FRI AM Update: JFC approves boost to transportation, DOJ; weekly radio addresses

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— Republicans on the Legislature’s budget committee last night approved jacking up fees and eliminating breaks for retailers to help pump $483.7 million of new revenue into transportation over the next two years while borrowing an additional $326.2 million for projects.

That’s in the neighborhood of what Gov. Tony Evers had proposed. But the GOP plan differed in one significant way, rejecting Evers’ call to increase the gas tax by 8 cents a gallon and indexing it for inflation going forward.

Dems on the Joint Finance Committee slammed the GOP move to rely on fees for much of the proposed spending increase rather than the gas tax, saying it would mean putting most of the additional burden on Wisconsin motorists regardless of how much they drive or the value of their vehicle.

And it means the motorists who visit Wisconsin aren’t paying more, while state residents are.

“If you are forced to pay those excessive fees to drive, it’s a tax. It’s a tax,” said state Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee. “But the more ridiculous thing is it’s a tax on Wisconsinites, the people we are sent here to represent.”

— The Joint Finance Committee approved the motion 11-5 with Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, joining Dems in opposing it.

Stroebel has been highly critical of Evers appointing Craig Thompson, the former head of the Transportation Development Association, to lead DOT.

“I don’t have a lot of faith in our Transportation secretary, who used to be a road builder lobbyist,” he said.

Evers ran on a pledge to “fix the damn roads,” a line he has trotted out frequently in pressing Republicans to support his plan. Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, said the GOP plan matches Evers in many areas, but “fixes more damn roads” than his budget proposed with the investment in local projects.

He also said drivers would only be hit by the title transfer fee when purchasing a vehicle compared to every time they fill their tanks if lawmakers had gone with a gas tax hike. He mocked Dem’s concerns about the fee increases being regressive while supporting a gas tax hike.

“What do you think the gas tax does? These same folks pay that every time they fill up,” Born said.

See more on the plan in the Budget Blog:

Read the GOP motion:

— The Legislature’s top two Republicans said they’re working on additional “reforms” to control costs at the Department of Transportation.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Junueau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, didn’t specify what the additional measures would be but said they will be unveiled this month.

“With our state continuing to make significant investments in infrastructure, it’s the duty of the Legislature to make sure that taxpayer dollars are being spent responsibly,” Fitzgerald said. “In the coming days, we’ll introduce reforms to make sure that hard-working Wisconsin taxpayers are protected from wasteful spending in the future. We need to control costs and hold the Department of Transportation accountable.”

— Still, GOP Sen. Steve Nass said he opposes the transportation package and it — along with the possible structural deficit — jeopardizes his support for the entire budget.

Nass, R-Whitewater, said while a separate bill may be forthcoming with “a few reforms,” he believes Evers would veto any standalone bill.

“Tonight is a big win for the road building special interests and a big loss for the taxpayers,” Nass said. “The Joint Finance Committee package contains excessively high levels of new revenues with no accountability or reform measures.”

With a 19-14 majority, Republicans could only lose two members and still pass a budget without Dem help.

— The JFC last night approved a $10.1 million GPR boost to the Department of Justice that would include providing assistant attorneys general raises of 2 percent each in 2020 and 2021 while adding nine positions to the state crime lab.

But Tony Evers had proposed 14 new positions in the crime lab, and the GOP motion didn’t sign off on the three new positions for digital forensics the guv wanted. The GOP motion, approved 12-4 along party lines, also included a cut to the division that provides legal advice to the guv and others.

Overall, the GOP motion would add $10.1 million in general purpose revenue to the agency budget over the two-year biennium and $2.2 million in other funds.

That is $4.1 million in GPR less than Evers had proposed and $2.5 million less in other funds.

As part of the package, Republicans would reduce funding for the Division of Legal Services by $2.5 million over the biennium. That office provides legal representation to the guv, Legislature, other state officers and state agencies.

AG Josh Kaul said the additional positions for the crime lab and other moves were “significant steps in the right direction.” Still, he said there “are important improvements to be made, including avoiding a funding cut to the Division of Legal Services.”

— JFC Republicans also added two earmarks to WEDC grant programs, but rejected a call from Dem committee members to require an annual report on grant recipients who failed to achieve contractually required results.

