains the name of the requestor, a description of the records being sought and when the request was made.

The release said the agency is looking into whether it’s technically feasible and appropriate to post all responses to public record requests online as well.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Senate Republicans in Wisconsin reverse course and break out credit card for roads

Two years ago, Republicans in the state Senate tried to prevent the state from issuing more bonds to build roads, declaring they were dead set against relying on borrowing for highways.

That attitude is in the past. Now, they’re eager to break out the state’s credit card to pay for highways as they try to end a budget stalemate.

“We’re not going to kick the can down the road,” Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) said in November 2015 when she and other Senate Republicans unsuccessfully tried to block issuing $350 million in bonds for I-39/90 and four other projects.

But on Tuesday, Darling — the co-chairwoman of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee — joined her Senate colleagues in embracing a plan that would borrow $712 million over the next two years for roads. Nearly half of that amount would be paid back from the account that funds schools and health care programs instead of the transportation fund.

Wisconsin in focus: Assembly GOP will review Senate budget plan

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 07:27

Channel 3000: Assembly GOP will review Senate budget plan

The state Assembly’s top Republicans say they agree with most of the Senate’s new budget proposal but will have to review the plan.

Senate Republicans introduced their proposal Tuesday as a standoff with their Assembly counterparts over road funding stretches on. It calls for $712 million in additional borrowing to pay for roads, gives public schools $650 million in additional aid and repeals the personal property tax on businesses.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Majority Leader Jim Steineke and Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee, issued a statement saying they agree with the “vast majority” of the plan. They say they want to make a significant investment in schools and reduce taxes.

Wisconsin State Journal: Developers oppose big fee hike for new connections to sewerage district

Opposition to a looming 400 percent hike in sewer connection fees for new developments is prompting the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District to consider phasing in the charges.

The sewerage district is raising fees for new connections to address a growing inequity in its rate structure caused by changing development patterns, which has left existing customers bearing the burden of paying for the infrastructure needed to serve growing areas, spokeswoman Jennifer Sereno said.

District commissioners have already decided to raise two fees that would increase one-time connection costs for a new, average-size, 11,500-square-foot residential lot by $1,102, or 129 percent, to $1,954.

A breakdown of the increase shows charges for the pipes and pumps to move wastewater rising by $138, or 23 percent, for the average lot, while treatment plant connection charges to cover increased capacity for new development are set to soar by $964, or 392 percent. The timetable for the increase has yet to be determined.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Gov. Scott Walker signs bills fighting opioid abuse

Gov. Scott Walker signed 11 bills Monday to combat the state’s opiate epidemic, including one that would establish a charter school for recovering addicts.

Another bill would ease the way for school employees around the state to administer a drug that halts the effects of overdoses. Others would funnel more money into fighting opioid abuse, tighten the rules for getting some drugs from pharmacies and give doctors more guidance on treating addiction.

The measures were taken up in a special legislative session the Republican governor called starting in January. They enjoyed broad bipartisan support.

“We’ve taken serious steps to combat this issue, including creating the Governor’s Task Force on Opioid Abuse, but we won’t stop until there are zero opioid overdoses in Wisconsin,” Walker said in a statement.

Proposed legislation would open up records on federal pension recipients

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 06:49

A Florida congressman and an open-government organization have launched a campaign to make key information on federal pension recipients subject to public disclosure.

The legislation, which is being sponsored by Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis, would make information about pension recipients subject to the federal Freedom of Information Act. The information subject to public review would include the retiree’s name, monthly annuity amount, the retiree’s total contribution to the annuity, total wages earned and retirement date, according to a draft of the bill.

Federal employee pensions are currently hand-calculated inside a Cold War-era facility deep inside a Pennsylvania mountain using 28,000 filing cabinets, according to Adam Andrzejewski, the chief executive officer for, a watchdog group that works on behalf of government transparency issues.

“This legislation has the potential to pass with huge majorities in both houses and go straight to the president’s desk,” Andrzejewski told

Similar transparency laws on state public pension systems in states such as Illinois, California, New York and Oregon have resulted in the uncovering of abuses and corruption, he said. A federal law would allow citizens to engage in a robust debate over federal retirement payouts and also shed light on the system’s liabilities, according to Andrzejewski.

It remains uncertain just how serious the effort is, however. DeSantis’ office did not respond to requests for comment about the legislation, dubbed the Taxpayer-Funded Pension Disclosure Act, and there is no mention of it on a list of legislative priorities on the congressman’s website.

DeSantis did co-author an opinion article with Andrzejewski about this issue. That article said that in states with pension transparency, waste and mismanagement have been identified, including how two union officials in Illinois taught as substitutes in public schools for a single day and then retired to collect pensions with lifetime values of $1 million.

“Pulling this data out of the government’s underground pension cave and into the light will protect taxpayers, retirees and near-retirees who have a right to ensure these taxpayer dollars are well-spent,” DeSantis and Andrzejewski said in the co-authored 0p-ed.

Many observers have pointed to the debt-ridden federal retirement system as a source of concern, including Moody’s Investors Service.

“The unfunded liabilities of the various federal employee pensions systems, covering civilian and military employee benefits, amount to about $3.5 trillion, or 20 percent of the U.S. GDP,” or gross domestic product, Moody’s said in a statement last year.

Another nonprofit group that advocates for government transparency, the Sunlight Foundation in Washington, D.C., takes a more nuanced view of making the federal pension system subject to public disclosure. While there is a presumption of openness in the Freedom of Information Act, government also has an interest in protecting people’s privacy, according to the foundation’s deputy director, Alex Howard.

“It is conceivable that you could rank individual pensioners to expose them to public incrimination,” Howard told In addition, disclosures of personal information require a thoughtful, ethical review, and certain data would always have to be redacted, such as certain medical information or personal financial identifiers, he said.

And the test of whether disclosing pension information is in the public interest might vary based on whether the retiree is a public figure or not, according to Howard.

But the proposed pension transparency legislation does call for the exclusion of medical conditions and any data that identifies the retiree’s beneficiary, according to

“We’re aware of absolutely no instances where this information can possibly be used to create identity theft,” Andrzejewski said.

His group’s website has published the salaries of 15 million federal, state and local public employees and has never run into a privacy concern, according to Andrzejewski.

