Exclusively for WisPolitics Subscribers
TABLE OF CONTENTS
- Quotes of the week
- Political stock report
- Vos: Medical marijuana could return as Assembly bill
- GOP move dries up lottery credit option to drive down property taxes in future
- A comparison of Evers’ and the GOP-controlled Legislature’s budgets
- Evers to donate nearly $500K raised from inaugural events to charity
- Week ahead
- Political TV
- Names in the news
- Lobbyist watch
QUOTES OF THE WEEK
I’ve said all along that the will of the people is the law of the land, and that’s what will be on my mind as I review the Legislature’s changes to our budget.
– Gov. Tony Evers via Twitter after the Legislature passed the GOP version of the state budget. Evers has said repeatedly that he wants to review the final document before commenting on how he may use his veto authority to change or wholly reject the GOP version of the two-year spending plan.
Obviously there’s probably going to be some vetoes. And you know the worst thing, I think, in the world for us would be if he just vetoes the entire document.
– Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, during a press conference with fellow Republicans who argued vetoing the budget would threaten the additional funding they approved for K-12 education, higher wages for prison guards and more money for the justice system, among other things.
There is no good reason that Gov. Evers would not choose to sign the bills that we are moving forward, especially with a budget that we’re doing today.
– Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, during a news conference today referencing legislation to delay the closure of Wisconsin’s troubled youth prison along with the budget.
*See more from today’s news conference below.
Instead of living with the failed policies of the past, we need to move forward with bold, innovative solutions that promote a fair economy and expand opportunities for families and communities. This budget misses the mark.
– Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse.
From the beginning, it was clear that it was more important to play politics and oppose Governor Evers than it was to address the needs of the people of Wisconsin.
– Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh.
We hope the high court’s ruling puts an end to the litigation in Wisconsin associated with redistricting. The Supreme Court has now confirmed what we have said all along – that it was not a matter for the federal courts to second guess the Legislature on these issues.
– A joint statement from Fitzgerald and Vos after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled federal courts can’t police alleged partisan gerrymanders.
We are disappointed the Supreme Court ignored the overwhelming evidence in the Rucho case, which proved the constitutional rights of citizens were violated. We agree with the majority that now this issue is most likely to be addressed in the legislative process, as flawed as that solution is, especially for states like Wisconsin that don’t have citizen initiative.
– Sachin Chheda, director of the Fair Elections Project, which organized and launched Wisconsin’s redistricting lawsuit.
This law helps protect communities from impaired drivers. Thank you to the many people at DOJ who contributed to this victory.
– AG Josh Kaul praising the U.S. Supreme Court for upholding a Wisconsin law allowing law enforcement to conduct warrantless sobriety tests.
While I am disappointed, we remain committed to Wisconsin schools and students and will continue our work to ensure each student is college and career ready.
– State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor after the state Supreme Court ruled DPI is subject to a GOP law requiring agencies to submit proposed rules to the DOA for review before publishing.
Given that the DPI has generally been a captive of the educational establishment and hostile to reform, this decision is a huge victory for Wisconsin’s kids. It is also a huge win for democratic government, the separation of powers and public accountability.
– Rick Esenberg, president and general counsel of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty, which brought the suit against DPI.
POLITICAL STOCK REPORT
–A collection of insider opinion–
(Jun. 22-28, 2019)
Conservative court: It’s no surprise that the state Supreme Court upholds GOP actions in the December lame-duck session. Or finds that the state schools superintendent is subject to a Republican-authored law that gives the guv oversight of the agency’s rule-making powers. Or that Dane County can’t require a Canadian power company to have more insurance than required under state law for a pipeline project. Still, conservatives see in the decisions signs of the importance of the high court’s majority and Brian Hagedorn’s arrival on the court later this summer. In particular, court watchers point to the decision in the DPI case as the conservative majority rules the agency must submit its proposed rules and regulations to the guv for review under a 2017 law. In doing so, the court overturned a ruling just three years earlier that GOP lawmakers had inappropriately given the guv supervision of public instruction, a power reserved for the superintendent in the Wisconsin Constitution, in a similar 2011 statute. It’s Justice Rebecca Bradley’s concurrence, though, that gets conservatives’ attention as she writes, “The concentration of power within an administrative leviathan clashes with the constitutional allocation of power among the elected and accountable branches of government at the expense of individual liberty.” In plain English, some say, she’s knocking the Legislature ceding policy-making to unelected bureaucrats, a pet cause for many conservatives. Bradley was championed by the Federalist Society when then-Gov. Scott Walker appointed her to the court. Same with fellow conservative Daniel Kelly. And folks in those conservative legal circles also have Hagedorn about to join the mix as the court’s majority goes from 4-3 to 5-2 later this summer. That’s thanks to his upset victory over Lisa Neubauer in April for Shirley Abrahamson’s seat. Court observers point out former Justices David Prosser — replaced by Kelly — and Michael Gableman — whose seat went to liberal Rebecca Dallet in 2018 — were no liberals. But they didn’t come from a deep conservative legal philosophy like Bradley and Kelly. After all, some note, both Prosser and Gableman were part of that 2016 decision that found then-state Superintendent Tony Evers didn’t have to submit proposed rules to the guv. While conservatives have enjoyed a majority on the court since Gableman’s win in 2008, the coming 5-2 majority is expected to be a much more conservative one. Court observers say not only will the conservative legal position frequently prevail but so will the far-right reasoning and the precedent. Dems see a court that was bought and paid for by the same conservative groups that are now benefiting from its decisions. But their only recourse is trying to beat Kelly in what could be a very difficult environment for him next spring — and then hoping they can win Chief Justice Pat Roggensack’s seat in four years, when she turns 83. Even in that best-case scenario, it would mean a conservative majority on the court that stretched for 15 years.
