Tag Archives: joint finance committee

Walker gave over $1 billion to the rich, but has no evidence it created jobs

In recent testimony before the Legislature, the Secretary of the Department of Revenue for the Walker administration claimed that a runaway manufacturing and agricultural tax giveaway to the wealthy and corporations enacted in the 2011 state budget is helping create jobs. But in response to an open records request by One Wisconsin Now seeking documentation to back up Rick Chandler’s job creation claim the agency replied: “We do not have any such records.”

In 2011, Gov. Scott Walker and his GOP cohorts concocted a late-night scheme to give away more of our money to their wealthy friends under the guise of creating jobs. Walker never required proving jobs were created to get the money, and now we find that his own administration can’t provide a shred of evidence of any actual jobs actually being created.

As reported by the Associated Press on March 29, “Gov. Scott Walker’s Revenue Department secretary is defending a manufacturing tax credit that’s cost far more than originally expected. Revenue Department Secretary Rick Chandler told lawmakers on the Joint Finance Committee on April 20 that the manufacturing and ag tax credit has helped led (sic) to an increase of 31,000 manufacturing jobs in the state since 2011. The tax credit was passed in 2011 but took effect in 2013. It’s projected to cost $1.4 billion by mid-2019. It’s costing more than twice as much as originally estimated now that it’s fully implemented. (Editor’s Note: Even if the money had created 31,000 jobs, that would mean each job cost more than $45,000.)

Seeking confirmation of Chandler’s allegation, One Wisconsin Now submitted a request under the state open records law for “copies of all documents which show jobs created specifically and as a direct result of the manufacturing and agriculture tax credit, since its adoption in the 2011 budget.”

In response, the DOR replied, “We received your open records request for copies of all documents which show jobs created specifically and as a direct result of the manufacturing and agriculture tax credit, since its adoption in the 2011 budget. We do not have any such records.”

According to an analysis of the tax loophole by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, 11 of the wealthiest people in Wisconsin will reap a windfall of $21 million in 2017, with no requirement that jobs be created. And, in 2017, claimants making over $1 million will be showered with tax breaks of over $161 million.

Walker and the legislative Republicans have cut public education, technical colleges and our university by record amounts. They’ve kicked tens of thousands of people off their health care. They’ve allowed our roads to crumble. It is an outrage they can’t back up their job claims with any proof

Scot Ross is executive director of One Wisconsin Now.

 

Wisconsinites are suffering from state’s self-inflicted budget woes

Just six months after Wisconsin’s two-year state budget was passed, state revenues are projected to come in below expectations due to slow economic growth. Less revenue makes it more difficult for the current Legislature to pass bills with any cost. Even worse, the slower economic growth projections forecast significant budget challenges for the future 2017–2019 budget.

But don’t take it from me. On Feb. 2, Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said, “I think this next state budget is going to be just as rough as this past one. The economy is not going to continue to soar, it’s going to lag.” As a reminder, that “past one” that Sen. Fitzgerald is referring to is the budget that slashed $250 million from the UW System and failed even to attempt addressing the $1.05 billion cut from public schools over the last five years.  What is most frustrating is these cuts cannot simply be chalked up to a lack of money, since they were made during a budget that spent over a billion dollars more than the previous one.

 So why is Wisconsin state government in such bad financial shape? The answer is short-sighted budgeting and poor state economic growth.

Two budget decisions continue to stand out. The first is the ongoing decision to refuse the Medicaid expansion that would save Wisconsin taxpayers $320 million in our current budget alone, while providing health insurance for 83,000 more people.  Wisconsin is the only upper Midwestern state to reject the federal money. Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans have decided that denying health insurance to those earning less than $16,240 a year (to make a political point) is more important than funding K-12 public education and the UW System.

 The second budget decision has been blindly supporting an expansive tax credit passed in Walker’s first budget in 2011 that eliminates most state income taxes on owners of factories and agriculture producers. Originally estimated to cost $128 million a year by 2016–17, it is now estimated to cost 283.9 million. Simply delaying the final phase-in of this credit by two years could have saved nearly $78 million in the current budget.

 These tax cuts are among the more than $4.7 billion in state tax cuts passed over the last 5 years in an effort to drive economic growth. But the reality is that it hasn’t worked: Wisconsin’s economy has continued to lag behind the nation as well as neighboring states.  Over the last four years, Wisconsin has been 32nd in private-sector job growth and last in the Midwest. Over the last year, Wisconsin’s job-growth rate has been nearly half the national rate.

Last week, the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank announced that Wisconsin is one of only seven states that likely has a shrinking economy in spite of the growing national economy.  This news is made worse by the fact that Wisconsin is one of the only states in that group that cannot attribute its sluggish performance to historically low oil prices. This data mirrors the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ preliminary estimates that show Wisconsin lost 8,800 private-sector jobs between October and December of 2015.

 So, while Senator Fitzgerald and I don’t agree often, I must agree wholeheartedly with his assessment that our next state budget is likely to be “rough.”

