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The plan we’re putting forth today is a plan that says it’s a no-brainer to invest in Wisconsin. Wisconsin is a place that is moving in the right direction.
– Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, announcing a wide-ranging plan to boost transportation revenues while putting Wisconsin on the path to a flat income tax.

My concern with what I’m looking at is I see a lot of bucket shifting for revenue streams, but I don’t see a lot of things in here that really create a long-term fix for what we’re doing here.
– Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield.

A flat tax is interesting to me. It’s intriguing to me. It may be something we talk about in the future. I like the simplicity of it. But right now what we tried to do in this budget (is) build a stronger workforce.
– Walker on one part of the plan in an interview Wednesday before Kooyenga released the details of his proposal. Speaking to reporters this morning, Walker declined to comment on specifics of the plan.

You had your chance with the voters in the state, in the northeast part of the state of Wisconsin to run for Congress. The voters rejected your opinion.
– Walker talking to Tom Nelson, the Outagamie County exec who lost his bid for the 8th CD last year. The two sparred at a news conference today in Appleton, where Nelson told him that he “cannot tell you how many people have come up to me” to raise concerns about the health care bill the House approved this week. See the video: ” >http://www.postcrescent.com/story/news/local/2017/05/05/walker-nelson-clash-expo-center-press-conference/101339886/

Instead of focusing on a solution, Republicans have proposed even more ways to make workers and businesses pay for their lack of leadership. Republicans have had more than enough time to solve the transportation crisis, and it’s time to bring Democrats to the table to solve the problem.
– Rep. Katrina Shankland, D-Stevens Point, said who said Republicans have “punted over and over again, increasing the number of potholes across the state” and hiked up the state’s transportation debt since Walker took office.

Gov. Walker and Republican politicians have been unable to work together and come to a consensus. We can create a better deal for taxpayers and workers if we move beyond partisan posturing, special interest demands and counterproductive veto threats.
– Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, who joined Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, in calling for a the creation of a joint committee to address transportation funding. It would include four Dem and four Republican lawmakers. A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he believes the issue should be addressed through the existing process.

The state’s transportation budget deficit is $1 billion. Taking away Milwaukee County’s ability to generate its own revenue does nothing to solve the state’s budget problems.
– Milwaukee Co. Exec. Chris Abele, slamming a provision in the plan that would require any wheel tax implemented between the beginning of this year and April pass a referendum to continue. That provision would hit Milwaukee County, which implemented a $30 wheel tax for the 2017 budget and has begun collecting the fee.

This bill delivers on the promises we have made to the American people. You know, a lot of us have been waiting seven years to cast this vote.
– House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, upon passage of the House GOP’s health care bill.

This new bill still covers pre-existing conditions, while easing the burdens of Obamacare that have been forced onto so many of our families.
– U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Glenbeulah.

Put simply, no one is safe from the fallout of this catastrophe in the making.
– U.S. Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Milwaukee, who said the bill would have “a crushing impact on people with pre-existing conditions.”

I was joking, I said, you know, Paul, for the last week I’ve been hearing, “Paul Ryan doesn’t have it. It is not working with Paul Ryan. He’s going to get rid of Paul Ryan.” Then today I heard, “Paul Ryan’s a genius.”
– President Trump at a Rose Garden celebration after the bill’s passage.

Patients like me don’t go to Planned Parent to make a political statement. We go for access to high quality health care.
– Planned Parenthood patient and Medicaid recipient Courtney Kessler, of Madison, raising concerns over the health care bill blocking Planned Parenthood from receiving Medicaid reimbursement. Kessler spoke on a conference call today organized by Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin. The group’s director of government relations, Nicole Safar, called AHCA “the worst bill to impact women’s health in a generation.”

Students, professors and administrators are using intimidation tactics to silence those they disagree with. Now is not the time to treat this issue lightly; well thought-out legislative action is required. This must end.
– A statement from Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, who along with Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, announced a campus speech bill that differs in several ways from a proposal spearheaded by Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, announced last week. Unlike Kremer’s proposal, the Vukmir and Jarchow’s bill would apply to both UW System schools and the state’s technical colleges, and would allow schools to determine disciplinary measure for student who interfere with others’ free speech rights.

It’s paying lip service to a problem we’re trying to fix.
– Kremer, who called the new proposal a “watered-down” version of his bill. Kremer’s bill, which was co-authored with the Assembly speaker and the two co-chairs of the Legislature’s higher ed committees, would require schools to expel or suspend students who twice violate others’ free expression rights.

Leah Vukmir is apparently trying to prove that she can take a bad idea and make it even worse.
– Scot Ross, executive director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now.

This vote says whether you stand with the farmers of this state or not.
– Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake, urging support for a bill that relaxes regulations on high-capacity wells. The measure passed the Assembly 62-35 and is headed to the governor, who is expected to sign it.

It’s going to go to court. This has gone completely outside the norm as you guys are ramming this bill through.
– Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, on the high-capacity wells bill.

It’s not something that I’ve been planning for. So I really have to take the coming weeks and months to be able to pull everything together. That’s not something that can all be figured out today or this week.
– Mike McCabe on a letter signed from 190 people calling on the former Wisconsin Democracy Campaign head to run for governor.

It doesn’t comport with my notion of democracy. It worries me because it sends a message that only rich folks can be in elected office.
– Madison attorney Tim Burns, who said while announcing his bid this week for Supreme Court next year that he does not plan to self-fund his campaign. The state GOP slammed Burns as “another Madison liberal.”

