Friday, April 19, 2024
Friday, April 19, 2024

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Wisconsin Shared Revenue Deal: 13 Wins for Conservatives Baked Into the Bill


Republican leaders Robin Vos and Devin LeMahieu announced on Thursday that they have reached a historic Wisconsin shared revenue deal with Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, no easy feat in the state’s bitterly divided government.

The bill accomplishes some major, long-held goals of conservatives, stopping the defunding the police movement, expanding school choice aid, putting cops back in Milwaukee schools, preventing tax dollars from funding the street car, and repealing the onerous personal property tax to help small business, for starters.

Milwaukee officials got one very big thing they wanted: The ability to have elected representatives (the Common Council and County Board) approve a sales tax increase to fix the city and county’s massive unfunded pension liabilities. Vos had previously insisted on a referendum. The City of Milwaukee will now be able to raise its sales tax by 2%. Milwaukee County will be able to raise its sales tax by .4% not .375%, if legislators in Vos’s and LeMahieu’s chambers follow their lead. The other options were worse, though; Milwaukee bankruptcy or massive cuts in services, such as 500 cops).

Republican leaders also agreed to increase shared revenue to local governments with fewer than 110,000 people from 15 to 20%, LeMahieu said. Obviously, that will help conservative areas of the state. The shared revenue formula was broken, most experts agree, stressing local governments from being able to provide core services as Biden-inflation soared. The increases are coming from a portion of the state sales tax that Wisconsin already collects.

In addition to the other conservative wins, and this is a big one, the deal directs that the shared revenue increases in all state communities go to fund local law enforcement, fire, EMS, public works, and transportation – core services, Republican leaders said. In other words, locals can’t fritter the money away on fluff.

Evers said in a statement, “I’ve reached a tentative agreement with GOP leaders on a historic increase in shared revenue to support communities of every size statewide, contingent upon a historic investment in K-12 schools and education.” In truth, Milwaukee had so mismanaged its finances and pension system that Evers really had limited leverage here.

Here are 13 wins for conservatives that were baked into the bill. In a news conference, Vos called them “conservative wins with things we struggled to get over the finish line before.” He added that the state was giving “Milwaukee the opportunity to correct years of mismanagement.”

1. Wisconsin Shared Revenue Deal: School Choice Aid Increase

Vos said in a news conference that he changed his mind on the referendum requirement because of the school choice expansion. He said there is a chance, based on estimates by school choice folks, that “we are looking at upwards of a 40% increase of the number of kids who will be able to be in a choice school.” He said Republican leaders “traded away” the referendum for that.

Vos called the shared revenue deal “transformational,” and he said it would mark the “largest expansion of school choice since the program was originally founded.” At the same time, Vos said, the plan delivers more money for public schools.

LeMahieu also touted the school choice changes, saying that the plan “invests heavily in school choice” while also being the “biggest investment in public education ever.”

Evers acknowledged that the plan provides a “per pupil aid increase for choice and independent charter schools.” Vos said that, under the new formula, private choice K-8 schools will get $9,500 per pupil, charter schools $11,000 and high schools $12,000, still less than the amount spent in any public school.

In addition, he said the deal increases the reimbursement rate for special education and puts $50 million into a literacy program.

2. Repeal of the Personal Property Tax

The bill repeals the personal property tax for everyone in the state. This has been a particularly onerous tax for small businesses.

3. Preventing the Milwaukee Police Department From Being Defunded

According to state Rep. Tony Kurtz, a Republican, the city must maintain a strength of 1,725 sworn officers on the Milwaukee Police Department. We previously reported that the number of sworn MPD officers had dropped more than 18% since the mid-1990s as homicide soars.

In addition, 218 firefighters will be added to get the Fire Department’s strength to “proper levels,” he said.

4. Preserving the Detective Bureau

The MPD used to boast some of the best clearance rates in the country, but it has struggled with depleted staffing levels. Kurtz said the shared revenue deal means that the guaranteed 1,725 sworn MPD officers must include 175 detectives.

5. Shifting Power From the Civilian Fire & Police Commission to the Police Chief

The uniquely powerful civilians on the Milwaukee Fire and Police Commission have long been a thorn in the sides of police chiefs.

