News from the Capitol and around Wisconsin
We hope you had time to relax over the weekend, and that your work week is off to a productive start.
This week, we will talk about the US Supreme Court's decision to hear arguments on the Wisconsin redistricting case, Senate Republicans education plan that could build some consensus amidst massive disagreements, some decisions by the Joint Finance Committee, the latest on the REINS Act, Wisconsin's latest employment numbers, a bill that would create a new state holiday, and Justice Gabelman's decision to not seek a second term on the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
As always, we hope you find this weekly report to be interesting and informative. If there are ever any issues that you would like to see included, or if you ever have any questions or comments, please reach out to us at email@example.com.
Have a great week,
Last week was a busy week in the State Capitol, as both chambers of the legislature debated and passed legislation, and the Joint Finance Committee took action on several issues.
The Senate and Assembly took up various measures last week, and passed bills that would help reduce some large government regulations, create a new holiday, as well as others. But all eyes were on the Senate last week, which was going to release its own version of an education package for the state budget.
Meanwhile, the Joint Finance Committee voted on the corrections budget, public employee benefits, and a few other relatively minor items. They, of course, remain deadlocked, but as you will read below, on education the opposing sides might be on the path to some consensus. And by the way, opposing sides means Republicans in the two chambers. It doesn't mean Democrat and Republican sides, as usual.
I also wanted to touch briefly on the US Supreme Court decision to weigh in on the Wisconsin redistricting case. This is a really big deal, and we should all pay attention closely. How the Supreme Court rules on this very issue will likely have lasting implications for generations. On one side, Republicans are happy with where the maps are at currently, and the Democrats would like to see them more reflective of the population in Wisconsin. Still, much remains to be decided, but however the court rules will be monumental across the nation.
Finally, the PPT repeal is still picking up steam across the state. Thousands of individuals have contacted their lawmakers to urge them to repeal this tax, and it seems as though all reports are indicating that the PPT is definitely on the table for the state budget. Now is the time when we would again as you to reach out to your lawmakers on this issue by clicking here.
As always, if there are any topics you would like me to address, or if you need assistance in any way, please don't hesitate to reach out to me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Until next week...
U.S. Supreme Court decides to hear Wisconsin redistricting case, and blocks order to draw new maps
Earlier today, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to hear Wisconsin's contentious case on redistricting, which a lower federal court found Republicans had drawn maps that were so favorable to them that they violated the Constitution.
The lower court also ruled that new maps be drawn by November 1st, but the U.S. Supreme Court threw out that order, as well, handing Wisconsin Republicans a major victory, keeping the current maps in place for the foreseeable future.
This case most certainly has nationwide implications, as any decision by the U.S. Supreme Court could make sweeping changes to maps across much of the nation where overly-partisan gerrymandering has taken place.
In a joint statement today, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said:
"We are encouraged by the decision by the Supreme Court to hear Wisconsin's appeal of Gill v. Whitford and grant a stay of the lower court's order. Wisconsin's lawmakers have maintained that our state's redistricting process and legislative maps are legal and constitutional, and we look forward to the Court's final decision which we are confident will affirm our position."
Earlier today, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca also released a statement:
"There is a silver lining- now that the Supreme Court has decided to hear the case, there could be a precedent set to end extreme partisan gerrymandering. Voters should be able to choose their representatives, not the other way around, and I have faith that the Supreme Court will do the right thing to help end the terrible polarization we see in both Wisconsin and across America."
The Supreme Court will hear the argument in October, and likely have a decision by the end of this year or June of 2018.
Senate Republicans writing their own education plan
Under the Senate Republican education plan, which might be assisting in moving the dial on a gridlocked budget process, lower-spending rural school districts could get a boost.
According to several sources, the plan would use state cash to help rural low-spending school districts, which would appease the Assembly Republican plan, and it would also hold the line on property taxes, which would give Governor Walker his top priority. If the information is correct, this plan might end the contention on at least one of the issues causing a major hold-up on the two-year budget, which needs to pass by June 30th.
Joint Finance Committee Co-Chair John Nygren said that he's encouraged to see the Senate addressing education challenges, and that he's hopeful they can get to a place where they agree.
Meanwhile, Governor Walker continues to tour the state, touting his plan that would invest nearly $650 million into schools, while reducing property taxes for homeowners across Wisconsin. The Assembly plan would invest $90 million less than Governor Walker's plan, but target funding for low-spending school districts.
Joint Finance Committee gives state employees raise, officially rejects Walker proposal on self-insurance
State employees will receive a four percent raise over the next two years, after the Joint Finance Committee took action late last week on several smaller issues while they continue to debate large ticket items such as education, transportation, and taxes.
Not surprisingly, the committee also voted to reject a plan from Governor Walker that would move state employees into a self-insurance model, rather than by private HMO's. Under the Walker plan, employees would basically be insured by the state, which would pay medical claims directly.
Walker had also proposed a 2 percent wage increase for state workers, costing $15.4 million, excluding UW System employees who receive their raises through a merit pay system and the UW Board of Regents. Under the plan that passed the Joint Finance Committee, 70 percent of those raises will be covered, but the remainder will need to be made up elsewhere down the line as the fiscal biennium progresses.
