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I know it’s not what (Gov. Tony Evers) wanted but in my estimation — a word to the wise — he better sign it because I don’t think it gets any better from there.
– Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, on the education proposal the Joint Finance Committee approved this week. The $500 million plan included a $97 million boost in special education funding. Both numbers were well short of the $1.4 billion Evers had proposed, including a $606 million increase for special ed.

When you keep poking our public school kids with a stick, you will hear the parents roar. And we will keep roaring, and you will hear it in the next election.
– Madison Dem Rep. Chris Taylor on Joint Finance Committee Republicans’ decision on education funding.

We shouldn’t be limiting the right for women to make their own health care decisions. That’s why I’ll veto the bills passed by the Assembly last week if they arrive on my desk. It’s time to listen to women.
– Gov. Tony Evers on Twitter.

It’s hypocrisy at its finest, and rings opposite of empowering women and girls.
– Assembly Majority Jim Steineke, R-Kaukauna and author of the “born alive” bill, knocking Evers for pledging to veto a bill that would “prevent unborn girls from being aborted because of their gender” after his staff accused GOP leaders of sexism.

Heavenly father, you know that when Wisconsin Republicans had the majority under Gov. Walker, they did nothing to safeguard the rights of the preborn. Now, however, when we have a Democrat governor, these same Republicans piously claim that they’re against abortion, all the while knowing that any abortion bill they bring to the governor’s desk will be vetoed. Dear heavenly father, forgive our Republican legislators for their hypocrisy.
– Pastor James Reiff, of St. John’s Lutheran Congregation in Oshkosh, offering the opening prayer at the state GOP convention. See WisPolitics.com coverage of the convention: https://www.wispolitics.com/category/gop-convos/

If not even the governor’s spokesperson can be trusted to speak for the governor, how can he expect us to work with anyone from his staff?
– Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald following statement from Evers spokeswoman alleging GOP leaders were unwilling to work with female staff, but had no issues doing so with her male predecessors.

I have asked Republicans to work with my staff the way they worked with the former governor’s staff. They know how to work with my staff and are choosing not to. So, this is clearly a departure from past practice. You connect the dots.
– Gov. Tony Evers statement defending his staff’s allegations of sexism.

Does that prompt more competition between campuses? To some extent it does, I’m not disputing that, but I’m not suggesting that’s not healthy either.
– UW System President Ray Cross on State Building Commission Republicans rejecting projects in the guv’s capital budget proposal.

–A collection of insider opinion–
(May. 11-24, 2019)


State revenues: News of another $753 million expected to roll into state coffers through mid-2021 has sparked a debate: spend it, stash it away or do a little of both. Every two years, budget watchers wait anxiously for the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to do its May look at revenue forecasts, particularly if there are signs that collections could go south over the upcoming budget. But the LFB’s latest projection gives the Capitol good news, largely thanks to taxpayers taking advantage of the 2017 federal overhaul of the tax code. That helps produce a surge in projections for individual income and corporate tax collections. Still, it comes with a caveat that a good chunk of it is likely a one-time boost. There are also some warning signs in the LFB projections, including a downward revision of $280 million for sales tax collections through mid-2021. So cautious notes are struck as the guv and lawmakers look at what to do with the money. Gov. Tony Evers announces plans to pay off $56 million in debt, saving $14 million in interest payments. He also calls on lawmakers to put another $15 million into worker training and $18 million into the Wisconsin Technical College System. The GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee gives Evers a little of what he wants, but not the whole thing, boosting workforce development by $12.5 million and the tech colleges an extra $7 million on top of what Evers originally proposed in his budget. And, like Evers, lawmakers are also talking about stashing much of it away in the state’s rainy day fund. With the country now coming up on a decade of sustained growth, things are going to cool off eventually. The question is: When? More importantly, how would the Capitol deal with it? Only about two dozen Republicans were in the Legislature the last time the state was dealing with the aftermath of a recession, and insiders wonder how well prepared some GOP lawmakers would be to vote for a truly tough budget. So if any of that one-time money is to go out the door, some suggest, better to use it for one-time expenses. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, says some of it could go to building projects or road work rather than borrowing for them. Some see putting some of the money toward transportation as one path Republicans could take to resolve what’s likely their biggest stumbling block in completing the budget. With the Joint Finance Committee having voted on K-12 education and Corrections, the biggest drivers of general purpose revenue left on its agenda include the UW System, Medicaid and taxes. Many expect UW to get a boost, but not as big a one as Evers proposed. After rejecting the guv’s call to expand the Medicaid program through the Affordable Care Act, some believe Republicans will look to pump additional state dollars in to draw down matching federal dollars. That money could then be used to help boost reimbursement rates, which is one reason why many health care groups had backed the guv’s plan. But figuring out transportation is dicier. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has made no bones about his belief the transpo fund needs a revenue upper or his position backing a gas tax hike. Insiders also believe there’s almost no chance such a move gets through a GOP Senate caucus with a dug-in conservative wing. Still, some say if Republicans truly want to fix the state’s transpo funding woes, some kind of revenue upper is needed. Otherwise, it’s just kicking the can down the road — yet again. With former Gov. Scott Walker dead set against a gas tax hike, GOP lawmakers patched things together for eight years, often relying on more borrowing as part of the final package. But that’s driven the state’s debt payments to more than 20 cents of every dollar that comes into the transportation fund — an unsustainable path to many policymakers. Some, though, suggest another path could be a combo of borrowing, re-organizing how Evers proposed spending the money and raising fees — such as for the titles on cars. Meanwhile, a group of GOP lawmakers releases more than a dozen transportation bills, including one that would transfer auto-related sales taxes to the transportation fund over a 15-year period. The transfers would begin at 10 percent of those sales tax collections, about $103 million in the first year, and climb to 50 percent, estimated at $517 million in the last year. But many see that as a non-starter, because it would open up Republicans to the attack that they’re favoring roads over schools. And there is zero chance Evers would sign it, some add. Still, some also see the package as some insight into how the conversation is going on transportation in the GOP caucuses — and suggest it’s a bad sign for a grand deal.

