Tag Archives: deficit

GOP plans tax overhaul, mostly for the rich, but largely ignores deficit

Congressional Republicans are planning a massive tax overhaul next year, a heavy political lift that could ultimately affect families at every income level and businesses of every size.

Their goal is to simplify a complicated tax code that rewards wealthy people with smart accountants, and corporations that can easily shift profits — and jobs — overseas. It won’t be easy. The last time it was done was 30 years ago.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., have vowed to pass a tax overhaul that would not add to the budget deficit. The Washington term is “revenue neutral.”

That means that for every tax cut there has to be either a spending cut or a tax increase, creating winners and losers. Lawmakers would get some leeway if non-partisan congressional analysts project that a tax cut would increase economic growth. Prior studies have found unlikely, including “Taxes and the Economy: An Economic Analysis of the Top Tax Rates Since 1945,” a 2012 study from the Congressional Research Service. 

Passing a massive tax overhaul will require some tough votes, politically.

Some key Republican senators want to share the political risk with Democrats. They argue that a tax overhaul must be bipartisan to be fully embraced by the public. They cite President Barack Obama’s health law — which passed in 2010 without any Republican votes — as a major policy initiative that remains divisive.

Congressional Democrats say they are eager to have a say in overhauling the tax code. But McConnell, who faulted Democrats for acting unilaterally on health care, is laying the groundwork to pass a purely partisan bill.

Both McConnell and Ryan said they plan to use a legislative maneuver that would prevent Senate Democrats from using the filibuster to block a tax bill.

McConnell says he wants the Senate to tackle a tax plan in the spring, after Congress repeals Obama’s health law. House Republicans are more eager to get started, but haven’t set a timeline.

Some things to know about Republican efforts to overhaul the tax code:
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THE HOUSE PLAN
House Republicans have released the outline of a tax plan that would lower the top individual income tax rate from 39.6 percent to 33 percent, and reduce the number of tax brackets from seven to three. The gist of the plan is to lower tax rates for just about everyone, and make up the lost revenue by scaling back exemptions, deductions and credits.

The plan, however, retains some of the most popular tax breaks, including those for paying a mortgage, going to college, making charitable contributions and having children.

The standard deduction would be increased, giving taxpayers less incentive to itemize their deductions.
The non-partisan Tax Policy Center says the plan would reduce revenues by $3 trillion over the first decade, with most of the savings going to the highest-income households.

That’s not revenue neutral.

Small business owners would get a special top tax rate of 25 percent.

Investment income would be taxed like wages, but investors would only have to pay taxes on half of this income.
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SENATE PLAN
Senate Republicans have yet to coalesce around a comprehensive plan, or even an outline.
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TRUMP’S PLAN
Trump’s plan has fewer details. He promises a tax cut for every income level, with more low-income families paying no income tax at all.
The Tax Policy Center says Trump’s plan would reduce revenues by a whopping $9.5 trillion over the first decade, with most of the tax benefits going to the wealthiest taxpayers. Trump has disputed the analysis.

Like the House plan, Trump would reduce the top income tax rate for individuals to 33 percent, and he would reduce the number of tax brackets to three. He would also increase the standard deduction.

Trump has embraced two ideas championed by Obama but repeatedly rejected by Republicans over the past eight years. Trump’s plan would cap itemized deductions for married couples making more than $200,000 a year. It would also tax carried interest, which are fees charged by investment fund managers, as regular income instead of capital gains.
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CORPORATE TAXES
The top corporate income tax rate in the U.S. is 35 percent, the highest in the industrialized world. However, the tax is riddled with so many exemptions, deductions and credits that most corporations pay much less.

Both Trump and House Republicans want to lower the rate, and pay for it by scaling back tax breaks.

Trump wants to lower the corporate tax rate to 15 percent. Ryan says 20 percent is more realistic, to avoid increasing the budget deficit.
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BORDER ADJUSTMENT TAX
This is one of the most controversial parts of the House Republicans’ tax plan. It is also key to making it work.

Under current law, the United States taxes the profits of U.S.-based companies, even if the money is made overseas.

However, taxes on foreign income are deferred until a company either reinvests the profits in the U.S. or distributes them to shareholders.

Critics say the system encourages U.S.-based corporations to invest profits overseas or, more dramatically, to shift operations and jobs abroad to avoid U.S. taxes.

House Republicans want to scrap America’s worldwide tax system and replace it with a tax that is based on where a firm’s products are consumed, rather than where they are produced.