After passing legislature, REINS Act to be signed by Governor
After passing the Assembly on a 62-34 vote last week, the REINS Act will be signed by Governor Walker, according to his office.
REINS, an acronym for Regulations from the Executive In Need of Scrutiny would give currently Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) power to block proposed environmental and other regulatory rules created by state agencies.
The bill says that state agencies are not authorized to impose rules that are projected to cost business or local governments more than $10 million. Those types of rules would need to be passed as law instead, requiring such actions to pass both chambers of the legislature and receive the signature of the governor.
The bill also gives JCRAR the authority to bar state agencies from enforcing any rules to which the panel objects.
Republicans and business groups applauded the passage, and claim it is a major victory for businesses that are impacted heavily by government regulations. Democrats and opponents of the bill believe it gives businesses too much power over their own regulation.
WPT Weekly Member Poll Results:
Passing the budget by June 30th, using money for sales tax holiday to fund PPT repeal, requesting permission from Washington, D.C. for drug testing Medicaid recipients, investing in apprenticeship grants, and your summer plans.
Now that two more weeks have passed and other divisive topics are stalling the budget talks, we want to ask again; do you think the state legislature will pass the two-year budget by the June 30th deadline?
About 25 percent of respondents think the budget will get done on time. Nearly 45 percent are a bit more skeptical and do not think ti will pass. Almost 30 percent said they weren't sure.
"Well, whatdya know. Republicans have cut taxes so far, they don't have the revenue to do what they want to do. Who could have seen that coming?"
"Repblicans are playing with fire by struggling with passing the budget. They need to get some ideas together along with the governor and compromise on the issues at hand. They need to make decisions that will create more jobs and in turn create more revenue for the state coffers to meet the transportation and education needs of our state. An improved economy will go a long way in these law makers getting re-elected. They doing the same thing that the republicans in Washington are doing! Stop worrying and start taking some bold steps to get things moving. The economy in the south central part of the state is lack luster right now, not a good thing for those currently in office anywhere, in Madison or Washington DC as far as I'm concerned."
"Stop the partisan childishness. Start working for Wisconsin! My business has to meet deadlines- so should our government."
Some lawmakers have said they would rather use the money for the sales tax holiday and finance part of the repeal of the personal property tax on small business. Smart move?
Over 80 percent of respondents would rather see the money used to cut the personal property tax, rather than a sales tax holiday. Less than five percent of respondents think we should keep the sales tax holiday. About 15 percent said they weren't sure.
"First, do not repeal the PPT. All that will do is please special interests and force everyone else to pick up the tax that's no longer collected. Meanwhile, a Sales Tax Holiday is monumentally stupid. It costs more for businesses to re-work their systems for a few days exceptions than it saves in tax dollars."
"The small amount of savings is not worth the hassle to have a sales tax holiday. The state and county gov'ts tax us to death on everything from our utility bills and anything else they can put an extra charge on."
"Sales Tax Holiday...during back to school time...Dud."
"Too small to household savings."
"We need a permanent 'all tax holiday'!!!!"
Governor Walker has officially requested permission from the Trump Administration to drug test BadgerCare recipients. If you were President Trump, you would...
Over 80 percent of respondents would grant Governor Walker and Wisconsin the authority to drug test, and over 10 percent would not. Less than ten percent didn't know or chose not to answer.
"This is a great plan!! How can you be on drugs and receive any welfare or cheaper insurance. If you can't stay clean then the taxpayers don't need to pay."
"BadgerCare works well but let's get the riff-raff out of there."
"Let's use some commonsense here."
"More stupidity. Florida (and others) have tried this and found that it costs more money to test than the whopping 2% of drug users it detects. It's just a waste, but ideologically something the GOP wants to flush money on."
"Most people who work are subject to random drug testing, why should these people who get a hand out have it any different? Its a no brainer. I feel anyone on any form of gov't assistance should be subject to drug testing and loose their benefits if they fail their test plain and simple. Way too many "disabled" people are capable of doing things they shouldn;t be doing if they are unable to work! My mother was denied disability when she was diagnosed with terminal cancer so funny how things work."
"I think it's a good decision. We have to stop the cycle of abuse of government programs by addicts. They need the help out. On the other hand, a person convinced against their will is of the same opinion still..."
"Anyone receiving state aid should be drug tested- most employees who pay for this benefit have to pass a drug test to be employed."
"Why should taxpayers subsidize druggies? Also include anyone convicted of an OWI and those driving with a suspended license!"
"Quit supporting drug habits with tax money."
"I get drug tested and I have a job. Some have to work to fund them able bodied people collecting"
Governor Walker last week announced nearly $4 million in apprenticeship grants aimed at getting Wisconsin youth prepared for the workforce. Good use of tax dollars or bad?
Nearly 80 percent of respondents thought this was a good idea.
"We need employees that are willing to work and have some education in the trades."
