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April 27, 2015

Clock is running on Milwaukee Bucks arena deal

Milwaukee Bucks logo 12With the clock now running, can Madison politicians wrap up a funding deal for a new NBA arena in Milwaukee?

The announcement from Bucks President Peter Feigin – that a financing deal must be finalized in the next 10 days for the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to consider – caught Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald by surprise on Tuesday.

“I would say this – I don’t know that we necessarily need ten days,” Fitzgerald said. “I think, if we’re going to be able to accomplish this, we’ve found a pathway that is going to work.”

“All of these things are kind of swirling right now, but the revenue stream that needs to be set up for a 20 year period, I think can be achieved in working directly with the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, and the city can do that, and certainly the county has the ability to do that,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said that the amount loaned by the board could be as much as $220 million towards the projected $500 million costs of a new facility for the NBA team. “There’s no bonding in this at all,” he said. “This is a straight cash loan from the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands directly to whatever the new entity is that would be created in Milwaukee to manage the new arena.”

Fitzgerald meets today with representatives from the Bucks, the city and county, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and, maybe, Governor Scott Walker.

“I get the political dynamic right now. He’s out there running for president, there are certain other issues right now with bundling for Senator Clinton,” Fitzgerald said, referring to a pledge by Bucks co-owner Mark Lasry to raise $250 million for Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

UDPATE: A team statement, released late Tuesday, attempted to backtrack on Feigin’s earlier comments. It indicated that “there’s no immediate deadline for a financing plan, and we’re not creating one. We’re simply hopeful that progress continues with our partners, and throughout the legislative and political process.”

Wisconsin lawmakers pull plug on CUB funding

Joint Finance Committee (File photo: WRN)

Joint Finance Committee (File photo: WRN)

State budget writers have moved to kill funding Wisconsin’s utility watchdog group. The Citizens Utility Board represents ratepayers before the state Public Service Commission. Just last week the legislature’s Finance Committee unexpectedly voted to cut an annual state grant of $300,000 which CUB has received since 2009.

“One of the things that we were so shocked by was how quickly this came about,” said Kira Loehr, CUB’s executive director. “We had no idea this was happening.”

The budget axe fell at the behest of the Milwaukee Metropolitan Association of Commerce. Loehr says CUB tangled with the chamber over costs of converting a coal fired plant to natural gas.

“We wanted steam customers, who actually use it on a daily basis . . . to pay a fare share of their costs,” said Loehr. “That is the only thing that I can think of, as to why MMAC would have brought this.”

Loehr said the state funding cut will “cripple” CUB’s effectiveness on behalf of ratepayers, and that donations cannot be expected to make up the difference.

We already do an astonishing amount with the limited resources that we have, and we simply can’t keep up with the strength and power of the utilities and the numerous outside experts and attorneys that they have, with a smaller staff,” she said. CUB has a full time staff of four.

“I can’t get over the irony. Ratepayers will still be required to pay for all of the costs for the utility lawyers, for the utility expert witnesses. And those are not capped.”

Wisconsin congressional Democrats split over fast track trade authority

Rep. Mark Pocan

Rep. Mark Pocan

Divisions among congressional Democrats over fast track authority for a new trade deal are mirrored among Wisconsin’s representatives in Washington, D.C., where one Democratic member of state’s congressional delegation is issuing a warning about the deal.

“While 600 people have been negotiating this, largely corporate CEOs, it hasn’t been the public, it hasn’t been members of Congress,” said Representative Mark Pocan, a Democrat from Madison. “We need to have our say as well.”

Last week, key congressional leaders agreed on legislation to give President Obama special authority to finish negotiating the Trans Pacific Partnership. But there’s some push back from the president’s own party. “On the for side, you’re going to find that it will be House Republican leadership pushing this, and while there’s some Democratic support in the Senate, the bill that was introduced didn’t have a Democratic sponsor from the House,” Pocan said at the state Capitol last Friday. “That says a lot about the problems that they’re having.”

Pocan said passing fast track authority will severely limit the ability of Congress to amend or even debate the TPP. “So if we haven’t been involved up to this point, at what point do we get involved?”

Requests for comment on the TPP were made to other members of Wisconsin’s congressional delegation, but none responded. However, La Crosse Democrat Ron Kind has a statement regarding the deal on his website. “A potential TPP agreement may present an opportunity for the United States to expand trade and investment with a large and fast-growing market,” it says. “While autos and financial products will be an important topic, I will also be carefully watching the provisions that affect our industries in western and central Wisconsin like agriculture and manufacturing, especially those that affect small businesses.”