“Not one single time did we run across any case of stolen identities or anything else,” he said.

Andrzejewski expects the campaign to attract bipartisan support in the same way that former Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma teamed up with then-Sen. Barack Obama in 2006 to author legislation that placed federal “checkbook” payments on a public website.

Howard acknowledged that pensions can be used as vectors for corruption and that bringing more public scrutiny on how pension dollars are spent can help identify abuses of the system.

“It’s reasonable for the public to want to ask, ‘Who made those decisions and at what time?’” he said.

But Howard also stressed that government has to take care to be good stewards of such financial data and respect civil liberties of the parties involved.

“These are public records,” he said. “They are not our deepest, darkest secrets.”

Andrzejewski remains upbeat about the prospects of passing the pension transparency bill, saying that public employee unions might oppose the bill but would likely not win.

“I definitely think [President] Trump would sign it,” he said. “I don’t think there’s any question about that.”

Haupt: Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere

Tue, 07/18/2017 - 06:17

“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”

– Francis Bellamy

Those that crossed the Mason-Dixon Line to work in the Civil Rights Movement were shocked to experience denial of justice and the violation of their Constitutional rights. They entered a twilight zone in a mythical Orwellian novel. They gathered from around the U.S. for an adventure few knew little about. Some wandered to the delta of the Mississippi, the red hills of Georgia, and war zones of Montgomery to Selma for conviviality. Others came to listen to Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger and Joan Baez. But by the time they navigated Highway 61 back to the North, they knew why they’d ventured south.

“A nation that denies equal access to justice is a prison of malcontents.”

– William Howard

The Civil Rights Movement has taken on an air of inevitability in the popular imagination. Far too many have reduced its significance to a few heroic figures and the words “I have a dream.” The true purpose of the Civil Rights Movement has been distorted and romanced into something each individual, secular, political or religious group wished it to be for convenience or condemnation. The Civil Rights Movement had only one salient, underlying purpose: To banish the practice of denying equal justice to all Americans. Those ideals are embedded in every founding document. It remains an enigma why so many distort its historical significance, with false narratives promoted by liberal race baiters, media pundits and politicians.

“The true rule of law and justice in a judicial system is one in which the rights of some are not secured by the denial of rights to others.”

– John Seales

Three documents, known collectively as the Charters of Freedom, have secured the rights of all Americans for over two centuries and are considered instrumental to our founding and philosophy of our nation. These are The Declaration of Independence, The Constitution, and The Bill of Rights. In each founding document, they guarantee us equal rights and equal access to justice, which is the most indispensable right of all. Without access to justice, none of our rights are guaranteed or protected. Any American who does not covet their right of expedient access to justice is forsaking liberty. If we don’t protect that one right, it’s impossible to defend all others.

“The patriot volunteer, fighting for country and his rights, makes the most reliable soldier on earth.”

– Stonewall Jackson

Americans are continually at the mercy of lesser magistrates who cowardly subvert the provisions in our founding documents to deliver justice. Our right to justice is guaranteed by the Department of Justice, yet government subordinates regularly invent ways to abridge them. We hear about this on TV, see it in the fish-wrap and social media during high-profile trials, but hear little about the denial of justice by our local governments. We permit this to happen daily, yet this is a federal right and is disciplined by the DOJ!

“America was founded upon the doctrine of equal rights. Its cornerstone is the principle every man is endowed with access to equal justice to defend them.”

– Randal Hall

In hearing rooms across this nation, questionable legal practices are being reported to the DOJ to expose a miscarriage of justice in court proceedings. If a litigant cannot afford a high priced mouth-piece, they are appointed counsel. If they foresee an unfair advantage for the defense, they seek a change in venue, dispose of a capricious juror and recuse a judge. Although this is not a perfect system, most Americans have a fighting chance to improve their access to unabridged justice in our courts when they suspect malpractice. Even a green horn public defender will point out abuses of statutory protections to insure his client has access to justice.

– “Today, there are few times we are powerless to prevent injustice, but we must possess the knowledge on how to do so.”

– May Willard

The biggest offenders are not criminal or civil courts. We’ve all heard about the speed traps in our local “one-blink-of-the-eye speed limit signs” in rural townships. Although America has its fair share, they pale in comparison to the rights we thought we had and found out we didn’t have in local and state governments. These are rights denied at what are billed “informal hearings.” The only thing informal about these proceedings is how “informally” you find out they were anything but “informal.” Once a gavel is dropped, and the magistrate makes his decision, more times than not, you leave this “informal hearing” wondering if you just appeared before Judge Judy in a kangaroo court.

“One cannot bandage a mortal wound, that’s been inflicted by a miscarriage of justice.”

– Throe Bradley

This judicial deception has been going on for decades when offended citizens choose to protest any activity they have a right to in the governments they own. This is common when their property rights are violated. If their home or business is hijacked by eminent domain, the decision is etched in stone before the commission meeting. The hearing officer makes up rules as he goes along if they do not have Perry Mason there to scold him. If their rural neighborhood is rezoned to build a burger joint or county dump, notifications for these meetings are tacked on the bathroom door of the county seat or placed on page 10 in a local throwaway scandal sheet so they can call it legal.

“Those who make the law know best how to break the law without getting caught.”

– Albert Simms

States never reassess all counties at the same time. If they did this they’d have a tax revolt similar to California’s tax tsunami Prop 13 that rocked the U.S. like a New Zealand earthquake from east to west. “Prop 13 made the Gold Coast as infamous as Boston Harbor.” When a homeowner receives a tax bill for a Taj Mahal and they live in a 1,000 square foot home, they are forced to buy back their rights at dubiously “informal” tax hearings. The homeowner is guilty until proven innocent in the eyes of the taxman. The moment they arrive to face this hit squad, they are intimidated by the judge who is also the jury and only allows them to present what he wants to hear, not what they prepared. They feel like a Roller Derby skater in the “penalty box” wearing a dunce cap and wonder why! To this judge, just showing up is a capital offense!

“Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere.”

