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Wisconsin Week in Review: Budget Adjustment takes a surprising turn

By   /   March 25, 2011  /   14 Comments

By Kevin Lee and Jackie Clews  Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON  —  Restraining orders, recalls and the race for the Supreme Court highlighted the week — until the announcement came late Friday that Gov. Scott Walker’s budget adjustment legislation could be implemented, sidestepping a temporary restraining order from a Dane County Judge.

The publication of the legislation could heap even more political and legal complications onto what has been a contentious legislative session.

We take a look at a frenetic finish in our Week in Review.

Movement, questions on governor’s budget adjustment legislation

Walker’s budget adjustment legislation could go into effect as soon as Saturday after the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau published the legislation on Friday.

The LRB referenced a state statute that states it has the sole duty to publish legislation, the final step before legislation takes effect as law.

Department of Administration Secretary Michael Huebsch said the Walker administration “will carry out the law as required.”

But Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, rejects the legislation’s validity.

“Official publication by the secretary of state is required for this act to go into effect,” said Barca, who indicated he talked to nonpartisan Legislative Council attorneys. “The secretary of state, the only constitutional officer with the power to publish law, is prohibited by court order from publishing this act.”

The Legislative Council, which is under the purview of the Assembly and Senate, is a nonpartisan legislative services agency that advices legislators on legal questions and procedure.

On March 15, Dane County Circuit Court Judge Maryann Sumi issued a temporary restraining order prohibiting Secretary of State Douglas La Follette from implementing the governor’s adjustment legislation.

Sumi issued the restraining order in order to delay action until she could hear a complaint alleging top Republican lawmakers may have violated the state’s Open Meetings Law when passing the legislation.

State attorneys representing the Republican lawmakers and the secretary of state have appealed the restraining order, which is now awaiting action from the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Marquette University law professor Richard Esenberg said the restraining order does not restrict LRB from action.

“It’s fairly clear that LRB is the agency that has the duty to publish,” Esenberg said.

He added that he expects the legislation to take effect on Saturday.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice released a statement saying it is evaluating how the “legal publication” of the adjustment legislation affects “pending litigation.”

University of Wisconsin-Madison political science professor Charles Franklin said state government could be mired in legal proceedings for weeks, with other lawsuits pending on the adjustment legislation.

“I would assume it will require a court to settle those questions, so that just adds one more

layer of complexity to the legal process,” Franklin said about the LRB publication.

Mary Bell, president of Wisconsin’s largest teacher’s union, said political motivations were at play.

“This is another sign that the governor and Legislature are in a desperate power grab to take away the voice of teachers, support staff, nurses, home health care workers and other public employees,” she said.

The adjustment bill would require unionized state employees to contribute to their pension and health care benefit costs and restrict public employee collective bargaining rights to wages. Police and firefighters would be exempted from the changes.

Governor, lawmakers push business development incentives

Walker and lawmakers are using a variety of approaches to appeal to private sector expansion.

This week Walker signed into law new Tax Increment Funding District legislation to go towards the Town of Brookfield in Waukesha County, just outside of Milwaukee.

“We are focused on doing everything we can to make it easier for employers to do business and put more people to work, and this TIF District is another tool for job creation,” the governor said in a statement.

TIF districts allow local governments to borrow money to go to developing underused land. The revenue earned from the district’s enhanced property tax revenue is used to pay the accumulated debt.

The district would go toward a proposed $100 million Poplar Creek development with a 150,000-square-foot Von Maur department store and an additional 225,000 square feet of retail, restaurant and office space.

City of Brookfield Mayor Steve Ponto said he supports investment, but said that nearby Brookfield Square has a 15 percent vacancy in retail space and a 20 percent vacancy in office space.

“The question is, is it a good idea to add additional retail and office space with a government subsidy when there is already a significant amount of retail and office properties?” Pronto asked.

Other proposals were introduced this week during an Assembly committee meeting on job creation.

Republican lawmakers want to extend the contract for the Development Opportunity Zone in Beloit, providing another $5 million in tax credits during five years.

The Department of Commerce also would have the option of extending that tax credit by another five years. The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates those tax credits would cost the state $1 million per year.

“I do know a lot of our residents are working in these companies, and there are a lot of people that have relocated because of some of these situations, and they are now residents of Beloit — taxpayers in the community,” said Beloit City Manager Larry N. Arft.

The Assembly committee also heard testimony on expanding the statewide cap to 12 Enterprise Zones, up from the current limit of nine.

Under the legislation, businesses would earn tax credits calculated from the average salary of every new job created within that Enterprise Zone. Depending on the size of proposed zones and implementation, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates the legislation could cost the state $8.7 million per year.

“Wisconsin cannot afford to lose a major job creation or retention opportunity to other states simply because it ran out of its best economic development instrument,” Commerce Secretary Paul Jadin said.

The Assembly Committee on Jobs, Economy and Small Business is expected to vote Tuesday on the development and Enterprise Zone proposals.

Supreme Court Election: Debates political but kept between candidates

The race for a seat on the Supreme Court heated up this week as incumbent Justice David T. Prosser and challenger State Attorney JoAnne Kloppenburg debated in both Milwaukee and Madison.

Voters will turn to the polls on April 5 in what has been an increasingly political race for the nonpartisan position.

“Hundreds of thousands of dollars are being spent so that (Kloppenburg) can replace a justice on the court and decide the case in a particular way,” Prosser told audience members at the Madison debate.

Both Kloppenburg and Prosser may use up to $300,000 in taxpayer money to fund their campaigns, the first Supreme Court election where candidates have had the public funding option.

“I have professionally conducted myself without looking through a partisan lens, and I will pledge to conduct myself as a justice without looking through a partisan lens,” Kloppenburg said.