Prison guards: State employees are in line for a raise. Prison guards are looking at an even bigger one. But like with much in the state Capitol these days, Dems and Republicans still find ways to throw jabs at each other even on areas in which they largely agree. The Joint Finance Committee signs off on Gov. Tony Evers’ plan to give state and UW System employees raises of 2 percent in each of the next two years with those hikes to kick in Jan. 1, 2020, and Jan. 1, 2021. Guards, meanwhile, are looking at getting that and a little extra. Under Evers’ budget, that would mean a starting wage of $18.59 an hour by the end of the biennium, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. But the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee approves a motion along party lines that would push that instead to $19.03 an hour. The move also would move up the corrections guards pay increase to Jan. 1 rather than April 2020. But it wouldn’t apply in 2020-21 to those prison guards who are now receiving the $5-an-hour boost to work at some of the state’s maximum security prisons that are facing staffing shortages. The GOP motion also would create one-time bonuses that would be range from $250 after 10 years of service to $1,000 at 25 years and every five years after that. Overall, it would mean $13.1 million more into correction guards salaries than Evers had proposed. The move to boost wages for prison guards come as the state has struggled with vacancy rates at prisons with 14.5 percent of positions unfilled at adult institutions as of April. That includes a high of 31.8 percent at Waupun Correctional Institution. Those unfilled jobs also were a significant factor in the state paying $50.6 million to cover 1.8 million of overtime hours in 2017-18. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the most common reasons for OT were position vacancies, sick leave coverage and medical vigils. Dems, meanwhile, charge GOP policies have contributed to the problem; particularly Act 10, which they say took away a seat at the table for guards to advocate for safer working conditions at a time when they’ve been forced to do double shifts and fill overtime hours. And after eight years of paltry pay increases for state employees, Republicans are only stepping up now to do something about it, Dems say. GOP Rep. Mark Born, a former Dodge County corrections officer, accuses Evers of a “failure to invest” in pay for corrections guards at the needed level. He also dismissed as “silly” the policy the Evers administration implemented to give a $5-an-hour pay boost to guards at six maximum security facilities that are facing staff shortages, saying it didn’t address issues across the system. Now, the question is whether the pay boost will make a dent in the vacancies. It isn’t just the pay that has hampered state efforts to fill those jobs. Whenever the unemployment rate is low, it’s often difficult to fill guard jobs, because potential candidates can find jobs that pay just as well — and offer a much less dangerous environment.

Hotel taxes: Collections have more than doubled over the last two decades, according to a Wisconsin Policy Forum report. The report highlights several other factors that may be driving the boom in room tax revenue, including an increase in travelers throughout Wisconsin, as well as higher hotel charges. The report also notes a 2015 state law requires that at least 70 percent the collections must fund efforts to increase tourism, saying local officials may have bumped the tax up in order to juice stagnant tourism promotion funding. The number of communities that have a room tax has increased from 169 in 1999 to 291 in 2017. But it’s not just the more communities using the tax, but also the rate of the tax itself. The median room tax was 5 percent in 1999, rose to 5.5 percent in 2017 and with an 8 percent cap, still has room to grow.

Shirley Abrahamson: For a long time, she was simply known as “the chief.” With her term on the state Supreme Court winding down, her colleagues paid tribute with a standing ovation after the final oral arguments of her term, sparking thoughts for some insiders on how Abrahamson’s four decades on the court will be viewed. You don’t serve that long on any body without ruffling a few feathers, and Abrahamson had a special talent at riling conservatives, some say. Her lawsuit seeking to hold onto the chief justice’s role after voters approved a constitutional amendment changing how that position is selected wasn’t one of her finer moments. And Brian Hagedorn, who will replace her on the bench come August, regularly knocked her for politicizing the court as he campaigned this spring. But few will focus on that when looking at her remarkable career, insiders say. Appointed to the bench in 1976 by Gov. Patrick Lucey, she became the first female justice in state history. She later became the first female chief justice, the longest serving justice and the longest serving chief justice. Along the way, she was known as a tireless worker — her office light one of the last ones to go out at the Capitol on a regular basis — and insiders say her tenure will be tough for others to top.


