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home : news : news November 24, 2015

1/22/2014 12:20:00 PM
Political Digest: A look at state and local issues

Critics blast Walker plan to drug test welfare recipients

This week 15 organizations joined together to express concern over Gov. Scott Walker’s proposal to require applicants for and recipients of public assistance and unemployment insurance to pass drug tests.

The groups sent a joint letter to Walker and members of the Legislature in advance of the governor’s budget address. The letter was signed by nonpartisan advocates for low-income Wisconsinites, members of Wisconsin’s faith community, advocates for Wisconsin women, representatives of organized labor, and national organizations.

The groups said they were posing a number of concerns to the governor about his proposal, said David R. Riemer, senior fellow at the Community Advocates Public Policy Institute.

“Gov. Walker’s proposal raises a series of important questions for policymakers to address before going full steam into removing Wisconsinites from public assistance and unemployment insurance for not passing drug tests,” Riemer said. “These questions concern the constitutionality of the plan, its costs, the many new processes that will have to be implemented, and evidence about whether the plan would improve public health and is cost effective.”

Riemer said that, even if all the questions were answered, drug testing was hardly a wise policy solution for what he called greatly increasing employment and reducing poverty in Wisconsin.

Reimer said the letter suggested that policymakers look to evidence-based solutions that could dramatically reduce poverty and help Wisconsinites get back to work: expanding the state’s transitional jobs program, restoring and expanding the state earned income tax credit and Homestead Credit, raising the state’s minimum wage, and expanding BadgerCare to cover all adults with incomes up to 133 percent of the federal poverty level.


Senate passes LAB authority bill

The state Senate unanimously passed this week a bill that reaffirms the Legislative Audit Bureau’s authority to review state agency documents and specifically provides Legislative Audit Bureau access to Government Accountability Board investigatory records.

“I wish to thank my colleagues for supporting this legislation to cement the Legislative Audit Bureau’s authority to review all state government documents,” the bill’s author, Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay), said. “This legislation is vital to better serve the taxpayers of Wisconsin to keep government transparent and accountable. Maintaining oversight on government operations through legislative audits ensures that the intent of the law is being fulfilled in an efficient and effective manner.”

The legislation, introduced by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, is in response to a July 2014 attorney general opinion that concluded that state law prohibits the GAB from providing confidential investigative records to LAB because that disclosure is not “specifically authorized by law.”

The LAB currently has access to all state agency documents, Cowles said. This legislation simply reaffirms LAB authority to review agency documents that are confidential by law by specifically providing access to those documents for review.

The legislation would not allow the disclosure of confidential information through audit reports, he said.


Chief justice to select new GAB candidate committee

Four Wisconsin Court of Appeals judges were to be selected this week to serve on the Government Accountability Board’s candidate committee.

Wisconsin Supreme Court chief justice Shirley S. Abrahamson conducted a random drawing Thursday prior to oral arguments in the Supreme Court hearing room at the Capitol. As required by state law, all seven justices must be present for the drawing.

The candidate committee is responsible for reviewing applications by former state judges to serve as members of the GAB, and must unanimously agree on each nominee. For each vacancy, the committee forwards at least two names to the governor. The governor’s appointment must be confirmed with the advice and consent of the state Senate by a two-thirds vote.

This spring, the candidate committee will review applications to fill the seat of Judge Thomas H. Barland of Eau Claire, whose six-year term expires in May. Barland, who served as board chairman in 2011 and 2014, will not seek reappointment for another term.

The GAB is made up of six members who are all former state judges and who must be nonpartisan, which means they may not be a member of a political party or make political donations for a year prior to appointment and during their service.

Members serve staggered, six-year terms. The agency’s nonpartisan structure, and the process for selecting its board members, is unique in the United States.

The new candidate committee begins its two-year term on March 1, 2015. The outgoing candidate committee was comprised of judge Ralph Adam Fine of District I in Milwaukee (who passed away in early December 2014), judge Paul F. Reilly of District II in Waukesha, deputy chief and presiding judge Michael W. Hoover of District III in Wausau, and presiding judge Paul Lundsten of District IV in Madison.


