July 23, 2014

Walker ad goes after Burke on outsourcing

PHOTO: WSAU

PHOTO: WSAU

Governor Scott Walker’s newest campaign ad focuses on outsourcing of Wisconsin jobs by Trek Bicycle, the firm owned by the family of opponent Mary Burke. Walker criticized the Democrat during a campaign stop in Wausau on Wednesday.

“They’ve taken state taxpayers dollars to in turn ship jobs overseas. When she’s talking about that, criticizing that of other companies, I think voters need to know that that’s something that Mary Burke has profited from a company, her own family company, that’s taken the taxpayers money and done just exactly that,” the Republican governor said.

The Walker campaign ad features a grandmother reading a bedtime story – one which features images of Burke holding bags of money. Burke has said she had nothing to do with Trek’s decision to create manufacturing jobs in China, although she still owns stock in the company.

“Scott Walker should be ashamed of himself,” said Burke campaign spokesman Joe Zepecki. “Attacking a great Wisconsin company, that his own flagship economic agency held up as an example of a model business just last year, for political purposes is despicable. Trek makes more bikes in the US than any of its competitors, employs nearly 1,000 people right here in Wisconsin. It’s payroll has doubled over the last 20 years and it injects almost $100 million into the state economy every year.”

House approves Highway Trust Fund fix

WRN photo

WRN photo

Wisconsin Republicans Jim Sensenbrenner and Reid Ribble voted no Tuesday, as the U.S. House of Representatives approved emergency funding for transportation projects. The vote was 367-to-55 to approve $11-billion in new money to replenish the fund, which is supported by federal fuel taxes and is running on fumes. The federal tax on gasoline and diesel has not been increased in 20 years. Failure to find a funding solution could mean money for as many as 117,000 projects around the U.S. could start drying up at the end of July.

“The possible solutions to this problem are clear and present, yet Congress won’t act to make the tough decisions needed,” said Ribble, a member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. “I could not in good conscience support this ‘punt’ that sets up another manufactured crisis in a few months instead of fixing this problem once and for all.”

The bill would transfer almost ten-billion dollars from the federal government’s general fund, plus a billion from another trust fund. The general fund transfers would be paid for with higher customs’ fees, and a pension “smoothing” process that critics call “smoke and mirrors.” The Senate is working on its own package which would tap into a host of other federal pots of money as well.

Wisconsin Republican Tom Petri voted for the measure, but conceded that a long-term solution is necessary. “We need to stop the patches and budget gimmicks and come up with a viable, real solution on how we fund the Trust Fund,” Petri said.

Wisconsin Democrats voted for the measure. “I am disappointed Congress did not find a longer-lasting solution to reform the Highway Trust Fund and meet the obligation of funding the federal share of transit projects,” said Representative Mark Pocan. “Federal inaction and short-term patches hinder needed transportation and infrastructure investments, and increase the uncertainty and costs for state and local governments.”

A similar bill is pending in the Senate. Without congressional action, the Transportation Department says that by the first week in August the fund will no longer have enough money to cover promised aid to states, and the government will begin to stretch out payments.

Unclaimed property backlog grows

State Treasurer Kurt Schuller (PHOTO: courtesy of treasurer's office)

State Treasurer Kurt Schuller (PHOTO: courtesy of treasurer’s office)

The waiting list for unclaimed property is the largest in more than 20 years. 

The number of requests for unclaimed property on a waiting list is estimated at 7,300 now that the Department of Revenue took on that responsibility — that’s six times as many claims as when the Wisconsin Treasurer’s Office handled that duty.

State Treasurer Kurt Schuller had campaigned on the promise to eliminate his office altogether, an idea he no longer supports. “My original effort of elimination was misguided.”

The backlog of claims has grown while the Revenue Department worked on a new computer system to speed responses in the future.

Reacting to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, Schuller now believes his office should stick around and the Unclaimed Property program should be returned to where it had been administered, he says, with tremendous success. “It’s become apparent to me that the change the state Treasurer’s office needs is re-empowerment.”

The Revenue Department had identified antiquated software and outdated vendor contracts at the Treasurer’s office, according to the newspaper. Schuller blows off those claims and touts the success at his office. “It’s amazing that we were able to get back the same amount of money in six months with supposedly antiquated systems that (Revenue Dept) hasn’t given back in a year.”

