GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: State Building Commission approves funding for UW-RF projects
Four U-W campuses have been given the okay to start building 152-million dollars worth of new facilities. The State Building Commission approved the projects yesterday. The largest is at U-W River Falls, where 64-million dollars will be spent to put up the new Falcon Center for Health, Education, and Wellness -- plus renovations to Ramer Field. Two academic buildings are being renovated for 56-million -- Harvey Hall at Stout, and the Clow Social Science Center at Oshkosh. Dormitory renovations were also okayed at Stevens Point and Whitewater, totaling just over 31-million dollars.
If Wisconsin raises the speed limit to 70 on rural Interstates, at least one trucking firm says it won't speed up. Marten Transport of Mondovi says its drivers will keep going 65 no matter what. Susan Deetz tells the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram that her company's vehicles are geared for 65 -- and an increase to 70 would hurt safety and fuel mileage. The Assembly passed the 70-bill on Tuesday, but it's not certain whether the Senate would pass it -- or if Governor Scott Walker would sign it. It includes a study of whether non-Interstate four-lanes should be raised to 70 -- and if Wisconsin should have split speed limits of 65 for trucks and 70 for the rest of us. Marten Transport opposes that idea. Schneider National of Green Bay cites a 20-percent increase in traffic deaths when the speed limit is raised by five-miles-an-hour, like all of Wisconsin's neighbors have done. Freshman Assembly Democrat Katrina Shankland of Stevens Point said G-O-P legislators quote, "didn't do their due diligence." She tells W-S-A-U Radio in Wausau that she tried getting more in-depth information, but was stymied. Freshman Assembly Republican John Spiros of Marshfield said the same thing. With two large trucking companies in his area, he cited safety concerns. Shankland also said it would cost 130-dollars a sign to make changes on over 12-hundred miles of rural Interstates. But not all carriers are opposed. The Chippewa Valley Airport Service, which shuttles people from Eau Claire to the Minneapolis-Saint Paul Airport, said it would be a great time-saver for its customers.
A 100-million-dollar property tax cut will be up for a final vote at the State Capitol this afternoon. The Assembly is expected to send the measure to Governor Scott Walker, who proposed the tax cut last Thursday. At that time, G-O-P Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said he couldn't imagine why any lawmaker would vote against lower taxes. Five senators managed to do so on Tuesday, when the upper house overwhelmingly passed the tax cut 28-to-5. The opponents said the average homeowner would only get an extra buck-or-two sliced off their taxes each year -- and the money would be better spent on schools and highways, or reducing the state's debt. They also accused the G-O-P of trying to make Walker look better as he stands for re-election next year. One of Walker's potential opponents -- Democrat Mary Burke -- said the other shoe will drop after those elections, when officials will have a larger deficit to slice back in the 2015 state budget. That deficit, though, is not nearly as high as other governors and lawmakers have faced since the 1990's. Republicans said the tax cut resulted from a higher-than-expected surplus in the last budget -- and taxpayers should get that money back.
Now that you've saved the country from default, how about feeding your poor? That's what Wisconsin advocates for the hungry asked Congress yesterday, when they pushed for a new five-year Farm Bill that includes funding for food programs. At a news conference in suburban Milwaukee, Sherri Tussler of the area's Hunger Task Force praised the last-minute congressional deal that ended the 16-day federal government shutdown. She said it was great news, because food stamp recipients were running out of time to apply for their next monthly benefits. However, Tussler said the shutdown also delayed vital action on the Farm Bill -- which Congress failed to extend past September 30th amid a debate over how much to cut from the food stamp program. In the meantime, Audrey Wilson said her Milwaukee church pantry is scrambling to help those locked out from two nearby pantries that shut down. She said her facility almost collapsed from the sudden spike in demand. Roundy's Supermarkets donated 24-hundred-dollars in food to keep her pantry going this month. Wilson said recipients have seen their benefits drop to as little as 16-dollars a month -- only enough to give them bread, milk, and eggs. Freshman Assembly Democrat Katrina Shankland came down from Stevens Point to promote the cause. She said she spent a week on food stamps last summer -- and she only got 1.50 per meal, and could not afford most produce. In Shankland's words, "I basically had to eat carbs and subsist on that."
The federal government re-opens this morning, with no help from all but one of Wisconsin's G-O-P lawmakers. Reid Ribble of Sherwood was the state's only Republican to vote last night in favor of the bi-partisan deal which extended the federal debt limit and avoided a first-ever default. All of the state's Democrats voted yes, including Senator Tammy Baldwin. Janesville House Republican Paul Ryan will be a big part of the agreement he voted against. Ryan will co-chair a committee that seeks to negotiate the creation of a permanent federal budget. He'll meet with congressional budget leaders about that today. Baldwin says she hopes to see a firm budget that boosts both the economy and the middle class. Ryan explained his no vote by saying that Congress needed to make a down payment on the national debt, and didn't. He called it a missed opportunity. Senate Republican Ron Johnson said he couldn't support the deal, saying he wanted spending changes on entitlements -- including Obama-care -- and something to address the long-term debt. In Johnson's words, "We are getting zero fiscal discipline." Ribble said he, too, opposed parts of last night's bill -- but he wants to give Congress 90 more days to set up a regular budget and quote, "end the nonsense of continuing resolutions." Freshman House Democrat Mark Pocan of Madison lamented the loss of public faith in the democratic process. President Obama said it's time for both sides to win back that trust.