GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: The tax cut proposal may face a challenge in the State Senate
Governor Scott Walker's own Republicans say they don't have the votes to approve the half-billion-dollar tax cut he proposed in his State-of-the-State address last night. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said he doesn't have a majority of 17 votes for anything right now. G-O-P Senate President Mike Ellis said he'd rather see less money for tax cuts, and at least an extra 100-million dollars toward cutting the projected deficit of 825-million at the start of the next budget. But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said there's no such thing as a structural deficit if the economy grows -- and he wants his house to vote on the Walker tax cut February 11th. Vos said he'd like to have a public hearing late next week on the package -- which would cut the average property tax bill by 100-dollars, and annual income taxes by 44-to-58-dollars per filer. In an hour-long speech last night, Walker tried making the case for returning a bigger-than-expected surplus to taxpayers, calling it a "Blueprint for Prosperity." He said the economy is dramatically better than four years ago and quote, "People across the state tell me that one of the best ways to fuel the economic recovery is to reduce their tax burden." Democrat Mary Burke, who's running against Walker this fall, said the governor's numbers are way too rosy. Burke agreed that some tax cuts are in order -- but she'd use more of the surplus to pay down the state's debt and build up the rainy day fund for emergencies. Walker's plan adds 100-million-dollars to that fund.
State D-N-R Secretary Cathy Stepp screamed "Yes," just seconds after the Natural Resources Board revamped Wisconsin's deer hunting rules. After four hours of discussion yesterday, the board unanimously approved a host of suggestions made by Texas researcher James Kroll in 2011. Stepp called it a tremendous opportunity that Wisconsin cannot afford to waste. The most controversial change is the elimination of in-person deer registrations at places like bars and gas stations. Starting in 2015, they'll all be reported on line or by phone. Taverns said the change would hurt their business, and some lamented a loss of hunter camaraderie. But other hunters said it ends the inconvenience of driving for miles to register their animals -- and Stepp said eliminating the paper system would make the harvest tallies much more efficient. The board also approved Kroll's ideas to reduce the number of deer management units -- use simple goals to increase or decrease the herd instead of setting numerical targets -- and form county committees to recommend local population goals. Wisconsin Wildlife Federation director George Meyer asked why Kroll's proposals are being considered at all. He said hunters were satisfied when the governor and Legislature ended the requirement to shoot a doe before taking a trophy buck. Board members disagreed, saying northern Wisconsin hunters shot 15-percent fewer deer last year. Stepp said the current D-N-R policies, quote, "ain't working.'
Governor Scott Walker says he wants to use about 35-million dollars of the state's projected budget surplus to help workers. In his State-of-the-State address last night, the Republican governor said he wants to help those with disabilities find jobs. According to the latest federal numbers, only 19-percent of disabled persons are employed, compared to 68-percent of those without disabilities. Walker's plan would also help technical colleges get rid of their waiting lists for students training in fields with high demand, like manufacturing and computer technology. Walker also said he wants to help students get job training with dual-enrollment courses from their high schools and tech colleges. Walker's hour-long speech dealt mainly with the economy and his plan to cut taxes, at a time when he's setting himself up for re-election this fall and a possible G-O-P presidential bid in 2016. As always, the annual state address was also noted for what the governor didn't say. Assembly Democrat Jon Richards of Milwaukee, a candidate for state attorney general this fall, said he was disappointed that Walker omitted public safety issues. Richards said he'd like to use part of expected billion-dollar surplus to cover the court-and-jail costs of making first-time drunk driving a crime. Wisconsin is the only state where first-time O-W-I gives most drivers tickets instead of criminal action.
Wisconsin is one step closer to boosting its resources for treating those with mental health issues. The state Senate gave final legislative approval yesterday to a dozen bills which are now on their way to Governor Scott Walker. The Republican governor started talking about the need to address mental health concerns after a pair of mass shooting incidents in 2012. That was when six worshippers were killed at the Sikh Temple in Oak Creek -- and Radcliffe Haughton killed his wife, two other women, and himself at a Brookfield spa. Ten bills were approved unanimously yesterday. West Bend Republican Glenn Grothman voted no on two other measures. He has said he's concerned about over-prescribing drugs for psychotic matters, especially to children. The new measures would spend about four-million dollars for treatment. Health care providers would get new ways to share information, and a child psychiatry hotline would be set for doctors. A quarter-million dollars in grants would be made available every two years for law enforcement to have mental health intervention teams to deal with crisis situations. Among other things, more funding would also be available to encourage mental health professionals to locate in under-served parts of Wisconsin.
Governor Scott Walker will fly around Wisconsin today to promote the tax cuts he proposed in his State-of-the-State address last night. The Republican Walker will speak to members of the state's Grocers Association who are coming to Madison to give their wish-lists to lawmakers. He'll also speak to employees and their bosses at factories in La Crosse and De Pere. Tonight, Walker will travel north to Hurley to speak at an awards banquet for that city's Chamber-of-Commerce. The governor will highlight what he calls his "Blueprint for Prosperity" -- a half-billion dollars in new tax cuts, courtesy of a projected surplus of almost a billion-dollars in the current state budget. Meanwhile, officials in Milwaukee say part of the surplus should be given directly to them to help what they call "the economic hub of Wisconsin." Mayor Tom Barrett and Common Council President Willie Hines said Milwaukee should get 25-million dollars that banks originally paid the state to settle a lawsuit over their foreclosure practices. They also said the state should make up for its recent funding cuts in shared revenues, recycling grants, and transportation aid.
Facebook users are always being warned that if they post the wrong things, it could cost them their jobs or have them arrested. But that didn't stop a Wisconsin legislator from venting on her Facebook page during the governor's State-of-the-State address last night. Assembly Democrat Christine Sinicki of Milwaukee wrote, "OMG, this speech is so full of (blank) ... Wish I could get up and walk out. Bottom line ... The rich get richer, and the poor and middle class continue to get kicked in the butt." A few of Sinicki's online friends hit their "like" buttons. Asked about it afterward, Sinicki claimed she wouldn't really walk out -- and she was just disagreeing with Governor Scott Walker's remarks about an improved economy and using a state surplus for tax cuts. G-O-P Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Sinicki should apologize to both the governor and her constituents. He said voters sent her to Madison to do a job, and quote, "not throw a tantrum." Democratic leaders brushed aside the topic when asked about it last night. Sinicki did tone down her message later on, posting quote ... "For the record, my post about the S-O-S address was not about Walker, it was about his speech." She also thanked her supporters for standing up for her.
A bill to prevent employers and other superiors from snooping into people's private Facebook accounts is heading to Governor Scott Walker for his signature. The Senate approved a final amendment to the bill yesterday. It would let employers ask their workers to accept them as "friends" on Facebook and other social media. The Assembly created that provision when it passed the bill on Tuesday. The Republican Walker has indicated that he'll sign the measure. Other states have adopted similar legislation, to make sure people don't lose out on job opportunities because they won't let companies look into their private social media conversations. Also, the Senate has voted unanimously to let companies transfer their state tax credits to another firm, if the original recipients don't pay enough in taxes to use the credits. Those original firms would have to meet several job creation standards in order to make the transfers. The bill now goes to the Assembly.