State Government and Political News: Barrett pitches spending more dollars on city streets and less on highwaysWisconsin News
-- Milwaukee's mayor will make a pitch today to spend more state tax dollars on city streets, and less on major highways.
MILWAUKEE - Milwaukee's mayor will make a pitch today to spend more state tax dollars on city streets, and less on major highways.
Tom Barrett wants to re-work an existing state program that helps improve the worst local roads -- and give most of the money to cities and villages instead of counties. Barrett also wants to add 112-million dollars to the pot, by taking it away from major highway projects throughout Wisconsin. Barrett will explain his plan in his annual "State of the City" address today to the Milwaukee Common Council. He'll then submit his proposals to the state's Transportation Finance-and-Policy Commission, which is seeking public input on how streets-and-highways should be funded. Barrett -- a Democrat who's considering a run for governor this summer -- says 70-percent of Wisconsin's population lives in urban areas. So they should get the lion's share of local road aid. Right now, counties get 43-percent of the aid, which cities and towns get less. Barrett's plan would increase the cities' share to 53-percent over a four-year period. Pat Goss, who heads a group of state road builders, says local roads should get more money -- but not at the expense of state highways. Goss says the state should increase revenues for both. The DOT has not commented.
Wisconsin state senators are scheduled to vote tomorrow on a bill to make it easier to build on wetlands. It includes a number of changes in the way the DNR approves state construction permits on wetlands. The most controversial change would force developers to submit mitigation plans with their requests. Those plans would include options that range from creating new wetlands, to simply paying to support the DNR's current wetland restoration efforts. The state's current permit system seeks to avoid or minimize damage to existing wetlands. And conservation groups worry that financial mitigation will become the preferred option, instead of avoiding damage to wetlands. Senate Republican Neal Kedzie of Elkhorn, the bill's main sponsor, says a mitigation plan would not guarantee approval of a permit.
The numbers of low-income Wisconsinites in the traditional food stamp program have doubled in the last four years, while the costs have tripled. About 388-thousand people per month were in the state's Food-Share program in 2007. That number was 816,000 a month last year. The state's benefit cost U.S. taxpayers $372-million in 2007 -- and that ballooned to over one-point-one billion dollars a year ago. The economy is blamed for the large increases. Wisconsin's program has grown faster than both its Midwest neighbors and the nation as a whole. One possible reason is that it's easier than ever to apply for Food-Share benefits on-line or by phone. Also, officials say those applying for other government assistance can apply for Food-Share at the same time -- and residents can learn within minutes whether they're eligible. There have also been more reports of fraud -- especially after the program went to a debit-card-type system a dozen years ago. State officials say they're working to address it.
The Freedom from Religion Foundation has convinced the Eau Claire County Board and the Ashland City Council to drop prayers from the start of its meetings. Now, the Madison-based group is trying to get the Brown County Board in Green Bay to do the same thing. The Foundation says it's unnecessary, divisive, and inappropriate for a government agency to start off its meetings with prayers. Brown County Board member Tom DeWane says most of his colleagues believe it's a good idea -- even though some members in the past have disagreed about whether a prayer should include a reference to Christ. For now, at least, the Foundation has not sued Brown County over the matter. The group did sue the City of Green Bay in 2007, and it reached a settlement that removed a Nativity scene from the top of the main City Hall entrance at Christmas-time.