– Dr. King

Denial of justice is generic in local tribunals. Most are semi-structured to mimic a fair legal process. There is no impartial verdict, to the detriment of the accused. It is decided in advance. This violates all formal judicial process. Rules are invented by the officer obtusely, which even the best jailhouse lawyer cannot defend! If you try to quote law, you are declared out of order. Humbling intimidation is the worst injustice of all. Taxpayers are made subservient to justice that is rationed to guarantee they lose. When a taxpayer is scolded for something insignificant to put them in their place, they are defeated before they have a chance to win or lose and sheepishly give in to the tax man to end this abuse! They quickly learn how it feels to be a punching bag in a federal penitentiary gym!

“Bullies are everywhere, but the worst kind of bully is one who bullies behind the cloak of law.”

– Eely Stalls

President Ronald Reagan once said, “There are no easy answers, but there are simple answers. We must have the courage to do what we know is morally right.” The only way we can guarantee our access to justice is to know the law. If you feel violated in any way by a magistrate, you have the duty to file a formal complaint with your governmental controlling agency or the federal DOJ. You must know your rights and how to defend them!

“It takes great courage to stand alone against a judge whose best resource is to intimidate you when you and he both know you are innocent.”

– Reggie Stone

Krug: Editors and publishers fail when transparency is absent in reader ‘comments’

Mon, 07/17/2017 - 09:08

Where the media falls down so badly so often is in its approach to stories.

Slanted and misleading headlines, hyperbolic and unsubstantiated reporting that’s short on facts and long on opinion, and manufactured outrage probably are the worst of what stands for journalism today.

But that’s simply the content that lives above the comment line. What of the interactive, social aspects of today’s journalism?

Well, that can be all forms of awful, too.

According to a report released July 12 by the Pew Institute, four of 10 Americans have experienced online harassment, 18 percent have been threatened in some way for sharing their point of view, and more than 60 percent consider this form of harassment a problem.

If you operate a news media site and allow the online forums to fester with hateful comments when matters are less important, they implode when real issues arise.

Most traditional media companies are so stripped down that they don’t have the resources to monitor comments and, as a matter of creating some visibility, have turned to Facebook comments to create some transparency. Oh, sure, they’ll take the clicks, but the responsibility for the environment? Not so much.

Others, well, I am not sure what they’re doing or if they are adhering to their own criteria because the inclusions and extractions appear arbitrary and capricious. One moment, a seemingly innocuous comment is there. The next time you might visit the site to see how people responded to your comment, but what you wrote is gone. Why? Nobody knows. For readers, the absence of continuity is jarring.

More than a decade ago, a daily newspaper and digital news site in greater Chicago I oversaw became one of the first in the country to allow comments on stories. We had this functionality and interactivity before any of the U.S. metropolitan newspapers had entered into the space. At that time, there was great debate whether the voice of the reader belonged alongside the journalism that had been published.

During my tenure as executive editor there, I saw comments as a meaningful way to interact with readers, and it provided explosive online growth at what was the onramp to the internet for most newspapers seeking to grow a digital presence.

We wanted to engage with the communities that we served. We believed, correctly, that our reporting was not the final word. We were part of a discussion – a significant part, but a part nonetheless. And we wanted meaningful conversations to occur around our reporting, because that is what journalists should strive to achieve.

We opened our online comments – I believe in 2005 – without rules, without filters, without any parameters at all really. It was a new frontier, so nobody knew what to expect.

Iterations ensued that required registration with a confirmed email, a profanity filter, and comments to remain in line with the subject of the story. It was an early handle on this key element of community building, interaction and balancing the newspaper’s standards with the community’s contributions that earned the 2007 Chicago Headline Club’s Lisagor Award for best website (over the Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun-Times, et. al.) and an innovator of the year award from Local Media Association (an organization that then was called Suburban Newspapers of America).

The online community on our news site was vibrant, somewhat civil, oftentimes humorous, and with balanced and interesting points of view that – on occasion – brought new information or insight to the story. Because we served to include our community, we welcomed a reasonable amount of readers who came in without bringing their flaming torches or pitchforks.

There is nothing more essential to our democracy than the protections provided by the First Amendment. But if you want to hijack a discussion and run away with it on someone else’s news site, you’re not practicing discourse. Stay with the story. Participate in the discussion germane to that story. Be civil. Be frank, but be civil.

Civility may be too much to ask, though, as a story as innocuous as a local lemonade stand could elicit tangential commentary from trolls and wing nuts. Any digital forum, in particular those that welcome comments without accountability for them, can be hijacked by people far less interested in discussion and far more interested in hit-and-run bomb-throwing.

For publishers, a hands-off approach to comments on your site isn’t good ethical practice. It’s malpractice.

If you operate a site, and welcome guests to comment, your guests should adhere to house rules. So, as a site operator, basic rules should be determined that welcome discussion. Be clear about them; and fairly apply them.

And, to evolve the thinking, any organization that would seek to control the comments on their site through deceptive means (cloaking, fire-starting provocation, et al) is equally bad practice and, frankly, unethical.

Anyone who administers a site that allows comments knows the value of comments. And the law is on the side of the site owner. A site owner incurs no more responsibility for what is written on their “wall” than the landlord of a building whose alley-facing fence would for the scrawling from a graffiti artist. It’s actually one of my favorite aspects of digital news, because light reveals truth – right there in front of God and everyone else.

Bottom of Form

Trolls, flamer-throwers, and other cowards make some news media sites run. They drive more traffic than the content itself. Some editors say they deplore them. But they know readers like them, and visitors return again and again to see what the newest screed says.

Online comments have become the media’s click machine, powering their sites by blowing breath into what otherwise can be so-so stories that don’t advance the reader’s understanding of a subject. As mainstream journalism continues to wane, comments often are more interesting and insightful than the stories that prompted them.

But anyone who operates a news media site and allows anonymous attacks – or those created under the veil of pseudonyms – to stand is morally complicit in those comments.

I don’t care what your lawyer says. Lawsuits shouldn’t be the bar by which this is measured. Responsible news sites should aspire to higher standards.

And, when comments are anonymous and authors shielded by the public, the scrutiny of authenticity is not met. It harms the journalism.

  • Chris Krug is President of Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity. This column is original, but draws from his thoughts included in a column for that was published on July 7, 2017.

Wisconsin in focus: Calculating Wisconsin’s cost – and benefits – of landing Foxconn

Mon, 07/17/2017 - 06:52

Wisconsin State Journal: Calculating Wisconsin’s cost — and benefits — of landing Foxconn

What’s it worth to Wisconsin to become the U.S. hub for a global company with 1 million employees and $136 billion in annual revenue?

