December 22, 2014

Obama’s Cuba decision brings mixed reaction in Wisconsin

White House

White House

We’re hearing mixed reactions from a couple of Wisconsin Congressmen regarding President Obama’s move to normalize relations with Cuba Wednesday.

Seventh District Republican Sean Duffy is opposed to the move. Third District Democrat Ron Kind supports the change.

Duffy is glad to see American Alan Gross returned, but points out he should never have been imprisoned in the first place. The Foreign Affairs Committee member says, “The President has once again extended his hand to a leader who raises a fist in return.” adding, He has offered a commitment to a significant shift in U.S. Policy without any guarantees that Cuba will follow suit.” Duffy points out that last week, 240 dissidents were arrested in Cuba during human right protests, showing the Castro regime has no genuine interest in changing it’s ways anytime soon.

Kind supports, “Normalizing relations with Cuba that will ease restrictions between our countries and put an end to 50 years of failed policy.” He says, “It doesn’t make sense to have economic relations with a Communist nation like China, yet stay closed off to a nation just 90 miles off our coast.” Kind wants Congress to end the embargo altogether and fully open up this new market to U.S exports, which would be good for Wisconsin farmers and for job creation.

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.

Walker does ‘Property Tax Relief Tour’

Governor Walker touts property tax relief. (PHOTO: Andrew Beckett)

Governor Walker touts property tax relief. (PHOTO: Andrew Beckett)

Governor Scott Walker touts lower property taxes during appearances in six major Wisconsin cities, including La Crosse, Eau Claire, Wausau, Madison, Milwaukee, and Green Bay. “Overall for a typical homeowner in Wisconsin property taxes are down.”

Walker says the typical homeowner will pay $141 less for property taxes than they did in 2010. Also, he explains, if the previous trend had continued, that same homeowner would be paying $385 more for their annual bill. The governor says cumulative savings exceed $800 for a typical homeowner over four years.

Walker says the state is working hand-in-hand with local and county governments. “Because for working families, for senior citizens, for small business owners, and farmers in this state, property taxes are overwhelmingly one of the biggest burdens they have in their own lives and their own businesses to deal with. We want to make sure we continue to provide property tax relief over the next four years.”

Walker stresses his progress as he prepares to put together the next two-year state budget.

In October of last year, Walker signed a bill providing $100 million in property tax relief for Wisconsin residents.

Walker says Bush announcement not affecting thoughts about presidential run

Gov. Scott Walker (Photo: WRN)

Gov. Scott Walker (Photo: WRN)

Governor Scott Walker says former Florida Governor Jeb Bush actively exploring a run for president will not impact his decision on whether or not to enter the race

While he has not made a decision himself and has offered no timetable, Walker said Tuesday that the news Bush is forming an exploratory committee will not be adding any pressure on him to make one soon. Walker said “whatever decision I make will be based upon me and my family and my state, and what I may or may not be able to do for the country…not based on anybody else who may or may not be in the race.”

The Republican says there’s still plenty of time to make a decision about 2016, noting to reporters in Madison that past elections have seen candidates enter at many different times.

The governor has not said when he plans to make a decision, and only reaffirmed his past statements that he’s more focused right now on his legislative agenda and the budget he’ll introduce early next year.

Wisconsin Government Accountability Board head defends agency

Kevin Kennedy, Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Kevin Kennedy, Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

The head of the state Government Accountability Board is coming to the defense of the agency and its policies, following a state audit released last week that has some Republicans calling for the dismantling of the agency.

GAB director Kevin Kennedy appeared before the former judges who oversee the board Tuesday, to update them on how staff have been working to respond to the audit and explain some of its findings. Kennedy told members that efforts are already underway to address many of the issues highlighted in the report, with the goal of dealing with “practically every recommendation” by mid-April. The one area Kennedy said might take more time is the review of administrative rules handled by GAB. He said the search for a staff member to deal with those issues is currently underway.

The audit released last Friday found a series of issues at the agency, ranging from staff failing to do mandated checks for felons voting in a timely manner to not informing board members about some enforcement actions. Elections Division Administrator Mike Haas noted that the auditor made it clear that “this report is a report of exceptions. It’s things that the board and the staff can improve upon. It did not address the numerous special projects and initiatives, or the other regular duties we have, that are going well and that the board is exceeding at.”

The audit has prompted calls by some Republicans to overhaul the GAB, just seven years after it was created as a non-partisan agency to oversee elections and ethics laws. Kennedy cautioned against that move Tuesday, arguing that having both divisions under a single roof has created a sort of “one-stop shop” for those looking for clarification on ethics and campaign laws.

Board members ordered GAB staff to begin providing updates in the coming months on how the recommendations outlined in the audit are being addressed.