Government and Political Roundup: Full legislature to debate budget tomorow
The full Wisconsin Legislature will start acting on the new state budget tomorrow. In a different tactic from recent years, the G-O-P majority wants to make as few changes as possible. They did most of their negotiating with the Joint Finance Committee over the past month. Minority Democrats hope to hook up with moderate Republicans to get at least a few of their wishes granted. Senate Republican Dale Schultz of Richland Center says he'd like to see the 648-million dollar income tax cut reduced - the statewide expansion of private school vouchers scaled back - and cuts restored for the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. Both Schultz and Green Bay Republican Rob Cowles say the budget leaves too much of a deficit for the following budget in 2015 - 505-million-dollars, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Cowles says he wants to remove non-fiscal policy items, but he's not saying which ones. Senate G-O-P leader Scott Fitzgerald could cut off Schultz's and Cowles' efforts if he wanted to, by calling for a conference committee when the Assembly passes the budget. Republican leaders of both houses would presumably craft a budget to their liking - and the Senate could not amend it later, thus preventing more moderate ideas from being included. However, Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos tell the A-P they won't seek a conference committee. Both still expect only minor technical changes to the budget in their houses. Governor Scott Walker has not said what he might veto, but he has expressed support for virtually all the major budget items. His biggest public objection is to a proposed reduction in property tax breaks for veterans.
About 700 Wisconsin National Guard members will lose 11 days of work-and-pay due to the federal budget sequester. The furloughs affect Defense Department technicians, ranging from mechanics and pilots to human resource and finance specialists. Major Paul Rickert says the automatic spending cuts have caused the Guard to make "significant adjustments" to training and operations. Most of the Wisconsin Guard's 10-thousand members are not affected by the furloughs. That's because they're either active duty personnel - who are exempt from the sequester - or they're state employees. Officials say the work reductions will not affect the annual training for Wisconsin guard units, or weekend duty for part-time Guard members. Those affected must take their 11 furlough days by the end of the federal fiscal year on September 30th. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel said the furloughs were first rumored to be as long as 20 days. The paper said Guard members assigned to the 128th Air Refueling Wing in Milwaukee can go on active military status for their furlough days - so they won't lose any pay. The unit has had to cut outreach programs. They're not providing support for major air shows, since pilots from the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds have been grounded by the sequester.
At least some mental health services will be improved at Veterans' Administration clinics in western Wisconsin. President Obama recently ordered the V-A in Minneapolis to hire 24 new mental health professionals. Now, we're learning that they'll work at rural clinics which are overseen by the Minneapolis V-A in rural Minnesota and the western part of Wisconsin. The V-A's Ralph Heussner says those seeking services range from World War Two veterans to those who recently came home from Iraq and Afghanistan. He says that in addition to combat issues, the vets may need help with financial hardships and relationship problems.