–A collection of insider opinion–
(Apr. 29-May. 5, 2017)


John Nygren: Some say there’s now a common refrain in the Capitol anytime someone wants to work on opioid addiction: “Have you talked to John yet?” And insiders say there’s good reason, considering the personal connection and work ethic he brings to the issue. That work is paying off with a third round of bills from the Heroin, Opiate, Prevention and Education Agenda headed to the guv’s desk. The latest batch, which includes money for a pilot recovery high school and funding for treatment and diversion courts, stem from the guv’s task force on opioid abuse, which was chaired by Nygren, R-Marinette, and Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch. Nine bills recently clear the Legislature with another two getting through the Assembly. That follows seven bills in 2013-14 and 10 in 2015-16. Nygren, fans agree, is in a unique position to work this topic. One, his daughter has struggled with addiction, which gives him a personal connection to the issue and a perspective many others lack. Two, as co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, he is in one of the best positions in the Legislature to ensure these priorities are funded. And he has been recognized nationally for the efforts. Some also note the change in approach these bills represent for Republicans, who had long favored punishment in dealing with drug addiction. For some, it’s a reflection that the issue is no longer an urban one and has moved into the suburbs and rural areas that Republicans are more likely to represent. Others, though, say it’s also a matter of realizing the old methods haven’t worked and shows a willingness in Wisconsin to try any approach that has a chance to combat what has become a devastating issue for many communities.

Judicial Commission, Council: GOP lawmakers again rebuff their guv’s attempts to put the Judicial Commission under the authority of the state Supreme Court. Critics questioned the effectiveness of a watchdog agency beholden to those they might investigate. Kicking off its votes on the state budget, JFC unanimously approves nixing the Judicial Commission move, as well as Gov. Scott Walker’s idea to eliminate the Judicial Council, which advises state government on matters related to the judiciary. The committee did the same thing two years ago and, like then, Chief Justice Pat Roggensack opposed the moves. With the commission, Roggensack questioned what efficiencies it would create, saying the move wouldn’t save any money and could create conflicts of interest. While JFC was open to Roggensack’s suggestion on the commission and the council, it’s not looking like the committee will embrace her call to boost judicial pay 16 percent. Roggensack has argued salaries for Wisconsin judges have slipped behind their peers. Among 12 states in the region, Wisconsin ranked 10th at $147,403 for Supreme Court justices. Appeals court judges make $139,059, while those on the circuit court make $131,187, according to numbers compiled by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. Walker proposed giving judges a 2 percent raise in each of the next two years and a new plan to determine future pay hikes. But the committee puts off a vote on the plan. JFC Co-chair John Nygren, R-Marinette, said committee Republicans were still looking at the appropriate raise for judges, but the final number will be closer to what Walker proposed than what Roggensack put forward.

Dairy farmers: State dairy farmers who scrambled to find a buyer for their milk are largely in the clear for now, though the long-term outlook is cloudy. The industry, along with state officials, worked to match up dairy farmers with new buyers after 58 of them were told their contracts would be cut. The company that announced the cuts, Grassland Dairy Products, attributed the move to a Canadian trade policy shift that’s made buying milk from that country’s farmers more attractive. President Trump called that policy “very unfair,” though so far Canadian officials have declined to revisit their decision. And it’s part of broader trade discussions that Trump says he wants to have with Canada and Mexico in renegotiating NAFTA. The affected dairy farmers in Wisconsin were facing a May 1 deadline, though a few got extensions with the company. State officials announce that farmers had found buyers for 99 percent of the displaced milk, thanking dairy processors and milk handlers that stepped up to buy their products. A good chunk of those farmers took either temporary contracts or reduced prices on their products, but those in the dairy industry say they were at risk of shutting down. They also credit the Walker administration for help in coordinating some of the conversations, as well as an announcement that the state would give more favorable loan guarantees to eligible dairy farmers and processors. The trade dispute that caused the entire issue shows no signs of getting solved yet. But the farmers will at least have some weeks or months to regroup and figure out their future, observers say.

Paul Ryan: After March’s health care debacle, the Janesville Republican needed this win, insiders say. Still, there’s a long-term question: At what cost did the victory come? When Ryan at the last minute pulled the health care bill from a March vote, the White House trained some of its ire on the speaker amid rumblings in the national media the president had lost faith in Ryan’s leadership style. Then with the 100-day mark of Trump’s presidency approaching, there was more pressure to get something done on repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act, a promise Republicans have been making to voters ever since they won the House in 2010. Even as some questioned if enough votes were there for the latest version of the bill, Ryan took it to the floor and the move pays off. Before Thursday’s vote, Ryan, speaking on the House floor, reminded his GOP colleagues that many of them were sent to office in the first place to “cast this key vote” And he harkened back to comments he made after the first failed health care attempt. Then, he had said Republicans hadn’t yet learned how to be the governing party; and this time, he told Republicans they “have the opportunity to raise our gaze and set a bold course for this country.” The move also allows Ryan to turn his attention to tax reform, a career-long goal. Still, while pushing through the health care bill may have firmed up his hold on the speaker’s gavel, it comes with risk. The Cook Political Report — solely because of the vote — changes its ratings on 20 House races, improving Dem chances of picking them up next fall. To Dems, Ryan’s move increases the GOP’s liabilities in 2018, when Republicans already could be fighting the headwinds of a president whose approval ratings have been underwater for much of his early term. What’s more, some say, the vote process served opponents plenty of fodder. After all, Ryan and his colleagues slammed Dems for the Obamacare vote, saying they hadn’t read the bill. But Ryan jams the latest provision through without an updated Congressional Budget Office score or time for many of his members to do exactly what he demanded of Dems seven years ago. To some in Wisconsin, Ryan needed to show he could muscle through a major bill, and this checks that box.

Tourism: Gov. Scott Walker is touting some “exciting numbers” as he spends the day highlighting Wisconsin tourism destinations. Those new figures from the Department of Tourism show the industry’s impact on Wisconsin’s economy hit $20 billion in 2016. That’s up by $700 million from the previous year and $5.2 billion from 2010, the year after the recession officially ended. Walker kicks off the day with a stop at Madison’s Discover Mediaworks, which started the TV show “Discover Wisconsin.” He was also scheduled to be in La Crosse, Appleton and Minocqua before heading to Cable for the 52nd Annual Governor’s Fishing Opener — which Walker says amounts to a pretty fun day. The “real fun” theme is the branding that the Department of Tourism has adopted for its advertising efforts, which Walker says have paid off and encouraged more people to visit Wisconsin. The state had nearly 101 million visitors in 2016, up from 92.5 million six years ago, according to an analysis from Tourism Economics that conducted research for the Department of Tourism. One recent factor was last year’s decline in gas prices, which Walker’s office says led to people traveling more and spending more on hotel stays, food and recreation. Walker says he and tourism officials are “excited for an even greater season” as people begin preparing for summer vacations.


