Sunday, July 5, 2015

The other junk in the 999 measure you should know

Obviously the big story in the "999" wrap-up provision for the Wisconsin Joint Finance Committee's discussion of the state budget was the massive gutting of the state's open records law. But just because the "Unintimidated" governor and his lackeys in the Legislature seem to be backing down from that after massive public uproar the last 3 days (let's make sure they follow through this week), it doesn't mean there isn't a lot of other bad things in that motion. Here's my quick rundown, but you are welcome to take a look at the measure yourself, and follow up with what I may be leaving out.

1. Provision Number 6 deals with the Educational Communications Board (ECB), which mainly includes Wisconsin Public Television and Radio. Remember back in May when the GOP claimed WPR and WPT could absorb the losses of millions of dollars in state funding?
Rep. Dean Knudson, R-Hudson, noted that public radio and television in Wisconsin derives more of its revenue from state government than its counterparts in other states. He said the board should put more emphasis on fundraising to secure more money from private donations.

“Don’t rely as much on taxpayer dollars,” Knudson said.
As a result, a few million was set aside in the budgets for the ECB with the idea that there would be donations to make up the difference. Well, provision Number 6 removes that question, as it knocks off $3.3 million and 8.6 positions from the Program Revenue side of the ECB as a "right-sizing" of the budget to match the pittance of taxpayer dollars that was added back by the JFC in that May meeting, essentially admitting that donations will not make up the difference in lost state funding. Cool, eh?

2. Number 23- This relates to mental disability claims for public workers in Milwaukee and Dane Counties. In order to get benefits, it must be proven that the mental disability happened on-duty, with the determination made not by doctors, but by employers, or by officials from the Department of Workforce Development. That's literally adding insult to injury, since it adds extra burdens of proof to someone who often doesn't have the time or effort to go through gathering all the records to qualify (which is likely part of the plan with this provision. Scumbuckets).

3. Number 34- Haven't seen this reported on in much detail, but this seems to be a big change.
Require DHS to modify the current contract for the arrangement and reimbursement of nonemergency medical transportation services for medicaid assistance beneficiaries, to the extent permitted by that contract, to exclude Jefferson, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Ozaukee, Racine, Walworth, Washington, and Waukesha county MA beneficiaries from the contract and make alternative arrangement for the provision of nonemergency medical transportation services for beneficiaries in those counties. Specify that alternative arrangements may be made with counties, health maintenance organizations, or transportation providers. Specify that this change to the contract in effect on the effective date of the bill would take effect no later than January 1, 2016.
Not bad in itself, but interesting since this is a reversal of what the Walker Administration chose to do when Logisticare terminated its contract with the state in 2012. Instead of going to a regionalized or county-based system for non-emergency medical transportation (NEMT), the Walker boys chose to rebid the contract statewide, and gave the contract to MTM in 2013. Now, the Legislature is having the state back out of this arrangement, and I haven't heard which side wanted it to happen (the state or MTM?), and why they're blasting it through in this 999 motion without hearings. It also makes for some VERY interesting discussions that'll have to happen in those counties about transportation in the next 4 months, as they finalize their local budgets.

4. There are a couple of shady deregulation moves to point out. The first is Number 42- Allowing for health-care liability insurance to be sold by out-of-state vendors if the Walker-controlled Insurance Commission signs off on it (bad). Then there's Number 61, which allows payday loan sharks businesses to also sell financial services and operate a currency exchange to individuals that are already desperate enough to need a payday loan (much worse).

Gee, no sketchiness or chances of people being taken advantage of there, nooooooo. Who lobbied and made campaign contributions for that bullshit? Was it the same lobbyist former Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan was banging when he (rightfully) was ripped for trying to keep that business from facing more regulations in 2010? Provisions like this also give you an idea why the WisGOPs in power are in such fear of open records requests.

5. There are two direct shots at the progressive-controlled Dane County Board. Number 48 is bad enough- as it re-organizes the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District, and moves the power to appoint non-Madison members of the district away from the Dane County Board, and to the local towns and villages (why the fuck do these guys care?). But that pales in comparison to Number 55- which would "prohibit any town or county from imposing insurance requirements on an operator of a an interstate hazardous liquid pipeline" that go beyond regular liability coverage. This story from a couple of weeks ago shows why this is being done. which is being done.
The Dane County Board on July 16 will hear the Enbridge Energy pipeline company's appeal of a permit that requires the company to purchase insurance aimed at guaranteeing a prompt and thorough cleanup in the event of a spill of tar sands crude oil.

The county zoning committee approved the permit in April with the condition that the Canadian company carry $25 million in pollution-cleanup insurance in addition to $100 million in general liability insurance.

Enbridge has said its corporate-wide insurance policy and financial prowess are sufficient, but a consultant for the county recommended the additional coverage because an Enbridge insurer has balked at covering costs of a $1.2 billion cleanup in Michigan and the company's financial position will decline over the next few decades if the oil industry faces the same pressures that have beset coal.
And now the JFC's Republican's want to block this local control? If that doesn't scream "go to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign Finance Database", nothing does.

6. Number 58- Removing the requirement of DWD to define a "living wage", and instead changing the threshold to "mimimum wage." This is a direct response to Gov Walker absurdly claiming last October that $7.25 an hour was a living wage after Wisconsin Jobs Now and other pro-union organizations cited state law and forced Walker to make this claim, or require the state to raise the minimum wage. Nice way to dodge taking responsibility on wages, isn't it?

