Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Giving The Supremes More Rope

Public confidence in the state Supreme Court has never been lower, for obvious reasons.

The new state budget won't help matters any.

The most significant campaign finance reform in over 30 years in Wisconsin was effectively gutted by the budget passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Scott Walker. It eliminates all funding for public financing of state elections – including state Supreme Court races – and diverts the money to help cover the cost of implementing the new law requiring voters to have a state-issued photo ID in order to cast a ballot.

Also buried deep in the two-year budget is a tenfold increase in the limit on campaign contributions to Supreme Court candidates – from $1,000 to $10,000. Now there's a confidence booster!

Along with writing into existence substantially bigger donations to high court hopefuls, budget writers handed state elections entirely over to private interests by raiding the money from the 34-year-old Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund and the year-old Democracy Trust Fund that is the key funding source for the Impartial Justice Act to pay for a scheme to make it more difficult to vote.

There have been no documented instances of voter impersonation in Wisconsin, yet the state will be spending millions of dollars on a new state program that will disenfranchise some voters and unnecessarily burden many others. And state officials are paying for this waste of taxpayer money by killing public financing programs aimed at maintaining fair and clean elections. Doing this requires a profound act of disrespect toward Wisconsin taxpayers who checked the box on their income tax form designating some of their taxes to the clean campaign funds. Against their will, these taxpayers will have their money used instead for what amounts to a policy of poll taxation.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Bankers' Deposits Get Results

A powerful special interest group that supports a budget plan to let credit unions more easily convert to banks contributed $15,000 to an outside electioneering group that has spent more than $1 million since last fall to help elect GOP legislators.

The May 31 contribution by the Wisconsin Bankers Association to the Republican State Leadership Committee occurred shortly after Republicans who control the legislature added the credit union conversion plan May 12 during Joint Finance Committee consideration of the proposed 2011-13 state budget.

The legislature later approved the budget and sent it to GOP Governor Scott Walker to sign into law. The Wisconsin Bankers Association also contributed $25,000 last August 12 to the Wisconsin Governors Association – another outside electioneering group – which spent $5 million in 2010 on negative broadcast ads and other electioneering activities to help elect Walker.

The Republican State Leadership Committee spent $935,726 in the 2010 elections to support GOP legislative candidates who won the majority in the Assembly and Senate. This spring, the group spent another $97,000 on a special election for a La Crosse area Assembly seat, as well as an undisclosed amount of money on 30-second television ads pushing the recall of two Democratic state senators.

In addition to its contributions to the two Republican outside electioneering groups, the Wisconsin Bankers Association – through individual and political action committee contributions – funneled $291,802 in 2009 and 2010 to candidates for statewide office and the legislature, including $56,286 to Walker.

Credit unions and other critics of the conversion proposal object to it for two reasons. First, it is one of dozens of non-spending policy items in tucked into the budget that should be dealt with in stand-alone legislation where it can be given more public scrutiny and legislative consideration. And on the merits of the plan, the group representing credit unions claims it’s an attempt to kill credit unions by making it easier and faster for a few organized members or directors to turn them into banks.

Supporters of the plan contend it isn’t a controversial measure and only streamlines conversions, which are already allowed.

Here's Some Targets For Walker's Veto Pen

For all the yammering by Republicans who control the legislature about keeping policy and other non-fiscal items out of the proposed 2011-2013 state budget, former state budget officer John Montgomery managed to assemble a lengthy digest of items - 11 pages worth - that Republican Governor Scott Walker should consider nixing with his veto pen when he signs the budget Sunday.

Most of the following items do not impact state spending or they have policy ramifications that deserve more public scrutiny and legislative consideration as stand-alone legislative proposals left to stand or fall on their own merits. Instead, legislators and special interests chock the budget full of items it shouldn't have because this is the only bill the legislature considers that must pass.

This time around, those items include major changes to health care access and eligibility, education policy and regulations governing insurers, financial institutions and the environment. Even beer is affected!

So grab a cold drink and a comfortable chair - it's a long list.

