September 1, 2014

Walker offers reassurance on deficit

walkersupportGovernor Scott Walker said Friday that a state budget deficit – projected to be $215 million by mid-2015 – can be addressed. “I believe that just as there will be over a $400 million surplus in fiscal year ’14, we’ll finish the year with a balanced budget, and ideally a surpluses that we’ll then take and reinvest in the taxpayers,” Walker said.

The governor, during a campaign appearance in Madison, said there are “a number of things” that can be done, and he doesn’t want to dip into the state’s rainy day fund.

“We’ve not a number of things we’ll do, both on spending and to promote greater economic growth in the state,” Walker said. “The rainy day fund is a 165 times bigger than it was when we took office,” Walker said. “My goal is not to tap the rainy day fund as the primary source, but instead to look at expenditures and ways to increase revenues that are part of economic growth.”

Walker’s opponent, Democrat Mary Burke, said the news that tax collections fell short of projections by $251 million for the fiscal year that ended in June show that Walker has been “fiscally irresponsible.”

Dems call for ‘urgency’ on Kenosha casino negotiations

Rep. Robin Vos

Rep. Robin Vos

At the Capitol, Democrats are calling for stepped up action on the Kenosha casino proposal. With the Walker administration still negotiating with the Potawatomi and Menominee tribes over the latter’s proposal for an off-reservation casino at Kenosha, southeastern Wisconsin lawmakers including Kenosha Democrat, state Representative Peter Barca, are asking for urgency.

“I would think this would be priority number one,” Barca said during a press conference Wednesday in the Assembly parlor. “It just seems as though, given how long this has transpired . . . that we are lacking the urgency needed.”

“A year after the BIA approval, we’re still waiting for a million and a half-dollar study,” said state Senator Robert Wirch. “I think this can only be characterized as a failure of leadership by our governor.”

“We have an official study being done, that will verify whether thousands of jobs will be created, or thousands are going to be lost,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, a Republican who favors the Menominee plan to build a Hard Rock casino complex at the site of the idled Dairyland greyhound park. “We’ll have an official study that says ‘this is whether the casino can succeed or whether it will fail,’ and what the costs will be to the state of Wisconsin under either scenario.”

Governor Scott Walker said on Tuesday that  an agreement has been reached with the Ho Chunk tribe to allow the Menominee project to advance, but that “significant challenges remain” with the Potawatomi.

“I guess I presumed that the Democrats would be having a press conference congratulating Governor Walker on the great work of getting the first part of the deal done,” said Vos. “It’s not about creating jobs in Kenosha and Racine, it’s all about creating a political story because they want to do whatever they can to defeat Governor Walker.”

Walker updates negotiations as Potawatomi withhold payment

Proposed Kenosha casino

Proposed Kenosha casino

Governor Scott Walker has provided an update on negotiations over a Kenosha casino. A letter released Tuesday by the administration said there has been a deal reached with the Ho-Chunk Nation that could clear the way for the Menominee tribe to build an off-reservation casino. But “substantial challenges lie ahead” with the Forest County Potawatomi, according to a briefing forwarded to Walker by Secretary of the Department of Administration Mike Huebsch.

The Potawatomi also failed to make its annual revenue sharing payment of approximately $25 million. That was due on June 30, and according to Walker is “having a significant impact on the status of the state budget.”

The Menominee tribe is proposing an $800 million casino and hotel complex on the site of the closed Dairyland greyhound racetrack. The plan received the approval of the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs last year, but immediately drew opposition from the Ho-Chunk and Potawatomi tribes, operators of the state’s most profitable casinos. Walker has said the project would require the approval of the rest of Wisconsin’s tribes, and the federal government granted the state a six month extension – until February of 2105 – to approve or reject the casino-hotel complex. That’s well after the November election for governor between Walker and Democrat Mary Burke.

According to the briefing from Huebsch, the agreement with the Ho-Chunk followed a process spelled out under terms of a compact negotiated by the administration of former Governor Jim Doyle. It would decrease the Ho Chunk’s annual revenue sharing payment, based on the impact of a Menominee casino. In addition, the Ho Chunk “may be relieved of future revenue sharing payments a few years after a fully operational Kenosha casino opens,” and the state could be on the hook to compensate the tribe for additional losses.