Under the system, American companies that produce and sell their products in the U.S. would pay the new 20 percent corporate tax rate on profits from these sales. However, if a company exports a product abroad, the profits from that sale would not be taxed by the U.S.

There’s more: Foreign companies that import goods to the U.S. would have to pay the tax, increasing the cost of imports.

Exporters love the idea. But importers, including big retailers and consumer electronics firms, say it could lead to steep price increases on consumer goods. The lobbying has already begun.

AP fact check finds numerous lies, distortions in Trump acceptance speech

TRUMP: “Decades of progress made in bringing down crime are now being reversed by this administration’s rollback of criminal enforcement. Homicides last year increased by 17 percent in America’s 50 largest cities. That’s the largest increase in 25 years.”

THE FACTS: A rollback? President Barack Obama has actually achieved some big increases in spending for state and local law enforcement, including billions in grants provided through the 2009 stimulus. While FBI crime statistics for 2015 are not yet available, Trump’s claim about rising homicides appears to come from a Washington Post analysis published in January. While Trump accurately quotes part of the analysis, he omits that the statistical jump was so large because homicides are still very low by historical standards. In the 50 cities cited by the Post, for example, half as many people were killed last year as in 1991.

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TRUMP: “The number of new illegal immigrant families who have crossed the border so far this year already exceeds the entire total from 2015. They are being released by the tens of thousands into our communities with no regard for the impact on public safety or resources.”

THE FACTS: The pace of releasing immigrants is driven not by the Obama administration, but by a court ruling. A federal judge ruled last year that the government couldn’t hold parents and children in jail for more than 20 days. An appeals court partially rolled that back earlier this month, saying that parents could be detained but children must be released.

By the standard used by the government to estimate illegal border crossings – the number of arrests — Trump is right that the number in this budget year has already exceeded last year’s total. But it’s down from 2014.

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TRUMP: “When a secretary of state illegally stores her emails on a private server, deletes 33,000 of them so the authorities can’t see her crime, puts our country at risk, lies about it in every different form and faces no consequence — I know that corruption has reached a level like never before.”

THE FACTS: Clinton’s use of a private server to store her emails was not illegal under federal law. Her actions were not established as a crime. The FBI investigated the matter and its role was to advise the Justice Department whether to bring charges against her based on what it found. FBI Director James Comey declined to refer the case for criminal prosecution to the Justice Department, instead accusing Clinton of extreme carelessness.

As for Trump’s claim that Clinton faces no consequence, that may be true in a legal sense. But the matter has been a distraction to her campaign and fed into public perceptions that she can’t be trusted. The election will test whether she has paid a price politically.

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TRUMP: “The number of police officers killed in the line of duty has risen by almost 50 percent compared to this point last year.”

THE FACTS: Not according to the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial Fund, which tracks police fatalities daily. The group found that the number of police officers who died as of July 20 is up just slightly this year, at 67, compared with 62 through the same period last year. That includes deaths in the line of duty from all causes, including traffic fatalities.

It is true that there has been a spike in police deaths from intentional shootings, 32 this year compared with 18 last year, largely attributable to the recent mass shootings in Dallas and Baton Rouge. But that was not his claim.

And overall, police are statistically safer on America’s streets now than at any time in recent decades.

For example, the 109 law enforcement fatalities in 2013 were the lowest since 1956.

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TRUMP: “My opponent has called for a radical 550 percent increase in Syrian (refugees). … She proposes this despite the fact that there’s no way to screen these refugees in order to find out who they are or where they come from. I only want to admit individuals into our country who will support our values and love our people.”

THE FACTS: Trump persists in making the bogus claim that the U.S. doesn’t screen refugees. The administration both screens them and knows where they are from. The Department of Homeland Security leads the process, which involves rigorous background checks. Processing of a refugee can take 18 months to two years, and usually longer for those coming from Syria. Refugees are also subject to in-person interviews and fingerprint and other biometric screening.

For all that caution, U.S. officials acknowledge that the Islamic State group could try to place operatives among refugees. Last year, FBI Director James Comey said data about people coming from Syria may be limited, adding, “If we don’t know much about somebody, there won’t be anything in our database.”

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TRUMP: “Two million more Latinos are in poverty today than when President Obama took his oath of office less than eight years ago. Another 14 million people have left the workforce entirely. … President Obama has almost doubled our national debt to more than $19 trillion, and growing.”

