October 22, 2014

Wisconsin Assembly Republicans looking to next session (AUDIO)

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester)

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester)

The election is still two weeks away, but Republicans in the state Assembly are already turning their attention to the next Legislative session.

Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and fellow GOP lawmakers outlined their ‘Forward Agenda‘ Tuesday at the Capitol. Vos said “the centerpiece of our agenda is really making sure that we focus on jobs and the economy. We want to create a better climate to grow jobs, we want to train workers for the high demand jobs that we know we are seeing all across Wisconsin, we want to help people find jobs faster so they can get back to work and support their families.”

The plan also calls for targeting public assistance fraud and reducing government regulations and red tape. Vos said “we’ll come back in January, we’re going to have an aggressive agenda ready to go on the floor, working together to try and move Wisconsin forward.”

AUDIO: Speaker Robin Vos on the Forward Agenda (1:01)

In a statement, Assembly Democratic leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) accused Republicans are “doubling down on the same failed agenda that has left Wisconsin dead last in the Midwest in job growth and facing a staggering structural deficit.” Barca added that it “appears Republicans have no intention of prioritizing support for our public schools, ensuring affordable health care coverage or many other important issues that are the building blocks of a strong middle class.”

Budget panel to consider funding for Wisconsin voter ID awareness efforts

The Legislature's Joint Finance Committee (File photo: WRN)

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (File photo: WRN)

Lawmakers will consider a request next week for funding to promote the state’s voter ID requirement.

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee has scheduled a hearing for next Tuesday on a request from the Government Accountability Board for just under $461,000. The agency wants to use the already-appropriated money to run a public awareness campaign on the state’s voter ID requirement, which will be in effect for the November 4th elections. A federal appeals court said last month that Wisconsin could enforce the law, which had been on hold for over two years because of court injunctions.

A joint statement from the Republican co-chairs of the committee says they look forward to the agency’s presentation, and that they are encouraged the request did not include adding state employees to help with implementation of the voter ID law.

The GAB plans to use many of the same materials that were prepared in the initial roll-out of the voter ID law in early 2012, which were pulled after the first of several court injunctions were issued blocking further enforcement of the requirement. The agency says it has updated materials to reflect changes ordered in a state Supreme Court decision on the law earlier this year.

Latest audit of Wisconsin jobs agency shows concerns over records

File photo

File photo

A new state audit shows Wisconsin’s job creation agency did not keep records to justify its spending on travel, salaries, and grants during its first two years.

The report from the Legislative Audit Bureau contains a fiscal review of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, the public-private agency Governor Scott Walker created in 2011. Auditors said previously identified processing errors within the agency have been fixed, and there’s a new tracking system in which expense numbers upload directly into the agency’s accounting network. That reduces the chances for errors.

The audit showed that spending on 223 administrative items were not properly documented to indicate whether the items were reasonable, or even approved. The auditors also looked at 44 grant payments to businesses, economic groups, and local governments. They turned up processing errors, and a lack of supporting documents. The review covered 2011-2013 and noted that $1.7 million in job creation loans to businesses had not been paid back by the end of last year.

Agency CEO Reed Hall said his department now has a policy on documenting spending, and it plans to review its loan portfolio.

Concerns raised about campaigning lobbyists

File Photo

File Photo

The head of a government watchdog group is weighing in on a move by Assembly Republican leaders to recruit lobbyists to campaign for candidates.

Recent reports revealed several lobbyists have been included in emails sent out by Legislative leaders, which ask them to go knock on door in certain areas to help promote Republican candidates, talking to voters and dropping off campaign literature.

Jay Heck of Common Cause says some voters might consider it unseemly, if not wrong, that paid lobbyists are helping candidates. He says lobbyists already have tremendous influence at the Capitol, and getting them involved in the campaigning process seems very “counterproductive and ill-advised.”


State tax cut causing problems for municipalities

File Photo

File Photo

A change in how the state handles property taxes for technical colleges is hurting the income from TIF districts across central Wisconsin.

State legislators and Governor Walker’s office pushed through a massive property tax cut at the start of 2014, based on a projected billion dollar tax surplus coming in 2014. Inside that bill was a modification on how technical colleges collected their funding. The measure cut some of those funds from local taxes and to be paid out of state grants instead. That means that local tax rates are lower for residents, but it also means that tax valuation is down for many municipalities, which changes the calculations on tax incremental financing districts. Those are tools local governments can use to collect taxes on improvements in the tax rates in order to fund capital improvements and business investments in the area.

Officials in the village of Weston says this has hit them especially hard, at a time when the village is already projecting several years of operating deficits. Weston finance director John Jacobs says the funding formula reduces resident taxes at the cost of the municipalities. “Since the bill will go down, that means the portion that municipalities collect for TIF districts will also go down. And it happens that for us for December 2014, we will have a reduction about $175,000 that we will lose.”

He’s hoping they can convince lawmakers to give some of that money back to the communities. “There’s nothing in this act that says that there will be a payment made to municipalities, so we’re not kept whole in this whole situation.”

Wausau will be seeing a similar hit, although finance director Mary Ann Groat says they will be able to weather the change more easily. “Based on the increments we received for the 2014 budget, it looks like a $164,000 reduction for next year.”

Stevens Point Treasurer-Comptroller Corey Ladick says his staff is not seeing much in the way of damage. “It’s about $10,000 for us over all,” due to the fact that the city’s TIF districts are not seeing much growth right now.

Some legislators, including Representative Bob Kulp of Stratford, are optimistic the shortfall will not affect the municipalities as much. He says preliminary figures from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau project property values to go up around 2 to 3 percent, meaning more tax dollars will be coming in.

Representative Mandy Wright says this is an unintended consequence of the tax cuts. “It is something I voted against, because I did not think that we were making these cuts in a responsible manner.” She says it shows that the state needs to do more to protect local funding to municipalities. “If we’re truly talking about cutting past the bone, which is the case here as well as in public transit and public education, that’s extremely problematic and the state is not meeting its fiscal obligations to local municipalities.”

Senator Jerry Petrowski says he will be talking to the Legislative Audit Bureau for more information. “I know that it is a real benefit for the property tax payers to have property taxes go down, but it makes it a little tighter on the municipalities. I think we have to look at a number of things to see how this will be affecting how many people and how many TIFs across the state.”