GOP-controlled Legislature ready to tackle mining, taxes, jobs, education

2013-01-06T13:15:00Z 2013-12-31T15:30:44Z GOP-controlled Legislature ready to tackle mining, taxes, jobs, educationDEE J. HALL | Wisconsin State Journal | | 608-252-6132

Paving the way for a new mine, lowering income taxes and finding ways to train more workers for available jobs are among the priorities cited by top Republicans, who will control the Legislature.

The two-year session begins Monday and will run through May 2014. Republicans have a 59-39 majority in the Assembly, with one vacancy in a heavily GOP district, and an 18-15 majority in the Senate. Gov. Scott Walker is also a Republican.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said much of the Legislature’s work will revolve around the governor’s proposed budget, expected to be submitted in mid-February.

“The budget controls the landscape for the first six months,” Fitzgerald said.

Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance executive director Todd Berry agreed, saying, “The first question is really what the governor’s budget will contain; that will be the jumping off point for work during the next session.”

But lawmakers will have ample opportunity to go beyond the budget with their own agenda items. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said his overarching goal is to “create the best environment for the private sector to generate more jobs.”


Streamlining the permitting process for mining in Wisconsin will be perhaps the top non-budget topic in the upcoming session, and Assembly Republicans said a bill to do just that will be the first introduced. The only question is, how far will the changes go?

GOP leaders won’t say. A separate mining bill died last session by one vote after Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, bucked his party and turned down the GOP-backed proposal. He said it provided too little environmental protection and public input in the permitting process.

The push to change Wisconsin’s mining laws was spurred by a proposal by Gogebic Taconite to put a $2 billion iron mine near Mellon that promised to provide 700 mining jobs and 2,100 support positions and hundreds of millions a year in economic impact.

In recent months, Sen. Tim Cullen, D-Janesville, chaired a special committee that came up with proposed parameters for a new bill, including a two-year deadline for permit review, rather than the 360-day deadline in last session’s bill. The proposal from Cullen’s committee also would allow the state Department of Natural Resources to pause the process for up to six months, maintain groundwater protections, require a master public hearing once DNR approves the permit and give payments to local communities based on how much iron is extracted.

Schultz predicted that the proposal — crafted during the few months in 2012 that Democrats ran the Senate — may sway some moderate Republican senators. But top Republicans labeled the committee hearings as a political stunt.

Fitzgerald called current mining laws “outdated and onerous” and said he expects legislation to be “bipartisan in the end.”


Republicans also vow to reduce state income taxes, which Vos said would boost the economy.

Vos has said families earning between $20,000 and $200,000 a year deserve a break, although he did not elaborate.

“We are looking to reform our complex income tax code and provide income tax relief to every taxpayer, with a special focus on relief for middle-class families,” Vos said in an email interview.

Wisconsin has the 12th highest income tax burden in the country and ninth highest in property taxes, according to the taxpayers alliance, while the nonprofit Wisconsin Budget Project notes that the state’s income tax rate of 6.5 percent is the lowest it’s been in 50 years.

Berry said state taxes weigh most heavily on the middle- and upper-middle classes. In the upcoming session “there will probably be less focus on the top and bottom ends of the income spectrum,” Berry said.

Fitzgerald declined to say whether or how much income taxes should be cut. Fitzgerald said a “big piece” of the revenue picture — how much the state will receive in federal Medicaid funding — is not yet known.


Republicans likely will push new voter ID legislation and consider abolishing the popular same-day voter registration — but not necessarily as their first order of business. Moreover, Walker has vowed to veto a bill eliminating same-day registration if it costs $5.2 million as the state election agency says it would.

In 2011, the GOP-run Legislature passed a controversial measure requiring photo identification to vote. The requirement has been tied up in the courts for months after two judges found the new law disenfranchises some voters.

Vos told the WisconsinEye network he still wants to implement voter ID, which Republicans have repeatedly said is necessary to cut down on voter fraud. Only a handful of such cases have ever been detected or prosecuted in Wisconsin.