Lena Taylor: The Milwaukee lawmaker has seen two fellow Dems escape legislative minorities by winning the mayor’s office back home. Now she’s flirting with the idea of giving it a shot. Taylor confirms she’s looking at a bid in 2020, when Mayor Tom Barrett would be up for a fifth term. Still, insiders see some possible challenges for her to make the leap from legislator to executive. Barrett hasn’t exactly faced stiff challenges in the past. Since winning the office in 2004, he’s won re-election with at least 70 percent of the vote each time. And he started the year with more than $700,000. He’s also helped land the Democratic National Convention next summer and overseen a building boom downtown. Still, even those who are fans note the first thought many have about the mayor is he’s a nice guy. Taylor has been critical of him for failing to address issues such as the city’s lead laterals, and conservative talk radio can’t stand the streetcar he’s championed. But is he vulnerable? Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton filed papers to run late last year but has yet to formally announce, while Ald. Tony Zielinski announced his bid in late 2017. Insiders note Taylor can be a polarizing figure. But her backers love her — and they turn out. Just look at 2016, when then-Rep. Mandela Barnes decided to challenge his fellow Milwaukee Dem in a primary — and got smoked as she took more than 60 percent. Some had thought the race would at least be close, but insiders say it’s a sign of how Taylor can rally her supporters. But can she raise the money she’d need for a competitive campaign? And what factors would play into what could be a four-way primary? Some believe Barrett would have some work to do if he’s challenged by an African American candidate considering some concerns in the community over policing and other issues. But if both Taylor and Hamilton ran, would that split the black anti-Barrett vote in the primary? And Taylor has her own baggage, too, after being cited following an incident with a bank teller, for example. Some question if Taylor could beat Barrett in a two-way race. But there are those who believe she could make him work for another term, unlike his past re-election opponents.

State GOP: The first step in fixing a problem is acknowledging you have one. And the party lays bare its problems from 2018 by releasing a postmortem that found too much reliance on advertising at the expense of the grassroots. The report also said the party turned into an arm of the Scott Walker campaign and lost its grip on party finances, with consultants pulling in big bucks for a questionable return. As the party meets in Oshkosh for its annual convention, U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, lays out his vision for restructuring the party to make sure that doesn’t happen again. And leaders talk about a renewed energy after conservative Brian Hagedorn won the state Supreme Court race in the spring. Still, while GOP leaders are saying all the right things, it may not be until the party proves itself in the 2020 elections that there’s a clear indication the ship has been righted. The 15-page report — which Johnson described as “brutally honest” — covered a series of shortcomings in 2018, from the party’s organization down to staffers who were described as “unhelpful, unresponsive, even rude.” Some consultants, the report says, had “few, if any, discernible job responsibilities or expectations of deliverables,” the payments to them were among drivers of the party’s current debt. Some note the report that was released took out some of the more sensational details from a previous draft on the party falling behind on credit card payments, for example. For some Walker backers, the leaking of that draft looks like an effort on the part of some to kick the guv now that he’s out the door. And to some, that underscores some of the remaining tensions over the direction of the party. Still, others note that while some Republicans may be happy to knock Walker now that he’s gone, the party is also facing new challenges to raise money without him. Just a few years ago, the state party had a national profile with Walker in the guv’s office, Paul Ryan as House speaker and Reince Priebus as national party chair. Now, all three are out of those jobs. Among other things, that isn’t going to help the party raise money. While the postmortem notes the challenges the party faces with its debt, it may take a while to straighten out the GOP’s finances. The party’s latest federal campaign finance report, covering the month of April, shows debt climbed last month to $187,741 from $142,437. A party spokesman says some of that is due to outstanding invoices the GOP found during its postmortem, while the rest was new expenses. While Johnson is positioned to be the public face of the party, insiders also note he also isn’t a traditional party guy. The Oshkosh Republican acknowledged at state convention that he sprang more from the Tea Party movement than from a traditional GOP background before his 2010 bid, and not being immersed in the party structure can present challenges in helping to change it, some believe. New Chair Andrew Hitt says he senses a new energy among the grassroots, and GOP insiders are happy to see Mark Jefferson back in the executive director’s role, particularly after he worked that job the last time the party didn’t control the East Wing. But activists acknowledge there’s still work to do.


