The happenings "inside" the Wisconsin State Treasury and across the street at the State Capitol

Archive for February, 2011

Why the Budget Repair Bill Must Pass As Is

Amid the high passions and frayed emotions surrounding Governor Walker’s Budget Repair Bill, there are two critical reasons why this bill must become law.

First, contrary to what they have been saying, not all unions have agreed to pension and health care concessions. At the local level, many unions and municipalities have been scrambling to approve their contracts before passage of the budget repair bill, and these contracts do not reflect the concessions that the union leaders claim to be offering.

Keep in mind that this bill does not prevent municipalities or school boards from raising benefits or handing out raises, should they decide to do so. What it will do is lessen the burden on our state government, while providing local governments with the flexibility necessary to address their own financial interests.

Second, and most importantly, we set a dangerous precedent if we allow the 14 Democratic State Senators to continue to use their current tactics. What kind of democracy do we have if a minority is able to overturn the results of our elections simply by hopping into their cars and driving south?

I urge everyone to put their differences aside and help move our state forward by supporting this repair bill. Wisconsin’s fiscal health is at risk, and with it, the quality of life of current and future generations. We cannot let partisan bickering prevent us from doing what is best for Wisconsin in these difficult times. Failure is not an option.


$43 Million in State Bonds Sit Idle as do Wisconsin’s Democratic State Senators

Great Seal of the state of Wisconsin

Image via Wikipedia

As Wisconsin State Treasurer, I am one of three Commissioners of the Board of public land which oversees the Common School Trust Fund. Currently the fund invests over $800 Million which it uses to fund the public school library system. In addition, the Board oversees the State Trust Fund Loan program, which makes low interest loans to local cities and towns across Wisconsin for much needed public infrastructure improvements. For many municipalities, these projects could not find funding anywhere else

The Commissioners have given the Board authority to invest $43 Million in general obligation bonds and they have expressed a strong interest in investing this money in the Governor’s Budget Repair Bill with regard to the refinancing in the bill. That means that 1/4 of the proposed bonding would stay right here in Wisconsin. This is a win-win for every citizen in Wisconsin. Not only does this help close the budget shortfall, the interest earned will stay right here in Wisconsin, supporting public school libraries and continuing to provide our local communities a place to turn to help finance important public work projects.

The window on this closes Friday. For the state to realize the savings by June 30th, the end of the fiscal year, the refinancing has to occur by February 25th. The 14 Democratic Senators who are currently AWOL are blocking the ability of Wisconsin to invest in the best public interest of all of our citizens. As State Treasurer, I call on them to return to Wisconsin, pass this bill and allow Wisconsin to invest in itself.

Making News Internationally

The protests outside the State Capitol, right across the street from the State Treasury have drawn a lot of eyes to Madison. Reporters from around the world are clamoring for interviews and I appeared on CNN International Thursday to discuss the budget crisis the State is facing and Governor Walker’s Budget Repair Bill.

Click this to see the report.

As I stated during the interview, I support the Governor’s Budget Repair Bill and his attempts to dig the great State of Wisconsin out of this fiscal mess.

Impartial Justice Act

This past primary election for Supreme Court Justice was the first under the Impartial Justice Act – a 2009 state law that provides public funding for candidates running to be a State Supreme Court Justice. 3 of the 4 candidates took the $100,000 in funding from the law; Justice David Prosser and Assistant Attorney General Joanne Kloppenburg will move to the General Election in April and will now get $300,000 more.

This is nearly $1 Million in taxpayer dollars funding campaigns and I am adamantly opposed to it. Why should taxpayers be forced to give money to a candidate they might oppose?

The law itself actually limits candidates in their spending while continuing to allow 3rd-party groups to spend as much as they want on “issue ads” in support or opposition to candidates. It doesn’t help protect the integrity of the election, but actually hinders the candidates!

The Office of State Treasurer administers the fund that pays candidates your tax dollars to run for the high court. But I will work with the state legislature to repeal this ill-conceived law and to look for better ways to use tax dollars as well as return it to hard-working Wisconsinites.

