Archive for the ‘Budget’ Category

Frankenstein returns

June 30, 2009

Apparently Jim Doyle, or one of his aides, may have accidentally brought him back from the dead.

LFB director Bob Lang said in the agencies initial review of the Doyle’s vetoes, a partial veto of a provision on a study of intermediate care facilities for the mentally retarded struck parts of three sentences to create a new one. That use of the veto would appear to be contrary to the April 2008 state constitutional amendment, Lang said.

As passed by the Assembly and Senate, the provision required the DHS Secretary to appoint a committee to study the need for and preservation of the care facilities. The legislature’s version required the study be submitted to the JFC by Dec. 1.

Sue, sue, sue!

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State dictator wields veto pen

June 29, 2009

Looking through the list of Gov. Jim Doyle’s vetoes of the state budget is revealing. Wisconsin’s legislative system resembles a constitutional monarchy much more closely a republican government. The governor, although no longer able to essentially re-write bills by crossing out letters and reworking sentences, can still drastically change bills without the legislature’s approval. It’s incredible.

In his role as state dictator, Doyle provided mixed results.

He prevented illogical passions from bogging down sentencing reform by vetoing an unfair provision of the budget that would have made future offenders ineligible for the “early release for good behavior” program that was set up to reform our backwards corrections system and save the state big money.

For all the whining from right wingers about a tax and spend governor, Doyle actually came down on the side of business on a variety of measures in the bill. For instance, he vetoed a fee for construction landfills, writing that it was unfair to require owners of landfills and that the provision may have unintended consequences for construction during a time when infrastructure projects are meant to be a key for economic development. He also vetoed a $15 sticker for out-of-state boaters, expressing concerns of a deterrent effect on tourism. I would classify this as bullshit –$15? It would only be a problem if those who fail to get stickers got huge fines.

He reduces funding for the film tax credit from $1.5 million to $500,000. Barbara Lawton is going to be pissed.

He strikes one digit from a grant to the Pleasant Prairie Incubator Technology Center to reduce funding from $700,000 to $70,000. Ouch.

Doyle signs budget – highlights for Madison

June 29, 2009

“Unfortunately we must now all make sacrifices due to reckless behavior on Wall St. and in real estate markets.”

Doyle, in a 73 page budget message, outlined the successes and failures of the budget. He commends lawmakers for being the first legislature since 1977 to pass a budget before the beginning of the biennium – meaning that this is the first time in over 30 years that Wisconsin has met its own deadline. The budget covered a variety of hot topics, including domestic partnership benefits for UW employees, sentencing reform in state prisons and a drastic cigarette tax increase.

Highlights for Madison:

Provides group health insurance and retirement survivor benefits to domestic partners of state employees and UW faculty and staff

Provides the faculty and research assistants of UW the right to collectively bargain

$15 million to strengthen the UW System’s ability to retain faculty

$250 million program to revenate the Charter St Heating and Cooling Plant to eliminate use of coal

$20.3 million for financial aid programs for low income Wisconsin residents

$8.2 million to support bio-tech, nanotechnology research at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (UW-Madison)

Other general highlights:

Allows certain inmates to earn positive adjustment time for good behavior

Increases income taxes 1 percent on single inviduals making over $300,000

Increases the cigarette tax from 75 cents per pack to $2.52 per pack

The long term capital gains exemption is lowered from 60% to 30%

Mandates that insurance companies cover autism

Covers dependents up to age 27 in group health policies.

Adds $823 million in transportation funding for highways and local transportation

Creates “regional transit authorities” in the Chippewa Valley, Chequamegon Bay region, Dane County and the Southeast

Region

Budget goes to Doyle – Veto time

June 28, 2009

Time to pull out the gubernatorial sharpie – it’s veto time. By “veto” I am of course referring to Wisconsin’s new and improved version, which allows governors to veto certain spending provisions in a bill while approving the rest of the bill. “New and improved” in the sense that the governor can no longer re-write entire bills by vetoing single words or even single letters, as they have in the past. Until voters struck down the “Vanna White Veto”, Gov. Tommy Thompson used to re-write entire bills by vetoing individual letters and making new words out of what was left over – “republican” government. Doyle didn’t have the chance to veto letters, but he certainly went ahead with words. But then the pesky voters changed the constitution again:

With the approval of the referendum, Doyle and future Wisconsin governors will no longer be able to create new sentences by crossing out words or numbers from two or more existing clauses.

But Doyle is still the man with the pen.

Even after the decision to limit the “Frankenstein veto” governors will still have the ability to remove single digits to create new figures or delete whole clauses from paragraphs to change their meaning.

It’s hard to predict what Doyle will go after in the budget. He was unsatisfied with the capital gains tax hike, but he has to recognize that it was necessary after the oil tax fell through. Hence, it will be hard for him to fiddle with the numbers on that. His proposals on agency cuts and furloughs for state employees pretty much went according to plan – there may be some minor changes, including earmarks, that he’ll try to eliminate. Doyle stayed out of the conflict over extra cuts that legislature Democrats proposed for the Department of Justice, so it would be interesting to see if he restores any of them with some last minute edits – I certainly wouldn’t count on it. He’s unpopular enough already – the last thing he wants to do is give J.B. Van Hollen another round of free media.

Budget update

June 26, 2009

The budget finally passed the conference committee on a party-line vote, with the two Republican “Fitzgeralds” voting against.