Blackwell Job Corps Center: Donald Trump needs to do well in northern Wisconsin if he hopes to repeat his 2016 win in the Badger state. So shutting down a jobs center in the region struck some as an odd decision a little more than a year out from the election. But now the administration appears to have reversed course. In late May, the administration announced plans to close nine of the 25 rural job training centers around the country run by the Forest Service. The remaining 16 were to be transferred from the Agriculture Department to Labor, with the expectation they would likely be privatized. Those slated for closure included the Blackwell Jobs Corps Center in Laona, about 90 miles north of Green Bay. The original announcement prompted bipartisan lobbying from Wisconsin against the move, and the administration now says for “the time being” the centers won’t be transferred to the Labor Department “to allow management to determine a pathway that will maximize opportunity and results for students, minimize disruptions, and improve overall performance and integrity.” Some note the statement doesn’t put the centers completely in the clear. Still, it comes after some 50 members of Congress from both parties urged the administration to reconsider, underscoring the blowback of the proposed move.
Unemployment trust fund: The Department of Workforce Development has been in uncharted territory with a continued run of historically low unemployment benefits. And now the trust fund has hit an all-time high. The latest updated from the UI Advisory Council shows the trust fund hit $1.9 billion at the end of April, a historical high at growth of 15.1 percent over the previous year. It’s a good sign for workers that they haven’t had to claim benefits with unemployment below 3 percent for a record 16 months. It’s also expected to be good news for employers, who pay taxes to fund those benefits. Those taxes depend on the fund’s balance, and employers have been at the lowest rate for the past two years. Assuming the fund has a balance of at least $1.2 billion on June 30 — a pretty good bet since it’s pulling in about $124,000 a day in interest alone — employers will stay at the lowest rate for another year. Among other highlights for the fund: the average unemployment benefit payments as a percentage of payroll for taxable employers was 0.36 percent in 2018, the lowest since 1951. Meanwhile, as a percentage of payroll, those taxes were 0.54 percent, the lowest going back to 1938. For all that good news, the latest update also carries a note of caution about a possible recession. The council produced projections, one with benefits continuing at historic lows, another with a mild recession beginning next year. If the good times continue, the trust fund would grow to nearly $2.1 billion in 2022. But if a recession hits, the balance would drop $483 million.
Total Wine & More: The guv signs legislation allowing liquor stores to sell unlimited quantities of distilled spirits in a single transaction. Backers hail it as a common-sense reform that will help retailers better serve customers. For Maryland-based Total Wine & More, it’s also a win after a concerted lobbying and political effort. Previously, those with a Class B liquor license were limited to selling four liters of hard alcohol at a time, with no caps on beer or wine sales. Supporters argued the change was about equity and convenience for the shopper. Most alcohol retailers have a Class A license, which has no limits on how much hard alcohol can be sold; however it doesn’t allow for on-site consumption except in very small samples. But Total Wine offers classes and other events where alcohol is consumed on the premises, which is why it has a Class B license like many bars and restaurants. As it sought the change, the retailer spent more than $270,000 lobbying the Legislature from 2016-18, The Associated Press reports. Co-owners Robert and David Trone also gave $50,500 to lawmakers over the same period, with $43,000 going to majority Republicans.
