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Category “Wisconsin’s Budget Mess”

7th Circuit Court of Appeals Uphold Act 10

So unions, you want to go all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court?

Deal­ing unions their lat­est loss in court, a fed­eral appeals court Fri­day upheld Gov. Scott Walker’s tight lim­its on col­lec­tive bar­gain­ing for most pub­lic employees.

The rul­ing by the three-judge panel upheld a Sep­tem­ber deci­sion by U.S. Dis­trict Judge William Con­ley in Madi­son that the law known as Act 10 does not infringe on the rights of gov­ern­ment workers.

Act 10 does not vio­late the First or Four­teenth Amend­ments to the United States Con­sti­tu­tion. We there­fore affirm the dis­trict court’s judg­ment in favor of the state,” the rul­ing reads.

The law stip­u­lates that gov­ern­ment employee unions can nego­ti­ate over wages but noth­ing else, and that any pay increases can be no higher than the rate of infla­tion, except where vot­ers approve them by ref­er­en­dum. The law also dic­tates that unions can­not be rec­og­nized by the state or local gov­ern­ments unless 51% of all poten­tial mem­bers — not just those vot­ing — sup­port the union in annual elections.

Two unions rep­re­sent­ing local employ­ees through­out Dane County sued in July 2011 in fed­eral court in Madi­son con­tend­ing the law vio­lates their rights to free­dom of asso­ci­a­tion and equal pro­tec­tion under the law.

This dif­fer­ence is likely of no com­fort to plain­tiffs, but the First Amend­ment does not require an affir­ma­tive response from gov­ern­men­tal enti­ties; it sim­ply requires the absence of a neg­a­tive restric­tion,” Con­ley wrote in his own deci­sion last year. “Under Act 10, gen­eral employ­ees remain free to asso­ciate and rep­re­sent employ­ees and their unions remain free to speak; munic­i­pal employ­ers are sim­ply not allowed to listen.”

Act 10 is still before the Wis­con­sin State Supreme Court, with a rul­ing expected in the next cou­ple of months.

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UW Slush Fund Grew to $1.7 Billion">UW Slush Fund Grew to $1.7 Billion

The Regents are do do things, right?

New fig­ures from the Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin Sys­tem show the system’s reserves stood at $1.7 bil­lion at the end of March.

The sys­tem released data Thurs­day that shows cam­puses had a com­bined $1.61 bil­lion in uncom­mit­ted reserves. About $121 mil­lion was committed.

The fig­ures also project the sys­tem will have $1.1 bil­lion in uncom­mit­ted reserves and $205 mil­lion in com­mit­ted reserves on June 30, the end of the state’s fis­cal year.

Sys­tem offi­cials have taken intense crit­i­cism over the last year for build­ing mas­sive reserves while rais­ing tuition year after year.

The most recent bud­get called for a tuition freeze on stu­dents attend­ing the UW System.

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Image of the Day

(Via Face­book)

This is from 2012 data in an analy­sis from the Mer­ca­tus Cen­ter, a think tank house at George Mason University.

Map-Table-6

Con­grat­u­la­tions Wis­con­sin, we have one of the most sol­vent state bud­gets in the nation.

Act 10, doing great things for the Bad­ger State three-years running.

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Meanwhile…in Illinois

Just pass­ing this along.

Leg­is­la­tors passed an over­haul of the state public-employee retire­ment sys­tem Tues­day, cut­ting ben­e­fits for work­ers and retirees in a move that sets up a likely court bat­tle with orga­nized labor.

Sup­port­ers say the Illi­nois pen­sion leg­is­la­tion is expected to save $160 bil­lion and will fully fund the retire­ment sys­tem over 30 years.

We’re here today because the cost of our present state sys­tems are sim­ply too rich for the resources avail­able,” said House Speaker Michael Madi­gan, a Democrat.

Gov. Pat Quinn, a Demo­c­rat, is expected to sign the bill into law.

Illi­nois has seen its credit rat­ing fall in recent years to the low­est among U.S. states as it has strug­gled to address a gap in its pen­sion funds that is near­ing $100 billion.

The mea­sure also gives Chicago offi­cials a tem­plate to fol­low as they move to address the city’s own pen­sion cri­sis; Chicago’s credit rat­ing is among the low­est for major U.S. cities.