"Good move. I've seen too many high school age kids who don't know how to do simple math. If they can't learn in the classroom, then maybe the real world can do it. Other countries use these programs and they work well."
"Boondoggle? Who knows."
"I have a college degree, and I often wonder who are the high and mighty people who make the decisions of the required courses to be taken to receive a degree in a certain area of study or for that matter what classes and credits are required for graduation from a Wisconsin high school. Unfortunately, kids are forced to take classes that have no interest to them because they could care less about acient literature, writing poetry or memorizing the chemical elements table. Some kids love getting their hands dirty with motors or growing things. They may love welding, building trades or the culinary arts. Keep these young people interested in learning, by allowing them to learn a trade while in school and keep them there! We allow high school students to take college level classes for credit while they are in high school, which is great, but lets start thinking about those who need the skills to succeed once they graduate and desire to enter the workforce."
"The Task Force on Youth Workforce Development by Bob Kulp was a disaster. I grew up hunting for jobs and trying to earn money. Today, children are taught to take out loans, get credit scores, etc WHILE IN SCHOOL. AND getting them INTO the work force early enough to develop a work ethic is being halted by work permits that are so restrictive that the kids aren't worth hiring. You want to drug screen BadgerCare recipients? Drug screen college students regularly and randomly, too. If they have positive drug readings, BOOT 'EM OUT!"
"There are a lot of jobs that go begging for people with adequate skills. They forget most of the stuff in the textbooks anyway."
"Where was this when I started to work."
"Off to Europe."
"Mostly working in an office with air conditioning."
"I work on my genealogy."
"Heading to Door County next week...and Niagara Falls later in the summer."
"I go about business as usual, summer is short enough, I enjoy the hot weather, that way I know we had summer!"
"I am a business owner. I don't have the income to do anything 'fun' because it's all gone due to health care, high taxes, and intense competition."
"Go to the beach."
"Keeping cool in the air conditioning and doing as little farm stuff as possible."
"A good book in the air conditioning."
"With no air conditioning at work. Will relax in cool house."
"Just go to our other home and do some fishing in the early morning. Cook out and drink some beer in late evening. You know we are from Wisconsin."
Wisconsin unemployment lowest since 1999
According to the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wisconsin is tied for 7th lowest unemployment in the United States, after May's statistics were released, showing that the state's unemployment has not been this low since, quite literally, the last millennium.
Department of Workforce Development Secretary Ray Allen said, "not only is Wisconsin's 3.1 percent unemployment rate a near record-low for our state, but our rate is lower than that of 42 other states, including the neighboring states of Illinois, Michigan, Minnesota, and tied with Iowa for 7th lowest in the country. We are also tied for 5th highest labor force participation rate in the country, ahead of the neighboring states of Illinois, Iowa, and Michigan. Under Governor Walker's leadership, Wisconsin's employers and communities are reaping economic rewards from a winning combination of best-in-class workforce and innovative, proven worker training programs."
Some other notable information:
Wisconsin's 3.1 percent unemployment was significantly lower than the national 4.3 percent
Wisconsin added a significant 40,400 non-farm jobs from May 2016 to May 2017
Wisconsin unemployment rate declined 1.0 percent from 4.1 in May 2016 to 3.1 in May of 2017
Wisconsin's labor force participation rate is 68.8%
UI claims ended 2016 at their lowest level in the last 30 years. Year 2017 initial UI claims are running at their lowest levels since 1989
Continuing unemployment claims ended 2016 at their lowest level since 1973
Senate votes on Veterans Day holiday
In a voice vote with very little debate last week, the State Senate decided to make Veterans Day an official state holiday in Wisconsin. If the bill makes its way through to receiving the Governor's signature, it would mean that all state offices would be closed every year on November 11th.
It should be noted that Wisconsin is the only state in the nation that doesn't recognize Veterans Day as an official holiday, giving its employees a day off. Meanwhile, some critics said that this legislation does not go far enough, and does not allow the private sector to close their doors for the holiday, effectively giving the day off to actual veterans. Democrats offered such an amendment, but it was rejected.
The bill will now make its way to the lower chamber, where the Assembly may choose to take up the measure and give it a full vote. If the bill is passed and signed by Governor Walker, it could take effect next year.
WI Supreme Court Justice Gabelman won't seek second term
Last week, Supreme Court Justice Michael Gabelman, who was elected in 2008, said he will not seek a second term, which will make interesting next year's Spring race to fill that seat, in an already hotly-contested election year.
"Serving on the Wisconsin Supreme Court...has been my great privilege. In decisions large and small, I have fulfilled my promises and put my judicial philosophy into practice. I trust the people of Wisconsin will elect a successor who is similarly committed to the rule of law," Gabelman said.
One of his more notable opinions was his legal opinion that upheld 2011 Wisconsin Act 10, the measure that eliminated most collective bargaining for public sector unions, and sparked massive protests in the State Capitol that winter, ultimately leading to an unsuccessful attempt to recall Governor Walker in the summer of 2012.
Gabelman also wrote the 2015 decision that ended the John Doe investigation into Governor Walker's campaign.