Scott Fitzgerald and Robin Vos: The sausage-making involved in completing a budget is never pretty. But the GOP leaders maneuver a tricky dynamic in the state Senate to pass a budget that cuts $2.1 billion from what Gov. Tony Evers wanted to spend while still putting $500 million more into K-12 education and cutting taxes by a net $378.6 million. Republicans also tout what’s not in the two-year spending plan, including Evers’ proposed tax hike on manufacturers and capital gains. At the same time, the plan would still increase overall all funds spending by 5.6 percent, making conservatives grumble. And by leaving out the guv’s call to expand Medicaid, Dems already have cued up one of their more politically popular campaign issues for 2020. Still, the biggest question for insiders is: Will Fitzgerald and Vos have to do it all over again? Now that the budget has moved to the guv, the clock is ticking on whether he takes the unprecedented move of vetoing the entire budget, something that hasn’t happened since the state went to its current approach in 1931. Many just can’t see it, and Fitzgerald and Vos have warned Evers repeatedly against trying it. In short, they say he won’t get a better deal than what’s on the table — in part because Republicans will have little incentive to move further given the budget forged under Scott Walker and a GOP Legislature would continue. The plan Republicans produced barely passed the state Senate after last-minute changes to get votes. The changes include a provision that would benefit electric car manufacturer Tesla. That item, meant to help secure the vote of Sen. Chris Kapenga, sparks criticism for jamming in pet projects to seal the deal since he is involved in a Tesla-related business. Conservatives in the Senate GOP caucus were already unhappy with the amount of spending in the budget, but could support the document for other reasons. Still, send the whole thing back to the Legislature seeking more money, and the floodgates might open, some say. GOP Sens. Dave Craig, R-Big Bend, and Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, already voted against the bill, leaving Fitzgerald no wiggle room if he had to go back to his caucus for more. In that scenario, the math would really get tough, some say. Kapenga, R-Delafield, was already burned by the Tesla provision he sought and likely wouldn’t mind a chance to reinforce his conservative bonafides. And Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, had to vote for this budget because he helped put it together while on Joint Finance. If you’re in that role and then vote against final passage, you don’t stay on JFC very long, budget watchers note. But veto the entire budget, and you make Stroebel a free agent who would be unlikely to go along with a more expensive document. What’s more, some say, there are conservatives in both GOP caucuses who would love nothing more than to allow Walker’s last budget to remain. And that, some believe, is where Fitzgerald and Vos may have the upper hand. If Evers vetoes the budget, Vos has already suggested the Legislature wouldn’t come back on a veto override until late October. By then, schools and local governments would be getting awful antsy for their new aid levels so they can set their budgets, and the pressure would ramp up on the state Capitol immensely. And insiders say the risk is a lot of that blame could fall on Evers. There are those in the guv’s office who have argued for a veto, believing the issues are on their side and the public — or at the very least the Dem base — would embrace the guv throwing down the gauntlet for his priorities such as expanding Medicaid. And while many Republicans are convinced the guv would take the brunt of the political fallout for the budget dragging well into fall, others suggest it would be more of a pox on all houses. Problem is, insiders note, even if everyone took some blame, Republican lawmakers would have a higher tolerance for it. As much as Dems bemoan the maps Republicans drew in 2011 as gerrymandered, very few swing seats are left. That means GOP incumbents have to worry more about a primary challenge than the general election, and they could be content to wait out Evers while directing angry constituents to the guv’s office. Budget watchers have also thrown out alternative scenarios to vetoing the entire budget. Among them: nixing whole agencies to force Republicans to come back to the table on issues such as the Medicaid expansion, or wiping out the second year of the budget to buy time for another fight on Evers’ priorities. If the guv knows he could win the PR campaign and pressure Republicans into something more to his liking, some argue, a full veto would be worth it. But short of that, his best bet would be to re-work the document as much as he can with his line-item veto and continue the fight on the big issues. After all, Evers fans note, for as much as Republicans knocked the guv’s original budget proposal as wildly liberal and out of touch with Wisconsin, being so aggressive may have helped push Republicans to spend more than they would’ve liked in hopes of reaching a deal.
Mark Hogan: The WEDC secretary and CEO is headed out the door this fall — just as the guv will again have the power to say who’s in that job. So some insiders see at least a little motivation for Hogan to leave the state’s job creation agency on his own terms. But Hogan says he had intended to leave this fall even if there hadn’t been a change in the administration. In 2015, then-Gov. Scott Walker appointed Hogan to take over the agency after it had struggled through its first years. Walker and the GOP Legislature quickly replaced the old Commerce Department with WEDC after taking office in 2011, and even backers of the move say the haste at which the administration moved to make the change meant a poor foundation that led to problems. That included, for example, an audit that found several companies that WEDC awarded state funds hadn’t been properly vetted, while others failed to meet job creation promises they’d made in exchange for the money. Hogan, with his background as a banking industry exec, was brought in to help right the ship. He also helped navigate the state’s early dealings with Foxconn, which will have a major impact on his legacy depending on whether the Tawainese company ever comes close to the original promise of up to 13,000 jobs. And while some say WEDC is operating better, but not often getting credit for it, others note the agency has still had its string of tough audits. As Republicans moved quickly in the lame-duck session to reign in some powers of incoming Gov. Tony Evers, one of their priorities was to strip him of the power to appoint the agency leader until Sept. 1, hoping the move would create some stability for the final projects of the Walker administration. When that law was temporarily suspended by a Dane County judge, Evers moved quickly to rescind 82 Walker appointments confirmed in that extraordinary session. But he didn’t try to pull Hogan off the job. Still, some believe there was no point in Hogan staying on past Sept. 1 to avoid being shown the door rather than walking out on his own. Others, however, note there have been no signs of strain in the working relationship between Hogan and the Evers administration. After all, an Evers spokeswoman noted the guv had “a good and productive relationship” with Hogan and “appreciates both his leadership at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation and his service to the people of Wisconsin.” Now, it’s up to Evers to figure out what he’s looking for in the next agency leader. Expect the guv to talk about someone who can “connect the dots,” one of his favorite phrases. Some also believe the guv will look for someone with whom he connects as well as has the right skill set for the job.
