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07
Jul
2015

joint-financeDamaging changes proposed to the WRS Board structure under the cover of darkness, with no debate or public input, which could open the door for political manipulation and corruption.


MADISON - The Joint Finance Committee ended its work on the state budget last week by slipping in some policy changes in it's last minute Motion, #999. One of them affects landline phone service, which may hurt many rural residents in northern Wisconsin. Another changes the composition of the Joint Survey Committee On Retirement Systems (JSCRS).

This committee is responsible for reviewing any changes to the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS). It has been composed of Senate and Assembly legislators of both parties plus representatives of the public, the Attorney General, The Department of Employee Trust Funds, and the Insurance Commissioners office. Under the proposed changes, the committee would become entirely appointed legislators (five Assembly and five Senate).

As with many of the proposals in this budget, this one is a “solution looking for a problem.” The current committee structure has been working. WRS is rated as one of the best public retirement programs in the nation. Why are changes being proposed?

The JSCRS is a powerful committee that is legally required to review any proposed changes to the WRS so that all the long term "effects" are known. This means "effects" on taxpayers, on retirees, on workers, of government agencies, on retention of high quality workers, etc. Recently, the legislature has been avoiding this law and making changes to the WRS without detailed study.

This proposal opens the door for political manipulation and corruption. The ruling party would have complete control over reviewing and recommending changes to the WRS. It reduces broad public oversight of a $100 billion public trust fund.

Governor Scott Walker and many Republican leaders support the goal of the right wing American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) and Wall Street to privatize public pension funds. Under privatization, Wall Street could make billions in fees and control the investments to divert retiree fund monies into their buddies' businesses. Governments could decrease their share of funding of public pension systems and retirees would get smaller pensions.

Is this an overreaction? Maybe. Will the state legislature vote yes on this budget proposal? We don't know. But has your paper, radio or TV station been covering this attempt to change WRS? Probably not.

It is very "Walker like" for the Governor to make an outrageous proposal like the recent attack on open government, walk it back in the face of outrage, then "end run" other damaging changes to public policy with no debate or public input, while the media is busy congratulating itself on their "victory".

Written by GBP Staff   
 
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06
Jul
2015

scott-walkerTiming Suspicious as Governor Walker Readies Presidential Announcement


MADISON – Days after Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) passed new and unprecedented restrictions on public access to government records – and the resulting outcry from citizens and groups of all political stripes forced Republicans to backtrack on their extreme position – many important questions about this proposal remain unanswered.

The timing of the Republicans’ attack on open government is especially suspicious with Governor Walker set to formally announcing he is running for president one week from today.

“Following last week’s historic assault on clean, open and transparent government, the people of Wisconsin are still waiting for answers on what Republicans were trying to accomplish, what they are trying to hide and who was responsible for requesting these changes,” Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said. “I have served in the legislature for many years, and it is misleading and ludicrous to suggest that anything would get into a budget wrap-up motion without the knowledge and approval of the governor and legislative leaders."

"We are looking to members of the media and citizens to join us in holding Republicans responsible not only for this terrible budget but also for making swift and damaging changes to public policy under the cover of darkness – with no debate or public input,” Barca said.

Today Democratic leaders also announced a bill with the goal of preventing future last-minute abuses of the budget process. This bill would require that all non-fiscal policy items identified by the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) be referred to standing committees in each house of the legislature. Those would be required to hold a public hearing and an executive session on each item, thereby allowing for public input on each policy item inserted into the budget and allowing standing committees to voice their approval or disapproval.

“What Republicans did in the Joint Finance Committee last week was an affront to our democracy, and Democrats are ready with a solution,” Assistant Assembly Democratic Leader Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) said. “Our legislation will ensure that non-fiscal items inserted into the budget – particularly ideas as egregious as rolling back open records laws, eliminating weekends for some workers and making it easier for predatory payday lenders to take advantage of vulnerable citizens – receive the public input and scrutiny they deserve.”

In recent years, open records requests have helped shed light on everything from potential corruption at Governor Walker’s jobs agency to criminal activity that led to the convictions of six of the governor’s former aides, as well as the revelation that major mining company donors essentially re-wrote large sections of Wisconsin’s environmental laws.

Written by Assembly Democrats, Laura Smith   
 
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