I-90/39 project triggers debate at candidate forum
JANESVILLE—The three Democrats squaring off in an August primary for the 15th Senate District election were in near lockstep with their answers to the questions thrown their way at their first joint forum Wednesday.
But what started as an innocuous question about the state's infrastructure ended one question later in a sharp exchange between Mike Sheridan, the former 44th Assembly District representative and Assembly speaker, and Austin Scieszinski, a former staffer and campaign manager for Sen. Tim Cullen, whose is not seeking re-election in the district.
Sheridan, Janis Ringhand and Scieszinski all said they supported the expansion of Interstate 90/39 between the Illinois state line and Madison.
Addressing the question last, Scieszinski said the project was done behind the scenes and resulted in a funding scenario that leaves the state paying for 70 percent of the project while the federal government pays the remainder.
That ratio is typically reversed for federal road projects, he said.
The next questioned focused on the American Legislative Exchange Council and special interest funding.
Before agreeing with the others that special interest money needs to be removed from politics, Sheridan shot back at Scieszinski on the I-90/39 project.
“The insinuation that the I-90 project was something that was done behind closed doors is … you need to get your information straight, young man,” Sheridan said.
“The day that legislation passed, unfortunately I couldn't be there because my parents got in a serious car accident, so I take it personally for you to insinuate that I did something immoral on passing that legislation.”
Scieszinski responded that the project was approved by the Transportation Projects Commission, a group that hadn't met once in Gov. Jim Doyle's eight years in office.
“Then for some reason, (Doyle) decides to call it at the last minute, the last second right before the election,” Scieszinski said.
The result, he said, was the reversal of the typical federal-state ratio for paying for such projects and $500 million in state funds that won't be available for other road projects.
Ringhand stayed out of the infrastructure fray, saying that while the Interstate project is critical, so is adequate funding of rural roads.
“Townships are operating with pennies on the dollar to do what they need,” she said.
All three candidates said they would work to repeal the GOP-backed legislation that restricted or eliminated collective bargaining, compensation, retirement, health insurance, and sick leave of public sector employees.
“It's totally ripped the state apart,” Ringhand said. “It's pitted brother against brother.”
Scieszinski said Act 10 would be difficult to repeal without a change in the power balance in Madison, but it could be “chipped away” with meaningful cost-of-living-adjustments.
Sheridan said that if the Democrats can control the Senate, they will “sit there long enough to get it repealed.”
Sheridan said Wisconsin's education system is not broken and there's no need for a voucher system that's little more than political payback for GOP supporters.
Scieszinski said the state's voucher experiment has failed and the program should be eliminated statewide.
Ringhand said the problem is that state education dollars directed to voucher programs have little accountability to taxpayers.
Scieszinski said he's reminded of the 1920s when he hears current discussions about whether women should be paid the same as men. He also said state legislation requiring women seeking an abortion to undergo an ultrasound is “not right.”
Ringhand said she lived through the women's rights movements of the 1960s and '70s and she doesn't think her granddaughters should live it again. She also said the Legislature should have no role in moral decisions.
Sheridan said he's proud of the passage of an equal pay bill when he was Assembly speaker, but the GOP-led Legislature basically set it aside.
“It's an attack on women, it's an attack on workers and it's an attack on our way of life in Wisconsin,” he said.
All three candidates said times are changing, and the legalization of marijuana for medicinal and recreational use is an evolving issue.
Ringhand said medicinal side has valid points, but the jury's still out for her on the legalization of pot for recreational purposes.
Sheridan said he is in favor of seeing people who need medical marijuana get that opportunity.
Scieszinski said medical marijuana has its place, but he would prefer to see it dispensed with tighter pharmaceutical controls than dispensaries on every corner.