Carolyn Stanford Taylor: The bad news is the state superintendent now must submit her agency’s proposed administrative rules to the guv for review. The good news is that’s probably not going to have much impact on how she runs the agency considering she has an ally in the East Wing, insiders say. The court’s ruling is a reversal from 2016, when it found DPI wasn’t subject to a 2011 GOP-authored law that required agencies to submit their proposed administrative rules to the guv for review. Requiring the state superintendent to do that, the court ruled three years ago, inappropriately gave the guv supervision of public instruction, a power granted the state superintendent in the constitution. But after a new GOP law in 2017 that made further changes to the administrative rules process — and a lineup change on the Supreme Court — the conservative Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty went back to the justices asking for a ruling that DPI had to adhere to the new statute. In its 4-2 decision, the court sided with WILL. While the Wisconsin Constitution gives the state superintendent the power to supervise public instruction, the Legislature grants the chief education office and DPI the power to promulgate rules. Therefore, the court ruled, lawmakers can set limits on that power. Still, that would’ve been a much bigger deal had it still been Gov. Scott Walker and Superintendent Tony Evers rather than Gov. Evers and his hand-picked successor in Taylor. It’s not likely the two are going to differ much on education, insiders note, particularly since she worked for Evers while he still ran DPI. Still, the court’s ruling also could open the door to more changes for DPI down the road — but only if there’s a Republican back in the East Wing and the GOP in control of the full Legislature. Then, some argue, the definition of “supervision” could be pushed, particularly if Republicans wanted to, say, put the school choice program under the watch of DOA rather than DPI. That possibility is still at least several years away, and insiders see a partnership between the guv’s office and DPI.
Assembly Dems: Mired in a deep minority for much of the past decade, perhaps their best hope to make significant gains in the 2020 election was to compete under new maps. However, a U.S. Supreme Court decision in cases challenging the lines drawn in North Carolina and Maryland has all but snuffed out those hopes. A long-running challenge to Wisconsin’s Assembly map was cued up for a July trial — but only if SCOTUS kept open the door to a challenge to political lines on a purely partisan basis. But the justices ruled 5-4 that the federal courts don’t have “license” to step in on such cases. In doing so, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned lower court rulings that found the maps in Maryland and North Carolina were unconstitutional partisan gerrymanders. As Wisconsin GOP legislative leaders hailed the ruling, attorneys for both sides of the state case were working on a motion to dismiss. Insiders say Assembly Dems’ best hopes in 2020 now appear to be a collapse by President Trump at the top of the ticket, because even in good political environments, they haven’t made much progress. With U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison, cruising to an 11-point victory in November and fellow Dem Tony Evers eking out a 29,000-vote victory over Scott Walker, Republicans still won 63 seats in the Assembly. Dems howl it’s a rigged map, while Republicans counter it’s a matter of geography with Dems concentrated in urban areas. Either way, Dems picked up just one Assembly seat in a suburban Milwaukee district where the GOP brand has been damaged, particularly among college-educated women, by Trump. And Republicans acknowledge former GOP Treasurer Matt Adamczyk wasn’t a great fit for the district as he lost the open seat to Dem Robyn Vining. Still, Republicans also argue their wins aren’t just the maps, but better candidates, message and resources. The latter, insiders say, is a particular rub for Assembly Dems. Considering how deep they are in the minority, it’s difficult to persuade Dem donors to invest in their campaigns when there are better shots at defending Dem senators or trying to beat Trump after he became the first Republican to win Wisconsin in a presidential race since 1984. It’s also likely to give quality candidates pause. Dems were high on several of their recruits in the 2018 cycle only to see them get swamped by superior resources. That’s particularly true in rural areas, where the Dem brand has struggled recently and where some of the few remaining competitive seats are located. So if you’re a possible Dem candidate for the Assembly, does that encourage you to give it a go in 2020? Do you run next year even if it’s a tough map to build name ID ahead of a better shot in 2022? Or do you just wait for new maps? And if you’re one of those quality candidates from 2018, do you risk back-to-back losses before seeing better district lines, likely due to a court drawing them rather than the GOP Legislature? None of it is a recipe for immediate success, insiders say. That leaves the Trump factor. So long as the president keeps it competitive in Wisconsin — and all signs today are that he will — it’s hard to see a blue wave building that would wipe out swing seats.
