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Grover Norquist Congratulates Wisconsin For Leading The Way - Again - On Government Reform

Sun, 06/18/2017 - 22:47

MacIver News Service | June 16, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] - And Wisconsin shall lead them - again.

Tax reform guru Grover Norquist predicts 10 states will pass REINS Act legislation in the coming year, and he asserts Wisconsin can take a bow for that.

"Congratulations for living in Wisconsin, which has consistently been a leader in this fight to increase liberty and make the government play by its own rules," Norquist, founder and president of Americans for Tax Reform, told MacIver News Service last week on the Mark Belling Late Afternoon Show, on NewsTalk 1130 WISN.

Last week, the Assembly, on a party-line vote, passed the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, commonly known as the REINS Act. Gov. Scott Walker is expected to sign the measure.

The REINS Act is similar to legislation moving through Congress, but with lower thresholds. It provides greater legislative oversight of the regulations adopted by state agencies. Any rule or regulation with an economic impact of more than $10 million would require legislative approval.

And it gives the Legislature's Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules more muscle. The committee would be empowered to request a public hearing earlier in the rule-making process and call for an independent review of the proposed regulation's economic impact.

Democrats insist the REINS Act would undermine regulations designed to protect the public. The left-leaning Sierra Club described the federal REINS Act legislation as "clearly an imprudent if not perhaps Machiavellian attempt to chip away at the regulatory process."

Norquist says REINS is about bringing representative democracy and liberty back to the people.

"People have understood this as a federal, national problem," he said. Congress passes an open-ended law and some bureaucrats fill in the blanks. Very dangerous.

"Then you get regulations with the force of law that can send you to jail. There are 600,000 regulations in this country not passed by Congress but fleshed from some law. Then the bureaucrats say, 'Here's what that law means.' There are 600,000 ways to go to jail," he added. "Only Congress should be able to pass laws...the president should have to sign laws. That's what they tell us in school, anyway, and that's what the Constitution says."

The same bureaucratic morass has infected state government and, Norquist says, has given lawmakers a pass from having to take tough regulation votes.

"This is the beginning of an entirely new front opened up to expand liberty and to reduce how abusive government can get. And it requires accountability. You want a law? You vote for it," he said.

Weekly Roundup: Top 10 Stories in Wisconsin Politics

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 18:45

June 16, 2017

Happy Friday, readers! It was a busy week in Madison. The Joint Finance Committee (JFC) whirred back into action after a two-week break on budget voting, taking up issues such as self-insurance and the Department of Corrections. Both the full Assembly and the Senate also met on Wednesday, and committees in both houses held hearings throughout the week.

In case you missed out (or were too busy watching the US Open), here's a rundown of the top ten stories from the week:

1. JFC Rejected the Switch to Self-Insurance

Gov. Scott Walker's proposed plan to transition to a self-insurance system was unanimously rejected by JFC, which means that the Group Insurance Board will have to find savings elsewhere.

Instead, the committee approved a plan to offer more high-deductible Consumer Driven Health Plans for state workers, which is a potential cost-saving alternative.

Budget Blog - JFC Rejects Self-Insurance, Directs Ins Board to Save $63.9m Within Current System #wiright

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 15, 2017

JFC co-chair Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) defended the decision, which saves lower income individuals money on their monthly premiums and allows employers to contribute to tax-free health savings accounts.

Nygren cites his own CDHP, where he saves $2,400/yr in premiums and has tax-advantaged HSA to cover out-of-pocket costs.

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 15, 2017

Read more about the move here.

2. The Assembly Passed the REINS Act, Sending it to the Governor's Desk

The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act, or REINS Act, aims to improve transparency and limit financially burdensome rules and regulations. Under current law, state agencies have the power to pass regulations and rules with little oversight. REINS would require the Legislature to sign off on proposed agency rules costing over $10 million.

The bill is now headed to Governor Walker's desk. Shout-out to Wisconsin for being the first state to pass the REINS Act! #OG

Bill by @AdamNeylon would make WI the 1st in the country w/ a state-level #REINSAct #wipoiltics

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 14, 2017

A national REINS Act is currently being discussed in Congress.

Read more here.

3. A Constitutional Convention Became More Likely

The Assembly approved a resolution for Wisconsin to join other states calling for a convention to add a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution. With states relying on federal funding for a myriad of programs, the almost $20 trillion in national debt has some legislators demanding action.

federalism committee passes resolutions would make Wisconsin latest state to call for Article V Convention on balanced budget amend #wiright

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) May 31, 2017

Debate was lively and lasted hours, with Democrats expressing fear over a "runaway convention" and the possibility that congressional Republicans would attempt to strip voting rights. Republicans, in turn, stressed that the founders put in protections against such fears, including the fact that 3/5 of states must ratify the amendment before it is added to the Constitution.

Upon Senate approval, Wisconsin will be the 28th state to pass Article V resolutions, according to the latest figures from the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force. Based on these estimates, only six more states are needed to call for a constitutional convention. At least 38 states are needed to ratify any amendment.

If successful, this will be the first time in US history that a constitutional convention will be intiated to amend the U.S. Constitution.

Read more here and here.

4. President Trump Visited Waukesha, and Protesters Made their Opposition Clear

President Donald Trump visited Wisconsin on Tuesday and toured Waukesha County Technical College to emphasize the White House's plan to close the skills gap and improve the work force by encouraging apprenticeships. He also hinted at plans for a potential new Foxconn iPhone factory in Wisconsin and attended a political fundraiser for Governor Walker on his trip. It came as no surprise that a protest was organized nearby to greet the President with their overused chants, edgy posters, and demands for a $15 per hour minimum wage.

MacIver is here as a group of protesters gather outside tonight's #Trump fundraiser with @GovWalker. They're demanding a $15 #minimumwage

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 13, 2017

In addition to their signs, protesters brought giant paper mâché Walker and Trump puppets.

5. Senate Passed the Cookie Bill

The Senate passed SB 435 this week, which will now move to the state Assembly for a vote. Also known as the "Cookie Bill," this legislation eliminates unnecessary and burdensome regulations on the sale of home-made foods. Prior to this, Wisconsinites were only allowed to sell homemade pickled items and preserves. If it becomes law, New Jersey will be the last state that does not allow the sale of home-baked goods.

Delicious! State Senate passes SB 271, the "Cookie Bill," making it legal to sell homemade baked and canned goods in WI #wiright #wipolitics

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 15, 2017

This move not only opens a new market for people to sell their home-baked goods, but also aims to increase the allowable sales limit of pickled goods. Bakers with an entrepreneurial spirit (and the Cookie Monster) will be pleased.

6. The Senate Passed a School Choice Consensus Bill

Something kind of crazy happened this week. On a fascinating bipartisan 23-5 vote, the Senate passed a bill that makes various administrative changes to Wisconsin's school choice programs. The bill was negotiated and agreed upon by the state's Department of Public Instruction and groups supportive of school choice, such as School Choice Wisconsin and American Federation for Children.

And yet, Democrats such as Sen. Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee) stood against the bill, railing against "unaccountable" voucher schools. Republicans found an ally in Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee), who passionately voiced her support for school choice programs and called out her fellow Democrats for not supporting legislation that includes many provisions they have been pushing for years.

Bill would require background checks for employees of choice schools, make administrative "cleanups." Passes 10-3

— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) June 14, 2017

Taylor says she has been asking for and fighting for many of these issues for years. Asks Dems "what are you doing? Stop it!" #wiedu

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 14, 2017

7. Fight for Referenda Reforms

As in years past, Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) is once again pushing for referendum reforms. In an effort to fight referenda abuse, Stroebel has introduced eight bills that include requiring referenda to be reauthorized every five years and reducing a district's state based aid based on increased revenue from successful referenda.

Of the 70 referenda proposed across the state, 15 of them were repeats, and 7 of those passed on the second go-around. In an interview with MacIver News Service, Sen. Stroebel states that he believes that "this package of bills enhances local control because it empowers the voters, gives them information, and makes sure that they have a seat at the table."

Referendum Madness: @SenStroebel looks to limit districts who hammer taxpayers w/relentless referenda:

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 14, 2017

Watch MacIver News Service's interview with Sen. Stroebel, a concerned citizen, and a school administrator here.

8. DNR Spends Nearly $2 Million on Resorts, Conferences

The DNR spent almost $2 million of taxpayer money on hotels, travel, and conference venues for trainings over the past two years. MacIver reported that this past year alone the DNR has spent over $30,000 at Chula Vista, a luxury waterpark resort and spa in the Wisconsin Dells. Constituents who are disgruntled about the proposed spike in admission and camping fees at state parks will probably be even more upset to learn about these irresponsible spending habits.

Live vicariously: read about all the posh destinations @WDNR staff enjoy - and how much of your $ it costs:

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 14, 2017

9. National Push to Repeal Obamacare Taxes

This week, the MacIver Institute joined 44 other free markets groups and individuals from across the nation in an effort to convince the U.S. Senate to repeal all Obamacare taxes. The coalition argues that eliminating these almost $1 trillion in taxes will relieve the burden on American businesses and families, as well as encourage economic growth.

MacIver joins national coalition urging Senate to repeal all of #Obamacare's $1 trillion in taxes: #wiright

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 13, 2017

Read more about their efforts here.

10. Property Insurance Fund Eliminated

Small government advocates, rejoice! The government did something rare this week -- they moved one step closer to eliminating an outdated and unnecessary government program.

.@rep89 motion to eliminate Local Gov't Property Ins. Fund passes 12-4, eliminating an outdated, unneeded gov't program. #wibudget #wiright

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 15, 2017

Interested in more in-depth coverage on any of these issues? Check out our coverage from this week on self-insurance, referenda, and more.