Answer: It depends on what the state will gain vs. the size of the public investment over time.

As Foxconn Technology Group investigates where it may build a next-generation production plant in the United States, Wisconsin is competing with a small number of states on factors such as physical location, transportation logistics, workforce skills, research and development expertise and supply chain potential.

Wisconsin must yet compete on a package of financial incentives, such as tax credits and worker training grants, that may fall between $2 billion to more than $3 billion over two decades or more.

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Bill would repeal prevailing wage law for Wisconsin road workers 

Wisconsin road projects could be designed and built by the same firm and their workers could be paid less, under new GOP legislation aimed at lowering the costs of highway construction.

The state faces long-term shortfalls in its roads fund, and a disagreement over how to pay for bridge and highway projects has held up the state budget.

To help address that, a group of GOP lawmakers introduced legislation this month that they said would help to close the funding gap by lowering costs.

The bill would repeal the state’s “prevailing wage” law requiring certain minimum pay levels for construction workers. It would also clear the way in Wisconsin for design-build firms that both draw plans for highway projects and construct them.

Post-Crescent: Across Wisconsin, a steep increase in kids separated from addict parents

Mary Brown waited until her kids left for school, then grabbed a rope and stood in the bathroom with awful thoughts in her head.

Would her children be better off without a heroin addict for a mother? The question nagged at her mind.

But she dropped the rope and picked up the phone to call her mother, setting off a series of events that involved getting treatment and temporarily losing custody of her kids.

“I just broke down,” she said. “I needed help.”

Brown didn’t know it then, but the 36-year-old Appleton mom would become part of a statewide trend.

 The number of children separated from their parents by county authorities has climbed across Wisconsin to its highest level in nearly a decade.

Wisconsin in focus: Lawmaker: ’99 percent’ sure craft brewery changes dead

Thu, 07/13/2017 - 16:08

Wisconsin Lawmaker: ’99 percent’ sure craft brewery changes dead

A proposal that would require breweries and wineries to stop selling their products on-site and instead work through distributors is probably going nowhere, a key Republican lawmaker said Wednesday. Craft brewers and wineries were outraged last month when a mysterious memo emerged detailing a plan that would require them to work through distributors rather than sell their products directly to customers in on-site tap and tasting rooms. The brewers and wineries feared the proposal would force them to pay exorbitant fees to distributors and the Legislature’s finance committee would slip the plan into the state budget on its last night of work on the spending plan. Wisconsin Woman Charged in Health Care Fraud Take-Down Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has charged a Hartford therapist as part of a national health care fraud takedown.

Schimel said in a news release Thursday that the state Justice Department has filed 10 felony counts of medical assistance fraud against Sharon N. Medina in Dane County Circuit Court. Schimel said Medina allegedly fabricated dates of service and submitted claims for services that weren’t delivered between 2013 and 2015 when she was a Medicaid provider.

Officers recognized for going above and beyond the call of duty

In front of New Richmond City Council members and staff Monday, July 10, Police Chief Craig Yehlik recognized three of his officers for going above and beyond the call of duty in responding to a potentially life threatening domestic disturbance June 12.

Chief Yehlik presented each officer with a letter of commendation, which read in part, “I want to commend all of you for your heroic efforts on this date to insure a mother and her children were safe. I also want to commend you for your restraint in your use of force when all other tactics had failed to gain voluntary compliance from this suspect. Even as the suspect continued to threaten you with death you were all calm and acted appropriately within the scope of State Law and Department Policy.”

Wisconsin in focus: Federal Appeals Court Upholds Wisconsin Right-To-Work Law

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 17:03

Federal Appeals Court Upholds Wisconsin Right-To-Work Law

A federal appeals court panel has upheld Wisconsin’s right-to-work law.

The law prohibits businesses and unions from reaching agreements that require all workers to pay union dues. Unions maintain the law enables nonunion members to receive free representation. The International Union of Operating Engineers filed a lawsuit last year alleging that amounts to an unconstitutional taking.

U.S. District Judge J.P. Stadtmueller upheld the law in September, citing a 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling upholding Indiana’s nearly identical right-to-work law.

Increasing competition, flat sales leads Brennan’s Market to close all of its stores

Come Sept. 30, the five Brennan’s Market stores and its New Glarus production facility will close. The move will put 150 people out of work and bring to an end a 75 year-old company that found its business model out of date in the highly competitive grocery industry that offers up many of the same products and hundreds more that a Brennan’s does not.

When the recession hit in 2008, the company, like most retailers felt the effects. But as business began to climb for other companies as the recession faded, Brennan’s sales remained flat. And now, after nearly 10 years of struggle, Tim Culhane, who purchased the company in 2014 from Skip Brennan, has made the difficult choice to close the business and sell the assets and real estate.

7,000 Remain Without Power after Morning Storms Hit Northeast Metro, Western Wisconsin

The north metro and parts of western Wisconsin woke up to downed trees and no power after rain and thunderstorms rolled through the area. Xcel Energy said in a press release about 9,000 customers are experiencing power outages as of noon after the severe weather, mostly in areas east of the Twin Cities metro. Service is expected to be restored by 8 p.m. for the rest of those customers. By 3:15 p.m., Xcel’s Outage Map showed 202 outage orders affecting just over 7,000 customers in the Twin Cities, western Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota.  Connexus Energy said 5,000 of its customers are without power.

Connexus Energy said 5,000 of its customers are without power.

Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin score well in manufacturing report; Illinois not so much

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 16:52

The Midwest as a whole received relatively high grades in an annual rating of states’ manufacturing industries, but Illinois’ manufacturing sector is still struggling due to an unpredictable economic climate and unfunded public liabilities.

The 2017 Manufacturing & Logistics Report Card gave Illinois a “C+” for the overall health of its manufacturing industries, but the state earned a “D” in the “Tax Climate” category and an “F” in “Expected Fiscal Liability Gap.” That latter estimates the state’s ability – or inability – to fund bond obligations and pension costs.

Illinois also received an average grade – “C+” – in “Human Capital,” which measures the education level of the state’s workforce in an effort to gauge how well it is serving manufacturers.

The study gave Michigan an “A” for the health of its manufacturing sector, while Ohio and Wisconsin both received “B” grades.

