July 31, 2014

Primary election 2 weeks out, absentee voting under way

Kevin Kennedy (FILE PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Kevin Kennedy (FILE PHOTO: Jackie Johnson)

Wisconsin’s primary election is scheduled for August 12th, but absentee voting has already begun. “People can go to their municipal clerk’s office and cast an absentee ballot,” says Kevin Kennedy, director and general counsel of the Government Accountability Board. “The hours do vary by municipality, but they can only vary within a window from 8 in the morning til 7 at night. There is no in-person absentee voting allowed on the weekend at all anymore.”

The purpose of the primary is to winnow down the selection of candidates and pick someone who’ll move on to the general election in November. “The partisan primary contains a lot of names because what this is, is sort of a winnowing process where you determine … the voters get to pick who is going to be the nominee of a particular party.”

Primary elections are partisan. That means voters can only pick candidates from one political party — Democratic, Republican, Constitution, or an independent. Cross-voting will result in an invalid ballot. Voters can split their ticket in the general election in November, if they choose.

Kennedy says the biggest question his office gets from voters is, “Why can’t I vote in both primaries?” 

Voters will find on the ballot candidates for governor, lt. governor, attorney general, secretary of state, state treasurer, congressional seats, and state representatives. Find answers to your questions at the GAB’s Voter Information Center.

Walker backs plan to keep aid from companies that outsource jobs

WRN file photo

WRN file photo

A proposal to keep state tax dollars from going to companies that outsource jobs picks up bipartisan support.

The plan, offered by Democratic state Representative Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) at Monday’s board meeting of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, would require businesses that receive state aid to sign a document indicating the assistance was necessary to keep the business open. It would also require those businesses to notify the state if they plan to outsource jobs or reduce their Wisconsin workforce. Companies that outsource jobs would then lose that economic assistance from WEDC.

The proposal comes in response to reports that multiple companies in the state received state tax credits through WEDC, and then sent jobs out of the country. Barca says the proposal would “help WEDC ensure that taxpayer assistance is never being used to support outsourcing.”

Governor Walker came out in support of the plan on Monday, saying “I don’t think any of us want taxpayers’ money going in any way to a company or organization that’s going to send jobs outside of the state.”

Walker asked WEDC staff to put the proposal on the board’s agenda for its September meeting.

There’s been a heavy focus on the issue of outsourcing in the campaign for governor, with Walker attacking likely Democratic opponent Mary Burke over jobs Trek Bicycle, her family-owned company, moved to China. Burke and Trek have argued she had no role in that decision, noting that Trek still employs a thousand people in the state.

‘Do not call’ list gets more consumer friendly

WIDNC_Vert_4cYou may not notice the difference immediately, but big changes are just around the bend for Wisconsin’s Do Not Call list. Beginning August 1, consumers will no longer be required to register their phone numbers every two years to receive protection from unwanted telemarketing calls and text messages, and new registrations will be active the following day rather than the next quarter.

“Consumers can sign up once and not have to worry about whether their registrations will lapse or whether there will be a three-month delay before they are protected under the program,” said Sandy Chalmers, Division Administrator for Trade and Consumer Protection.

Changes in the state’s Do Not Call law will make numbers on the Wisconsin Do Not Call Registry permanent, moving the registration process to the Federal Trade Commission’s nationwide list. Phone numbers on the previous Wisconsin list will automatically be transferred to the federal list. If a Wisconsin consumer has previously registered their number to the federal list, they do not need to re-register for protection under the new law.

The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) will continue to enforce the state’s Do Not Call laws, protecting Wisconsin residents registered on the federal list.

GOP letter: no ‘border children’ here

Reps. Nygren, Vos  WRN file photo

Reps. Nygren, Vos WRN file photo

The federal government’s placement of 50 unaccompanied minors in Wisconsin has drawn a rebuke from four members of the state legislature. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Republican colleagues, Representatives David Craig, Joel Kleefisch and John Nygren, forwarded the letter on Thursday, after the Office of Refugee Resettlement released a state-by-state breakdown showing where some of the children have been sent.

“While we understand this situation requires compassion, we believe it is in the best interest of the minors to be relocated near our nation’s southern border, allowing for prompt reunification of families.”

“As elected officials in Wisconsin, we are beyond frustrated that the administration is neglecting its obligation to uphold the law while failing to provide adequate information to state officials.”

“Another concern is that the “temporary” relocation is actually a permanent one that will undoubtedly cause a significant drain on local and state budgets impacting public education and public health systems.”

The specific locations of the children were not disclosed, however the federal government had asked Catholic Charities for assistance if any children were placed in Milwaukee. Also, Madison Mayor Paul Soglin indicated earlier this month that his office had been contacted about any available space. All of the thousands of children intercepted at the U.S. southern border are eventually to receive hearings, which will determine whether they will be deported or allowed to remain in the country.

READ: Letter to Secretary Jeh Johnson

Panel examines funding and governance of tech colleges

A legislative committee examines Wisconsin Technical College System funding and governance responsibilities. Lawmakers hear from experts at the state Capitol on “viable options to lowering property taxes.”

Joe Murray with the Wisconsin Realtors Association cites recent polls showing property tax is the “most onerous” tax for Wisconsin residents. He says, “According to a poll conducted by American Strategies conducted for the Wisconsin Realtors Association this February, 60 percent of Wisconsin voters feel that property taxes are too high.”

A Marquette Poll recently asked residents which tax would they cut if given the chance. Among homeowners, 48 percent said property taxes, 31 percent said income taxes, and 19 percent would cut sales taxes.

Morna Foy is president of the tech college system. She says they are now seeing less state investment in the system, while experiencing an increase in demand for their services. 

Since the mid ’90s, the tech college property tax levy has increased by 156.5 percent. Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, says funding for the tech schools should be considered in the larger context of state tax reform.

Berry adds, there must be more cooperation among the different areas of education in our state. “We have a K-12 system; we have a tech college system; we have a higher ed system; we have no department of education; we have no secretary of education; we have no czar of education in the governor’s office.” So, he says, “whatever cooperation or collaboration is going on is voluntarily, largely, and of course turf will always be an issue.”

Berry says there needs to be optimally designed education and its administration in Wisconsin in order to use the system most intelligently and strategically.

Andrew Peterson is president of the System Board. Touting the significance of tech colleges, he says over 84 percent of their graduates remain in the state. He calls it the “reverse brain drain.”

State Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette) is chair of the Joint Council Legislative Study Committee, which met Thursday at the Capitol. He says the ever-growing tech college property tax levy has contributed to Wisconsin’s high property tax burden relative to other states — a burden, he says, on families and senior citizens living on fixed incomes. It also negatively impacts economic growth and home ownership in our state.

Nygren believes the goal of the study committee should be to explore ways to reduce the tech college tax levy while protecting the critical link between tech colleges and communities, employers, economic development associations, and K-12 schools.