THE FACTS: Trump is playing with numbers to make the economy look worse than it actually is. The sluggish recovery over the past seven years has been frustrating. But with unemployment at 4.9 percent, the situation isn’t as bleak as he suggests.

Trump’s figure of 14 million who’ve stopped working since Obama took office comes from the Labor Department’s measure of people not in the workforce. It’s misleading for three reasons: The U.S. population has increased in that time; the country has aged and people have retired; and younger people are staying in school longer for college and advanced degrees, so they’re not in the labor force, either.

A better figure is labor force participation — the share of people with jobs or who are searching for work. That figure has declined from 65.7 percent when Obama took office to 62.7 percent now. Part of that decrease reflects retirements, but the decline is also a long-term trend.

On national debt, economists say a more meaningful measure than dollars is the share of the overall economy taken up by the debt. By that measure, the debt rose 36 percent under Obama (rather than doubling). That’s roughly the same as what occurred under Republican President George W. Bush.

The Hispanic population has risen since Obama while the poverty rate has fallen. The Pew Research Center found that 23.5 percent of the country’s 55.3 million Latinos live in poverty, compared with 24.7 percent in 2010.

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TRUMP: “Another humiliation came when President Obama drew a red line in Syria, and the whole world knew it meant absolutely nothing.”

THE FACTS: Trump’s reference is to a threat by Obama for retaliatory strikes if Syrian President Bashar Assad used chemical weapons against rebels — and he’s basically on target. When Assad crossed Obama’s “red line” in 2013 by using chemical weapons, the U.S. president backed down.

Obama’s two secretaries of state, Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, pushed for intervention, as have a former defense secretary and CIA director. But Obama as commander-in-chief has the last word, and nothing has swayed him thus far.

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TRUMP: “When that same secretary of state rakes in millions and millions of dollars trading access and favors to special interests and foreign powers, I know the time for action has come.”

THE FACTS: That’s a somewhat overheated take on a legitimately troublesome issue for Clinton.

Although financial disclosures show she earned only her government salary as secretary of state, she made more than $21 million afterward, over three years, for speeches and appearances for private companies. None of those speeches was paid for by foreign governments, but some groups she addressed could be counted as special interests.

As well, the Clintons’ family charity, the Clinton Foundation, received millions of dollars in donations while she was secretary of state, some from foreigners. And Bill Clinton earned millions making appearances and speeches for foreign corporations and organizations while his wife was at the State Department.

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TRUMP: “After four years of Hillary Clinton, what do we have? ISIS has spread across the region, and the entire world. Libya is in ruins, and our ambassador and his staff were left helpless to die at the hands of savage killers. Egypt was turned over to the radical Muslim Brotherhood, forcing the military to retake control. Iraq is in chaos. Iran is on the path to nuclear weapons. Syria is engulfed in a civil war and a refugee crisis now threatens the West. … This is the legacy of Hillary Clinton: death, destruction, terrorism and weakness.”

THE FACTS: It’s an exaggeration to suggest Clinton, or any secretary of state, is to blame for the widespread instability and violence across the Middle East.

Clinton worked to impose sanctions that helped coax Tehran to a nuclear deal with the U.S. and other world powers last year, a deal in which Iran rolled back its nuclear program to get relief from sanctions that were choking its economy.

She did not start the war in Libya, but supported a NATO intervention well after violence broke out between rebels and the forces of dictator Moammar Gadhafi. The country slid into chaos after Gadhafi was ousted and killed in 2011, leaving it split between competing governments.

Clinton had no role in military decisions made during the 2012 attack on the U.S. diplomatic post in Benghazi, Libya, that killed U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and three other Americans. Republicans’ claim that high-level officials in Washington issued a “stand-down” order delaying a military rescue in Benghazi has been widely debunked.

On Iraq, Clinton as a senator voted in 2002 to grant President George W. Bush authority to invade Iraq, but has since said it was a “mistake.” Many in the Middle East do not regret Saddam’s ouster and regional allies allowed U.S. bases in their country to support the war. But many also now fear the Islamic State group, which rose in the chaos of Syria’s civil war and Iraq’s security vacuum.

TRUMP: “America is one of the highest-taxed nations in the world.”

THE FACTS: Trump continues to repeat this inaccuracy. The U.S. tax burden is actually the fourth lowest among the 34 developed and large emerging-market economies that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Taxes made up 26 percent of the total U.S. economy in 2014, according to the OECD. That’s far below Sweden’s tax burden of 42.7 percent, Britain’s 32.6 percent or Germany’s 36.1 percent. Only three OECD members had a lower figure than the U.S.: Chile, South Korea and Mexico.

