State News Roundup: Wisconsin has a new trade office in China
Wisconsin has a new trade office in China. Governor Scott Walker announced the opening of the Wisconsin Center-China yesterday, as part of his 10-day trade mission to that country. The Republican Walker said the new office would strengthen the Badger State's relationships with China. And it would give Wisconsin businesses more assistance and resources for growing their exports with that country. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation will arrange to have marketing and business consultants work at the new center. As part of its opening, four new trade agreements have been announced. The Shanghai Dairy Group has agreed to buy animal feed products from the state, and from Badger State Ethanol. The dairy group will also get training the Babcock Institute at U-W Madison. Also, Miller Electric of Appleton has reached an agreement to sell welding systems to a Chinese firm.
A judge in Madison is expected to decide this afternoon whether to hold up a lawsuit against Act-10, the state law that virtually eliminated most public union bargaining. The Wisconsin Law Enforcement Association filed the lawsuit in question. Like other suits, the association's complaint said Act-10 violates its members' rights to free speech and equal protections. The State Justice Department has asked Dane County Circuit Judge John Markson to delay the proceedings until an appeals court rules on what it calls a similar lawsuit against Act-10. Madison Judge Juan Colas ruled on that suit last fall, saying that public school and local government employees did not have to follow most of the law's provisions. A federal court later issued a conflicting ruling, which said that virtually all of Act-10's provisions apply to the vast majority of local-and-state public workers.
A school district in southern Wisconsin is getting a 310-thousand-dollar refund from a utility which accidentally overcharged the schools for five years or more. The Wisconsin Heights district of Black Earth expected its energy bills to drop, after making improvements a couple of years ago. But the savings never happened, so school leaders asked the state Public Service Commission to look into the matter. The P-S-C found that Black Earth's local utility had registered about three times the amount of energy that was actually used. The Black Earth Village Board, which oversees the utility, has promised to reimburse the school system by January first. And the School Board is expected to accept that deal when it meets on Monday. District Administrator Mark Elworthy says the refunds will go toward roof repairs. Black Earth is located northwest of Madison in western Dane County.
Milwaukee County Board leaders have come up with their own plan to slash the board's budget and salaries, after a state legislative proposal got held up. County Board chair Marina Dimitrijevic said yesterday that no one thought her panel would make a bold effort to change - and they did. She expects her group's plan to be approved at the County Board's next meeting on Thursday. The chairwoman said a number of supervisors have agreed to a 20-percent pay cut, a 50-percent reduction in its budget, and shorter terms of two years instead of four. The board's 38-person staff would also be cut in half. Supervisors elected in 2016 would get 10-thousand-dollars less than the 51-thousand that board members make now. The plan also seeks state permission to reduce the size of the 19-member Milwaukee County Board after the next Census in 2020. Former County Board member Joe Sanfelippo introduced a state bill to put the board on a diet, soon after he was elected to the state Assembly. His fellow Republicans agreed that Milwaukee County supervisors needed less power to micro-manage county government. Democrats accused supporters of wanting to give the county executive more power. A bill to cut the Milwaukee County Board's budget was held up in the Assembly this week by a procedural maneuver. It's due for a vote in May.