MADISON - Scott Walker is expected to declare an economic emergency for Wisconsin next week, calling lawmakers into a special session, after he's sworn in as governor Monday.
When that happens, Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca says the focus should be on proposals that get people back to work right away. Walker has several proposals he wants lawmakers to act on to spark economic development, which include revamping the Department of Commerce and changes to the rule-making process used by state agencies. Barca says those ideas are being viewed carefully by Democrats. The Kenosha Democrat says there are questions about a plan to let the Governor review rules proposals before they go to the Legislature for final approval. He says it's an "arcane process" and ignores the fact that Walker will appoint the people overseeing those writing the rules. Barca says the focus needs to be on proposals that implement proven methods for creating jobs. He says lawmakers should look at what has worked for other states, and only consider tax cuts that are based on businesses actually creating new jobs.
If Governor-elect Scott Walker's plan to revamp the Department of Commerce is approved, it could put several people at the agency out of work. Walker wants to transform the Department into a new Economic Development Corporation, which would focus on bringing jobs to Wisconsin. Walker says additional duties of the Department of Commerce would be shifted to other agencies. However, there's no guarantee the over 400 people working at the Department right now would get to keep their jobs. Walker says there would be a process for them to re-apply, and he would want to take essential people along to the new EDC or to handle duties with other agencies. Walker says the proposal is not about saving the state money. The cost of creating the new agency has not been released, with figures expected when the incoming governor introduces his budget early next year. Walker says though that if the change can save the state money, then that's a "good thing."
Governor-elect Scott Walker is getting both praise and criticism for the cabinet picks he announced yesterday. The Republican Walker chose both political and private-sector leaders to run the various state agencies. And for now, they appear to face easy confirmation from a Senate that will be controlled by Walker's GOP. Special elections will be needed to replace three Republican Assembly members Walker chose - Mike Huebsch of West Salem as administration secretary, Mark Gottlieb of Port Washington as DOT secretary, and Scott Gunderson of Waterford as the DNR's number-three person. Walker also named a former federal official to run the state health services department. He's Dennis Smith, a former head of Medicare-and-Medicaid. But Assembly Democrat Kelda Helen Roys of Madison fears that Smith will take away the state's Senior-Care prescription program which has been allowed to run with federal waivers. And incoming Assembly Democrat Brett Hulsey of Madison slammed the choice of former Senator Cathy Stepp to run the DNR. Hulsey used to be with the Sierra Club, and he said Stepp voted with environmental interests less than 30-percent of the time. But Stepp called that criticism "inflammatory." And UW-Milwaukee political scientist Mordecai Lee praised Walker's picks. He said it shows that Walker is serious about governing - and he did not choose a quote, "Tea Party, ideologically-rigid list."
Many long-time state government employees are retiring early, for fear that Governor-elect Scott Walker will take away the benefits they've earned. About 50 DNR veterans are heading out the door, twice as many as a year ago. The Department of Employee Trust Funds says the number of state-and-local employees asking about their retirement benefits jumped by 80-percent in early December, compared to the same time in 2009. And the department put a notice on its Web site stressing that benefits already accrued cannot be taken away. It also said the agency has not seen any proposals about changing the policy of letting retirees pay for state health insurance with their unused sick leave. Still, 37-year DNR veteran Bob Barnum says he's seen enough. He tells the Wisconsin State Journal it's "sad when you don't trust the new boss coming in." DNR water supply specialist Carol McCurry says she handles public safety and quote, "It's not something we should have to fight to do." But incoming Senate GOP leader Scott Fitzgerald wonders why people would leave before giving Walker a chance to roll out his plans. Spokesman Cullen Werwie says Walker knows there are great people in state agencies - and he hopes they'd be willing work with the new governor on quote, "innovative reforms."
Outgoing Governor Jim Doyle has pardoned 74 convicted criminals in the last two weeks, bringing the total for the year to 177. That's much more than in any of his previous seven years in office. And Doyle's pardons since December 15th were more than the 51 he granted in all of 2009. None of the latest pardons appear to involve prominent or politically-connected people. Their crimes ranged from fleeing police to second-degree sexual assault. Doyle was recently criticized by Republicans for the numbers of pardons he granted. But he did not approve them all. Doyle did not act on a pardon request from the late Laurie Bembenek, the former Milwaukee police officer convicted of killing her former husband's ex-wife in the early 1980's. Bembenek tried for years to clear her name before she died in November. Also, the governor refused to commute a pair of 80-year prison sentences in a pair of Milwaukee robberies. State pardons do not remove convictions - but they restore rights such as voting, gun ownership, and the ability to get state licenses.