TRUMP: “My opponent wants to essentially abolish the Second Amendment.”

THE FACTS: Hillary Clinton has not proposed any revocation of the constitutionally protected right to bear arms. She does support a ban on certain military-style weapons, similar to the law President Bill Clinton signed in the 1990s. That ban expired after 10 years and was not renewed. Clinton also backs an expansion of existing criminal background checks to apply to weapons sales at gun shows. The checks now apply mainly to sales by federally licensed gun dealers.

Associated Press writers Josh Boak, Stephen Braun, Deb Riechmann, Jim Drinkard and Alicia A. Caldwell in Washington and Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.

 

Scott Walker setting himself up for a third term as governor

Gov. Scott Walker is setting up himself up to run for a third term as governor.

Walker says he will wait until late 2016 or after the end of the year to make a formal decision, but he says he feels good about the progress he’s made and thinks he can build off it.

Walker, who’s never held a job outside of politics, made the comments to reporters Jan. 26 after he signed a bill at the Rock County Courthouse expanding the state’s Family Care program to the county.

Although Walker and the right-wing spin machine have been cherry-picking economic data in the state to make it appear as if Walker’s economic programs have been a success, they’ve actually failed miserably.

Wisconsin’s Comprehensive Annual Financial Report for 2015, released at the end of last year by the Dept. of Administration showed that the state’s General Fund deficit, as measured by Generally Accepted Accounting Principles, increased in fiscal year 2015 by $414 million — from about $1.4 billion to $1.8 billion.

At the same time, his scandal-plagued “job creation” agency has lost track of millions of taxpayer dollars. Sixty percent of taxpayer funds provided by the Wisconsin Economic Development Council went to Walker donors, some of whom had terrible financial records. The money was given to companies that didn’t promise to create jobs in the state. Some of them took the money and built up their operations in other states.

Wisconsin lost 10,000 jobs last year, when most states posted job gains.

Wisconsin has the nation’s fastest-shrinking middle class. Household income shrank in two-thirds of Wisconsin counties from 2009 to 2014.

The state ranks third in the nation for student loan debt.

Walker has worked with the state’s Republican leaders to restrict public access to government records and to eliminate laws and agencies designed to ferret out corruption.

Against this backdrop, Walker will have to regain the public’s confidence to run again. Walker’s approval rating dropped to 37 percent during his failed and heavily mocked presidential campaign last year. Wisconsinites were turned off by not only by the many gaffes he made on the campaign trail, but also the many months he spent outside the state campaigning for president.

Walker also racked up huge costs to Wisconsin taxpayers to provide him with transportation and around-the-clock security.

Shortly before his tight 2014 reelection, Walker said he had no interest in a White House run.

In a public-relations effort to assure Wisconsinites that he’s still interested in the state, he is currently touring the state conducting invitation-only listening sessions. He says that he’s spending time thinking about the next 20 years for the state.

Walker and his wife Tonette are selling their house in a Milwaukee suburb. His personal financial problems, including a high level of consumer credit card debt were well documented by the press during his presidential campaign.

The two-story, three-bedroom colonial in Wauwatosa is on the market for $338,000. Walker tweeted Sunday night that with his sons in college, the couple is looking at downsizing.

See also: Scott Walker’s latest approval rating

Scott Walker says lawmakers who think the budget’s timing is important are ‘delusional’

Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said yesterday he still does not have the votes to pass the state budget, and it seems likely that a $500 million financing plan for a new Milwaukee Bucks stadium will be debated separately instead of as part of the budget, as planned.

Gov. Scott Walker says it makes no difference when the budget passes, and the sense of urgency surrounding budget negotiations shows that lawmakers are “delusional.”

Fitzgerald told 620-WTMJ, Journal Broadcast Group’s conservative talk radio, that he is still working with Republican senators who want to see items “included, eliminated or modified” in the budget. The budget-writing Joint Finance Committee has not met since May 29 and has no meetings scheduled.

After winning re-election in November, Gov. Scott Walker said he wanted the budget to pass sooner than usual, presumably so that he could officially launch his presidential campaign. He touted the early approval of his prior two budgets.

But now, despite holding a stronger majority than ever in the Capitol, Walker’s budget is in a stalemate situation and he poo-poohs the delay, saying that that it really doesn’t matter when the budget passes.

In fact, Walker said there’s a “delusional mindset in the Capitol” — a jab at legislative Republicans and Democrats alike — about any harm being done if the budget does not get passed by the end of the fiscal year (June 30).

