From the files of “This is why we can’t have nice things” Peter Barca re-elected Assembly minority leader

Apparently Assembly Democrats aren’t content to hold the fewest seats they’ve held since 1957, as they re-elected Rep. Peter Barca to serve as their leader for the next two years.

State Rep. Peter Barca will continue as the state Assembly’s Democratic leader.

Barca, D-Kenosha, was re-elected by his colleagues Tuesday, a week after voters increased Republican majorities in the Legislature and made Donald Trump the first Republican presidential candidate to win the state since 1984.

The vote was made through a secret ballot. No one ran against Barca.

I’m not sure why Peter Barca was unopposed for minority leader, given the miserable showing Democrats had last week, but it certainly seems to me establishment Democrats really don’t care if they win back the majority – they seem to have given up.

That’s a shame, and it’s exactly what we don’t need right now.

Toll roads in Wisconsin? No, no, and no!

This is a terrible idea.

The state spends billions of dollars on road construction, and the gas tax is not drawing in as much revenue as cars become more efficient.

WISN 12 News caught up with one lawmaker who believes the toll road solution is gaining support.

“Long term, we have to look at toll roads. I look at the notion of using tolling but maybe bring down that high auto registration fee somewhat as a tradeoff,” Democratic state Rep. Peter Barca said.

Here’s a novel idea….instead of lawmakers from both parties raiding our state’s transportation fund to pay for other things, how about they actually let transportation money be spent on transportation projects.

What’s more, I’d love to see the state spend more money on local transportation infrastructure projects, rather than spending more money expanding freeways that don’t necessarily need to be expanded.

Assembly Democratic Leader Barca announces living wage bill for contract state employees

Yesterday Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca announced new legislation that would set a living wage that is at least the federal poverty level of a three-person household or the same amount as a state employee performing the same duties for the hundreds of individuals working under state contracts in Wisconsin.

Here’s more from Barca’s press release.

“Workers who work 40 hours a week, 52 weeks a year shouldn’t have to rely on government assistance to help meet their families’ most basic needs. And taxpayers should not be expected to subsidize private companies’ full-time workers,” Rep. Barca said. “We must take action to ensure that the hardworking men and women of our state can earn a living wage and provide for themselves and their families. Whether someone is a state employee or a contracted employee, the people who work for Wisconsin deserve fair compensation for their work.”

This proposal is based on a statewide living wage program that was passed in Maryland in 2007. More than 100 municipalities and counties – both in Wisconsin and across the country – also currently have living wage requirements for contracted employees. In his State of the Union Address last night, President Obama announced that he will issue an executive order setting a living wage for all federally contracted employees.

The analysis and bill draft of LRB 3641 are attached here.

While I certainly appreciate the gesture on the part of Peter Barca, there’s absolutely no doubt this legislation will be an absolute non-starter with Republicans in the Legislature, given their anti-worker bent.

Peter Barca: Make 2014 the Year of the Middle Class

From my email inbox comes Democratic State Rep. Peter Barca’s latest column.

Decisions made inside the state Capitol in 2013 have not been kind to Wisconsin’s working, middle-class families.

Our state remained in the bottom half among states for job creation and we recently led the nation in our increase in unemployment claims. We also led the nation by kicking more people off their healthcare than any other state, and cost hard-working Wisconsin taxpayers even more by rejecting our share of tax dollars that we sent to Washington. Millions in additional taxpayer money was diverted away from public schools to private schools through expanding vouchers statewide. These are not the things I want our proud state to be known for doing.

It is my hope that the focus of enough elected leaders changes for 2014 that we can make next year truly the “Year of the Middle Class” in Wisconsin.

As Democratic members of the Assembly, we have identified four key areas for the legislature to focus on improving so that in 2014 we can have a positive impact on real people’s everyday lives: education, jobs and the economy, access to healthcare and clean, citizen-driven government.

