Government and Political Roundup: Walker's proposed budget would include $1B for transportation projectsWisconsin News
-- Governor Scott Walker’s proposed state budget would borrow over a billion-dollars – almost all of it for transportation projects.
Governor Scott Walker’s proposed state budget would borrow over a billion-dollars – almost all of it for transportation projects. The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau says about 400-million would improve major highways – 300-million would re-do Milwaukee’s Zoo freeway interchange – 200-million would be borrowed to improve Milwaukee’s Hoan Bridge at the south edge of the downtown – and 60-million would be spent on rail projects. The state transportation fund normally covers those projects. But revenues in that fund have been sagging due to less federal aid, and more fuel-efficient vehicles are driving down gas tax revenues. A task force recently called for a five-cent-a-gallon gas tax hike and numerous transportation fee increases. But Walker and his majority legislative Republicans refuse to even consider tax-or-fee hikes. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and both co-chairs of the Legislature’s Finance Committee have said they’re uncomfortable with the heavy borrowing. But Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb said their only other choices are to cut projects, or find new revenues. He said major projects like the Hoan Bridge have been delayed for too long – and borrowing is favorable right now because interest rates are low.
Two plaintiffs in Wisconsin’s redistricting lawsuit will have two more months to examine Republican computers, and look for possible wrongdoing in the re-mapping process. A federal court yesterday gave two groups of Democrats and Hispanics until May 10th to dig for evidence in G-O-P computers that were recently handed to them. In a court filing this week, the groups said they discovered that one of the hard drives was dented-and-scratched – and others had evidence that documents were electronically “wiped” so they could be deleted for good. In a trial last year, the plaintiffs lost their case when the court ruled that all but two of the Assembly and Senate districts drawn by the G-O-P in 2011 were constitutional. Since the trial, the two groups said they’ve found 55 documents that the G-O-P was ordered to hand over to the plaintiffs by a court order, and never did. The plaintiffs say it will cost at least 100-thousand dollars for the new computer analysis. The court must decide who will pay the tab.
Wisconsin added 12-thousand-400 private sector jobs in January – but the state’s unemployment rate still rose to seven-percent, up from six-point-seven the month before. The seasonally-adjusted figures were released yesterday by the state’s Workforce Development agency. The report said government jobs fell by about 10-thousand-600, but officials said it was probably due to the timing of paychecks by the U-W System. Workforce Development Secretary Reggie Newson has challenged the accuracy of the monthly job reports for more than a year. He says they’re only based on surveys from three-and-a-half percent of the state’s employers – and they’re subject to major revisions later on. Newson said last year’s monthly reports under-counted the numbers of Wisconsin jobs by a total of 67-thousand throughout the year. The Walker administration has emphasized another federal report in which 96-percent of employers provide job data. But those numbers are up to seven months old when they’re released.
Convicts on probation-and-parole could be searched more often, under a bill that had a public hearing at the State Capitol yesterday. Right now, state corrections’ agents can search the property of those on probation-and-parole, if they’re suspected of violating the terms of their supervision. The new bill from Senate Republican Joe Leibham of Sheboygan would extend those powers to all law enforcement agencies. He says the searches could be made if officers suspect that an offender either committed a crime – or is about to commit one. Sheboygan Police Captain Bob Wallace told a Senate committee it would improve public safety, by letting officers more quickly investigate possible criminal behavior. But Anthony Cotton of the Wisconsin Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers said the police powers could be easily abused. He said an anonymous tip would be the only thing needed to let police go to a person’s home and search it.
A Republican state lawmaker wants those who get public Food-Share benefits to eat healthier, and stay away from the high-priced delicacies. Neenah Representative Dean Kaufert says he and his colleagues get stories about shoppers standing in line to buy ground beef with cash while quote, “the people in front of them are buying tenderloins with food stamps.” Kaufert tells the Wisconsin Radio Network he’s also concerned about using food assistance to buy junk items like pop-and-chips. He says he doesn’t want to tell people what to buy – but it is tax money, and it needs to be used to quote, “get the most bang for the buck.” Kaufert is proposing a bill to create a pilot program to help Food-Share recipients make healthier decisions – either by limiting what they can spend on junk food, or giving incentives to those who make smarter choices. The change would need a federal waiver. But Kaufert says it would let Wisconsin be a national model to encourage healthier eating. It would not change Food-Share’s eligibility requirements, or the total amount of benefits that recipients get.
House Republican Jim Sensenbrenner says national conservatives should take a lesson from Wisconsin as they try to reclaim the White House in 2016. Sensenbrenner, the 34-year veteran from Menomonee Falls, spoke yesterday at the Conservative Political Action Conference near Washington. He said Wisconsin proves that conservatives are electable, as evidenced by office-holders like Governor Scott Walker and House Budget Chairman Paul Ryan. Ryan will address the conference today and Walker tomorrow. Both are also in the convention’s straw poll of 23 possible White House candidates for 2016. Sensenbrenner also told conservatives to remember their history. He said they waged a strong grassroots campaign for Barry Goldwater’s presidential bid in 1964. And even though they lost, their activity helped set the stage for Ronald Reagan’s two terms in the 1980’s. In Sensenbrenner’s words, “We have to do that again.”