Lawmakers offer differing views on Obama budget

U.S. Rep. Reid Ribble, Republican of Wisconsin, and Rep. Mark Pocan, Democrat of Wisconsin, offered competing views this week of President Obama’s proposed budget for the new year.

Pocan, a member of the House Budget Committee, said the budget proposal reflected the country’s improving economy.

“As our economy rebounds from the recession, so should our investments to strengthen the middle-class,” Pocan said. “The president has laid out an aggressive agenda to make critical investments in our nation’s infrastructure, job training, and education. These investments will help boost the economy and raise the incomes of middle-class families and those working to join the middle class.”

Pocan said he also applauded the president for proposing to replace what Pocan called draconian sequester cuts that have squeezed investments in education and research.

“Now is the time to get rid of the austerity mentality some had during the recession and begin to reinvest in America’s hard-working men and women,” he said. “President Obama has put forward a budget representing our priorities and values – responsibly growing the economy through critical investments in infrastructure, education, and scientific research.”

Ribble wasn’t so sanguine and said the president was simply playing politics.

“The president has once again submitted a political paper instead of a serious budget,” Ribble said. “In 2006 then Sen. Obama had this to say: ‘Increasing America’s debt weakens us domestically and internationally. Leadership means that ‘the buck stops here.’ Instead, Washington is shifting the burden of bad choices today onto the backs of our children and grandchildren. America has a debt problem and a failure of leadership. Americans deserve better.’”

Now, Ribble said, Obama was following the same foolhardy policies he decried just a few years ago.

“While claiming he wants to help the middle class, the president’s budget ignores the degradation of the Social Security Old-Age Trust Fund,” Ribble said. “He offers no reforms to the Social Security Disability Insurance Trust Fund, which will be insolvent in less than 24 months. There are no provisions for shoring up the troubled Medicare trust funds nor a single long-term proposal to fix our crumbling infrastructure.”

In all, Ribble said, the proposed budget would increase interest payments on the national debt, rising from $230 billion to $800 billion within a decade.

“Once again, he wants to spend today and have our children pay tomorrow,” Ribble said. “In a word, the president’s proposal is simply another disappointment.”


AARP: Most workers aren’t saving enough for retirement

Most Wisconsin workers are not confident they will have enough savings for retirement, according to a new survey, which AARP says provides more evidence to support the need for Wisconsin to create a retirement savings option for workers.

The 21-page survey – titled “Building a Secure Financial Future in Wisconsin: Key Findings from an AARP Survey” – shows that 60 percent of working registered voters age 45 and older say they are “very” or “somewhat” likely to put off retirement as long as possible due to a lack of savings.

Almost half (42 percent) of this group indicate their employer does not offer a workplace savings plan to employees such as a 401K or 403b. Nearly six in 10 (59 percent) say their employer does not offer the traditional pension plan.

Among those not currently participating in a workplace savings plan or any other retirement options tested in the survey, one of their top reasons is a lack of plan through their employer.

“Social Security simply isn’t enough to depend on in retirement and too many people don’t have a way to save at work,” said AARP Wisconsin federal advocacy director Lisa Lamkins. “A workplace savings option would be all about choice and control. It would be up to you if you want to contribute to your account, and your account would follow you if you switch jobs so you can continue to be in control of your future.”

The results should be a wakeup call for state legislators to support a state-run savings program for those without access in the workplace, Lamkins said.

“We hope our state Legislature will re-introduce the Wisconsin Private Secure Retirement Act, which was proposed last year to accomplish this goal,” she said. “We also urge them to take a look at what neighboring states have successfully accomplished on this nonpartisan issue.”

Most of those surveyed (88 percent) said they wish they had more money saved for their retirement years.

“The bottom line is that AARP wants to ensure people have the personal and retirement savings they need to live independently in their own home as they grow older,” Lamkins said. “If they work hard, plan, and make responsible financial decisions, a safe and secure retirement is within reach.”

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