You can also give a listen to this Capitol update with MacIver Institute President Brett Healy and Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin State Director Eric Bott:

'Wisconsin Is A Lot Freer Than It Was A Month Ago': Old Cookie Law Crumbles

Fri, 06/16/2017 - 18:00

MacIver News Service | June 16, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] - The latest version of Wisconsin's "Cookie Bill," legalizing the sale of home-baked goods, passed - again - in the Senate this week.

But thanks to a southwest Wisconsin judge, a free-market law firm and some very persistent "cookie ladies," small bakers of brownies, muffins and cookies no longer have to fear going to jail or paying big fines for selling their goods.

On Friday, Lafayette County Judge Duane Jorgenson signed an order finalizing his decision last month that declared unconstitutional the state's ban on the sale of homemade baked items.

The judge did so after the state Department of Agriculture Trade & Consumer Protection told a home baker she would not be protected under the court ruling, according to Erica Smith, attorney for the Institute for Justice, which represented three Wisconsin women in the case against the state.

Smith said the department told the woman that the ruling only applied to the three plaintiffs.

"We did a brief with the court, and the court just today signed an order putting an end to it," the attorney said.

"Wisconsin is a lot freer today than it was last month," she added.

Jorgenson ruled that anyone in the state can bake and sell without an artificial cap on sales, as long as the goods are not considered potentially hazardous. Cookies, cakes, breads, muffins fit the nonhazardous column.

Wisconsin residents Lisa Kivirist told the Washington Times in 2016 that she and her family serve muffins and other baked goods to the guests of their Inn Serendipity Farm and Bed and Breakfast near Monroe, but they face fines and jail time if they sell them, under the state ban.

"It's not clear to me why I can serve you this muffin legally, but I cannot sell you this muffin legally," she told the publication.

Kivirist, Kriss Marion, and Dela Ends sued the state. It was their last resort.

For years, the Wisconsin women have begged legislators to change the law. They had success on two separate occasions in the Senate, but reform bills died in the Assembly. Speaker Robin Vos, owner of a popcorn business, opted not to bring the bills to the Assembly floor.

The Rochester Republican has said the legislation would have created an unequal playing field, with homemakers getting a break on the costs of regulations licensed businesses are required to pay.

Smith and other free-market advocates say the state's restrictions on cottage baked goods is driven by special interests that want to lock competitors out.

Jorgenson agreed, ruling that there is no connection to the commercial baking complaint that lifting the ban would present public health concerns.

"I think if we (the Institute for Justice) hadn't been suing the government for 25 years and seeing how outrageous government can be, we would have been shocked that there is such a thing as a law against selling home-baked goods," Smith said. "This was another instance of special interests shutting out competition and that's not what America is all about."

Just days after the court ruling, Vos began circulating the Bakery Freedom Act in the pursuit of sponsors. The proposal does away with licensure requirements for commercial bakeries, and eliminates health safety inspections. The bill, Vos said, would "level the playing field" in the wake of Jorgensen's decision.

The Senate bill, its third try at reforming a law now deemed unconstitutional, allows entrepreneurs to sell up to $25,000 in homemade goods per year before being subject to licensing and the accompanying requirements.

"There is good news for home bakers in Wisconsin! The cookie bill passed the state senate," Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) declared in a press release.

"I know there are many home-based bakers who are ready to share their talents and delicious products with consumers and I am proud to have supported this bill," the senator said.

Kit Beyer, Vos' spokeswoman, said the speaker does not support the Senate bill. She said the Bakery Freedom Act, introduced by Vos and state Rep. Michael Schraa "levels the playing field, allowing every baker to sell their product under the same standards."

The Institute for Justice's Smith said passage of a "Cookie Bill" is unnecessary now that the court has decided the ban on the sale of homemade goods is unconstitutional.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice, however, is considering appealing the ruling.

Budget Blog - JFC Rejects Self-Insurance, Directs Insurance Board to Save $63.9 Million Within Current System

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 17:41

June 15, 2017

[Madison, Wis...] The Joint Finance Committee followed through on its plan to reject Gov. Scott Walker's self-insurance proposal on Thursday, instead directing the Group Insurance Board (GIB) to come up with $63.9 million in savings within the current health insurance system.

Walker's budget proposed the switch to self-funded health insurance for state employees, where the state would collect premiums and pay claims itself, rather than go through the current network of private HMOs. GIB estimated the switch would have saved $60 million over the biennium.

JFC has questioned the proposal for months, and formally rejected the self-insurance contracts on a 16-0 vote without discussion at its executive session Thursday. Instead, the committee adopted a motion directing GIB to work within the existing network of HMOs to find slightly more savings than Walker's proposal.

"The governor originally tied $60 million in savings to self insurance. As I mentioned the ACA was miscalculated, so that's another $3.9 million. So the net savings that we come up with today will be $63.9 million," JFC co-chair Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) told reporters before JFC gaveled in.

.@rep89 says changes to state employee health insurance will hold cost/premium increases to 10% or less. #wibudget

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 15, 2017

Part of the savings would be achieved by forcing GIB to draw down its reserves by $25.8 million in general purpose revenue (GPR) over the biennium. JFC co-chairs Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Nygren have been critical of how much money GIB has been setting aside in reserves, saying keeping excessive cash in reserves leaves savings on the table.

"That means we haven't been realizing the savings that could have been there to both state agencies and to the employees themselves," Nygren said.

The insurance board would also have to find $22.7 million GPR by negotiating further savings within existing plans.

In addition, GIB would have to re-structure plans offered to state employees, increasing the number of health plan tiers from three to five and emphasizing Consumer Driven Health Plans, which have higher deductibles but also are paired with tax-advantaged health savings accounts.

Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) claimed offering more high-deductible options would force people to forego life-saving medical care like breast exams.

Nygren shot back, saying Shankland "should be ashamed" of her over-the-top rhetoric. He cited his own high-deductible plan that saves $2,400 a year in reduced premiums. That, combined with pre-tax contributions to his HSA, more than cover his out-of-pocket costs.

Nygren to Shankland: "You should be ashamed" of dishonest, over-the-top rhetoric about CDHPs.

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) June 15, 2017

Under the JFC motion, any cost increases from plan design changes would be capped at 10 percent. That cap would apply to increased premiums and any out-of-pocket costs in 2018 and 2019. The cap ensures state employees, who currently cover just 10.8 percent of their own medical costs, will continue to enjoy generous taxpayer-funded benefits.

Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma), a health insurance agent by trade, added that consumer-driven health plans are designed to give employees more control over their health care dollars. Employers have an incentive to keep their employees healthy and productive, she said. "Even if government doesn't regulate's what employers do."

After JFC's unanimous vote to reject self-insurance, Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) called Walker's proposal a "scam," creating a seemingly rare moment of unity between JFC's leaders and Walker.

"Self insurance in and of itself is not a bad thing or a bad idea," Nygren said.

Darling said she doesn't think the governor was trying to "pull one over on us." She said she just thinks "this is the wrong time for us to be making shifts in the marketplace."

It's Time to Finally Fix the Housing Market

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 15:59

After taxpayers spent $187 BILLION, that's billion with a "b", for bail out, trade group reminds Congress it is finally time to fix Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac

Words can mean different things in Washington, D.C. than they do here in Wisconsin. For example, "temporary" in the Badger State implies a short duration of time. The temporary tags that came on my new car were good for 30 days. I went straight to the DMV for permanent ones.

With the federal government, it's a different story. The so-called temporary takeover of our nation's two primary home-loan guarantors has now stretched into its ninth year. And there is little sign of impending change.

That's a problem. Taxpayers already spent $187 billion to bail out these private entities, known by their colloquial names Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. And we're just one downturn away from being on the hook for up to $250 billion more.

And while these government sponsored enterprises are behaving safely today --not inviting another financial meltdown--the system isn't serving our local housing market the way it should.

Like much of the country, Wisconsin is seeing housing prices hit an all-time high and affordable housing stock dwindle. First-time and modest-income Wisconsinites are having trouble buying in, and rentals at reasonable prices are getting hard to find.

We need to support homeownership and construction of affordable rentals in a safe and sustainable manner. Fortunately, the Mortgage Bankers Association has stepped up with detailed recommendations to unleash the credit required.

Their plan lays out how to transform a two-company government-sanctioned monopoly into a more stable and competitive free market. Key to success will be permanently ending the corporate cronyism that allowed Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to gain market share by offering incentivized deals to certain large market players.

In place of this tilted and dangerous system, the U.S. must structure a level playing field that will bring new, private entities into the business of buying, repackaging, and reselling affordable-housing mortgages.

This will inject significant domestic and global capital and empower independent mortgage banks, community banks, credit unions and co-ops to offer more loans to Americans with modest incomes, as well as to protect the standard 30-year, fixed-rate mortgage. These new institutions will also be able to support the market for developing more rental units for middle and working class people.

The market must be designed to entice conservative, dividend-seeking investors - not those attracted by high-wire financial antics. For that, the MBA plan looks to utilities and similar sectors, which have uneventfully engaged private investment in public services for decades.

Finally, the U.S. can draw on the lessons of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, which backs Americans' savings and checking accounts. Financial institutions pay for the insurance, and it instills consumer confidence.

When applied to the Fannie Mae/Freddie Mac successors, the FDIC model makes sense. Investors can absorb their own losses, but in the case of a Black Swan event, taxpayers and global stability will be protected through this insurance fund.