Dale Kooyenga: The Brookfield Republicans lays down an ambitious marker with his plan to rework the transportation fund and overhaul the state’s tax code. But insiders say “ambitious” is also synonymous with “heavy lift” in state politics, particularly when a complex package is dropped in early May of a budget year without buy-in from the state Senate and a guv on path to a re-election race who’s made clear he has no interest in raising the gas tax. The centerpiece of Kooyenga’s plan is applying the sales tax to gasoline sales, which the Legislative Fiscal Bureau says would raise $660 million in additional revenue, and cutting the excise tax by 4.8 cents a gallon, which would reduce them by $278 million. At $2.40 a gallon for gas and $2.95 for diesel, that would result in an increase of 7.2 cents a gallon on gas and 10 cents on diesel, according to LFB. But a third piece of the plan would pare back the minimum markup on gasoline to 3 percent from 9.18 percent. LFB doesn’t offer an estimate on how that would impact the price of gas, and Kooyenga says he couldn’t predict how markets would react, though he suspects consumers would end up paying less. While the most high-profile piece of the plan, it is just one portion of an overall package that would do everything from put a moratorium on new roundabouts, which drive some conservatives crazy, to ending up at a flat income tax of 3.95 percent by 2029, a dream of some conservatives. Along the way, Kooyenga would wipe out exemptions for married couples and renters, eliminate some property tax breaks and even raise taxes on little cigars. Many are still digesting the far-reaching plan, including the guv who says he’s withholding comment until studying it further. Still, insiders say a key piece of the debate will be whether Walker will accept Kooyenga’s gas proposal. Walker has made clear he has no interest in raising the gas tax or registration fees. But does cutting the excise tax while adding the sales tax to gas fit those parameters? Some believes there’s enough wiggle room that Walker could get on board if he wanted. But ahead of the announcement, the guv continued to talk about the revenue rolling into state coffers from his “reform dividend,” insisting there’s already enough there to pay for the state’s transportation needs. Then there’s the question of whether Kooyenga can get his GOP colleagues on board. While several dozen Assembly Republicans stand behind Kooyenga at the announcement, some are privately raising concerns about the package. Then there’s the state Senate, which does not appear to have been intimately involved in the process of pulling the plan together. Republicans in that chamber, insiders say, seem more intent on freeing up money in the general fund that could be used to pay for bonds to cover transportation costs. Budget watchers say it’s difficult to get senators to buy in on Kooyenga’s plan at this stage in the budget process. If Kooyenga really were serious about getting this in the 2017-19 state budget, he should have started talking about it with colleagues months ago, some argue. Still, Kooyenga did something similar in 2013 as a sophomore, dropping a $400 million income tax plan late in the Joint Finance process that was eventually pared back to $304.7 million as it was included in the final document. What’s more, Robin Vos didn’t put Kooyenga in charge of transportation until late fall in a move that some say was an effort to put pressure on the Brookfield Republican and JFC member to accept a gas tax hike, if that’s what the speaker wanted in the final budget. Considering Kooyenga’s passion has been tax policy, not road funding, some aren’t surprised that he married the two. But that also, some say, underscores the difficulty of what Kooyenga is trying to do. It’s never easy to put a big proposal into the state budget at this stage of the process. That’s particularly true because those that hate pieces of the plan but love others will spend the rest of the budget process trying to pull out the ones they detest. And if those start to come out, veteran budget watchers add, the whole thing crumbles.

Madison teachers: When Gov. Scott Walker first announced Act 10 compliance as the condition to getting a share of his “historic K-12 investments,” Madison school teachers and district officials felt the eye of the guv trained on them. School employees in the capital city currently aren’t paying 12 percent of their health care costs; under Walker’s budget, that would make them ineligible to receive the per-pupil-aid boost. Madison School Board has made moves to bite the bullet and ensure the district’s share of state aid will get to them. The board employed a plan to drop one health insurance provider for the district, freeing up an estimated $3 million that would help offset the higher premium contributions and cover across-the-board employee raises, according to news reports. The changes will take effect July 1, when the state’s new fiscal year starts. But even if Act 10 compliance is yanked from the state budget, the school board still has a final chance to change its budget when the tax levy is set in November. Still, with $200 per-pupil in the first year of the budget and another $204 in the second possibly on the line, the district’s move is far from surprising, insiders say.

Mike Gallagher: The freshman Republican kept a low profile during the debate on the GOP health care bill. In March, when the first bill was pulled from the floor at the last minute, the Green Bay Republican said in a postmortem that he would have been a no. In the lead up to this one, he keeps his head down before voting yes, prompting howls from Dems that he was hiding. After the vote, Gallagher releases a lengthy statement outlining why the bill was good for Wisconsin. Among his reasons are that it “allows Wisconsin the freedom to determine its own path forward” and gives the state flexibility in covering its vulnerable populations. Still, local media report that protesters gathered outside Gallagher’s office in Appleton in response to the vote. But can angry Dems keep up the energy? And if a sustained backlash does manifest, will it make Gallagher’s re-elect more difficult after cruising to victory last fall? While pundits lowered the re-election odds for a score of Republicans who voted for the bill, Gallagher is not one of them and is not seen as being in danger. After all, he racked up a 25-point win last fall in a GOP district, he’s proven a good fundraiser and Dems may struggle to find a strong opponent to take him on. Still, Dems argue the fact Wisconsin’s GOP delegation was largely silent ahead of the vote suggests something about how they felt about the package and that they’ll have a hard time explaining their support for some of the more unpopular provisions. Outside of health care, conservatives largely have been happy with Gallagher’s early efforts, including a bill that would add an amendment to the Constitution on term limits. That legislation would limit House members to six terms and senators to two terms, although it offers exemptions for those who took office for only part of the term. He also championed staying in session until Congress passed a budget to fund the government through September, which prompted nods from conservatives — although his colleagues largely ended up going home for the recent two-week spring recess anyway.

