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February 11, 2016

Lagging state finances could cap spending in spring session

Governor Scott Walker (WRN photo)

Governor Scott Walker (WRN photo)

A continued decline in state revenue projections could have an impact on what bills the Wisconsin legislature passes this spring.

A report from the state Legislative Fiscal Bureau last month showed the state is still expected to end the budget biennium next year with a surplus – although the size of the ending balance dropped by over $94 million from previous estimates. The end result is that lawmakers have less money to work with as they head into the finals days of the spring legislative session.

Governor Scott Walker said in Madison Wednesday that the drop could force them to make decisions about what bills come across his desk in the coming months. While he didn’t want to give an actual limit, the governor did say that spending anything over $20 million could be a “bit of a challenge.”

Walker has laid out his agenda for the spring, which includes efforts to improve college affordability and access to job training programs. Republicans in the Legislature have an agenda that includes expanding programs to help those suffering from Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, along with tax changes related to the state’s managed forest program. When combined, those proposals carry price tags that could easily pass the $20 million mark.

Walker said his priority remains on education. “We can do the student loan, there’s probably a little room for some of the others, tweaking things here or there…but we want to keep it pretty conservative,” he said, also noting that he would like to start the next budget biennium with a good base.

The governor noted there are areas lawmakers can focus on to help find some savings, such as a plan mentioned in his State of the State address to move state employees to a self-insurance system. A report released in November said that could save the state $42 million a year, which Walker believes could be used to help boost public education funding and other priorities.

Gearing up for voter ID in Wisconsin, again

020116VoterIDcardsWith the first statewide election of the year just two weeks away, state officials are ramping up efforts to make sure the public is once again ready to comply with the state’s voter ID requirement.

The law passed by the legislature in 2011 was used in just a single spring primary, before a series of lawsuits put it on hold for much of the last four years. A court decision last spring cleared the way for it to finally take effect though, with the February 16 state Supreme Court primary the first time it will be back in place statewide.

Government Accountability Board director Kevin Kennedy says most voters should be fine when they show up at the polls, because “most people already have the identification that they need – a Wisconsin driver’s license, a state-issued ID from the Department of Transportation, a military ID and a passport are probably the most common forms of ID.”

Some university and technical college ID cards may be acceptable as well, although you will also need documentation showing you are a currently enrolled student.

Those who lack the proper type of ID can also obtain a free card for voting purposes through the state Division of Motor Vehicles.

The GAB has set up a website where voters can go to find out more information about whether their ID is acceptable, along with how to obtain one that will work on election days.

Rodgers had knee surgery after playoff loss

Aaron Rodgers with tackle Bryan Bulaga

Aaron Rodgers with tackle Bryan Bulaga

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers underwent knee surgery shortly after the playoff loss to the Arizona Cardinals.  An ESPN report said the injury is what prompted Rodgers to pull out of Sunday’s Pro Bowl game.

The report says the procedure was a “cleanup of an old injury.”  Rodgers confirmed the surgery to ESPN late Friday and told the outlet he is “doing well.”

Despite the surgery, Rodgers appeared on the team’s injury report only once this season and it was for an unspecified shoulder problem.

Rodgers did have reconstructive surgery on his left knee back in 2004 to repair a torn ACL.

Rodgers still rushed for 344 yards, but his passing production was down, throwing for the fewest yards (3,821) of his career.  His completion percentage of 60.7% was also his lowest.

Trump takes lead, Democratic field narrows in Wisconsin

The latest Marquette University Law School Poll offers a look at how Wisconsin voters are leaning in the presidential race.

The survey of voters shows Republican Donald Trump claiming the lead among likely primary voters in the state, with 24 percent of voters supporting him. He’s followed by Marco Rubio at 18 percent, Ted Cruz at 16 percent. It’s a big shift from the results of the last poll in November, which showed retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson leading the field with 22-percent. Carson dropped to eight percent in the latest poll.

Among likely Democratic primary voters, Hillary Clinton continued to lead in her push for the nomination. However, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders has continued to close the gap between the two of them. Clinton had 45 percent support, compared to 43 percent for Sanders. In November, Clinton was at 50 percent and Sanders at 41.

Poll director Charles Franklin cautioned that the numbers are likely to change dramatically in the coming weeks, after the presidential primary season kicks off next Monday night with the Iowa Caucuses and New Hampshire holds its primary a week later. “History shows a lot of scrambling of people’s expectations after that first set of votes,” he said.

That scrambling is likely reflected in the results of another question in the poll – who voters think the eventual nominee of each party will be, regardless of who they support. Franklin said

Trump was the solid leader among Republicans, with 49 percent believing he will get the nomination. For Democrats, 65 percent think Hillary Clinton will be the nominee.

The poll of 806 registered voters was conducted January 21-24. It had an almost even split among Republican and Democratic respondents, giving it a margin of error of +/- 6.5 percent.

FBI says mass shooting thwarted at Milwaukee Masonic Temple

Samy Mohamed Hamzeh

Samy Mohamed Hamzeh

The FBI says agents have interrupted a plan for a mass shooting in Milwaukee. According to a criminal complaint, 23-year-old Samy Mohamed Hamzeh hoped to target a Masonic Temple in Milwaukee.

Hamzeh had been under investigation since September 2015, and had allegedly planned to travel to the West Bank, and attack Israeli soldiers and citizens there. Hamzeh later abandoned those plans and began to focus on a domestic attack, settling on the Masonic Temple. Federal prosecutors are charging Hamzeh with the illegal possession of machine guns and a silencer. He bought two guns and a silencer from undercover FBI agents Monday.

According to an FBI press release, Hamzeh was recorded making comments about the planned attack to a pair of confidential sources.

“They are all Masonic; they are playing with the world like a game, man, and we are like asses, we don’t know what is going on, these are the ones who are fighting, these are the ones that needs to be killed, not the Shi’iat, because these are the ones who are against us, these are the ones who are making living for us like hell.”

“Thirty is excellent. If I got out, after killing thirty people, I will be happy 100%… 100% happy, because these 30 will terrify the world.”

Acting United States Attorney Gregory J. Haanstad said, “Samy Mohamed Hamzeh devised a detailed plan to commit a mass shooting intended to kill dozens of people. He also said that he wanted this mass shooting to be ‘known the world over’ and to ‘ignite’ broader clashes. It is difficult to calculate the injury and loss of life that was prevented by concerned citizens coming forward and by the tireless efforts of the FBI and the Joint Terrorism Task Force.”