Chris Kapenga: The Delafield lawmaker isn’t the only GOP senator who got a provision stuck in the state budget to help get to a yes vote. But he’s the only one facing questions over his ethics for doing so. All along, insiders have known the Senate vote on the budget would be a close one with just a 19-14 GOP majority. Sen. Dave Craig, R-Big Bend, was considered a likely no the second Joint Finance approved its first spending increase over base, and Sen. Steve Nass, R-Whitewater, only voted for the last budget after four GOP lawmakers obtained veto promises from then-Gov. Scott Walker that earned them the “terrorists” moniker from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester. So along the way, JFC addressed concerns of various Senate Republicans, for example, including the approval of several new scientist positions Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, wanted in order to address confined animal feeding operation permits. But there’s extra attention placed on some asks when they’re included in an Assembly Republican amendment added during the final floor debate. It includes additional assistant district attorney positions as well as a pay boost for prosecutors. Sen. Andre Jacque, R-DePere, said both were his asks, though Vos insists others were interested in the issue as well. Meanwhile, Sen. Pat Testin, R-Stevens Point, voted against a capital budget project in his district as a member of the Building Commission while Republicans protested the nearly $1.9 billion in new borrowing Gov. Tony Evers proposed. Dems immediately knocked Testin for it, and JFC did him no favors when it failed to include the project in the capital budget it forwarded to the full Legislature. So the amendment’s inclusion of $3 million to help remodel the former Daily Tribune building in Wisconsin Rapids into an economic and community hub makes it a little easier for him to get to a yes. Still, critics say those asks don’t carry the same personal connections Kapenga has to a provision that would allow electric car manufacturer Tesla to sell directly to consumers rather than through a dealer. Kapenga has pushed a similar provision in standalone legislation. But he also owns a business that refurbishes Teslas and sells parts for the cars. Critics howl about a conflict of interest as some argue those criticisms are overblown, and Kapenga grows emotional at a pre-vote news conference as he refutes the suggestion. He says he won’t personally benefit from the provision. Among other things, he calls his work on Teslas a hobby, saying he’s not making money off selling parts or stripping down the cars. Recounting his daughter asking about the coverage, Kapenga challenges reporters to remember the personal impact of their work. Still, while others get their asks without nearly as much attention, some note Kapenga was in a position to really push for changes in the budget as one of the final holdouts. So why ask for the Tesla provision rather than going bigger? Others say Kapenga did push for other changes, and he touts the decision to add a look at a new design process for highway projects to save money as well as the removal of a provision that would’ve allowed the Joint Finance Committee to approve a new mileage-based fee on drivers following a DOT study. Still, it’s the Tesla provision that gets the attention. And for all the grief he’s getting, some insiders bet it will be for naught. It’s too easy of a veto target for Gov. Tony Evers. In the end, Fitzgerald gets his 17th vote for the Senate and Kapenga gets bad press in the process.
Workers’ comp rates: Employers are on the verge of another cut in the premiums they pay for insurance to cover employees’ injuries on the job. The Worker’s Compensation Ratings Bureau in May recommended an 8.84 percent decrease in the rates employers pay, and the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance is expected to act on the proposal next month. If approved, the new rates would take effect Oct. 1. They also would be the fourth straight year that rates for employer premiums have gone down. Even as the rates have decreased, the debate in the state Capitol between health care providers and business groups hasn’t changed. A coalition of providers hail the recommended rate cut to argue lawmakers should continue to reject proposals to move the state’s worker’s comp system to a fee schedule that would cap costs for procedures. The coalition points out rates for 2019 are lower than they were a decade ago and the rate reductions the past two years amounted to savings of $304 million. A coalition of business groups, however, argues the rates are dropping thanks to increased safety measures put in place by employers while the costs of worker’s compensation claims are 51 percent higher than the median state. Those groups add Wisconsin is one of only five states without a fee schedule and changes are needed to reign in those costs. Still, few expect the latest rate drop to do anything to change the dynamic of that debate as it’s raged in recent years.
Abortion bills: To no one’s surprise, the guv vetoes all four abortion-related bills that Republicans sent his way. Now it’s a matter of how they’ll play in the 2020 elections. The lead-up to Evers’ vetoes included plenty of political pageantry as Senate President Roger Roth, R-Appleton, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, took the rare step of publicly signing the bills, the last legislative action before legislation can head to the guv’s desk. Not only did they do it in public, but they did it in the Capitol Rotunda in front of a crowd of anti-abortion activists that had gathered for a rally on the legislation. Still, Evers had pledged several times to veto the legislation, and he carries through with the pledge, citing his objection to “political interference between patients and their healthcare providers.” Now, insiders note, the legislation is campaign fodder. The bill that would’ve required care for those who survive an abortion was one of several nationally that were introduced following the comments of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam about what would happen in such a scenario. The other ideas, however, have been around for some time. But Republicans didn’t act on them when they had an anti-abortion guv in the East Wing, and that strikes some as political opportunism. Either way, some believe it can dovetail nicely next fall with President Trump’s record of putting conservatives on the federal bench to jazz up activists he’ll need if he hopes to win Wisconsin for a second time — and who would likely support other GOP candidates if they turn up at the voting booth.
New laws: It’s not surprising that after eight years of unified party control of all three branches of political power, the Capitol isn’t quite as productive as it has been in recent sessions now that there’s a GOP Legislature and a Dem guv. Still, it’s a little eye opening just how few of the proposals introduced have become law over Gov. Tony Evers’ first six months in office. So far this term, only seven bills have become law, a predictably steep decline after years of virtual one-party control in Madison. But even in the 2007-08 biennium — when Gov. Jim Doyle was in office and the Dems controlled the Senate but the GOP held the Assembly — lawmakers managed to come together to pass twice as many laws through the first six months as they have so far this term. You’d have to go back to the last millennium, during the 1999-2000 biennium, to find the last time a Legislature and a guv were less productive through the first quarter of a biennium with just four that became law. This session, along with the seven bills that became law — including one that Evers allowed to take effect without his signature — the guv has vetoed four abortion bills and nixed a GOP income tax cut.