The pen­sion cri­sis is not truly solved until relief is brought to Chicago,” said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “With­out pro­vid­ing the same relief to local gov­ern­ments, we know that tax­pay­ers, employ­ees, and the future of our state and local economies will remain at risk.”

The Illi­nois over­haul pack­age relies on ben­e­fit cuts, includ­ing reduc­ing the annual cost-of-living increase for retirees and rais­ing the retire­ment age for younger workers.

Iron­i­cally, the plan is being attacked on two fronts.  Orga­nized labor (as expected) is scream­ing bloody mur­der about the changes and plans on going to go to court to chal­lenge the law as soon as the ink on Quinn’s sig­na­ture is dry.

On the other side is the few con­ser­v­a­tive think tanks which oper­ate in and around Spring­field, which don’t think the leg­is­la­tion goes far enough to keep the state from even­tu­ally hav­ing to file for bank­ruptcy.  They’ve called the bill a ban­dage on a open wound which will not be enough.

I tend to agree with the think tanks here, but the real­ity that Illi­nois is even doing this given all the “hey” Quinn tried to make about Act 10 in 2011, is kind of nice to enjoy.

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The Debate Over Meeme Resurfaces Once Again

I won’t make many friends with cer­tain fam­ily and for­mer class­mates, but since it is in the news, it is time to say it: The Kiel Area School Dis­trict needs to finally bite the bul­let, and close down Meeme Ele­men­tary School.

With ele­men­tary enroll­ment declin­ing, the Kiel Area School Dis­trict is tak­ing a look at its two ele­men­tary schools to deter­mine whether it should con­tinue to oper­ate both of them.

Enroll­ment at Meeme LEADS Ele­men­tary School declined by 15 stu­dents over the last four years, from 101 stu­dents in 2009-10 to 86 this school year, accord­ing to infor­ma­tion from the dis­trict. Mean­while, enroll­ment at Ziela­nis Ele­men­tary School declined by 38 stu­dents, from 496 to 458, dur­ing that time period.

An enroll­ment pro­jec­tion analy­sis by the Uni­ver­sity of Wisconsin-Madison’s Applied Pop­u­la­tion Lab­o­ra­tory projects a con­tin­ued decline in ele­men­tary enrollment.

The dis­trict looks at its staffing sit­u­a­tion every March, Super­in­ten­dent Louise Blanken­heim said. This year, for the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive year, the dis­trict trans­ferred a teacher from Meeme to Ziela­nis. Next year’s fourth-grade class at Meeme would have had only 11 stu­dents, so the fourth grade and one teacher were moved to Ziela­nis for 2013–14.

That led to the ques­tion of whether Kiel should look at hav­ing one or two ele­men­tary schools, accord­ing to Blanken­heim. Know­ing “where the bud­gets have been, where the state budget’s going, know­ing that every year we’re look­ing at enroll­ment and … teacher-student ratio, … (the board) felt that it was … time to do a com­pre­hen­sive study.”

This isn’t the first time the issue of clos­ing Meeme has arisen. In Novem­ber 1981, a Citizen’s Advi­sory Board was formed to review the district’s enroll­ment. After its analy­sis, the advi­sory board voted in 1982 to keep Meeme open, and the school board accepted the recommendation.

Meeme, which opened in 1964–65, became a char­ter school in 2005. Enroll­ment at the school had been declin­ing and the prin­ci­pal at that time thought becom­ing a char­ter school would pro­vide an oppor­tu­nity for the school to offer more indi­vid­u­al­ized pro­gram­ming, Blanken­heim said.

For those who don’t know the geog­ra­phy of the Kiel Area School Dis­tirct, Meeme is located about four miles west of Cleve­land on Man­i­towoc CTH XX, just off of Wis­con­sin State High­way 42.  Ziela­nis is located inside the City of Kiel, about 10 to 11 miles west of Meeme.

Tra­di­tion­ally, the bor­der which sep­a­rated rural KASD house­holds into those who sent their chil­dren to Meeme and Ziela­nis was Man­i­towoc CTH A, which more or less runs through the mid­dle of the dis­trict. My boy­hood home was just west of CTH A.