And I will go even further and make the not-so-bold prediction that rough budgets will continue as long the governor and Republican majority sacrifice valued Wisconsin institutions, like education, on the altar of badly crafted tax cuts that mostly benefit the wealthy and aren’t designed to create jobs.

State Repr. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh) serves on the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee.

GOP essentially gives Enbridge the right to put oil pipelines anywhere in the state — without the property owner’s permission

Wisconsin’s Republican leadership has enacted a measure that would allow the accident-prone Canadian energy company Enbridge to bury oil pipelines on property anywhere in the state it desires. The property owner’s approval is not required.

The measure was among 67 proposals in the Joint Finance Committee’s wrap-up motion (known as the 999 motion) to the 2015–17 biennial budget approval process. Many of the proposals were both controversial and unrelated to the budget, reflecting a strategy used by both parties for circumventing public attention and debate on hot-button issues.

The 999 proposals were harshest on environmental issues, according to Wisconsin conservation groups. The Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters described the budget as a whole as “a grab bag of anti-conservation policy.”

Among the worst of the new environmental laws, conservationists say, are those that were designed to benefit Enbridge, the world’s largest transporter of tar sands oil. The company has close ties with Wisconsin Republicans.

The impetus for the new laws is to expedite Enbridge’s plan to expand the volume on Line 61, which crosses the state diagonally from Superior to Flanagan, Illinois, with a pipeline conveying a half-million barrels of tar sands crude a day. Enbridge wants to triple that volume, which would make Line 61 it the highest-volume pipeline in the nation — one-third larger than the Keystone XL.

Line 61 passes through every major waterway in the state, and Enbridge has the Western Hemisphere’s worst record for oil spills — a combination of factors that alarms environmentalists.

According to the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters, Enbridge is guilty of more than 100 environmental violations in 14 Wisconsin counties. In 2010, the break of an Enbridge line in Michigan spewed oil for more than 17 hours before Enbridge realized it was leaking. It was the largest inland oil spill in U.S. history, with a clean-up price tag of $1.2 billion. EPA officials struggled three years to get Enbridge to clean up the impacted area, and environmentalists say the work is still incomplete.

Enbridge’s plan to expand Line 61 had been held up by Dane County, where officials demanded that the company carry $25 million in pollution insurance before they would approve a new pumping station in the county’s northeastern corner.

But with a proposal included in the 999 motion, Republican leaders enabled Enbridge to circumvent the requirement with a new law that bans local jurisdictions from requiring insurance on an operator of a hazardous liquid pipeline as long as the company carries comprehensive insurance coverage, according to Elizabeth Ward, conservation programs coordinator for the Sierra Club’s John Muir chapter.

Given the cost of clean-ups, the frequency of Enbridge accidents and the company’s history of reluctance to clean up after itself, Dane County officials fear the company’s current insurance coverage is inadequate.

Seizing land

Another item folded secretly into the 999 motion expands the state’s eminent domain law so that it virtually would allow Enbridge to seize property from any individual and use it for placing a pipeline. Although the Public Service Commission must deem such an action necessary for the public interest, environmentalists say obtaining its permission would be merely a formality in most cases, given that Walker, who appoints its commissioners, controls the PSC.

Wisconsin Public Radio’s Danielle Kaeding reported that legislative drafting files show Enbridge had direct involvement in changing the wording of the eminent domain law to include itself.  

“A staffer with Assembly Speaker Robin Vos’ office requested Enbridge Energy attorneys speak with drafters on a language change affecting who has power to take private property for public use,” WPR reported.

Enbridge has shown its willingness to exercise eminent domain rights in other states. It recently filed a lawsuit in North Dakota against holdout landowners who refused to give the company permission to use their properties for a pipeline that will convey tar sands oil, the most hazardous of all petroleum products to transport, from North Dakota to Superior, Wisconsin.

Enbridge also has eminent domain rights in Michigan, where in 2012 the company took 70 homeowners in Ingham and Livingston counties to court to force them to relinquish their property for the installation of a new pipeline. The new pipeline replaced the one that ruptured in 2010 and dumped 800,000 gallons of crude oil into a Kalamazoo River tributary near Marshall.

On July 8, the same day the Legislature approved the final budget, demonstrators congregated outside Gov. Walker’s office in Madison to protest what 350-Madison called “a Republican scheme to pay off the Enbridge pipeline company in the state budget bill.” 

Protesters floated a balloon shaped like an octopus next to the Walker’s East Wing office. The octopus dropped thousands of dollars in monopoly money “to represent the campaign contributions it expects the governor and Republican legislators to receive for doing the company’s bidding,” according to a press release.

“Since the politicians are so intent on getting campaign contributions, regardless of the harm it does to the state’s taxpayers and landowners along the line, we thought we’d help speed up getting the pipeline company’s contributions to the governor,” said landowner Ronni Monroe from Jefferson County, where the company’s new Dane County pumping station will now be built.

“Enbridge is a $42 billion Canadian pipeline company that exploits loopholes to avoid paying federal and state income taxes. It hired four high paid lobbyists to push through what is likely to turn into a $1 billion taxpayer bailout for itself at Wisconsin’s expense as part of the 2015 state budget,” said Carl Whiting with 350-Madison.