Assembly Speaker Robin Vos today said he wants the Assembly to look at legislation that would legalize medical marijuana when the body returns from its summer break in the fall.
The Rochester Republican told reporters that he has long been open to the concept of legalizing pot for medical purposes but added he first wanted to huddle with his caucus to see where other Assembly Republicans stand on the issue. Republicans stripped Gov. Tony Evers’ medical marijuana and decriminalization plan from the budget before sending their version to the guv.
“I’d certainly love for us to be able to have a discussion that is rational, that takes our time, that we figure out an answer to see if Republicans could actually support it who are skeptics like I am,” Vos said.
He added he would “much rather figure out a way to get to yes” than automatically be a no and said that started by bringing his caucus together.
But Vos quickly nixed the idea of fully legalizing marijuana and slammed Evers’ budget proposal on marijuana. The guv called also called for the legalization of medical marijuana, but also added a separate provision that would decriminalize possession of up to 25 grams of the drug.
Vos called that proposal “half-handed” and said Evers officials “created more problems than they created opportunities” by linking the two measures in the budget.
“People see medical marijuana as a slippery slope toward recreational, which is why him putting (medical marijuana and decriminalization) together is exactly the fears that almost every single person had to say, this is why we can’t do medical,” Vos said.
He also warned that Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a long-time skeptic of medical marijuana, would likely not be open to measure.
In a statement, the Juneau Republican said he believed a measure similar to what Evers proposed “would have a difficult time getting Republican support in the Senate.” But Fitzgerald did not specifically touch on Vos’ call to look at a stand-alone medical marijuana proposal.
Ultimately, Vos said, his goal was to find a “path to be able to talk about” medical marijuana and try to find “a way that could work here in our state and actually get across the finish line.”
The Rochester Republican also highlighted the three Speaker’s taskforces dealing with water quality, adoption, and suicide prevention as areas where bipartisan compromise on legislation could be found when lawmakers return later this summer.
Budget countdown begins
Vos today added his signature to the budget lawmakers passed this week, starting the countdown for Gov. Tony Evers to act on the document.
The guv now has until July 5 to sign the document, allow it to become law without his signature, use his partial veto authority, or reject the document outright. Vos said he is “optimistic” that Evers will sign the appropriations bill.
“There is no good reason that Gov. Evers would not choose to sign the bills that we are moving forward, especially with a budget that we’re doing today,” he said, referencing legislation to delay the closure of Wisconsin’s troubled youth prison along with the budget.
Regardless of how Evers chooses to handle the two-year spending plan, Vos said lawmakers would “probably would not come back until October.”
“If there was some kind of a dire need, of course, I’d talk about it with our leadership team and Sen. Fitzgerald to see if we could come back sooner,” he said.
But the Rochester Republican noted that government funding will continue at the previous level if Evers chose to fully veto the document and thus Republicans would be unlikely to feel pressure to quickly propose a new budget.
“Last year we didn’t pass a budget until September and nobody noticed any difference,” he said.
Vos also signed AB 188, the proposal to close the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake youth lockups by July 2021, six months later than originally planned. The bill would also give counties additional time to apply for grants to fund the regional facilities slated to help reshape the juvenile justice system in Wisconsin.
Republicans were able to bring in their property tax bill for the mythical median-valued home just below Gov. Tony Evers’ by putting more general purpose revenue into administration costs for the lottery.
But they also just about dried up that option in future years if they need another last-minute path to cut property taxes.
The amendment Assembly Republicans added to the budget on Tuesday put an additional $6.2 million in GPR into the lottery to cover administrative costs. That freed up revenue from ticket sales to go into credit that shows up on property tax bills.
That amendment, though, also prevents more GPR from covering costs associated with salaries and advertising.
According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the remaining $26.5 million Republicans left in segregated funds for lottery operations almost all goes to salaries and product information.
That means if Gov. Tony Evers signs the provision as currently written, lawmakers wouldn’t have the option to put more GPR into lottery administration in the next budget if they were looking for an option to bump up property tax credits.
Republicans made the move after an LFB analysis last week found the property tax bill for the mythical median-valued home, which was worth $166,967 at the end of last year, would be the same under the budget the Joint Finance Committee approved as it would under Evers’ proposal.
Instead, the additional $6.2 million in GPR means that bill would be $1 lower than Evers’ in the first year of the budget and $4 in the second.
See the amendment:
Here is a brief summary comparing major themes of Gov. Tony Evers’ proposed budget to the two-year spending plan OK’d by majority Republicans in the Legislature. All of the below are two-year numbers before any potential vetoes.
Evers: Full federal expansion of Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act, resulting in $1.6 billion for a variety of health care programs.
GOP Legislature: Would continue to direct some of the state’s working poor to the exchanges offered under Obamacare while investing an additional $588.2 million in general purpose revenue into Medicaid to accomplish goals such as increasing reimbursement rates for health care providers.