It's fair to say that there are dozens of urgent issues before Congress, and Speaker Paul Ryan cannot simultaneously architect solutions for everyone. With this solid plan to build on, however, he and his colleagues, like Congressman Duffy, who chairs the subcommittee in the U.S. House that oversees Fannie and Freddie, can feel confident in crafting legislation that will lessen the taxpayer risk associated with the government's role in the housing market.

This must be done without delay. Unity in Washington, a supportive and savvy Treasury Secretary, and increasing citizen pressure for action don't come around every day. Plus, finishing this last bit of repair from the 2008 crisis would be a big win - for Congress and for average Americans who need a roof over their heads.

Posted with the permission of the Wisconsin Mortgage Bankers Association Board of Directors.

Self-Insurance Dies Today, But Changes Could Still Be Coming To State Health Insurance

Thu, 06/15/2017 - 01:10

MacIver News Service | June 15, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] Gov. Scott Walker's plan to move the state's approximately 250,000 employees and their family members to a self-insurance system is expected to be officially pronounced dead today by the Joint Finance Committee.

"We are going to say no to self-insurance," state Rep. Mary Felzkowski, R-Irma, told MacIver News Service Wednesday.

But Felzkowski, a member of the budget committee, said the Republican-controlled JFC has a "suite of ideas" to draw savings from the current state health insurance system - perhaps more than $50 million worth after 2018.

That's important. The Walker administration projects the self-insurance proposal could save taxpayers $65 from the basic switch, and an additional $43 million in secondary costs. Opting not to change to a self-insurance model could cost employees significant increases in premiums, and self-insurance would keep the so-called Obamacare tax at bay, saving the state about $22 million.

Joint Finance Committee co-chairman, state Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) has said those savings are disingenuous because the Obamacare tax has yet to be collected and "there's no evidence to show it will be collected in the future."

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau has estimated savings from a self-insurance makeover at about $47 million. One consultant's report said the switch could end up costing the state money.

Walker's 2017-19 budget plan uses the projected savings to help increase funding for public education.

Under the self-insurance model, the state would be responsible for paying benefits and taking on the risk for losses, currently the responsibility of 18 private HMOs.

Felzkowski said budget committee Republicans would "cut ties" to education spending under their health insurance proposals, so lawmakers would need to come up with north of $60 million in funding.

The legislator, who owns an insurance agency, said the JFC is "encouraging" the Group Insurance Board to follow a number of recommendations, including a state plan redesign that further incentivizes consumer-driven health insurance plans - especially health savings accounts.

"We have very strong language encouraging GIB (Group Insurance Board) to find savings," Felzkowski said. "One of the ways to find those savings is through plan redesigns, with an emphasis on a customer-driven model."

She said savings are estimated to run between $30 million and $52 million over the biennium, but acknowledges that it may be too late in the game to hit the high end of the estimates in 2018. Contract negotiations are finalized in August, with enrollment set for October.

There would be funding available to educate state employees on the benefits of HSAs, and "over subsidizing of premiums to induce employees to move into the consumer-driven plans. Felzkowksi said the state's insurance offerings would increase from a three-tier model to a five-tier model, providing more plan options and more opportunities for savings. Employees would not see an increase in contributions, at least the current percentage would be the same, Felzkowski said.

Premiums for the state's current uniform benefit plan run around $1,000 per year for individuals. The high deductible HSA plan would cost about $396, according to Felzkowski.

Broader savings to the state would come from a greater awareness of health care costs, the lawmaker said. When consumers are responsible for all health care-related expenses, they make different decisions, Felzkowski said.

Ultimately, she said, the most significant savings could be realized by businesses in the Madison area and other government-heavy communities forced to compete against very generous state benefits.

"It's obscene," Felzkowski said. "It is so far away from what the private sector does outside Madison. What is the cost to local businesses and the business community and the greater Madison area forced to offer competing plans with the uniform benefit plan."

"We (the state) drive health care costs," the lawmaker added.

Felzkowski said she wouldn't rule out self-insurance down the road, but right now the Republican caucus "just isn't there." The big concern remains the volatility and disruption that could be created in the health insurance marketplace, a marketplace already hit hard by the Obamacare effect.

But some advocates of self-insurance say the current state health insurance model protects participating insurers to the detriment of taxpayers. Their question is this: If the state can drive cost savings from insurers now, why couldn't it do it before?

Felzkowski said she can't answer that question, although she has some theories. The proposed incentives, she said, might just be the "shove needed" to move state employees to a consumer-driven health insurance model.

Assembly 'Fellowship' Falls Apart On Day Of Political Violence In D.C.

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 22:02

MacIver News Service | June 14, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] - On a day when their federal legislative brethren were targeted by a crazed gunman, state lawmakers on both sides of the aisle urged a return to civility, to comity, a "sense of fellowship" in these bitterly divided times.

The kinder, gentler Legislature lasted for all of an hour.

Wednesday's Assembly floor session began with some conciliatory words from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) and a moment of silence for U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise and four others who were injured earlier in the day when a gunmen opened fire at an Alexandria, Va. baseball field.

"Today is a sad day for our entire nation," Barca said. "I am hoping today we can rededicate ourselves to set a shining example of how we might disagree on policy but still have a sense of comity and a sense of fellowship."

But Assembly members were soon back to the name-calling and overheated rhetoric all too familiar in today's politics. When the feel-good resolutions ended and the debate over Article V began, the gloves came off. Democrats accused Republican sponsors of Article V resolutions of secretly plotting to obliterate the Constitution under the guise of participating in a states-run convention to craft a federal balanced budget amendment.

"I don't think this resolution or these resolutions are before us because people want to pass a balanced budget amendment. That's a facade in order to debate this and put a pretty face on this ...I think there is a much more nefarious purpose," said Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee.

According to Kessler and a long line of his liberal colleagues, "extreme right-wing groups" want to "repeal many of the amendments in the Bill of Rights." The ultimate reason? To disenfranchise certain groups of voters and set voting rights back 150 years, Kessler contends.

Republicans shot back that their friends on the left were engaging in fear-mongering. The point of the resolutions, they said, is to give Wisconsin a seat at the table of a historic constitutional process that specifically would demand the federal government to get its fiscal house in order and begin dealing with $20 trillion in crippling U.S. debt.

"This legislation states we will follow the rules. Our intentions are not nefarious in any way, shape or form," said Rep. Kathy Bernier (R-Lake Hallie), who shepherded compromise legislation to bring on board reluctant conservatives also concerned about a "runaway convention."

After hours of bitter rhetoric amid the call for "comity," the resolutions passed along party lines.

Reunited And it Feels So Good

Warring Republican leadership in the Assembly and Senate seemed to be showing signs of detente, however.

Rep. John Nygren, co-chairman of the Legislature's Joint Finance Committee, told reporters before Wednesday's floor session the fact that the budget committee is meeting Thursday after last week's impasse-driven hiatus is a good sign.

Vos said he had a "good conversation" Tuesday with Gov. Scott Walker and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau. The Senate has been more aligned with Walker's budget plan than with the Assembly's proposals, particularly on the divisive issues of transportation and education spending.

"I know the Senate has been meeting on a regular basis, which is great," Vos said. "Many times during the process we would have a hearing scheduled for Joint Finance and then we'd have to stop because the Senate didn't know exactly where they were. I give them credit for the fact that they've taken this whole last week and caucused a lot and talked a lot and have more concrete ideas on where they want to go, and I think that this will help the process go along."

But reconciliation, even for a Republican majority that has held both houses of the Legislature for six-plus years, comes with baggage.

Nygren pointed to the Assembly education plan and Fitzgerald's rejection of it moments before the plan's release earlier this month.

"Originally Sen. Fitzgerald sent out a press release before we even released it saying it was dead on arrival," the Marinette Republican said.

In recent days, however, Republicans in the Senate and the Assembly have been talking more about the inequities of the 25-year-old state education funding formula and the impact it has had on low-spending school districts, Nygren added.

"That's actually getting us to a point where one position may not prevail 100 percent, but it gets us to a point where we can meet somewhere that makes sense for both of us," Nygren said.

Any notion of an intraparty feud is undercut by the fact that Republicans are arguing about how much more money to put into schools, and how much more to cut property taxes.

"That's a pretty good day to be in a place when you're having those types of conversations," the lawmaker said. "I would just suggest that putting out ideas, as we have on a couple different occasions, is part of our DNA in the Assembly."

Wednesday was a great day for limited-government advocates. The Assembly, on a party-line vote, passed the REINS Act, making Wisconsin the first state in the nation to pass the legislation demanding greater oversight of state bureaucratic rule-makers. The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, commonly known as the REINS Act, passed in the Senate last month, and now awaits the governor's signature. Walker originally had included the measure in his budget proposal.

The REINS bill is similar to legislation moving through Congress, but with lower thresholds. It provides greater legislative oversight of the regulations adopted by state agencies. Any rule or regulation with an economic impact of more than $10 million would require legislative approval.

And it gives the Legislature's Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules more muscle. The committee would be empowered to request a public hearing earlier in the rule-making process and call for an independent review of the proposed regulation's economic impact.

"Well it took 3 years and a lot of work, but Wisconsin just became the first state in the country to pass the #REINS Act through both houses," state Rep. Adam Neylon, R-Waukesha, tweeted Wednesday evening.

Dangerous Politics

Capitol security was front of mind in the hours after the D.C. shooting.

The House's Scalise, R-Louisiana, was with other congressional members, practicing for a charity baseball game between Republicans and Democrats. Assailant James Hodgkinson reportedly fired more than 50 rounds from a rifle and a handgun.

Hodgkinson was a volunteer for U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, according to media reports, and had a hostile view toward Republicans, particularly Trump.

