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February 7, 2016

Vos ‘comfortable’ with $20 million cap on spring bills

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester)

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester)

Assembly Republicans are showing some support for Governor Scott Walker’s request to limit the price tag of the spring legislative session.

The governor this week said he would like lawmakers to keep new spending and tax cuts at under $20 million, in the wake of a report released last month that showed an expected drop in state tax revenues.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said Thursday that he feels “comfortable” with those limits. “We know that, even if all $20 million would be spent on various priorities, we would still have a sizeable surplus at the end of the biennium.”

Vos said Republicans remain focused on bills that improve college affordability and mental health care, along with proposals sparked by an Alzheimer’s and dementia task force. “Even if you add all of those together, they’re still significantly less than $20 million…so I think we should be fine with that.”

Bill would loosen lake dredging regulations

Legislation being considered at the Capitol would expand the rights of lake property owners. One provision of the complex and wide-ranging bill (SB 459) has to do with the rights of lake property owners to dredge muck off the bottom.

“I would argue that removing that muck would be of benefit to the lake, but others might think that muck is important,” said state Senator Frank Lasee (R-DePere).

The bill from Lassee and Representative Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake)  would apply the existing permitting standards for rivers to lakes.

But George Meyer with the Wisconsin Wildlife Federation said lakes are more ecologically sensitive. Take a 500 acre lake. There may only be 200 yards of shoreline on that lake that are valuable habitat,” Meyer said, adding that too much dredging could harm spawning areas for game fish.

The bill would allow inshore lake property owners to dredge 30 years annually — the equivalent of two to three dump truck loads. Owners of property on the Great Lakes would be allowed to dredge up to 100 yards annually.

“This would, I think, strike a balance of requiring the DNR to be involved, requiring best practices, placing limits on it, but allowing people to go out and do that if they desire,” Lasee said.

The bill was the subject of a lengthy public hearing before the Senate Natural Resources Committee. A companion bill in the Assembly (AB 600) has already passed a committee on a partisan vote.

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.

Ribble retirement prompts flurry of possible candidates

Rep. Reid Ribble

Rep. Reid Ribble

The surprise announcement over the weekend that U.S. Representative Reid Ribble (R-WI) would not seek another term is already generating a great deal of interest from potential candidates for the seat.

At least eight Republicans and one Democrat have publicly said they are interested in running for the job of representing Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District. They include State Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette), David Steffen (R-Green Bay), John Macco (R-Ledgeview), and Andre Jacque (R-De Pere). Senators Roger Roth (R-Appleton) and Frank Lasee (R-De Pere), along with former state lawmaker Chad Weininger are also reportedly considering a run for the GOP nomination. Former Assembly Democratic leader and current Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson has also said he may consider running.

If Democrats are hoping to pick up a seat in the state’s Congressional delegation, they will likely face a tough battle in the eighth. Lawrence University political science professor Arnold Shober says the district leans much more heavily towards Republican candidates since Democrat Steve Kagen held the seat through 2010. “The chances for a Democrat to take the eighth District are small, but not impossible,” he says.

Shober notes that redistricting in 2011 helped strengthen the area for GOP support, which was reflected in strong wins for Republican Governor Scott Walker during the 2012 recall and his 2014 re-election.

Walker himself has already weighed in on the race, saying during a stop in Appleton Monday that there are several excellent possible candidates. He also singled out former Marine Mike Gallagher, who served as an advisor on Walker’s failed presidential campaign as someone from the private sector who could jump in to the race.

Affiliate WHBY contributed to this report.

Harris believes GOP ‘very nervous’ about 18th Senate District race

State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) wants to prohibit state legislators from also serving as county executives. The proposal comes as Winnebago County Exec Mark Harris — a Democrat — is gearing up to run for the seat being left open by Senator Rick Gudex (R-Fond du Lac). Gudex has announced that he won’t seek reelection after serving one term.

“It kind of sounds like it’s being aimed specifically at me,” Harris told WHBY. “And that leaves me to believe that they are very nervous about me winning the 18th Senate District.”

Harris wouldn’t be the first person to serve in both capacities. Bob Zeigelbauer served for years in the state Assembly and as Manitowoc County executive. Harris said he doesn’t know if he would run for another term as county executive if he wins the senate seat in November. His term for the county post ends next April.

In addition to Harris, John Lemberger, a member of the Oshkosh school board and a department chairman in the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, has announced he’s running as a Democrat. Winnebago County Republican Party chair Dan Feyen has also announced that he’s a candidate