Evers: $1.4 billion for K-12 education, including a $606 million increase in special education aid.
GOP Legislature: $500 million boost over the next two years. And $97 million more for special education.
Income tax cuts
Evers: Cut income taxes 10 percent for lower- and middle-income residents by about $415 million a year, or about $225 per tax filer. Help fund by capping the manufacturing component of the manufacturing-ag tax credit at the first $300,000 in annual income and limiting capital gains exclusions. Boost the earned income and homestead tax credits.
GOP Legislature: Between budget and a separate bill, Republicans would use online sales tax and the surplus to cut income taxes an average $136 in 2020, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. The lowest income tax rate of 4 percent would drop to 3.89 percent in tax year 2019. It would then go to 3.76 percent in tax year 2020. The second lowest rate would drop from 5.84 percent to 5.08 percent in tax year 2019 and then 4.93 percent in tax year 2020. The state’s top two brackets of 6.27 percent and 7.65 percent would remain the same.
Evers: Boost the gas tax by 8 cents a gallon. The gas tax boost would’ve climbed to nearly 10 cents by the end of the two-year budget thanks to indexing, which Evers wanted to bring back after it was eliminated 13 years ago. He also sought to offset the impact of the tax hike by eliminating the minimum markup on gas. Proposed $10 boost in the vehicle transfer fee and $338.3 million in bonding.
GOP Legislature: Rejects minimum markup elimination. Raises the vehicle transfer fee by $95 to $164.50, and boosts the annual auto registration fee by $10 to $85. The plan also includes $326.3 million in bonding and a one-time $90 million general fund appropriation to help local governments pay for road projects. The move would come on top of the existing $87.8 million transfer from the general fund — comprised of income, corporate and sales taxes — to the transportation fund.
Evers: Fully fund the tuition freeze for resident undergraduates with $50.4 million in state aid, part of a total boost of $126.6 million.
GOP Legislature: Provides $69.7 million less in state aid than Evers but approves more than $1 billion for System building projects, slightly less than what Evers proposed.
Evers: The median-valued home, worth $166,967 at the end of last year, saw a property tax bill of $2,871. Under Evers’ budget, that would go up $56 to $2,927 in the first year and $48 to $2,975 in the second. Those increases amount to 2 percent and 1.6 percent, respectively.
GOP Legislature: Pumped another $6.2 million into the lottery credit to ensure the GOP budget would have a lower property tax bill for the median-valued home than under the version of the budget Evers proposed. The $6.2 million would result in lowering that bill by $1 in the first year and $4 in the second.
Evers: Decriminalize possession and legalize medical marijuana.
GOP Legislature: Stripped from the budget.
State employee/prison guard pay
Evers: Raise pay of state and UW System employees by 2 percent in each of the next two years. Increase the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all non-UW executive branch employees.
GOP Legislature: Rejects the minimum wage. OKs 2 percent annual pay bumps but adds $13.1 million more for prison guard salaries than what Evers proposed. For prison guards, the impact would be a starting wage of $19.03 an hour by the end of the biennium and push up the corrections guards pay increase to Jan. 1 rather than April 2020. The move also would create one-time bonuses that would be: $250 after 10 years of service; $500 after 15 years; $750 after 20 years; and $1,000 for completing 25 years and every five years after that.
Evers: $83.8 billion budget, which would amount to an 8.3 percent spending increase, and a $2.5 billion capital budget.
GOP Legislature: $81.7 billion two-year budget that would increase state spending in all funds by 5.6 percent over the base plus a $1.9 billion capital budget.
Here is the Legislative Fiscal Bureau comparison of the budget agency-by-agency:
Inaugural events hosted by Gov. Tony Evers raised nearly $500,000 dollars for charity.
After defeating former Gov. Scott Walker in November, Evers hosted four events — “kids’ galas” in Madison, Milwaukee and Appleton, and a post-inauguration gala at Monona Terrace in the capital — which raked in over $920,000.
Tickets to the three “kids’ galas” cost $5 per person and featured family-friendly entertainment such as face painting, a DJ, bubbles, balloon twisting and live musical acts, according to promotional materials. The black-tie-optional main gala, meanwhile, was a $35-per-person event featuring Wisconsin-based musical performers DJ Boyfrrriend, Abby Jeanne, New Age Narcissism and KWT featuring Tom Washatka.
The balance remaining after expenses were paid out to vendors was $496,038. Spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff said the proceeds will be donated to Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metro Milwaukee.
Evers’ decision to donate his inaugural proceeds to charity marks a return to that practice after eight years.
According to Walker spokesman Jim Dick, the former guv in 2011 chose to split the proceeds raised by his inaugural committee between his campaign and the state GOP. Dick said that total amounted to $71,086, with $17,771 going to Friends of Scott Walker while the Republican Party of Wisconsin received $53,315.
In 2015, Dick indicated that the net proceeds all went to the state Republican Party, though he could not provide the total figure. While neither event benefited a charity, the celebrations included a food collection drive for the hungry.
