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Government and Political Roundup: Funding for transportation projects to change, but not now

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MADISON - A top state lawmaker says Wisconsin will have to find a better way to pay for transportation projects - but not now. Republican John Nygren of Marinette, the state Assembly chair of the Joint Finance Committee, says the DOT's plan to cover a $63-and-a-half million transportation funding shortfall appears reasonable.

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The plan, unveiled yesterday, includes a delay in the re-building of two Milwaukee freeway interchanges - along with less road aid for local governments, and lower spending on Amtrak's high-speed train from Milwaukee-to-Chicago. Nygren says the slow growth in the economy is forcing lawmakers to look at setting priorities rather than raising taxes-and-fees. The finance panel is scheduled to review the DOT's new budget today. A Walker task force recommended a variety of revenue-raisers a few months ago - including a new fee based on the numbers of miles people drive. Nygren says his colleagues will most likely consider the task force recommendations as the economy gets better. But for now, he says it's not a good time to quote, "go back to others and ask for more."

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A bill to limit the amount of junk food bought by those on food stamps is up for a vote today in a state Assembly committee. The State Affairs panel will consider a bill from Neenah Republican Dean Kaufert to make low-income people use more of their Food-Share benefits from fruits, vegetables, milk, and bread. Kaufert said taxpayers provide the benefits, so the government has the right to clamp down on buying soda, candy, and chips with food stamps - with the goal of getting people to eat healthier. Critics say Food-Share clients already have limited options, somebody would have decide which new products are junk-or-not, and there could be confrontations at the checkout counter when a clerk has to tell a client to put something back.

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Governor Scott Walker says many Wisconsin business people have told him they're hiring part-time workers instead of full-timers, because of the uncertainty over the Obama health reform law. Walker made the remark yesterday in Washington, where he and two other Republican governors appeared at a national business lobbying event. Tom Corbett of Pennsylvania and Paul LePage of Maine all expressed concerns about the Obama health law that continues to be phased in. They also touted regulatory reforms and tax cuts in their respective states. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce put on the event.

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Legislation sponsored by Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind would end subsidies for cotton growers in Brazil. Nine years ago, Brazil filed an unfair trade practices action against the U.S. It won. Since then this country has sent Brazil $147 million each year. Kind and Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer are authors of legislation to end the subsidies and reform the cotton industry. Kind calls the subsidies, in essence, bribery payments to make sure Brazil doesn't implement sanctions against the U.S. The La Crosse Democrat says there are still some southern U.S. Senators blocking an efforts to modernize the cotton industry, so it can be globally competitive. He says that's just another example of Washington's dysfunction.

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