Mark Denzler, vice president and chief operating officer of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, echoed some of the points made in the Ball University study.

“Manufacturing is alive in Illinois,” Denzler said, noting that manufacturers in the state employ about 570,000 people. “However, it is struggling.”

The state’s strengths include good colleges and universities and a great transit system, according to Denzler.

“Seventy-five percent of the nation’s freight comes through Illinois,” he said.

But an out-migration of jobs to other states and workers compensation costs that are the highest in the Midwest and eighth highest in the country continue to add to the state’s economic uncertainties, Denzler said.

Although Denzler said today’s manufacturing workforce in Illinois is second to none, the employers continue to deal with a skills gap as they try to hire new workers. Manufacturers need to hire 20,000 to 25,000 production workers and 5,000 engineers every year just to remain at a constant level, he said.

“The governor has put a focus on vocational education and trying to provide workers with the skills needed,” Denzler said, but lately there has been no money for job-training programs.

Manufacturers have some advantages in the near future, including a growing advanced-manufacturing industry around the Chicago area, he said. But the state needs major structural reforms and begin to live within its means, according to Denzler.

“Quite frankly, Illinois needs to change its focus moving forward,” he said.

Illinois did end it’s more than two-year-long budget stalemate last week, but it came at a high cost to businesses and workers, who will both see tax increases.

“[Last week’s] action by the Illinois legislature will speed up the loss of manufacturing jobs and will further decimate our economy,” Greg Baise, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, said shortly after the state House voted to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s vetoes of the tax hikes and budget bills. “Imposing a $5 billion dollar tax hike on Illinois families and businesses without addressing the root causes of our stagnant economic growth is a recipe for disaster and will only hasten the further loss of Illinois’ middle class.”

Those knowledgeable about the manufacturing industries in other Midwest states questioned some of the conclusions in the Ball State University study. Kurt Bauer, president and CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, took issue with the state’s “C-” grade in the “Tax Climate” category.

“I don’t think the Ball State report recognizes that Wisconsin’s Manufacturers and Agricultural Production Tax Credit reduces the corporate tax liability for qualifying companies from 7.9 percent to 0.4 percent,” Bauer said in an email. “Combine that with our right-to-work status and our recent regulatory and litigation reforms, and Wisconsin is clearly one of the most attractive states for manufacturing in the U.S.”

All of Illinois’ neighbors are right-to-work states – meaning employees can opt out of joining a union if they choose – which is another competitive disadvantage.

Professor Edward Hill, a faculty member at the Ohio Manufacturing Institute, took issue with some of the variables the study used to give Ohio a “C-” in “Human Capital.” The six states receiving “A” grades in this category were Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Washington.

“There are good manufacturers in many of these states, but none, with the exception of Washington and possibly Minnesota, can be claimed as centers of exceptionally skilled pools of manufacturing workers,” Hill said.

Still, Ohio is not doing particularly well in providing the type of skilled workers manufacturers need, he said, but all states likely have this problem.

“Manufacturers themselves are just waking up and taking ownership of the problem … and reinventing secondary and community college manufacturing training programs,” Hill said.

In Ohio, major employers such as Honda, Minster Machine, Lincoln Electric and Yaskawa Motoman are working hand-in-hand with educators to turn out a more skilled workforce, he said.

“We will see progress over the coming year,” Hill said.

Though Michigan was rated a top performer in manufacturing, it received “D” grades in both “Human Capital” and “Sector Diversification” in the Ball State study.

“It’s all tuned to just transportation,” Devaraj said, adding that the lack of diversification in Michigan’s manufacturing economy means that if any shocks hit that industry, the impact for the state as a whole will be major.

Recently released economic forecasts for Michigan have been positive. A University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, study said that the state recorded 28 straight quarters of payroll growth through the first quarter of 2017. But job growth should moderate through 2018, the report said.

“Manufacturing employment declines modestly over the forecast, reflecting the slowdown in the light vehicle sector,” the University of Michigan forecast said.

Devaraj stressed that manufacturing remains a key player in the U.S. economy, even as productivity gains have held down employment growth. Increased skill attainment by workers will help lower the risk of them being replaced by automation, he said.

“In reality, things are going really well in terms of manufacturing,” Devaraj said.

Back in Illinois, the state earned an “A” for the health of its logistics industries. That was due to a number of Illinois’ assets, including its central location, the value of shipped goods in the state and an efficient transportation system.

“Chicago is leading the pack in terms of the commodities flows,” Devaraj said.

GOP tax reforms stoke debate in states with large manufacturing, agriculture sectors

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 16:48

A congressional panel this week will spotlight how federal tax reform could help small businesses, but one possible component of the GOP reform plans would cost businesses an estimated $1.5 trillion over the next decade.

Though a hearing scheduled Thursday by the Tax Policy Subcommittee will highlight how tax reform could strengthen economic growth nationwide, one major piece of the reform effort would end the deduction for interest businesses pay on debt financing. Some of the Republican tax reform plans under discussion in Congress would also help offset that revenue boost with immediate write-offs on capital investments in a bid to encourage business expansion.

Other ideas include slashing the top federal corporate tax rate of 35 percent.

Business reactions to the tax proposals will likely vary markedly by industry and region, depending on the composition of a state’s economy, according to tax policy experts contacted by Illinois News Network. Businesses in states with a large presence of both manufacturing and agriculture, such as the Midwestern states of Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin, may have especially divergent opinions.

“Farming is 95 percent debt-financed,” Patricia Wolff, senior director for congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau, told Illinois News Network. So losing the business interest deduction would have a huge impact on farmers and ranchers, according to Wolff.

In addition, many farmers already qualify for small business exemption limits for expensing farm equipment, she said. The farmers under that exemption can now write off equipment expenses such as tractors or combines up to $500,000, according to Mark O’Neill, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

Farmers like the idea of being able to write off such expenses during the current year, rather than take depreciation amounts over a period of several years, O’Neill said.

“Under existing law, basically farmers are allowed to legally depreciate farm equipment over seven years,” O’Neill told Illinois News Network. One compromise proposal would reduce that depreciation period to five years to help agricultural businesses, he said.

“In the last couple of years, farm income has been way down,” O’Neill said.

The American Farm Bureau opposes ending the business tax deduction, even if paired with tax advantages on expensing, according to Wolff.