Dems challenged their GOP colleagues to support their motion, saying Republicans have sought to require similar reports of other agencies, particularly the UW System. Rep. Evan Goyke, D-Milwaukee, said past audits of the agency have identified continued problems with agency grant programs.

The latest audit found, among other things, WEDC awarded tax credits to companies for jobs retained or created outside of Wisconsin.

“Put your accountability where your words are,” Goyke said.

— Rep. Mary Felzkowski slammed Dems’ proposed Medicaid expansion in this week’s GOP radio address.

Felzkowski, R-Irma, said the so-called welfare expansion could lead to higher health insurance premiums and increased costs to the state.

Citing a study done by the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, Felzkowski said Medicaid expansion could increase premiums for a family of four by up to $700 per year.

“It’s clear that welfare expansion, especially at a time when unemployment is historically low, and the economy is strong, is the wrong choice for Wisconsin,” Felzkowski said.

The Joint Finance Committee recently voted to increase healthcare funding by $1.6 billion, which Felzkowski said will be allocated to other areas such as nursing homes and rural hospitals.

See the release:

— Rep. Evan Goyke touted Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed Medicaid expansion in this week’s Dem radio address.

Goyke, D-Milwaukee, said expanding Medicaid would lower health insurance premiums and free up taxpayer dollars.

He also cited a study released by policy research organization Health Affairs that compared Wisconsin’s premiums with those in surrounding states where Medicaid has been expanded. The study found these premiums to be 19 percent lower than in Wisconsin.

“There is a direct correlation between how much people pay for private health insurance and whether or not a state accepted the Medicaid expansion,” Goyke said.

Despite being voted down by Republican members of the Joint Committee on Finance, Goyke said expanding Medicaid would allow for Wisconsin to accept $1.6 billion in federal funding.

“They are wasting your taxpayer dollars and causing your premiums to rise in order to score cheap political points,” Goyke said.

See the release:

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JFC GOP approves $484M transportation plan
… [11-5 Dems + Stroebel approved] $484M in new funding [$623M Evers], relying in part on increases to title [$95] and registration [$10] fees and a [$90M] transfer from the state’s general fund. … [$11M by expanding “hybrid” car fee] … would allow the state to borrow an additional $326M through state-issued bonds [$338M Evers] … $226M for large freeway projects in southeastern WI [$332M Evers] … “This motion fixes more damn roads than his does,” said Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, making a comparison to the governor’s plan. … borrowing would be the lowest since the 2001-03 budget cycle. … [Baldauff for Evers blasted plan lacking gas tax hike with indexing and heavy truck fee boost:] “Raiding our state coffers and making Wisconsinites foot the bill for the rest instead of making out-of-state drivers pay their fair share isn’t the long-term solution Wisconsinites are asking for.” Stroebel: “I don’t have a lot of faith in our transportation secretary who used to be a road builder lobbyist.” Fellow conservative Nass: “Tonight is a big win for the road building special interests and a big loss for the taxpayers.” Supporters claim it matches Evers’10% increase in general transportation aid, $19M hike to highway rehab. JFC Dem Erpenbach denounced absence of gas tax hike, “If you’re going to let out of state drivers off the hook … that’s absolutely irresponsible.” JFC also approved limit on protective services for Lt. GOv. Barnes, responding to WIsPOlitics report on Barnes’ extraordinary use, and new pilot program to award up to $250 million for so-called “design-build” contracts. JFC also approved budget items for DOJ, WEDC, reinsurance, broadband expansion, other programs.

