State Government and Political Round-up: Budget measure would make all state juniors take ACT test
MADISON - A state budget measure that's being considered today would make all high school students take the ACT college entrance exam during their junior years.
The State Legislature's Joint Finance Committee will decide whether to recommend the mandate. Governor Scott Walker and state school Superintendent Tony Evers want 11th graders to take the ACT and the Work-Keys exam that evaluates job skills. Those tests would replace the long-running WKCE achievement exam starting in the 2014-15 school year. The state would pay the $50-dollar of taking the ACT.
Also today, the finance panel will consider a budget proposal to make state employees pay $50-dollars more for health insurance if they smoke. The Walker Administration says the fee is necessary because smokers have 35-percent higher health care costs than non-smokers. Officials have not said how they would identify those who leave their smokes away from the office.
Several high-profile items in the proposed state budget will be up for committee endorsements today. The Joint Finance panel is expected to decide whether childless adults on food stamps should lose their benefits if they don't spend 20 hours a week searching and training for new jobs. Yesterday, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau said around 30-thousand people would drop out of the Food-Share program if the job-search requirement was approved. Also, the Finance panel will decide whether the governor should have the authority to sell off state properties - without having to get competitive bids - in order to help pay down the state's debt. For now, state officials say they'll look to sell things like excess land that was never used for highway projects. UW officials are afraid that campus buildings could be sold in the future - and the student fee money which built those structures would pay for other things.
The finance committee will also decide today whether the budget should ban double-dipping by public employees who retire, only to return a short time later and get both a pension and a paycheck. The committee will vote on offering public employees the option of creating tax-free health savings accounts to pay for future benefits. The finance panel will also consider ending discharge fees for Great Lakes shippers who must dump ballast water with the goal of controlling invasive species the boats might bring in. Finally, the committee will consider spending almost a half-million dollars in environmental management fees to cover inspections for frac-sand mining facilities.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker won't be around to lobby lawmakers today, as they act on some of his biggest state budget proposals. The Republican Walker spoke in Hartford Connecticut last night at the Prescott Bush Awards Dinner. Tonight, he's in New York City for a state GOP fundraiser there. On Thursday, Walker speaks to the county Republicans in Des Moines Iowa at an event that has hosted previous GOP presidential hopefuls including Mitt Romney. Walker is speculated by many as a possible White House hopeful for 2016. The governor's office says Walker has stayed focused on his duties as Wisconsin's chief executive - and he has appearances planned within the Badger State tomorrow through Friday. Meanwhile, the Joint Finance Committee will consider some of Walker's major budget proposals without him today. And a Republican co-chair has already talked about scaling back Walker's proposed authority to sell off state buildings to pay down the government's debt. Scot Ross, who heads the liberal One Wisconsin Now group, says Walker is not doing his job in Wisconsin while the state lags near the bottom in creating new jobs.
The Wisconsinite who leads the Republican National Committee says it's too early to call for President Obama's impeachment, as some GOP critics are doing. Reince Priebus told reporters last night at a New Hampshire fund-raiser quote, "There's a few chapters before we get to the last one, so it's up to us to connect the dots first." Priebus, a Racine native and former Wisconsin GOP chair, says he's not ruling out impeachment altogether as new details come out about a possible White House role in the targeting of conservative groups by the IRS. Minnesota U.S. House Republican Michele Bachmann raised the possibility of impeachment last week. She said quote, "There isn't a weekend that hasn't gone by that someone says to me, 'Michele, what in the world are you all waiting for in Congress? Why aren't you impeaching the president? He's been making unconstitutional actions ever since he came into office." At the GOP fund-raiser last night, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul said it's premature for that kind of talk. He said, quote, "We need to figure out the truth of what happened before we go anywhere else." Still, Paul says it "stretches credulity" to think that no one in the Obama administration besides the IRS knew what happened. Priebus blamed Obama for creating a "guerilla warfare" culture which allowed politics to infiltrate the nation's tax system. Priebus said it's only the beginning and quote, "We'll see how far it goes ... We'll see how high it goes."
It would be harder to recall local government leaders under a bill that up's for a public hearing today at the State Capitol. Almost two dozen Republican lawmakers are co-sponsoring the measure. It would allow recalls of municipal officials and school board members only if they're charged with crimes, or accused of ethics violations. The bill does not apply to state officials and legislators - a number of whom were put up for recall because of their votes for-or-against the 2011 law which virtually ended collective bargaining by most public employee unions. Robert Kraig of Wisconsin Citizen Action says the bill would make local leaders less accountable to the public.