Number 56 is another clASSy move by this crew, allowing employees to "opt out" of having one day off of work every 7 days. Like someone making $7.25 an hour has a lot of choice when the boss asks him/her to work 7 days in a row? No shit they'll sign their name to opt out, because they don't want to lose their job. Both these moves allow for further exploitation of Wisconsin workers, who have already been beaten down plenty by WisGOP's favored policies of transferring power to businesses and corporations (see Act 10, work-for-less, and the lowest manufacturing wages in the Midwest).

7. And last, but definitely not least- Number 67, with is a massive taking of power away from the Milwaukee County Board, to give Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele unilateral control of a number of items. It starts by allowing the county board to maintain its control and approval over a certain property by the lakefront, but then it gives the rest of the store away to Abele.
...allow the county executive's action [on the sale or lease of properties] to not be consistent with established county board policy or to take effect without submission to or approval by the county board. Repeal the current law provision stating that the county board may only approve or reject the contract as negotiated by the county executive. Authorize the county executive in a county with a population of 750,000 or more to have sole authority over the following administrative actions and specify that that the actions may take effect without any review or approval of the county board: (1) procurement, including requests for proposals or information, negotiation, approval, amendment, execution, administration, and payment; (2) contracting, including negotiation, requests for proposals or information, approval, amendment, execution, administration, and payment; (3) administrative review of appeals of the denial in whole or in part of a contract award, an initial permit, license, right, privilege, or authority, except an alcohol beverage license, for which a person applies through the county; and (4) actions taken under the administrative manual of operating procedures related to the authority and powers granted to a county executive under state law and under county ordinances, and specify that the county executive's action shall prevail over the county board's action to the extent that the county executive's action and the county board's action conflict. ...Prohibit the county board from enacting an ordinance or adopting a resolution or policy that conflicts or interferes in form or function with the statutory authority of a county executive."

Repeal the current law provisions and remove related language that require the board's Finance Committee to approve contracts of at least $100,000 but not more than $300,000 and the county board to approve any contract of more than $300,000 in a county with a population of 750,000 or more. In addition, create a provision specifying that the county board has no role in the review of public contracts and that public contracts take effect without the approval of the county board.
WHAT THE HELL? This could conceivably mean that any corrupt "pennies on the dollar" type deal can be made by Abele (or whoever replaces him) without the elected officials of the County Board getting any say, or giving the public a chance to review such a contract. It allows for the same type of backroom BS that was trying to be covered up by the proposed gutting of the open records laws. The GOPs on JFC don't even have this proposal put to a vote of the people of Milwaukee County, or to have the law take effect after the April 2016 election, so Abele or any other candidate would have to run on this change and answer the people's questions on it. Complete cowardice by both the GOPs, and Abele (who no doubt asked for this).

The changes to Milwaukee County government are almost as disgusting as the open records changes, and they also need to be brought into the light, because not surprisingly, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has been concentrating on the attack on open records (since it directly affects them), and ignoring this brutal consolidation of power (likely because they and their corporate buddies love this type of cronyism). And the JFC refuses to have a hearing on this or the Bucks arena issue in Milwaukee, which is not the mark of people who are confident in their ability of the bill to stand up under the scrutiny of the people who understand the issue and would be affected by it most.

So maybe the GOPs in the Legislature think they deserve a cookie for removing the fascist proposal to hide open records from the public. But the Milwaukee County government takeover and a whole mess of other items those scumbags inserted into the budget also came with no discussion and no public hearing on Thursday night, and they deserve to have these measures called out and exposed just like the open records provision was. Feel free to add your own addition to the "list of shame" in the comments below


  1. Lots of nasty stuff in there. Here are 3 more that jumped out at me, would love to hear your thoughts on these…

    #52 - If an "Alternative Telecommunications Utility" stops using poles/antennas/etc, it's now the municipality or land owner's responsibility to pay for their removal (haven't found a real clear definition of ATUs; would this include cell towers?)

    #54 - Seems to extend the term limit of PSC Commissioners by 2 yrs; "Upon expiration of the two-year term as chairperson, specify that the individual would resume his or her remaining term as a Commissioner."

    #65 - Prohibit local governments from imposing any requirements on real estate transactions, like removing junk/debris from the yard. Most of the GOP talk on this has centered around "small, growing families" needing the "right to make an as-is sale," but my spidey sense tells me this likely has more to do with bank-owned nuisance properties and speculators.

  2. Provision 27a.

    Remember that study of the Wisconsin Retirement System back in 2011? The one that showed WRS to be fully funded, solvent, an asset to the state, and a credit to the policymakers of past generations?

    It turns out that was an inconvenient report.

    Provision 27a will change the makeup of the Joint Survey Committee on Retirement Systems.

    Currently, the JSCRS has political members as well as an actuary and the secretary of Employee Trust Funds.

    The new makeup will be 10 legislators, chosen from amongst themselves as a committee of the legislature.

    Outside or nonpolitical knowledge is no longer welcome, in other words. The echo chamber will be that much louder.

    This is the first step in the backdoor approach to undermine WRS. Expect bills doing just that to now get a favorable review, so that Vos & Co. can claim to be "saving WRS, as recommended!"

    Mark my words: WRS will be the next bomb to drop. Why wouldn't they come for it? It is a huge pot of money, and there is really nothing to stop them.

    1. Good catch and explanation on the WRS items. They've tried to grab WRS's money since Walker took office, but they can't find a way yet.

      With the stock market doing well, they could use the excuse that there is "excess" and then lower state contributions to fill in budget holes. Vigilance is key.

  3. Has item 27a been picked up by any media?