“We’re very concerned about that,” she said. “It’s one of our top-tier issues.”

The Farm Bureau is now making its positions known in Congress and waiting to see what the final congressional tax package will look like, Wolff said. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, has acknowledged that small businesses and family farms have limited access to capital for borrowing, and he may include tax provisions that recognize the need to borrow to obtain additional farmland, she said.

“We’re hoping that when the legislation is introduced that it will be helpful to farmers,” Wolff said.

Manufacturers, whose revenues figure prominently in states like Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania, may view the combination of limiting business interest deductions and providing immediate write-offs for capital expenses more favorably, according to Joseph Rosenberg, a senior research associate with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center in Washington.

In states with large manufacturing operations, the reforms would help manufacturers that have a lot of capital expenditures, such as longer-lived assets such as structures, Rosenberg said. But even so, the swap with ending the business interest deduction will likely be a difficult sell in some regions of the country.

“It’s not clear to me that a lot of businesses would be willing to give up their ability to deduct interest,” he told Illinois News Network.

And taking capital investments out of the federal tax base might not produce the kinds of effects proponents expect, according to Rosenberg. But the change could hold down debt financing, which tends to distort some companies’ investment strategies, according to some economists,

“It’s a little unclear how big of a change that is relative to the current tax system,” Rosenberg said, adding that the combination could be a wash in terms of overall corporate tax burdens.

Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters Ohio, echoed some of those concerns about the overall impact of the federal tax reform ideas.

“I am immediately somewhat skeptical that changes in tax policies are going to have huge impacts,” Schiller told Illinois News Network.

Making it a little cheaper for businesses to invest in capital improvement can have some positive effects, he said, but Schiller favors a different approach than what’s in the Republican plans.

“Investing in workforce and infrastructure and improving public services is oftentimes a more useful and long-term strategy than a tax-cut strategy,” he said.

Moreover, an immediate write-off for capital investments made by businesses would prove expensive, if the proposed limits on business interest deductibility didn’t produce the anticipated windfall in federal revenues, Schiller said.

Ohio already gives businesses tax breaks, and cuts in the federal corporate income tax would be a bad idea because so few corporations now pay the top rate due to deductions, he said.

Wisconsin in focus: Wisconsin’s state budget takes $51 million hit — thanks to Illinois

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 16:22

Wisconsin’s state budget takes $51 million hit — thanks to Illinois

Illinois put in place a budget last week that raises taxes by $5 billion and that will have an effect on Wisconsin’s budget.

Each year, Wisconsin makes payments to Illinois to make up for the fact that more Badger State residents work and owe income taxes in Illinois than the reverse. This reciprocity agreement allows border-crossing workers in each state to file just one state income tax return.

The Wisconsin workers who commute to businesses in Chicago and other Illinois cities will now owe more in taxes to that state, meaning that in the short term, Wisconsin will have to pay more to Illinois to maintain the reciprocity agreement.

Wisconsin legislation seeks to benefit for-profit wedding business on St. Croix River bluff

Four Wisconsin legislators want to help a Somerset family use its scenic blufftop property on the St. Croix River, which is protected by state and federal laws, for a wedding business.

The 284-acre property near Somerset, owned by Family First Farms, was intended as a “premier wedding destination” until a judge ruled last August that owner Jeremy Hansen and his family hadn’t complied with zoning codes.

Some of the land falls within the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, which is a national park. It’s also subject to laws that govern use of riverfront land under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Trump election fraud commission hits pause on voter data request to Wisconsin, other states

The Wisconsin Elections Commission will not release any voter data to President Donald Trump’s election fraud commission until a lawsuit against the federal commission is resolved, a state official said Monday.

Wisconsin officials had previously said they couldn’t legally share some of that data — now they’re saying they’ll hold off for now on sharing any of it.

Wisconsin in focus: Man fined $500 for mowing grass at historic cemetery

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 07:08

WISN 12: Man fined $500 for mowing grass at historic cemetery

A Franklin man was issued a $500 fine last month for mowing the grass at a cemetery where two Civil War soldiers are buried.

Muskego Police responded to Luther Parker Cemetery June 20 and found 64-year-old Jordan Wenzel Sr. of Franklin mowing. Wenzel told the officer he did not have permission to cut the grass but had heard a television report about a dispute over tall grass at the cemetery and decided to help out.

“I heard everybody saying it needs to be cut, it needs to be cut. Why doesn’t someone get a mower and cut it?” he said to WISN 12 News.

The officer said Wenzel immediately complied when told to stop mowing. Police later issued Wenzel a citation carrying a $500 fine for violating a city park regulation.

“It will cost me more to fight it than pay for it,” said Wenzel, who maintains he was just trying to help.

WKOW: Late-night food vendors could suffer if proposed ordinance passes

Leia Boers’ food cart, Leia’s Lunchbox, is a late-night favorite for UW students.

“There’s been nights where I haven’t been able to close my window until 4:15, 4:30 in the morning,” Boers said.

But a proposed ordinance making its way through city hall could hinder their after hours noshing at their favorite food cart.

The proposal, introduced by Mayor Paul Soglin, would change the closing time for late night food vendors like Leia’s Lunchbox from 4 a.m. to 3 a.m. Under current law, street vendors holding a late night vending license and a site assignment in one of the five late night vending areas can sell food from vending carts from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. daily.

“It’s going to hurt. Right now, the bars close right around 2 o’clock. So I’m able to get all of the customers and then get the employees. If the bars are closing at 2:30 a.m., the customers aren’t going to make it to the food carts until 3 o’clock. If we’re shutting our windows as they’re walking up, what do we do? We don’t have a business,” Boers said.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Foxconn forces Wisconsin to confront acute shortage of automation-age tech workers

If Foxconn Technology Corp. builds a multibillion-dollar “smart factory” in southeastern Wisconsin, it could mean the equivalent of creating an industrial complex not seen since the heydays of A.O. Smith and Allis-Chalmers.

At their peak in the last century, each of the legendary Milwaukee-area industrial behemoths employed 10,000 workers or more.

Neither of their campuses exist any longer. And neither do the sort of rank-and-file lunch pail jobs that those titans once championed.

Foxconn is expected to require troops of high-end systems engineers who can operate robots, artificial intelligence and state-of-the-art automation systems.

