Wisconsin State Legislature Calls Extraordinary Session To Solve Critical Emergency!

The Wisconsin State Legislature is calling an extraordinary session next week to apparently fend off a statewide crisis. Something called Right To Work (at the expense of your co-workers) legislation demands that it be passed…oh…no…wait. This is an emergency? Isn’t that what extraordinary sessions are for?

Here is a primer on the difference between a special session and an extraordinary session.

But a couple of highlights on extraordinary sessions:

What is an extraordinary session?

In short, it’s a session with a specific focus. Both its rules and purposes differ some from those of a regular session. Extraordinary sessions…are called to take up one or more specific topics or bills. An extraordinary session can be called by the Legislature and does not need the governor’s approval.

How is an extraordinary session called?

One of three ways: 1) the direction of a majority of the members of the committee on organization in each chamber, 2) a joint resolution passed by a majority of elected membership in each chamber, 3) a joint petition of a majority of the members elected in each house.

What can happen in an extraordinary session?

Action can only be taken on the business “specified in the call by which it was authorized.” In a special session, the governor can only designate subject areas for the Legislature to discuss, but an extraordinary session can be called for specific bills.

If the extraordinary session is held before the conclusion of the final general floor period, lawmakers can also introduce new legislation or consider bills that have already been introduced.

The purpose of an extraordinary session can also be expanded and supplemented in order to act on other business.

What are the rules for an extraordinary session?

Extraordinary sessions expedite the legislative process and limit the amount of time allowed for debate. The rules differ slightly between the Assembly and Senate.

In both houses, notices for committee hearings aren’t required beyond posting online and on legislative bulletin boards. A schedule of committee activities doesn’t have to be published.

Proposals are referred to the day’s calendar and may be taken up immediately. A calendar doesn’t have to be provided.

Motions to postpone proposals are not allowed and, in almost all cases, motions to reconsider will be taken up immediately. A vote from a majority of present members is required to advance a proposal to a third reading or to message it to the other house.

Under Senate rules, any point of order must be decided within an hour.

So given the nature of the current legislature, they can simply decide that a certain bill is the single focus and they can limit debate and notification and just run with it? Doesn’t have to be an emergency or special circumstance?

And in this case, the Republicans can call an extraordinary session with a straight face over Right To Work? Unions are such an existential threat that we have to go to extraordinary measures to wrestle them to the ground?

Meanwhile true emergencies like the $283 million dollar deficit in the 2013-2015 budget remain undiscussed? And the billions of dollars in projected shortfalls in the 2015-2017 budget and the dozens of onerous actions it contains get back logged? This is truly the best use of the legislature’s time? Really? Speaker Vos and Majority Leader Fitzgerald can say that with a straight face?

No, actually it seems that the Republicans are as confused as I am:

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, discussed whether the bill should be taken up in regular session or extraordinary session and ultimately decided extraordinary session was the way to go.

“It just seemed to make sense to … stay focused on this bill, make this what is, I would say, a very simple calendar so that there’s no confusion about anything like any other bill or any other thing that we might take up,” Fitzgerald told reporters on Friday. “It literally will be the only thing on this calendar.”

Fitzgerald said his experience as the Senate leader has taught him, “when you have the votes, you go to the floor.”

It can’t possibly have anything to do with trying to short circuit dissent, discussion or giving the bill a proper hearing in public. Can it?

He (Senator Fitzgerald) also suggested the fast-track push was an attempt to head off a union-backed campaign to persuade Republican senators to oppose the bill.

Whoops, I stand corrected, Democracy Be Damned, let’s just continue to stink the place up.

Walker To Tempt State Employees To Drop State Health Coverage

This was reported in dozens of media outlets around the state this past week, but I didn’t see anything in the Milwaukee media…what’s up with that? If any of our perceptive readers saw something locally, I’d appreciate a link.

But Governor Walker is proposing paying state employees $2,000 if they opt out of the state health insurance program:

As a potential cost-saving measure, Gov. Scott Walker is proposing that state employees be offered a $2,000-a-year incentive to opt out of the state’s pricey health insurance program.

Only about 5 percent of state employees currently opt out, generally because they have coverage under a spouse’s health-insurance plan, a study by Deloitte Consulting found. Another 10 percent must opt out because their spouses are also employed by the state of Wisconsin, according to the state-commissioned study.

As of last summer, the state health insurance plan covered about 62,339 state employees and their families.

If offered a $2,000 incentive, an additional 1 to 5 percent of employees might opt out, the company projected.