The latest numbers from the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, which helps administer elections, indicate that outside spending on this Supreme Court general election has totaled $12,680.70, down from more than $1 million total in 2009 and $3 million in 2007.

State body discusses voter ID, recall

The April 5 election is not the only priority for the Government Accountability Board. The state agency is expecting the first wave of recall petitions against nearly half of the state Senate beginning at the end of April.

Sixteen state senators are eligible for recall and all 16 are facing at least one recall campaign. Once petitions are submitted, the GAB will have a month to review the validity of the documents, with legal challenges likely to arise from senators’ offices.

GAB administrators also called for changes to Senate Bill 6, popularly dubbed the Voter ID bill, during an Assembly election committee this week.

The agency recommends revising the legislation to expand on the types of IDs voters can use at the polls and eliminate ID requirements for absentee voters.

Screenshot of legislative attorney's email to Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca

Screenshot of legislative attorney's email to Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca

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  • J Farnsworth

    The agency (GAB Gov’t accountability board) recommends revising the legislation to expand on the types of IDs voters can use at the polls and eliminate ID requirements for absentee voters.

    Eliminate ID requirements for absentee voters? How in the hell can they call them selves accountable

  • Daniel

    That summary of the Voter ID legislation sounds like it makes illegal voting easier; not harder. But, glad to hear the dumbocrat, partisian Kloppenburg won’t be political in her rulings – right! And my pet pig flew yesterday.

  • Brad

    Bingo. Looks like the Govt. Accountability Board should worry a little more about accountability, and less about affecting legislation. Such as, a county judge taking an action she has no power to take, by messing around with a state law, and then getting on her broom and flying off on vacation. How about some accountability on that?

  • TROY

    There are so many obvious cases of treason here its hard to believe. By homeland security’s defenition, all of the democrats and the union garbage are absolutely Terrorists. These people interfearing with our elections Financial liberty, constitutional liberty, and freedom , are “terrorists” . I believe, I will , as of today start calling them what they are. TERRORISTS.

  • J. B. Bond

    Because the judicial branch at the state and Federal levels lack legitimacy, time for star chamber courts composed of patriots to remove these ”jurists”.

  • Dennis Math

    Where on earth did the unions get all the money they spent on all the advertisements on television, radio, newspapers and direct mailings? How much money do the union members get from their unions when they are laid off or go on strike? Do the unions make their members try to survive on unemployment insurance alone? It would seem to me that a decent organization of workers would act in the genuine interest of its members rather than on its own ability to continue to take in dues from those members. And why the lack of truth in all those very expensive ads? Nobody “took away collective bargaining” as the unending ads lied about. An “opt out” ability should exist when dealing with unions that use the tactics we have all been witness to over the last month or so. If an organization has to resort to lies and distortions is it any wonder that union membership has fallen so drastically over the years?

    Someone needs to open the financial books of these unions and a public resource should be made available so that union members and non union members (and perhaps the Attorney General), can take a look and see just where all this money came from, how it is spent toward the betterment of its members and whether or not any union dues were behind the violence that was directed at both Governor Walker and several Wisconsin State Senators.

    A union should exist to serve its membership and not itself as a money making machine for a few union head elitists.

  • TROY

    Dennis, Visit wisconsin recipient awards map .Wisconsin got 2.2 billion in taxpayer stimulus funds and Hundreds of millions of my tax money was given to the school districts. Our Family got nothing. I am now talking to a few Constitutional Lawyers and its pretty clear that the distribution of Stimulous funds was Illegal. Government cant pick one class or another to prop up.. I see a Class action Lawsuit a brewin.

  • Jim

    The Board of Judicial Commissioners is the agency that handles the discipline of judges. You’ll be happy to know that I, as a law student, have filed a judicial complaint against Judge Maryann Sumi for the violation of WI Stat. SCR60.03(1)(2) for theconflict of interest she has in that her son is a highly placed union official. I am also of the opinion that government employees should NOT be unionized as it is unconstitutional as it gives a single class of people (the union bosses) undue influence over the government.

  • Jim

    Maybe a tax professional/law student may help. The average Wisconsin state union employee pays roughly $625 in union dues a month. Multiply that times 330,000 employees for this state alone, and it comes to $206,250,000 a year. Considering that AFSME is a part of the AFL-CIO and is national, let’s say, for the sake of argument, that 330,000 employees is the national average for number of state employees per state in all 50 states. Multiply $206,250,000 x 50 and the answer is $10,312,500,000. Do you now get the picture of just how powerful unions are? Remember: Money is power.

  • Jim

    Please see my reply to Dennis.

  • Jim

    Concerning Klopenburg – yeah right. As a government lawyer, Klopenburg is a member of a union. Let’s also not forget that even Brack Obama refuses to nominater her for a federal judgeship because she’s too far left for even him.

  • Bill

    $625 a MONTH? Try *maybe* $625 a YEAR. And as to your comment about “how powerful unions are” … what about corporations? The total profit of corporations in this country was at a record high in the last quarter of 2010 and was $1.6 TRILLION, or about $1.25 TRILLION after taxes. In fact, they beat a record broken in the *third* quarter of 2010.

    I’m sure as a result they will start hiring people …. oh wait.

  • Charie

    Congratulations and thank you, Jim.

  • Charie

    Bill, Jim just did a brain fart. Do the figures per year and they end up being what his total is.

    Do you not know that corporations have stockholders? If you have a 401(k) or a pension plan you are probably getting money in it from these corporations. Do you really want them to make less money?

    How will they start hiring people when pensions and out of sight benefits are forcing them to either shut down or move out of the country? Has it escaped you that Detroit has become a rotting shell? The only Steelers in Pittsburgh are football players?

    For heavens’ sake, man, think!!