Selected Budget Recommendations of the Joint Committee on Finance and the Legislature to the 2011-2013 State Budget Sent To Governor Scott Walker

Below are many of the changes made by the Joint Finance Committee and the Wisconsin Legislature to Governor Scott Walker’s proposed 2011-2013 state budget. These mostly non-fiscal items were gleaned from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau’s budget analyses and are listed by the relevant state agency.

Website Information on State Expenditures, Contracts and Grants – Beginning July 1, 2013, require all state agency expenditures of more than $100 including employee salary and fringe benefit expenses be included in an Internet searchable data base for use by the public. In addition, require all state agencies’ expenditures for grants and contracts to be on a similar website that will show the person receiving the grant or contract and the amount.

AdministrationState Building Energy Efficiency Study – Require a study by December 1, 2011 of the feasibility of installing energy efficient heating and cooling systems in state-owned buildings. This type of review has been done previously.

Transfer State Relocation Unit – Transfer from the Department of Commerce to the Department of Administration, the state unit charged with resolving disputes when businesses must be relocated for state and local government projects.

Agriculture, Trade and Consumer ProtectionTransfer Dairy 2020 and Administration of Agriculture-Related Tax Credits – Transfer administration of certain 10% refundable tax credits from the Department of Revenue to Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

Building Program
2011-13 Facility Maintenance and Repair Projects – Authorize the Department of Administration to disburse up to $5 million in maintenance funds for state facility maintenance without approval of the State Building Commission.

Circuit Courts –Increase the Limit for Small Claims Actions – Increase from $5,000 or less to $10,000 or less, the amount that may be recovered in small claims court. This action also increases the threshold to $10,000 for claims against the state that must be paid through legislation passed by the Legislature.

Circuit Courts –
Bail Bond Sureties and Licensing Requirements – Require that no person acting as a surety can be paid unless they are an agent of a surety insurance company, who must be compensated at 10% of the value of the bond. Surety corporations and agents must be licensed and regulated by the Department of Safety and Professional Services and pay an annual $1,000 fee for the surety to be compensated. Under current law sureties receive no compensation.

Employee Trust Funds –Wisconsin Retirement System Eligibility Requirements – Require that individuals first hired after the effective date of the bill work at least 2/3 of full-time employment rather than working the current 1/3 of full-time employment to be eligible for Wisconsin Retirement System benefits.

Employee Trust Funds –
Study of Modifications to the State of Wisconsin Retirement System – Require a study by June 30, 2012 of the structure and benefits of the Wisconsin Retirement System, including providing a defined contribution plan option and permitting employees to not make employee-required contributions and limiting those employees to a money purchase annuity.

Employee Trust Funds –Study of Group Insurance Board Health Insurance Options – Require a study by October 31, 2011 on: a) offering eligible employees beginning January 1, 2013, a low-cost health coverage plan, a high deductible health plan, and a health savings account as defined under federal law; b) implementing a three-tiered health care premium structure for single employees, married couples with no dependents and married couples with dependents; c) providing by January 1, 2012, an on-line marketplace for pharmacy purchases as a supplement under the pharmacy benefits management plan; d) requiring state employees to receive their health care coverage through an exchange established under the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010; and e) creating a health insurance purchasing pool for all state and local employees and individuals receiving care under the state’s Medicaid program.

Employee Trust Funds
Group Insurance Board Study of Certified Nurse Mid-Wife Benefits – Require a study by January 1, 2012 of the cost to use mid-wives to assist during at-home or at stand-alone birth centers.

Employment Relations Commission – Retirement Contributions for New Local Police and Fire-fighting Personnel and State Troopers and Motor Vehicle Inspectors – Prohibit municipal employers and the state from paying the employee retirement contribution for any such new employees hired after the effective date of the bill.

Employment Relations Commission –
Memorandum Of Understanding to Collective Bargaining Agreements – Permit a local school district or state technical college district and a collective bargaining unit representative to use a memorandum of understanding to make changes to compensation and fringe benefits in a collective bargaining agreement that was entered into before February 11, 2011. The memorandum process may only be used to reduce salaries and benefits.

