December 20, 2014

Walker urges Senate Republicans to drop right-to-work push

Gov. Scott Walker addresses Senate Republicans (Photo: WRN)

Gov. Scott Walker addresses Senate Republicans (Photo: WRN)

Governor Scott Walker is publicly urging state Senate Republicans to back-off from efforts to pass a right-to-work law.

Speaking to the GOP members on Wednesday, Walker restated previous comments that the measure would only be a distraction from more important issues. “We’ve got a lot of big reforms to act on…we’ve got a lot of issues with entitlement reform and tax reform and other reforms we’ve talked about…a lot of things to do in both the Legislative session and the budget…and I just have the concern that sorts of issues, particularly early on, might distract from that work,” Walker said.

The governor, who has supported right-to-work legislation in the past, did not say if he would veto or sign a bill if lawmakers do pass one.

Republican leaders in the Legislature have indicated they plan to take up right-to-work early next year. Those laws typically ban requiring union membership as a condition of employment. The governor said he would rather focus on improving the state’s workforce by helping employers reach workers with the skill-sets needed to fill in-demand jobs.

Wisconsin senator willing to reexamine frac sand mining regulations (AUDIO)

Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst)

Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst)

A state lawmaker says he’s open to revisiting a proposal to create statewide standards for regulating frac sand mines.

State Senator Tom Tiffany (R-Hazelhurst) was a co-sponsor of legislation last session that would have created a statewide framework for regulating mines that extract sand used in hydraulic fracturing, a technique used to drill for oil. The mines have been seeing dramatic growth in recent years because of demand for the sand during North Dakota’s oil boom.

However, mine operators have often found themselves at odds with neighbors and local governments, due to concerns about the noise produced by trucks hauling the sand and the dust kicked up as part of the mining process. Several communities have moved to restrict the development of new mines, including passing moratoriums on new permits.

Tiffany says that patchwork of regulation is problematic for an industry that can create jobs and help Wisconsin’s economy grow. He says businesses not knowing how they are going to be treated from community to community can “have a chilling effect” on the way they do business.

AUDIO: Senator Tom Tiffany (:31)

The Hazelhurst Republican says he’s currently exploring the issue, although he admits a different approach may be needed after members of his own party backed away from both versions of a bill he introduced last session. Still, he says what lawmakers eventually consider needs to provide certainty to the industry and local officials. He says providing consistency, while also maintaining local control, is “a fine line to walk.”

The state’s largest business lobby highlighted reforming the regulatory process as one of its top legislative priorities for the spring session.

Wisconsin business lobby outlines priorities for next session

WMC's Kurt Bauer

WMC’s Kurt Bauer

Wisconsin’s top business lobbying group is urging lawmakers to drop the state’s highest personal income tax rate, raise gas taxes, and pass a right-to-work bill.

Kurt Bauer, CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers-and-Commerce, outlined the group’s recommendations in a letter posted on its web site Monday. In it, Bauer said the state has made a remarkable transformation from what he calls an “anti-business to a pro-business state” under Republican leadership. However, he says more needs to be done to attract new companies and jobs.

Among the steps Bauer called for is an elimination of the top income tax bracket, which he argues would offer relief to many small businesses, and could finally push Wisconsin off the list of the nation’s 10 highest-taxed states. Former Democratic Governor Jim Doyle added a 7.6-percent income tax bracket in the last decade, to help eliminate budget deficits at the time.

Frac sand mining is another concerns touched on in the letter, with Bauer arguing that “radical environmentalists who have so far failed to stop fracking have now targeted frac sand mining.” The sand, used in drilling for shale oil, has been a target of frequent controversy in the state with many communities passing ordinances to limit the development of new mine. Bauer said WMC will “dvance legislation to promote statewide regulatory certainty and uniformity.”

Bauer also said the simplest way to pay for new and improved highways is a modest gas tax increase, plus a hike in the vehicle registration fees. He said, “bonding isn’t a long-term solution.”

On right-to-work, Bauer said it would help economic development as well as give workers more freedom. Lawmakers expect to at least debate right-to-work in the next legislative session, even though Governor Scott Walker has so far indicated the measure is not a priority for him.

Bauer also said Wisconsin would change its family medical leave law so it’s the same as the federal version and said the state should look for ways to reduce worker’s compensation costs.

Governor Walker maintains right-to-work a ‘distraction’ in Wisconsin (AUDIO)

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Gov. Scott Walker (Photo: WRN)

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker says he will continue urging lawmakers to reconsider plans to pursue right-to-work legislation next session.

The governor says any debate over making Wisconsin a right-to-work state would be a distraction at the Capitol, although that’s not stopping fellow Republicans from saying they plan to introduce a bill early on next year. Walker is asking lawmakers to drop the issue though, telling reporters at the Capitol Friday that “I’ve asked them publicly and privately not to pursue that…because I think it would distract from our ability to take on the other reforms we’ve talked about.”

AUDIO: Gov. Scott Walker on right-to-work (:49)

The governor, who sponsored a right-to-work bill in the 90s, says his stance on the issue has not changed. However, he says it’s premature to comment on whether he would sign legislation if it makes it to his desk. Democrats have asked the governor to threaten to veto a bill to end the debate, but Walker says that’s not something he’s willing to consider.

Darling renamed co-chair of Wisconsin Legislature’s budget committee

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State Sen. Alberta Darling

State Senate Republican Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) will continue to co-chair the Legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee.

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) announced his committee appointments Thursday for the two-year session that begins in January. Darling, of River Hills, joins co-chair John Nygren of Marinette who was re-appointed by the Assembly speaker.

Five other GOP senators were appointed to the finance panel. Luther Olsen of Ripon and Sheila Harsdorf of River Falls will carry over from last session, while new members are Howard Marklein of Spring Green, Leah Vukmir of suburban Milwaukee, and Tom Tiffany of Hazelhurst.

Olsen will also continue to chair the Senate’s education panel, although Fitzgerald also created a new committee on education reform and government operations, to be chaired by Senator Paul Farrow. The Pewaukee Republican is one of the more out-spoken advocates of doing away with the state’s Common Core education standards.