Fitzgerald said the Legislature may need to wait until the court challenges conclude to determine how to reinstate the requirement.

“It’s pretty hard for the Legislature to react, absent a ruling,” Fitzgerald said.

Vos also did not rule out abolishing same-day voter registration, used by tens of thousands of voters each election, although Walker recently pulled back on his support for such a measure.

Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha, said of the proposal: “It just seems like that’s constantly on the top of their (Republicans’) minds about ‘How can we further disincentivize people from being able to vote?’”

Fitzgerald has also suggested revamping the Government Accountability Board, which oversees elections, but Walker is against that idea.


One of the few issues that has bipartisan support is closing the gap between the skills that potential employees have and the jobs that are available.

Vos said technical schools should focus on training people for jobs, not operating as “mini-four-year colleges.” He also hinted that funding could be tied to that goal, saying he opposes “dumping money in the same system.”

“When it comes to high-demand jobs, we are exploring ways to address the skills gap with the focus on education and development of better partnerships with the private sector,” Vos said in the email interview.

Sen. Sheila Harsdorf, R-River Falls, chairwoman of the Senate Committee on Universities and Technical Colleges, said one option is “performance-based funding” for the state’s universities and technical schools, with the ultimate measurement being whether graduates are prepared for employment.

But Harsdorf said the state must avoid “unintended consequences” that can result from setting the wrong standards. For example, she said tying funding too heavily to graduation rates could prompt schools to become overly selective, meaning some qualified students could be barred from admission.

Walker, too, has said he is interested in tying higher education funding to performance. That idea is also under consideration for the state’s elementary and secondary schools possibly using the new report card system.

Vos and Walker want to keep property taxes in check, which would mean keeping a tight lid on the state-imposed limit on school district revenues. They also support linking any additional K-12 education aid to report card results and expanding private-school vouchers, though details on both counts have yet to be determined.

Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, chairman of the Senate education committee, said the report cards don’t include enough data yet to tie funding to outcomes. He said the first step will be to ensure all schools, including private voucher schools, are part of the accountability system.

Olsen also said he supports increasing school spending by $200 per pupil, or about $300 million over the biennium.

Walker is considering State Superintendent Tony Evers’ $7 million proposal to require the ACT college preparatory exam and related tests for high school students, spokesman Cullen Werwie said.


Vos also said he will push for a “a top-down review of all rules and regulations,” which he said hasn’t been done in decades.

While the Legislature passes laws, it’s up to the executive branch and its bureaucrats to write the rules on exactly how such laws will be implemented.

Last session, the Legislature passed a law giving the governor broad powers to block proposed rules or proscribe how they will be written. Under the new law, each state agency also must provide an analysis of a proposed rule’s impact on businesses and the state economy.

Vos’ proposal would evaluate rules already on the books.

Walker also has said he is open to the idea of changing Wisconsin from a winner-take-all system when it comes to awarding Electoral College votes for presidential candidates — a proposal Democrats say they would fiercely oppose. Only two states currently apportion votes based on how well presidential candidates do in each congressional district and in the statewide count. Last year, President Barack Obama, a Democrat, received all 10 of Wisconsin’s electoral votes.

Fitzgerald spokesman Tom Evenson said such an idea “is not on our radar screen.” Although Vos has sponsored such legislation in the past, his spokeswoman Kit Beyer said, “This is not a top priority in the Assembly.”

Other lawmakers have discussed additional restrictions on abortion or reviving legislation to spur venture capital investment.

Reporter Matthew DeFour contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(29) Comments

  1. NotACynic
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    NotACynic - January 09, 2013 2:13 am
    It's that half a brain that's your problem, 'skippie.'
  2. AdiosScott
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    AdiosScott - January 08, 2013 12:00 am

    Earlier on another thread discussing the mining issue, a GOP top priority, a poster stated that he knew first hand that any mining or manufacturing facility in the US has the ENVIRONMENT and SAFETY as a top priority. I had to disagree.