“If we go a week or two in July, unlike the federal government we don’t shut down,” Walker said. “Nothing happens.”

Republican leaders said their goal was to pass the budget in the Senate and Assembly by July 1, an aggressive timeline that they’re highly unlikely to meet with so much yet unresolved.

The budget negotiations are particularly tense this year due to a $2.3 billion budget deficit created by Walker’s tax and cash giveaway programs to corporations and ultra-wealthy individuals. The crony giveaways were coupled with Walker’s refusal to accept federal tax dollars for health care, rail transportation, Internet expansion and other projects.

Although Walker said it’s wrong to take federal tax dollars — paid for, in part, by Wisconsin taxpayers — for any of the items above, he’s eager to accept U.S. money for pet highway projects, even though audits have shown the majority of them are unneeded. A federal court recently ruled it would not help the state widen Highway 23 due to inflated traffic projections presented by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for that project.

Road builders are among Wisconsin’s most generous campaign donors, which has complicated the issue even more. Walker refuses to raise fees or taxes to pay for the massive construction projects. Such a move would destroy his presidential campaign. Instead, the governor wants to issue bonds to pay for the road work.

But GOP leaders refuse to raise the money that way, arguing that it merely shifts the cost to future taxpayers — a strategy that Walker became famous for when he served as Milwaukee County Executive.

Still, Republican leaders seem hesitant to delay work on the Zoo Interchange near Milwaukee, which remains a sore spot in budget negotiations.

Fitzgerald said Republican senators firmly believed that $800 million in cuts for state highway and transportation projects must not affect the ongoing Zoo Interchange work near Milwaukee. That’s a key difference between Assembly Republicans who want cuts in road funding to be spread evenly throughout the state.

The Zoo Interchange forms the junction of Interstate 94, I-894 and U.S. 45 just west of Milwaukee. The redesign of the interchange began in 2013 and is expected to cost $1.7 billion by the time it’s done in 2018, if it remains on track.

“It’s got to be completed,” Fitzgerald said. “It’s not something to mess with. And we’re all going to have egg on our face if the busiest interchange in Wisconsin is hanging there undone for two years. It’s ridiculous.”

The Bucks arena deal is another ongoing source of division in the budget. Fitzgerald said a majority of Senate Republicans want to see the deal removed from the budget and voted on separately. He said that way Democrats from Milwaukee could register their votes in support.

Fitzgerald said one idea that has not been ruled out is placing a surcharge on ticket sales to help pay for the arena. The proposed plan called for $250 million in money from the public and $250 million from current and former Bucks owners.

Elimination of the state’s policy of paying prevailing wages on government construction projects is a third issue holding up budget negotiations. Tea party followers want to get rid of the law, which helps to shore up construction wages in the state as well as construction quality. Democrats and some mainstream Republicans believe the law contributes to maintaining liveable wages in the state.

Fitzgerald said Republicans discussed three alternative plans but have not been able to reach a middle ground. Two Republican senators — Duey Stroebel and Steve Nass — have said they won’t vote for a budget that doesn’t repeal the prevailing wage at least for local projects.

Fitzgerald said he wasn’t frustrated with the status of budget talks, and his goal remains to have all 19 Republicans vote for the $70 billion, two-year spending plan. There are 14 Democrats in the Senate. That means Fitzgerald can only lose two votes to have enough to pass the plan.

Scott Bauer of The Associated Press contributed to this article.

Wisconsin may sell naming rights for state parks

The secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources says she’s considering selling naming rights to state parks.

The sales could take place in the next two years, according to DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp, who testified recently at a legislative budget hearing. She told the Legislature’s budget committee that she’s looking ways to raise money for state parks.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s budget proposes eliminating tax support for the public parks and raising fees for admission and camping.

Now Stepp has told lawmakers that everything’s on the table in terms of raising funds, including naming rights.

Assembly Democrats Chris Taylor and Gordon Hintz, both members of the Joint Committee on Finance, on March 3 released a joint statement: “After four years of budget mismanagement, the governor and his administration are pulling out all the stops to make us see the $2.2 billion Walker deficit through rose-colored glasses. Apparently freezing the Stewardship Program, kneecapping the DNR board and raising user fees is not enough. Now the governor and his DNR secretary may intend to sell off naming rights to our state’s public parks to the highest bidder.