Employment Relations Commission –Police and Fire Personnel Arbitrations – Require that municipal economic conditions be given greatest weight in police and fire personnel arbitrations.

Employment Relations Commission –
Design and Selection of Health Care Coverage for Municipal Safety Employees – Prohibit a municipality from bargaining over the design and selection of health care coverage plans for municipal safety employees.

Employment Relations Commission –Payment of Milwaukee Police Salaries and Benefits after Discharge – Require that fired Milwaukee Police officers receive their full salary and benefits while they appeal their dismissal, unless felony or class A or B misdemeanor charges are also brought against the officer for an offense related to the discharge.

Employment Relations Commission – Public Employee Collective Bargaining Modifications
– Provide that the state’s compensation plan may include other provisions related to pay, benefits and working conditions that would supersede the provisions of the civil service and other statutes and rules promulgated by the Director of the Office of State Employment Relations and the Administrator of the Division of Merit Recruitment and Selection.

Financial Institutions –Permitted Methods of Calculating Interest on Loans – Specify that annual interest on a loan, bond or other financial transaction may be computed by using each day of interest as 1/360, rather than 1/365, if disclosed to the borrower. This would increase the interest paid by the borrower.

Financial Institutions –
Conversion of a Credit Union to a Bank or Savings Bank – Permit a credit union to convert to either a state chartered bank or state chartered savings bank. Under current law a credit union may convert to a federally chartered credit union, but not a bank or savings bank.

Financial Institutions –Payday Loans Repeal part of a 2009 law prohibiting a lender from charging interest on a loan that has matured. Permit a lender to use a credit report as a suitable way to verify a borrower’s income.

Financial Institutions –
Motor Vehicle Title Loans – Repeal the current law prohibiting auto title loans in Wisconsin.

Financial Institutions –Affiliates of Financial Institutions – Specify that banks, savings banks, savings and loan associations, trust companies and credit unions are not subject to the laws governing licensed lenders or paydays loans.

General Fund Taxes/Sales Taxes –
Sales and Use Tax Exemption for Advertising and Promotional Direct Mail – Create an exemption beginning July 1, 2013, that is expected to cost $500,000 beginning in 2013-2014. This is an advance commitment that is not fully funded in the 2011-13 budget. . It also appears this exemption has not yet been reviewed by the Joint Survey Committee on State Tax Exemptions.

General Fund Taxes/Sales Taxes –Sales and Use Tax Exemption for Snowmaking and Snow Grooming Equipment – Create an exemption for the equipment, fuel and utilities for snowmaking and grooming beginning July 1, 2013. The exemption is expected to cost $150,000 beginning in 2013-14. This is an advance commitment that is not fully funded in the 2011-13 budget. It also appears this exemption has not yet been reviewed by the Joint Survey Committee on State Tax Exemptions.

General Fund Taxes/Sales Taxes –Weight-Based Taxation of Moist Snuff – Convert the current tax on moist snuff from a price-based tax that is 100% of the manufacturer’s list price to a weight-based tax rate of $1.76 per ounce. The provisions are not expected to change state tax revenues during 2011-13 but can be expected to reduce taxes on premium snuff brands and increase taxes on lower premium brands.

General Fund Taxes/Regulation of Alcohol Beverages –
Three-Tiered Beer Laws – Create a single state permit to replace the current system which provides for a locally issued brewer’s permit, a state manufacturer’s license and a state wholesaler’s license.

General Fund Taxes/Regulation of Alcohol Beverages –Sales of Alcoholic Beverages at Movie Theatres – Authorize class B liquor license holders to sell beer in movie theatres they own.

General Provisions –
Conduit Revenue Bond Commission/Public Finance Authority – Modify current municipal law in several areas including allowing proceeds of a bond to be used for one or more state projects as well as projects in other states.

General Provisions –Tenants in Foreclosure Actions – Repeal sections 704.35 and 846.35 of 2009 Wisconsin Act 2 that established renter protections in cases where landlords lose their apartment buildings in foreclosure actions.

General Provisions –
Ronald W. Reagan Day – Designate February 6 as Ronald Reagan Day to honor the former President.