    I talked with miners from Crandall Canyon Mine shortly before the collapse back in
    2007. Their concern was the safety violations that they were experiencing at that
    mine. Robert Murray, (The MAN from Murray Energy who threatened his workers out
    east, if they didn't support Romney in our last election), was the MAN in charge at
    Crandall Canyon Mine back then, and was the one involved in the decision to withhold
    safety reporting to MSHA and continue, against the safety concerns of his workers, a
    dangerous technique of "retreat mining" after an initial collapse. The rest is history and
    I'm sure can be confirmed by googling. Anything you find will definitely contradict that
    safety, of all things was a top priority.

    I am not posting this to argue with him. I am posting so that others get a clearer
    picture of how things really are and so you can see why people who do know about
    these thing would be very, very skeptical of how good some of these mining companies
    are going to be to us. And especially those companies that are so tied to the
    Republican party as Robert Murray continues to be.

  3. Mr Mellow
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    Mr Mellow - January 07, 2013 11:27 pm
    For two years now Walker and the GOP legislature have failed, big time, to create jobs. Their total control of state government means they are totally responsible for that failure.

    The GOP mining bill has not yet been unveiled, so here's my prediction: the new bill is going to be as just as unacceptable as the last one -- or even more so.

    Why? Walker and the GOP legislature need the Dems to fight against the new bill so the WISGOP can can claim to be the pro-jobs/pro-growth party while painting the Dems as anti-job, anti-growth, enviro zealots.

    The Republicans know it will be years, if ever, before their mining bill generates the 1,000 or so jobs Geobic talked about. So, during the 2014 campaign, when Walker, Fitzgerald and Vos have to defend their failure to create 250,000 new jobs, they will blame it on the Dems.
  4. hankdog
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    hankdog - January 07, 2013 9:19 am

    Regarding your second paragraph: Aren't folks of your ilk against increased government revenue? Doesn't that revenue come from taxes? Aren't you against taxes? Don't you know when you are talking out of both sides of your mouth? Come on, make some sense this morning.

    Factoid: I purchased a modest house during the Reagan administration. The lowest interest rate anywhere was 13.8%. Pretty steep, wouldn't you say? I refinanced last year (different house, still modest by todays standards) and the rate was just less than 4%. Please explain to me why, in this instance I am better off under RR than I am now. Thank you.
  5. skippie
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    skippie - January 07, 2013 8:36 am
    What a bunch of Liberal Hate Mongers. It seems that the looney left is against lower taxes, better education and more jobs. Why does this not surprise me?
  6. skippie
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    skippie - January 07, 2013 8:08 am
    Running deficits under Reagan was NOT OK. That is the main difference between conservatives and the Leftists on here. I, a conservative do not goose step to every move the republicans make. You lefties could never condemn anything a liberal does. Obama could murder children and you would still love him. Racists vote for Obama because he is black and you think that is a great thing!

    At least under Reagan, government revenue skyrocketed! Under Obama's failure of a presidency (what else could anyone with a brain call it). Revenues are flat and Obama's deficits make The budgets passed under Reagan look miserly. Oh, and how about Obama quit leading from behind and actually lead to get a budget passed in his second term?
  7. skippie
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    skippie - January 07, 2013 7:59 am
    Why do liberals lie so often. Anyone with half a brain can see that most of the hate statements by liberals are false. I guess the liberals here have less than half a brain.
  8. Tricolor Dog
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    Tricolor Dog - January 06, 2013 8:13 pm
    I hear that Grothman wants to put cameras in the Capitol lavatories.
  9. Tricolor Dog
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    Tricolor Dog - January 06, 2013 8:10 pm
    I understand the first order of business is going to be getting Daddy Fitz a new police cruiser with double wide seats. Anybody ever seen such a tub climb in and out of a car?
  10. NotACynic
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    NotACynic - January 06, 2013 7:25 pm
    By the way, save the lols for facebook, could you?
  11. NotACynic
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    NotACynic - January 06, 2013 7:23 pm
    Why was running huge deficits for his whole eight years OK when Reagan did it, but never is when there's a Democrat in the White House?
  12. spooky tooth
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    spooky tooth - January 06, 2013 6:17 pm
    skippie, you're as bad as the propagandist at Fox, just because you repeat the same lies over and over doesn't make them true.
  13. skippie
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    skippie - January 06, 2013 4:47 pm
    USO spooky, if we had just held them. The sky high tax rates under Carter were good for the country right? I believe Carter and Obama are equally qualified to run the country into the ground. Only Obama had enough racists voting for him that he got re-elected.
  14. spooky tooth
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    spooky tooth - January 06, 2013 1:02 pm
    You keep pushing the same old lie. RR Trickle Down tax breaks was voodoo economics that started the middle class decline. RR was the biggest nightmare ever to the US middle class.