The shared revenue deal means that the police chief “will now be making policy, not the unelected people on the Police and Fire Commission,” said Kurtz. It should be noted that the commission has been so extreme in recent years that one member advocated for abolishing the police.

6. Help for Courts & the Jail

Court backlogs, driven in part by bad COVID policy decisions from local officials, have imperiled public safety in Milwaukee County.

According to Kurtz, the deal “directs the county to help with the county courts,” as well as with correctional officers in the jail (where they are 90 short). It also helps the medical examiner’s office and a facility for children.

7. 25 School Resource Officers Will Be Deployed in the Milwaukee Public School System

State Rep. Barb Dittrich, who spoke at the news conference, said the deal requires that MPS “put 25 school resource officers at their schools across the district,” noting that “these SROs create relationships with the kids.”

She said that the plan also requires school districts to track crimes that occur on school grounds during school sanctioned events and to create a school accountability report.

8. No Tax Dollars for the Street Car

Milwaukee officials are barred from using tax levy dollars to expand the street car.

9. Local Public Health Official Restrictions on Closing Businesses

Republican legislators said the bill prevents local public health officials from closing down businesses for an extended period of time and deeming them essential or not.

10. No DEI

Vos said that the deal ensures “no DEI will be funded around the state,” referring to diversity, equity and inclusivity positions.

11. Requiring a 2/3rds Vote for New Spending or Positions

Milwaukee will have to have a 2/3rds vote to have any new net spending or to create net new positions under the plan.

12. Limiting How the Sales Tax Revenue Can Be Spent

Rep. Tony Kurtz, a Republican, said in the news conference that the city sales tax, if approved, would generate $184 million annually, and the county sales tax would generate $76 million.

However, “these funds must…be used to address their unfunded pension liability and to maintain and grow their law enforcement, fire protection and emergency services,” Kurtz said. In other words, the city can’t fritter away the new revenue on nonsense.

13. Moving New City & County Workers Into the State Pension System

City and county pensions have long been more lucrative than those in the state pension system, and they’ve long been a bane for taxpayers (recall: the county pension scandal and Tom Ament recall.)

“We will have a soft close of the current pension system for city and county,” Kurtz said. “All new hires will come on to the Wisconsin retirement system, which was voted the best in the country.”

Is there support for the deal in the full Senate and Assembly? LeMahieu said he hadn’t had a chance to talk individually with all of his members, but he predicted that rural lawmakers would be hard-pressed to vote against a plan that helps so many of their communities.

Vos admitted there was “some heartburn” among Assembly Republicans over getting rid of the referendum requirement, but he believes he will get the votes because there are “enough conservative wins.”

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(The Center Square) – One of the biggest critics of Wisconsin’s election administrator says no one should be threatening her and says threats don’t help fix election integrity issues.

State Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls, on Tuesday offered her thoughts after the Wisconsin Elections Commission confirmed elections administrator Meagan Wolfe is receiving extra security protection.

"Threatening Administrator Meagan Wolfe, or any election official, is unacceptable and counterproductive. Venting frustrations on individuals like Wolfe, clerks, or poll workers is not only illegal but also harmful to rebuilding trust in our elections,” Brandtjen said. “Threats only undermine our republic and empower the courts and media. It's essential to address any concerns about election processes through legal channels. Threats have no place in our democracy.”

Brandtjen has been one of Wisconsin’s loudest critics of Wolfe. She led hearings as far back as 2021 into Wolfe’s role in the 2020 election. Brandtjen also led the push to get Wolfe removed from the Elections Commission.

“Wolfe’s term has indeed expired, and according to Wisconsin Statutes 15.61(1)(b)1, she should be removed, but Republicans are too worried about the press or too compromised to follow existing law.” Brandtjen said.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission on Monday clarified that Wolfe is receiving extra security but refused to offer any details.

“The Wisconsin Elections Commission has had productive conversations about safety and security with state leadership, including the governor’s office, which is tasked with approving security measures for state government officials,” WEC spokesperson Riley Vetterkind said in a statement. “Those conversations have resulted in additional security measures being approved for Administrator Wolfe and the WEC when the need arises.”

Brandtjen on Tuesday blamed Wisconsin Republicans, and once again blamed Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, for Wolfe’s continued time on the Elections Commission.