General Provisions –Payment of Chiropractic Fees – Require that unpaid fees owed to a chiropractor for services rendered to the victim of an auto accident shall be paid out of fees paid to the person’s attorney under certain conditions.

Government Accountability Board
Public Financing of Campaigns for Supreme Court Justice/Democracy Trust Fund – Eliminate the Democracy Trust Fund and the state income tax form check-off for the fund. Restore previous individual and committee campaign contribution limits for Supreme Court candidates.

Government Accountability Board –Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund – Eliminate the Wisconsin Election Campaign Fund and income tax check-off for the fund and deposit the fund’s $940,900 balance in the general fund.

Government Accountability Board –
Requiring Identification in Order to Vote – Appropriate $1,800,000 and create five two-year project positions to implement the provisions of 2011 Act 23 which requires identification to vote beginning in 2012.

Government Accountability Board –Reimbursement of Certain Local Election Administration Costs and Voter Identification Implementation – Delete the program which reimburses municipalities for cost of opening polling places at 7 a.m. and use the funds to pay for 2011 Act 23 which requires identification to vote beginning in 2012.

Government Accountability Board –
Statements of Economic Interests – Increase the threshold from $1,000 to $10,000 when a statement filer needs to report the name of payers to a business from which the filer received income. Require that statements of economic interest filed by political appointees, candidates and officeholders may only be viewed and copied at the Government Accountability Board office in Madison.

Health Services/Medical Assistance Services – Family Planning Services Waiver – Eliminate family planning services for males and also require the state to request federal approval to require parental notification for family planning services provided to females under age 18. In addition, require the income of the family to be considered for eligibility purposes rather than the income of the minor.

Health Services/MA Administration and Foodshare –
Centralize Administration of Income Maintenance Programs – Delete the governor’s proposal to consolidate all income maintenance programs and instead, require all counties except Milwaukee County to organize into consortia of not more than 10 counties to administer these programs.

Health Services/MA Administration and Foodshare –Study of Photo ID and Nutritional Food and Beverages – Study requiring Medical Assistance and Foodshare recipients to have a photo on their ID cards and that they purchase nutritional food and beverages.

Health Services/SSI and Public Health Funding –
Family Planning Funding – Retain current state funding for the Family Planning program but rename the program the Women’s Health Block Grant program. Require that no grants from the program be made to organizations that provide abortions or abortion related services unless the abortion is necessary to save the woman’s life or the pregnancy was a result of a sexual assault. Require that women’s health funds only be distributed to public entities.

Higher Educational Aids Board –Minnesota/Wisconsin Tuition Reciprocity Expenditures – Direct the Board to renegotiate the agreement with Minnesota so that no tuition supplement will be paid to Minnesota by Wisconsin, and that Wisconsin students attending a Minnesota institution will no longer receive a supplement beginning in the 2012-2013 school year.

Insurance –
Coverage Requirements for Dependents – Repeal current law so insurers are no longer required to provide dependent coverage to an insured individual’s adult child under the age of 27, and require coverage under the age of 26 to conform with the requirements under the federal Patients Protection and Affordable Health Care Act of 2010. Repeal a current law that requires an insurer or a self-insured health plan to determine the premium for coverage of a dependent who is over 18 on the same basis as a dependent who is 18 or under.

Insurance –Aggregate Claims Data to Policyholders – Prohibit an insurer from changing the rating methodology between community rating and experience rating or otherwise penalizing a policyholder or employer for requesting aggregate group health claims experience.

Investment Board –
Position and Budget Authority – Authorize the Investment Board director to create or abolish positions and the board to establish and monitor the budget for the agency. Require the board to report to the Joint Finance Committee quarterly on board expenditures and job actions.

Investment Board –Open Records Exemption – Exempt the board from open records requests for purchase or investment commissions, records related to investments made in or considered by the board in securities or entities that are in the venture capital stage.

Natural Resources/Stewardship Program –
Stewardship Bonding for Dam Safety – Specify that the Department of Natural Resources set aside $6 million in stewardship bonding proceeds for the maintenance, repair or removal of county-owned dams ordered by the DNR. This provision reduces land acquisition funds by expanding the type of projects eligible to receive stewardship funds.