"Hodgkinson had sent letters to his local newspaper in Illinois decrying income inequality, encouraging the government to tax the rich and supporting President Obama, according to the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat," the Washington Post reported.

Vos said state Capitol police did ramp up security in light of the events in Washington, D.C., not due to any threats. Asked whether officials have considered tighter security at the state Capitol, Vos said his "natural assumption" is the people's house should be as open as possible.

"That's why I'm not supportive of having armed guards, metal detectors, or any of those kinds of things because I think by and large we have a really good Capitol police force who has provided us security under the most intense times," the speaker said, referring to the left-led protests against Walker's Act 10 legislation in 2011.

Vos said the overheated political rhetoric, particularly in the Trump era, is only exacerbating the divide - and potentially making it deadly.

"I think that's the problem that we have in society today. Some people can't accept the fact that somebody has just a different point of view. That doesn't make them illegitimate or evil or hateful, they just have a different point of view," the speaker said. "So I hope that what we get out of today is more respectful rhetoric, to say you can believe whatever you choose to believe because we live in America.

"But you don't have the right to stop somebody else from believing what they believe because you don't like it, which is what, unfortunately, seems like this person attempted to do."

Puppets Mock Walker, Trump While Protesters Demand $15 Minimum Wage

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 13:30

MacIver News Service | June 13, 2017

[Milwaukee, Wis...] While President Trump and Governor Scott Walker talked about apprenticeships and job creation yesterday, a crowd gathered in downtown Milwaukee to protest the President and demand a $15/hr minimum wage in Wisconsin.

Last Resort? DNR Spends Nearly $2 Million On Training, Conferences

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 06:00

MacIver News Service | June 14, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] - Wisconsin Dells' Chula Vista Resort bills itself as the "most complete family resort in the Dells."

This wet and wild family fun zone includes 200,000 square feet of waterparks, a "world-class spa," and the historic and scenic Cold Water Canyon Golf Course.

Something for everyone - including the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.

Chula Vista, it seems, is one of the DNR's favorite destinations for conferences and sundry training sessions. Over the past year, the agency has spent at least $30,000 on conference space and hotel rooms at the resort, according to a MacIver News Service review of expenditures.

The DNR undoubtedly was drawn to Chula Vista's "200,000 square feet of flexible convention and meeting space," but there's no doubt the agency has a thing for waterpark resorts.

According to billing statements, the DNR over the past year has spent north of $70,000 on conferences and training sessions at some of Wisconsin's most popular resort destinations.

In all, the agency recorded nearly $1.9 million on travel/hotel expenditures associated with conference and training in the current biennium, between July 1, 2016 and June 1, 2017, according to information provided to MacIver News Service through an open records request. The final expenditures on the complete two-year budget term won't be filed until after June 30, the end of the biennium.

For one legislator and vocal critic of the Department of Natural Resources, that's simply too much.

"To me, it's excessive for one agency to spend that much on training, particularly I think when a significant amount of expense is related to hotel room rentals," said state Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake.

In fiscal year 2016, the DNR spent $869,497 on costs associated with in-state conferences and training, and $154,036 on like out-of-state expenditures.

So far in the current fiscal year the agency has spent $678,272 on in-state conference and training activities and $193,184 on out-of-state events.

Conference destinations include the Grand Lodge Waterpark and Resort near Wausau, where "it's always 84 degrees" (at the waterpark, definitely not in Wausau). Part of the Stoney Creek hotel chain, the Grand Lodge claims to be the "biggest waterpark in Central Wisconsin." It provides plenty of conference space, too. On July 22, 2016, the DNR dropped $12,456.50 at the Grand Lodge Stoney Creek, according to OpenBook Wisconsin, the state's online agency expenditure tracker.

Stoney Creek comes up frequently on the DNR's conference/training list of expenditures.

On July 22, 2016, the department cut two checks to Stoney Creek Inn and Conference Center, one for $9,746.30, and another for $1,074, according to online records. On January 25, the agency paid $8,260 to Stoney Creek Inn & Conference Center.

In November, the DNR spent $2,378 at the Tundra Lodge Resort, Waterpark & Conference Center in Green Bay's Stadium District - "just four blocks from iconic Lambeau Field."

The DNR doesn't always book big waterpark resort designations. In February, the agency dropped $5,248 in travel- and training-related expenditures at the American Lodge & Suites, according to OpenBook Wisconsin. The payment voucher does not note the location of the hotel. A day later, the DNR booked $7,953.07 for space at the Holiday Inn Hotel & Convention Center.

With 4,611 state-owned properties and plenty of free space available, Jarchow said he doesn't understand why the DNR isn't holding more of its training sessions at taxpayer-owned or leased facilities.

"The bigger rub for me is the rest of us in the real world use Skype. And somehow government thinks they have to hop in their cars and rent hotel rooms while the rest of us eat brown bag lunches and go on Skype," the lawmaker said.

DNR spokesman James Dick said the agency uses state facilities when possible.

"We consider consistency, transparency, effective communication and accountability when deciding how best to provide training opportunities to our staff across the state," he said, adding that agency officials continue to explore ways to use technology such as Skype or tele-conferencing.

The Department of Natural Resources boasts a workforce of some 2,500 full-time employees. Training and continuing education are a central part of those government jobs, and a big part of the DNR's public outreach efforts.

State employee training and travel in general cost taxpayers tens of millions of dollars annually. Online records show 42 state agencies have spent north of $91 million over the past year on thousands of individual travel- and training-related purchases.

The Department of Natural Resources isn't alone in big-ticket conference and training expenditures.

Open Books Wisconsin shows the State Department of Justice spent $62,418 in February 2016 to secure hotel and conference space at the "Comfortable. Elegant" Osthoff Resort in Elkhart Lake. The documents do not provide specifics about the event. Six months later, the agency paid $54,262.04 to the luxurious Heidel House Resort & Spa, according to the online database. Records show a state Department of Transportation wrote a $24,653.13 check to hotel chain Hyatt Corp. on Oct. 12, 2016.

"We will always look for opportunities to provide valuable training information to our staff in ways that are cost efficient for taxpayers," Dick said.

But Jarchow said it's hard to have sympathy for an agency that has used its embattled magazine to "cry poverty."

The Joint Finance Committee earlier this month agreed to save the Wisconsin Natural Resource magazine, which Gov. Scott Walker has proposed cutting.

Jarchow said he hopes the Legislature will have a "robust discussion" about the DNR and where to save taxpayer money in the budget debates ahead.

"I hope the DNR and all agencies will carefully examine every single expenditure they make in these kinds of areas and try to find savings the best they can," he said.

Referendum Madness

Wed, 06/14/2017 - 05:55

MacIver News Service | June 14, 2017

[Cuba City, Wisc...] When voters reject a school district referendum, oftentimes the district simply tries again - and again - and again - until voters finally relent.

So far this year there have been 70 referenda across the state, and 15 of them were repeats, and 7 of those passed on the latest attempt. Some state lawmakers believe voters are getting railroaded in this process and want to do something about it.

Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) has introduced 8 separate bills aimed at reining in referenda abuses. They would limit how when a referendum could be authorized and scheduled, require recurring referenda to be reauthorized every 5 years, and reduce a district's state aid based on increased revenue from successful referenda. Needless to say, school officials aren't happy about the package.

MNS' Bill Osmulski has more.

MacIver Joins 45 Conservative Groups and Activists Urging Senate to Repeal all Obamacare Taxes

Tue, 06/13/2017 - 11:05

June 13, 2017

[Madison, Wis...] The MacIver Institute, along with 44 other free market groups and individuals, are urging the U.S. Senate to repeal all of Obamacare's roughly $1 trillion in taxes in a letter to Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) sent on Tuesday.

Recent media reports suggest the Senate may delay or eliminate repeal of some of these Obamacare taxes. As the coalition notes, this would be a mistake:

"True repeal of Obamacare means repealing the Obamacare taxes and the Senate should resist the urge to deprive taxpayers of relief in order to pay for higher spending."

As noted in the letter, repealing the Obamacare taxes will reduce taxes for businesses and families and help ensure a free market, patient-centered healthcare system:

"The roughly one trillion dollars in new or higher taxes imposed by Obamacare directly hit middle class families and small businesses, raise the cost of healthcare, and reduce access to care."

In addition, repealing Obamacare taxes will lead to stronger economic growth, helping President Trump's goal of three percent economic growth:

"Obamacare taxes directly suppress economic growth. The best example of this is the 3.8 percent so-called Net Investment Income Investment Tax on capital gains and dividends... A related tax hike is the 0.9 percent Medicare surtax on wages and self-employment income..."

The full letter follows and can be found here.


June 13, 2017

The Honorable Orrin G. Hatch

Chairman, Senate Committee on Finance 

219 Dirksen Senate Office Building

Washington, DC 20510

Dear Chairman Hatch:

As the Senate continues to make progress on legislation to repeal and replace Obamacare, we urge you and your colleagues to include repeal of the nearly 20 taxes imposed by the law.

During a February 1 speech at the Chamber of Commerce, you declared, "All of the ObamaCare taxes need to go as part of the repeal process."
We agree. 

Recent media reports suggest that the Senate may be wavering on repeal of these taxes. This would be a mistake. The final Senate repeal package should retain the broad tax relief that was included in the House passed American Health Care Act.

The roughly one trillion dollars in new or higher taxes imposed by Obamacare directly hit middle class families and small businesses, raise the cost of healthcare, and reduce access to care.

Obamacare taxes directly suppress economic growth. The best example of this is the 3.8 percent so-called Net Investment Income Investment Tax (NIIT) on capital gains and dividends. Historically, capital gains taxes have a significant negative impact on capital formation, productivity, and economic growth while raising little or even negative revenue. 