Tony Evers: Republicans have now pulled two major pillars from the guv’s budget — and are warning him this might be the best deal he gets. Undeterred, the guv says he will keep pushing for GOP lawmakers to expand Medicaid and boost school funding more to his liking. But with his office accusing GOP leaders of sexism, insiders say, it’s not doing him any favors if he hopes to bring lawmakers over to his side. And insiders debate how effective Evers can be with his public pressure campaign. Getting Evers’ budget through the GOP-controlled Legislature was going to be a tough battle no matter what. And the complete lack of a relationship with Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has made that even more difficult, insiders say. But things seem to hit new lows on a regular basis. The latest example is the dust-up after the two leaders complain to the state GOP convention that Evers has “no point person” for the Legislature. They aren’t the only ones who have complained that it’s been difficult to get answers from the guv’s administration. But their very public display prompts a sharp rebuke from Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff, who says they’ve been told to work with Evers Chief of Staff Maggie Gau, a former Dem leggie aide who ran Evers’ campaign. But Baldauff says GOP leaders have refused to work with Gau, suggesting they’re uncomfortable working with a leadership team made up “entirely of women.” She says the pair didn’t seem to have a problem working with the men former Gov. Scott Walker had in that position. The comment raises eyebrows among insiders. One, they say, the charge is not going to improve the situation. Two, it opens the Evers administration up to some serious pushback when it’s noted that three of Vos’ top aides — including his chief of staff — are all women. Insiders also note some differences between Gau and Eric Schutt that goes beyond their gender. For one, Schutt was a GOP legislative aide that leggie leaders such as Fitzgerald and Vos had known for years. That helped them build a level of trust with him. Two, they note, Schutt was the de facto guv for much of the 2015-17 budget negotiations as Walker was outside the state trying to get his presidential bid off the ground. There just isn’t that same level of rapport with Gau. Evers backers, meanwhile, see Republicans trying to throw up excuses to cover their own refusal to work with the administration, saying they have regularly been rebuffed in their attempts to build a relationship — only to see Fitzgerald and Vos complain that the guv won’t meet with them regularly. Even if he had, they add, there’s no way the two leaders would’ve been more likely to embrace his views on Medicaid expansion or education funding because they are intent to undercut him at every step. What’s more, Evers backers see Vos falsely accusing the guv of forcing returning National Guard troops to wait on him following their year overseas as evidence Republicans are just being petty at this point. Still, insiders on both sides note these dust-ups are the kind of thing no one outside of politics cares about. But it could have some real consequences for Evers in the budget process. Having already pulled Evers’ Medicaid expansion, GOP members of the Finance Committee approve a $500 million boost to K-12, well shy of the $1.4 billion Evers wanted to add. What’s more, it only includes a $97 million increase for special education, compared to the $606 million more that Evers wanted. The guv insists it’s still early in the process and he remains hopeful he can work with Republicans. But after being labeled sexists, some ask, what’s their motivation to work with him? That, insiders say, raises questions about Evers’ budget end game. WisPolitics.com reports GOP leaders are looking at splitting the document into two bills, one with all the appropriations, the other with all the policy. The move is intended to get around the guv’s broad partial veto authority, which can be used on any bill that includes an appropriation. But put together a budget bill that’s just policy, and Evers’ only options would be to allow it to become law or veto the entire thing. That move isn’t a sure thing — yet. Still, it would possibly undercut Evers’ one tool to rework the budget lawmakers send to him without nixing the entire document. And that leads to another question: Is the guv getting ever closer to pulling the trigger on a full veto? That hasn’t happened since 1931, when the state went to executive budgets rather than a bill for each agency. And the dynamic could be unchartered territory. Some Republicans are confident that Evers would be making a grave mistake by vetoing the budget, arguing he would then alone own the dysfunction of the Capitol. Others, however, believe it’s not so cut and dried. In 2007, with split control of the Legislature and a Dem guv, the budget dragged into late October. Once that happened, Capitol vets say, it became a pox on everyone’s house. And while the state wouldn’t shut down if no new budget is in place by July 1, instead continuing at current funding levels, the pressure would start to mount this fall as local governments and schools started chafing over not knowing what kind of increase they might see if a deal ever got done. What’s more, Dems say, Evers has the high ground on the issues where he’s taking a stand — Medicaid and education — and the public is on his side. But there’s just one problem with the public pressure approach, some note. There just aren’t that many GOP lawmakers left in 50-50 districts who might feel real pressure from the voters back home. So after surviving 2018 and a difficult environment, what would be their motivation to embrace Evers’ plan? Then, some note, there are the more conservative members of the GOP caucuses who wouldn’t feel shame about passing a budget, but would embrace it as something to take pride in because they held the line on growing government.

Exact Sciences: The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. has had issues with tax credits going to companies for jobs being created outside the state. Being identified as one of those companies isn’t exactly a good thing. Exact Sciences, which makes a colon cancer test, wasn’t initially identified in the Legislative Audit Bureau review of the state’s job creation agency. But an open records request from The Associated Press reveals the company was the firm identified in the audit for receiving $61,100 in tax credits for creating 261 jobs filed by people living in 36 states not contiguous with Wisconsin. Following the AP report, Exact Sciences says the out-of-state jobs were likely professional medical representatives or those in sales. Still, acting as “good corporate citizens,” the company pledges to return the money. It’s but a small piece of the contract Exact Sciences signed with WEDC in 2014 that could result in $9 million in tax credits. Meanwhile, the LAB also identified a second firm that received $462,000 in tax credits even though it lost 17 jobs. That turned out to be Walgreens, and WEDC is now calculating how much of the tax credits will be revoked.

Michael Piontek: The Racine County judge was suspended five days for misconduct in two cases, including one in which the state Supreme Court ruled his behavior was “obviously unethical; even the newest and busiest judge must know as much.” The discipline stemmed from two cases Piontek handled after about two years on the bench. In one, he received an informal visit in his chambers from a prosecutor seeking adjournment of a trial in late 2014. He then called the prosecutor without including the defense counsel. During the call, he told the prosecutor he wanted the case to go to trial as scheduled and said any plea deal should include a felony, because people like the defendant involved “in scams like this” need to be stopped. The call wasn’t disclosed to defense until the prosecutor summarized it in a letter and Piontek recused himself. He initially denied to the Judicial Commission details that were in the prosecutor’s letter. In the second case, he used erroneous information from an internet search he conducted as he sentenced a nurse who had pleaded guilty to two counts of delivering a non-narcotic controlled substance. Before sentencing, he neither provided notice that he planned to use the information, nor did he allow the defendant the chance to rebut his incorrect findings that she hadn’t had a nursing license in Illinois. Instead, he instructed her that her “lies are getting [her] in trouble” and suggested she “close [her] mouth,” according to court records. Her sentence was later overturned and sent to a different judge. A panel recommended a suspension of between five and 15 days, noting he hadn’t had any previous discipline cases. It also noted he’d only been on the bench for two years. But the court was unpersuaded by any claims of inexperience.