Natural Resources/Stewardship Program –Stewardship Bonding for the DATCP PACE Program – Require the DNR to set aside up to $5.2 million of stewardship bonding proceeds to pay for the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s Purchase of Agricultural Conservation Easements (PACE) program. This program pays for conservation easements on private agricultural property so it cannot be developed. The money would be used to fund 16 projects identified by the agriculture department in 2010. This provision reduces land acquisition funds by expanding the type of projects eligible to receive program funds.

Natural Resources/Forestry and Parks –Copper Culture State Park – Earmark $25,000 from the parks account for facility repairs and upgrades at this park near Oconto and require two tourism directional signs be constructed on State Highway 41 near Oconto directing motorists to this park.

Natural Resources/Water Quality –
Repeal and Recreate Non Point Source Pollution Performance Standards – Prohibit the DNR from enforcing any provision of an administrative rule governing nonagricultural runoff pollution control standards if the standard requires a reduction of more than 20% from no control for a municipality holding a Wisconsin pollution discharge permit.

Natural Resources/Water Quality –
Water Use Fees – Provide that no person or municipality holding a water use permit would be required to pay more than $1,000 for all such permits. The current permit fee is $125 per water system but would now be capped at 8 times that amount regardless of what the fee would otherwise be for more than 8 systems. There are 24 persons that would otherwise be subject to higher fees.

Office of State Employment Relations –Pay Progression Plans for State Agency Attorneys and Assistant District Attorneys) – Require the Wisconsin State Attorneys Association and the Director of the Office of State Employment Relations to develop a pay progression plan for attorneys covered by the state compensation plan on July 1, 2011 and beyond.

Public Defender –
Public Defender Indigency Standard – Base the State Public Defender indigency standard on Wisconsin Works (W2) financial eligibility requirements for an employment position so that income above 115% of the federal poverty limit would exceed the limit for public defender representation.

Public Instruction –Delete Children at Risk Aid – Retain statutory authority for the current program but delete all funding for it. Also delete current language limiting school districts from contracting for more than 30% of the services purchased under this program. This action appears to retain children at risk provisions as a state school district educational standard but provides no specific funding for it while allowing more contracting for services to meet the standard.

Public Instruction –
Milwaukee Parental Choice Program – Expand the number of students and schools allowed to participate in the program.Retain the current law requirement that choice schools continue to test pupils on the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam (WKCE) but require DPI to calculate the percentage of students at each proficiency level for a choice school based on the number of students that actually completed the WKCE at each grade level in the school rather than based on the number of students enrolled at the school at that grade level.

Public Instruction –Racine Parental Choice Program – Create a parental choice program in Racine based on the Milwaukee school choice program as modified in the budget bill. In addition, allow school districts in cities of the second class to have a school choice program if certain conditions are met.

Public Instruction
Development of New Pupil Assessments – Require DPI to replace the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam with pupil assessments developed by the Smarter Balance Consortium or a similar entity. Require the new assessment be standards based, measure Common Core standards, facilitate a transition to online testing and allow for the results to be available within specific timeframes. These requirements may be so specific that they limit the selection to a specific test or testing company.

Public Instruction –Community Partnerships – Require the state to develop a plan to fund non-government organizations to partner with schools to serve as liaisons between students’ families and district staff, improve educational outcomes and teach greater self-sufficiency.

Public Instruction –
Race-Based Nicknames, Logos, Mascots and Team Names – Deadlines for Compliance – Allow school districts under orders by the state school superintendent to change such names to delay the change until January 15, 2013.

Public Service Commission –Utility Contributions for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Resources – Effective January 1, 2012, prohibit the Public Service Commission from requiring any energy utility to spend more than 1.2% of their annual operating revenues on energy efficiency and renewable resource programs.

Safety and Professional Services –
Building Code Changes that Increase the Cost of One and Two-Family Dwellings – Prohibit any rule that would increase the cost of constructing or remodeling a one- or two-family dwelling by more than $1,000 unless certain new procedures are followed involving economic impact analysis and additional legislative oversight.

