July 1, 2015

Audit shows positive balance for Wisconsin unemployment fund

A fund that pays for Wisconsin’s unemployment benefits ended the previous fiscal year with a positive balance for the first time in six years.

A report from the state Legislative Audit Bureau shows the Unemployment Reserve Fund grew from negative $208.4 million at the end of June 2013 to $329.4 million as of June 30, 2014. It’s the first time the fund reported a positive year-end balance since the state’s 2007-08 fiscal year.

Auditors cited a drop in unemployment, along with a one-week waiting period to claim benefits. Other factors included higher unemployment taxes for companies and a reduction in benefits from 86 weeks in the 2012 fiscal year to 26 weeks last summer.

John Doe target sues Milwaukee County district attorney

Photo: Milwaukee County Courthouse

Photo: Milwaukee County Courthouse

A former aide to Governor Scott Walker is filing a civil lawsuit against the Milwaukee County district attorney, accusing D.A. John Chisholm and several of his staff members of conducting a campaign of intimidation and harassment against Cindy Archer.

In September of 2011, law enforcement raided Archer’s home as part of a secret John Doe investigation into campaign work being done out of Walker’s office when he was Milwaukee County executive. Investigators seized personal emails, followed by what Archer’s attorney claims were “months of aggressive interrogations that were conducted in secret.”

Archer and Walker were never charged with any wrongdoing, although six people were convicted as a result of the probe. The complaint alleges Archer was targeted because of her role in drafting Act 10; Walker’s bill that restricted collective bargaining for many public employees. She is seeking unspecified damages for violations of her First, Fourth, an Fifth amendment rights.

Chisholm’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

Republicans announce tentative Wisconsin budget deal

Republican leaders announce a budget deal. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Republican leaders announce a budget deal. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Republican leaders say they have reached an agreement to help move the state budget forward, although whether the plan has the support needed to pass the full Legislature remains in doubt.

Under the deal announced Wednesday morning at the Capitol, the $1.3 billion in bonding for transportation projects proposed by Governor Scott Walker would be reduced by at least $450 million. Controversial proposals to repeal Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law and to provide public funding for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena would also be removed, with plans to take them up as standalone legislation. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said “I think we were able to sit down in good faith, put together a structure that’s going to allow us to finish the budget…get it to the governor’s desk.”

However, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) admitted support in his chamber remains questionable. “No, I don’t have the votes right now as we stand here,” the Juneau Republican said.

The deal is expected to get the budget out of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, which has seen its work stalled for the past month while lawmakers tried to reach agreements on a handful of remaining issues. The panel is scheduled to meet tomorrow to finalize its work, while the Assembly could open debate on the budget bill as early as next Tuesday.

At the same time as the budget debate, Speaker Vos said his chamber will take up an amended version of a prevailing wage repeal bill that passed out of a committee earlier this year, which he predicted will pass. A plan to help finance a downtown Milwaukee arena will also get a standalone vote, which Sen. Fitzgerald remains hopeful will be taken up next week in his chamber.

Democrats were critical of the budget being proposed by the GOP. State Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) accused them of “following our absentee governor off the cliff,” while even going further in areas like expanding funding for private school voucher programs. “In many instances they’re making this budget even worse than this governor did,” Taylor said.

Democratic presidential candidate Sanders plans Madison visit

Sen. Bernie Sanders (Photo: US Senate)

Sen. Bernie Sanders (Photo: US Senate)

A Democratic candidate for president will rally with supporters in Madison later tonight.

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) says the rally could end up being one of the largest of his campaign so far. In a call with reporters Tuesday, Sanders said “one never knows how RSVPs correlate with actual turnouts, but so far we have some 9,500…which is pretty good.”

Sanders, a Democrat from Vermont, believes he’s been building support due to people wanting to hear the truth about what’s happening in the American economy. “The middle class for the last 40 years has been disappearing, people are working longer hours for low wages, while at the same time, the people on top and the largest corporations are doing phenomenally well”

Sanders visit comes as Governor Scott Walker is expected to announce a run for the Republican presidential nomination later this month. The Senator said he’s “strongly opposed” to Walker’s agenda, and believes the country needs leadership that stands up for working families and is willing to fight big money special interests, something he “suspects” the two have different views on.

Wisconsin ends fiscal year without a budget

Joint Finance Committee (File photo: WRN)

Joint Finance Committee (File photo: WRN)

UPDATE: Lawmakers announced late Tuesday evening that they have reached a tentative agreement on a budget deal. Assembly Republican Leader Jim Steineke said it will cut transportation funding, while protecting several major projects. Funding for a Milwaukee Bucks arena and a repeal of the prevailing wage will be removed, and taken up as separate legislation. More details were expected to be released at a Capitol news conference Wednesday morning.

—-original story follows—-

As June ends, so does Wisconsin’s fiscal year…and it’s ending without a new state budget in place.

The state’s fiscal year ended at midnight without lawmakers taking action on a budget plan for the new biennium. Unlike at the federal level though, state government will continue to operate without a new budget. Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance researcher Dale Knapp says “funding levels for all state departments will continue at the levels where they were in the last fiscal year, so residents of the state will not experience any interruption.”

Knapp notes that past budgets have been completed after a fiscal year ended, although it usually happens with split-party control at the Capitol. He admits that “it’s unusual to see this happen when you have one party controlling both houses and the governor’s office.”

Majority Republicans have been in a stalemate for over a month on a number of issues, including transportation funding, financing for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena, and whether to repeal the state’s prevailing wage law. Leaders in both chambers have said they have been unable to reach a consensus in those areas.

Knapp says the stalemate should not be a serious concern unless it stretches into mid-July. However, he expects it could be settled relatively soon. GOP leaders continue to meet this week at the Capitol, with some indications that they are getting closer to an agreement.