In the early 90s, just as I was set to start 5th grade and going to Kiel Mid­dle School, the school board at the time sug­gested mov­ing the bor­der west to Lax Chapel Road, some three miles away.  The plan at the time was to bulk up Meeme’s enroll­ment num­bers which even back then were in decline.  The idea was even­tu­ally scut­tled after peo­ple like my par­ents — who still had my two younger broth­ers in ele­men­tary school — and oth­ers in my neigh­bor­hood rose up to protest the move because they didn’t wish to change ele­men­tary schools mid­way through for their kids.

So the debate as to what will hap­pen to Meeme has been on-going and con­stant for the peo­ple of Kiel, School Hill, Meeme, Spring Val­ley, Osman, and other rural areas in the dis­trict.  Those closer to Kiel feel the school has out­lived its pur­pose.  While those closer to the school feel a loy­alty to it, and feel that Kiel is too far away com­pared to nearby places (and schools) like Howards Grove, Man­i­towoc, Valders, and Sheboygan.

(A lit­tle dirty secret / rumor about the ori­gins of Meeme is that it was set up by the Kiel Area School Dis­trict not as a way to serve the rural areas, but as a way to cheat in estab­lish­ing its school dis­trict bor­ders.  With Meeme that far away from Kiel proper, but still a Kiel school, the dis­trict was able to expand its bor­ders to cover the sur­round­ing areas.  This had sig­nif­i­cant effect on the abil­ity for Howards Grove to go north, Valders to expand south, and all but forced Cleve­land into the She­boy­gan Area School Dis­trict.  For instance, did you know that Meeme Ele­men­tary School is actu­ally closer [7 miles] to Howards Grove than it is to Kiel [10 miles]?)

What is hap­pen­ing with Meeme is a real­ity of what is hap­pen­ing across the coun­try.  With peo­ple hav­ing less and less kids, it is forc­ing many school dis­tricts across not only Wis­con­sin to recon­sider the need of some of their build­ings, but also whether the need to hire new teach­ers is war­ranted.  (This is begin­ning to wreck havoc with WEAC and other “More Money for Schools Now!” sup­port­ers, and will utterly col­lapse much of their argu­ment in the com­ing decades.)

With­out as many kids in schools — just because there aren’t as many kids — it is going to cause per pupil num­bers (i.e. in class­room size, teacher to pupil ratios, and per capita spend­ing) to fluc­tu­ate like never before.  Want to see what a state where the aver­age per stu­dent spend­ing is $25,000 a kid?  Wait a few years with the demo­graphic growth we’re under and that will be Wis­con­sin just because there are less and less kids to spread the money around to.

Peo­ple who are crunch­ing the num­bers know all this.  Why do you think the UW-Madison does at its “Applied Pop­u­la­tion Lab­o­ra­tory” anyway?

The real ques­tion going for­ward is what do the pol­i­cy­mak­ers and law­mak­ers do with this knowl­edge and what will those com­mit­ted to the sta­tus quo do with it as well.  For years, groups like WEAC have been scream­ing about things like SAGE based on the belief that there would be more and more kids, and thus the need for more and more teach­ers.  We’re on a path, where the oppo­site is more likely to happen.

So the ques­tion now is, why are groups like WEAC still being lis­tened to when to comes to “the right amount of school financ­ing” when clearly the num­bers are begin­ning to show us all some­thing com­pletely different?

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Illinois: Worst Credit Rating in the Nation

Believe the real news about this announce­ment is two things.

1) Illi­nois is about to issue $500 mil­lion in new bonds as part of the bud­get plans of Demo­c­ra­tic Gov­er­nor Pat Quinn — the lamest duck gov­er­nor in the coun­try.  This news will only effect the sale of them.

2) The Land of Lin­coln barely dodged the bul­let from drop­ping from an “A-level rated bond” to a “B-level rated bond.”

Illi­nois may have Chicago act­ing as a jobs mag­net to puff up its num­bers, but its rela­tion­ship with its pub­lic employee unions is the dark mir­ror of what Wis­con­sin has done since the enact­ment of Act 10.  Its bud­get is in chaos and a live-action train wreck for all the world to see.

Illi­nois fell to the bot­tom of all 50 states in the rank­ings of a major credit rat­ings agency Fri­day fol­low­ing the fail­ure of Gov. Pat Quinn and law­mak­ers to fix the state’s hem­or­rhag­ing pen­sion sys­tem dur­ing this month’s lame-duck session.