Safety and Professional Services –Underground Storage Tank Regulations for Secondary Containment – Delay to December 31, 2020 implementation of an existing state rule requiring owners of existing underground storage tanks to have tank pipe connections within secondary containment sumps to contain possible spills.

Safety and Professional Services – Pharmacist Vaccinations to Children –
Allow pharmacists to vaccinate individuals age 6 and older. Currently they may not vaccinate individuals under age 18.

Safety and Professional Services – Chiropractic Exams – Specify that an applicant for a chiropractic license would not have to complete an examination of the Chiropractic Examining Board until January 1, 2012.

Shared Revenue and Tax Relief –
Property Tax Exemption for Student Housing – Repeal in 2013 a property tax exemption for a student housing facility in the city of Madison that meets certain criteria. This appears to be a very specific repeal of a very specific tax exemption.

Shared Revenue and Tax Relief –
City of New Lisbon TIF District Permit New Lisbon to amend a Tax Incremental Financing district during the second half of 2011. In addition, exempt the district from certain other state requirements for TIF districts, including the requirement that the valuation of all districts in a city not exceed 12% of the total equalized value in a city. Modifying TIF requirements in a budget bill is usually done to better enable a specific project to advance.

Supreme Court –
Creation of Judicial Compensation Commission – Create a seven-member commission to study judicial compensation for Supreme Court, Court of Appeals and circuit court judges. Require the study to be submitted by December 31, 2012, and require Joint Committee on Employment Relations (JCOER) review and approval of the recommendations, unless a majority of JCOER members do not want to approve or modify the recommendations. Require the Governor to fund the recommendations in his 2013-15 budget. It is unusual for a budget bill to contain a provision binding a governor to fund the recommendations of a study commission before the study is done. Also, proposing a study to raise the salaries of relatively high paid judges is inconsistent with how the salary and benefits of other public employees is being handled.

Transportation Transportation Finance and Policy Commission – Create a 10-member Transportation Finance and Policy Commission to make recommendations by March 1, 2013 to the four legislative leaders and the governor on financing transportation programs.

Repeal of Regional Transit Authorities – Repeal the authority of local governments to create the Chequamegon Bay RTA, Chippewa Valley RTA, Dane County RTA and Southeast Wisconsin RTA; eliminate state funding of those entities and their board’s ability to impose a sales or use tax; and dissolve the entities.

Transportation –Bidding Requirements for Highways and Other Improvement Projects – Restrict the ability of counties to use their employees for certain highway improvement projects.

Transportation –
Minimum Service Hour Requirements for Division of Motor Vehicles Service Centers – Provide $6 million in 2011-12, $4 million in 2012-13 and 55 positions annually to ensure motor vehicle service centers in each county are open and staffed at least 20 hours per week. This budget provision is a result of a new law requiring citizens to show identification to vote.

TransportationEliminate License Plate Stickers – Delete the governor’s proposal to repeal the requirement for license plate expiration stickers. Require the Department of Transportation to report to the Joint Finance Committee on a proposal to have a third party issue redesigned stickers that would associate the sticker’s markings with the specific vehicle.

Transportation –
Third Party Testing for Class D Drivers Licenses – Permit the Department of Transportation to contract with a third party, such as a driving school, to administer driving tests for class D non-commercial vehicle driver’s licenses. A driving school may not give a test to a student they have given instruction to.

University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics Authority –Prohibit the Use of Public Funds to Pay for Abortion – Include the Authority in the definition of state agency so no public funds may be used to perform abortions except as specified in current state law.

of Wisconsin SystemAllow 5.5% Increases in Resident Undergraduate Tuition – Cap undergraduate tuition increases to not more than 5.5% in 2011-12 and 2012-13 except for any differential tuition increases approved prior to June 1, 2011.