Repealing the 3.8 percent NIIT would return the capital gains tax rate to 20 percent, the rate agreed to by President Clinton and a Republican Congress in 1997.
A related tax hike is the 0.9 percent Medicare surtax on wages and self-employment income, the repeal of which was unfortunately delayed six years by an amendment in the House.  It should be repealed as expeditiously as possible.

Other Obamacare taxes directly impact the ability of Americans to meet healthcare costs, such as the income tax hike on families with high medical bills. Around 10 million families pay $200 to $400 in higher income taxes each year because Obamacare increases the threshold at which families can deduct medical expenses paid out of pocket.

Obamacare also makes it harder for individuals to save for their own healthcare choices. Roughly 20 million Americans use tax-advantaged Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) to save for healthcare costs. Another 30 million use Flexible Spending Accounts. There are multiple taxes that restrict the ability of families to use these savings accounts, which limits the choice of consumers.

Other taxes hit certain healthcare industries, such as insurance providers, medical device and prescription drug manufacturers. Inevitably, these taxes are passed onto American families in the form of increased costs.

Finally, the tax associated with the employer mandate has limited millions of Americans to part-time work and the tax penalty associated with the individual mandate hit eight million Americans in 2014, with a family of four facing an income tax hike exceeding $2,000.

True repeal of Obamacare means repealing the Obamacare taxes and the Senate should resist the urge to deprive taxpayers of relief in order to pay for higher spending.
We commend you on your stance to repeal these Obamacare taxes and urge any final package accelerate or at least maintain the House-passed tax reductions.


Grover Norquist

President, Americans for Tax Reform

James L. Martin

Founder/Chairman, 60 Plus Association

Phil Kerpen 

President, American Commitment

Steve Pociask

President, American Consumer Institute

Lisa B. Nelson

CEO, American Legislative Exchange Council

Ashley N. Varner

Executive Director, ALEC Action

Dan Weber

President, Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC)

Lindsay Boyd 

Policy Director, Beacon Center of Tennessee

Norm Singleton

President, Campaign for Liberty

Andrew F. Quinlan

President, Center for Freedom and Prosperity

Chuck Muth

President, Citizen Outreach (Nevada)

Twila Brase, RN, PHN

President and Co-founder, Citizens' Council for Health Freedom

Chip Faulkner

Executive Director, Citizens for Limited Taxation (Massachusetts)

David McIntosh

President, Club for Growth

Michael J. Bowen

CEO, Coalition for a Strong America

Thomas Schatz

President, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste

Katie McAuliffe

Executive Director, Digital Liberty

Adam Brandon

President, FreedomWorks

Richard Watson

Chairman, Florida Center-Right Coalition

Annette Meeks

CEO, Freedom Foundation of Minnesota

George Landrith

President, Frontiers of Freedom

Grace-Marie Turner

President, Galen Institute*

Mario H. Lopez

President, Hispanic Leadership Fund

Joseph Bast

President & CEO, The Heartland Institute

Heather R. Higgins

President & CEO, Independent
Women's Voice

Donald P. Racheter, Ph.D.

Chair, Iowa Center-Right Coalition

Tom Giovanetti

President, Institute for Policy Innovation

Ryan Ellis

IRS Enrolled Agent

Seton Motley

President, Less Government

Colin A. Hanna

President, Let Freedom Ring

Stephen Waguespack

President and CEO, Louisiana Association of Business and Industry

Brett Healy

President, The MacIver Institute (Wisconsin)

Mary Adams

Chair, Maine Center-Right Coalition

Bryan Dench

Maine Conservative Activist

Tim Jones

Former Speaker, Missouri House of Representatives

Brian McClung 

Chair, Minnesota Center-Right Coalition

Devon Herrick Ph.D.

Senior Fellow, National Center for Policy Analysis

Brandon Arnold

Executive Vice President, National Taxpayers Union

Jeff Kropf

Executive Director, Oregon Capitol Watch Foundation

Jordan Harris & Josh Crawford

Co-Executive Directors, the Pegasus Institute (Kentucky)

Mike Stenhouse

Founder & CEO, Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity

Karen Kerrigan

President & CEO, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council

David Williams

President, Taxpayers Protection Alliance

Michael W. Thompson

President, Thomas Jefferson Institute for Public Policy

Nancy Piotter

Executive Director, Virginians for Quality Healthcare

Gerrye Johnston

Founder/CEO, Women for Democracy in America, Inc.

Cc: United States Senators

*Organization listed for identification purposes only

REINS Act, Aimed At Checking 'Rogue Bureaucrats,' On Verge Of Becoming Law

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 16:57

MacIver News Service | June 12, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] - Wisconsin this week could become the first state in the nation to pass a REINS Act, legislation demanding greater oversight of state bureaucratic rule-makers.

The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, commonly known as the REINS Act, is slated for floor debate Wednesday in the Assembly, where the bill enjoys wide support from majority Republicans.

Early last month the Senate passed the bill - co-authored by Sen. Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) and Rep. Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee).

Last session the Assembly passed a similar REINS Act bill on a party-line vote, but it died in the Senate as time wound down on the session.

Neylon says the GOP majority in the Assembly hasn't changed its stance.

"I think we are in a very good position. There is no wavering support. I believe it will (pass) on a party-line vote," he said.

Gov. Scott Walker included the reform measure in his biennial budget plan, but REINS was one of 83 "non-fiscal" policy items stripped from the Joint Finance Committee's starting budget document.

"State agencies currently have the power to pass harmful regulations with little oversight from the legislature that can cost Wisconsin businesses and citizens tens of millions of dollars in compliance and lost revenue," LeMahieu said in a statement following passage. "The REINS Act improves transparency in the rule making process and gives the legislature more power to hold unelected bureaucrats accountable."

The REINS bill is similar to legislation moving through Congress, but with lower thresholds. It provides greater legislative oversight of the regulations adopted by state agencies. Any rule or regulation with an economic impact of more than $10 million would require legislative approval.

And it gives the Legislature's Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules more muscle. The committee would be empowered to request a public hearing earlier in the rule-making process and call for an independent review of the proposed regulation's economic impact.

Democrats insist the REINS Act would undermine regulations designed to protect the public. The left-leaning Sierra Club described the federal REINS Act legislation as "clearly an imprudent if not perhaps Machiavellian attempt to chip away at the regulatory process."

Some environmentalists last session claimed the REINS Act would slow down the rules-making process. That "misleading" message ended up slowing down the legislative process, ultimately killing the bill, Neylon said.

"It would slow (the rule-making process) down for expensive rules, and I believe it should," Neylon said. "It took a long time to explain the truth behind the proposal," that only proposed rules with an impact of $10 million or more would face greater scrutiny.

The REINS Act, proponents say, is ultimately about transparency and preventing "rogue" government agencies from implementing onerous and costly "rules in the dark of night without public scrutiny."

"This bill will limit the power of these rogue agencies" and limit the power of governors who want to circumvent the legislative process with executive orders, Neylon said.

"It goes to the heart of checks and balances within our system. We elect people to set policies. If we as taxpayers and voters don't like these policies, we have the ability to fire those lawmakers," the Republican said. "When you have rogue bureaucrats who have been there for decades, they have the ability to basically make laws."

Wisconsin's REINS Act has earned the praise of fiscal hawks and limited-government advocates such as Grover Norquist and his Americans for Tax Reform. Norquist said Wisconsin over the past six years has been a national leader in enacting "transformative, pro-taxpayer policy reforms."

"The cost of the federal regulatory burden is now greater than personal and corporate income tax collections combined. By passing a REINS Act at the state level, Wisconsin legislators demonstrate a recognition that rising regulatory costs - which act as a hidden tax that reduces the job-creating capacity of employers and drains family bank accounts - are also a major problem at the state level," Norquist said Monday in an email statement to MacIver News Service.

"By becoming the first state to pass a state version of the REINS Act, Wisconsin will further solidify its reputation as one of the nation's top reformer states," he added.

Vukmir Takes Bewley to Task for Saying School Choice Doesn't Matter

Mon, 06/12/2017 - 13:32

MacIver News Service | June 9, 2017

[Madison, Wis...] After Sen. Janet Bewley said school choice "means nothing" to the people in her district, Sen. Leah Vukmir shot back - "Education affects everyone in this state. We need to support children in all of our school systems."

JFC Considering $1 Billion Sales Tax Increase for Roads

Fri, 06/09/2017 - 10:43

MacIver News Service | June 9, 2017

By Bill Osmulski

The Joint Committee on Finance is considering almost a dozen different tax and fee increases to boost transportation funding, according to Fiscal Bureau memos released Thursday.

The Fiscal Bureau laid out 11 options for transportation fund revenue raisers "that have been the subject of frequent legislative inquiry" over the past year.

The first option would increase the state sales tax from 5 to 5.5 percent. That extra .5 percent would go into the transportation fund. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates that would bring in $960 million over the biennium.

The second option would be to apply the current 5 percent sales tax to gas purchases. LFB estimates that would bring in $660 million.

Option three raises the gas tax by 1 cent per gallon, and would bring in $64.4 million over the biennium.

JFC is also considering indexing the gas tax. That would tie it to inflation, and bring in $29.5 million over the biennium.

Indexing the gas tax ended in 2006. Another option would raise the gas tax by 7 cents a gallon, because LFB says that's how much it would have risen if indexing never went away. That would raise $450.9 million.

JFC could also start applying the gas tax to vehicles used for farming. That would bring in $71.4 million.

Lawmakers are also considering raising vehicle registration fees. Right now annual registration costs $75 in Wisconsin. The JFC proposal would change that to a mileage-based system, where drivers are charged 1.02 cents for every mile they travel throughout the year. That would mean a $102 registration fee for motorists who drive 10,000 miles in a year.