Over 20,000 University of Wisconsin football fans jammed the Santa Monica Pier in southern California yesterday. The UW put on the event to get Badger fans fired up for tomorrow's Rose Bowl Game in Pasadena against Texas Christian. But after waiting 11 years to smell the roses, the crowd didn't need to be fired up. Badger coach Bret Bielema called the turnout "unbelievable" and said the people of Wisconsin are "second-to-none." Governor Jim Doyle was among the speakers, along with Badger legends Ron Dayne, Barry Alvarez, and others. The crowd screamed when they saw highlights of this past football season, when the Badgers went 11-1 and won a share of the Big Ten Conference title. And when the team appeared, fans got as close as they could and took photos. Defensive end J.J. Watt said quote, "We didn't travel two-thousand miles for a vacation - we came here to win a football game. Let's do it Saturday."
As fans commemorate Bucky's trip to Pasadena, some retailers rake in a little extra cash. Retail analyst Doug Johnson says thank goodness for the Rose Bowl-bound Wisconsin Badgers. The 11-1 Badgers will take on the 12-0 TCU Horned Frogs on New Year's Day. Johnson says a winning team equals better sales, thereby pumping up profits and extending the shopping season well past Christmas. "Sports paraphernalia is very popular ... anything with your favorite team's logo on it is a very popular gift." He says a lot of sports paraphernalia is flying off the shelves. Johnson says trips to the store are also fueled by gift-returns, trade-ins, and desires to expend those recently-acquired gift cards.
Authorities in northeast Wisconsin are investigating a two-vehicle crash on a slippery road that killed a 69-year-old Freedom woman. It happened just after 10 yesterday morning near Green Bay. Brown County sheriff's deputies said the woman's car spun out of control near a hillcrest, and was hit by an oncoming SUV driven by a 30-year-old Pittsfield woman. That driver and her three-year-old son both escaped injury.
A California meat packer has recalled almost 35-thousand pounds of organic ground beef sold in Wisconsin and five other states. First Class Foods of Hawthorne is recalling beef that might have been contaminated with E-coli bacteria. The USDA said the problem was found during a normal sampling process. Officials said they no reports yet of anyone getting sick from the product. It involves First Class organic ground beef sold from December seventh-through-the-16th. It has a sampling number of EST 18895. Those with questions are asked to call Lucienne Adams of First Class Foods. Here's her phone number - 1-310-676-2500.
Wisconsin made changes to its drunk driving law this past July. One of the most noticeable will prevent certain offenders from driving while impaired through what's called an ignition interlock device. Officials say there's usually a lag between a new law and any effect it may have. So while local police have been enforcing the new law since July, convictions --not arrests -- are what the state patrol will eventually examine. Major Dan Lonsdorf, who directs transportation safety for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, says lawmakers made a wide range of revisions. "They adjusted some of the fines, they made fourth offense a felony," says Lonsdorf. "You know those things may have some impact, but the real impact of this law change is the ignition interlock provision." Last year in Wisconsin, the State Patrol says there were 45,000 drunk driving convictions, and alcohol-related crashes killed 238 people.
The city of Stevens Point is making progress revitalizing its distressed downtown as a tough year for the economy comes to a close. Business leaders are crediting a Wisconsin Department of Commerce program for much of the success. Stevens Point has seen its share of troubles. Its downtown mall lost major retailer JC Penney and sits almost empty. The city is moving forward with an aggressive plan to make the mall the headquarters for Mid State Technical College. But even before that happens, the central business district is seeing new life. Five new businesses have opened, including specialty shops, a deli, and a live music venue. Add to that an expanded Central Wisconsin Children's Museum, and business leaders say you have a vibrant new downtown. Sarah Robinson, executive director of Stevens Point's Association of Downtown Businesses, credits the Wisconsin Department of Commerce Main Street program for much of the success in attracting new businesses. And she hopes that as Governor-elect Walker replaces the Department of Commerce with a new Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, that it won't mean the end of the Main Street Program and the small businesses it helps, because she says small businesses "easily get swept under the rug." Long-term plans for downtown Stevens Point also include reopening the city's vacant opera house, the Fox Theater.
A federal magistrate in Milwaukee will decide Tuesday whether a Bosnian Serb accused of hiding his role in a massacre can leave Wisconsin to do his job. Mladjen Cvijanovic has been ordered not to leave Wisconsin while his case is pending. But he drives a truck for a living, and he says his job requires him to make deliveries outside the Badger State. Cvijanovic is charged with lying on an application for refugee status. Prosecutors said he never disclosed that he helped round up eight-thousand Muslim civilians who were killed in an invasion of Srebrenica in 1995.