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STATE GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL NEWS: Gov. Walker signs budget, makes 57 vetoes

PLEASANT PRAIRIE - Bounty hunters will not return to Wisconsin. Governor Scott Walker says he’ll veto the return of bail bondsmen when he signs the new two-year state budget into law yesterday. The Republican governor has line-item veto power over spending bills. He expects to strike out 57 items from the 1,400-page spending package that totals $70-billion.

Wisconsin has not allowed bail bondsmen since 1979. The system would have allowed criminal defendants to pay a private company 10-percent of his bond – and the business would have been responsible to make sure the defendants appear in court. The attorney general and numerous others in the legal system opposed the measure, which was added by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee. It’s the second straight time Walker will have opposed bail bondsmen. He says he’s quote, “not thrilled” with the system. Also, Walker plans to veto a budget item that would have removed the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism from its current location at UW-Madison. The finance measure would have also prevented anyone connected with the UW from working on the center’s projects. Walker will also veto a slight modification in the private school choice expansion, to ensure tight enrollment caps as the system goes statewide. Among other things, the budget also includes a 650-million dollar income tax cut. Walker will sign it this afternoon at a ceremony in Pleasant Prairie. The budget takes effect tomorrow.


Governor Walker will begin a tour of Wisconsin today, to promote the new state budget he signed into law yesterday. At a ceremony in Pleasant Prairie, the Republican Walker said the two-year, $70-billion package is quote, “a sharp contrast from where we were two years ago.” Walker said structural reforms and tough prudent decisions led to quote, “a great investment in the people of Wisconsin.” He’s expected to sound those same themes during visits to Green Bay, Chippewa Falls, and La Crosse as the budget takes effect today. It reduces income taxes by over $650-million, raises local property taxes by one-percent a year, expands private school choice statewide, and freezes U-W tuition for two years. It also forces certain arrested felons to give their DNA to law enforcement before they’re convicted – and it forces Badger-Care recipients above the poverty line to enter the state’s Obama-care health exchange. Walker vetoed 57 items, including the return of bail bondsmen – and preventing any UW involvement in the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The vetoes did nothing to reduce Democratic criticism of the budget. Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said the budget fails the middle class. He says it will make it harder for those people to pay property taxes, send their kids to school, and count on basic state services.   


Governor Walker said he wanted to show that his “word was good” by limiting the expansion of Wisconsin’s private school choice program to what he negotiated with Republican moderates. State Assembly Republicans tried at the last minute to sneak in a budget amendment that could have eliminated the enrollment limits – but when signing the budget yesterday, Walker held firm to his agreement from a few weeks ago. It expands the use of state-funded private school vouchers for low-income kids statewide. Enrollments will be limited to 500 students this fall outside Milwaukee County and Racine, where the choice program currently operates. The limit would rise to a-thousand the following year, and Walker has said he hopes the program will be popular enough for people to want a further expansion in the 2015 budget. The last-minute Assembly item would have allowed the current voucher schools to accept students throughout Wisconsin without counting them toward the caps. State Superintendent Tony Evers said it could have resulted in private choice schools popping up statewide. 


Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett cried foul, after Governor Walker vetoed new state funding to tear down vacant homes that were foreclosed upon. The new state budget would have spent three-and-a-half million dollars to help Wisconsin communities demolish those houses. It was one of 57 budget items that Walker vetoed yesterday – but it might come back to the state Legislature this fall. Republican Senate Finance co-chair Alberta Darling of River Hills and Milwaukee Assembly Democrat Jon Richards both say the mayor raises legitimate concerns. They expect the foreclosure funding to be a separate bill after lawmakers return to session in September. Milwaukee has an estimated 17-hundred-plus vacant homes with foreclosures. Barrett calls them eyesores which breed crime and reduce neighboring property values. The mayor said the Republican governor decided the problem doesn’t exist. Barrett said the funding should have come from Wisconsin’s $140-million share of a national settlement of a mortgage-abuse lawsuit against five big banks. Foreclosed homeowners have received a share of that money, and the state used $25-million of it to cover a general deficit in the last state budget. Barrett has often said the money should have been used to help clean up the foreclosure mess, instead of cleaning up the state government’s books. 


Starting today, Wisconsinites on food stamps will either have to work 20-hours-a-week, or get job training. Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend calls it one of the best things in the new state budget that Governor Scott Walker signed yesterday. Assembly Democrat Cory Mason of Racine says there are not enough jobs to go around – especially in his home town, which had the state’s highest unemployment rate in May at 11.6 percent. Mason says Wisconsin is among the worst states for job growth in the Midwest, and he says the state says should try to improve the economy instead kicking people off food assistance. Grothman said the state had to do something to quote, “make it not so advantageous to adapt the welfare lifestyle.” He said the numbers of Wisconsinites on food stamps grew from 190,000 13 years ago to 850,000 today. Grothman and Mason debated the subject on the statewide TV show “Up-Front with Mike Gousha".


A Stevens Point firm is declaring victory, after Governor Scott Walker decided to let two software companies instead of one provide a statewide database of school students. Skyward of Stevens Point and Infinite Campus of Minnesota both provide databases to local districts, and both competed for the 15-million dollar statewide contract last year. The Minnesota firm won the contract and Skyward appealed, saying there were things officials did not consider in awarding the bid. Skyward also said it would have to move the company and its hundreds-of-jobs out of Wisconsin if the firm didn’t have any business left here. In May, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee essentially nullified the contract in the new state budget, by allowing two firms to run the statewide database. Walker let the measure stand yesterday without vetoing it. Skyward CEO Cliff King tells WAOW-TV in Wausau he was elated that quote, “We’re going to be able to do continue to do business here in Wisconsin.”   


Two new judges will help oversee administrative matters in Wisconsin’s circuit and appellate courts. The Supreme Court has named Rock County Judge James Daley and Buffalo-and-Pepin County Judge James Duvall to the state’s Committee of Chief Judges. Both will begin two-year terms on August first. They replace William Foust of Dane County and William Dyke of Iowa County, both of whom have served the maximum six years on the panel. The group is made up of one judge from each of the state’s 10 judicial administrative districts. The panel meets about seven times each year. 


Wisconsin Supreme Court justices could be elected to only one 16-year term, under a constitutional amendment proposed by a task force of attorneys. A state bar panel says it hopes the Legislature can take up the idea this fall. Right now, justices are elected to as many 10-year terms as they can win. Former judge Joe Troy, who studied the one-term idea, tells the Wisconsin State Journal that re-election campaigns have become so brutal, it has hurt the public’s confidence in the court system. Troy said people are starting to believe that justices are quote, “serving people (with money) who put them there – or they are worried about the next election.” He admits that a one-term system would not solve the rising amount of money in Supreme Court campaigns – but he does believe it would help restore public confidence. Democratic state Senate Minority Leader Chris Larson of Milwaukee calls the idea “promising.”   


Wisconsin finally has its 27th state symbol. Governor Walker not only approved the kringle as the official state pastry – he served it to those attending yesterday’s ceremony in Pleasant Prairie where he signed the new state budget. The kringle is king in Racine, where President Obama went to a bakery to taste the sweet treat when he ran for re-election last year. State lawmakers of both parties agreed to add the kringle to the budget, after separate bills to create four other state symbols failed to pass during the last four years. In the 2009 session, bills to create an official state microbe and an official motorcycle passed one house but not the other. A bill in the same session would have named cheese as the official state snack, but it never came up for a vote. In the 2011 session, an effort to name the cream puff as the official state dessert got weighed down in a controversial session highlighted by the near-elimination of public union bargaining, and the resulting recall efforts.