GOP roads plan would more than double title fees and limit security for Lt Guv
… Other surprise provisions would curb local governments from regulating quarries and provide funding for a bridge in Kaukauna, the hometown of Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke. … “This is the most significant investment of new revenues into our transportation system in more than a generation,” said [co-chair] Nygren … Stroebel said he liked where the overall budget was headed, but not the transportation provisions in it. … also drew opposition from Republican Sen. Steve Nass … Erpenbach of West Point said raising the gas tax would be better than increasing fees to make sure all drivers — not just those from Wisconsin — were paying more to maintain the state’s roads. … Echoing that sentiment, Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said the measure “isn’t the long-term solution Wisconsinites are asking for.” … Democrats criticized the limits on security for Wisconsin’s first black lieutenant governor. Former Barnes aide Brandon Weathersby said it was not unusual to get hateful messages to Barnes’ [Assembly] office … “This is petty,” Weathersby wrote on Twitter. “This is dangerous. This is wrong.” Other budget action: Limiting local oversight of quarries [vetoed by Walker in 2017], $2.5M study of tolls, $22M from VW settlement for fuel-efficient govt. vehicles, hybrid vehicle fees, $29M to help Marinette Marine, $35M for Hiawatha and rail, $44M to expand broadband [$75M Evers], $500K for WEDC Fab Labs, $100K for PSC intervenors [$300K Evers], 10 FTEs for DOJ crime lab [19 Kaul], axed 5 FTEs for ACA/marketplace insurance outreach.

UW System President Cross Continues Push For Increased State Funding
… Evers called for an increase of $130 million for UW System schools. … [JFC] approved an increase of about $58 million … $45 million [of that] would be subject to later approval after UW administrators provide a report on how the funds would be spent. Cross told regents Thursday that the UW System is “invaluable” to the state and that “we must not be passive when it is so clear that no one else, no other entity can do what we can do to help our state and our economy. In every region of the state I visit, I hear from employers and community leaders who are screaming for talent,” said Cross. “The UW System is the answer.” … Since UW-Milwaukee achieved a national designation as a Research I institution in 2016, [Chancellor] Mone said the campus has ranked among the bottom in terms of the number of faculty and pay. … “I want to become a Hispanic-serving institution, but it’s very difficult to do that if you don’t have more faculty of color and staff of color,” said Mone. “When you’re retrenching, it’s hard to grow. So, that’s the crossroads that we’re at.”

Evers administration seeks to head off stripping large dairy regulation from DNR
… [JFC would move CAFO regs to DATCP, a Walker campaign idea] … [DNR Sec. Cole, DACTP Sec. Pfaff] said the panel should adopt the administration’s budget proposals affecting CAFOs, and they justified the DNR as best suited to oversee large farms. In most states, pollution control agencies like the DNR regulate large dairy farms. … Cole and Pfaff also said keeping regulatory functions at the DNR would provide more certainty “at a time when the public is demanding more oversight of these facilities.” Evers is emphasizing water quality issues in his budget and is proposing to add five positions through higher fees on CAFOs: $660 a year and $3,270 for every five years a CAFO’s permit comes up for renewal. … Walker and his supporters have … pointed to a critical 2016 [LAB] report that found numerous problems in the DNR’s wastewater program, which includes CAFOs, citing backlogs, staff turnover and drop in environmental enforcement. CAFOs grew 81% from 2005-14.

With Farmers Taking On More Debt, DATCP Warns Against Unregulated Lenders
… [DATCP Farm Center’s Friar] said the center receives calls every year from farmers who have taken out loans from companies that are not regulated by state or federal financial agencies…. “In some cases, they’re specifically targeting farmers if they’re in a farm publication. In other cases, they may be trying to connect with an everyday consumer that’s looking for credit. … calls increased by 10 percent over the last year and more farmers are seeking advice on farm financials. … “When you see your neighbors planting corn and beans, when you see your neighbors cutting first crop hay and if you don’t have money to do that, any of us may grab for fast cash,” Friar said. “I’m not worried about how I’m going to pay it back. I just want the money so I can be planting my crops. Because if I don’t plant a crop, I’m definitely out of farming.” UW Extension’s Wantoch said some farmers are running up high-interest, high-fee credit cards when they should talk re-fi with their lenders or a UW agent, “sometimes the best option may be to exit the business.”

Great Lakes Mayors Call On Congress To Fund [$830M] Defense Against Asian Carp
Mayors Seek [noisemakers and an electric barrier] At Brandon Road Lock And Dam [near Joliet, IL] … a potential pathway between the Mississippi River and Great Lakes Basins … By 2022 … “The Asian carp are knocking on our Great Lakes door,” said Sheboygan Mayor Mike Vandersteen at the signing. “The Great Lakes region has already worked through the Rust Belt years. Now, as we move into a brighter future on the shores of the fresh coast, we cannot afford another major setback like this.” Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative CEO Dicker: “No more studies. Get the temporary project done at Brandon Road. At least that will provide some additional support … But, in the long run, the mayors want to see total separation eventually.” Army Corps would pay for 65%. IL Gov. Pritzker approved coordination but questioned the 35% states/others would pay.