June 13: WisPolitics.com luncheon: The future of transportation funding in Wisconsin

Transportation funding has become one of the key debating points in the two-year state budget making its way through the Legislature. Gov. Tony Evers proposed an 8-cent-a gallon increase in the gas tax plus while getting rid of the minimum markup on gasoline — something the administration said would more than wipe out the increase. Republicans have removed the minimum markup provision and left in the gas tax increase for now. Where will the debate lead and will it result in a long-term solution?

Hear details from some of the key players in the debate at a WisPolitics.com issues luncheon set for Thursday, June 13 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at UW-Milwaukee’s Waukesha campus just off I-94.

Panelists for the discussion: Wisconsin DOT Secretary Craig Thompson, Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow, state Rep. Debra Kolste, D-Janesville and a member of the Assembly Transportation Committee, and state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-New Berlin and a member of the Assembly Transportation Committee.

WisPolitics.com subscribers and members receive discounted pricing for WisPolitics luncheons of $20 per person, including lunch. Price for the general public is $25 per person, including lunch.

This event is sponsored by: Kapur & Associates, UW-Milwaukee, Wisconsin Academy of Global Education and Training, ELEVEN25 at Pabst, Milwaukee Police Association, The Firm Consulting, Medical College of Wisconsin and Spectrum.

The Waukesha County Business Alliance is an event partner.

For more information and registration, visit: https://wispolitics.com/2019/june-13-wispolitics-com-luncheon-the-future-of-transportation-funding-in-wisconsin/



Lawmakers last year headed to Poland for a trade mission and Taiwan for meetings with foreign dignitaries with other Midwestern legislators, according to their latest economic interest filings.

Others reported hitting a series of U.S. destinations, ranging from Los Angeles to Lake Buena Vista, Fla., and Washington, D.C., for a variety of conferences, events and speaking engagements.

The travel was detailed in the 2018 economic interest statements for all 132 lawmakers who were then serving in the Legislature. The reports, requested and reviewed by WisPolitics.com, showed 44 lawmakers reported more than $149,000 in speaking fees and travel expenses. That total, though, could be inflated as the check found instances where lawmakers may have misreported the costs of their trips.

There are two columns under the honoraria section of the form: one is for “expenses value” for lodging, meals and other expenses. The other is for the “honorarium amount,” which can include compensation for presenting a talk, participating in a meeting or publishing work about issues initiated by or affecting state government or state agencies, according to the Ethics Commission.

Some lawmakers listed the same dollar figure under both columns in the section, an indicator that the files could be filled out incorrectly.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos topped the Legislature in his travel totals, logging $16,300 for eight different conferences or expenses from groups last year. His sum is slightly higher than the honoraria he listed in calendar year 2017 — $13,481, per past reporting.

Vos made several domestic trips, including to Los Angeles for the National Conference of State Legislatures legislative summit in late July. He also hosted the State Legislative Leaders Foundation’s National Speakers Conference annual meeting in Milwaukee in late August.

The Rochester Republican is currently the president-elect of the NCSL and serves as vice chair of the SLLF. A Vos spokeswoman said that he was proud to represent Wisconsin in bipartisan organizations and noted that his positions require frequent travel.

Lawmakers are able to accept travel expenses to go to conferences, meetings, talks or other events relating to official business, according to the Ethics Commissions’ forms. They’re then required to list transportation, meals, lodging or honoraria with a total value of $50 or more.

A handful of lawmakers — including Reps. Joel Kitchens, R-Sturgeon Bay, and Scott Allen, R-Waukesha, as well as Sen. Tom Tiffany, R-Minocqua — were among those who traveled to Taiwan last August.

The trip, which was covered by the Taiwanese government, included other lawmakers from Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota, according to Kitchens’ office. Each day consisted of meetings with officials from various government entities, including the Mainland Affairs Council, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Republic of China Legislature and the Ministry of Foreign Trade.

Kitchens and Allens’ SEI forms showed the cost of the visit was $7,529. Tiffany’s form didn’t list the cost; rather, he filed it under the form’s “entertainment and gifts” section, which have to be listed if the value is more than $50.

Those three weren’t the only ones who traveled internationally last year. Reps. Cody Horlacher, R-Mukwonago, and Ken Skowronski, R-Franklin, Sen. Dan Feyen, R-Fond du Lac, and then-Rep. Peter Barca, D-Kenosha headed to Poland in October to promote trade and economic growth between the country and Wisconsin.

The trip included discussions with the U.S. ambassador to Poland, tours of area businesses and meetings with local elected officials, per Skowronski’s office.

“Trades missions such as this between states, elected officials and businesses are paramount to fostering strong relationships and economies between trade partners,” a staffer for Skowronski wrote in an email.

Barca, now Revenue secretary, didn’t initially have the trip listed on his SEI form. But an agency spokeswoman, whom WisPolitics.com contacted after hearing he was among those who traveled there, said it was omitted in error and the form has since been corrected.

The trip, which the forms showed cost around $2,000, came about after the governor of Lublin province personally invited the four lawmakers, and that government picked up the tab. Skowronski’s office said the state jobs agency was also notified of the trip and assisted in preparations, but wasn’t directly involved and no WEDC officials were able to attend.

In the state Senate, Feyen logged the highest honoraria over 2018, listing $5,393 in expenses for a total of four trips: the Poland trade mission; an October Foundation for Government Accountability-sponsored seminar in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., “focused on the workforce, welfare reform and healthcare reform,” per his office; a September National Conference of State Legislatures gathering in Denver for broadband and cable policy meetings; and a June Lakeland College seminar on “Economics for Elected Officials” in Sheboygan.