Another JFC idea is a highway user fee, which would be charged when purchasing a new vehicle in addition to the title fee. This fee would be 2.5 percent of MSRP. LFB estimates it would bring in $414.9 million.

Lawmakers might create a $50 fee for hybrids and electric vehicles. That would raise $7.1 million over the biennium.

JFC might also change the way Wisconsin collects vehicle registration fees. States like Iowa, Michigan, and Minnesota charge fees based on a vehicle's original MSRP. That means a driver in Minnesota with a new $20,000 vehicle is paying $271 for registration. In Iowa registration would cost $214. LFB says this proposal could bring in another $13 million in fiscal year 2018.

Finally, JFC is considering raising Wisconsin's title fees by $5. Currently those fees are $69.50. That could raise another $12.6 million over the biennium.

Ultimately, JFC might decide to reject the options, but the LFB memo indicates there is some interest in at least considering them.

Since last summer supporters of raising the gas tax have been pushing a false narrative that Wisconsin has a $1 billion-dollar transportation deficit. Gov. Scott Walker's transportation budget includes no revenue raisers while balancing the transportation budget with the lowest level of new bonding since 2001-02. Meanwhile, recently revised estimates of the transportation fund indicate there will be an additional $101.8 million available during the biennium.

Walker has stated he will veto any tax or fee increase in the budget.

Assembly Road Show Rolls On While Budget Work Waits

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 23:21

MacIver News Service | June 8, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

Madison, Wis...] Memo from the Senate to Assembly leadership: Get off the road and back down to work.

Sen. Leah Vukmir pressed that message again on Thursday - Two days after Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) sent authors of the Assembly Republican education plan out on the road to sell the proposal to constituents.

Vukmir and her Senate Republican colleagues assert the ed plan - which would trim $70 million from Gov. Scott Walker's generous K-12 spending package while raising revenue limits for lower-spending districts - say it's off the mark.

"So rather than go off and travel the state we have decided to stay in Madison and continue to do our work," Vukmir told MacIver News Service Thursday on the Mark Belling Late Afternoon Show on NewsTalk 1130 WISN.

Assembly Republican leaders were in Merrill, where they "illustrated the positive impact of their education budget proposal" at a press conference in the school district office.

"The way we fund schools largely hasn't changed since 1993 when frugal districts were locked into low levy limits," said John Nygren (R-Marinette) in a press release. "Since then, these limits have created an uneven playing field for low-spending school districts struggling to complete with high-spenders to hire quality teachers."

Nygren, co-chairman of the Joint Finance Committee and co-author of the proposal, asserts the Assembly Republican plan "makes education funding more sustainable, equitable and effective, all while decreasing property taxes."

Vukmir, a Brookfield Republican, said the Assembly GOP plan picks winners and losers. Tinkering with the funding formula can have a negative impact on taxpayers throughout the system, she said.

While the Assembly road show went on, Senate Republicans again met in caucus and talked about the budget and "where the Senate is versus the Assembly," Vukmir said.

Vos, meanwhile, was in Washington, D.C. meeting with President Trump and members of the administration to talk transportation investment at an infrastructure summit. Trump is big on a federal cash infusion for a broad infrastructure initiative. Vos told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the Trump administration is receptive to loosening federal transportation regulations that would help free up funds in the states.

But the road trips cost another day of budget-making as Wisconsin moved closer to the end of the current biennial budget - June 30.

The Joint Finance Committee took off another day of public budget work while the two houses remain at a standstill on key issues - education and transportation at the top of that list.

Vukmir reiterated that the Senate's budget position is much closer to Walker's proposed blueprint than to the Assembly's ideas. There remains a possibility that the two houses could present competing plans.

"We in the Senate are going to continue to do our work and hopefully the Assembly will come back and realize that it's very important that we work together," she said.

"I hope we all get together really soon because we had two days of JFC meetings that were called off and that puts us behind a little bit, and that's not where I think our constituents want us to be. They want us to get this work done. They want us to finish our budget and, frankly, that's our job," the senator said.

Wisconsin the First State to Ask Federal Permission to Drug Test Medicaid Recipients

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 13:05

Request to feds includes a slate of other reforms including work requirements, monthly premiums

MacIver News Service | June 8, 2017

By Chris Rochester

[Madison, Wis...] A longtime leader in welfare reform, Wisconsin has become the first state in the nation to request a federal waiver to drug test able-bodied, childless adults who seek Medicaid benefits.

The Department of Health Services submitted a broad request to the federal Centers for Medicaid Services Wednesday, asking the Trump administration for permission to implement a variety of reforms to the state's Medicaid program - also known BadgerCare - including the drug screening requirement.

If granted, the waiver would allow Wisconsin to screen those who apply for BadgerCare for drugs and, if necessary, require participants to submit to a drug test. If a recipient fails, he or she would have to enter a state-funded treatment program. If they refuse, they would be ineligible for BadgerCare benefits until they agree to enter treatment.

The DHS is also requesting to establish a two-tier requirement for monthly premiums and copayments for emergency room visits. Childless adults with household incomes from 51 to 100 percent of the federal poverty level would have to pay $8 per month for their benefits and an additional $8 for each emergency department visit.

Childless adults below 50 percent of the federal poverty level would not have to pay the nominal premiums or out-of-pocket copayments.

The DHS request also seeks permission to implement work requirements mirroring those implemented in the state's FoodShare program. As in the FoodShare Employment Training (FSET) program, recipients would have to either work 80 hours per month or take part in job skills training. BadgerCare benefits would be limited to four years for anyone not meeting the work requirements under the request.

Since implementing the work requirements in the FoodShare program, more than 21,500 FSET participants have gained employment.

The request is part of Gov. Walker's comprehensive welfare reform package, dubbed "Wisconsin Works for Everyone." The main goal of the reforms, Walker has said, is to help people break free from dependence on government and enter the workforce.

"Wisconsin Works for Everyone is about helping people transition from public assistance into Wisconsin's workforce, where they can build a solid financial foundation for themselves and their families," Walker said in a statement detailing the waiver request.

"Unemployment is low, and the percentage of people working in Wisconsin is among the best in the nation," Walker said. But the 17-year low unemployment rate of 3.2 percent, while good news for job seekers, also means the state is facing a worker shortage.

With near-rock bottom unemployment, the need for able-bodied individuals to "get off the sidelines" and enter the workforce is especially urgent, a sentiment Walker has stated repeatedly. His drug testing requirement is intended to help people get clean and gainfully employed.

Walker's reform package is an ambitious re-visiting and extension of former Gov. Tommy Thompson's groundbreaking W-2 welfare reforms of the 1990s, which turned the existing Aid for Families With Dependent Children (AFDC) on its head.

Thompson's reforms - celebrated late last month at a "Tommy@30" symposium marking 30 years since Thompson took office - created the expectation that welfare benefits shouldn't just be "free money", but that recipients should be expected to earn the benefits.

Ultimately, Thompson's reforms reduced Wisconsin's welfare rolls by 93 percent and served as a national model for the welfare reform President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996.

Walker's welfare-to-work initiatives make Wisconsin a welfare reform leader once again by requiring the drug screening, and trying to abolish the "benefits cliff" that causes BadgerCare recipients to lose all benefits when they make one dollar too much in income.

By requiring recipients to pitch in for their coverage, the groundwork will be in place to turn the cliff into a ramp to encourage recipients to work more hours, take promotions, and advance their careers.

The submission of the waiver request to CMS triggers a 30-day public notice period, along with a 45-day period in which the feds have to make their decision. The reforms would be implemented no sooner than one year after the request is approved.

Citizens Raise Sovereignty Concerns About Proposed Lake Michigan Sanctuary

Thu, 06/08/2017 - 11:45

MacIver News Service | June 7, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] An attempt by the federal government to designate a new national marine sanctuary covering a three-county area along the shores of Lake Michigan is supposed to help conserve "nationally significant shipwrecks and related maritime heritage resources in Wisconsin."

But some concerned citizens fear the protection effort will take a piece of Wisconsin's sovereignty, create another power-hungry bureaucracy, and unnecessarily cost taxpayers money the federal treasury doesn't have.

NOAA's (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) proposed Wisconsin-Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary has plenty of supporters, including the state of Wisconsin and the key communities that would be involved in the conservation effort.

But the proposal has its critics, too, like the Wisconsin Conservative Coalition, a nonpartisan association of four northeast Wisconsin conservative/Tea Party groups.

"The Constitution of the United States gives no authority of the federal government to have this kind of initiative. It's reserved to the states." said WI-CC chairman Ron Zahn.

Zahn and others opposed to NOAA's plan say the proposal is an incursion on Wisconsin's Tenth Amendment rights.

NOAA officials assert the proposed sanctuary, discussed for more than a decade, isn't meant to step on states' rights. The proposed 1,075-square-mile conservation zone would "protect 37 shipwrecks and related underwater cultural resources that possess exceptional historic, archeological, and recreational value."

"The sanctuary would also enhance heritage tourism within the many coastal communities that have embraced their centuries-long maritime relationship with Lake Michigan, the Great Lakes region and the nation," NOAA notes on its website.

Wisconsin-Lake Michigan was nominated to join several national marine sanctuaries through NOAA's nomination process "with broad community and bipartisan support," according to the federal agency. In December 2014, the state of Wisconsin submitted the sanctuary nomination, citing its desire to "protect, conserve, and enhance public access to this nationally significant collection of shipwrecks."

