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.