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Government and Political Roundup: One year of funding for the WEDC, not two

The state Legislature's finance committee has endorsed only one year of funding for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. The panel discussed the agency's proposed two-year budget yesterday. That was after members of another legislative committee hammered WEDC officials with questions about accountability shortcomings raised in a recent audit. The finance panel voted 12-to-4, with Democrats voting no, to grant the job creation agency 59-million dollars in the next fiscal year - two-million more than this year. The committee withheld the second year's proposed funding of 63-million-dollars until corporation director Reed Hall reports in December on how the agency complies with the issues raised in the audit. Auditors said the WEDC broke state laws by not adopting key policies. Hall took issue with some of that, but promised to the Joint Audit Committee his agency follow the law. The audit also said the department approved job creation grants improperly, and did not keep enough of an eye on the grants-and-loans that are made. In voting for the one-year allocation, Sheboygan Senate Republican Joe Leibham said the W-E-D-C could be quote, "gone in a year" if it doesn't improve the way it provides its services. Milwaukee Assembly Democrat Jon Richards said his party disagreed with providing any more tax dollars to the WEDC. Democrats also tried but failed to remove Governor Scott Walker as the agency's board chairman. They also failed to give the board more power to hire the department's top officials, and set more of its policies.


Wisconsin police, fire, and rescue personnel could still have limits on where they can live, under a budget proposal endorsed yesterday by the Legislature's finance panel. Residency requirements would still be abolished for teachers and other non-emergency public workers. Safety personnel would have to live within 15 miles of the cities and counties they serve. There was also talk of a financial penalty for those who don't comply, but the finance panel decided against it. The final plan was adopted 12-to-4, with all Democrats voting no. The Democrats tried unsuccessfully to remove the residency issue from the budget altogether. Governor Scott Walker's original budget would have thrown out residency requirements throughout the state. He said public workers should have the freedom to live where they want. Local governments said they should have the right to set their own policies. Dozens of Wisconsin communities have residency requirements, but the bill would have the biggest effect on Milwaukee - where some neighborhoods are filled with public workers forced to live in the city. Senate Republican Glenn Grothman of West Bend said those are some of the nicest neighborhoods in Milwaukee, and he feared they would deteriorate if public workers fled to the suburbs. Senate Democrat Bob Wirch of Pleasant Prairie said getting rid of residency would make Milwaukee closer to being like Detroit. And Wirch said quote, "I don't want to see that."


If a state committee has its way, no Wisconsinite would have to worry about being denied of a super-sized soda. The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee voted yesterday to prohibit Wisconsin communities from passing a ban on large sugared sodas, similar to the one pushed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Assembly Republican Pat Strachota of West Bend said she didn't want government telling her she couldn't have an extra-large soda and popcorn when she goes to the movies. Democrats rejected the budget measure, saying that no Wisconsin city has passed such a ban. They also said the proposal was ironic, after the Assembly voted on Tuesday to try-and-make food stamp recipients spent at least two-thirds of their benefits on healthy, state-approved food items. Brandon Scholz of the Wisconsin Grocers Association says the soda proposal is different, because it encourages consistent rules in communities throughout the state.


The state fund that preserves Wisconsin's nature-and-recreation lands could be reduced again, even though lawmakers agreed two years ago not to make any more cuts for a decade. Governor Scott Walker's proposed state budget would keep the bonding authority for the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund at 60-million dollars a year. The annual bonding was cut two years ago from 85-million, to help get rid of a large state budget deficit. Casey Eggleston of the Nature Conservancy is sounding the alarm about another possible cut. He says conservation groups like to see large tracts of nature land remain intact, so habitat can be preserved. Eggleston also says the stewardship program is key for hunters, anglers, and others who love the outdoors. The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee is expected to consider the level of Stewardship Fund bonding in the next several days.


The state Assembly Jobs Committee was planning to vote this morning on a bill to pump 25-million tax dollars into new start-up companies. Lawmakers of both parties are behind a measure proposed by New Berlin Republican Mike Kuglitsch. It would start a new venture capital fund to invest in agriculture, energy, high-tech, and other firms. At least 50-million dollars would come from the private sector, and the state's share of 25-million is included for now in the proposed state budget. Business interests say the fund is badly needed. At a recent public hearing, they said many new firms have left Wisconsin because there was not enough venture funding to survive their early stages. A couple of Democrats say the measure is not enough to guarantee any long-term return on what would be simply a one-time investment.