Campus free speech: The backers of two competing bills on free speech are disagreeing about which one’s tougher. And police prepared as a controversial speaker came to Madison, though there weren’t any hecklers at a talk from sociologist Charles Murray. Murray is the author of “The Bell Curve,” a book his critics say is “scientific racism.” He was shut down in March while attempting to speak at Middlebury College in Vermont, and while in a car after the event, some violent protesters rocked it back and forth and caused a concussion for a passenger. So police were preparing for the possibility of violent protests as he spoke at the Madison Club off campus. The appearance came as the Capitol was having its own debate about two free speech bills from Republicans. Liberal critics such as One Wisconsin Now say the proposals look to create a “safe space for racists,” homophobes, xenophobes and the like. The group recently called the authors of one of the proposals “fragile snowflakes.” The two bills aim to ensure controversial speakers can give speeches on college campuses without being disrupted by protesters. Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, offered the first one, with co-authors Speaker Robin Vos and the two chairs of the Legislature’s higher ed committees. Then Sen. Leah Vukmir, R-Brookfield, a possible U.S. Senate candidate in 2018, releases her version, co-authored with Rep. Adam Jarchow, R-Balsam Lake. The bills have several key differences. In addition to applying to UW System schools, Vukmir’s bill includes the state’s technical colleges. Kremer’s bill requires the UW System to establish a policy on free expression and requires schools to suspend or expel students who violate that policy twice, while Vukmir’s bill leaves disciplinary decisions up to schools. Her office says the bill is stronger because it puts into state statutes language that prohibits disruptive protests. Entrusting higher ed institutions to enforce a policy, instead of statutes, isn’t the right approach, her office says. Kremer’s bill also includes other provisions, such as creating a council that reports to the Legislature each year on the issue and proposing that campuses explain the standards to students during freshman orientation. Kremer says he’s looking at changing parts of his bill, acknowledging in a WPR interview that one section was likely unconstitutional. OWN also says Vukmir is “apparently trying to prove that she can take a bad idea and make it even worse.” The group says the bill would prohibit people from organizing an event to protest a speaker and dissuade them from coming to campus — thereby limiting counter protests that are also constitutionally protected. Observers say it’s unclear which measure will end up getting past the finish line, though they agree something’s likely to happen. It helps that Gov. Scott Walker expressed support for the idea in an interview on “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” saying that a university “should be precisely the spot where you have an open and free dialogue about all different positions.” Still, free speech advocates want to see some changes in both proposals. The Foundation for Individual Rights in Education, which tracks the issue nationally, says Vukmir’s bill “presents significant First Amendment problems.” FIRE attorney Joe Cohn says he’s talked to Kremer about amending some problematic elements of his bill but had yet to talk with Vukmir. He also says framing the arguments as which bill is tougher isn’t the right approach. If a bill gets struck down because it’s unconstitutional, he warns, it “isn’t any tougher” than a narrower one.

*See a FIRE blog post from Cohn:


Corrections: The number of people behind bars is set to hit a record high in two years. That’s according to a new review by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, which noted the state’s prison population has been on the rise since 2013. That’s because more violent crime — combined with longer sentences and more revocations of parole or extended supervision — is driving up the numbers, the report found. But some are already looking at how to alleviate the crunch, fearing a more difficult and more expensive uphill battle ahead. For example, two GOP lawmakers want a private prison built in Brown County to replace the aging Green Bay Correctional Institution, which has faced capacity and maintenance concerns in recent years. Still, lawmakers are also contributing to the growth in the prison population by pushing bills to increase minimum sentences and create harsher penalties for things like drunken driving. That includes two bills from Rep. Jim Ott, R-Mequon: one that would increase the minimum incarceration for fifth and sixth OWI offenders; and another that would send a person convicted of killing someone while drunken driving to prison for at least five years. As legislators look to increasingly crack down on crime to deter more crime, prisons around the state will only continue to feel the squeeze.

Federal budget cuts: The federal funding plan hitting President Trump’s desk looks a lot different than what the administration proposed. That’s because many of the controversial cuts aren’t there anymore. That has many in Wisconsin breathing a sigh of relief. The $1.1 trillion plan, which keeps the government running through the end of September, maintains $300 million for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, while the National Institutes of Health gets a $2 billion boost over the next five months. Trump in March had looked to completely sap the Great Lakes funding and redirect the money toward defense spending — in addition to cutting NIH’s budget. But the plan’s passage through the House and Senate with bipartisan margins helps to calm the waters for conservationists, environmental advocates, researchers and others who had sounded the alarm after Trump first released his budget. With funding for cleaning up and protecting the Great Lakes safe, as well as NIH dollars that are currently supporting research in health care advancements, stakeholders can breathe easy through the end of the fiscal year. Still, some advocates may already be ramping up for the next budget fight this fall.

Veterans Affairs: The first part of an ongoing audit at the agency shows the agency transferred $55 million from the King Veterans Home over more than a decade. At the same time, some needed repairs at the home were lagging, partly because DVA didn’t include those projects in its budget requests. The audit follows a Capital Times investigation detailing allegations of substandard care at the facility and declining staff morale — as excess revenues at King flowed into other areas such as the Veterans Trust Fund. In 2015-16, for example, the agency transferred $12 million to help keep the fund solvent. In all, the Legislative Audit Bureau found, the agency transferred $55 million from FY 2003-04 to FY 2015-16 towards “other accounts that do not directly benefit King.” The next phase of the audit will focus on resident care, compliance with regulatory requirements and staffing issues. Dems say staff morale at King is low, and the new DVA Secretary Dan Zimmerman should look for ways to address it. Zimmerman disputes those claims, though he says he wants to find ways to improve staffing levels so King employees aren’t forced to work overtime. The audit also flagged some of the maintenance issues at King, including the replacement of a urine-soaked carpet that took more than seven years. Zimmerman said in his response to the audit that it’s “an isolated example from several bienna past,” adding that the agency allocated $118 million for capital projects from 2005 2016 and that staff “works every day to ensure delays of projects do not occur.” The agency, he said, is getting started with a long-term 2040 strategic planning process to evaluate how the agency should proceed — both at King and elsewhere.


