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Government and Political Roundup: Milwaukee County Board will look a lot different after today

Wisconsin's largest county board will be cut down to size, under a bill that Governor Scott Walker will sign into law this afternoon. A ceremony is planned in Milwaukee, to formalize changes on the Milwaukee County Board that lawmakers passed earlier this month. It forces the supervisors to give more of their powers to the county executive. Republican supporters said the state's action was needed to rein-in what they call an uncontrollable County Board that's not willing to make organizational reforms. Walker agrees. He was the Milwaukee County executive before being elected governor in 2010. Among other things, the board members' terms will be reduced from four years to two. A binding referendum must also be held on cutting the supervisors' pay from 51-thousand dollars a year to 24-thousand - thus reducing the board members' status from full-time to part-time. Minority Democrats called the bill an attack on local control. The Manitowoc County Board passed a resolution protesting the state's actions. The sponsor of that measure, Supervisor Jim Brey, said lawmakers opened the door to having the state micro-manage county governments. Republicans insist that Milwaukee County is their only target.


The state government would borrow a quarter-billion-dollars less than it planned for new-and-remodeled buildings, under a budget measure approved yesterday. The Legislature's finance committee voted to reduce the state's bonding authority for building projects over the next two years from one-point-one billion dollars, to around 888-million. The committee did approve 200-million in borrowing for a new Transportation Department headquarters' facility in Madison. Otherwise, majority Republicans told Governor Scott Walker's administration to decide what they want to cut to meet the smaller borrowing limit. Senate co-chair Alberta Darling said the state's debts are rising too quickly - and just like families do, the government has to say no to some projects. Administration spokeswoman Stephanie Marquis could not immediately say which projects might be on the chopping block. All four Democrats on the panel voted against the reduced borrowing. Assembly Democrat Cory Mason of Racine said it's inconsistent to cut the building budget, and not the nearly one-billion-dollars in bonding planned for highway projects.


Do you know about the "skills gap" that politicians keep warning us about? It doesn't exist, according to a U-W Madison analysis of a recent study. Political leaders from Governor Scott Walker on down have told us for months that Wisconsin does not have nearly enough trained workers for the increasingly-complex jobs that are left vacant, generally in factories. The new study indicates a labor shortage mainly for projected job openings that do not require formal post-secondary education. U-W economics professor Robert Haveman says the study uncovers a skills gap only in certain jobs and certain places. He says there are just a few problem areas - and it could be that we're hearing about those cases the most. The state Legislative Council's Workshop in Public Affairs conducted the study, and the U-W's La Follette School of Public Affairs analyzed it. The study shows that there's an excess of labor for jobs needing most college degrees - and a small shortage of doctorate and professional degree candidates.


It was a year ago next Wednesday when Governor Scott Walker and Lieutenant Governor Rebecca Kleefisch won their recall elections. The State Republican Party plans to celebrate the anniversary by holding a rally on Wednesday night. A program starts at seven o'clock at the Country Springs Hotel in Pewaukee. In announcing the event, the G-O-P says it wants to celebrate the "courage" that Walker and Kleefisch have shown - and the party wants to encourage quote, "efforts to move our state forward." The event comes as lawmakers enter their final month of producing a new state budget for the next two years. It also comes as the governor gets ready to run for re-election in 17 months. Observers say Walker will need to win if he has any hope of being considered nationally in the 2016 presidential contest.


The company that wants to run an iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin has been given its first exploration license. The state D-N-R gave Gogebic Taconite permission yesterday to drill eight holes along the four-mile mining site in Ashland and Iron counties. The company says it will provide a lot of environmental data - including the amount of pyrite material in the waste rock that could potentially hurt groundwater on the site. Gogebic Taconite first sought permission to drill 13 holes. It reduced the request to eight holes, after D-N-R staffers wanted to know about the effects on wetlands along roads leading to five drilling sites. A long-time critic of the project, state Senate Democrat Bob Jauch of Poplar, said quote, "If they can't do something as simple as this, the public should be concerned about the rest of the project." Gogebic spokesman Bob Seitz said the firm wanted to drill near existing logging roads so undisturbed lands don't get harmed. He said mining opponents have been clamoring for more information about the proposed mine - and the drilling will supply that.