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June 30, 2015

Republicans unveil draft of Bucks arena funding deal

Reps. Nygren, Vos, Steineke

Reps. Nygren, Vos, Steineke

Republicans in the Wisconsin legislature have unveiled a final draft of a Milwaukee Bucks arena deal. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) announced the final plan with Representatives John Nygren (R-Marinette) and Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna).

“We accomplished all of our goals, and that really limited the state’s obligation to much less than what the state will gain over time as the arena is built and the Bucks stay,” Steineke said. Under terms of the bill draft, the state’s share of the $500 million dollar project will be $55 million – about equal to the share from the city and county, according to Vos.

“I think the three of us, and our entire caucus, share the same goal, and that’s to have the least expensive option for the state, while providing the best possible venue,” Vos said.

Nygren, who co-chairs the Joint Finance Committee, said the deal as written can pass the committee and the full Assembly. “I think we’re in a much better position today than we were, and I think we’re also in a position where we could go to the Assembly floor . . . and pass the proposal as is,” he said.

Governor Scott Walker’s original budget proposal called for using about $220 million in bonding to help finance the arena, which the NBA says is needed to keep the Bucks. That’s a level of bonding which many lawmakers, including Vos, balked at.

Still not clear is whether the arena deal will be included in the budget, or considered as stand alone legislation. Vos said it was important for the public, as well as members of both legislative chambers, to consider the draft, details of which are included in a memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

“I look forward to feedback from the members of the Senate and the public as they review the full details of this proposal, and will continue to work with all parties involved to ensure that any deal that keeps the Bucks in Milwaukee is a good deal for Wisconsin,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau).

Senator Chris Larson (D-Milwaukee), one of three Milwaukee Senate Democrats who met with Fitzgerald last week to discuss the arena deal, said the release of the draft “shows our efforts to bring transparency and public scrutiny to this issue are starting to succeed.”

Also on Monday, Vos indicated that a deal on the state budget deal may be ready this week, although not prior to the start of the new fiscal year on Wednesday. “I feel good that we’re making progress,” Vos said. “I honestly believe that we can find an answer by the end of the week, but we also have some sort of deadline, so we’re not just sitting here staring at one another for months on end.”

Vos noted that there are still several budget sticking points – including transportation – between Assembly and Senate Republicans. “I think we’re getting closer and closer on transportation, so I feel pretty good about that, that maybe we’ll be able to have some sort of announcement sometime this week, that maybe finance could go in. I’m really an optimist.”

It’s been thirty days since the Joint Finance Committee – which is charged with hammering out the details of a budget – last met.

Obama to address economy on visit to La Crosse

U.S. Representative Ron Kind

U.S. Representative Ron Kind

President Barack Obama is scheduled to make a visit to La Crosse on Thursday. According to The White House, the president will give remarks about the economy at UW-La Crosse.

La Crosse congressman, Democrat Ron Kind, expects the president will acknowledge that “more work needs to be done” to grow and expand the economy, strengthen and grow the middle class., and increase wages. “He’s going to be touching on a lot of those themes, and what it’s going to take to get there with divided government, which means working together, finding common ground, and having a little more cooperation on what needs to be done,” Kind said, adding that he also expects the president, who has been increasingly candid in recent weeks, will address the issue of inclusiveness.

“Whether it’s race relations, whether it’s same-sex couples, whether it’s low-income families struggling to break into the middle class, we’re all in this together, and I think you’re going to hear a little bit of that during his speech this week.”

Obama’s most recent stop in Wisconsin was last October, when he campaigned for Mary Burke, the Democratic candidate for governor.

Wisconsin ACLU pleased with marriage equality ruling

File photo

WRN photo

The U.S. Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality is being hailed here in Wisconsin. “Social justice was advanced today,” said Chris Ahmuty with the American Civil Liberties Union of Wisconsin. “People who previously had been disrespected by their government, had been harmed by actions taken by the government, will finally be treated with the equality and dignity and freedom that they deserve from their government.”

The court’s 5-to-4 decision makes equality of marriage the law of the land in all 50 states.

Ahmuty said the decision should put the issue to rest once and for all. “I wouldn’t say that there won’t be some sort of push back from opponents of freedom to marry, but this is the final word until there’s a new supreme court 50 years from now, or something like that.”

Governor Scott Walker said the  high court made a “grave mistake” with the decision to legalize gay marriage in all 50 states. Wisconsin Family Action President Julaine Appling accused the majority of playing favorites with the law to advance a position it favors, while ignoring the will of the people in states across the country.

Same sex marriage has been legal in Wisconsin since last October, when the Supreme Court rejected the state’s bid to reinstate its constitutional ban.

Wisconsin Medical Society policy limits vaccine exemptions

The Wisconsin Medical Society board opposes vaccine exemptions for religious or personal beliefs. It’s a policy adopted at the board’s recent meeting. Wisconsin is among 20 states that allow personal belief waivers for students.

“This is a difficult policy issue, but the physicians in this state, and the Wisconsin Medical Society, are coming down on the side of patients, trying to protect kids from communicable diseases any way that we can,” said Dr. Patrick Remington, a professor at the UW School of Medicine and member of the Medical Society.

The Society’s board also also supports making vaccination rates of public and private schools publicly available.

“If there are certain schools where the vaccination rate is low, a parent should know that they’re going into an environment that’s riskier for their child,” Remington said.

Conservative expert weighs in on Obamacare ruling

A Wisconsin conservative weighs in on Supreme Court’s Obamacare decision. In a 6-3 ruling on Thursday the high court upheld federal subsidies across the country. Rick Esenberg is with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty.

“The law clearly says that these subsidies are available only in exchanges established by a state,” Esenberg said. “The majority engaged in what can only be called sort of very sophistical series of interpretive somersaults, Justice Scalia called them, in order to read the law to say what it doesn’t say.”

The court’s decision holds that the Affordable Care Act authorized federal tax credits for eligible people not only in states with their own health care exchanges, but also in 34 states – including Wisconsin – with federal marketplaces.

While Obamacare supporters are happy with the decision, Esenberg said people on the liberal side of politics may be unhappy in the future. “Now we have a decision of the United States Supreme Court which really provides warrant for this type of departure from normal rules of statutory construction – you read a statute and apply it as written – which are going to be cited in all sorts of other contexts, and may be used to used to do things that liberals don’t like.”