Thursday, May 18: WisPolitics.com luncheon: “Focus on UpLift MKE: Jobs and inner-city Milwaukee.”

The luncheon at UW-Milwaukee’s Helene Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts in Milwaukee features a panel discussion with Milwaukee County Exec Chris Abele; DR. Eve Hall, leader of the Milwaukee Urban League; and Alex Lasry, senior vice president with the Milwaukee Bucks.

Sponsors: Wisconsin Academy for Global Education and Training, ELEVEN25 at Pabst, UW-Milwaukee, Medical College of Wisconsin, Charter Communications, Milwaukee Police Association, and The Firm Consulting.

Register: https://www.wispolitics.com/2017/may-18-wispolitics-com-panel-focus-on-uplift-mke-jobs-and-inner-city-milwaukee/



Nine months ago, Assembly GOP leaders sought to downplay proposals to repeal the prevailing wage, eliminate roundabouts and rely on local fees to address the state’s transportation issues.

Now, they’re all key components of the transportation-tax plan state Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, unveiled yesterday.

But Assembly GOP leadership is also faced with a different task now than it was in August, when it was just selling members on the state needing to raise more revenue for road work. GOP Assembly leaders now are trying to get members behind a far-reaching plan that doesn’t just address the gas tax, but also dives into requiring new registration fees for hybrids and electric cars, allowing counties to impose up to a half-cent sales tax for local roads, and cutting DOT engineering positions.

Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, acknowledged in an interview today that he built the package, in part, to build a consensus among colleagues about overhauling how Wisconsin funds transportation. Still, he said every piece of the package has merit.

“I don’t think there’s anything to apologize for about that. It reflects politics,” Kooyenga said.

Gov. Scott Walker today declined to weigh in on the package, saying it’s a complex issue he wants to dive into more. The guv said he owes it to the Brookfield Republican “to not just react to something here or there but to understand the full complexity” of the proposal.

Walker said he’s asked Revenue Secretary Rick Chandler to go through the package and present a comprehensive review, and the guv said he’d likely be ready early next week to weigh in.

“Nobody’s voting on this yet, so the people of this state, I think, want to hear what I have to say before the Joint Finance Committee votes on it,” Walker said. “I will definitely fulfill that request. I will let the people of Wisconsin know what I think about it long before the Joint Finance Committee votes on it.”

In August, Assembly GOP leaders suggested they weren’t that impressed by some of the proposals that eventually made their way into Kooyenga’s proposal. Then, they put together a 28-page document dubbed “No Easy Answers” that was meant to counter various ideas that had been floated by lawmakers as potential cost-saving measures to address the transportation funding crunch.

For example, Kooyenga calls for repealing the prevailing wage for state projects. The August document called that a “good conservative proposal,” but suggested it would not generate much in savings. The document cited DOT estimates the agency would save up to 1 percent on project costs if the prevailing wage were repealed.

“While this is something to consider, we cannot count on it being a fix to the entire transportation funding problem,” the document reads.

Repealing the prevailing wage has been a priority for some conservative Republicans, including Rep. Rob Hutton and Sen. Leah Vukmir, both of Brookfield.

Sen. Dave Craig, R-Big Bend, has co-sponsored legislation that would prohibit roundabouts from being constructed without approval from the municipality where it would be located.

Under Kooyenga’s proposal, the DOT and local governments would be banned for two years from designing a roundabout for state or local highways unless approved by the municipality where it would be located.

The LFB analysis of Kooyenga’s plan notes DOT has indicated before that roundabouts and signalized intersections of similar scale cost about the same to construct. But maintenance costs for roundabouts are lower.

Assembly GOP leaders delivered a similar message in the August memo.

They also downplayed the suggestion to get rid of 180 DOT engineering positions that were included in the 2013-15 budget, noting the agency argued at the time they were needed “to increase the depth and range of state staff engineering expertise” and reduce highway delivery costs.

Under Kooyenga’s plan, 60 of those positions would be eliminated in 2017-18 and 120 in 2018-19. But there would be no fiscal impact because the money to fund those positions would be reallocated to the agency’s appropriation to fund consultant engineering costs.

Asked about the different approaches in the August memo vs. Kooyenga’s plan, Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer said, “As the speaker mentioned in the press conference, the plan is a starting point for budget negotiations and there are items within the proposal that not every Assembly Republican fully supports.”

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, meanwhile, said the latest play from Kooyenga puts the state no closer to a sustainable solution than when Republicans released their “No Easy Answers” document last year.

“What the Republicans presented to the Wisconsin public yesterday was a tax break for the rich paid for by increases on hard-working middle class families,” Barca said, adding Dems are ready to work with Republicans on a “real solution.”

See the August memo:

See the LFB document on Kooyenga’s plan:


Gov. Scott Walker says the House passing the American Health Care Act was a “huge victory for Paul Ryan,” though he’s heard from key senators the bill could change substantially.

The bill lets states apply for waivers to opt out of several insurance industry regulations under the Affordable Care Act, including those that prevent insurers from charging higher premiums to those with pre-existing conditions. States would be able to qualify for those waivers if they have programs such as reinsurance or high-risk pools.

Walker said today “we’re a long ways out” from any of those decisions but said he’d be open to establishing a high-risk pool in Wisconsin again, such as the Health Insurance Risk Sharing Pool that was in place before the ACA exchanges launched. Walker said HIRSP was “a very effective program,” though like other state’s high-risk pools, it went away under the ACA.

“That’s something we certainly would consider,” said Walker, head of the Republican Governors Association. “It depends on the conditions, and again, what’s in the House bill could be very different than what’s in the Senate bill and what finally comes to the president, so I’m going to wait until I see what’s in the final version.”