Read the Wisconsin League of Conservation Voters’ analysis of the budget’s conservation impacts.

Read the last-minute proposals inserted into the budget by Wisconsin’s Republican leadership

At the end of the day on July 2, in advance of the long July 4 holiday weekend, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee introduced its wrap-up motion to the budget approval process. Known as the 999 motion, it included 67 different proposals — many of them highly controversial and unrelated to the budget. Most, if not all of the proposals, were presented without prior debate or discussion.

Included among the 999 proposals introduced by Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, were measures to gut the state’s open records law, allow oil sands pipeline companies to seize any private land in the state through eminent domain, repeal the state’s “living wage” law, and delete information from investigative reports of shootings or other deaths caused by police officers.

Click the link to read the proposals included in the 999 motion.

Senate leader on budget deal: ‘I don’t know where we’re at’

Republicans who control the Legislature aren’t any closer to reaching a deal on a new state budget, with no agreements yet on how to pay for transportation projects or whether to back a financing plan for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said yesterday.

“I don’t know where we’re at,” Fitzgerald said before the Senate met to consider a bill that would ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy. Democrats, who condemned the bill for the suffering it will cause women, called it an attempt to distract voters from the GOP’s floundering budget process.

Fitzgerald said there’s no agreement yet on whether to repeal or scale back the state’s prevailing wage law, which requires workers on certain public projects to be paid a wage based on a complex formula that critics say inflates their pay because of an over-reliance on union salaries. Backers of the law warn that overturning it will cause a free-fall in construction wages and quality.

Republican leaders have been trying to reach a deal with GOP Gov. Scott Walker on several unresolved issues in the two-year state budget. The budget-writing Joint Finance Committee has not met since May 29 to finish its work, and no meetings are scheduled.

The current budget runs through the end of June, but state government will continue operating into July under terms of the old budget if Walker has not signed a new one by then. Walker, who had urged lawmakers to get the budget done far ahead of July, has said he will not announce whether he’ll run for president until after he signs the budget.

“The governor gave us a very complicated budget,” said Republican Sen. Rob Cowles, of Allouez. “And complicated budgets don’t get done quickly.”

One of the biggest unresolved issues is how to pay for ongoing transportation projects, including the Zoo Interchange in Milwaukee and the expansion of Interstate 39/90 and I-94. Walker proposed borrowing $1.3 billion over two years and has refused to consider tax or fee increases.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is among some Republicans who support increasing vehicle registration fee hikes in order to lessen the amount of borrowing. But he said yeterday that it is no longer an option, given Walker’s opposition. Instead, Vos said he supports cutting borrowing for roads by at least $800 million, but no exact figure has been settled on.

“We’d like to have a significant reduction,” Vos said at a news conference.

Vos, in a meeting last week with Walker and Fitzgerald, floated the possibility of doing no borrowing — a move that would delay road and bridge work all across the state. Walker said Friday he would agree to that, but it wouldn’t be his preference.

It is unknown how much of the proposed construction is necessary. A federal court recently ruled against U.S. dollars going toward a proposed highway-widening project approved by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

The court said the project was based on false data, and land-use advocates have performed studies showing that most of the state’s road-building projects are unneeded.

But Fitzgerald said yesterday that doing no borrowing was unrealistic.

“I think a mix is where we end up, I just don’t know where that ends up,” Fitzgerald said.

Part of the discussion is how much flexibility to give WisDOT in deciding which projects would be affected by a funding reduction, he said.

Both Fitzgerald and Vos have said they don’t have enough votes to repeal the prevailing wage, and instead they’re looking at making restrictions. State Sen. Duey Stroebel, a Republican from Cedarburg, said last week that he wouldn’t vote for the budget unless it repeals the prevailing wage for local units of government.

“The caucus is really all over the place,” Fitzgerald said on prevailing wage. “I know they would like to coalesce around something, but it hasn’t happened yet.”

Fitzgerald said senators have been talking about the Milwaukee Bucks arena financing deal — which relies on $250 million from taxpayers — and no decision has been made on whether to consider it outside of the budget, a move that could delay its passage.

Vos said Walker was personally calling on lawmakers to push them to support the Bucks deal.

Victory fund backs Pocan

The Gay & Lesbian Victory Fund has endorsed out state Rep. Mark Pocan in his bid for the Madison-area congressional seat being vacated by Tammy Baldwin to run for the U.S. Senate.

Pocan has served in the Wisconsin Assembly for more than 12 years, during six of which he sat on the state’s powerful budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, including a term as co-chair. He has taken a leadership role among Assembly Democrats, helping to secure a Democratic majority in 2008 for the first time in 14 years.

In addition to Pocan, the Victory Fund has endorsed two other openly gay congressional candidates, including Marko Llias from Washington and Mark Takano from California.

Victory Fund president Chuck Wolfe said the early endorsements signal the group plans to push hard in 2012 to increase the community’s representation in Congress, where currently just four of 535 members are openly LGBT.

The Victory Fund has also endorsed Baldwin in her Senate race.

– From staff and wire reports