Quite frankly I wouldn’t think $2,000 would be enough for a state employee to find his or her own insurance outside of the government’s group health plan. I am not sure that it would even cover the increase in premiums for a second person added to a spouse’s plan at another employer. And it certainly wouldn’t be a big enough incentive for a state employee to opt out if they had a plan that covered a spouse or family.

And quite frankly there are few private employer plans that provide the coverage and cost benefits that the state provides. So what does the governor actually think he’s doing?

And we just missed the open enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act for 2015. I can’t imagine the governor would want his constituents to go uninsured, would he? (sarcasm). Or be penalized for not carrying insurance.

And then there is the extended issue…you have to pay all of those who are currently opting out…so if he doesn’t meet his target of new employees opting out of the plan…it could actually cost the state money:

About 3,300 employees who currently opt out — and receive no inducements — would qualify for $2,000-a-year payments. Deloitte said the financial impact of the incentive program would range from costing $4 million more (emphasis mine) a year to saving the state $18 million a year.

BTW: some sample outlets that carried this story:
The Journal Times
Insurance Journal
Fort Mills Times
Green Bay Press Gazette
NewsOK.com? Oklahoma? Really?

When Almost $300 Million Is A Lot Of Money But $300 Million Isn’t.


Governor Walker is facing a $283 deficit in the current budget that has to be satisfied before the end of June 2015. As we have all read here and in the other media, one of the sleight of hand tricks up every governor’s sleeve is deferring paying principal on state government debt and incurring further interest expenses for the taxpayers. But as Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayer’s Alliance, is quoted in a Bloomberg Politics article, that’s a lot of money to find through cuts:

“They need some cash,” said Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, a nonpartisan research group that examines taxes and government spending. “This is kicking the can down the road.”

Berry said Walker has little room to maneuver.

“That’s a lot of money to try to find in four-to-five months, if you do it through cuts,” Berry said.

So it will be extremely hard for the governor to find $283 million in cuts from a $40 billion budget before the end of June while the University of Wisconsin should have no problem finding $300 million in cuts from a $7 billion budget in essentially the same time frame (actually a shorter period because the actual state budget probably won’t be complete before April).

Maybe if the governor stayed home a bit more, he’d have time to work this out. Ya think?

UW System: Shut Her Down Redux

Recently I posted a suggestion on how the University of Wisconsin system can make up for the $300 million cuts to their support from the State of Wisconsin as proposed by Governor Scott Walker. With a little bit of snark and a bit of sarcasm I have suggested that the University System close some marginal campuses until they reach the $300 million dollar amount or so. But there is some logic behind it…and I’ll expound on it a bit.

$300 million is a lot of money even in the universe of the state budget and the university budget. It will be difficult for the university to accomplish…and I don’t think they can do it by cutting the lawns less frequently, turning the thermostats to 66 next winter or buying cheaper toilet paper if that’s even possible.

They are going to have to lay off a lot of people and possibly reduce offerings at many of their campuses. A lot of difficult decisions will have to be made and a lot of people’s lives will be affected: faculty, staff, students, and vendors.

Now it seems that this shouldn’t be in Governor Walker’s wheel house because it will result in job loss when he’s hard pressed already to create jobs. But these are ‘public’ jobs…not private sector jobs so they aren’t real jobs. Government doesn’t create jobs…well except when you have campaign promises to make.

But let’s face it…if they lay off 500 at Milwaukee, 1000 at Madison, 300 at Whitewater, 80 at Platteville, etc, etc, etc…whether faculty or staff…there will be angry letters to the editor, hand wringing all round, but a year from now other than the victims…nobody will remember. And if 150,000 people in the streets of Madison in a cold February didn’t quash Act 10…don’t expect that Madison will be swayed by a bunch of liberal academics. Playing nice ain’t gonna get it.

So my suggestion stands. There are a number of campuses that run at a loss…that have debt. Shut them down. There are some rather small campuses that could be shut down to get us to the $300 million figure. Yes I understand that they serve small communities that need higher education opportunities too…but the hard decisions need to be made and something’s got to go. Those rural students can go to Green Bay or Oshkosh or Milwaukee…assume those campuses survive.

They can’t go to Madison cause after 2017 only the rich will be able to afford to go there…or those who can contribute to the research facilities.

The GOP is fond of saying we should run government like a business…schools get better when they have to compete. Here’s where it hurts. If Macy’s needs to cut overhead they don’t lay off one associate per store…they close marginal stores in stagnant markets. Cut the universities marginal stores…if they are in red zones so much the better.