“Wisconsinites value their unique heritage and pristine nature of state parks and recreation areas. No one is asking for a corporate sell-out of our state parks. Rather than eliminating our commitment to Wisconsin’s shared values, we should continue to make smart investments in the numerous outdoor opportunities that generate $1 billion in economic activity each year. Wisconsin is a great place to work and play, and is a destination for visitors from around the globe. Let’s keep it that way.”

Walker proposes $300-million cut, more freedom to UW system

Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to give the University of Wisconsin System more freedom would allow it to impose unchecked tuition increases that could price students out of college, one of the system’s toughest critics and student leaders said.

Walker’s proposal would strip the system of $300 million in funding — in addition to the $250 million that the governor slashed from the system four years ago. In exchange, he would give more autonomy to the governor-appointed Board of Regents, which oversees the system’s 26 campuses, on a wide range of issues, including raising tuition without Legislative approval starting in 2017.

Walker, who’s mulling a 2016 presidential bid, proposed the plan as he struggles to resolve a projected $2 billion deficit in the 2015-2017 budget. The deficit undermines his presidential campaign boasts that he balanced Wisconsin’s budget after inheriting a $3-billion projected deficit.

wThe Associated Students of Madison, UW-Madison’s student government organization, issued a statement saying tuition increases would be inevitable under Walker’s plan.

UW System administration needs to assure students … that the … institutions will not increase tuition as a way to absorb these cuts on the backs of students after this budget,” ASM vice chair Derek Field said.

UW System President Ray Cross has acknowledged each institution will feel the $300 million cut but contends more autonomy is an opportunity to operate more efficiently. System leaders believe it’s in no one’s interest to “simply jack up” tuition, Cross said in an email to The Associated Press.

Under the plan, system leaders would control employee salaries, tenure and procurement contracts, among other things. Future state funding would come through a block grant fueled by sales tax revenue with annual increases tied to inflation. Right now, the state money that goes to the system is a combination of different taxes. The governor and Legislature set the payout amount during budget negotiations every two years.

Walker wants to keep a tuition freeze that the Legislature imposed last year in place until 2017. Then lawmakers would have no ability to limit increases. The system had raised tuition 5.5 percent each of the six years leading up to the freeze.

Things to know about Wisconsin Legislature in 2015

Wisconsin’s next two-year legislative session started on Jan. 5 with Gov. Scott Walker and lawmakers taking their oaths of office.

Here are some key things to know about the session and issues lawmakers expect to take up:

REPUBLICANS ARE STILL RUNNING THE SHOW

Republicans control state government for the third straight session after Walker won a second term in November and the GOP expanded their majorities in the Assembly and the Senate. Rep. Robin Vos of Rochester is serving a second straight stint as Assembly speaker. Sen. Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau returned to lead Senate Republicans for the third straight session. Rep. Peter Barca of Kenosha is leadingAssembly Democrats and Sen. Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse is heading up Senate Democrats, but both groups will be all but powerless.

SPENDING PLAN

One of Republicans’ first jobs will be developing the 2015-17 state budget, a spending outline for state agencies.

Walker will introduce an initial plan early in the year and the Legislature’s finance committee will spend months revising it before the full Assembly and Senate approve it.

The state faces a $2.2 billion deficit, which will make it more difficult for Walker to enact property tax cuts he promised while campaigning.

Republicans also will have to figure out how to pay for road construction; the state Department of Transportation wants $751 million in higher gas taxes and fees to plug its own budget gap.

This budget is especially crucial for Walker. He’s mulling a 2016 presidential run and the spending plan represents his last, best opportunity for achievements that might play well on the campaign trail in Iowa.

MORE UNION STRIFE?

Four years removed from massive protests in Madison over Walker’s law stripping public employees of almost all their collective bargaining rights, Republican lawmakers are mulling right-to-work legislation.

Such laws prohibit unions from requiring private sector workers join them or pay dues as a condition of employment.

Rep. Chris Kapenga of Delafield has promised to introduce such a bill, raising the specter of more protests.

Fitzgerald has said he thinks the Legislature should move on the issue quickly. Walker has said he wants the Legislature to focus on his agenda, not right-to-work, but he hasn’t said he would veto the legislation.

VOUCHER SCHOOLS

Republicans are looking to loosen or eliminate enrollment caps on the state’s private school voucher program, which gives students subsidies for private schools. The program is now capped at 1,000 kids in schools participating outside of Milwaukee and Racine.