In January, according to Politico, Kind spoke favorably about fast track. “You can complain about [the fast-track bill] all you want, but if you allow a Republican Congress to amend and change [future trade deals] you’re going to end up in a worse position than what you started with,” Kind said. “It doesn’t make sense for a Democratic member to oppose it.”

Over the weekend, The Western Wisconsin AFL-CIO, issued a press release opposing the fast track deal. “The Fast Track legislation introduced this week in congress is ‘a crippling of democracy’ and is not the way Washington DC should be doing business.”

The labor group noted that Pocan and U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin have been pushing “to preserve transparency and accountability in international trade agreements,” and that Pocan recently received an “A+” on his report card on this issue from the South Central Federation of Labor. “Unfortunately, if the WWAFLCIO was to issue a similar report card for Mr. Kind, he would receive an ‘F'”.

Fight for $15 movement at home in Madison (VIDEO)

“We have the right to be paid more, just like doctors, just like lawyers,” a Madison fast food worker said on Wednesday. Lunch hour business took a hit, on a national day of action for fast food wage hikes. For the third consecutive year, fast food outlets along Madison’s East Washington Avenue were the scene of “Fight For $15″ rallies. The atmosphere outside the Burger King restaurant was almost festive, with a band playing, but things grew tense once protestors went inside and attempted to persuade counter workers to join them.

They chanted “come on out, we got your back,” but none of the Burger King workers left. Still, Neil Rainford, a staff representative with AFSCME in Madison, thinks the now three-year-old movement is yielding results. “The fact that multinational corporations are responding to this, suggests . . . there is some pressure they’re feeling,” he said.

According to Lisa Lucas with Wisconsin Jobs Now, which coordinated Wednesday’s action in Madison, 1 worker walked out at McDonalds,  4 at Taco Bell, and 3 at Little Ceasars, where protests were held prior to the Burger King stop. In addition, she said 21 workers did not report for their shifts. The workers are protected under federal labor law, and Lucas said they can be provided with support from Fight for $15 organizers when they do return to work.

“The fact that multinational corporations are responding to this suggests that . . . there is some pressure that they’re feeling,” Rainsford said. And Tim Dowling, who identified himself as a former manager at the East Washington Burger King, said the impact would definitely be reflected in the day’s receipts.

“That car has been there for 35 to 40 minutes,” Dowling said, gesturing to the motionless line at the drive-up ordering station. “It’s making a huge difference, because there’s no business coming in. They do $600 at lunch. No business.”

Dowling, who said that he was terminated after going to bat for a worker owed back pay, said it’s not easy working fast food. “They change people’s’ schedules without telling them. If they don’t come in early or they won’t stay late, they’re basically disciplined.”

The Fight for $15 movement appears to be growing. “It seems like this year there are more strikers than last year and then the year before,” noted AFSCME’s Rainford. “Also there’s momentum growing in terms of the numbers of cities.” Other Wisconsin protests took place in Milwaukee and Janesville.

Wisconsin lawmakers propose new equal pay bill

Equal Pay Day at UW (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Equal Pay Day at UW (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Proposed legislation aims to close the “pay gap” between and men and women in Wisconsin. Republicans in the legislature repealed the state’s Pay Equity Enforcement Law in 2012, after just two years on the books.

“After working on this bill for 10 years, finally getting it passed into law and signed by Governor Doyle, when the Republicans took control again, one of the very first things that they did was repeal the Equal Pay Enforcement Act,” said state Representative Christine Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) who along with state Senator Dave Hansen (R-Green Bay) introduced the new measure on Tuesday – Equal Pay Day.

“Even though equal pay has been the law federally since 1963 and in Wisconsin since 1945, women are still often paid less than men 60 years later. This holds true even when women match or exceed their male colleagues in education, skills and experience,” Hansen said. “This gap in pay is costing Wisconsin women and their families on average $10,000 per year. As a result, Wisconsin families have less money to support their families and our economy.”

“It’s like 86 weeks worth of food that they could buy if they were paid equally,” said Sinicki. “They would have seven more months of rent or mortgage payments, 2800 additional gallons of gasoline. That’s a lot that we’re taking out of these women’s pockets. If women have money, women are going to spend that money, it’s going right back into the economy. Some people are going to question why I’m doing this all over again. Because it’s worth it, and if it takes another 10 years to get this done again, that’s what it takes. But I’ll get this done again.”