Like I said…proportional cuts across the system will be forgotten in a year’s time. Closing a campus that is an economic engine in a smaller community or county will hurt. Laying off 1,500 people there will have a far bigger impact that will be noticeable for years. Six or Eight or Twelve or Twenty boarded up buildings on a deserted campus will be highly visible. Yes this is brinkmanship…but at some point push does have to lead to shove. Yes sometimes it does.

Yes…there is a bit of snark here. I realize that the University of Wisconsin is not a business nor a product…and it’s job is to create educated citizens of all types…but those under the dome don’t get it.

UW-Milwaukee College Dems To Hold A Rally To Stop Gov. Walker’s UW System Cuts

This arrived in my email inbox yesterday and I didn’t have time to post it until now:

On Wednesday, February 4, College Democrats of UW-Milwaukee will be holding a rally to raise awareness of Gov. Walker’s proposal to cut $300 million from the UW System. State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff and over 250 students are expected to attend. The rally will begin at the Wisconsin Room in the UWM Student Union at 5:00 PM CST. A brief march to Mitchell Hall will take place at approximately 5:15 PM CST. The majority of the rally will take place in front of Mitchell Hall.

WHERE: In front of Mitchell Hall, UW-Milwaukee
3203 N Downer Ave, Milwaukee, WI 53211

Thinking of Our Children’s Future Is Borrowing To Build Roads

The party who keeps saying that we need to think of our children’s future while cutting education, cutting safety net programs, cutting funds to the UW system, etc…it once again considering our children’s future by borrowing to fund the transportation fund:

Gov. Scott Walker plans to rely on borrowing rather than a gasoline tax increase to fund transportation projects over the next two years.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Friday that the governor’s plan calls for $1.3 billion in borrowing for transportation, but the state’s overall borrowing would drop because Walker wants to delay construction of buildings that don’t already have initial approval, including projects in the University of Wisconsin system.

The newspaper reported that the plan will let Walker tout his opposition to raising taxes as he considers a possible run for president, but that the increased reliance on borrowing to fund highways may not go over well with his fellow Republicans who control the Legislature.

Of course his administration recommended raises the gas tax to cover any transportation fund shortfall:

Walker’s transportation secretary, Mark Gottlieb, in November recommended increasing gas taxes and vehicle fees by $751 million over two years. Walker’s office said he rejected those proposals.

But he needs to follow through on his promise to continue to lower ‘current’ taxes no matter the effect on future taxes or the future of our children. So instead of a tax and spend government economy we get a borrow and spend. At least with the former you know what the results are gonna cost you. And it even has some powerful Republicans wondering what game is afoot:

Two years ago, Walker and GOP lawmakers approved $2 billion in borrowing. About half was for buildings and maintenance and about half was for transportation. Walker’s new plan contains no new borrowing for buildings because the state has $858 million in unused bonding authority it can still use.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, co-chairwoman of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, said wants to see Walker’s overall plan before deciding how much borrowing she could support. She also said she wants to see a sustainable system for funding roads.

“The can keeps getting kicked down the road,” she said. “I’d say right now everything’s on the table.”

It’s seems like someone’s presidential campaign might just be interfering with his party’s statewide agenda.

Americans are progressive on key issues III

Here’s a 2011 Washington Post/ABC poll showing that a whopping, let me repeat that, whopping 78% of those surveyed opposed cutting Medicare as a path to chipping away at the national debt. And an impressive, let me repeat that, whopping  69% opposed cutting Medicaid to chip away at the national debt. That’s massive, I repeat, massive support for America’s public health insurance programs for our elderly, disabled and low income citizens.

Americans also opposed small, across the board tax increases combined with modest Medicare and Social Security cuts as a way to reduce the debt.

The preferred option?

Raising taxes on the wealthiest Americans.

Progressives Behaving Badly – Milwaukee County Edition:

I am on the Grassroots North Shore email list and look forward to the information that they forward and the activities that they arrange. As a result of that affiliation I have also been receiving emails from North Shore for Mary Burke. I received their latest email last Thursday and was interested in their take on the campaign.

Of course one of the current hot topics in the campaign is the recently announced projected deficit for the still nebulous state budget for the 2015 – 2017 biennium.