If a Foxconn deal moves ahead, the region would need to move with Manhattan Project-like urgency to mount a come-from-behind retraining and recruitment campaign for automation-savvy workers, according to a consensus of workforce experts


Wisconsin welcomes Illinois workers, businesses after latest tax increase

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 06:26

Many Illinois lawmakers say that following the state’s 32 percent income tax increase, neighboring states will try and recruit Illinois businesses and taxpayers. But one Illinois lawmaker on the Wisconsin border says recruiting won’t even be necessary.

State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, said communities in southern Wisconsin don’t need billboards or ad campaigns to lure Illinois taxpayers and businesses over the border.

“Wisconsin doesn’t really have to [recruit], we do a good enough of shooting ourselves in the foot,” Sosnowski said.

Higher taxes, such as last week’s 32 percent state income tax increase, are driving people out of Illinois.

And he’s right. Illinois’ population has declined each of the past three years, and it lost more people than any other state in the U.S. between July 2015 and July 2016, according to the U.S. Census. At the same time, Chicago lost more people last year than any other major U.S. city.

Southern Wisconsin State Rep. Todd Novak said lower taxes and more job opportunities are driving Illinoisans to Wisconsin.

“I am seeing an influx of people who are looking to move into Wisconsin,” Novak said. “Out here we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in Wisconsin. So you can easily find a job, and a pretty good-paying job.”

The unemployment rate in Winnebago County, Illinois, Sosnowski’s district, is 6.4 percent. Lafayette County, Wisconsin, Novak’s district, has a 2.2 percent jobless rate.

Novak says there are 100,000 jobs open in Wisconsin. He says Illinois’ economic refugees are welcome to apply.

Illinois ends longest budget impasse among U.S. states with $5 billion in tax increases

Fri, 07/07/2017 - 06:50

Illinois ended a more than two-year-long budget impasse when its Democrat-dominated state House voted Thursday to override Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s vetoes of a budget package that includes $5 billion in tax hikes and $36.5 billion in spending.

Until Thursday, Illinois had the longest-running budget impasse of any U.S. state, but it wasn’t the only only without a budget. Six other U.S. states did not pass a budget by the start of their new fiscal year on July 1. Not surprisingly, the states share certain characteristics that are making it difficult to get a budget passed.

Tough fiscal conditions can make budget decisions difficult. 

John Hicks, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, said government infighting on the state level regarding spending cuts and revenue increases is a factor for each state without a budget.

“Other states, such as Pennsylvania and Connecticut and Massachusetts, where low revenue growth and high spending pressures around fixed costs like pensions and health care costs, are causing big decisions,” Hicks said.

Illinois has more than $15 billion in unpaid bills, leaving many vendors, social service providers and universities unpaid or underfunded.

In places like Wisconsin and Rhode Island, statutes prevent a government shutdown or diminution of services. In Illinois, court-ordered spending and consent decrees had the state spending billions of dollars more than it was bringing in, even without a budget.

“There are states like Connecticut, and late last week Maine and New Jersey, who now have a budget, where the governors had to issue emergency executive orders defining what state services will continue and what state services will not,” Hicks said.

Even with a budget now in place, Illinois still could be downgraded to “junk” credit status because of its backlog of bills and pension debt of more than $130 billion, national credit rating agency Moody’s warned earlier this week. The rating would limit its access to tax-exempt municipal bond markets, which in turn would raise the interest rate on any more borrowing it does. That directly impacts Illinois taxpayers, according to Hicks.

“It doesn’t change the cost of the debt that has already been issued,” he said. “That’s already budgeted and in place, but any new debt moving forward, it just makes it more expensive.”

The lack of a budget can impact social programs, depending on what a state is permitted to do without an appropriation plan. Illinois has a lot of locally delivered human service programs, which Hicks said plays a role in how the state budget impasse impacts program funding.

“Since Illinois has an inability to pay a lot of their vendors, that has affected the flow of funds down to human services programs, and in some states where they are state-delivered, they haven’t been as affected,” Hicks said.

Illinois’ budget deal comes at a high cost to state taxpayers, who already pay the highest combined local and state taxes in the country. The state’s income tax rate increases by 32 percent effective immediately, and its corporate tax increase by 33 percent, also effective immediately. Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who will become the longest-running House leader in U.S. history by next year, pushed through the tax increases.

Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the plan, but both General Assembly chambers have now voted to override.

Besides Illinois, states without a budget include Wisconsin, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Oregon, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers. Michigan is an eighth state that has also not yet passed a budget, however its fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Wisconsin in focus: University of Wisconsin Regents freeze tuition, OK student fee and housing increases

Fri, 07/07/2017 - 06:29

Post-Crescent: University of Wisconsin Regents freeze tuition, OK student fee and housing increases

The University of Wisconsin System Regents on Thursday approved a budget that will freeze resident undergraduate tuition for a fifth straight year but increase student fees and housing costs on all campuses.

Regent Bryan Steil voted against the $6.22 billion annual operating budget because of student fee increases that he later said “we could do without.” Steil, who was the lone no vote, declined to be more specific.

“On the whole, the budget is a responsible budget,” he said. “There’s room for improvement.”

The UW System’s base budget will increase $40.9 million from the previous year, including a $37.8 million (3.7%) increase in state funding. Of the $37.8 million, $25 million will be divided among UW System campuses.

WKOW: Gov. Walker offers concession and new idea to end state budget impasse

With the Republican-led legislature well on its way to providing Wisconsin with its longest state budget impasse since 2007, Gov. Scott Walker offered an olive branch Thursday in an attempt to end the stalemate.

Gov. Walker sent a letter to Assembly and Senate leaders, indicating he would be willing to drop his initial request of $500 million for state transportation borrowing – down to $300 million.

“Lowering bonding by $200 million is a win for Assembly leadership who have voiced their desire to reduce bonding for transportation projects, wrote Gov. Walker.

Senate GOP leaders want to combine that $300 million with additional general purpose fund dollars.

“So, if we can sort of bring that number down, maybe from 850 (million) to 750 (million), then we’ll go back to the Assembly to see if that’s something they think is palatable,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau).

Channel 3000: Court-ordered changes at Wisconsin youth prisons due

Plans for instituting court-ordered changes to disciplinary practices at Wisconsin’s embattled youth prisons are due in federal court.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson set a Friday deadline for attorneys to spell out how they would comply with his order to reduce the use of solitary confinement, pepper spray and shackles on inmates at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons.

