GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL NEWS ROUND-UP: Dairy Bill in D.C. won't include supply management program
WASHINGTON D.C - It appears that a federal supply management program for dairy farmers will not be part of the next Farm Bill. Republican U.S. House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) says he will not bring the farm program package up for a vote, if it includes the supply management provision in the bill's Dairy Security Act.
The Wisconsin-based Dairy Business Association was among the most vocal opponents of the management program -- which would have forced farmers to cut milk production during times of excessive supplies. DBA Director Laurie Fischer tells the Wisconsin Ag. Connection that farmers may have made the difference in bringing the issue to a close. The Brownfield Ag. News Service said the DBA was among seven groups urging a congressional conference panel on the Farm Bill to reject the milk supply program. The National Milk Producers Association -- the main architect of the Dairy Security Act -- said it was working with conferees on an alternative. Earlier reports yesterday said one option would establish a farm base -- and in times of overproduction, producers who exceed their base for two straight months would only get a percentage of their margin insurance payments. When that happens, the agriculture secretary could also raise producer premiums, and-or buy additional dairy products for government food programs.
Wisconsin's Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) was one of 26 U.S. Senate Republicans who voted against the federal budget that got final congressional approval yesterday. Seventeen other Republicans joined all Democrats in okaying the one-point-one trillion dollar package. Wisconsin's Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison) voted yes to the appropriations designed to keep Washington in business through end of the fiscal year on September 30th. Johnson says his colleagues must start removing waste from federal programs. He contends that the package includes quote, "phantom spending" with billions-of-dollars in programs that don't appear in the appropriations' documents. The new budget reflects an agreement endorsed a few weeks ago in talks that included House Republican Budget Chairman Paul Ryan of Janesville. Johnson said he supported the agreement so Congress could have a chance to prioritize spending -- but that never happened. Baldwin says the new budget makes quote, "essential investments in economic growth at a time when far too many people in Wisconsin are looking for work." She said the package would help rebuild the economy with new roads-and-bridges, and investments in science, research, and workforce readiness. Baldwin also said Wisconsin will get its own benefits -- like funding for new two littoral combat ships to be built at Marinette Marine.
The political madness is on in Madison, where lawmakers and special interests are spewing out ideas for spending a new billion-dollar state budget surplus. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau said yesterday that the state's tax collections will be around $900-million higher than projected through mid-2015. Republican Governor Scott Walker wants to give it back to the taxpayers in property-and-income tax relief. His office has not decided on a final plan, and Walker won't announce it until his State-of-the-State address Wednesday night. With a majority in both houses, Republicans will call the shots -- and they're getting lots of advice. State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) wants to reduce the local tax levy for technical colleges, saying it would assure solid tax relief for all home-and-business owners. Republican Senate leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) says some of his members want the state to keep at least some of the money for ongoing spending commitments. Fitzgerald is not sure what type of tax relief his house would support. Minority Democrats and liberal groups want more public school aid, higher education, worker training, and Medicaid. State Assembly Democratic leader Peter Barca of Kenosha said any tax relief should be geared to the middle class. David Riemer, a budget director under former Governor Jim Doyle, said the state's Medicaid shortfall needs to be addressed. The state has a $93-million deficit in tax-funded health care for the poor, plus a $19-million shortfall in the W-2 welfare-to-work program.
If the Assembly speaker has his way, Wisconsin home-and-business owners would pay less to their local technical colleges. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) tells the AP that the best way to offer property tax relief would be to quote, "buy down" the annual local tax levies for Wisconsin's 16 technical colleges. Governor Scott Walker is promising a major tax relief package for both property-and-income taxes next week, when he delivers his annual State-of-the-State address. The tax relief would be paid for through a larger-than-expected increase in projected state tax revenues in the current budget period ending in June of 2015. Officials have not disclosed what the projected increase would be. Vos said reducing the tech school levy is the fairest way to provide property tax relief statewide, since it would not create big winners-and-losers. The tech schools added almost $800-million to local tax bills in the past fiscal year.