MI Governor Seeks Line 5 Deal Within A Week
… while Enbridge reaffirmed plans for a $500M tunnel to house a new … Line 5 [to carry] around 540K barrels/day of natural gas liquids and crude oil from Superior to Sarnia, Ontario, through [Mackinac] Straits. [to be completed by early 2024.] Gov. Whitmer letter to Enbridge CEO Monaco doubted the timeline, seeks earlier completion to replacement for 60+ year-old pipeline. MI AG Nessel also threatened last week to pursue legal action within a month if the governor and Enbridge are unable to reach a deal. On Wednesday, Enbridge said it’s moving forward on engineering details and other aspects, looks forward to working with the state on additional safety measures and ways to shorten the timeline. Whitmer did not respond.

Enbridge Seeks Court Review Of Line 5 Tunnel Project
… In a statement Thursday, Enbridge said it’s asking … whether agreements reached with GOP ex-guv Snyder] hold up. … [argued Gov. Whitmer’s 2-yr timeline to shut down line 5] wouldn’t be enough time for Enbridge to finish its proposed $500 million tunnel to house a new pipeline. Enbridge VP Jarvis claimed “this action [is] to protect Michigan consumers. … to remove obstacles to building the tunnel as quickly as possible and ensure energy security and environmental protection for Michigan.” [AG] Nessel ruled earlier this year that [tunnel-enabling] legislation … was unconstitutional. Whitmer statement: “This Tuesday, Enbridge walked away from the negotiating table … chosen to pursue litigation rather than negotiate in good faith to find a reasonable solution that includes a date certain for decommissioning Line 5. It is now abundantly clear that Enbridge — which is responsible for the largest inland oil spill in American history in Marshall, Michigan — is only interested in protecting its bottom line.”

Milwaukee Ranks 3rd Worst In US For Black Home Ownership
… LendingTree [using Census data] recently ranked the 50 largest metro areas in the country by the percentage of the black population that owns a home. … Just over 7 percent of the Milwaukee area’s African American population owned a home in 2017 … median household income among African Americans in Milwaukee is $28,928. … metro area includes Waukesha and West Allis. … Memphis and New Orleans ranked first and second for the lowest percentage of black homeowners. … In January, the Brookings Institution found Milwaukee was the nation’s most racially segregated metro area. Report analyst Channel: “When World War I and World War II ended, and white people came back, [blacks] were forced out of jobs and never had an opportunity to establish the strong economic foothold like white Americans have had. … What we have to do, as a society, government, whatever, is realize we have a problem, and then look at solutions to make it easier for disadvantaged people to build wealth.” Ald. Rainey touted his 2016 creation of the city’s Office of African American Affairs, “Seems like every day there is another new statistic about the lack of quality of life for African Americans in Milwaukee and the state of Wisconsin. … When you think about the economic hardships and lack of family-supporting jobs for African Americans, I can see how we’re falling behind in homeownership.” Channel touted FHA loans, Take Root Milwaukee consortium, including community groups, HUD, Urban Development-certified housing counseling agencies the help people become home owners.


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– 8 a.m. – 11 a.m.: MMAC Expert Series: “Building the Skills for Tomorrow.” Speaker is Steve Buchman, senior manager within the Accenture Talent and Organization practice.

– 9 a.m.: Board of Regents meeting.

– 11:30 a.m. – 1:15 p.m.: June 7: and discussion: “Closing the Urban-Rural Health Care Gap. Dr. Tim Bartholow, chief medical officer of Health Tradition, will provide opening remarks. A panel discussion follows with Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse; Wally Orzechowski, of the Southwest Community Action Program; Dr. Paul S. Mueller, chair of Mayo Clinic’s general internal medicine; and Dr. Erik Gundersen, medical director of the Kwik Trip Center for Health and incoming president of the Wisconsin Medical Society.

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