Kevin Kane, organizing director at the liberal Citizen Action of Wisconsin, said while HIRSP had its benefits, it was “very expensive for people who were on it.” He also said it’s “morally outrageous” to consider seeking waivers he said would discriminate against those with pre-existing conditions.

“We’re talking about a return to a form of discrimination that most people in America thought we had outlawed completely,” he said.

Walker spokesman Jack Jablonski said in a statement this afternoon that “ensuring coverage for those with pre-existing conditions is a given for” Walker.

“Under his leadership, Wisconsin has been a model by having no insurance gap and providing coverage for all people in poverty,” he said. “Wisconsin will continue to lead by ensuring those that seek coverage have access, while helping everyday citizens afford healthcare without putting taxpayers on the hook for Obamacare.”


Wisconsin Medicaid Director Michael Heifetz says the Walker administration’s push to drug test childless adults on the health care program isn’t about kicking people off the program. Rather, its aim is to help people get the treatment they need and “move back into productive lives.”

Heifetz spoke Thursday as part of a WisPolitics.com panel discussion that focused in part on a key Medicaid waiver to the Trump administration. Critics have called the drug screening and testing requirement — the first in the nation for Medicaid — a mean-spirited proposal that would push people off their health care.

One attendee, for instance, said some European countries are seeing success by giving people more access to treatment, jobs and education, asking Heifetz “how does kicking people of Medicaid” if they have a drug problem help them in any way.

But Heifetz said the premise that the state is “kicking people off” a program is wrong, noting people would have the option to enter treatment if they test positive. The correct way of viewing the proposal, he said, is that the state is “helping folks and providing the resources necessary” for them to beat their addiction.

“There are a lot of jobs in this state, and employers simply can’t fill them because folks can’t pass a drug test,” he said. “We’re trying to help with that.”

Joining Heifetz on the panel was Wisconsin Hospital Association President and CEO Eric Borgerding; John Russell, the president and CEO of Columbus Community Hospital; and Jon Peacock, the research director at the liberal-leaning Wisconsin Council on Children and Families.

Peacock said there are “far better ways” to help with people’s addiction problems than drug testing them. One key solution, he said, is taking the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act, which he said would expand people’s access to primary care doctors who would then be able to talk to patients “without bureaucrats in between” about substance abuse issues and get them help.

The Department of Health Services is planning on filing its request with the Trump administration this month, and its changes would largely affect only childless adults on the program.

DHS wants to require childless adults on Medicaid to answer a set of written questions, and the agency would then drug test those whose answers indicate they might use drugs. If people test positive, they could enter a treatment program. But people would lose eligibility for six months if they don’t enter that program or refuse to take the questionnaire or test.

DHS also wants to add premiums to Medicaid for those under the federal poverty level, though those who make between zero and 20 percent of it wouldn’t be subject to the premiums. The amounts people would pay range between $1 to $10 per month, depending on the household’s income. The proposal applies to non-pregnant childless adults between 19 and 64 years old, and those who don’t pay premiums can lose Medicaid benefits for six months.

Peacock said premium payments would be difficult for people who have several other priorities to pay for don’t have checking accounts

“Those are huge barriers for people to participate in BadgerCare, and we’re going to see a very sharp drop-off,” he said.

WHA’s Borgerding added that that DHS may not be able to collect all the premiums and people would then lose their Medicaid benefits. That, he said, would lead to people showing up at emergency rooms and sticking hospitals with the bill, adding that the “impact in uncompensated care dwarfs that $2 that wasn’t collected.”

He also said it’d be difficult to collect co-pays from people who go to the emergency room, as a separate item in the DHS request would call for.

Russell said people who lose Medicaid benefits are “still going to come to us” in emergency rooms, which generally leads to higher health care costs.

“If they delay care, they’re still going to need care — and maybe more expensive care then at that point,” he said.

The hospital leaders also raised concerns about the state’s reimbursement rates for those who treat Medicaid enrollees, which Borgerding said shifts $1 billion in costs to everyone else.

Low reimbursement rates are also a problem for other types of providers such as dentists or those who offer mental health services, Peacock said, though he said overall Medicaid is an “extremely effective program.”

Sen. Janet Bewley, D-Ashland, raised concerns during the event over provider shortages in northern Wisconsin and asked how the state can prevent rural areas from turning “into medical deserts.” People in her district, she said, are more dependent on Medicaid, affecting providers across all areas of care who aren’t getting paid enough.

“We are finding more and more, in behavioral health, in addiction treatment, in general Medicaid and in nursing homes — we are losing the ability to just literally stay in business,” she said.

Borgerding said it’s “a big problem and it’s not just limited to Medicaid,” saying the state needs to continue focusing on how to grow the workforce in the health care field by, for example, boosting training and opportunities for medical students who want to practice in rural areas.

Heifetz said of nursing home closings are “obviously a challenge” the state recognizes, adding that Walker’s budget makes some progress on that issue.

Still, he said, the state can’t come up with money to boost reimbursement rates for every provider, and the industry is going to need to “come to us with a little bit more creativity” on managing costs.

“Everyone tells me they’re under-reimbursed, but I do not print money, nor does the governor,” he said.

Listen to the luncheon:


Since becoming state GOP chair in 2011, Brad Courtney has seen Scott Walker become the first governor in U.S. history to fend off a recall, Republicans expand their majorities in both houses of the Legislature and his party’s nominee win Wisconsin’s electoral votes for the first time since 1984.

But he’s got one piece of unfinished business — beating Tammy Baldwin.

“We have one more Senate seat we need to take,” Courtney said in a WisPolitics.com interview ahead of next week’s state convention.

Going into last year’s meeting of party activists, Courtney said Wisconsin was in the golden age of Republican and conservative politics. Since then, he’s added U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s re-election and Donald Trump’s win in Wisconsin, declaring next weekend’s convention in the Wisconsin Dells will be a celebration of those successes.

While Baldwin, D-Madison, is a top target next fall for Republicans here and nationally, the GOP still doesn’t have a formal challenger on deck. Several potential candidates are looking into next year’s race: businessman Eric Hovde, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, former Marine and business consultant Kevin Nicholson, political newcomer Nicole Schneider and Sen. Leah Vukmir.

