By Wisconsin Reporter
MADISON — The U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling on the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act dominated political news this week – not just in Wisconsin, but around the country.
The court, in a 5-4 decision, mostly upheld the law, the cornerstone of President Barack Obama’s domestic agenda thus far and a lightning rod for conservative criticism that, under Democratic rule, the federal government vastly oversteps its authority and threatens the country’s economic security.
Chief among those critics, at least in Wisconsin, is Gov. Scott Walker, who has vowed not to do anything to implement the law before the November elections, which he hopes will put Republicans in control of Congress and the White House and will lead to a repeal of the law altogether.
While Walker looks toward the next elections, folks in Racine are still looking at the more recent one.
Yes, the recount of the June 5 recall is wrapping up. But it hasn’t been problem-free.
Officials also were waiting this week for a report, due to be released Saturday, on possible changes to Wisconsin’s pensions plan – just as questions are being raised about whether the state’s pension program is as strong as some say it is.
Obamacare stands: Now what?
Walker didn’t mince words.
“Wisconsin will not take any action to implement ObamaCare,” he said in a statement shortly after the Supreme Court’s ruling. “I am hopeful that political changes in Washington D.C. later this year ultimately end the implementation of this law at the federal level.”
But Attorney General J. B. Van Hollen, an ardent critic of the law in his own right, said that Walker might have few options.
“What he and the rest of the state are going to be obligated to do is comply with the law,” Van Hollen said. “Certain things have to be done by certain time frames. Some of those time frames have liberal windows, and it’s up to them to make the policy judgment as to whether they’re going to implement things sooner than later at risk of doing things that might not have to do be done if the law is actually thrown out by a future president and Congress.”
Most provisions of the law don’t take effect until 2014. But states likely will need to do a lot of planning and preparation beforehand.
States, for instance, have until Jan. 1, to announce whether they will create health care exchanges aimed at allowing people to comparison shop for individual insurance policies.
States then have a year to get those exchanges up and running. If they don’t, the federal government steps in.
Walker has shown no signs that he is interested in implementing the Affordable Care Act, dubbed Obamacare by critics, even returning a $37 million Early Innovator IT grant from the federal government intended to help get the exchanges off the ground.
Recount wraps up: But is this the end?
Officials in Racine have until Monday to complete the recount of votes in the recall election pitting Republican incumbent state Sen. Van Wanggaard and Democratic challenger John Lehman, both of Racine.
The initial vote indicated that Lehman unseated Wanggaard by more than 800 votes, an apparent victory the recount doesn’t seem to have undone.
But the recount has raised questions about the accuracy of the election and whether election clerks are doing their job properly.
“To put it bluntly and simply, it’s a mess,” Justin Phillips, Wanggaard’s campaign manager, said Tuesday afternoon, describing what he and other critics of the 21st Senate District recall election see as a cluster muck of voting irregularities and disregarded laws.
Meanwhile, the state’s elections watchdog agency acknowledged that while the law may not have been followed at times, there is nothing in it to punish poll workers for “administrative errors.”
Phillips told Wisconsin Reporter that most of the reported 116 votes cast in Racine’s Ward 2without signatures on the voting list had been reconciled as of Tuesday.
The problem, Phillips said, was that many of the voters signed the wrong poll book.
Asked if Wanggaard would legally challenge the results, Phillips said it was too early to determine the campaign’s next step. Phillips did say that the campaign would weigh its options.
Lehman could not be reached for comment, nor could his spokesman.
WI pension plan: As good as it seems?
Changes in pension accounting standards could reveal hundreds of billions of dollars in unreported, unfunded pension liabilities, but would inch nearer to measurements that reflect pension reality.
Such changes, however humble they may be by pension watcher standards, would hit Wisconsin’s highly touted pension system, seen by many as the shining example of public pension health.
The team at the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College projects the new accounting rules would move the Wisconsin Retirement System from 99.8 percent funded to 93.9 percent funded, which amounts to a nearly $5 billion shortfall.
The Government Accounting Standards Board, or GASB, took steps Monday to make reporting of public pension plans more transparent and more in line with private-sector accounting methods.
“The new standards will improve the way state and local governments report their pension liabilities and expenses, resulting in a more faithful representation of the full impact of these obligations,” said GASB Chairman Robert H. Attmore in a statement.
Also, unfunded pension liabilities will be reported on public employers’ balance sheets, where they previously were included in the footnotes.
Last week, Wisconsin Reporter reported the financial health of Wisconsin’s public pension system is grossly exaggerated based on private-sector accounting standards.
The Department of Employee Trust Funds, or ETF, and other media, using ETF’s actuarial assumptions, report Wisconsin Retirement System at 100 percent fully funded. Using private sector accounting standards, the system would be underfunded by some $60 billion, if measured against Treasury Bonds.