“It's disappointing that Sen. Dan Knodl and Rep. Scott Krug, chairs of the election committees, have not exercised their investigative and subpoena powers. This inaction has allowed the neglect of essential laws, such as providing ballots to individuals declared incompetent, lack of checks in military ballot requests, an insecure online system, and improper guidance on voting for homeless individuals without proper documentation,” she said. “The Legislature, particularly Speaker Vos' control, is responsible for the frustration caused by election irregularities due to their inaction.”

Wisconsin’s local election managers have reported an uptick in threats and angry rhetoric since the 2020 election, and some local election offices have taken extra precautions. But there haven’t been any cases in Wisconsin where someone has acted on an election threat.

Wisconsin’s Largest Business Group Sues Over Evers’ 400-year School Funding Veto

(The Center Square) – There is now a legal challenge to Gov. Tony Evers’ 400-year school funding veto.

The WMC Litigation Center on Monday asked the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take up their challenge to the governor’s summer veto that increased per-pupil funding for the next four centuries.

“At issue is Gov. Evers’ use of the so-called ‘Vanna White’ or ‘pick-a-letter’ veto,” the group said in a statement. “The governor creatively eliminated specific numbers in a portion of the budget bill that was meant to increase the property tax levy limit for school districts in the 2023-24 and 2024-25 fiscal years. By striking individual digits, the levy limit would instead be increased from the years 2023 to 2425 – or four centuries into the future.”

The WMC Litigation Center is an affiliate of Wisconsin Manufactures & Commerce (WMC), the combined state chamber and manufacturers’ association.

Litigation Center Executive Director Scott Rosenow said while Wisconsin’s governor has an incredibly powerful veto pen, there are limits.

“No Wisconsin governor has the authority to strike individual letters or digits to form a new word or number, except when reducing appropriations,” Rosenow said. “This action is not only unconstitutional on its face, but it is undemocratic because this specific partial veto allows school districts to raise property taxes for the next 400 years without voter approval.”

Wisconsin lawmakers and voters approved a constitutional amendment in 1990 that put limits on the governor’s veto power.

Rosenow and the WMC Litigation Center say the governor’s veto goes beyond those limits.

The legal challenge also raises the constitutional issue that all state spending has to originate with, and be approved by, the legislature.

“In no uncertain terms, 402 years is not less than or part of the two-year duration approved by the Legislature – it is far more,” concluded Rosenow. “The governor overstepped his authority with this partial veto, at the expense of taxpayers, and we believe oversight by the Court is necessary.”

The WMC Litigation Center is asking the Wisconsin Supreme Court to take the case as quickly as possible.

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Jury selection is set to begin Monday in the first-ever criminal trial of a former U.S. president.

Former President Donald Trump has pleaded not guilty to 34 felony counts related to charges he paid hush money to adult film actress Stormy Daniels through a lawyer and covered it up as a legal expense before being elected president.

Trump has attempted to delay the start of the New York state trial several times, including three longshot tactics judges rejected this week.

What charges does Trump face in the New York hush money case?

Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg has charged Trump with 34 counts of falsifying business records related to money paid to Daniels and another woman, former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Bragg has alleged Trump broke New York law when he falsified with the intent to commit or conceal another crime.

Prosecutors allege Trump falsified internal records kept by his company, hiding the true nature of payments that involve Daniels ($130,000), McDougal ($150,000), and Trump's former personal lawyer Michael Cohen ($420,000). Prosecutors allege the money was logged as legal expenses, not reimbursements. Both Cohen and Daniels are expected to testify.

Cohen is expected to be a key witness in the trial. Daniels has said she expects to testify.

Former Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr., Bragg's predecessor, did not bring the case to trial.

What happens on Monday?

Prosecutors, defense attorneys and Donald Trump are expected to be present when the trial before Judge Juan Merchan gets started Monday. The first step will be picking a jury, a process that could take a week or more depending on how things progress. The trial is expected to last six to eight weeks.

Prosecutors and defense attorneys will select 12 jurors and six alternates from a pool of potentially hundreds of people. Each juror will answer 42 questions designed to determine if they can be impartial in the high-profile trial of a polarizing former president. The jurors will remain anonymous because of security concerns.

Once a jury is seated, it's on to opening statements where prosecutors and defense attorneys will get to address the jury about what they plan to show during the trial.

