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April 26, 2015

Wisconsin budget panel restores deer carcass removal program

Joint Finance Committee (File photo: WRN)

Joint Finance Committee (File photo: WRN)

After media coverage spurred concerns, state budget negotiators voted on Wednesday to restore funding for the removal of dead deer carcasses from Wisconsin roadsides. The Joint Finance Committee voted 16-0, to provide $701,000 to continue a DNR administered program. Governor Scott Walker’s budget had deleted the funding.

The committee also voted 12-4 to eliminate 13.35 DNR positions and delete $1,005,100 from the agency’s fish and wildlife fund. All the positions are currently vacant.

A pair of amendments offered by Democrats on the budget panel were rejected on partisan 12-4 votes. One would have automatically registered to vote anyone with a valid DOT-issued license or ID, with the option to opt out. “This wouldn’t be the right thing to do,” said state Representative Dean Knudson (R-Hudson). “We should consider very carefully when we change elections laws, because we’ve seen how controversial it can be.”

State Senator John Erpenbach (D-Middleton) offered an amendment that would require state agencies to provide quarterly reports on the costs of providing security details for state dignitaries. Erpenbach offered the amendment with Governor Scott Walker’s busy travel schedule as he considers a run for president.

“I’m not saying we’ll be in a position to say no to anything, but for crying out loud, the amount of money for protecting the governor outside of this state and this country is expensive,” said Erpenbach.

“Trade missions are nothing new,” said JFC co-chair, Representative John Nygren, (D-Marinette). “Democratic governors went on trade missions . . . and I would suggest this is political theatre.”

In other action on Wednesday, the budget committee budget committee voted unanimously to allow farm tractors to be used for occasional personal use without being registered with the DOT, and scaled back a proposal to allow for online renewal of driver’s licenses to apply only to new drivers.

No further finance committee sessions are scheduled for this week.

Scott Walker fields Earth Day question on climate change views (AUDIO)

Gov. Scott Walker (Photo: WRN)

Gov. Scott Walker (Photo: WRN)

He famously punted when asked for his views on evolution during a visit to the UK in February. And on Earth Day, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker stopped well short of answering whether or not he believes in man-made climate change.

“I believe that the government needs to make sure that we balance between a sustainable economy and a sustainable environment, and that’s the focus I’ve put on is trying to find way to balance both those,” Walker said in response to a reporter’s question during a stop in Appleton on Wednesday.

AUDIO: Governor Scott Walker (:3o)

“I’m going to talk about things that we can do that both sustain the environment here, that allow us to have a healthy and vibrant environment at the same time we’re able to sustain economy, and I think there’s got to be a positive balance, and I think that’s where the debate in this state and this country should be. How do you do both?”

Walker, who was in Appleton to attend a groundbreaking ceremony for a local business, has had limited interaction with reporters in Wisconsin of late.

Walker has had a busy travel schedule as he contemplates making an official announcement that he’s running for president. The Republican Governor, recently back from leading a state trade mission to Germany, met privately with Republican state legislators in Des Moines on Tuesday. Early Iowa caucus polls show Walker leading the large field of potential Republican candidates.

Protesters address climate change denial at Capitol

Vera Pfeiffer, student at Nelson Institute. (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Vera Pfeiffer, student at Nelson Institute, climate change awareness advocate. (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Coinciding with Earth Day, a handful of individuals make a delivery to the governor’s office in Madison.

Climate activists want Governor Scott Walker to condemn the implementation of a Public Lands Commission policy that would prohibit staff from using taxpayer time to work on global warming issues. That ban “just limits the dialog,” says Vera Pfeiffer, a PhD student at the Nelson Institute. “It prevents public employees from doing their job and acting in the public interest.”

Pfeiffer says ignoring climate change does nothing to remove its threat.

Donned with duct tape over their mouths, participants delivered more than 100,000 petition signatures to the governor’s office. “So this silent walk and with these petitions and the duct tape across people’s mouths represents the fact that this is a gag measure, this is censorship.”

Republican State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk had said the board’s executive secretary, Tia Nelson, can talk about global warming and climate change on her own time.

Tia Nelson is the daughter of Earth Day founder Gaylord Nelson. Adamczyk, Attorney General Brad Schimel, and Secretary of State Doug La Follette make up the Board of Commissioners. Schimel backed Adamczyk in imposing the rule, while La Follette opposed the move.

JFC co-chair says Milwaukee needs to ‘cough up’ for Bucks arena

Milwaukee Bucks logo 10Key legislators said Wednesday that local leaders in Milwaukee need to step up to the plate on a new arena for the Milwaukee Bucks. Joint Finance Committee co-chairs, Senator Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) and Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette) commented as team officials were set to meet at the Capitol today with legislative leaders and Mayor Tom Barrett and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele.

Bucks president Peter Feigin said this week that he is confident that the NBA team and local elected officials will be able to reach an agreement on up to $250 million in public funding for a new downtown arena.

“This is going to be an important week for discussions, to see if the city and the county are going to cough up, and put some skin in the game,” Darling said. “We need the city especially to show its leadership, and the county to team up. This has been way too long. The lack of leadership on this issue is very concerning, but it isn’t s surprising.”

“The governor’s proposal came out before the budget did,” noted Nygren. “Here we are three quarters through the month of April and we still don’t have any idea where the city and county are at.”

Clock is running on Milwaukee Bucks arena deal

Milwaukee Bucks logo 12With the clock now running, can Madison politicians wrap up a funding deal for a new NBA arena in Milwaukee?

The announcement from Bucks President Peter Feigin – that a financing deal must be finalized in the next 10 days for the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee to consider – caught Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald by surprise on Tuesday.

“I would say this – I don’t know that we necessarily need ten days,” Fitzgerald said. “I think, if we’re going to be able to accomplish this, we’ve found a pathway that is going to work.”

“All of these things are kind of swirling right now, but the revenue stream that needs to be set up for a 20 year period, I think can be achieved in working directly with the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands, and the city can do that, and certainly the county has the ability to do that,” Fitzgerald said.

Fitzgerald said that the amount loaned by the board could be as much as $220 million towards the projected $500 million costs of a new facility for the NBA team. “There’s no bonding in this at all,” he said. “This is a straight cash loan from the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands directly to whatever the new entity is that would be created in Milwaukee to manage the new arena.”

Fitzgerald meets today with representatives from the Bucks, the city and county, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and, maybe, Governor Scott Walker.

“I get the political dynamic right now. He’s out there running for president, there are certain other issues right now with bundling for Senator Clinton,” Fitzgerald said, referring to a pledge by Bucks co-owner Mark Lasry to raise $250 million for Hillary Clinton’s presidential bid.

UDPATE: A team statement, released late Tuesday, attempted to backtrack on Feigin’s earlier comments. It indicated that “there’s no immediate deadline for a financing plan, and we’re not creating one. We’re simply hopeful that progress continues with our partners, and throughout the legislative and political process.”