GOVERNMENT ACCOUNTABILTY

Vos has repeatedly said he wants to overhaul the Government Accountability Board, the nonpartisan panel that oversees Wisconsin elections, ethics, lobbying and campaign finance law. A number of Republican lawmakers want to shift back to a more partisan model.

SORTING IT ALL OUT

The Legislature’s newly revamped website, http://legis.wisconsin.gov/, allows visitors to watch bills’ progress, search committee and floor period schedules and follow floor debates in almost real time. The site also offers links to bills from previous sessions, lawmakers’ biographies and their contact information, state statutes and a database of lobbyists.

Walker says he’ll cut property taxes, but won’t say how he’ll plug budget hole

Gov. Scott Walker said in an interview Dec. 29 he remains committed to lowering property taxes next year as he promised in his re-election campaign, even though the state faces a projected $2.2 billion state budget shortfall that will likely result in spending cuts and other money-saving moves.

Walker spoke to The Associated Press from the governor’s mansion as he prepares to be sworn in for his second term on Jan. 5. Republicans return with even larger majorities in both the state Senate and Assembly, which should help Walker pursue his agenda while he also mulls a run for president in 2016.

Walker said many decisions have yet to be made about the budget, which he will submit to the Legislature likely in early February and that will be passed in late spring. He didn’t spell out how he would pay for a property tax cut, or how much it would be, or explain how he would plug the shortfall, saying those details would come when he puts his budget forward.

He also declined to say whether he would support the gas tax increase and new fee for owners of hybrid and electric cars that were included in a $750 million tax and fee hike proposal from his Department of Transportation.

“It’s a tight budget,” Walker said. “We have to find ways to balance it all throughout the state budget.”

The Democratic legislative leaders, Rep. Peter Barca and Sen. Jennifer Shilling, said Republicans should focus on helping the middle class.

“Rather than digging a deeper budget hole, we need to invest in education, worker training and economic infrastructure to create jobs and build toward a brighter future,” Shilling said in a statement.

Walker said he is looking at merging and consolidating duties of a number of state agencies, including work done at his chief jobs agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. He’s also looking at shuffling duties at the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority, the Department of Safety and Professional Services and the Department of Financial Institutions.

While that proposal remains a work in progress, Walker was similarly vague about his plans for balancing the budget and delivering a property tax cut. He also didn’t say whether public schools and the University of Wisconsin System would get the additional money they requested.

“That depends on where we’re at at the tail end of the budget process,” he said when asked if K-12 education would see an increase. And as for the UW System, Walker said he was looking at ways to give UW campuses more flexibility as a way to save money.

While Walker remains focused on cutting property taxes, it appears any income tax reduction will have to wait. He had promised during the campaign to cut both.

“We’ll make sure that property taxes continue to go down,” Walker said. “I don’t know that there will be a specific proposal for a tax cut, at least immediately, on income.”

Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature cut taxes by about $2 billion during his first term, with a focus on both property and income taxes as well as manufacturing taxes. Because of those cuts, the typical homeowner will pay $141 less in property taxes this year than they did in 2010.

$2 million deficit for anti-gay marriage group NOM

The National Organization for Marriage, the nonprofit that for years has lead the campaign against marriage equality in the United States, is ending 2013 facing big political losses and a $2 million deficit.

The Human Rights Campaign reported on Nov. 19 that NOM’s latest financial documents show the organization ending the year “in the red,” with roughly a $2 million dollar deficit. Three donors accounted for two-thirds of NOM’s funding. HRC, the nation’s largest gay civil rights group, said in a news release that this is “further evidence that everyday Americans have little interest in furthering NOM’s extremist agenda.”

HRC said a 990 form provided by the National Organization for Marriage Education Fund shows the charitable group loaning the lobbying-political group NOM about $1.7 million. HRC said the loan raises a question: Can the charity loan the political group money without violating its tax-exempt status?

HRC obtained the documents after filing a federal complaint with the IRS, pointing out that federal law requires organizations to release their 990s the same day an in-person request is made — which HRC did late last week.

“It’s becoming increasingly difficult to look at the so-called National Organization for Marriage as a viable entity,” said Fred Sainz, HRC’s vice president of communications. “The organization draws its funds from just a few mega-donors and it boasts a losing electoral track record over the past few years that reflects how increasingly out-of-step NOM’s anti-LGBT agenda is with the values of the average American voter.”

HRC said the documents show that NOM spent nearly $5.7 million last year on its unsuccessful efforts to block marriage equality in the states — specifically in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington and to oust Iowa justices who upheld equality.