In education, we need to invest in public schools & worker training – with a focus on student achievement, fair funding and holding all schools that receive taxpayer dollars accountable to the public. We need to ensure that college is a path to a good career – not a path to huge debt. Our state now ranks in the top ten for the high percent of students who graduate with debt.

Wisconsin’s economic development efforts must be able to effectively and efficiently help bring jobs to Wisconsin, without scandal, lost loans and constant turn over. Wisconsin was 11th in job creation before Gov. Walker took office and has fallen to 37th. There can be no more excuses – workers need training and we must get people back to work quickly.

Put common sense and the taxpayers – and most especially people who need access to life-saving healthcare – before political ideology. Turning down federal funding that could have covered tens of thousands more people and saved taxpayers hundreds of millions in healthcare costs defies logic, and compassion.

The public has the right to see what their government is doing – no more secrecy oaths or backroom deals with no public input. Elected officials should not be afraid of letting the public speak on important issues like nonpartisan redistricting.

What shouldn’t be a part of our agenda for 2014 are things my colleagues across the aisle focused their attention on in 2013 — attacks on voting, on women’s health, on funding for public schools. We fought those measures. And if our colleagues continue to push such things, we will continue to stand up for the people of Wisconsin. Bipartisanship means finding middle ground, not blindly rubberstamping ideas that hurt real people.

But it is my sincere hope that both parties can agree to make 2014 the Year of the Middle Class with a focus on core issues that impact the real things that we all find ourselves talking about around our holiday tables and gatherings. Let’s do what we can to make those holiday conversations more cheerful and optimistic at the close of next year.

Happy holidays and a prosperous 2014 for you…and for Wisconsin.

Assembly Democrats Have No Spine: What Budget?

Although it doesn’t always pay to tilt at windmills, the decision by Wisconsin Assembly Democrats and Assembly Minority Leader Representative Peter Barca to refrain from offering a single amendment to the biennial budget is downright perplexing. On the one hand I can understand the futility of offering up amendments that have absolutely no chance of making it into the budget…and the Democrats reportedly had over two hundred budget amendments ready to propose…but they may have left themselves open to accusations of not doing their jobs come 2014.

Now I don’t think it would have been wise to propose and debate every single amendment ad infinitum. That would have played out worse in the press than walking away from this fight. But it may have been wise to introduce the strongest amendments, those with potentially the most support or at least the most empathetic recognition in the state and forced the Republicans to take a stand against them. Yes I think this budget may hoist the Republicans by their own petard…but the Democrats could have improved the return on investment with some well placed counterpoint!

Not sure this was well played.

13 Democrats join Republicans in voting to classify Wisconsin sharp cheddar cheese as junk food (UPDATED)

This will never stand up to Federal scrutiny, but it still sucks…

The Assembly approved, on a bipartisan vote of 68-26, a bill requiring at least two-thirds of the purchases in the state’s FoodShare program to come from a list of state-defined healthy foods, with Republicans arguing that the benefits outweighed the opposition of some business interests and advocates for the needy. The measure now goes to the state Senate.

The vote on AB 110 was bipartisan because 13 Democrats – including Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca and Caucus Chairperson Andy Jorgensen voted with Republicans to dictate to those receiving food assistance what they should and should not be be eating.

As noted by PR Watch, the bill Reps. Barca and Jorgensen cast their votes in favor of would classify sharp Wisconsin cheddar cheese as “junk food,” along with brown eggs, gluten-free bread, soy milk (unless it’s a very specific brand), reduced-fat peanut butter, bagels, English muffins, and white rice, among other foods. While I’m not surprised at the hypocrisy of “small government” Republicans supporting government intrusion when it suits their own political goals, I am disappointed that 13 Democrats helped enable those Republicans.

I understand that AB 110 was a trap laid by Republicans to force Democrats into a difficult vote, but damn….when are Democrats going to stand up and fight, rather than rolling over in the face of a tough vote?