Russ Green, NOAA regional coordinator for the Proposed Wisconsin-Lake Michigan National Marine Sanctuary, said the federal government would not take over the state bottoms land covered by the sanctuary, which would extend 14 miles offshore at its furthest point. The nearly 1,100-square-mile area would include Ozaukee, Sheboygan and Manitowoc counties, and Kewaunee County could possibly be included.

"It wouldn't change state sovereignty. The proposal is very narrowly focused," Green said.

Shoreline property owners have raised concerns the national marine sanctuary would take away basic riparian rights.

"Wisconsin law recognizes that owners of lands bordering lakes and rivers - 'riparian' owners - hold rights in the water next to their property. These riparian rights include the use of shoreline, reasonable use of the water, and a right to access the water," according to the DNR.

But the state Supreme Court has recognized that riparian rights are, in certain instances, secondary to public rights.

Therein lies the concern for some shoreline property owners, who fear that the state turning over authority to the federal government - even in the pursuit of protecting this proposed sanctuary area - could cost them access and other rights.

An NOAA clarification letter states:

"NOAA's proposal to designate a national marine sanctuary in Wisconsin would not change riparian rights as defined by the State of Wisconsin, nor would it change state law regarding public access to the area in which shoreline property owners have exclusive access. The proposal recognizes the state's sovereignty over its waters and submerged lands, and would not extend Federal jurisdiction beyond the Ordinary High Water Mark (OHWM)."

Also a concern - NOAA's power to charge violators of the agency's rules and regulations with potentially expensive fines.

"Who determines that? They have their own division of law enforcement, they have their own courts, and they did have their own (administrative law) judges to rule in those courts, which makes a real happy situation," Zahn said. The Environmental Protection Agency now provides judges to hear NOAA-related cases.

NOAA's Green acknowledges there has been concerns on the commercial side, mainly from the shippers in the Lake Carriers Association, about the potential for agency regulations creating "unintended consequences" in their wake. Green said NOAA is working to "make sure that doesn't happen."

He could not speak to the amount of money associated with fines or how they would be levied, but insists that NOAA "will address that."

In other words, "just trust us," Zahn chided.

That's the big issue for Zahn and other critics of the sanctuary proposal. They note other NOAA marine sanctuaries that started off much smaller than they are today. NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is the trustee for a network of underwater parks "encompassing more than 600,000 square miles of marine and Great Lakes waters from Washington state to the Florida Keys, and from Lake Huron to American Samoa," according to the agency.

Critics point to numerous federal agencies, including NOAA, that have abused their authority in the past.

"NOAA officials say they are 'not going to do that.' That's akin to the IRS saying, 'We're only going to do our due duty of collecting appropriate taxes. We're not going to go after conservative groups. We're not going to ask what prayers they say at their meetings...We're not going to ask for their membership lists.' But they do do that," Zahn said.

The cost of the sanctuary designation and all that it entails remains unresolved. Green said each sanctuary is different, as the designated costs associated with it is different. The draft management plan includes five budget scenarios. Green said funding would come from federal sources, and that there is no state or local obligation.

A 90-day public comment period, ended March 31, harvested 650 written comments on the sanctuary proposal. NOAA held four public informational meetings in March in Algoma, Manitowoc, Sheboygan, and Port Washington, with approximately 400 people attending.

"NOAA will now prepare a Final Environmental Impact Statement, Final Management Plan and Final Rule should the sanctuary be designated," according to an agency document obtained by MacIver News. "Before the designation would become effective, the Governor has 30 days to review the documents. Congress also has 45 days of Congressional session to review the documents."

Green said implementation of a sanctuary - from the beginning of the proposal process through a published final document - can take two years. The official process began in January, Green said, so it could be early 2019 before the Lake Michigan sanctuary goes into effect - if, indeed, it is approved.

Zahn and the Conservative Coalition are urging Wisconsin citizens to contact the governor's office and lawmakers to voice their concerns about what they see is further erosion of the state's Tenth Amendment rights.

"We've allowed the federal government to chip away, chip away, little nice things over many decades," he said. "Each time that happens, we lose something."

Pocan Identified As Sponsor Of Anti-Israel Forum On The Hill

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 10:44

MacIver News Service | June 7, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] - Is U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan Congress' Mr. X - the anonymous member who booked Capitol Hill space for an anti-Israel forum?

Yes, according to an expose Friday by the Washington Free Beacon's Adam Kredo.

Pocan, the Madison liberal who has railed against anonymity in so-called "dark money" politics, is anonymously sponsoring the forum of several organizations that support boycotts of the Jewish state, congressional sources told the Free Beacon.

"Pocan, a supporter of the liberal Middle East advocacy group J Street, has come under fire in the past for meeting with a convicted terrorist associated with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a terror organization," Kredo wrote. "Since the Free Beacon first reported on the event--which many have described as a propaganda effort meant to defame the Jewish state--pressure has been mounting for the anonymous congressman behind the event to step forward."

The "congressional briefing," as this meeting of Israel bashers is described, is officially titled "50 years of Military Occupation & Life for Palestinian Children."

"Panelists will examine how persistent grave human rights violations, systemic impunity, discrimination, and a hyper-militarized environment affect the lives of the Palestinian children growing up under a military occupation with no end in sight," the "congressional briefing" literature notes.

Pocan's office has not responded to several requests for comment by the Free Beacon.

MacIver News Service asked the congressman's Washington, D.C. office Tuesday for a response. That request, too, went unanswered.

Kredo, who spoke to MacIver News Monday on the">Mark Belling Late Afternoon Show on NewsTalk 1130 WISN,
said the closed-door event is scheduled for Thursday morning on the Hill.

"When I got wind of this event, I decided, of course, this needs to be reported on and we needed to find out who exactly is backing it. The lawmaker behind it was remaining anonymous. I spent pretty much the entire week trying to figure out who was behind this until a source confirmed to me that your representative, Pocan, had reserved and sponsored the room for this organization," the reporter said. "His office has yet to respond and admit to it."

Pocan, an openly gay member of the House since 2013, has been a crusader against bigotry and hate speech. At the same time, the Madison lawmaker has been an unapologetic supporter of organizations viewed as not simply anti-Israel but anti-Semitic by mainstream Jewish groups.

"This is a movement that is essentially trying to do what the Nazis did to the Jews, boycotting Jewish-owned businesses, Jewish-owned goods," Kredo said of the so-called campaign of Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, to "end international support of Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law."

In other words, a movement that supports groups that believe Israel doesn't have a fundamental right to exist. It is a campaign based on phony "facts" and propaganda, disputed and rebuked on many fronts. It draws its inspiration from the United Nation's top human rights body, an anti-Israel panel that has the temerity to declare Israel the worst human rights violator in the world. *Note to U.N.: See Syria, Iran, Yemen and an array of Middle East countries proclaiming "Death to Israel" and attempting to carry out that murderous decree.

Perhaps it should come as little surprise that Pocan is affiliated with the anti-Israel movement. In November the Weekly Standard reported five U.S. congressmen, including Pocan met with Shawan Jabarin last spring. Jabarin reportedly is tied to recognized terrorist organization, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP).

"Seventy-one members of Congress were invited on the all-expenses-paid trip to east Jerusalem and Ramallah in the West Bank, but only five accepted: Illinois congressman Luis Gutierrez, Michigan congressman Dan Kildee, Wisconsin congressman Mark Pocan, Pennsylvania congressman Matt Cartwright, and Georgia congressman Hank Johnson (all Democrats)," the Weekly Standard reported.

The expenditure document notes that Pocan, "Met with Palestinian officials and business and community leaders to learn more about the regional economy, politics and culture" - at a taxpayer cost of $12,250.

Pocan and his colleagues met in May with Jabarin, whose terrorist group "has engaged in suicide bombings, assassinations and plane hijackings," according to the Weekly Standard story. "Jabarin serves as director of the Palestinian human rights organization Al Haq, which advocates for economic boycotts of Israel and exploits courts to delegitimize the country, according to NGO Monitor, a pro-Israel watchdog."

Pocan is a big supporter - and benefactor - of J Street, a George Soros-funded anti-Israel group that bills itself as a home for "pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans." So is Pocan's 2nd Congressional District predecessor, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison).

As Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla) noted earlier this year, J Street in 2015 "invited the chief Palestinian negotiator (Saeb) Erekat to address their conference, a person who has justified the murder of Jews as self-defense ..."


"Not long after attending (J-Street's) conference, Erekat called on the Palestinian Authority to support lone-wolf Palestinian-Arab terrorist attacks against Jews, called for rejecting a future Jewish state, and called for cooperating with genocidal terrorist organizations like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad," noted the Daily Wire.

U.S. Rep. Peter Roskam (R.-Ill.), a vocal defender of Israel, told MacIver News it is "troubling that groups espousing the insidious BDS movement would be given a forum in this fashion."

"The movement seeks to delegitimize Israel and is nothing short of economic warfare against a strong ally of the American people," Roskam said in a statement.

And taxpayers again will have to foot the bill for the Pocan-sponsored anti-Israel forum on the Hill.

"The main takeaway from this is, your representative is supposed to represent your interests. A majority of Americans support the state of Israel and do not support anti-Israel activities, particularly on Capital Hill and by their members of Congress," the Free Beacon's Kredo said. "This is an affront to those who would say there is no place for this kind of thing."

MacIver Analysis: The Assembly GOP Education Plan

Wed, 06/07/2017 - 06:00

Spearheaded by Rep. Mary Felzkowski of Irma and Rep. John Nygren of Marinette, the plan would increase revenue limits for certain school districts while spending $70 million less than Gov. Walker's proposal

June 7, 2017

By Ola Lisowski
MacIver Institute Research Associate

Late last week, MacIver News Service broke news of a Assembly Republican-led plan for K-12 education spending under the 2017-19 biennial budget. On Tuesday, Republicans formally introduced the proposal to the media.

