GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Gov. Walker a popular pick in 2016 for President by state Republicans
Almost two of every three of Wisconsin's most active Republicans favor Governor Scott Walker for their party's presidential nomination in 2016. That's according to a straw poll by Wis-Politics-Dot-Com at the G-O-P state convention in Milwaukee over the weekend. Walker received 97 of 315 votes from delegates, alternates, and guests in attendance. U-S Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was a distant second with 50 votes. Janesville House Republican Paul Ryan, the party's vice presidential nominee in 2012, was third with 49 votes. The only other race in the Wis-Politics straw poll was the Sixth U-S House District Republican primary in August. State Senator Glenn Grothman of West Bend took first with 159 votes. Sheboygan Senator Joe Leibham was second with 85, and Assembly Republican Duey Strobel of Saukville was third with 32. Among delegates who live in the district, Grothman out-polled Leibham 44-26. Just over one-of-every-four people at the convention took part in the straw poll.
As the candidates for governor argue about their records for creating jobs, a new report spells out a dim future the politicians can do nothing about -- the rising numbers of empty jobs and schools in Wisconsin due to the retirement of the baby boomers. The state's Taxpayers Alliance says Wisconsin's working age population will shrink two-tenths of one-percent between now and 2040, as retirees nearly double. The alliance issued a report which was first publicized on the front page of yesterday's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. It warns of little or no job growth in Wisconsin, since not as many people will be around to fill new positions. The Tax Alliance says average incomes could drop. State finances will become more strained, with a growth in seniors who are the biggest users of government services. And many school districts are already seeing enrollment declines as baby boomers' children get older. The problems could be especially acute in northern Wisconsin, where over 60 school districts already have less than five students per square mile. Tax Alliance president Todd Berry says it brings the current school funding formula into question, as Bayfield and Price counties expect to lose over 30-percent of their school-age populations by 2040 -- with 20-percent drops predicted in Lincoln, Rusk, Pepin, Ashland, and Rusk counties.
After a much-publicized breakdown in the last decade, Governor Scott Walker's people are moving forward with a massive overhaul of the state government's computer systems. It may sound like inside politics, but everyday taxpayers have a big stake financial stake in this. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says the replacements of 120 state computer systems could end up saving 100-million dollars in reduced maintenance costs and higher efficiency over a decade. Former Governor Jim Doyle suspended the program six years ago, in part due to over-optimistic savings' estimates that were five times the current estimates. Officials have worked since 2011 to revive the computer upgrades, saying they're long overdue for things like keeping trade of government assets and paying state workers on time. Auditors called for legislative oversight back in 2007, but the Journal Sentinel says there has not been much of that -- even to this day. Senate Republican Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls co-chairs a joint legislative information technology committee which has not met in at least six years. She says she's planning hearings about the state's computer system, which is now called State Transforming Agency Resources, or STAR. The program has spent around 33-million dollars of a total 139-million-dollar price-tag. It's scheduled to be completed in three years.
The mayor of Milwaukee says there's something missing in the debate over taxes in Wisconsin. Tom Barrett says homeowners have paid a higher share of the tax burden for years, as businesses get more-and-more tax breaks. Now, Barrett is spilling the beans on a state bill introduced late in the last session, but was never acted on. Assembly Republican Mary Williams of Medford, who's not running for re-election, wanted to eliminate the local tax on a company's personal property -- and to cut off state aid to communities which is based on the value of computer equipment exempt from property taxes. Williams' aide Charles Bellin said his boss never expected the bill to go anywhere now -- but she wanted to get the idea out there. Barrett, a Democrat who lost twice for governor against Scott Walker, says he wonders if the G-O-P wants to push the measure through as part of next year's state budget. Walker's office says it has not looked at the proposal. Barrett tells the Journal Sentinel that bills like Williams' do nothing to lower total taxes -- and he wants a full debate over having homeowners pick up a growing amount of the tab.
At least some Wisconsinites have found that it can pay to improve the air quality of their homes and neighborhoods. The Wisconsin Public Service utility is giving grants of one-thousand to six-thousand dollars to folks who trash their old wood-heating stoves, in favor of more modern equipment. The utility's Lisa Prunty said about 220 customers in northeast and north central Wisconsin have applied for grants in the first six weeks of the program, totaling around 600-thousand dollars. Public Service received funding from the American Lung Association to encourage folks to either buy more efficient wood-pellet stoves and outdoor boilers, or repair their old stoves with inserts. More information is available at the Wisconsin Public Service Web site.
As Wisconsin Republicans went home yesterday from a rousing state convention, at least one political scientist said the G-O-P should keep full control of the state Legislature after this fall's elections. U-W Milwaukee analyst Mordecai Lee, a former Democratic lawmaker, said the odds are against Democrats in their quest to regain the majority in the Senate. The G-O-P is losing at least three veterans, in an upper house that has a slim 18-15 Republican majority. Lee said the Republicans firmed up their chances to win a number of Senate seats in their 2011 redistricting. Also, he said the November contests in non-presidential election years tend to skew Republican because those elections tend to attract more voters who are wealthier and older. The A-P says most observers expect the Assembly to keep its G-O-P majority, even though 14 Republican incumbents will either leave politics or seek higher office this fall. The Assembly has a 60-to-39 G-O-P majority.