What is Trump's defense to the charges?

Trump has maintained he did nothing wrong and has accused Bragg of bringing a politically motivated case involving conduct in 2016 during a presidential election year as Trump faces incumbent Joe Biden in a rematch of the 2020 election.

Trump has spoken out against the judge, the district attorney and other involved in the case repeatedly. Trump's comments prompted a gag order from the judge who said Trump can't talk publicly about certain people involved in the case and their families.

"The White House Thugs should not be allowed to have these dangerous and unfair Biden Trials during my campaign for President. All of them, civil and criminal, could have been brought more than three years ago. It is an illegal attack on a Political Opponent. It is Communism at its worst, and Election Interference at its Best. No such thing has ever happened in our Country before," Trump wrote on his social media platform Truth Social this week. "On Monday I will be forced to sit, GAGGED, before a HIGHLY CONFLICTED & CORRUPT JUDGE, whose hatred for me has no bounds. All of these New York and D.C. 'Judges' and Prosecutors have the same MINDSET. Nobody but this Soros Prosecutor, Alvin Bragg, wanted to take this ridiculous case. All legal scholars say it is a sham. BIDEN'S DOJ IS RUNNING THE CASE. Just think of it, these animals want to put the former President of the United States (who got more votes than any sitting President!), & the PARTY'S REPUBLICAN CANDIDATE, IN JAIL, for doing absolutely nothing wrong. It is a RUSH TO THE FINISH. SO UNFAIR!"

Will Trump take the stand?

That's not clear yet. Trump said last month that he'd be willing to testify at trial if needed.

Could Trump go to jail?

It's too earlier to tell what will happen if Trump is convicted. Under New York state law, falsifying business records in the first degree is a Class E felony that carries a maximum sentence of four years in prison.

Trump's age and lack of any prior criminal convictions could work in his favor at sentencing if he's convicted. His attacks on the judge could have the opposite effect at sentencing. Before sentencing, the judge would look at sentencing guidelines, recommendations from prosecutors and any other pre-sentence reports.

In late March, Trump said that he wasn't worried about a conviction when asked if he thought a conviction could hurt his chances of returning to the White House.

"It could also make me more popular because the people know it's a scam," he said. "It's a Biden trial, there is no trial, there's a Biden trial."

Whatever happens during the trial, Trump will be protected by the U.S. Secret Service.

Even if convicted and sentenced to jail, Trump could continue his campaign to re-take the White House.

"The Constitution does not bar felons from serving as President," said Richard Hasen, professor of law and political science at the University of California, Los Angeles.

Trump could not pardon himself from any state charges, Hasen said.

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(The Center Square) – Wisconsin’s next supreme court race could be even more contentious and even more expensive than the last one.

Liberal Justice Anne Walsh Bradley on Thursday surprised the state when she announced she will not run for re-election next year.

"My decision has not come lightly. It is made after careful consideration and reflection. I know I can do the job and do it well. I know I can win re-election, should I run. But it's just time to pass the torch, bring fresh perspectives to the court," Walsh Bradley said in a statement.

She is one of Wisconsin’s longest serving justices, serving her third 10-year term on the court.

“In the 177-year history of the court, only four justices have served longer than my length of service,” she wrote.

Walsh Bradley’s decision means the next election will be open.

Former Republican attorney general, and current Waukesha County judge, Brad Schimel has already jumped into the race. There aren’t any declared Democrats yet.

Schimel on Thursday said Walsh Bradley’s decision isn’t changing anything for him.

“From the beginning of my campaign, I made it clear that I’m not just running against one person, I’m running against this Court’s leftist majority,” Schimel said. “I wish Justice Ann Walsh Bradley well in retirement after decades of public service. I look forward to continuing the fight to bring integrity and respect for the Constitution back to the Supreme Court of Wisconsin.”

Wisconsin’s last race for the supreme court, in April of 2023, set records for spending. The race between Justice Janet Protasiewicz and former Justice Dan Kelly cost more than $56 million. That makes the 2023 Wisconsin race the most expensive judicial race in American history. Many court observers and politicos in Wisconsin say the 2025 race could be just as expensive, or even more expensive.

Protasiewicz’s victory flipped the Wisconsin Supreme Court to a 4-3 liberal majority for the first time in 15 years.

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