News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
We hope your week is off to a great start, and that you enjoyed your Thanksgiving holiday.
This week, we'll go through last week's survey results, talk about the federal court ruling which dubbed Wisconsin's legislative maps as unconstitutional, bring you up to speed on the looming statewide recount, share the latest developments on a local fight over a lead pipe replacement plan, a current budget shortfall, and more.
We would also like to remind members that our Capitol Reports, Newsletters, and helpful resources are available on our website at www.WPTonline.org under the Current Members tab. Just enter the member password wpt2016 and enjoy all of the latest news and information in one easy spot.
As always, we hope you find the Capitol Report to be interesting and informative. If there are any topics you would like to share, or if you have any questions or comments, never hesitate to reach out to us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Have a great week,
Statewide recount to begin this week
A recount has been initiated by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein in the State of Wisconsin, citing elections integrity, and throwing a relatively unprecedented process for Wisconsin elections officials into gear.
The Wisconsin Elections Commission met in Madison this morning to set a timeline for the process, and the official recount will begin on Thursday morning, with a deadline of December 12th and 8PM. Additionally, the commission this morning denied a mandatory hand recount. This means that counties would decide whether to perform the full recount by hand or by feeding the ballots back into the tabulation machine. Stein will sue in Dane County, and ask the court to order a full hand recount.
Federal law allows for the recount to take place, and a deadline for any type of recounts or challenges must be completed by December 13th. The recount will be paid for, in full, by the Stein campaign.
While recounts are not uncommon in various legislative districts throughout Wisconsin, statewide recounts are entirely uncommon. The last full recount was completed in 2011, in the race between State Supreme Court Justice David Prosser, and his challenger, Appeals Court Judge JoAnne Kloppenberg.
A campaign spokesperson for Hillary Clinton's campaign said that their people will be on the ground in Wisconsin and other battleground states to take part in the processes, keeping a lookout for any type of "outside interference," according to the campaign.
In the states of Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania, President-Elect Donald Trump's victory was around 107,000 votes total.
While the Clinton campaign will take part, they have fully admitted that no actionable evidence of voting machine hacking or other influences have been uncovered, but because of the narrow victory in those states, and the "degree of apparent foreign interference during the campaign."
President-elect Trump was critical of the recounts, saying that it was "just a way for Jill Stein, who received less than one percent of the vote overall and wasn't even on the ballot in many states, to fill her coffers with money."
The President-elect also said, "the people have spoken and the election is over, and as Hillary Clinton herself said on election night, in addition to her conceding by congratulating me, 'We must accept this result and then look to the future.'"
Take the WPT survey below to share your thoughts on this topic and others.
With current budget battle ahead, Dept. of Administration estimates $693 million shortfall
With the new state budget process coming up, it looks like the 2017-2019 biennium will start off with a $693 million shortfall, making some monetary maneuvering all but certain in the coming months.
While at this same time two years ago, the budget deficit was $2.2 billion, four years ago, the deficit was only $117.4 million. Currently, the state looks like it will spend just over $71 billion in the current budget.
To get to this number, the equation is state revenue projections minus agency spending requests. Department of Administration Secretary Scott Neitzel said the main driver behind the big hole is a $508 million request for more K-12 funding from the Department of Public Instruction, and the Department of Health Services $450 million request to continue current Medicaid levels.
Governor Walker tweeted "agencies outside of my supervision drive budget requests for spending that exceeds revenues." It's true. The DPI Superintendent is a statewide elected office, and constitutionally mandated. And as the State Journal points out, Medicaid costs are mainly driven by federal circumstance. Which is why Governor Walker has asked President-elect Trump for more Medicaid dollars for Wisconsin. However, he is requesting that those dollars be sent to the Badger State in the form of block grants, which do not necessarily have to be used for the purpose for which it was granted.
Tax collections are expected to increase over the coming years, with projections exceeding $32 billion. Walker spokesman Tom Evenson said that the upcoming budget will be focusing on the "priorities of the people and not the wants of the government."
Share your thoughts in the weekly survey below.
Wisconsin legislative maps ruled unconstitutional by federal judges
Last week, a panel of three federal judges ruled that Wisconsin's legislative map, drawn in 2011, is an unconstitutional gerrymander.
According to the judges, the map "was intended to burden the representational rights of Democratic voters...by impeding their ability to translate their votes into legislative seats." Those words came from the senior federal appeals court Judge Kenneth Ripple, who was appointed by President Ronald Reagan.
The panel was split 2-1 and it is unclear what will happen as a result of the ruling. The court instead ordered that both sides file "briefs" within 30 days on a way to fix the problem. From there, the court will respond within 15 days.
Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel will appeal the decision.
While the next stop in the appeals process would be the US Supreme Court, if the case makes it to their docket before the current vacancy has been filled, this would likely result in a 4-4 decision split. In that scenario, the lower court's decision would be upheld.
Democrats in 2012 won a majority of votes overall in the state, with 51.4 percent having voted for their candidates, however Republicans won 60 seats the 99 seat Assembly. To many, this proves that the maps were skewed heavily to favor a GOP majority in the state.
But even so, the lone dissenting vote on the panel, Judge Griesbach, wrote that he couldn't accept proof of intent to act for political purpose. "If political motivation is improper, then the task of redistricting should be constitutionally assigned to some other body, a change in law we lack the authority to effect."
As of now, it's anybody's guess as to how this will unfold in the coming months. As the situation becomes clearer, WPT will keep you informed every step of the way.
Make sure to take this week's survey to share your thoughts on this topic and others.
Survey results: Hunting, manure digesters, hemp, and more.
Last week, we brought you various articles regarding the economic impacts of the gun hunt season, a proposal for more manure digesters in Wisconsin, the prospect of industrial hemp production and processing in the state, and more.
Let's take a look at your feedback.
Were you surprised to hear that $1 billion will be brought in from gun hunting season alone?
It makes a lot of sense that gun hunt season in Wisconsin would bring in some major dollars for local communities around the state. With everything from specials at bars and restaurants to special retail deals for so-called Widow's Weekends, there is a lot of incentives to spend money around the ten day gun hunt season, other than the ammo, and gear already involved.
About 44 percent of respondents were surprised by the $1 billion pricetag associated with the gun hunt, and over 20 percent of respondents had never even given it any thought at all.
It's a great number for the Wisconsin economy, and just one more reason for people to enjoy our state and its traditions.
"Always...but the DNR is finding ways to keep customers from patronizing their local businesses...buy your license online...while you are online why not shop on Amazon, no need for local businesses...no need to register your deer in person...hurts those businesses as well that used to register."
"I always hunt, and always spend money."
"Central Wisconsin had some great deals at bars for hunters. Food and bev."
Manure Digesters. What are your thoughts so far on the issue?
Nearly 80 percent of respondents like the idea of manure digesters in the state to curb the pollution from liquid manure. Nearly 20 percent don't know how they feel yet.
"We have a manure digester in our county. They only keep it running as long as the subsidies were there. It would allow bigger farms to get bigger and continue to push us smaller farms out. We tried to help to install a manure pit several years ago so we could discontinue spreading in the winter. But the DNR/soil and water wanted us to spend $1000s to fix water ways and put all the cattle on cement before they would even consider us."
"I think it's a travesty this hasn't been more widely used. There hsould be digesters all over generating power for our state."
"Let private industry lead."
"There are many that are working correctly. They need good management. That was missing with the Dane County digesters."
"Even though this is a good idea, the next question is where is the money going to come from..."
"Need large volumes to be profitable."
"If small farms had to transport their manure to a location, then haul it back. Think of the slow dirty traffic daily on the roads as a result. Manure digesters only remove the smell. The same points go in come out as separated liquid and solids. The manure does not disappear. The larger farms that are able to use this technology more efficiently, great for them and electricity for us."
Do you agree something needs to be done about groundwater contamination?
It's a constant conversation around the state. How do we balance industry and community health as it relates to groundwater contamination? Many believe that these digesters are a step in the right direction. But can we all agree that something needs to be done about this issue?
It looks like 95 percent of respondents agree that something needs to be done around this issue.
"Yes, something must be done. But the question is what? And are there options? And what is the most simple, affordable, and sensible course of action? Once you find that, you know the legislators will do the exact opposite."
"Whatever is done needs to be science based."
"For starters, if they are so concerned about the cow factories and the manure contaminating the ground water, maybe they should limit how many animal units that can be had per acre. The area of the state that is having the most problem actually really brought this problem on themselves. Someone was not thinking far enough ahead to stop this in the first place. So now the rest of the tax payers will have to help foot the bill if this all shakes out."
"In some areas of the state."
"We believe the many hand dug wells with hand pumps used years ago to water cattle in pastures may not been properly closed. These hand dug wells are a direct line to the water source. If there was more public interest in locating these wells be rewarding those who remember these places, and properly closing without cost to the land owner, some of the problems may be solved."
Industrial hemp production and processing?
Last week, a lawmaker proposed that Wisconsin become a national leader in hemp production and processing, as it would help the agriculture industry in the state, and could lead to an economic boom for Wisconsin. But what are your thoughts on the issue? Just over 60 percent said they think this is a good idea. Over 20 percent weren't sure how they felt, and the rest said it's a bad idea. One thing is certain, there are a lot of unanswered questions surrounding the necessity and patrolling of the crop. For now, here are your thoughts:
"It would add to the agriculture industry. It is already being grown illegally all over the state."
