Tag: Wisconsin Legislature Joint Finance Committee

Wisconsin Democrats’ bill regarding policy provisions in state budget doesn’t go far enough

Wisconsin State Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point), the assistant minority leader of the Wisconsin State Assembly, has proposed legislation that would change how policy provisions in Wisconsin state budgets are dealt with by the Wisconsin State Legislature, but the proposed legislation would not outright ban policy provisions in budgets.

Currently, all provisions in the Wisconsin budget, whether it be budget provisions or policy provisions that have little or nothing to do with the budget, are handled by the Wisconsin State Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC). If Shankland’s bill were to become law, policy provisions of the budget would be handled by standing committees of the Wisconsin State Legislature responsible for the area of policy in question.

Maybe it’s because I’m from Illinois, and I have zero tolerance for any kind of BS from politicians, but I think Shankland’s bill doesn’t go far enough. In fact, if I were a member of the Wisconsin State Legislature, I’d vote against Shankland’s bill for not going far enough to crack down on Scott Walker’s abuse of the Wisconsin state budget process.

Wisconsin Governors of recent times, most notably Jim Doyle and Scott Walker, have used the state budget to enact policy measures with little oversight. Shankland’s bill would give Walker, and any Wisconsin Governor who holds the office after Walker leaves it, explicit power to enact policy provisions that have no place in the state budget and should be considered by the Legislature as stand-alone legislation. Currently, Walker doesn’t have explicit power to propose policy in the state budget, but there’s no legal ban on the practice. The only way that the Wisconsin state budget process is going to be free of policy provisions that aren’t fiscal in nature is for the practice of the governor proposing policy provisions in the state budget to be explicitly banned. State governors shouldn’t be using the budget process to legislate from the governor’s mansion. In my home state of Illinois, the state government is currently shut down because a Republican governor is using the state budget to try to force a Democratic-controlled state legislature to support non-fiscal policy items that the governor supports. What Shankland’s bill in Wisconsin would do is effectively condone that practice in Wisconsin instead of prohibiting it there.

One can push for all of the accountability for bad ideas that one wants, but they’re still bad ideas.


Even the far-right doesn’t like the Wisconsin GOP’s attack on open records laws

Ladies and gentlemen, hell has frozen over.

For once, I’ve found myself on the same side of an issue as the MacIver Institute, a far-right political think tank with ties to the billionaire Koch Brothers, and Christian Schneider, a far-right political columnist for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the largest newspaper in Wisconsin. That’s because the Republican members of the Wisconsin State Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) passed “Motion #999”, an omnibus committee motion to attach, among other things, a provision exempting “deliberative materials” like legislative drafts and legislative briefings from Wisconsin’s open records laws, to the Wisconsin state budget on a party-line vote. A total of 16 Wisconsin state legislators, 12 Republicans and 4 Democrats, sit on the JFC.

Here’s the full Motion #999; the provision in question is provision #28, located on pages 9 and 10 of the PDF file linked to in this sentence.

This is an actual MacIver Institute video criticizing the gutting of Wisconsin’s open records laws by the JFC:

When the MacIver Institute finds itself siding with State Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) on an issue, you know that Republican legislators in Wisconsin have done something truly heinous. Remember that the MacIver Institute once filed an open records lawsuit against Erpenbach as part of a right-wing political witchhunt against him and won their case in court.

These are actual tweets by Christian Schneider sharply criticizing the Republicans’ move to gut Wisconsin’s open records laws, citing his experience as a state legislative staffer:

Schneider is certainly no liberal. He’s one of the most conservative figures in the usually very right-wing corporate media in Wisconsin, including writing a piece for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel website that repeated the lies of Kyle Wood, a Republican campaign volunteer who falsely claimed to have been physically assaulted because he’s openly gay and refused to support Mark Pocan during his successful 2012 congressional campaign. The piece in question has long since been removed from the Journal-Sentinel website.

The move by Republican state legislators to gut open records laws in Wisconsin is so asinine, even some of the most conservative people and groups in Wisconsin are opposed to it.

