July 2, 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.

Despite marriage equality ruling, gay rights struggle continues

Last week’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling on marriage equality was a big win for gay rights groups. However, advocates say their fight is far from over.

Fair Wisconsin interim director Megin McDonell says the ruling is cause for celebration, even if there are other issues of equality that still need to be addressed. “We’re not going anywhere,” she says. “There’s still a huge amount of work to do to achieve true lived equality for LGBT people in Wisconsin and across the country.”

McDonell says discrimination in employment, housing, schools, and health care access remains a major concern. She says some of those issues will require changes in state and federal laws, which is where they hope to focus their work going forward. “We’re going to continue to work to update the laws in Wisconsin…to modernize them,” she says.

As for the future of the same sex marriage debate, Governor Scott Walker said following last week’s ruling that a federal constitutional amendment may be needed to allow states to reinstate their own bans. McDonell does not expect that idea to catch on though, pointing to recent polls that show at least 60 percent of U.S. residents support the idea of allowing same sex couples to marry.

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.

Bo Ryan says he’ll retire after upcoming season (Update – Audio)

Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan

Wisconsin Coach Bo Ryan

Wisconsin coaching legend Bo Ryan, who has led the Badgers to back-to-back Final Four appearances, will retire after the upcoming season.

The 67-year-old Ryan said in a statement that he will coach this season and then step down.  His hope is that longtime assistant Greg Gard succeeds him in Madison.

“Back in the spring, in the days after the national championship game, (UW Athletic Director) Barry Alvarez and I discussed the possibility of me retiring,” Ryan said in the statement.  “I’ve always been told that is not a decision to make right after a season is completed.  Barry thankfully encouraged me to take some time to think about it and I have done that.  I considered retiring this summer or coaching one more season. [Read more…]

Assembly Republicans push prevailing wage plan

Republicans outline their latest prevailing wage proposal. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

Republicans outline their latest prevailing wage proposal. (Photo: Andrew Beckett)

With a budget stalemate stretching out past the four week mark, Assembly Republicans are offering up a proposal they argue will help settle one of the remaining roadblocks to wrapping up work on the plan.

GOP leaders on Monday morning outlined proposed reforms to Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law, a system that requires workers on public construction projects to be paid a wage that’s determined using a state formula. Republicans and several advocacy groups have argued that repealing the law could save local governments and taxpayers millions of dollars, while eliminating costly and time-consuming administrative practices. Opponents of the move contend it would lower the quality of work done on important public projects, such as roads and bridges.

Under the plan from Assembly Republicans, public construction projects with a budget under $450,000 would be exempt from having to pay the prevailing wage. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said that would keeping from applying to about 60 percent of the projects done in the state each year and called it “a major step forward.”

State Rep. Bob Kulp (R-Stratford), who owns a roofing business, said the reform package would mean “significant savings for school districts, municipalities, and…taxpayers in the state.”

While Vos is confident the package has the support needed to pass in his chamber, its chances in the Republican-controlled Senate are less certain. Multiple members of that chamber have indicated they want a full repeal. State Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) said in a statement that the Assembly plan “intentionally fails to save the taxpayers and local governments the most money on the costliest of construction projects. I will stand with the taxpayers by only supporting a compromise that repeals prevailing laws on all units of local government.”

Vos fired back at those pushing for a full repeal, saying the Assembly plan makes “incremental” changes to the prevailing wage law. “There are some who will say if we can’t have everything, we should stand for nothing,” Vos said. “That’s not where Republicans have ever been. We make incremental reforms where possible.”

The prevailing wage is one of the remaining issues that have stalled state budget talks for the past month, along with transportation funding and financing for a Milwaukee Bucks arena. It remains unclear when lawmakers will be ready to vote on the budget.