While the proposal spends over $70 million less in General Program Revenue (GPR) compared to Gov. Scott Walker's proposal, the plan's authors says classroom spending would stay about the same, if not slightly more.

The plan would increase revenue limits for certain school districts. It also does away with a proposed requirement to have school districts certify that employees are paying at least 12 percent of their health care costs.

Under Walker's budget proposal, the so-called "Act 10 requirement" would ensure that school districts are following the law in requiring their employees to contribute a certain amount towards health care plans. The Assembly plan strips out that idea after months of complaints from school districts across the state.

Other changes to Walker's education package include one requirement that would limit school district referenda to spring elections or general election days, except in the case of special circumstances such as a natural disaster.

Another provision would create a grant program to fund personal computers for high school freshmen. That would cost $125 per pupil to the tune of $18.4 million over the biennium.

"As Republicans, we have always believed in the idea of local control," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) said. "That's why we have said, if voters need to spend more money inside the classroom or in local governments, we believe they should go to referendum. Under the proposal that Governor Walker has laid out, basically when a local district or a local municipality decides to increase their levy...the state of Wisconsin, through income and sales tax dollars, is buying down that increase."

Speaking with MacIver on Friday, Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) said the Assembly plan would provide more opportunities for children in Wisconsin schools while addressing lowrevenue limits, an issue she says has been a concern for officials around the state for years.

"We're still putting more money into the classroom that's spendable, but we're reallocating it," Felzkowski said. "It's a way of giving to even out the opportunity base."

The plan would increase the low revenue adjustment for school districts to $9,800 per pupil in the second year of the biennium, up from $9,100 under current law and in Walker's proposal. Statewide, that would increase the ability of low-spending school districts to raise local property taxes by a combined $92.2 million, according to a nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo.

Current law sets revenue limits that dictate how high-spending school districts can levy local property taxes. The system was created in the early 1990s, and Felzkowski says frugal districts that were locked into low rates have since struggled to provide sufficient services for their students.

"I don't think anybody will dispute the fact that it's a huge inequality. It's lack of opportunity. If you've got a large district, they're levying at over $10,000. There's more opportunities for kids," Felzkowski said. Looking at school districts like Elkhorn or Merrill, she said, "where their levy limits are locked down at $9,200, they're struggling to meet the requirements to get these kids into college. The opportunities aren't there. I don't think anybody can say that's fair or that we're doing a good job."

Sixty percent of K-12 students in Wisconsin attend low-spending school districts, according to Felzkowski, who said another fiscal memo showed that "54 percent of the districts in the state of Wisconsin would benefit more under our program than the way that Governor Walker has it."

Under the plan, the Green Bay Area school district would see the biggest funding increase - an estimated $5.9 million increase from the low revenue adjustment, according to a fiscal bureau memo. Many suburban districts in southeast Wisconsin, as well as Milwaukee Public Schools, the state's biggest district, would not see any additional dollars from the change, and would see significantly less categorical aid, compared with Walker's plan.

The proposal could put Walker's pledge to lower property taxes every year in danger. While revenue limits aren't equal across the board, other sources of funding, such as categorical per pupil aid, are. Those funds have allowed school districts to get extra dollars distributed equally, based on enrollment, that don't affect the property tax base.

The plan pulls back a major increase in the school levy tax credit compared to Walker's proposal, deleting $35 million from a proposed $87 million allocation in the first year of the biennium, but increasing funding in the second year by $60 million. That credit goes to homeowners and helps keep local property tax levies low.

Under the Assembly plan, property taxes would remain lower than current rates, though not as low as under Walker's plan. Tax bills on the median household would be $10 higher in 2018 and $11 higher in 2019 compared with Walker's budget proposal, or $10 lower in each year compared to current tax levels.

Property taxes remain a top priority for Walker, who recently said he would veto a budget with any property tax increase for homeowners.

In order to help pay for the increased revenue limits, the Assembly plan would cut back on some of Walker's proposed increases for per pupil categorical aid.

The Assembly plan proposes increasing that pot of money by $150 per pupil in 2018 and by another $200 in 2019. Walker's plan would have increased per pupil aid by $200 in the first year, and $204 in the second. Overall, the increase to per pupil aid is significant compared to the current budget - the Assembly plan would spend $418 million more than current levels on per pupil aid alone.

General school aids, largely distributed through the equalization formula to help more property-poor districts, are increased by $102.8 million across the biennium in the plan compared to current spending levels. That would be a $30 million increase to Walker's suggested spending.

The Assembly plan doesn't make significant changes to any of Wisconsin's private school choice programs, though current law requires any per pupil aid increases also go to those students. For that reason, parental choice students wouldn't receive as much funding as under Walker's plan.

New school choice enrollment numbers have thrown off some of the numbers in Walker's budget, originally proposed in February. Since then, re-estimates show 800 more students are expected to participate in 2018, and 1,200 more in 2019. For that reason, total spending on the school choice program will increase compared over the two-year budget cycle.

Some in the Senate, including Sen. Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), have said they hope to see more significant changes to Wisconsin's school choice programs in this budget.

"The State Senate remains committed to fully funding K-12 education as Governor Walker proposed in his administrative budget," Fitzgerald wrote in a statement released Tuesday. "We will continue to look for ways to support low spending districts, but a proposal that both raises taxes and picks winners and losers within our school districts is a move away from the position of both the Governor and the Senate Republican caucus. The Assembly package that was endorsed today is simply not the direction the budget is headed."

As for Felzkowski, the tough decisions Wisconsin made in the past few years have allowed for significant investments this time around. The issue of revenue limits has been around for years, and it won't likely go away soon.

"We just felt that this was the time that we needed to bring up those low-spending districts. With this amount of dollars going into education, this is really the primetime for us to be able to do it," she said.

"We just have to make sure that all kids have opportunities and that's what we're trying to do here."

Budget Scuffles And 'Dog And Pony' Shows: A Standstill In The GOP Budget

Tue, 06/06/2017 - 17:59

MacIver News Service | June 6, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] Senate Republicans caucused Tuesday. Assembly leadership planned a road trip. And the Joint Finance Committee may meet next week - but then again, it might not.

Such is the rift, sources say, in Republican budget land between the Assembly and the Senate and Gov. Scott Walker and the Assembly.

JFC co-chairwoman, Sen. Alberta Darling, said the Senate Finance Committee continues to meet and work through the Legislative Fiscal Bureau's agency documents - "everything but transportation and taxes." Nobody seemingly wants to touch the mess that is transportation, even as Walker tours Department of Transportation roadside projects doing his best Larry the Cable Guy in urging lawmakers to, "Get it done." The "it," of course, is the state biennial budget.

Talk of lawmakers breaking out transportation from the full state budget isn't sitting well with Walker, who asserts his transpo plan will do just fine, thank you very much. The Assembly has put forward alternative transportation and education proposals. The Senate is standing by Walker's education plan and, it appears, the governor's budget blueprint in general.

"The Senate remains committed to fully funding K-12 education that Governor Walker proposed in his administrative budget," Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a statement Tuesday following the official release of the Assembly education plan.

"We will continue to look for ways to support low spending districts, but a proposal that raises property taxes and picks winners and losers within our school districts is a move away from the position of both the Governor and the Senate Republican caucus," the Juneau Republican said. "The Assembly package that was endorsed today is simply not the direction that the budget is headed."

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos offered an olive branch and marching orders - "Children Go Where I Send Thee" style.

"I know Gov. Walker can be flexible when good ideas are put out there, and that's why I think it's important for us to go and talk about this plan," the Rochester Republican said Tuesday at a press conference, surrounded by Assembly Republicans.

The Assembly GOP education plan would trim about $100 million from Walker's very generous ed spending package while raising revenue limits for lower-spending school districts.

Vos wants to send authors of the Assembly plan out on the road next week to talk about the plan, build support for it. Doing so is a better option, he said in a salvo fired at the Senate, than negotiating "in some back-room deal where nobody even knows what's in the plan."

Assembly Republicans also met in caucus Tuesday, Capitol insiders told MacIver News Service.

Dispatching key lawmakers to sell an education package wouldn't seem to bode well for the prospects of the Joint Finance Committee getting back to business next week.

Unless something dramatically changes, the JFC will not meet this week, as originally scheduled. Asked whether she thought the Republican-controlled committee would get back to work next week, Darling noncommittally said, "I hope so."

Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, a member of the Joint Finance Committee, called the Assembly road trip a "dog and pony show."

"I don't know what the value of that is going to be. I think people want us to get to work, to stay at the Capitol and do our jobs," Vukmir told MacIver News. She said the Assembly education plan is "off the mark" and she cannot support it. "Our conservative voters want us to decrease property taxes. They don't want to increase revenues, through gas taxes or otherwise. What I'm hearing is they don't want us to pick winners and losers in education."

Vukmir said the Senate would continue to go about its work. Its positions are more in line with the governor's budget plan than with the Assembly, she said.

Speculation is the Republican-controlled Assembly and the Republican-majority Senate may have to release competing budget plans. Vukmir said it's too early to say whether that possibility will come to pass. It would be unprecedented.

"I think we'll have to wait and see. I trust our leaders to work this part out," she said. "But hitting the road during the middle of a budget session sounds a little familiar to me, and I don't think that will sit well with a lot of our constituents ... I hope it makes our constituents speak up and tell them to get back to work."

Senate Democrats, you'll recall, hit the road in 2011 during the debate over Walker's Act 10 government reform plan.