Questions for those chasing your votes
Here are six questions state Assembly and Senate candidates who want your vote on Nov. 6 – just weeks from Tuesday -- should be asked. (The four-year terms of other state officials, including Gov. Scott Walker, Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and 16 state senators, aren’t up until 2014.)
#1. The legality of “Act 10” last year that all but eliminated public bargaining for public employees, except for firefighters and police officers, is still being debated by judges. Does you favor or oppose these changes, and why? If Act 10 changes came up for a vote again next session, how would you vote?
Context: Act 10 was so controversial that many Wisconsin voters want to stop talking about it. But a Dane County judge has ruled it unconstitutional, which means it may again be an issue in the 2013-14 legislative session.
#2. Income, sales and miscellaneous tax collections came in higher than expected in the budget year that ended June 30. If there was a general-fund surplus of $200 million on July 1, which starts the next budget cycle, how should that surplus be used?
Context: Legislative candidates are all over the map on this issue, giving answers like these: “Put any surplus in a Rainy Day fund.” “Give it to public schools.” “Use it for targeted tax breaks to create jobs.” “Lower income taxes.” “Help pay for state and local highways.”
Walker has hinted that he hopes any surplus is large enough to cut income taxes in the year before he runs for re-election.
#3. The cost to rebuild Milwaukee’s Zoo Freeway is a staggering $2.1 billion; the cost to widen the Interstate between Madison and the Illinois border, about $835 million. The state Transportation Fund does not have that kind of cash, so how should these and other projects – including the more than $250 million Wisconsin must pay as its share of a new Stillwater, Minnesota, bridge -- be paid for?
Context: Wisconsin now pays for transportation programs in only two ways: The $75 annual vehicle registration fee, which has not been increased since Jan. 1, 2008, and the 30.9-cent per gallon gas tax, last increased in April 2006. Raising the $75 vehicle registration fee on all cars, SUVs and light trucks would bring in $45 million more per year.
This subject also allows you to ask that candidate at your door the “t” question – tolls? Or, should state government borrow even more to pay for Wisconsin’s transportation future?
#4. Do you support amending the Constitution to make it harder to recall state officials?
Context: Wisconsin had a record 15 recall elections for state officials (13 senators, governor, lieutenant governor) in a year – recalls that cost taxpayers more than $14 million. Republicans are pushing a constitutional change that would require misconduct to recall a state official – the standard now I place to recall a local official.
#5. Should state laws be changed in any way to encourage new metallic mines in Wisconsin, or are current laws enough?
Context: Many Republican candidates say they would like a chance to vote for an Assembly-passed bill –or something like it – that Gogebic Taconite said had to pass before it would try to open a huge open-pit mine in Iron and Ashland counties. Because a Senate committee is against studying the issue, and may recommend a new package of mining-law changes, voters should know the position of local candidates.
The issue is still Important because, as one candidate noted, “The iron that’s in northern Wisconsin isn’t going anywhere.”
Another mining issue may loom next session: Are new laws needed to deal with the soaring number of sand mines in western and central Wisconsin? Wisconsin sand is being shipped nationally and used in underground “fracking” operations that recover oil and natural gas. Do you think new rules are needed for sand mines?
#6. Should the retirement system be changed for new state and local public employees?
Context: Last summer, a major study recommended no changes for state and local public employees now in the Wisconsin Retirement System. But Walker has not ruled out seeking other changes – switching from a defined-benefit system to a 401(k)-type system, for example – for all new employees. That would save state and local governments money.
Steven Walters is a senior producer for the nonprofit public affairs channel WisconsinEye. This column reflects his personal perspective. Email firstname.lastname@example.org