How the Republican agenda hurts rural Wisconsinites

I’m going to share something that Wisconsin State Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton), wrote for the Madison, Wisconsin-based newspaper The Cap Times a week and a half or so ago. In her op-ed, Hesselbein talked about how the Republicans’ state budget in Wisconsin hurts rural Wisconsinites especially hard:

  • On public schools, the Republican budget cuts $150/pupil from Wisconsin’s K-12 public school districts in the 2015-2016 school year and $135/pupil from Wisconsin’s K-12 public school districts over the biennium (the two-year period of the budget). Additionally, Republican Governor Scott Walker wants more charter schools, which get public funds that would otherwise go to public schools, in Wisconsin. Furthermore, the Republican budget cuts funding used to create homeschooling lessons and online educational materials, which are produced by Wisconsin MediaLab. These cuts could force some rural school districts in Wisconsin to consolidate, costing small towns jobs they need to survive.
  • On rural sanitation, Walker proposed, in the original state budget proposal, to eliminate a fund that helps low-income Wisconsinites replace failing septic systems, but it had its funds restored by the Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Legislature.
  • On rural roads, Walker proposed eliminating funding for removal of deer carcasses from rural roads in Wisconsin, which would have caused an even greater hazard to people driving in rural areas of Wisconsin. This also had its funding restored by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) of the Wisconsin State Legislature.
  • On rural health, the Republican budget eliminates both Wisconsin’s Rural Physician Residency Assistance Program and a loan forgiveness program designed to encourage medics to work in rural areas of Wisconsin. The program also cuts $25 million in Medicaid funding to most of Wisconsin’s community health centers.
  • On local government property insurance, Walker proposed eliminating Wisconsin’s Local Government Property Insurance Fund, which insures street sweepers, salt sheds, and other things that local governments in Wisconsin own and use to carry out street maintenance and other duties of local governments in Wisconsin. The City of Middleton, the Village of Waunakee, and the Village of Cross Plains, three incorporated municipalities in Hesselbein’s state assembly district, currently pay a combined total of $120,419 ($51,342 for Middleton, $49,214 for Waunakee, and $19,863 for Cross Plains) in premiums for insurance provided by the state’s local government insurance fund. If this fund is eliminated, local governments all across Wisconsin would have to pay more for local government property insurance from the private sector, if that kind of insurance is obtainable from the private sector. In its review of Walker’s budget proposal, the Wisconsin State Legislature delayed the demise of the program by two years.
  • On higher education, the University of Wisconsin Extension (UW-Extension) maintains a presence in all 72 Wisconsin counties, providing assistance to Wisconsinites in areas such as agriculture, 4-H youth development programs, and family living. Walker’s proposed funding cuts to the entire University of Wisconsin System (UW-System), which includes the UW-Extension, could result in the loss of 65 to 80 county-level Cooperative Extension positions, making it harder for Wisconsin’s farmers to get help they need from the UW-Extension.

Pointing out how Republican policies hurt people who live in small communities and rural areas is something I wish Democrats in Wisconsin and other states did much more often. However, unlike some other states, reaching out to rural voters is a necessity for Democrats to win statewide in Wisconsin for two reasons: Hard-partisan voters and the urban Democratic strongholds of the state don’t provide Democrats with enough votes to win statewide in Wisconsin, and suburban areas, outside of the heavily-Democratic suburbs around Madison, are some of the most Republican areas in the entire country. This is something that isn’t a necessity in, for example, my home state of Illinois, since the Chicago suburbs aren’t as staunchly Republican as the Milwaukee suburbs in Wisconsin are, so Illinois Democrats can win statewide with either an urban-suburban coalition or an urban-rural coalition, with most Illinois Democrats preferring the former, which, sadly, leaves rural voters in Illinois mostly ignored by Democrats. However, the urban-suburban coalition can’t be formed in Wisconsin, because the Milwaukee suburbs are the strongest of the GOP strongholds in Wisconsin, so it would take an urban-rural coalition for Democrats to win statewide in Wisconsin.

In short, Scott Walker proposed a budget that either would or would have cut funding to rural school districts, septic tank replacement programs, rural road maintenance, rural health care, local government property insurance, and university extension programs in Wisconsin. This would result, or would have resulted, in a lower quality of education for rural children, rural Wisconsinites having a harder time paying for septic system replacement, lower-quality rural roads, rural Wisconsinites having a harder time getting the health care they need, taxpayers having to pay more for insurance of local government property, and Wisconsin farmers having a harder time getting help from the UW-Extension. While Rob Brooks, a Republican member of the Wisconsin State Assembly from Saukville, has outright admitted that Walker proposed a “crap budget”, the Republicans who run the Wisconsin State Legislature intend to keep some of Walker’s budget cuts that will make life for rural Wisconsinites harder.

Wisconsin legislators to Scott Walker: YOU’RE FIRED FROM YOUR OWN CORPORATE WELFARE AGENCY!!!

It’s official…the members of the Republican-controlled Wisconsin State Legislature’s Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee (JFC) have effectively fired Scott Walker from the corporate welfare agency he helped create, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC):

The state’s Republican-led budget committee Thursday retained legislative oversight of Gov. Scott Walker’s troubled job-creation agency, removed the governor from its board and pledged further changes later this fall in the wake of a recent critical audit and a (Wisconsin) State Journal investigation.

The Legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee voted along party lines for the changes to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., but only after rejecting a series of Democratic ideas to reform the agency and more than an hour of debate during which even Republicans conceded that the agency needs fixing.

“We know that it’s time to reform this,” said Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson. “We can’t do it in the middle of the budget.”

Knudson even made the sobering admission that he didn’t believe in the mission of the agency – to leverage state tax dollars to help create jobs.

Walker has been the chair of the WEDC’s board of directors since it began operations in 2011. It’s not clear who would replace Walker on the WEDC board, although it would all but certainly be another Republican.

For those of you who haven’t been following the WEDC debacle in Wisconsin, I’ll provide a quick refresher. Since its creation in 2011, the WEDC has, among other things, mismanaged money, violated laws, has had officials spend taxpayer money on items like college football tickets and alcoholic beverages, handed out tax breaks to companies that have shipped American jobs to foreign countries, and has given loans to companies that haven’t paid back a single penny of the money that was loaned to them. In fact, State Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) and State Senator Julie Lassa (D-Stevens Point) have both called for a federal criminal investigation into the WEDC’s activities. For U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch to not launch an investigation would mean that Lynch and the Obama Administration are complicit in a cover-up of at least possible violations of federal law at the WEDC, so Lynch better launch an investigation, preferably right now.

For the JFC to fire Walker from his own corporate welfare agency is an obvious example of damage control by the Republicans in the Wisconsin State Legislature. Preferably, I’d like to see these state-level corporate welfare agencies replaced by North Dakota-style state economic development banks, but Republicans and corporate Democrats are never going to support anything like that.

Wisconsin State Senate Democratic leader Jennifer Shilling appoints pro-school voucher Democrat to state legislative finance committee

It’s been only a couple of weeks since Jennifer Shilling, a Democratic member of the Wisconsin State Senate from La Crosse, was unanimously selected by the Democratic state senate caucus to be the new minority leader of the state senate, yet she’s already pissing off Wisconsin progressives and rural voters in a big way.

Shilling assigned 2 state senators to the Wisconsin State Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (which consists of 16 total members; since Republicans control both chambers of the legislature, 12 are Republicans (six from each chamber) and 4 are Democrats (two from each chamber)). One of Shilling’s picks for the joint finance committee is Jon Erpenbach of Middleton, who has built up a progressive record on most issues as a longtime member of the state senate. However, Shilling’s other pick is Lena Taylor of Milwaukee, who, despite representing a district that has a large black population and votes overwhelmingly for Democrats, is a conservative Democrat who has supported, among other things, the gun lobby’s agenda, giving corrupt Milwaukee County Executive Chris “Boss” Abele more political power, and school vouchers.

For Jennifer Shilling to assign a staunch supporter of privatizing public education like Lena Taylor (the only time she voted against the charter school/school voucher lobby that I know of was when a statewide school voucher program was tied into the Wisconsin state budget) to a committee that is responsible for reviewing legislation on all bills that affect state revenue and expenditures (including education funding, proves that Shilling doesn’t give a rip about public education in Wisconsin. The Republicans that control Wisconsin’s state government are planning on enacting more legislation to privatize and destroy Wisconsin’s public school system, so for Shilling to pick Taylor for a committee that oversees, among other things, state education funding in Wisconsin is downright asinine.

Most of Shilling’s own constituents (Shilling represents a district that includes the La Crosse metro area and mostly rural areas to the south of La Crosse) are strongly opposed to taxpayer money being diverted from public schools to fund private schools, but Taylor wants to divert money from public schools all across Wisconsin into school voucher programs, which could force the closure of many rural school districts in Wisconsin, possibly including some school districts in Shilling’s own state senate district. To put this another way, Shilling is effectively aiding and abetting the Republicans’ push to destroy public education in Wisconsin.

Jennifer Shilling, the new Wisconsin State Senate Minority Leader, has done more to piss off progressives and rural voters in a little over two weeks than the previous Wisconsin State Senate Minority Leader, Chris Larson, did to piss off progressives and rural voters in nearly two years. The current Democratic leadership in Wisconsin has driven the Democratic Party of Wisconsin into political irrelevancy by giving political cover to the Republicans at every opportunity, and the new Democratic leaders in Wisconsin are even worse in this regard by actively helping Republicans implement their far-right agenda. It’s time for a large-scale push by Wisconsin progressives to divide and conquer the Democratic Party of Wisconsin by railing against the out-of-touch Democratic leadership and getting actual progressives elected to public offices and state and local party positions in Wisconsin.