Wisconsin voters will decide next month whether the state's transportation fund should be off-limits for other purposes. Lawmakers from both parties endorsed the constitutional amendment in each of the last two sessions. It was spurred in part by the raiding of one-point-four billion dollars from the transportation fund from 2003-through-2010 when Democrat Jim Doyle was governor. The transfers covered aid to public schools and other items aimed at closing budget deficits at the time. Senate Democrat Fred Risser of Madison, the nation's longest-serving state lawmaker, was among the few opponents of the anti-raid amendment. He tells the Wisconsin Radio Network it would "handcuff" future governors and legislatures, by making huge sums of money off-limits regardless of the state's financial plight. He said if more money is needed, officials should address it "head-on" instead of hiding behind a measure that really doesn't add a penny to state coffers. Both major candidates for governor have shied away from supporting specific transportation measures that would raise taxes. The D-O-T is studying alternatives for propping up transportation dollars, after less driving and more fuel-efficient vehicles have driven down gas tax revenues. Risser also said voters should be concerned that the amendment protects vast amounts of tax money for a single lobbying group -- the road builders.
Republican state attorney general candidate Brad Schimel has said he'd be obligated to defend all state laws and constitutional measures. Now, Democrats are attacking him for that stance, after he told a cable T-V interviewer in Oshkosh he would have defended the state's former ban on inter-racial marriage had he been the A-G in the 1950's. The Waukesha County D-A said it would have been "distasteful" for him to do that -- but it's not the job of the state's top lawyer to "pick and choose" laws the Justice Department would defend. Yesterday, Assembly Democrat Chris Taylor of Madison said Schimel wouldn't be doing his job if he doesn't "stand up to the Legislature and governor when they trample on people's constitutional rights." Schimel has said for months he would have defended the state's ban on gay marriage in court, just like fellow Republican J-B Van Hollen did before the U-S Supreme Court threw the ban out on Monday. Schimel's election opponent, Democrat Susan Happ, has said she would not defend the gay marriage ban, the state's voter I-D law, and required hospital admitting privileges for abortion doctors. In responding to yesterday's Democratic criticism, Schimel said "love and the law are color-blind as they should be" -- but if Happ wants to change old laws or make up new ones, "she's running for the wrong job."
The liberal group One Wisconsin Now filed a complaint against Brad Schimel yesterday. It alleges that the Republican attorney general hopeful used 500-dollars in campaign funds for his children's baby-sitters 16 times between 2009 and February. The complaint alleges that Schimel broke a state law which bars candidates from using campaign funds for non-political reasons. Schimel has been the Waukesha County D-A since 2006, and the expenses in question came before he announced his bid for state attorney general late last year. His campaign spokesman Johnny Koremenos said the money came from Schimel's previous campaigns, and were reported to state officials a number of years ago. He told the A-P that Schimel is being "accused by a notorious Madison organization of making sure his own children were safe and cared for properly."
About 420 people showed up at two public hearings in Milwaukee yesterday on a plan by We Energies to raise fixed charges for its electric customers, plus a new fee for users of solar power. The state's largest utility has proposed a one-point-eight percent rate increase to start in January. Residential customers could see up to five-percent hikes, and most businesses would get smaller increases. Residents told the state Public Service Commission how they'd be hurt by a proposed 75-percent jump in the flat charge that all residential customers pay. It would be partially off-set by a slight cost decrease for actual energy use. Between the two public hearings, a rally was held by senior groups, solar companies, and others opposed to the main parts of We Energies' proposed fixed charge and solar power changes. State Senate Democrat Tim Carpenter of Milwaukee said seniors on fixed incomes would be hurt by the higher fixed charges -- and he wanted the P-S-C to delay the increase and get more public input. Groups for builders, utility shareholders, and others supported the plan, calling it fairer for all customers. Today, the P-S-C will hold hearing in Madison on a proposed fixed charge hike for Madison Gas-and-Electric Customers. The Public Service utility of Green Bay also wants a similar increase.
Wisconsin will get almost 310-thousand dollars from the national settlement of a "mobile cramming" case against A-T-and-T. The Federal Trade Commission announced the settlement yesterday, in which A-T-and-T will refund customers 80-million dollars they were billed for third-party services they did not authorize. The Wisconsin Justice Department said those customers were typically billed 9.99-a-month -- generally for texts with horoscopes, sports scores, and trivia. State governments will share 20-million dollars from the settlement, and the F-C-C will get five-million. The trade agency said A-T-and-T got one-point-three million complaints from customers about the unauthorized charges in 2011 alone. State officials said the practice continued at least until early this year -- and A-T-and-T was the first of the four major mobile carriers to announce they'd stop billing for unauthorized outside monthly call packages. A-T-and-T had a refund policy, but it only covered 2-to-3 months of charges. Starting today, customers can submit refund claims on the F-T-C's Web site. They must be present or former A-T-and-T customers who had unauthorized third-party charges since the start of 2009.