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GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL ROUNDUP: New President of the UW system expected to be named today

The U-W Board of Regents is expected to decide today who the next president of the university system will be. A group of three finalists has reportedly been narrowed to two. Robert King, head of the Kentucky Council on Post-Secondary Education, has dropped out of contention. That leaves U-W Colleges-and-Extension chancellor Ray Cross in the running, along with chief operating officer Peter Garland of Pennsylvania's higher education system. The Wisconsin State Journal said it was not clear whether King withdrew, or did not make one of the final cuts. The paper quoted a Kentucky spokeswoman as saying that King was "honored to be considered," and he'll apparently stay in his present job. King stood out among the finalists because of his previous political experience in New York State, which included a stint as a legislator. Cross and Garland have more traditional academic backgrounds. The new president will replace Kevin Reilly, who resigned at the end of 2013. All three finalists said one of their top priorities is to mend a strained relationship between the U-W and the state Legislature, which helps provide the university with much of its funding.


If you're filing for unemployment, and you can't reach a claim specialist, you're not alone. The state Workforce Development agency says it's dealing with high volumes of phone calls, and staffers are working overtime to handle it all. Ron Youngbluth of Pewaukee had trouble getting through, after he was laid off December sixth as a part-time optometrist. He told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he tried two dozen times to get through -- and all he got was an automated system. Agency spokesman John Dipko said a call-back feature was added late in 2012, giving folks the option of being called by somebody. Youngbluth said he never got that. The state did call him after the Journal Sentinel looked into his case. Dipko said his agency is in the peak season for handling unemployment claims, from about Thanksgiving to mid-to-late January. He says extra phone personnel are added as needed. Dipko expects the situation to improve now that businesses are going full-speed again after the holidays. In the meantime, those seeking help are being urged to avoid calling on Mondays, early mornings, and noon-hours which are all the busiest. They're urged to have their work and Social Security information handy. Officials also say the fastest way to file is online.


Wisconsin federal judge nominee James Peterson ran into a little turbulence yesterday during his U-S Senate confirmation hearing. The Madison lawyer told the judiciary panel that his rulings would not be influenced by his previous work for the Freedom-from-Religion Foundation. President Obama appointed Peterson two months ago to replace the late John Shabaz in a district that covers the western half of Wisconsin. Iowa Democrat Charles Grassley questioned Peterson's previous comment that a display of the Ten Commandments on government property cast non-believers as quote, "outsiders to the political community." Peterson responded that he has handled First Amendment issues from clients with a variety of viewpoints -- and it was an honor to do so. Peterson was chosen by a selection panel formed by Wisconsin's two U-S senators, Tammy Baldwin and Ron Johnson. Both praised Peterson's work and asked for a quick confirmation because the judgeship has been vacant for several years. It's been open since 2009 because Obama nominated former State Supreme Court Justice Louis Butler four times -- and Republicans on Capitol Hill kept casting him aside after Butler lost an election for the state's highest court in 2008.


Almost 10-million federal dollars will be used to partially-reduce a funding shortfall in Wisconsin's W-2 welfare-to-work program. The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee voted 11-to-4 yesterday to devote available dollars from Washington to off-set about a-third of an expected 28-million dollar shortfall. The deficit is caused by a higher-than-expected usage of the W-2 system. All Democrats voted against the allocation. Racine Assembly Democrat Cory Mason said the state needs to fully fund the projected W-2 enrollments through mid-2015. The vast majority of W-2 clients are from the Milwaukee area. Also yesterday, the finance panel released the second year of funding that was budgeted for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. The agency is getting a net of 44-million dollars, minus an 18-and-a-half million dollar surplus from a business tax to the W-E-D-C. Lawmakers wanted the ability to use the surplus for other purposes if need be. The second-year's funding was withheld due to the problems uncovered in a state audit which included a lack of proper tracking for business loans. Agency C-E-O Reed Hall says the problems have been resolved, and the W-E-D-C is fully committed to "transparency and accountability."


State lawmakers will find out today what people think about the idea of having more charter schools in Wisconsin. The Assembly's Urban Education Committee will hold a public hearing late this morning on a G-O-P bill to expand the numbers of institutions that can create charter schools. Those schools provide specialized education with fewer regulations than public schools. Right now, school boards create the vast majority of charter schools -- along with the city of Milwaukee, U-W Milwaukee and Parkside, and Milwaukee Area Technical College. The new bill would allow all U-W campuses to create charter schools -- as well as all technical college boards, and the state's regional cooperative educational service agencies.