GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Assembly to vote Tuesday on raising speed limit on rural interstates
The Wisconsin Assembly is scheduled to vote tomorrow on a Republican bill to raise the speed limit on rural interstates. The bill would make it legal to drive 70-miles-an-hour on the "I" outside of major cities -- and over the following year, the D-O-T would have to study the safety factors in raising the 65-limit on other four-lane highways. The original version of the bill spelled out two dozen places where the allowable speed would rise. Assembly Republican Paul Tittl of Manitowoc removed the larger list from the bill, saying he wanted to make things simpler by allowing the higher speed only on the Interstates for now.
The Wisconsin Assembly is scheduled to vote tomorrow on two bills that prevent the state from losing some of its precious federal highway dollars. Senate Republican Jerry Petrowski of Marathon is the lead author of both measures, designed to put Wisconsin in line with federal guidelines. One bill requires knowledge tests for military drivers who apply for commercial licenses in the Badger State. The other modifies how the state handles out-of-service violations for truckers' logs. Petrowski says the federal government threatens to withhold 25-million dollars a year for states which don't follow federal codes to the letter -- and the funding loss could rise to 50-million dollars in the second year of a variance. Wisconsin is considered to be millions-of-dollars short of what it needs for new-and-improved highways, and Petrowski says the state can ill afford to lose any federal road-building assistance. His two bills passed the Senate last week. Another bill going through the Legislature would let multi-axle trucks carry more weight for hauling wood -- something Petrowski says is needed to keep logging competitive in Wisconsin.
Governor Scott Walker wants to meet this week with leaders of all 11 Wisconsin tribes about the proposed Menominee Indian casino in Kenosha. The Republican Walker wants to see if there's any way they can all agree to allowing the new casino. That's one of the conditions he has imposed before he'll approve the project. The issue was placed on Walker's lap after the federal government gave its final approval. In the governor's words, "I'd like to see a win-win." That doesn't appear to be in the cards, at least for now. The Potawatomi Tribe has long opposed a Kenosha casino, fearing it would reduce revenues at the Potawatomi casino in nearby Milwaukee. The Ho-Chunk tribe also opposes the Kenosha project. Tribal president Jon Greendeer sees no way that will change. The Oneida tribe of Green Bay now says it has not decided on the new Menominee casino, even though it was reported earlier that the Oneida was against it. Last week, the Menominee hired the owners of the Hard Rock Café and casinos to develop-and-manage the Kenosha complex. Walker has said the Hard Rock's involvement will not influence his final decision. Besides the other tribes' approval, Walker says the Menominee needs to show community support for its new casino -- and it will not result in a net increase in gaming. The Walker administration is not saying publicly what that last condition includes.
At least five state government workers got large pay raises after the Walker administration reportedly tip-toed around state pay limits. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said three officials were moved into phantom jobs with higher pay scales, and then brought back to their original posts at the higher pay. Democrats have reportedly done the same thing in the past. Jay Heck of the watchdog group Common Cause says the state needs to set up a more transparent system for rewarding top performers. It was reported earlier that Capitol Police Chief David Erwin and his top assistant got big raises with phantom job transfers. Now, the Journal Sentinel said three others were given similar treatment earlier this year -- including state chief Revenue economist John Koskinen. The paper said he received a 14-thousand-dollar raise, after he uncovered problems with job statistics that critics were using to make Walker look bad during last year's recall election against him. Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis said Koskinen has worked under both Republicans and Democrats -- and it's vital that the state have correct job numbers. Koskinen reportedly had another job offer in the private sector, and the state raised his pay to 26-percent beyond a similar economist in another state agency. Most state employees have just been given their first general pay raises in four years, at one-percent.