Courtney called it a talented group and said any of them would provide a clear contrast to Baldwin.

Five years ago, a contested GOP primary left then-nominee Tommy Thompson bruised and drained of campaign funds. But Courtney said he’d be fine if a primary developed this time. He said his job in the meantime will be to put together the best ground game the state has ever seen.

“In talking to potential candidates, I’ll go, ‘My promise to you is we have a late primary so we’ll have the best infrastructure in place so whoever wins they can hit the ground running so we can have victory against Tammy next fall,'” he said.

The GOP has been pushing a message that Dems are in “disarray” because they don’t have a top-tier candidate who has announced plans to take on Walker next fall. Courtney defended that rhetoric at the same time his party doesn’t have an announced challenger for Baldwin, saying it’s two different situations.

“We have several people seriously looking at it where every other day you see another top-notch Democrat saying, ‘I don’t want to run,'” Courtney said. “I think that bodes well for us.”

The only election cycle that hasn’t gone well for Republicans during Courtney’s tenure was 2012, when President Obama was at the top of the ticket. But now, Republicans are expected to face headwinds in 2018 with their party in control of the White House.

And while Trump won Wisconsin last year, his polling numbers have been upside down with state voters over the first few months of his term. A Marquette University Law School Poll in March found Trump, who won Wisconsin with 47.2 percent of the vote, had a job approval rating of 41 percent among registered voters.

Courtney said “of course” Wisconsin Republicans are going to embrace Trump while on the campaign trail, saying he’s done a good job. What’s more, “good results” out of Washington, D.C., including this week’s vote on the House GOP health care bill, will keep those Trump voters engaged for next year.

Still, Courtney said Wisconsin Republicans have their own record to run on and will remind voters where the state was in 2010 before they took control of the Capitol. He said that’s one drawback to being in charge for so long — people forget what it was like when Dems ran the Capitol.

“In Wisconsin, we have fundamentally transformed the state,” Courtney said. “Again, we just have to remind the voters where we were.”

When Courtney took office in 2011 to replace Reince Priebus, many saw Walker’s influence at play. The two have been close for years, and Courtney worked on Walker’s 2010 guv race.

Now 58, Courtney said he hadn’t been asked before this week’s WisPolitics.com interview when he might leave his post as chair after winning another two-year term in December.

“My wife won’t let me quit, and the governor won’t let me quit,” Courtney said. “We’re doing good things, and that’s really what it’s all about.”

Listen to the full interview:


Tuesday: Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections executive session. Members will take up AB 153, a bill that would limit which losing candidates can request a recount in Wisconsin. The bill would have prevented Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein from starting the recount she sought in the November election.
– 10 a.m.: 300 Northeast, State Capitol.

Tuesday: Joint Finance Committee meets in executive session, where it’ll take up WEDC, the Department of Justice and the Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Board, as well as secretary of state, Military Affairs and the Legislature.
– 11 a.m.: Room 412 East, State Capitol.

Wednesday: Assembly in session. On the agenda is AB 79, which would require juvenile correctional officers to report child abuse; AB 238, which would create a pilot program to add work requirements for able-bodied adults who get housing vouchers; and AB 191, which would allow delivery robots to travel on sidewalks and crosswalks.
– 1 p.m.: Assembly chamber, State Capitol.

Wednesday: Senate in session. On the agenda is a broadband grant expansion bill, a bill that require DOT to account for inflation in future road project cost estimates and legislation that would tweak child labor permits.
– 11 a.m.: Senate chamber, State capitol.

Thursday: Joint Finance Committee executive session. Members will take up Veterans Affairs, the PSC, the Medicaid Services Administration, Financial Institutions and Safety and Professional Services.
– 11 a.m.: Room 412 East, State Capitol.

(Check local listings for times in your area)

“UpFront with Mike Gousha” is a statewide commercial TV news magazine show airing Sundays around the state. This week’s show features Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield, on his transportation plan; the Transportation Development Association’s Craig Thompson, who discusses competing ideas for the transportation budget; and author of “Janesville: An American Story” Amy Goldstein, who talks about the effect of the Janesville GM plant’s closing on the community.
*See viewing times in state markets here: http://www.wisn.com/upfront/
*Also view the show online each Monday at WisPolitics.com

“Rewind,” a weekly show from WisconsinEye and WisPolitics.com, airs at 8 p.m. on Fridays and 10 a.m. on Sundays in addition to being available online. On this week’s episode, WisPolitics.com’s JR ROSS and WisconsinEye’s STEVE WALTERS discuss the transportation package, high-capacity wells and Joint Finance Committee votes on the governor’s budget. On “Rewind Milwaukee,the two discuss the wheel tax for Milwaukee County and Sheriff Clarke’s future.
*Watch the show: http://www.wiseye.org/Video-Archive/Event-Detail/evhdid/11509
Watch “Rewind Milwaukee”: http://www.wiseye.org/Video-Archive/Event-Detail/evhdid/11531

Wisconsin Public TV’s “Here and Now” airs at 7:30 p.m. Fridays. On this week’s program, anchor FREDERICA FREYBERG talks with Rep. DALE KOOYENGA, R-Brookfield, Rep. GORDON HINTZ, D-Oshkosh, budget managing partner of Capitol Consultants BILL McCOSHEN and executive director of One Wisconsin Now SCOT ROSS about the transportation budget. She also hears from Lt. Gov. REBECCA KLEEFISCH about the homelessness bills at the Capitol.

“For the Record” airs at 10:30 a.m. Sunday on WISC-TV in Madison.

“Capitol City Sunday” airs at 9 a.m. Sunday on WKOW-TV in Madison, WAOW-TV in Wausau, WXOW-TV in La Crosse and WQOW-TV in Eau Claire.