Walker’s predecessor, Gov. Jim Doyle, raised over $550,000 at his inaugural events in 2003 and 2007. The proceeds from Doyle’s events were donated to the Boys and Girls Club.
(Check local listings for times in your area)
“UpFront” is a statewide commercial TV news magazine show airing Sundays around the state. On this week’s show, WISN 12’s MATT SMITH reports on a possible alternative to traditional students loans called income share agreements; MATT CORDIO, co-founder and president of Skills Pipeline, discusses how ISA’s can help connect future employees to growing sectors like tech; and WisPolitics.com’s JR ROSS discusses Gov. TONY EVERS’ options for the budget Republican lawmakers have sent him.
*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 state budget, the state Supreme Court ruling DPI must clear rules with the governor, Gov. TONY EVERS’ veto of four abortion-related bills and WEDC Secretary and CEO MARK HOGAN’s plan to leave the agency in fall.
*Watch the show: https://wiseye.org/2019/06/28/rewind-your-week-in-review-for-june-22-28/
Wisconsin Public TV’s “Here and Now” airs at 7:30 p.m. Fridays. On this week’s program, anchor FREDERICA FREYBERG speaks with UW-Madison professors BARRY BURDEN and MIKE WAGNER about the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on partisan gerrymandering and the 2020 Dem primary debates, respectively. Meanwhile, immigration attorney ERIN BARBATO discusses the conditions at the southern border and WPR reporter LAUREL WHITE talks about what’s next in the budget process.
“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. Host EMILEE FANNON speaks with Republican strategist KEITH GILKES, Dem strategist TANYA BJORK and Senate Minority Leader JENNIFER SHILLING.
“The Insiders” is a weekly WisOpinion.com web show featuring former Democratic Senate Majority Leader CHUCK CHVALA and former Republican Assembly Speaker SCOTT JENSEN. On this week’s episode, the two consider the rising role of GOP U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson.
*Watch the video or listen to the show: https://www.wispolitics.com/2019/wisopinion-com-the-insiders-consider-the-rising-role-of-u-s-sen-ron-johnson/
NAMES IN THE NEWS
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Upcoming WisPolitics.com events in Madison and Washington, D.C., include:
*A Sept.12 luncheon at the Madison Club with the two new state party chairs to talk about the 2020 election cycle. Wisconsin will play a pivotal role in the presidential contest, through the spring primary, the Democratic National Convention in Milwaukee and the general election. The two major state parties now have new leaders going into the cycle: ANDREW HITT at the Republican Party of Wisconsin and BEN WIKLER at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. See details and register: https://wispolitics2020election.eventbrite.com/
*A Sept. 18 breakfast at the AT&T Forum in Washington, D.C., with Milwaukee Mayor TOM BARRETT on preparations for the Democratic National Convention in Wisconsin next year. Details to be announced soon.
Longtime commissioner of Major League Baseball BUD SELIG is hosting an event on July 11 in Brookfield to promote his new book “For the Good of the Game.” See details: https://www.wilson-center.com/calendar/2019/7/11/author-event-with-bud-selig-for-the-good-of-the-game
An exhibit based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning book “Evicted” by MATTHEW DESMOND is opening at UW-Milwaukee’s Mobile Design Box.
U.S. Rep. GLENN GROTHMAN, R-Glenbeulah, Assembly Speaker ROBIN VOS, R-Rochester, Assembly Minority Leader GORDON HINTZ, D-Oshkosh, Senate Majority Leader SCOTT FITZGERALD. R-Juneau, and Senate Minority Leader JENNIFER SHILLING, D-La Crosse, are among those slated to speak at Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce’s Policy Day event in Madison on Aug. 13. Other invited speakers include Gov. TONY EVERS, U.S. Rep. RON KIND, D-La Crosse, and U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls. See more: https://www.wmc.org/event/wmc-policy-conference/
Chief Judge JAMES MORRISON of the Marinette County Circuit Court has been selected by his peers to chair the Committee of Chief Judges. He will replace the outgoing chair, Chief Judge MAXINE WHITE of the Milwaukee County Circuit Court, who will complete a one-year term on Aug. 1.
Kenosha Mayor JOHN ANTARAMIAN, recovering from a recent heart ailment, welcomed attendees to a June 17 WisBusiness.com Navigating the New Economy event in his city exploring the booming border economy. Here is a link to a WisBusiness recap of the event: https://www.wisbusiness.com/2019/kenosha-area-leaders-call-for-increased-tech-job-training-efforts/
A host of old WMC colleagues and fellow lobbyists turned out to fete NICK GEORGE, who retired as president of the Midwest Food Products Association. George worked at WMC with JIM HANEY and JAMES BUCHEN, who kidded George about his unusual path into lobbying from a series of blue-collar jobs. Taking over for George at MWFPA is JASON CULOTTA, former senior director of government relations at WMC.
ENDORSEMENTS: The following is a list of recent endorsements made for statewide elections and the 64th AD race, based on emails received by WisPolitics.com:
— State Supreme Court:
ED FALLONE: Tom Barrett
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Thirty-three changes were made to the lobbying registry in the past 10 days.
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