State Government and Political Roundup: Walker's plans to borrow a billion and add employees questionedWisconsin News
-- The head of the Walker administration was put on the defensive yesterday, as his fellow Republicans questioned plans to borrow a billion-dollars and add 700 new state employees.
MADISON - The head of the Walker Administration was put on the defensive yesterday, as his fellow Republicans questioned plans to borrow a billion-dollars and add 700 new state employees.
Administration Secretary Mike Huebsch appeared before the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, as the panel started reviewing Governor Scott Walker’s two-year budget package. GOP co-chair John Nygren (R-Marinette) said he did not expect the governor to quote, “grow the size of government.” Most of the extra borrowing is for highway projects. Huebsch called it a one-time increase, and he denied that it’s the “new normal.” He said some of the extra state employees are needed to administer the Obama health reform law – and 180 extra highway engineers are needed after Huebsch said the DOT was quote, “cannibalized” in recent years. The former administration relied more on private engineers, as part of Jim Doyle’s campaign pledge to cut thousands of people from the state payroll. But Huebsch said it was more expensive to out-source – and the DOT would save almost six-million dollars with its own engineers. Also, lawmakers questioned Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen’s plan to bring back a solicitor general to defend the state against a growing number of legal challenges to Walker’s policies. Among other things, Van Hollen said he was hard-pressed to find non-union lawyers to defend the governor’s collective bargaining limits.
Wisconsin’s so-called “hybrid” approach to Medicaid will be examined today, when lawmakers continue their review of the next state budget. Health Services Secretary Kitty Rhoades will answer questions and respond to criticisms of the plan, when she appears before the Joint Finance Committee. GOP Governor Scott Walker rejected millions in federal funds to expand programs like Badger-Care under the Obama health reform law. Instead, Walker plans to have the state revamp Medicaid on its own, by expanding the numbers of Badger-Care recipients who are at-or-below the poverty level. Recipients above the poverty line would buy discounted insurance from the new federal exchanges that begin in 2014. Yesterday, we learned that larger employers would pay extra if their workers use the exchanges to buy their coverage. The Jackson-Hewitt Tax Service estimates that Wisconsin firms will pay an extra $24-to-36 million a year. Critics say the cost estimate is too low. A health agency spokeswoman responded by saying the governor’s plan would reduce the number of uninsured Wisconsinites in half, and reduce dependence on the government.
Almost half of Wisconsinites still don’t know what to think of U.S. Senate Republican Ron Johnson, more than two years after he’s been in office. Forty-four percent of those responding to a new Marquette Law School poll said they had no opinion about the former businessman from Oshkosh, who unseated long-time Senate Democrat Russ Feingold in 2010. Johnson has been a constant critic of federal spending. And he made worldwide headlines with his tough questioning of Hillary Clinton on last year’s attack at the U.S. embassy in Libya. Thirty-percent in the Marquette University poll gave Johnson a favorable rating, and 25-percent gave unfavorable responses. Johnson has already said he’ll run for re-election in 2016. The state’s other senator, Democrat Tammy Baldwin, got a 39-percent approval rating. But 25-percent still had no opinion, even after her heavily-publicized election campaign against former Governor Tommy Thompson last fall. The Marquette poll surveyed 1,060 registered voters, 360 from Milwaukee so they could comment on local issues. The poll has an error margin of plus-or-minus five percent.
Majority Democrats in the U.S. Senate say they will not include a ban on assault weapons as part of their gun control package. And that’s just fine with over four-of-every-10 Wisconsin voters polled on the subject recently. A new Marquette University Law School poll shows that 43-percent of just over a-thousand registered voters opposed a ban on assault weapons – and 52-percent favored it. Just over half of gun owners were against the ban. And in homes with no weapons, almost two-thirds supported the banning of assault weapons. The poll showed that more Wisconsinites agree with the idea of expanding background checks to include buyers at gun shows, as well as private gun sales. Eighty-one percent favored the universal background checks, and just 18-percent were against it. The poll was conducted March 11th-through-14th. About three of every 10 people surveyed were from Milwaukee, so the poll could gauge public sentiment on local issues there.
The state Agriculture Department wants to know what people think about letting farmers treat their corn seeds with a non-lethal repellent. The idea is to discourage sandhill cranes from eating the crop. Officials are considering a policy to let farmers use Avipel Liquid Seed Treatment and Avipel Hopper Box corn treatment. Those products are not registered with the federal EPA – but they’ve been used under federal emergency exemptions. Officials say that when cranes eat the treated corn, they’re repelled from doing it again. The state Ag Department says people make comments in writing. Letters must be received by March 29th, and e-mails by March 31st.