The budget would be best described as mediocre. The taxes and fees that will be raised to close the budget shortfall are generally progressive in nature:

  • $287 million by creating a 7.75-percent tax bracket for single taxpayers with incomes of $225,000 and more, and married couples with incomes of $300,000 and more.
  • $97 million by making consumers pay a 75-cent monthly fee on phone lines.
  • Reducing the capital gains tax exemption from 60% to 30%

The Republicans opposition to the capital gains provision is puzzling – especially since they so adamantly opposed the alternative proposal to raise taxes on oil companies. What do they propose? Should we cut education more drastically? Should we restore the cuts in the Department of Justice that they derided as “pro-crime”? Where do we cut?

Of course, the simple explanation is that, like their counterparts in D.C., Wisconsin Republicans don’t have an answer. If you don’t believe me try reading Rep. Gary Bies’ rambling opposition to the “tax and spenders.” Who can blame them? They don’t matter – coming up with alternatives would be a waste of their time and political capital. Just oppose. It sounds better. And it works to a certain extent. If they talk about the teachers union and tax hikes enough some people will start to believe that they have an answer to our problems.

The budget also comprised a variety of social issues, namely immigration. The Democrats retreated on giving driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants but thankfully, they stood strong on giving undocumented kids in-state tuition. Another road safety provision will make Wisconsin the 49th state to require auto insurance for car owners. New Hampshire is the lone holdout. Also, cops will now be allowed to pull drivers over for not wearing seatbelts. I wonder how many cops don’t wear seatbelts themselves?

Budget depends on drunks

June 24, 2009

You can’t have a state full of drunks and simply hope that they’ll only affect drunk driving laws. They’ll probably write the budget as well.

Just look at the conference committee that’s going to try to hammer out the differences between the Senate and the Assembly’s versions of the budget. The lead Democrat on the committee is Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker, a proud OWI convict.

Additionally, success for the Democrats’ is likely hinging on the vote of independent Rep. Jeff Wood. Wood was a Republican until he decided to desert the party because it had abandoned the principles of limited government and low taxes. So now he caucuses with the Democrats…strange.

Well, one day you start voting with the Democrats…the next day..

State Rep. Jeff Wood (I-Bloomer) had a blood-alcohol level of 0.15 – nearly twice the legal limit – when he was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving and possession of marijuana, according to a police report released Monday.

Wood said he ran into college friends at a biofuels event Thursday and went to a bar. He said he accepted marijuana and a pipe someone offered him and got in his car.

Now it looks like Woods may not be a reliable vote for the Dems on the budget. He’s been complaining about earmarks and a bunch of other vague illusions to things he doesn’t like. With one Democratic representative tending to a sick wife, the Democrats may be wishing they had an even bigger party guy (pun absolutely intended) to depend on for passage.

Senate approves mediocre budget

June 18, 2009

Raising the capital gains tax isn’t the end of the world. But it’s unfortunate that such a solution was the result of political cowardice in the face of big oil companies, rather than a rational assessment of state priorities.

To avoid any added cost at the gasoline pump, the Senate plan would raise the capital gains tax on investors and property sellers, with the exception of those selling farm property, a move they said would protect working-class and middle-class families.

Really? Or will it also an enormous loophole for large agro-business firms? It’s amazing how attaching the word “farm” to any policy immediately qualifies it to be a “working class” policy. The estate tax would demonstrate the point even more poignantly, as it has never helped any working class American. At least those working class Americans who aren’t also millionaires.

In total, the two-year tax increase would amount to $486 million and comes as Doyle and Democratic lawmakers also propose to increase the income tax rate by one percentage point on couples making more than $300,000 a year.

Although it’s embarassing that the Democrats surrendered to oil lobby pressure, it’s good that their alternative method of raising money was progressive in nature, targetting mainly high income residents.

Looking through the budget (thank God they finally make a document I can search for words in), it is clear that changes to state tax law were made to target job creation, with new benefits for companies or persons who “perform services” in economically distressed areas. Additionally, per-employee 10% tax credits are given to businesses for each employee who makes at least $20,000 and less than $100,000.

Secrecy at the legislature

June 16, 2009

It looks like the new Democratic leadership in the Assembly is even more secretive than usual. A very good feature piece in the Cap Times discusses how the public has been shut off from the budget proceedings.

For three minutes this spring, anyone from the public could show up at one of six hearings across the state to tell the Legislature’s budget-writing committee what they thought about the plan.

And many of the parts that were public, like voting on changes that had been worked out by committee members in secret, were done late at night far after the time publicly stated for when the action was supposed to happen.

The vote on passing the budget out of committee came around 6 a.m. at the close of a 12-hour meeting.

Another day when the committee was supposed to start at 11 a.m. they didn’t get rolling until 11 p.m.

Too true. On Friday I actually moseyed on up to the Capitol myself to try and catch some debate on the budget, but was discouraged by the Assembly clerk, who told me that there was absolutely no way to tell when the Democrats would bring the bill to the floor. It doesn’t make sense – when you go so late into the night, why not postpone the debate until the next day? At least for the sake of public accessibility. Of course, the late hours are no where near as offensive to standards of good governance as the closed door committee meetings. It is the closed caucus system that fosters party unity – aka stifles intra-party debate from the public lens.

“It is in these meetings that most of the real legislative debate occurs,” Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) wrote. “Members suss out their positions, cajole people to a certain view, and reach a general consensus. We employ shuttle diplomacy, devise strategy, and argue passionately for our respective positions. In other words, it’s where the action happens.”