Among Dems, Rep. Lisa Subeck, of Madison, topped her party in the Assembly, while Sen. Lena Taylor, of Milwaukee, led her chamber’s Democrats.

Subeck listed six different conferences or travel on her form, totaling $3,578. They included: a July policy summit organized by the Public Leadership Institute in Washington, D.C.; a National Council of Environmental Legislators forum in Los Angeles later that month; a September Great Lakes Legislative Council and Water Policy Task Force meeting in Erie, Pa.; and a November National Foundation of Women Legislators board meeting in D.C.

Taylor, meanwhile, logged $3,221 in total expenses for the year including: trips to the annual Women in Government national legislative conference in June; the Urban Agriculture Academy Conference in July; and the National Black Caucus of State Legislators legislative conference at the end of November. Michelle Bryant, Taylor’s chief of staff, said the senator attended these conferences in order to “stay current” on relevant topics.

Travel wasn’t all that was denoted in the filings, though.

For example, Rep. Daniel Riemer, D-Milwaukee, listed nine baby gifts — including children’s books and a car seat — on his form. His son was born last summer.

Riemer also listed $2,588 in expenses for four different conferences last year, including a trip to Israel last March overseen by the Milwaukee Jewish Federation.

Meanwhile, Rep. Adam Neylon, who didn’t note any honoraria or expenses, mentioned on his form he received a gift from Milwaukee County Exec. Chris Abele.

The Pewaukee Republican said in an interview last week Abele is a Milwaukee Bucks season ticket holder who brought him to one of the team’s first games of the year in the Fiserv Forum.

“We’re buddies, and we hung out and I reported it,” he said, adding he wasn’t sure if he needed to list it but added he wanted to “be on the safe side.”

See a list of lawmakers’ SEI forms in the Assembly:

And in the Senate:


Assembly Speaker Robin Vos today backed away from falsely accusing Gov. Tony Evers of making returning National Guard troops “wait hours” so he could greet them at once and “save time.”

But the Rochester Republican didn’t apologize in follow-up tweets to his original accusation. While acknowledging he was incorrect, Vos also pushed Evers to “admit he was wrong to falsely accuse GOP leaders of being sexist this week.”

An Evers spokeswoman declined to comment on Vos’ tweets from today or the original accusation.

The dust-up, the latest in a series of tensions between GOP legislative leaders and the guv, started late Thursday night when Vos responded to a tweet Evers sent showing the Dem greeting returning troops and thanking them for their service. A Wisconsin Military Affairs spokeswoman said the 200 soldiers returned did so on three separate flights because they couldn’t fit on one plane. The first two flights came in yesterday with the third arriving today.

Vos tweeted last night he heard “from one of the troops” that Evers made those who landed first yesterday “wait hours for the second plane after being gone almost a year so you could greet them all together and save you time.”

But Department of Military Affairs spokeswoman Jackie Halverson said the National Guard made the decision to do one large, brief ceremony to honor the troops who returned Thursday, because two of the flights were to land within an hour of each other. At the ceremony, their overseas commander, Maj. Gen. Don Dunbar and Evers, the commander-in-chief of the Guard, addressed the troops.

She said the troops on the first flight deplaned, shook hands with dignitaries there to greet them and then saw their families. Halverson said the guv mingled with the troops while waiting for the second plane to arrive.

Those troops from the 1st Battalion, 121st Field Artillery also got to embrace their families before all of the soldiers were pulled together for one ceremony.

“We’ve been doing this for 20 years,” Halverson said. “If we could do it perfectly, we would somehow have all of our troops on one big aircraft for one homecoming. Unfortunately, logistics don’t always work that way, so we did our best to honor our troops and their families in the best way.”

After the initial media reports this morning, Vos tweeted what was “reported to us was wrong” and he was glad Evers “did the right thing and didnt (sic) make them wait as we were told he would.”

He then tweeted several follow ups that when he first heard troops would “have to wait hours” to hear from Evers, it was upsetting and he thanked the National Guard for having the second plane land earlier so there was only an hour between landings.

“Elected officials should admit when they are wrong,” Vos tweeted. “I hope this is an example for Gov. Evers to also admit he was wrong to falsely accuse GOP leaders of being sexist this week. #accountability”

See Vos’ original tweet:

See the follow-up tweet:


When then-Gov. Jim Doyle signed Wisconsin’s indoor smoking ban into law in 2009, he expected tribal nations, which were exempt from its provisions, to embrace the measure on their own.

But fast-forward 10 years and just one casino — Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison — is the only smoke-free tribal-run gaming facility in the state. That’s despite health officials highlighting a host of statistics that show the ban’s pronounced impact on public health.

Tribal casinos say they’re open to making accommodations for non-smokers, but most tribal officials remain wary of what they think their clientele’s reaction to a ban would be.

May 18 marked 10 years since Doyle signed Act 12 into law, a measure that made bars, restaurants and workplaces smoke-free.

“I think the last decade has gone really, really well,” Doyle told WisPolitics.com last week. “I don’t think people can even imagine going back to where we were beforehand.”

Michael Fiore, founder and director of the UW Center for Tobacco Research and Intervention, pointed to everything from a 15 percent drop in adult smoking rates to public opinion polls showing broad support for the measure to a decrease in upper respiratory tract symptoms among bartenders.

Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and localized reports from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services and the Center for Urban Population Health and UW-Milwaukee all report a downturn in smoking rates among adults in the state since the ban went into effect. Fiore calls that a “giant win for both individual health and public health.”

“Now, of course, one cannot say that all of this decline is a result of the smoking ban, but the smoking ban is one of the foundation stones that have contributed to declining smoking in Wisconsin,” Fiore told WisPolitics.

But Native American-run casinos have been far slower to embrace the smoke-free movement. At the time the legislation was passed, Doyle said he believed the casinos — whose tribal sovereignty exempt them from the ban — would take the measure up voluntarily.

But shortly after passing the decade mark, Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison is the only smoke-free casino in the state.

“I think I probably would have expected more to be honest,” Doyle said.

Missy Tracy, the municipal relations coordinator for Ho-Chunk Gaming Madison, touted the 2015 move to go smoke-free and said that despite an initial dip, it’s made a positive financial impact.

“We hung in there, stuck it out and shortly after the first year of being smoke-free, we started to see our revenue actually do better than where (it was) when we were a smoking facility,” she said.

According to Tracy, the Madison casino was persuaded to ban smoking after a survey of its guests showed an overwhelming majority wanted to game in a smoke-free environment. The facility is now the most profitable Ho-Chunk casino in terms of net gaming revenue.

Despite that success, a number of tribes told WisPolitics.com this week they are still reluctant to go completely smoke-free. Several noted that positive results in Madison would not necessarily translate to more rural areas of the state where the clientele has grown accustomed to smoking while gaming.

But those concerns have to be balanced with creating a comfortable environment for those who don’t smoke, according to Bobbi Webster, the director of public relations for the Oneida Nation.

“The compromise has been to create smoke-free environments within the casino so that customers have the opportunity to sit and play and entertain themselves in areas where there’s no smoking allowed,” she said.

The Oneida Nation’s casinos have installed air filtration systems to combat the smoke, and a WisPolitics.com check of tribal gaming facilities in the state shows that roughly half have followed suit and designated smoke-free areas on their gaming floors.

But Doyle said he believes those measures are more sizzle than steak.

“None of that stuff ever worked,” Doyle said. “Restaurants tried to do it and others over the years and it just isn’t very effective.”

Doyle said the Tavern League of Wisconsin fought bitterly against the measure, but the organization’s executive director, Pete Madland, conceded in an interview with WisPolitics.com that his members have “adjusted and moved on.”

But Madland said at the time the legislation was passed, the Tavern League had “a lot of members have to close their doors as a result.” He noted his organization saw a drop in membership among establishments holding the wide-ranging “Class B” license. However, he could not point to data explicitly linking that decline to the smoking ban.

Neither the Departments of Financial Institutions nor Revenue could provide WisPolitics.com with records showing how many bars closed in the aftermath of the smoking ban. DOR did provide figures showing the total taxable sales at bars, cocktail lounges and other drinking places, but that data tracked closely with the economic downturn and subsequent recovery brought on by the Great Recession.


Tuesday: Joint Finance Committee executive session.
– 2 p.m.: Room 412 East, state Capitol.

Wednesday: Speaker’s Task Force on Water Quality public hearing.
– 10:30 a.m.: Blackhawk Technical College

Wednesday: Assembly Campaigns and Elections Committee and Senate Elections, Ethics and Rural Issues Committee joint public hearing.
– 10 a.m.: Room 411 South, state Capitol.

(Check local listings for times in your area)

“UpFront” is a statewide commercial TV news magazine show airing Sundays around the state. This week’s show, hosted by ADRIENNE PEDERSEN, features UW System President RAY CROSS on the state budget, new state GOP Chair ANDREW HITT and TOM STILL of the Wisconsin Technology Council.
*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 latest on budget deliberations, Gov. TONY EVERS vowing to veto four abortion bills and a roundup on the state GOP convention.
*Watch the show: https://wiseye.org/2019/05/24/rewind-your-week-in-review-for-may-18-24/

Wisconsin Public TV’s “Here and Now” airs at 7:30 p.m. Fridays.

“For the Record” airs at 10:30 a.m. Sunday on WISC-TV in Madison. JOSH SPREITER fill in for host NEIL HEINEN and will speak with DENNIS CHILLEMI, executive director of the Lung Cancer Research Foundation.

“Capital 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. This week’s guests include Senate Majority Leader SCOTT FITZGERALD, GOP state Rep. JOEL KITCHENS and JIM PALMER, executive director of the Wisconsin Professional Police Association.

“The Insiders” is a weekly WisOpinion.com web show featuring former Democratic Senate Majority Leader CHUCK CHVALA and former Republican Assembly Speaker SCOTT JENSEN. This week, the two consider the politics behind Medicaid expansion. Sponsored by the Wisconsin Counties Association and Michael Best Strategies.
*Watch the video or listen to the show: https://vimeo.com/338245209

Send items to staff@wispolitics.com

Upcoming WisPolitics.com events in Washington, D.C. and the Milwaukee area include:

*A May 31 WisPolitics.com-Milwaukee Press Club luncheon with U.S. Sen. RON JOHNSON. The cost to attend is $20 for MPC members, $25 for non-members and $15 for students. Lunch is included. Seating is limited. Advanced registration and payment are required and may be done online at www.milwaukeepressclub.org.