And this newsletter didn’t disappoint and featured the $1.8 billion projection front and center. There was just one teeny tiny little problem with it and maybe you can spot it right away:

I’m sure you recall Act 10, the incendiary law called the “Budget Repair Bill” that Walker and his cronies rammed through the state legislature in February 2011. It’s what Walker uses to claim that he has “saved” taxpayers billions of dollars. Now it turns out that all that “saving” has ripped an estimated $1.8 billion hole in our state’s current budget!

Yup, right there, the last four words…out state’s current budget…when it is in fact a projection for the period from July 2015 through June 2017 based on current economic conditions, revenues and state departmental budgets.

And then in the next piece comes error number two…one that I would have originally put off for a typo if not for the issue stated above:

Even his fans at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel are calling Act 10 “misguided” and his fiscal policies — refusing the Medicaid expansion (at a cost of $506 million) and cutting income and property taxes to sweeten voters’ views of him — nakedly political decisions.

The actual Medicaid cost is $206 million over two years.

Considering the lies and prevarications that come out of the Republican Party candidates and their various self-help groups (PACs)…it really galls me when the left does precisely the same thing. We need to rely on facts and fact check our facts and be as accurate as possible in our claims and assertions…we don’t want to be just like ‘them’. We need to hold ourselves accountable for what we say and do on the campaign trail.

Now, I responded to the writer of the email. Once in reference to the current budget vs. future budget faux pas and again about the Medicaid expansion cost after I had been able to verify at JSOnline. I got nothing in response.

I am not the only one who has issues with how progressives are responding to the $1.8 billion deficit. Friend of Blogging Blue, Jay Bullock in a piece for OnMilwaukee.com said:

But I don’t think that $1.8 billion number is a fair attack. It wasn’t fair when Walker used the similar number against Doyle and Barrett, and it’s not fair today, especially the way it’s being used to suggest that right now the state has a $1.8 billion bill due and those hired goons are again waiting just outside the door. That’s just not true and I wish my party would stop implying that.

What is fair game for Democrats to use, though, is the actual deficit Wisconsin is facing. Like the $140 million the state needed to come up with in early 2011, in early 2015 the state will need to find $396 million to patch the real, actual shortfall between spending and revenue this year. That is not speculation or imagination or even, as with Doyle’s deficit, fallout from a recession — that’s real, tangible financial mismanagement at the state level.

There are enough negative points to discuss related to Governor Walker’s mismanagement of state government without stretching the truth. We can do better!!

Governor Walker Still Can’t Manage

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an article comparing/contrasting the positions of candidate Mary Burke and Governor Walker on the just announced $1.8 Billion projected deficit in the 2015 – 2017 Wisconsin State budget.

Governor Walker in one of his most captain obvious moments said:

Walker said the projections also reflected the effects of his tax cuts.

“Remember, the economy is better. …Revenues aren’t down because of the economy,” Walker said in a meeting Tuesday with College Republicans at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. “They’re down in large part because taxpayers are paying less in this state.”

Yes obviously revenues are down because taxpayers are paying less in taxes…but the flip side of the coin is…you didn’t anticipate reduced revenues? you didn’t take that into account for your budgets? And yes I mean budgets because the current budget is going to have a shortfall…for precisely the same reason.

oh wait…then there’s that little thing about reducing taxable pay for public employees!

Accuracy Matters: The Pain of Imprecision


The economic discipline’s all in a buzz over the recent debunking of the Reinhardt/Rogoff study and with good reason. The study’s conclusions form the entire foundation for Conservative austerity and recessional spending (more appropriately, the lack thereof). Shall we not forget the “serious” budgetier Paul Ryan’s insistence of fiscal crisis proven without doubt by this very study? This is the study which legitimized the illegitimate Conservative narrative, which in turn legitimized Ryan’s illegitimate budget priorities. Romney made said narrative and this study the cornerstone of his campaign. Together, along with the Conservative propaganda-sphere they justified their position by setting up a contrasting dichotomy. Remember how it looked? They instantiated an equivocating notion of “other credible economists” who supported their wrongful approach with reliable data. The “other” being Reinhardt and Rogoff. That narrative? We don’t have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem. Now we know. The data is so seriously flawed it would be laughable were not the policy damage it caused so severe, protracted, and widespread. The truth, the reality: We have a revenue problem. A revenue crisis. Not a spending crisis. Hopefully this basic truth will reach Washington DC and the compromisers will shift their focus toward empirical reality and responsible budget planning. If Democrats agree to cut spending for the sake of compromise at this point, well… they would be as unfit to govern as their opponents.