State Assembly Republicans have changed their minds about not expanding a program that tells Milwaukee Police where gunshots are being fired. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) said yesterday that his house will vote next month on adding $175,000 for Shot-Spotter -- a network of sensors that shows police where gunshots are being fired in real time. Last year, Majority Republicans refused to budget 445-thousand dollars to expand the coverage area for the Shot-Spotter system. It currently covers a radius of three square miles. The proposed new state funding, along with local money, would expand the area to 10 square miles. Mayor Tom Barrett and Police Chief Ed Flynn kept lobbying state lawmakers for the program, even after the funding was dropped a year ago. Barrett said he knew lawmakers would be sold on it, once they saw it. Police say the Shot-Spotter has partially resulted in solving 14 Milwaukee homicides. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said he's seen the unit in action -- and he'd support state funding, although others in his chamber would have to get up to speed on it. Scott Walker's office says the governor supports the partial funding restoration.
Governor Scott Walker signed a bill yesterday that tweaks the eligibility changes for BadgerCare that were approved recently. Wisconsin adults who make more than poverty-level wages could still get Badger-Care through March 31st, if they sign up by the end of January. Starting February first, only those making poverty wages or less can apply for the Medicaid-funded Badger Care. Those above the poverty line who apply after February first would have to get coverage from the Obama-care exchanges. The Legislature approved the newest changes earlier this week, after a recent settlement between Walker's office and the federal Medicaid agency. About 77,000 existing BadgerCare recipients above the poverty line will lose their coverage at the end of March, and about 83,000 who are in poverty will get coverage for the first time. Those changes were supposed to be made January first, but the governor and Legislature approved a three-month delay due to problems that people originally had in signing up under the federal exchanges.
While Governor Walker touts a strong recovery, some of Wisconsin's neighbors might not feel the same thing. Creighton University economist Ernie Goss says declining farm prices are hurting the Midwest economy in general -- and the region's growth will appear to slow down in the coming months. Goss released a survey of rural bankers today which puts the overall economic index in the Midwest at 50.8 -- down from 56.1 in December. Anything above 50 suggests growth. The Creighton survey covers all or parts of Iowa, Illinois, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, the Dakotas, and Wyoming. Wisconsin is not included. Goss said most bankers expect the economy to be hurt by the federal EPA's proposal to reduce the required ethanol content in gasoline. Most Midwest governors have asked the EPA to scrap the proposed reduction -- but Wisconsin's Walker is taking a neutral stance. He says Wisconsin has competing concerns -- including small engine makers who believe too much ethanol in gasoline can hurt things like lawnmower engines.
Governor Scott Walker is taking sides in a Republican primary for the governor of Nebraska. The Lincoln Journal Star says Wisconsin's chief executive will endorse Omaha businessman Pete Ricketts at a rally on January 27th at the Nebraska-Omaha campus. GOP Governor Dave Heineman is stepping down this year, because Nebraska's term limits don't allow him to run again. Ricketts has five opponents in his party's primary -- state auditor Mike Foley, tax layer Bryan Slone, and state Senators Beau McCoy, Tom Carlson, and Charlie Janssen.
A conservative group says it will sue state prosecutors if they don't cut off their John Doe investigation into campaign activities during the state's recall elections. Eric O'Keefe of the Wisconsin Club for Growth says the probe is quote, "political payback by elected prosecutors against conservative activists for their political successes in Wisconsin." In a statement released by his Washington attorney, O'Keefe accused John Doe prosecutors of quote, "violating the rights of private citizens, and must be held accountable." Media reports say Milwaukee County District Attorney John Chisholm has been gathering secret evidence and testimony about allegations that conservative groups illegally coordinated their campaign activities with Republican candidates in the 2011-and-'12 recall elections. That includes the recall attempt against Governor Scott Walker. O'Keefe and his lawyer said the Club for Growth was targeted for quote, "alleged unlawful coordination" with the Walker camp on fiscal reforms. Prosecutor Bruce Landgraf said he received the letter but has not reviewed it yet. Prosecutors reportedly suffered a setback last week, when a judge threw out subpoenas that sought information from a number of conservative groups.
A special Wisconsin Senate committee is scheduled to endorse its own recommendations today for dealing with the Common Core education standards. An Assembly panel did the same a while back. Yesterday, the Assembly's education committee held a public hearing on three bills -- one of which would review the Common Core standards every six years, and encourage public input for evaluating current standards and drafting new ones. Wisconsin was among the first states to adopt the Common Core program three years ago for math-and-English standards. Forty-five states have since signed on. Conservative critics fear that they'll lead to a federal takeover of education, while educators say they help raise the bar for needed improvements in student performance. The state Assembly speaker expects a vote in February on the three bills – but state Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) has said it might be hard for his chamber to pass anything on Common Core this session.