Weekly Roundup: Top Stories in Wisconsin Politics

July 14, 2017

Happy Friday readers! It’s that time of week – we’re all counting down the minutes to 5 o’clock in anticipation of a couple days of freedom. Before you go home, kick off your shoes, and unwind with a glass of wine, we’ll get you up to date on news that might’ve slipped through the cracks in the midst of budget discussions.

PSA ~ It’s national mac n’ cheese day, so be sure to treat yo self!

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Here’s a recap of the top news stories since the 4th of July:

1. Senate Republicans Solidify Budget Plan

The Wisconsin Legislature is now two weeks past the budget deadline, but Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) is confident that his caucus will be able to find common ground with the Gov and Assembly.

The Senate Republican Caucus met Tuesday to discuss policy positions that have not yet been taken up by the Joint Finance Committee and transportation funding dominated the conversation. They agreed to reduce bonding from their $850 million goal, reject any tax or fee increases, and keep the I-94 east west megaproject on track.

Read more here.

2. Paul Ryan Discusses Conservative Reform at MacIver Event

Speaker Paul Ryan spoke at a MacIver event held Friday, July 7. Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, also joined the group and gave autographed copies of his latest book to the MacIver interns.

Ryan made it clear that federal spending will not swoop in to break the transportation impasse in Wisconsin. Instead he expressed a desire to “take the federal fiscal footprint and make it smaller to leverage more of the private sector dollars.”

Before you get your hopes up, Speaker Ryan made it clear a presidential race isn’t in his foreseeable future – “I have federal sized policy ambition, I just don’t have presidential sized personal ambition.”

Read more here and here.

3. Walker Attempts to Break Transportation Impasse, Republicans Push DOT Reform Bill

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) insists his caucus will not support more transportation bonding without new revenues (i.e. higher taxes or fees). Gov. Scott Walker insists he will veto any new revenues, but last week offered to decrease his proposed level of bonding from $500 million to $300 million. In a letter to Assembly and Senate leadership, he explained they could cut $200 million out through “an improved transportation fund balance, project cost savings, and other administrative actions.”

Neither the Assembly nor Senate has shown much interest in the plan. For the Assembly, it’s still too much bonding and for the Senate it’s not enough spending. Vos told reporters on Wednesday the Joint Committee on Finance will not meet this week or next to continue its work on the budget.

As of yesterday morning, over two dozen lawmakers from both the Assembly and Senate have signed on to a new DOT reform bill, which would increase oversight at the DOT and recognize more cost saving opportunties. The legislative audit released in January was the inspiration for much of the bill’s content.

For information on the bill and its provisions, read more here.

4. UW-Madison Honors Admirer of Socialist Dictatorships

The Havens Center at UW-Madison is awarding far-left activist Tariq Ali – who praises socialist dictators such as Hugo Chávez, Nicolás Maduro, and Fidel Castro – with their 2017 Lifetime Contribution to Critical Scholarship Award.

The MacIver Institute spoke with Venezuelan student activist Jorge Jraissati for a glimpse into what life is actually like in Venezuela and the struggles they endure. The country is ravaged with severe food and medicine shortages, no freedom of speech, no respect for human rights, looting, deadly mass protests, and more.

It is incredibly disheartening to see UW-Madison honor someone who callously disregards human rights violations and proudly supports the chaos, hunger, death, and despair in Venezuela – all for a political ideology.

Ali will return to UW-Madison’s campus on October 19 for his award lecture entitled “1917-2017: Wars and Revolutions.”

Read more here.

5. State Obtains Legal Counsel for John Doe Case

There’s been a new development in the Department of Justice investigation into leaked court-sealed documents related to the John Doe investigation targeting conservative groups and Gov. Walker – the Ethics Commission requested legal counsel to “assist our agency in the Department of Justice investigation of the release of John Doe documents.”

Commission administrator Brian Bell shed more light on the situation and explained that “Wisconsin Department of Justice investigators have requested interviews with Ethics Commission staff regarding their involvement in collecting and preserving records related to the John Doe investigation conducted by the Government Accountability Board in coordination with five district attorneys.”

Read more here.

6. MacIver Warns Readers of Impending Crime Wave for Amazon Prime Day

leather jacket.jpgBargain hunters and shopaholics had a field day earlier this week with Amazon’s annual Prime Day deals. Those amazing deals are potentially illegal for Wisconsinites under the state’s archaic minimum markup law.

MacIver’s president Brett Healy jokingly refers to the event as Amazon Crime Day, but is serious about the repeal of the outdated law. He explains that “Prime Day just shows us how out of step Wisconsin’s minimum markup law is. A law created for Wisconsin’s economy during the Great Depression should not be holding Wisconsin back from fully participating in the economy of 2017.”

Pictured: Brett Healy rocking a faux leather jacket, on the run from Wisconsin’s Price Police.

Read more here.

7. Inequity in Wisconsin’s School Choice Programs Causes Hardship

There’s a divergence of accessibility in Wisconsin’s school choice program, which leaves some families struggling to make ends meet in order to send their children to their choice of public school alternatives. The Wisconsin Parental Choice Program (WPCP) allows families who make 185 percent of the Federal Poverty Level ($44,955 annually) to participate in the program. However in Racine and Milwaukee, families can make 300 percent the Federal Poverty Level ($72,900 annually) and still be considered for the programs.

Parents like Angela Snider, a mother of two in Osceola, are concerned about the financial burdens. “I feel like I have to choose, ‘which child am I going to send?'” Snider told the MacIver Institute.

Progress for school choice programs has been made with a consensus bill, awaiting Gov. Scott Walker’s approval, which calls for improved accountability and efficiency.

Read more here.

8. Transportation Fund Pays for Otter Exhibit at Milwaukee County Zoo

This August, the Milwaukee County Zoo is unveiling their new welcome center and otter exhibit. The zoo used the $12.7 million settlement from their 2014 lawsuit against the Department of Transportation and an additional $10 million from the state transportation fund to pay for the additions, including a new 500 space parking lot.

Many might consider a new otter exhibit a waste of taxpayer money, especially considering the current budget hangups and issues with transportation funding. To add insult to injury, the zoo could’ve accepted $8.09 million from the DOT when they acquired the zoo’s east side parking lot. Rather than accept the money, the zoo backed out of the deal at the last minute and sued the DOT instead. MacIver’s Tyler Brandt covers the details of the exchange in his piece on the new zoo additions.

9. Continuing ChartSmart Series (three entire parts devoted to K-12, and now one on transportation!)

A friendly reminder to all of our readers – our ChartSmart Series has been on fire lately. We’re pushing out content to keep you up to date with K-12 and transportation budget information. Check out our latest below.

Interested in more in-depth coverage on any of these issues? Check out our coverage from this week on transportation budget discussions, school choice debate, and more on Twitter.