Refinancing Debt to Eliminate the Deficit

In order for the Governor to eliminate the deficit Wisconsin is facing and balance the budget, he must make tough decisions. His Budget Repair Bill proposed last week was met quickly with criticism for concessions asked of state workers.
What was ignored in the cacophony was the fact that asking state workers to pay a percentage into their pensions and pay more of a percentage of their healthcare premiums doesn’t even touch the surface of eliminating the $136 Million shortfall we face July 1st or the $3.6 Billion shortfall projected for July 1st 2013. What was ignored was Governor Walker’s call to refinance debt.
Governor Walker wants to make sure BadgerCare is left sound so those in Wisconsin who need the most help aren’t left behind. By refinancing immediately, the Governor says he can save $165 Million to cover the shortfall for this year. He will announce next week, February 22nd, how he intends on battling the $3.6 Billion shortfall for fiscal year 2011-20113. But, again, refinancing is the larger part of the solution.
What is needed now is restraint, not incendiary comments from either side of the aisle. We must all work together to bring Wisconsin back from the brink. It is steps like these, some that may be hard at first to take, that will return Wisconsin to sound fiscal policy.

Time to End the Tax “Bait & Switch”

Everyone knows the feeling of frustration at being motivated to come to a store because of low price, only to find that the reality does not meet the promise. Wisconsin communities know that feeling as well. This article from the Fond Du Lac reporter is only the latest example of how a tax was imposed with the promise of a sunset date.

Taxpayers in Wisconsin deserve to be dealt with honestly.

I believe that there needs to be legislation to insure that any such taxes that are presented and promised to be ended at a particular time by law cannot be transferred or extended. If the community leaders want to keep this tax going they should represent to their constituents.

I feel as State Treasurer that I have a fiduciary duty to protect the people of Wisconsin from this all too common practice and will speak to the legislature about enacting such protection.

Staying on Track

As you can see, I am ramping up the information highway to keep you, the people of Wisconsin, up to date on what is happening at the Treasurer’s office. This might be a surprise to some of you based upon the platform I ran on. I want to allay any fears that I might be back pedaling on that platform. Let me assure you that I have not.

I do, however, take my job as your elected Treasurer with the greatest seriousness and as a servant of the people of Wisconsin want to do as much good with the office as the legislative process to eliminate it takes its course. I have had conversations with respected conservative legislators that do not agree with me and also with those that do. Should it be approved by the legislature and signed by Governor Walker it will be you, the people of Wisconsin who will get the final say in this matter, and I respect the right of voters to choose.

That being said, there are some very positive things that can be accomplished and I will briefly mention a few of them. I will be attending the National Association of State Treasurer’s Legislative Conference at the end of March and will be meeting with every member of the Wisconsin delegation regarding a proposed bill titled “The Rightful Owner Act”. In the United States, there are currently some $16 Billion in unclaimed savings bonds that have stopped earning any interest. Here in our fair state, that figure is estimated to be $133 Million…that’s your money! This legislation will help move the process of reconnecting the rightful owners with their money.

Many third party vendors have been providing a helpful service by using the unclaimed property data base to alert some owners that they have some found money. They then collect a fair fee for their service. As a servant of the people of Wisconsin I hope to educate them that before they accept this offer that they can easily check our website and see for themselves if that money is here in Wisconsin or any other state. An informed person can then follow all the steps to easily claim this money without paying any fee. Knowledge is power and I intend to do my best to raise awareness of this with my constituents.

The office of Treasurer is also working to eliminate the current 25% limit that public school libraries can spend on computers from the money they receive via our Office – The Common School Fund receives anywhere from $20 Million to $30 Million a year from the Office of State Treasurer. To remain a leader in education, I feel technology is the sharpest tool the library and educational system has at their disposal and should not be arbitrarily limited.

We also continue to examine the most cost effective reconfiguration of the office should the voters of Wisconsin decide to eliminate it as a constitutional office.

Please check my blog regularly for updates on these and future issues that I am putting forward as your State Treasurer.