“The Insiders” is a weekly WisOpinion.com web show featuring former state Sens. TED KANAVAS, R-Brookfield, and CHUCK CHVALA, D-Madison. This week, the two debate President Trump, Sheriff Clarke, transportation and more.
*Watch the video: https://www.wispolitics.com/2017/wisopinion-com-the-insiders-debate-trump-sheriff-clarke-transportation-and-more/
*Listen to the show: https://soundcloud.com/wispolitics/the-insiders-debate-trump-sheriff-clarke-transportation-and-more

Send items to staff@wispolitics.com

The next three WisPolitics.com events in Milwaukee, D.C. and Madison:

*A May 18 luncheon in Milwaukee featuring a panel discussion on Focus on UpLift MKE: Jobs and inner-city Milwaukee. The panel will be led by County Exec. CHRIS ABELE, and starts at 11:30 a.m. It’s sponsored by Wisconsin Academy for Global Education and Training, ELEVEN25 at Pabst, UW-Milwaukee, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee Police Association and The Firm Consulting. Register: https://www.wispolitics.com/2017/may-18-wispolitics-com-panel-focus-on-uplift-mke-jobs-and-inner-city-milwaukee/

*A June 7 breakfast gathering at the Monocle in D.C. featuring U.S. Rep. MARK POCAN, D-Town of Vermont. Sponsored by Michael Best and Michael Best Strategies, WPS Health Insurance, AARP Wisconsin and Xcel Energy with assistance from partners UW-Madison and the Wisconsin Alumni Association. Register: https://www.wispolitics.com/2017/june-7-wispolitics-com-dc-breakfast-with-u-s-rep-mark-pocan/

The June 7 WisPolitics.com breakfast in DC is in cooperation with the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce’s inaugural “Meet Madison” day in the nation’s capital. The chamber will host a reception June 7 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. in the Rayburn Courtyard (Rayburn Cafeteria if
bad weather). Contact the chamber for more information.

*A June 22 luncheon in Madison featuring a “Secrets of the Capitol Building” panel on the Capitol’s 100th anniversary. Speakers include LAURA DAVIS of Isthmus Architects, lead architect of the restoration; JIM SCHUMACHER of J.P. Cullen, the lead contractor on the restoration; and MICHAEL EDMONDS, author of an upcoming book, the historian behind the exhibit at the Capitol and director of the Wisconsin Historical Society Programs and Outreach. Sign up for the event: https://wispolitics-capitol.eventbrite.com

For sponsor information, contact: schmies@wispolitics.com

U.S. Sens. TAMMY BALDWIN and RON JOHNSON this week forwarded to the White House three U.S. attorney candidates for the Milwaukee post: JOHN FRANKE, JONATHAN KOENIG and MATTHEW KRUEGER. All three were recommended by the Federal Nominating Commission the lawmakers have agreed to use to identify candidates for federal nominations, including judgeships. See the announcement: http://www.wisbar.org/NewsPublications/Pages/General-Article.aspx?ArticleID=25581

U.S. Rep. SEAN DUFFY announced a new lead committee staffer for his Financial Services Subcommittee on Housing & Insurance: 36-year-old JOHN HAIR, a Kentucky native and University of West Florida graduate who’s previously worked at the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies and Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, among others. See the release: https://www.wispolitics.com/2017/u-s-rep-duffy-announces-new-financial-services-committee-designee/

U.S. Rep. GLENN GROTHMAN’s office dog was featured on Roll Call’s “Dogs of the House” this week. Grothman’s spokeswoman, BERNADETTE GREEN, told the newspaper she adopted Todd Grrrley in July 2016 and that Grothman “loves dogs” and asked her to bring him to work every day. See the photo: http://www.rollcall.com/news/hoh/meet-dogs-house

Speakers for the “Tommy@30: A Public Policy Symposium” event celebrating the 30-year anniversary of former Gov. Tommy Thompson’s inauguration were announced this week. They include: JENNIFER NOYES, of the UW-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty; MIKE FLAHERTY, owner and president of Flaherty & Associates; JOHN WITTE, emeritus professor and former director of the La Follette School; and PATRICK WOLF, education policy professor and 21st Century Endowed Chair in School Choice at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. Other speakers include: STEVE WALTERS, of WisEye; DAVID WARD, CEO and founder of NorthStar Consulting of Madison and Sturgeon Bay; TOM STILL, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council; and CRAIG GILBERT, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Washington bureau chief. The event is set for 9 a.m. on May 23 in room 413 North at the state Capitol.

Department of Revenue Chief Economist JOHN KOSKINEN is headlining a forum event in Onalaska on May 23 called “Wisconsin’s Next Best Economy in 15 Years.” See more and register: https://business.lacrossechamber.com/events/details/the-forum-special-event-wisconsin-s-next-best-economy-in-15-years-5107203

BRIAN KIND, who a data strategist and consultant who has worked for Republicans including SCOTT WALKER and RON JOHNSON, along with the Wisconsin GOP, is joining TargetPoint and will serve as office director. See more: https://www.targetpointconsulting.com/targetpoint-bk-data-strategies-announce-formation-tpcs-national-office-geostrategic-analytics/

LORETTA DAYE, the friendly front desk receptionist at the Madison Club, is retiring June 2 after more than 40 years of service. The Madison Club says Daye has provided “an unmatched first impression of our business and exemplifying the gold standard of service. Her helpful nature, friendly approach and her unparalleled professionalism have been a dependable constant.” WisPolitics.com agrees! Daye has been a big reason behind the success of our luncheon series. Say farewell to her next time you go to the club.

Former state Sen. PAT KREITLOW, who also ran for the 7th CD, is back in Wisconsin after several years in Grand Cayman, where he worked in TV as he had in Eau Claire before politics. His wife, SHARLENE, is a doctor at Associated Physicians in Madison.

For more Names in the News, see subscriber products from earlier in the week plus the press release page at WisPolitics.com: https://www.wispolitics.com/

For upcoming events, see the “Week Ahead” in this product and in your e-mail Monday morning. Click here for the online calendar: https://www.wispolitics.com/category/events/

If you have a contribution, e-mail staff@wispolitics.com

(from the state Ethics Commission)

Forty-six changes were made to the lobbying registry in the past 10 days.

Follow this link for the complete list:

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