Attorneys for the Department of Corrections and those representing past and current inmates were working together on a proposal to submit to the judge in line with his order from two weeks ago.

Plans for instituting court-ordered changes to disciplinary practices at Wisconsin’s embattled youth prisons are due in federal court. U.S. District Judge James Peterson set a Friday deadline for attorneys to spell out how they would comply with his order to reduce the use of solitary confinement, pepper spray and shackles on inmates at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons. Attorneys for the Department of Corrections and those representing past and current inmates were working together on a proposal to submit to the judge in line with his order from two weeks ago.

Wisconsin in focus: Foxconn considering bringing 10,000 jobs to southeastern Wisconsin

Thu, 07/06/2017 - 06:35

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Foxconn considering bringing 10,000 jobs to southeastern Wisconsin

Foxconn Technology Group is considering bringing 10,000 jobs to southeastern Wisconsin, leaders of the state Assembly said Wednesday.

With their passing reference to the proposed project in a memo, the leaders became the first high-ranking state officials to acknowledge the Taiwanese company is considering a massive presence here.

The firm also is considering putting the development in Michigan or other states.

They referred to the possible project as they sought to revive stalled talks over the state budget. Disputes over transportation funding have kept Republicans, who control the Legislature, from reaching a budget deal.

The Cap Times: Proposal would make BadgerCare available to all Wisconsin residents

BadgerCare would be available to all Wisconsinites rather than only low-income residents under a Democratic proposal announced Wednesday.

The “BadgerCare for All” bill, introduced by Rep. Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay, and Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, would make BadgerCare a public option available to anyone in Wisconsin through the federal health insurance exchange.

The plan offers a “common sense, affordable, high quality solution,” Genrich said in a news conference.

“At a time when politicians in Washington are meeting behind closed doors about the future of health care, we’re having a public conversation about our needs as Wisconsinites,” Genrich said.

Green Bay Press-Gazette: Survey ranks Wisconsin drivers as some of the rudest in the nation

You know you’re in Wisconsin when someone steals your parking spot, doesn’t let you merge in front of them and flips you off when you’re driving too slow — at least according to a new survey from Kars4Kids.

The national nonprofit released a survey as part of its summer 2017 courteous driving awareness campaign and found that Wisconsin drivers are some of the rudest in the nation, ranking the state No. 46 on the courtesy scale.

Wisconsinites received a D- overall due to the answers they provided for the Kars4Kids survey.

The nonprofit created this campaign in hopes of promoting better driving habits, and as a reminder that other drivers are people, not just an obstacle to get around.

Overtime rule changes great news for small businesses

Thu, 07/06/2017 - 06:04

Small businesses across the country are breathing a sigh of relief on news that the Trump administration is walking back former President Barack Obama’s proposed overtime expansion.

Small businesses were dreading the Obama-era order that would have doubled overtime eligibility to cover people making as much as $47,000 a year. It was scheduled to go into effect Dec. 1 last year, but a federal judge ordered an indefinite stay.

Terry McClallen with Integrity Data, an HR system company in Lincoln, Illinois, said most small businesses were still unprepared for all of the regulations on salary, time-keeping, and paperwork that the overtime rule brought with it.

“People who never had to keep a time card, and companies that never really had to deal with time cards, were going to have to not only deal with time cards but deal with calculating overtime rates,” McClallen said.

The U.S. Department of Labor said as many as 193,000 people in Illinois would have been impacted by the rule.

McClallen said the overtime rule forced many small businesses to move some workers from salary to hourly. It would have been a move that cost some workers money and even jobs as employers sought to make up for the new costs.

“If you’re talking about service industries that are running on a very, very narrow profit margin, and all of a sudden you have to start paying overtime, those are things those businesses just aren’t able to absorb,” McClallen said.

The Trump administration said it intends to walk back many of the federal mandates included in the old overtime rule.

Wisconsin in focus: Gov. Scott Walker optimistic state budget will be passed this month

Wed, 07/05/2017 - 07:30

 TMJ 4: Gov. Walker optimistic state budget will be passed this month

Gov. Scott Walker remains optimistic a state budget will be hammered out and signed into effect sometime this month. Walker took questions from reporters while in Wauwatosa Tuesday morning to participate in the city’s annual Fourth of July parade.  “We’ll be meeting with lawmakers and I would anticipate this would get done, I would expect, sometime here in July,” Walker said. “Two years ago we signed (the budget) July 12. I don’t know if we’ll get to that date, but maybe sometime in July.” “Our $500-million (in bonding) is the lowest since 9/11 and the Senate wants to add more, the Assembly would like to go lower,” Walker added of the negotiations. “What we’ve suggested is, as opposed to raising a tax, we have a series of things we could do to lower that by an additional $200-million, which we think would be attractive to those in the Senate.”

Wisconsin State Journal: Public schools could offer firearm safety course under bill

Teenagers could learn in school how to safely handle firearms under a bill introduced last week by Republican lawmakers.

Rep. Ken Skowronski, R-Franklin, and Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, are proposing to require state education and natural resources officials to write a curriculum for a firearm safety course that school districts could offer to their high school students as an elective.

The proposal requires the Department of Public Instruction and Department of Natural Resources to develop the curriculum while drawing on the expertise of a law enforcement agency, or an organization that specializes in gun safety or certifies firearm instructors.

The elective course would teach students about the different types of firearms and how they work, how to safely carry and transport firearms and how to engage a safety lock on firearms, among other skills.

WISC TV 3: UW System Regents set to vote on fee, room and board increases

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents is poised to vote on raising student fees and housing rates.

The regents are scheduled to vote on the system’s 2017-18 budget on Thursday during a meeting at UW-Madison. The budget keeps resident undergraduate tuition frozen as per a legislative mandate. But it calls for raising student fees by an average of 2.6 percent across the system’s four-year schools with changes ranging from nothing at UW-Green Bay to $72 at UW-Milwaukee. The system’s two-year schools would see an average fee increase of 3 percent.

Housing rates at four-year schools would increase an average of 2.6 percent as well, with increases ranging from nothing at UW-Platteville and UW-River Falls to $521 at UW-Eau Claire.