University of Wisconsin SystemWISCNET – Federal Broadband Grant Funding – Telecommunications Services – Modify current law to allow the UW to be a member of WiscNet under certain conditions including not reselling any telecommunications services not provided to the general public before June 15, 2011 unless the UW’s involvement is related to university research. Prohibit the UW from being part of any entity that resells telecommunications services after July 1, 2013.

of Wisconsin SystemLiability Protections for Scientific Researchers – Provide that current law provisions regarding crimes against animals do not apply to UW researchers doing experiments with animals for research that is regulated by federal law.
University of Wisconsin SystemBudgeting and Operational Flexibilities – Modify current state law to create a series of budgeting and operational flexibilities to the UW including:

  1. Fund the UW system with state block grants for operations and for debt service which would be allocated to individual campuses by the Board of Regents.

  2. Maintain current separate appropriations for the UW System Administration, the Lab of Hygiene and the veterinary diagnostic lab, and delete all other appropriations.

  3. Authorize the Board of Regents to develop a supplemental pay plan for UW faculty and staff in addition to any developed by the Office of State Employment Relations.

  4. Authorize the Board of Regents to create a new personnel system for all UW employees.

  5. Create two new bargaining units for UW System and UW Madison employees except faculty and academic staff.

  6. Provide that the Board of Regents and the UW Madison would have the authority to create new positions from all funding sources except the block grants.

  7. Modify current law to exempt UW employees from receiving only up to $12,000 from outside income sources.

  8. Exempt the UW System from requiring Building Commission approval for projects costing less than $500,000 which are funded entirely from gifts and grants.

  9. Require the UW system to prepare annual accountability reports to the governor and legislature on several issues, including: academic performance of students; finances, access and affordability; undergraduate education; graduate and professional education; faculty; economic development; and collaboration.

  10. Create a 17 member Task Force on UW System Flexibilities to review and report by January 1, 2012 on newly provided flexibility measures and ways to provide additional flexibility.
Workforce Development –Child Labor – Modify current law to end most restrictions on when persons under 18 may work, except that they may not work when they are required to be in school. The changes generally conform state law to federal laws for minors under 16, and would eliminate most restrictions for minors 16 and older.

Workforce Development –
Prevailing Wage – Modify current law requiring payment of prevailing wages. Exempt a proposed nursing home in a county with less than 50,000 residents from the law if ground is broken within one year of the bill’s effective date; raise project cost thresholds for when prevailing wages must be paid; and prohibit local ordinances from conflicting with these changes.

Workforce Development – Unemployment Insurance Benefits Drug Test –
Specify that if an unemployment claimant or an employee refuses to take a drug test, the person would be prohibited from receiving unemployment under the suitable work provision.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Walker's Law And The First Amendment

Whether the U.S. Supreme Court's current interpretation of the First Amendment is correct or not, it does – for the time being anyway – represent the law of the land. By the Supreme standard articulated in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, the union-busting bill passed by the Wisconsin Legislature and signed into law by Governor Scott Walker is unconstitutional on free speech grounds.

To this day nearly every news story about the legislation includes a line about how the governor claims it was needed to balance the budget. But Walker has publicly acknowledged on more than one occasion – including congressional testimony – that the law isn't about budget balancing and doesn't save the state any money. In an infamous recorded telephone conversation, he made it clear it's about breaking unions.

Indeed, the law will do just that. The law not only requires annual union certification elections. It requires a majority of all bargaining unit members to recertify the union, not just a majority of those who attend the annual meeting. Can you imagine what would happen if all our elections were conducted that way? If it were no longer enough just to get the most votes but instead candidates needed to win the support of a majority of all eligible voters, hardly anyone would ever be elected to any public office in this country.

Forced to jump through this hoop year after year, it is a foregone conclusion that some unions will at some point fail and will be decertified. Those that repeatedly survive will still be badly weakened because of new restrictions the law places on how unions may raise money from their members.

This is where the First Amendment comes in. The Supreme Court has ruled that money is speech and, most recently in Citizens United, ruled that any limit on election spending by corporations chills their speech and is an unconstitutional infringement on First Amendment rights.

Writing for the court majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy proclaimed that the federal Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act's restriction on corporate election spending “permits the Government to ban the political speech of millions of associations of citizens" and said "(m)ost of these are small corporations without large amounts of wealth." Kennedy went on to call it "censorship" that was "vast in its reach."