Stan­dard & Poor’s Rat­ings Ser­vice down­graded Illi­nois in what is the lat­est fall­out over the $96.8 bil­lion debt to five state pen­sion sys­tems. The New York rat­ing firm’s rank­ing sig­naled tax­pay­ers may pay tens of mil­lions of dol­lars more in inter­est when the state bor­rows money for roads and other projects.

It’s absolutely bad news for tax­pay­ers,” said Dan Ruther­ford, the Repub­li­can state trea­surer.
Illi­nois received its bottom-of-the-pack rank­ing when it fell from an “A” rat­ing to “A-minus.”

That’s the same rat­ing as Cal­i­for­nia, but Cal­i­for­nia has a pos­i­tive out­look. Illi­nois’ frag­ile over­all finan­cial sta­tus net­ted it a neg­a­tive out­look, putting it behind Cal­i­for­nia over­all. The rat­ings came out now because Illi­nois plans to issue $500 mil­lion in bonds within days.

Exactly how much Illi­nois’ credit-rating slide ulti­mately will cost tax­pay­ers is unknown until the demand for the state’s bonds is mea­sured in the mar­kets. But Ruther­ford esti­mated the state will pay $95 mil­lion more in inter­est than if Illi­nois had a AAA rat­ing, which is much higher.

Even before the down­grade was revealed, Quinn said in Chicago the “pres­sure is higher than ever” to solve the pen­sion prob­lem because “credit rat­ing agen­cies are scream­ing at the top of their voice” for final action.

[…]

One other omi­nous point in the Stan­dard & Poor’s report is that inac­tion could lead to down­grad­ing Illi­nois to “BBB,” an “unusual” low rat­ing for any state. The agency noted a “lack of action on pen­sion reform and upcom­ing bud­get chal­lenges could result in fur­ther credit deterioration.”

Most states will build reserves when the econ­omy is per­form­ing well, and that typ­i­cally pro­vides a cush­ion when the rev­enues dete­ri­o­rate,” said Robin Prunty, the S&P ana­lyst who heads the agency’s state rat­ings group. “But Illi­nois has never really car­ried or accu­mu­lated any kind of bud­getary reserves.”

Not sur­pris­ingly, they has been called to deal with pen­sions a mul­ti­tude of times by both Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans in Illi­nois.  Also not sur­pris­ingly, the  state’s pub­lic employee unions have claimed any attempts to change the cur­rent pen­sion sys­tem is uncon­sti­tu­tional and would be fought tooth and nail.

Illi­nois has cre­ated this hell, it is now time for them to burn in it.

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Teen Smoking Hits All-Time Low in Wisconsin

Good news, but is it a pyrrhic vic­tory for future state budgets?

Wis­con­sin health offi­cials say smok­ing by mid­dle and high school stu­dents has dropped to an all-time low.

The 2012 Wis­con­sin Youth Tobacco Sur­vey, released Mon­day, found that 13% of high school­ers say they smoke and 2.5% of mid­dle school­ers admit to smok­ing. The last study in 2010 showed nearly 18% of high schooner and nearly 4% of mid­dle schooler smoked.

The sur­vey is done by the Wis­con­sin Depart­ment of Health Ser­vices and the Wis­con­sin Depart­ment of Pub­lic Instruction.

The 2012 fig­ures con­trast sharply with 2000, when 33% of high school stu­dents and 12% of mid­dle school stu­dents said they smoked.

Admit­tedly, it’s a sur­vey, so you could have some lying going on.

The rea­son I bring up future state bud­gets, keep in mind, the for­mer Doyle bud­gets — espe­cially the 2009–2011 state bud­get — were built on mas­sive tax increases on tobacco sales.

If those are going to be lim­ited in the near-future, I got to admit, what­ever white paper the Leg­isla­tive Fis­cal Bureau is going to issue in the com­ing months on that rev­enue source will be an inter­est­ing one to read.

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JFC">30 Pieces of Silver Paid in Full, Wirch Gets Spot on JFC

The biggest shock here isn’t that Wirch is on Joint Finance.