*A June 5 DC Breakfast with MANU RAJU, senior congressional correspondent at CNN. Raju will analyze the relationship between the Republican Senate and the Democratic House and how Democrats will handle the impeachment question. He is a former Politico reporter and a UW-Madison grad who grew up in the Chicago area. See details: https://www.wispolitics.com/2019/june-5-wispolitics-com-d-c-breakfast-with-cnns-manu-raju/

*A June 7 WisPolitics.com-WisBusiness.com luncheon in La Crosse on closing the rural-urban health care gap. Panelists include: 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 a representative of Kwik Trip. Click for details and registration info:

*A June 13 luncheon on transpo funding with DOT Secretary CRAIG THOMPSON, Waukesha County Exec PAUL FARROW and two members of the Assembly Transportation Committee: Reps. SANFELIPPO and KOLSTE. The luncheon will take place at UW-Milwaukee’s Waukesha campus. The event will go from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. with the program from noon to 1 p.m. This is the second of four issue programs in the Milwaukee area from WisPolitics.com. Click for registration info: https://www.wispolitics.com/2019/june-13-wispolitics-com-luncheon-the-future-of-transportation-funding-in-wisconsin/

Justice DANIEL KELLY will be joined by fellow conservatives Justice REBECCA BRADLEY, Justice-elect BRIAN HAGEDORN and retired Justice DAVID PROSSER as he makes an “important announcement” Tuesday regarding the state Supreme Court. Kelly, who was appointed by Gov. SCOTT WALKER to replace Prosser on the bench, has indicated he plans to seek a full 10-year term next year. Dane County Judge JILL KAROFSKY has formally announced plans to run, and Marquette University Law Professor ED FALLONE has said he intends to get into the race as well.

First District Court of Appeals Judge KITTY BRENNAN is retiring effective Sept. 6. She was appointed to the court in 2008 after serving on the Milwaukee County bench. Gov. TONY EVERS announced today he is seeking applicants for the court, which covers Milwaukee County. The appointee will complete a term ending July 31, 2020.

ARKESIA JACKSON, who most recently worked for BLOC, is joining the Democratic Party of Wisconsin as training and development director. She will start the job after next weekend’s state convention.

MALIKA EVANCO, who has served as director of human resources at UW-Madison’s School of Medicine and Public Health, has been appointed administrator of DOA’s Division of Personnel Management.

PATRICK WHITING is leaving his role as general counsel for the Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin to become general counsel of Kraemer North America.

ALEX LASRY — the Milwaukee Bucks senior vice president, Democratic National Convention Committee host committee finance chair and an Obama White House alum — proposed to LAUREN MARKOWITZ, comms director for Milwaukee County Exec CHRIS ABELE. Markowitz told WisPolitics.com that she said yes, but the couple has yet to set a date.

Dr. JOHN ACHTER, associate dean of students at UW-Stout, and Dr. CATHERINE KODAT, provost and dean of faculty at Lawrence University, will participate in a panel discussion on May 29 at the Overture Center in Madison on barriers to college success, including financial and mental health costs. Other panelists include: KEEGAN KYLE, investigative journalist for the Appleton Post-Crescent; SARAH WEISS, academic coordinator of Upward Bound at Beloit College; and NIKITA WERNER, UW-Milwaukee graduate student. See details: https://www.wisconsinacademy.org/evenings/cost-success-challenges-seeking-higher-education-0

The Devil’s Advocates Radio, anchored by DOMINIC SALVIA and MIKE CRUTE, and Progressive Talk have returned to the Madison airwaves as TALK 92.7 FM. The lineup includes nationally syndicated programs the “STEPHANIE MILLER Show” 8-11 a.m. and the “THOM HARTMANN Show” as well as local programming, including the “The JoCasta Show” with host Rep. JOCASTA ZAMARRIPA, D-Milwaukee.

U.S. Sen. RON JOHNSON, R-Oshkosh, will appear at a fundraiser for Rep. TONY KURTZ, R-Wonewoc, at The Cargill Room in La Crosse on May 30.

The DNC announced a host of new hires to the Democratic National Convention Committee: DEBRA ALLIGOOD WHITE as DNCC chief of staff, who will oversee day-to-day operations of the convention team; JORGE NERI as DNCC director of public engagement; and TERESA VILMAIN as a DNCC senior advisor. The Convention Host Committee also unveiled members of its senior leadership team: LIZ GILBERT as host committee executive director, SHIRLEY ELLIS as senior advisor to the host committee, MARTHA LOVE as senior advisor to the host committee, Marcus Switzer as host committee finance director.

AARON WHITE is leaving his role as comms director for U.S. Rep. RON KIND. The office has not yet selected a replacement.

GETHIN XAVIER HINTZ was born Tuesday to Assembly Minority Leader GORDON HINTZ and his wife ELIZABETH. Gethin checked in at 22 inches long and 8.5 pounds. See a picture Hintz tweeted: https://twitter.com/GordonHintz

AG JOSH KAUL and a coalition of 51 attorneys general called on the U.S. Dept. of Education to forgive the student loans of veterans who become permanently disabled during their service. The bipartisan group outlined an automatic loan discharge process in a letter issued to U.S. Secretary of Education BETSY DEVOS. See the letter: https://www.wispolitics.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/05/190524-NAAG.pdf

MATT DANNENBERG will be leaving his position at the Public Service Commission. He will be replaced by MATT SWEENEY as communications and legislative director.

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)

Sixteen changes were made to the lobbying registry in the past 10 days.

Follow this link for the complete list:

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