"Could give our Ag industry a boost."
"Is there a market for large volumes of the product?"
"Why is this needed? How is law enforcement going to be able to tell the industrial hemp from the illegal type?"
"Nothing wrong with hemp. Historically a very viable product."
We hope you had the opportunity to spend the holiday with family, friends, and loved ones last week. We have many things to be thankful for, including those we shared our meals with on Thursday.
"Home- everybody comes here to the farm. Everything that my wife makes! We always thank the Lord for His many blessings."
"Staying home. I've got 75+ cows to milk before I can even think about putting the meal on."
"Eating out in a local restaurant. My favorite food is mashed potatoes with gravy and cranberries."
"Staying here and pumpkin pie."
"1 short drive to Thanksgiving and one local Thanksgiving. Two days of Thanksgiving gluttony. Family tradition- pierogi!"
"Spending the day with mom in the assisted living. Still having the traditional meal. Love me some turkey, mashed spuds, dressing and gravy."
"Leaving town. Beer."
"This year, home."
"Staying home and serving a nice meal for our family. Always nice being with the family. In our house, rated as #1."
"Staying home. Dressing and 24 hour salad."
"Staying home. Favorite food is pumpkin pie."
"Going to wife's family a little over an hour away. Nice to just relax and catch up with family."
"We are having the relatives over for our yearly Thanksgiving on the farm. We give informal tours so our relatives have the chance to see and ask questions. There are not many of our own relatives that understand farm life. We love to pass on our love for the animals and the land."
"Staying home...trying out the new Wood pellet grill to smoke that turkey this year. Lefse, Lefse, Lefse."
Menasha aldermen reject passing lead pipe replacement costs onto homeowners
As many as 1,500 Menasha residents likely have lead service pipes on their property, according to city officials, prompting multiple actions by the city's council.
But the latest proposal, which would have required homeowners to foot the bill to replace the lines on their property, was shot down on a 4-4 vote last week. The Mayor of Menasha, Don Merkes, chose not to break the tie.
Property owners would have been on the hook for anywhere from $800 to $2,500 to replace the lead lines.
There is a program through Menasha Utilities that will begin next year, which will allow homeowners to replace the line, with a partial reimbursement, funded by a state grant totaling $300,000. The city is expected to request more money from the state, in the following year.
Residents will be able to apply for up to $1,500 in reimbursements, based on their income, by meeting one of two criteria. 1) Residents choose to replace the service pipes on their property as the water main replacements are being conducted by Menasha Utility, or 2) Menasha Utilities has already replaced the water main for the area, and the homeowner's pipes were not replaced at that time.
Lead, formerly the main metal used to manufacture pipe, is naturally toxic. Increased consumption levels of lead can cause health complications mainly in children and pregnant women, including brain and other organ damage, learning disabilities, and more.
Gov. Walker requests disaster declaration for crop losses
Governor Walker's office today announced its request to the US Department of Agriculture for a Secretarial Disaster Designation for 10 Wisconsin counties who suffered crop losses following freezing temperatures earlier this year, specifically May 13 and 14.
The counties are Chippewa, Columbia, Eau Claire, Jackson, Jefferson, Pierce, Polk, Sauk, St. Croix, and Trempealeau.
Governor Walker said, "Wisconsin producers are in need of assistance from the USDA to help them deal with their losses. I asked the federal government to respond quickly with this designation so the affected producers may obtain relief."
Due to the low temperatures on those evenings, various crops were impacted. Among those were apples and other perennial crops which had already begun to blossom or bud. All told, harvests of apples, asparagus, blueberries, hops, and strawberries suffered a 30 percent loss.
DNR board to adopt federal air pollution rules
Four years and one lawsuit later, the state's DNR will adopt federal air pollution standards.
The US EPA published new guidelines on limits of fine particles in the air in January 2013. According to Wisconsin law, the state must adopt the rules that match the EPA standards to "ensure state permits meet federal requirements."
The groups who filed the lawsuit and the state agency settled the lawsuit last year, contingent upon the state adopting the guidelines by the end of March 2017.
The fine particles referred to are generally a mixture of small particles and liquid droplets made up of chemicals, acids, metals, soils, or dust, found often near roads or industries, or smokes from forest fires and power plants. The particles can cause a wide range of health complications.
According to the DNR agency spokesman, the work did not begin on the changes in 2015 as directed by Governor Walker because law requires that an economic impact evaluation is required, thus slowing the overall process.