NOM was established in 2007 and played a role in the effort to pass Proposition 8 in California. The ballot initiative, which defined marriage as the union of a man and a woman in the state, has since been overturned.

Facing deficit, LGBT Center reaches out to community

Fighting to keep its doors open in the face of a budget deficit, the Milwaukee LGBT Community Center held a public meeting on Jan. 26 to re-engage with supporters and spur them into action.

More than 150 people jammed the center’s community room to hear about the financial situation, express their support for the center’s mission and air grievances, mostly about former executive director Maggi Cage.

Interim executive director Sheldon Walker, who led the meeting, began by apologizing for the period under Cage’s leadership, during which the center became estranged from its constituents. The former board co-chair, Walker tried throughout the 90-minute meeting to steer the dialogue toward the future.

“We, too have strong feelings, and what we’re doing is channeling those feelings into positive solutions,” Walker said, speaking on behalf of the board. “We owe a sincere apology (for) the problems that have occurred under our watch. We are really very focused at this time on correcting those wrongs.”

Walker disseminated statistics from the center’s 2011 unaudited income statement showing that the organization lost $243,734 last year. The center needs $110,000 immediately to take care of accounts payable and a bank loan, as well as an additional $100,000 to restore operating cash levels.

Expenses at the center last year totaled $992,724, while revenue was $748,990. About 70 percent of revenue came from contracted services and program-specific grants, which cannot be used to pay for such overheard costs as rent and salaries unrelated to the programs.

Individual gifts to the center during 2011 amounted to $18,067, workplace giving was $31,969 and membership dues brought in $5,775.

Due to the center’s dire financial situation, recently announced merger talks with Diverse & Resilient have been suspended. “The negotiations committee from the two agencies agrees that the center must first address its current financial crisis,” said a statement released just days after the community meeting.

Many of the supporters who attended the center’s January community meeting spoke passionately about its mission and its critical role in the community. They also reached into their pockets to contribute about $1,000 to the center, Walker said.

The tone of the meeting was respectful but sometimes emotional. Supporters voiced some tough criticisms and opinions. Several called on the remaining four board members to resign, complaining that they’d failed in their oversight duties.

“The board really forgot that the board is the boss of the executive director,” said Denise Cawley.

Walker said he and the board were unaware of the extent to which Cage had alienated the center’s members and offended other LGBT groups.

“It’s unbelievable that you didn’t know what was happening here for the past year,” responded Chuck Grosz, office and event coordinator for the Cream City Foundation. He pressed for an accounting of the compensation deal that Cage received on her departure – information Walker said he could not provide due to privacy laws surrounding personnel matters.

Attendees voiced strong support for changing the organization’s bylaws to allow members to elect the board. That was how the center operated before Cage pushed through a change to permit only existing board members to elect new members.

Several supporters complained that the action had muted public input and isolated the board from its membership.

Speakers also complained that the center had evolved under Cage’s direction into essentially a social services provider rather than a community gathering place. The idea was floated of a survey to determine what sort of programming the community wants at the center.

The center’s downtown location also drew criticism – for its cost as well as for inadequate parking. The center moved into its current space at 252 E. Highland Ave. a little over a year ago, signing a 10-year lease for the expansive, loft-like space.

According to the statement provided at the meeting, that space cost the group $170,208 last year for rent and parking.

Jamie Woods said the parking situation is particularly burdensome for transgender people, who fear being harassed on the street when they have to park several blocks away and walk through the busy surrounding neighborhood.

Walker said the board is in the process of negotiating lower rent payments to reduce costs. The center received nearly $31,000 last year in rental income, and the space is sufficient to add additional tenants.

Despite all the concerns raised during the meeting, the prevailing sentiment was that the center is worth saving – and that the community is up to the task.

“This is the beginning of a grassroots movement again to rebirth the center,” said former executive director Neil Albrecht. “I see so many familiar faces of the people who were there in the early days. … It’s difficult for me to fathom how we got here … but the past is the past.”

“This feels like a family reunion to me,” said Jane Ottow. We are a strong community, we’re a very loving community and we’re a very forgiving community. We’ve been through worse things than this and we can overcome. We need to find our strength again. … The healing will occur.”

To contribute

The Milwaukee LGBT Community Center is struggling to keep its doors open and critical programs going. To make a donation, go to mkelgbt.org or phone 414-271-2656. Checks made out to the center can be mailed to interim executive director Sheldon Walker at Milwaukee LGBT Community Center, 252 E. Highland Ave., Milwaukee WI 53202.