UPDATE May 12, 2013 @ 9:10 p.m.: Here’s the statement I received from Minority Leader Barca’s office on his vote on AB 110:

All our statements and focus right now are on the budget (particularly education and health care) and WEDC…but he is writing a letter to constituents. I’m guessing you understand why these other things have delayed that.

WEDC Fails Another Audit and This Time There Should Be Criminal Charges

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and Associated Press are reporting that an audit by the state’s non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau found significant questionable financial activities surrounding Governor Walker’s Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. This time tax credits for creating jobs have gone unaudited, legally required reports haven’t been filed and there has been questionable spending on the part of WEDC employees. And some of the tax credits have gone to unqualified employers or for actions that predated the application for the credits.

From the MJS:

he review by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureaufound that last year the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. didn’t require financial statements from companies receiving incentives; gave awards to ineligible businesses and ineligible projects; and awarded nearly $1 million in tax credits to companies for actions taken before they had signed their contracts with the state. The agency didn’t adequately follow up to see if jobs were being created and didn’t clearly report the jobs numbers that it did have, the audit found.

Staff used agency credit cards to buy alcohol and football tickets, and WEDC had to be reimbursed for travel and meals for family of the agency’s head. In addition, WEDC did not always engage in competitive bidding on contracts and in two cases hired firms with conflicts of interest.

Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Allouez), co-chairman of the Legislature’s Joint Audit Committee, said there was no excuse for not following state laws or being accountable to taxpayers. A hearing on the report is scheduled on May 9.

“I hope they can get their act together, but this is pretty darn bad,” Cowles said. “I’d say the jury is out whether this was a good idea to create this whole entity . . . I don’t think there can be any more excuses. They’ve got to fix this thing.”

From the AP:

A blistering audit released Wednesday said Gov. Scott Walker’s premier job creation agency repeatedly broke state law in its first year of operation, failed to adequately track money it awarded for economic development projects and sometimes gave money to ineligible recipients.

Employees of the public-private entity also made unexplained purchases of University of Wisconsin football season tickets, alcohol and iTunes gift cards, the far-reaching audit of the nearly two-year-old Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. found.

Walker and the Legislature created WEDC in 2011 and it has been beset by problems since it started operating in July of that year. The audit by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau only added to the woes, with Republicans who supported creating WEDC, along with longtime Democratic critics, calling for immediate changes.

“This audit shows there is a significant disconnect between our expectations of WEDC and the reality of their performance with regard to transparency and accountability,” said Sen. Rob Cowles, R-Green Bay, co-chair of the Legislature’s Audit Committee.

Reed Hall, secretary and chief executive officer of WEDC, said he does not believe WEDC broke the law. Because WEDC is not a state agency, but a public-private partnership, there can be disagreements over its obligations under the law, he said.

Both in the interview and in a response letter to the Audit Bureau, Hall said WEDC has made significant progress toward addressing what he called “operational shortcomings.”

“The vast majority of issues raised by LAB have already been identified by WEDC and other parties, and substantive solutions are already in place or are in the process of being implemented,” he wrote.

But Rep. Peter Barca, a member of the WEDC board and leader of Assembly Democrats, said “the time for excuses is over,” and if improvements aren’t made in a year the agency should be dismantled.

When WEDC was created to replace the Commerce Department, staffing levels were cut from about 300 to 50. The new agency lost its first CEO after just 16 months on the job and its third chief financial officer resigned last month after just 24 hours on the job. That turnover in key leadership positions contributed to struggles at the fledgling agency, Hall said.

“Ultimately the buck should stop with the governor,” Barca said. “I would hope the governor would take responsibility for this.”

If laws were broken, some one should be seeing the inside of a courtroom…

Getting Mad About the Wrong Thing on Madison’s Per Diem Debate

Earlier this week Zach posted an article about the State Assembly possibly raising the per diem expense rate paid to Assembly members during their stays in Madison. Surprisingly the article resulted in one of most spirited discussions of the week.