Huebsch also said that it’s unclear how provisions of compacts negotiated by the Doyle administration with the Potawatomi will play out. “It appears the complicated provisions may have been designed to block a Kenosha casino,” he wrote. “It is possible the impact the of the Doyle compact provisions will not be known until early January.”

Forest County Potawatomi spokesman George released a statement, addressing the revenue payment:

“According to the terms of the Forest County Potawatomi Community’s compact, the Tribe may get a reduction in, or refund of, the payments made to the State of Wisconsin should the State approve another casino within 50 miles of the Potawatomi Hotel & Casino in Milwaukee. The State may end up owing Potawatomi money should the Kenosha casino be approved. Consequently, Potawatomi put its 2014 state compact payment into a segregated / reserve account.”

READ: Governor Walker Letter and DOA Memo

Appeals court hears same sex marriage ban challenge

File photo

File photo

The 7th Circuit Court of Appeals has heard a challenge to Wisconsin’s gay marriage ban.

Katie Bellanger with Fair Wisconsin said the three judge panel had sharply worded questions for the state. “They focused most of their time on really pressing the state, on why the state had a vested interest in continuing to deny same sex couples the freedom to marry,” she said.

From my perspective it seemed to me that there were a lot tougher being given to the attorneys general representatives from both Indiana and Wisconsin,” said Julaine Appling with Wisconsin Family Action. But the other side may say ‘no, we got the tougher questions.’ On the whole I think the judges would say ‘we handled it fairly.’”

Appling said she observed a “denial of reality” in the Chicago courtroom during oral arguments in the Wisconsin case and a similar case from Indiana.

“The court and those attempting to redefine marriage denied the reality that every child born has a mother and a father, and that there are differences between men and women.”

Appling expects a same sex marriage ban challenge to come before the U.S. Supreme Court by year’s end.

Appeals court to hear gay marriage ban challenge


File photo

Today is a crucial milestone in Wisconsin’s same-sex marriage debate. The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago hears arguments from the state, that a decision by U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb against Wisconsin’s ban on gay marriage should be overturned.

“We argued before Judge Crabb in Madison, and will make the same argument in Chicago, that there’s no legitimate purpose for this marriage ban,” said Chris Ahmuty is with the ACLU of Wisconsin, which represents same-sex couples who originally challenged the state’s constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex unions.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen argues that there is no fundamental right for the state to grant marriage licenses to same-sex couples. The appeals court is considering the Wisconsin challenge in combination with a similar decision from Indiana, where a gay marriage ban was also overturned.

“We would hope that they would find in our plaintiffs favor, and not stay the decision,” Ahmuty said. “Thereby allowing couples to go to county clerks all across the state of Wisconsin and get marriage licences, and get marriages happening again.”

Bill Hurtubise of Racine is one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to end Wisconsin’s constitutional ban prohibiting same-sex marriage. “Our families accept us, our friends accept us, our employers accepts us, our neighbors accept us, our church accepts us. We now hope our government will accept us,” Hurtubise said Monday.

Hurtubise said the ban makes it impossible for him and his partner to adequately protect their three adopted children. “The law states only one parent can adopt children if the couple is not married, and being in a relationship like ours, we cannot be married.”

Julaine Appling of the Wisconsin Family Council said it’s unfortunate the constitutionality of the measure will be decided by judges. “Because when they ran to the courts to get their way in this state, to try to undo our marriage amendment and the will of the people, they took the public out of it,” Appling said.

While nearly 60 percent of state voters approved the ban in a statewide referendum eight years ago, recent polls indicate most Wisconsinites now favor the right of gays to marry.

Almost everyone knows someone that’s gay,” said Steve Starkey, who heads the Madison-based group called OutReach. “They have a family member, a co-worker, a neighbor that’s gay. And so it’s not as much of a stigma as it was.”

Appling is skeptical that the polling data accurately reflects the reality of attitudes toward gay marriage. “I would contend that the people of Wisconsin are still the people of Wisconsin,” she said. “I don’t think we’ve had all the substantive change in our people that some say.”

WIBA & WRJN contributed to this report