Schuller explains that his office returned nearly $36 million in property to its rightful owners in 2012. Between $18 and $23 million worth of unclaimed cash and property has been returned to state residents in the last 12 months by the Revenue Department, but the Treasurer’s office returned nearly that same amount in half the time just before the program was transferred to the D.O.R.

Leibham and Grothman to skip League forum

A couple of no-shows at a congressional candidates forum tonight. State Senator Joe Leibham has decided to boycott the forum, being held by the Ozaukee County Chapter of the League of Women Voters, a group which has filed a legal challenge to one of the Sheboygan Republican’s signature pieces of legislation.

“I do not plan on attending the event that’s being sponsored by a group that’s legally challenging, and really misrepresenting, the intenet behind the photo I-D legislation and the photo I-D law,” said Leibham.  The forum is at the MATC-Mequon campus located in Mequon from 7:00-8:30 p.m

Andrea Kaminski, Executive Director of the League in Wisconsin, said the lawsuit dealt with the effects of the law, not the intent behind it. “It dealt with whether the legislature had the constitutional authority to enact the law in the first place,” she said.

GOP Senator Glenn Grothman has also elected not to attend the event, while Republican state Representative Duey Stroebel has said he will be there. All three are vying in August’s primary to succeed Republican Congressman Tom Petri, who’s retiring.

Future of broadband, access in rural areas

Computer mouse

Computer mouse

University of Wisconsin System President Ray Cross calls it the “broadband imperative.” He explains at a broadband symposium in Madison, “Big transformation coming. Highly dependent on the ability to move data between different sources … fast.”

Wisconsin’s economic future depends on widely available, high-speed Internet access for everyone, Cross says, citing examples of driverless cars, smart clothes, and the infinite possibilities in the area of health care.

And, he says, it’s important to teach people what they can do and what the possibilities are, even at a basic level. “People don’t know how to use it or how it might be used or can’t conceive its value.” Cross says education is perhaps more important than the technology.

AUDIO: Cross says progress depends on thinking outside the box, experimenting, and “accidental discovery.” :12

Also, public-private partnerships must be formed, he says, “otherwise we’ll fail.”

Rural Wisconsin

High speed Internet access is no longer just a luxury; it’s a necessity, according to panel members , the Madison meeting last week. It is needed for public safety, job creation, and to help students learn.

Senator Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) says broadband needs to be considered a big part of a city’s infrastructure, just like roads, bridges, water, and sewer. “It’s critical, because many of these small businesses … these entrepreneurs are beginning and they say ‘we want to establish a business here, we want to grow our business here, and one of the hurdles that we have is bandwidth and access to the Internet.”

Shilling says tourism and agriculture thrive when broadband is abundant, and many farmers are dependent on high speed access, saying today’s tractor is an “office on wheels.”

State Representative Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander), chair of the the Speaker’s Task Force on Rural Schools, was frustrated that there were no legislative members from urban areas on that taskforce. “Even my own colleagues in the southern part of the state do not realize that we still have dial-up in the farthest areas of the northwoods. I wish we had had some urban legislators to fully understand not only what our rural schools are going through, but what our communities are going through.”

AUDIO: And satellite doesn’t work through dense hills and trees. Kara O’Connor, government relations director with Wisconsin Farmers Union, says residents are relying on the hope of fiber optic cable. :57

Panel members stress the need for private-public partnerships and a “significant infusion of capital from state and federal governments” as “critical parts of the solution.”

Shilling and Swearingen agree that broadband is necessary for the growth of agri-tourism — self-pick strawberry patches and apple orchards, bed and breakfasts, and other tourist destinations that are becoming more popular.

Funding

Brett Hulsey, longshot gubernatorial candidate in the Democratic primary, is quick to blame the governor for the lack of high speed Internet, reminding us of what he calls a lost opportunity. “Governor Walker gave away almost $23 million of upgrade grants that would have gone to 385 libraries and more than 80 schools and technical colleges in under-served parts of the state.”

Hulsey says that money also could have been applied toward improving communications in rural police, fire department, hospitals, job creation, and to “help students learn.” He says if he is elected to the governorship, “I’m gonna restore the Internet money.”

Wisconsin had received a $23 million grant in 2010 from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. That money was intended to build broadband connections in hundreds of Wisconsin communities, but the state returned that cash to the feds. State officials had said there were too many strings attached to the federal money.