Budget and More

Tonight on “Here and Now,” we interview Republican Assembly Speaker, Robin Vos, following the passage of the 2013-15 state budget. We also interview Democratic Senate Minority Leader, Chris Larson, for his comment on the passage.
We check in with WPR Superior reporter, Mike Simonson, to learn more about his work following developments concerning the iron ore mine in northern Wisconsin. “It’s going to be a long, hot summer,” he says.
Also tonight, we head to Washington D.C. and talk with the leader of the National Council on Teacher Quality, whose nonprofit put out a “U.S. News and World Report” style ranking of teacher college programs. Wisconsin university educators in schools of education aren’t pleased with the survey and question its methodology.
That’s all tonight at 7:30 p.m. statewide on WPT.

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Here and Now Program Forecast

Next week the full legislature will begin work on Governor Walker’s proposed–and Joint Finance Committee amended–budget bill. Going forward, will there be any room for compromise between the parties? Tonight on Here and Now guest Anchor Zac Schultz takes that question to Republican State Senator Dale Schultz and Democratic State Senator Julie Lassa. Also in tonight’s program, the Co-Sponsor of the ultrasound abortion bill, Republican Senator Mary Lazich of New Berlin. Zac Schultz will also talk with Wisconsin Medical Society Past President Dr. Tosha Wetterneck about the Society’s opposition to the bill. Also tonight–and only online at wpt.org/hereandnow–a complete rundown of the package of election reforms passed by the Assembly this week.

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Abortion at the Capitol

Republicans in the state legislature are expected to vote on a series of abortion bills this week.

The State Senate is scheduled to vote on SB 206 Tuesday, which would require physicians to perform or arrange for an ultrasound, except in a medical emergency or cases where the pregnancy is caused by sexual assault or incest. Physicians would have to show the ultrasound image to the woman and provide a thorough description of the fetus’ features.  A late amendment specifies the bill would not require an invasive transvaginal ultrasound even if a conventional ultrasound will not detect a heartbeat.

The bill also would require that physicians performing abortions have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of where the abortion would be performed.  Planned Parenthood says that requirement will force them to close their Appleton clinic because they cannot meet the 30 miles requirement.

Assuming the bill passes the Senate the Assembly is prepared to vote on that bill and possibly other abortion issues later this week.

The legislature did pass some abortion regulations in the 2011-12 session, but a number of proposals did not make it to the floor for a full vote.  Insiders at the Capitol have said that was because the threat of recalls in the Senate made leaders there wary of having members take votes on controversial issues before the recall elections.

In a typical two-year legislative cycle there is a special time and place to pass controversial legislation…the fall of the first year.  The first six months of each biennial session are usually dominated by the state budget and any other “jobs” type legislation.  The legislature is usually pretty quiet during the summer (few floor votes, mostly committee hearings) and they come back in the fall ready to pass all the things that weren’t a priority in the budget period.  Politicians don’t like to pass controversial items in the spring in an election year (even-numbered years) and they don’t work at all during the summer, fall and winter of an election year.

That only leaves the fall of non-election years for the controversial items, which is where most of these abortion bills were originally targeted in 2011.  But the recalls pushed them to this year, and with solid majorities in both houses and no protesters to be seen, the abortion bills are being passed even before the budget is finalized.

That gives Democrats another chance to make comments about the Republicans’ “laser-like focus on jobs,” but that won’t change the outcome of the votes.  Most of these bills have seen similar versions passed in other states in recent years and while the “war on women” and other women’s health issues were a big factor in the Presidential race last fall they don’t seem to have an impact in Wisconsin elections.

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Budget Biggies

Tonight on “Here and Now,” Co-chair of the Legislative Joint Finance Committee, Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) joins JFC member, Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine) to debate the budget that came out of that body this week.
On the table: Medicaid, school choice, tax cuts and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.
Also tonight, school choice advocate, Jim Bender, and state schools superintendent, Tony Evers, on what the voucher school expansion means for Wisconsin.
Plus, a check-in with tax expert, Todd Berry, of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, on the income tax cut in the proposed two year state budget.
That’s tonight on “Here and Now,” tonight at 7:30 p.m. statewide on WPT.

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Voucher Expansion Deal has Electoral Consequences

The deal is not finished, but word out of the Capitol is Governor Scott Walker and voucher expansion advocates have finalized a deal with moderate Republican Senators Luther Olsen and Mike Ellis.  The deal will bring a $150 increase in per-pupil funding for public schools, and will expand vouchers statewide, but will only include 1,000 students a year and no more than 1% from any given school district.  This would not impact the prior expansions in Milwaukee and Racine.

In his budget Governor Walker proposed a voucher expansion for the largest school districts in the state, affecting only those with more than 4,000 students and at least 2 failing schools (according to the new school report cards).  But opponents pointed out the report cards were in their first year and not ready for such large decisions, and argued it did not make sense to expand vouchers to schools that were successful if the goal was to give kids in failing schools access to a quality education.

If this deal becomes law it would mark a major shift in the voucher debate.  For the first twenty years vouchers were limited to Milwaukee kids from poor families.  School choice had support from conservative lawmakers and Milwaukee Democrats.  When Governor Walker was elected in 2010 everything changed.  With complete control of the legislature the Governor and school choice advocates greatly expanded the program; by lifting the enrollment caps in Milwaukee, raising the income limits so wealthier families could get taxpayer funded vouchers, and then by expanding the program to Racine.

Most of the rest of the state did not pay attention.  There were enough controversial elements in Governor Walker’s first year that voucher expansion was not a hot topic outside of Milwaukee and Racine.  Even the Governor’s budget proposal this spring only impacted large school districts in mostly Democratic areas.

But a statewide expansion makes this possible in every corner of the state, and suddenly every lawmaker’s vote on this issue matters to their voters.  Recent polling by the Marquette Law School has shown voters are mostly split on whether to expand vouchers, with the vast majority not supporting statewide expansion.  That same poll showed strong support for local public schools.  Rest assured Democrats and public school advocates will say statewide expansion of the voucher program is a direct threat to the public school system.  Even if the program is limited to just 1,000 kids outside of Milwaukee and Racine, the possibility of lifting or expanding that cap will certainly be on the table in future budget debates.  Rest assured school choice advocacy groups will be out in force, drumming up support and arguing choice should be up to the parents.

Beyond making this a statewide issue, the other major shift this expansion does is weaken a crucial argument school choice supporters have used for years.  The voucher program was conceived and expanded on the notion that kids from poor families should have a way to escape a failing school.  Even Governor Walker tried to connect voucher expansion with failing school report cards.  But this expansion goes everywhere and low income kids in excellent schools will still be able to use taxpayer money to attend private schools.

This will likely crystalize the debate over school choice.  People will be able to more clearly debate how taxpayer money should be used to educate kids.  On one end of the spectrum school choice advocates say their ultimate goal is “a voucher in every backpack” in which the taxpayer money follows them where ever they want to go.  On the other end of the spectrum are those that want to see vouchers eliminated entirely.  We are somewhere in the middle, and this deal will have a major impact on the elections that will determine the direction the state will head, and whether this round of voucher expansion is the end, or just the beginning.

 

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