It’s that incom­ing minor­ity leader Chris Lar­son (D-Milwaukee) bounced off Lena Tay­lor (D-Milwaukee) to put Wirch on and decided to keep La Crosse’s Jen Shilling — who was a main­stay dur­ing her Assem­bly days — on instead.

A Demo­c­ra­tic sen­a­tor said to have changed his vote for his party’s leader snagged a cov­eted appoint­ment Wednes­day on the Legislature’s pow­er­ful bud­get committee.

Sen. Bob Wirch (D-Somers) and Sen. Jen­nifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) were cho­sen to serve on the Joint Finance Com­mit­tee by incom­ing Sen­ate Minor­ity Leader Chris Lar­son (D-Milwaukee). Ear­lier this month, Lar­son beat his Demo­c­ra­tic col­league Jon Erpen­bach of Mid­dle­ton in a race for minor­ity leader.

After the vote, Erpenbach’s back­ers con­cluded Sen. Bob Wirch (D-Pleasant Prairie) had voted for Lar­son after say­ing he would vote for Erpen­bach. One of them had noticed Wirch had folded his bal­lot mul­ti­ple times and was able to tell which bal­lot was cast by Wirch after the fact.

Justin Sar­gent, Larson’s chief of staff, said that the Mil­wau­kee Demo­c­rat hadn’t con­sid­ered the recent lead­er­ship vote in decid­ing on the com­mit­tee appoint­ments. Shilling, who had run for assis­tant minor­ity leader and lost to Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay), was seen as being aligned with Erpenbach.

Under the soon-to-be replaced leg­is­la­ture, Tay­lor is the cur­rent co-chair of Joint Finance with soon-to-be Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington).  What exactly did she do to Lar­son to not only lose her senior­ity from the com­mit­tee, but to be bounced completely.

There’s got to be a story behind that right there.  Is it because the two don’t get along — a the­ory I don’t buy — or because the two faced off against each other in the pri­maries of Mil­wau­kee Assem­bly Dis­tricts where Lar­son (and WEAC) was seek­ing to replace many African Amer­i­can incum­bents who Tay­lor was close with?

It’s prob­a­bly the lat­ter, but the truth is, we’ll never know.  He’s only has two spots to fill, and prob­a­bly has a litany of rea­sons not to give each and every mem­ber of his cau­cus a spot on Joint Finance.

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7M into Rainy Day Fund">State Deposits $108.7M into Rainy Day Fund

Admit­tedly, it’s not a lot of money, but it’s more money that has been going in there for years — if not the past decade.

It is indeed work­ing Wis­con­sin.  We’d be fool­ish to go back to the old ways of union monop­o­liza­tion of work rules which cost this mil­lions of dol­lars on unnec­es­sary and some­times ridicu­lous conditions.

Gov. Scott Walker is tout­ing the deposit of nearly $109 mil­lion into the state’s rainy day fund, money that can be tapped in an emergency.

The deposit announced Mon­day comes after the state ended the last fis­cal year in June with a sur­plus of about $342 mil­lion. Even though it is less than 1 per­cent of what is spent out of the state’s main account every year, it is the largest deposit ever into the rainy day fund. It marks the sec­ond year in a row that a deposit has been made.

Walker says “we remain com­mit­ted to mak­ing the tough deci­sions nec­es­sary to avoid tax increases while main­tain­ing services.”

He says his pri­or­i­ties for the next two-year bud­get include cre­at­ing jobs, devel­op­ing the work­force, reform­ing gov­ern­ment and trans­form­ing education.

Walker will unveil his new bud­get in late 2012 or early 2013.  Cur­rently, state agen­cies are send­ing the governor’s their 2013–15 spend­ing requests.

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Who Paid for the “Wisconsin 14’s” Trip to Illinois?

The MacIver gang is not let­ting it go, and with the silence com­ing from all four­teen Democ­rats, the truth could have the poten­tial of being the biggest cam­paign finance scan­dal in Wis­con­sin history.

I recall talk­ing to a friend in Madi­son as this all broke out and remarked there was no way some­one like Chris Lar­son (I used Lar­son as an exam­ple since he’s young (29), recently mar­ried, and with­out much sav­ings) could afford to stay in Illi­nois long with­out tap­ping into some form of cam­paign fund.

This friend replied with a more sullen answer: None of them can.

 

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