Kennedy continued: "By suppressing the speech of manifold corporations, both for-profit and nonprofit, the Government prevents their voices and viewpoints from reaching the public and advising voters on which persons or entities are hostile to their interests."

He further wrote, "The purpose and effect of this law is to prevent corporations, including small and nonprofit corporations, from presenting both facts and opinions to the public" and went on to say "certain disfavored associations of citizens – those that have taken on the corporate form – are penalized for engaging in . . . political speech."

All of which led to this conclusion: "When Government seeks to use its full power, including the criminal law, to command where a person may get his or her information or what distrusted source he or she may not hear, it uses censorship to control thought. This is unlawful."

Walker's law is vast in its reach. Its purpose and effect is to use the full power of state government to kneecap certain disfavored associations of citizens. It hinders their ability to raise funds to engage in political speech.

By the U.S. Supreme Court's own line of reasoning, Walker's law is censorship. It is unlawful. It violates the First Amendment.

Monday, June 06, 2011

Skunky Plan Threatens Good Beer

Special interests that support a legislative proposal to prohibit beer makers from owning distributorships contributed more than $937,000 in the last two years to candidates for statewide office and the legislature but small brewers say it’s meant to hurt their business.

Those backing the plan inserted into the proposed 2011-2013 state budget include MillerCoors, liquor distributors, the state’s powerful tavern league, convenience stores and grocers. They claim the measure is meant to prevent the nation’s No. 1 brewer – St. Louis-based Anheuser-Busch – from buying up liquor distributors in Wisconsin and stifling competition.

But the state’s small, specialty breweries says it’s a skunky plan aimed at making it harder to sell their products. Small beer brewers have done well in recent years under the current system at the expense of major brewers, they say.

Leading the list of the plan’s supporters were liquor distributors who contributed $350,287 in 2009 and 2010 to all candidates for statewide office and the legislature. Present legislators got $170,146 from the wholesale liquor industry.

Trade groups representing convenience stores and grocers contributed $319,865 to all statewide and legislative candidates, including $107,242 to current legislators, in 2009-2010.

The tavern industry contributed $201,850 to all legislative and statewide candidates, including $104,230 to current legislators, and MillerCoors doled out $65,167 to all candidates including $9,270 to current legislators.

The plan could be removed when the Assembly or Senate consider the proposed state budget later this month. Barring that, Republican Governor Scott Walker could veto it.

Walker did not include the liquor plan in the original 2011-2013 budget proposal he sent to the legislature, however, he did receive $224,000 in campaign contributions in 2009 and 2010 from the special interests that support it, including $125,024 from tavern, convenience store and grocer interests, $74,101 from liquor wholesalers and $24,875 from MillerCoors executives.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Drawing A Redder Wisconsin

As I've said before, Wisconsin is not a Republican red state or a Democratic blue state. It is purple. Republicans currently hold five of the eight U.S. House seats, but Barack Obama carried seven of the eight in the last presidential election. Only the suburban Milwaukee area's 5th district went for John McCain.

Republicans will have to draw some fancy congressional lines just to maintain their 5-3 edge in the House delegation, but it's definitely doable. Fairly minor tweaks to the 1st district in the southeastern corner and the lower Fox Valley's 6th could turn them into marginal McCain districts. Rest assured they also will try making the 7th district in the central and northwestern parts of the state into one that perhaps would never elect John McCain but might keep around Sean Duffy.

If they want to get really flagrant about gerrymandering, it's even possible to create a solid 6-2 Republican advantage for U.S. House seats. But it would take a map like this one, with Madison represented by the same member of Congress as the Apostle Islands.

This is a preposterous map, but it is a testimony to what is possible by means of partisan gerrymandering.

The mere fact that such political mischief is conceivable is reason enough for Wisconsin to move to a system of nonpartisan redistricting along the lines of the system already in place in Iowa.

The nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau or the Government Accountability Board or both agencies together could draw the lines. And there could be a requirement added to state law compelling the map drawers to maximize the political competitiveness of the districts.

We would then have voters choosing their representatives instead of the other way around. We would be drawing a better Wisconsin, not a redder or bluer one.