GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: Hearing held today to make all elementary students receive 30 minutes of phy ed daily
A public hearing will be held today on a bill to make Wisconsin kindergarten-through-fifth graders get at least 30-minutes-a-day of physical education. The Assembly's Children-and-Families committee will take testimony this morning on the proposal from Green Bay Republican Chad Weininger. It comes after we learned that one-of-every-four Wisconsin children are obese or overweight. Almost a dozen lawmakers from both parties have signed onto the bill. A number of health-related groups support it, including the state's Public Health Association and the American Cancer Society. Wisconsin has not had a daily physical education requirement for its public schools since the late 1980's. Kids are now required to get phy-ed three times a week, and the time requirements are not specified.
When a president comes to town, the local mayor is normally waving-and-smiling on stage -- but not Waukesha Mayor Jeff Scrima. He plans to stay away tomorrow when President Obama speaks at a General Electric plant. Scrima says both Washington and Madison are more polarized than ever -- and he blames the Democrat Obama and Republican Governor Scott Walker for not coming to the center and compromising. Scrima also says a mayor should be non-partisan -- and he doesn't want to connect himself with either side. Scrima tells the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he has not participated in any events over the past four years when Walker and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan came to Waukesha. He said he did appear at a school choice rally, not knowing Walker would be there. Scrima has three challengers in a primary next month, but he denies it has anything to do with his decision not to greet the president. Mary Burke, the lone Democratic candidate for governor, has also bowed out of the Obama visit. Her spokesman says she'll be campaigning in western Wisconsin.
The U-S House could vote as early as this morning on the compromise five-year package of federal farm programs. La Crosse Democrat Ron Kind says he's leaning toward a no vote. He says it might be an expensive proposition, noting that direct payments would shift to other subsidy programs. Kind also said nothing was done to stop billionaires from getting farm subsidies -- something he calls "real abuses." And like other Democrats, Kind is against the one-percent cut for food stamps that's in the package. The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation supports the compromise. Group president Jim Holt says the total package includes far fewer direct subsidies. Wisconsin dairy farmers will see their price supports replaced by a voluntary insurance program, in which government payouts occur when margins fall below various levels that farmers choose. U-W Madison dairy policy analysis director Mark Stephenson says farmers will have to do their homework, and every situation is different -- but with high margins expected this year, it might be beneficial to choose the lowest-cost coverage. House Ag chair Frank Lucas says he understands criticisms of the dairy provision -- but he stresses there are no production limits, and farmers are protected in the end.
The proposed Walker tax cuts would be higher than the governor claims. The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau agreed yesterday that the Republican Walker's plan would reduce local property taxes by an average of 101-dollars this year. The bureau also said the governor's plan would wipe out an increase of 31-dollars that was planned for the typical December tax bill. So the property tax cut would actually be 131-dollars for a home assessed at 151-thousand dollars. Also, the Fiscal Bureau said Walker's proposed income tax cut would amount to an average of 46-dollars -- making the total tax cut 177-dollars. The cuts represent just over half of a surplus in the current state budget that's projected to be almost a billion dollars. Lawmakers are expected to act in the next few weeks. Democrats and some Republicans say they're more concerned about eliminating an expected deficit at the start of the next budget in mid-2015. The Fiscal Bureau says the structural deficit would be 807-million dollars -- 99-million more than before the tax cuts were proposed. Meanwhile, the state Revenue Department has unveiled new income tax withholding tables for employers to adopt by April first. Walker does not need legislative approval to adjust the withholding tables -- which he says would put more money in workers' pockets now instead of next spring as part of people's tax returns.
Wisconsin Democrats hailed, while Republicans huffed at President Obama's latest plans to reduce the gap between America's rich and poor. During his State-of-the-Union speech last night, the Democrat Obama said vowed to step around Congress and issue executive orders when necessary to narrow the nation's economic disparities. House Republican Tom Petri of Fond du Lac said expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit would do more to help the working poor than the president's desire to raise the minimum wage -- which Petri said would reduce jobs and hurt the very people Obama's trying to help. House Republican Jim Sensenbrenner of Menomonee Falls said the president showed an "utter contempt" for Congress -- and he was not elected to rule by quote, "executive fiat." But Senate Democrat Tammy Baldwin labeled it a "strong call for action to build a fairer economy, expand opportunity for everyone, and grow the middle class." Madison House Democrat Mark Pocan said Obama is providing the opportunity we won't see until quote, "our economy works for every American -- not just those at the top." Obama announced his order for a 10.10-an-hour minimum wage for workers in future federal contracts. Obama also said he would use his powers to help low-income workers save for retirement. The president called for an extension of the Earned Income Tax credit for low-wage families. Obama also renewed his pitch for immigration reform. The president will reinforce his economic plans during a speech tomorrow at a General Electric plant in Waukesha.
Governor Scott Walker wants the state to revoke the license of a teacher who was reinstated by an arbitrator, after getting fired for downloading porn at school. Andrew Harris' union successfully challenged the firing -- and the Republican Walker said it was a good example of why his Act-10 union bargaining clamp-down was necessary. The Middleton-Cross Plains School Board put Harris back to work on Monday, after the State Supreme Court refused to consider overturning the arbitrator's decision to reinstate him. The union said the termination was too harsh, saying Harris' colleagues also looked at porn at school and only got suspensions and warnings. In a letter to state Superintendent Tony Evers, Walker said he heard from concerned parents, and concluded that the arbitration process quote, "failed the school district and the students." The governor said it appeared that the Harris case qualifies under a clause that gives the superintendent the ability to revoke a teaching license for immoral conduct. Harris' attorney, William Haus, said it's no more of Walker's business than anybody else. Haus told the A-P quote, "My guy made a mistake. He shouldn't have done what he did. That doesn't mean he should get hung from the highest tree."