The per diem has a role to play in controlling the cost of government. Rather than raising salaries across the board to cover expenses, only members of the State Assembly and Senate who have valid expenses related to traveling to and staying in Madison during legislative sessions get reimbursed. Now the rate hasn’t been increased since 2001 and under normal circumstances the per diem is probably overdue for review and adjustment. We all know that expenses in general and particularly the cost of food and travel has increased in the past 10 years. But in the current economic environment it would send a very negative signal to taxpayers if it were raised.

But I think we are getting hot under the collar about the wrong thing. According to an article by Patrick Marley in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the State Assembly doesn’t have to vote on changing their per diem rate. Most likely, your representative and my representative could receive an increase in expense reimbursement without ever having to vote on it. Essentially your tax dollars, once again, could be spent without your representation. Apparently a committee of 8 Assembly leaders have the authority to change the per diem rate. Eight leaders out of 99 Assembly members decide…and those other 91 members would never have to explain to their constituents why they received increased expense reimbursement rates while the state continues to experience economic stress.

BTW: The State Assembly and Senate set their per diems separately which doesn’t make much sense either.

My suggestion: set the state per diem at a permanent percentage of the federal rate for stays in Madison…or utilize third party suggested rates (there are plenty of services like this available) and make the legislature vote on it…with the rate change going into effect after the following election similarly to their base salaries…and in either case make the rates the same for both houses of the legislature.

Again with the mixed messaging…

This is a week old, but it’s worth discussing…

“Scott Walker will see the inside of a jail cell before he sees the inside of another term!” yelled Wisconsin Democratic Party Chariman Mike Tate to great cheers at his party’s state convention this past weekend.

When Newsradio 620 WTMJ’s Wisconsin’s Morning News asked Kenosha Assemblyman Peter Barca about whether he would endorse those comments, he said, “No.  Obviously not.  Everybody’s innocent until proven guilty.  The court process and the John Doe involving many of his former appointees will work itself out over the course of the next few months.”

While I understand Mike Tate was trying to fire up convention-goers at the 2012 DPW convention, the fact that the leader of the Assembly Democrats disavowed Tate’s comments doesn’t speak well for Democrats in Wisconsin getting on the same page when it comes to messaging, and that’s certainly a problem heading into some critical fall elections here in the state.

Do Democrats in the legislature need to deepen their bench?

From Playground Politics:

Democrats need to spend more time cultivating future leaders in the legislature and less time turning the place over to retreads like Peter Barca, Fred Kessler, Jim Holperin, and Tim Cullen. Now Joe Wineke may well be on his way back, which would be a huge benefit to the rudderless ship that is the Assembly Democratic caucus but again fills the need for real leadership with old blood instead of new blood. And no, whiners and screamers like Kelda Helen Roys, Gordon Hintz, and Chris Larson are not leadership, any more than Tom Nelson holding sleepovers in the Assembly chamber was leadership.

While I disagree with the Recess Supervisor putting Sen. Chris Larson in the “whiners and screamers” category, I do think his larger point bears discussing.

So do Democrats in Wisconsin’s legislature need to work on deepening their bench?

While I don’t profess to be an expert on the inner workings of the Democratic caucuses in the Assembly/Senate or the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, it would seem to me that there needs to be more of a concerted effort to move away from supporting “safe,” “electable” candidates (i.e. candidates who can essentially self-fund their campaigns) and move towards recruiting the kinds of candidates for elected office who can actually connect with the voters they hope to represent. While I understand money is unfortunately an important part of any credible campaign for elected office, I’m firmly convinced that with the right candidate, money will come – with Democratic State Senate candidate Lori Compas as a perfect example. Throughout her effort to gather signatures to recall Republican State Sen. Scott Fitzgerald – and then as her campaign began – Compas found herself lacking the formal support of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. Sure, she was able to raise money largely on her own, but Lori Compas strikes me as exactly the kind of person Democrats need to be supporting as much as possible, rather than holding her at arm’s length.

So again, what do you think? Do Democrats in Wisconsin’s legislature (and in more general terms) need to work on deepening their bench? If so, how do you think they do it?