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WI Week in Review: Numbers — from taxes to jobs — highlight week

By   /   February 1, 2013  /   No Comments

By Kirsten Adshead  | Wisconsin Reporter

MADISON — As January ended, numbers ruled in Wisconsin.

Take, for instance, the temperature: 54 degrees on Tuesday; a minus-14 wind chill Thursday night.

MONEY  TALKS: Gov. Scott Walker, right, already has plenty of money on hand — $793,000, according to the latest campaign finance reports — to begin his re-election campaign if he chooses to seek a second term in 2014. (AP file photo)

Campaign finance reports? $743,719.40 — The amount Gov. Scott Walker’s campaign took in during the final six months of last year, according to campaign finance reports.

Pensions? $29 million – The latest payment Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett  said the city owed its pension fund.

Interesting numbers came out of Washington, DC, as well: U.S. employers added 157,000 jobs in January, while the unemployment rate rose to 7.9 percent.

Who says math is boring?

Police costing taxpayers, via pensions and Act 10

In the wake of the battle over guns between Barrett and Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke this week on CNN’s “Piers Morgan Tonight,” little attention was given to this comment by the mayor:

“We have three furlough days so that we can make a pension payment of $29 million for our police and have no layoffs,” Barrett said on Tuesday’s show.

Barrett’s own budget chief, Mark Nicolini, later told Wisconsin Reporter that the statement was misleading, that the three furlough days for each of some 1,500 police officers would save the fiscally constricted city of Milwaukee just $1.5 million.

But Barrett seems to echo the sentiments of mayors in many of 61 key cities buried under nearly $100 billion in unfunded pension liabilities, according to a new analysis by the Pew Center on the States. The report found that combined funding was 26 percent below the minimum needed to pay all pension obligations. That may be just the tip of the avalanche: the study draws on 2009 data.

Wisconsin Reporter also reported this week that Walker’s decision to leave public safety employees out of Act 10, which made significant changes for most unionized public employees regarding collective bargaining and pension contributions, also is costing taxpayers.

A Legislative Fiscal Bureau report projected the law’s pension contribution provision alone would save the state’s school districts more than $567 million over 2011-12 biennium, not including health insurance savings.

The Fiscal Bureau’s projections on Act 10 also looked at the amount local “protective occupation employees” would have paid over the past two years, had they been required to contribute to their pensions. The analysis also attempted to capture the costs associated with future public safety employee contracts, subject to change because of the status quo collective bargaining powers of those unions.

Including firefighters in special districts, the analysis projected the state would miss out on at least $62.7 million in savings. That’s money that could have gone to put more first responders on the street, perhaps making furloughs and job cuts unnecessary. Or the money could go back to the taxpayer.

Democrats push for job-related bills

The Legislature’s Democratic leaders unveiled a series of nine bills they say are aimed at getting more Wisconsinites back to work.

“It is time for Republicans who claim to want to work across the aisle to stop ignoring good jobs ideas on a strictly partisan basis,” Assistant Assembly Democratic leader Sandy Pasch, D-Shorewood, said in a statement. “Wisconsin is light years from Gov. Walker’s promised 250,000 jobs, so we hope they will embrace these ideas for job creation and economic recovery that our families and communities desperately need.”

Among other things, the bills would:

— Create a competitive grant program for businesses under the Wisconsin Technical College System intended to train people for industries with high employment demand.

—Offer tax refunds to those who invest in Wisconsin’s high-tech start-ups.

— Make existing tax credits for business investments up-front grants instead.

— Require state and local governments to give preference to U.S.-made products when buying materials.

Republicans have made job creation a top priority of this session and last session as well – including, they say, the mining bill.

The legislation, which would ease mining-related regulations, has the support of Gogebic Taconite, which hopes to invest $1.5 billion in an open-pit iron mine in Iron and Ashland Counties, potentially bringing in hundreds of jobs to an area of the state that has perpetually high unemployment.

Money makes the world (of political campaigning) go ‘round

Walker’s campaign spent $28.2 million last year, according to his latest campaign filing, as he defended his seat against a recall effort – successfully, as it turns out.

The governor had just over $793,000 on hand at the end of the year, money he can use this year and next if he opts to seek re-election in 2014.

That’s considerably less money than what has been raised by those participating in upcoming spring election, to be held April 2.

Supreme Court Justice Patience Roggensack is seeking another term on the bench and is being challenged by Milwaukee attorney Vince Megna and Marquette University law school professor Ed Fallone.

The top two vote-getters in the Feb. 19 primary will face each other in the April election.

According to their campaign filings, Roggensack raised almost $39,000 last year ; Fallone raised $5,450.

The Associated Press also reported that Megna raised about $10,700, but almost all of that came from loaning his campaign money.

Contact Adshead at kadshead@wisconsinreporter.com.

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Kirsten Adshead