    What got the economy going in the early 80's was the North Sea Oil coming on line. This is what broke the stranglehold OPEC had on the world and brought down high inflation.

    Enough with the RR B.S.
  15. persia
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    persia - January 06, 2013 11:35 am
    How can one party get more votes and still be the minority party? Wisconsin voted Democratic across the board, but these stupid Gerrymandered districts deliver a Republican landslide. What's the point of having an election of you are just going to rig it anyway?
  16. skippie
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    skippie - January 06, 2013 8:02 am
    Oh, and pikerover, lower taxes never work? Lol really, ever hear of a man named Ronald Regan? Lower taxes got us out of the mess created by that liberal Carter.
  17. RecessionSux
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    RecessionSux - January 05, 2013 9:05 pm
    Thank god the lunacy in Washington is not as prevalent here.
  18. rip
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    rip - January 05, 2013 8:35 pm
    The legislators should do something about the most unfair property taxes in the country and stop favoring farmers so much.
  19. witness2012
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    witness2012 - January 05, 2013 6:53 pm
    Yes, dhs, agreed. And, let's give teachers some reward for continuing to further their education with master's degrees.
  20. skippie
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    skippie - January 05, 2013 4:45 pm
    Union fire best teachers.
  21. skippie
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    skippie - January 05, 2013 4:40 pm
    Well yes. Obama has lost tons of jobs as president but not just in Wisconsin but all across the nation. As for good teachers you have it reversed. Because if the unions, MPS fired the recipient of the best new teacher of the year. Now with act 10 we can keep the good teachers. Also there have been less layoffs of teachers under act 10. Both good things unless you support the teachers over the kids.
  22. iponder
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    iponder - January 05, 2013 4:28 pm
    First lets get this Kwanzaa thing figured out.
  23. dhs
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    dhs - January 05, 2013 4:19 pm
    I totally agree...lets pay more for the best teachers and replace the poor ones, just like the private sector does.
  24. pikerover
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    pikerover - January 05, 2013 4:04 pm
    True Skippie but in two years no 125,000 of the 250k jobs promised, lower taxes have never worked, show me where it has. Better education means paying for the best teachers and the Republicans don't want to do that.
  25. Mattila
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    Mattila - January 05, 2013 3:59 pm
    ...oops, Middle Class will lose...
  26. NotACynic
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    NotACynic - January 05, 2013 3:40 pm
    Can anybody explain to me why they didn't just go through the process to get that mining bill passed? Instead of spending a couple years spinning their wheels and then trying to 'streamline' the process? I can only think of one reason why the process needs to be 'streamlined.'
  27. Mattila
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    Mattila - January 05, 2013 3:31 pm
    It all depends on who loses and who benefits. Given the track record of this regime, the environment will lose, public employees will lose, and stdents in public schools. The winners will be the WMC, big business, and the Middle Class.
  28. Lynne4300
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    Lynne4300 - January 05, 2013 2:42 pm
    Come dems, time to start working together. Enough with recalls and lawsuits, let's get working for some jobs to come to Wisconsin.
  29. skippie
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    skippie - January 05, 2013 2:33 pm
    Looks like a great agenda. Jobs, lower taxes, and better education. Who could be upset at that?
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