Wisconsin Gov.-elect Tony Evers called on Gov. Scott Walker to veto Republican lame-duck proposals limiting his power Sunday on “Meet the Press”—but Evers added that he’s “not particularly encouraged” after talking with the outgoing governor.
“I communicated with Governor Walker over the telephone a few days ago and laid out my position that vetoing the legislation was going to be an important thing not only to make sure that what happened last November—the vote of the people of Wisconsin—is actually upheld and we’re putting people in front of politics,” Evers said, “but also, it’s just bad legislation.”
Evers said Walker was “noncommittal” during their conversation, adding, “So I’m not particularly encouraged at this point in time.”
“He has a legacy here,” Evers said. “We’re hopeful that he’ll veto the whole thing.”
Walker was clearly thinking about his legacy over the weekend. He posted a series of nearly two dozen tweets Saturday that each began with “OUR LEGACY,” touting his eight years in office.
And his fellow Republican leader, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, said on Sunday’s “UpFront with Mike Gousha” that he’s not concerned about political consequences the GOP might face over the bill, but is instead worried about Evers’ “aggressive tone” and liberal policies.
“He will probably be the most liberal governor the state of Wisconsin possibly sees,” Fitzgerald said.
Evers, a Democrat, defeated Walker last month.
Republicans who control the state Legislature passed legislation to limit early voting and scale back the powers of Evers and incoming Attorney General Josh Kaul last week during an overnight session held just days after the proposals were made public.
The bills are now in Walker’s hands.
“It’s around Scott Walker’s legacy,” Evers said Sunday. “He has the opportunity to change this and actually validate the will of the people that voted on Nov. 6.”
Asked if there were specific provisions he pushed Walker to veto, Evers said, “The entire thing is a mess. It’s a hot mess.”
Walker has publicly said little about the specific proposals but signaled his support for at least some of them.
On Saturday, Walker wrote 21 tweets about his legacy.
“OUR LEGACY—More people are employed in Wisconsin this year than at any other time in the history of our state,” Walker wrote in one of them.
Walker also touted the state’s graduation rates, tax cuts, in-state tuition freezes at UW campuses, health care systems and mental health services.
Walker’s posts defending his eight years in office came as several fellow Republicans, including former Gov. Scott McCallum, urged him to use his powerful veto pen on at least some of the lame-duck proposals.
“It appears completely political, (like) a power grab,” McCallum said in an interview with the Journal Sentinel.
Fitzgerald on Sunday defended Republicans and their last-minute session, calling the proposals “innocuous” and saying most people would see them as “housekeeping” rather than a partisan power grab.
Fitzgerald said he and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Burlington started talking about the proposals “in a very vague way” back in September.
But Evers dismissed the idea that the proposals would have moved forward if Walker had won.
“If Scott Walker had won this election—and he did not, I did—we wouldn’t be sitting here talking about this today,” he said. “Scott Walker wouldn’t be sitting here talking about, ‘Geez, they’re trying to balance the power here.’ So no, I think it is directly related to a win by a Democrat. And that would be me.”
Evers also pushed back against previous comments from Vos that Evers won because of Madison and Milwaukee voters, essentially meaning Republicans have to represent the rest of the state.
“I won the election. Any way you slice it, I won the election,” Evers said. “I’m the governor. I will be the governor of the state of Wisconsin.”
Asked if he planned to sue over the GOP move, Evers said, “I’m not making any promises one way or the other.”
“All options on the table. I need to stand up for the people of Wisconsin,” he said. “We’re going to pursue this.”
In his interview, Fitzgerald argued that Evers wasn’t the only winner last month.
“We won an election, too,” he said. “Both houses, both chambers, are Republican.”
He insisted they were trying to “protect” the state and the policies passed over the last eight years.
“I am very concerned, and I think Wisconsinites should be concerned, that in mid-February when this governor rolls out his budget, it will be the most liberal document that anyone’s ever seen,” Fitzgerald said.
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, and Scot Ross of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now also spoke with Gousha. Ross was especially critical of a provision in the plans to limit early voting to two weeks. It has been as much as six weeks.
“Record-setting early voting isn’t an emergency, it’s democracy” Ross said.
He said the group’s attorneys were reviewing the GOP proposals “line by line, word by word, syllable by syllable.”
“It’s not just unprecedented,” Ross said.” It’s undemocratic, it’s unconstitutional, it’s un-American.”
But Fitzgerald insisted the early voting limits were about fairness.
“Many people in rural Wisconsin turn on their television and see people standing at the polls 45 days out, voting day after day after day,” he said. “But when they go down to their own town hall, the lights are out, and there is no clerk there. That’s inconsistent and that irritates people. And I think it isn’t fair to rural Wisconsin.”
JATV could be forced off Charter if the Federal Communications Commission passes a proposal requiring public access stations to pay a fee to be on cable.
The FCC proposal would force cities to pay cable companies so local access channels could be included in a cable affiliate’s package. Money for the new lease arrangement would come from fees cable companies already pay to cities for infrastructure access.
JATV’s slice of Charter revenue is already insufficient to fund its operations. Adding a new, undetermined fee to its expenses could force JATV off cable television, Station Manager Alan Luckett said.
The station currently receives 20 percent of Charter’s franchise fee with Janesville; the remaining 80 percent goes to the city general fund. That equates to about $180,000 of revenue for a station that has about $190,000 in expenses, he said.
JATV has built up a financial reserve over the years. But that’s not a sustainable long-term funding source, and that’s without considering the proposed fee.
“If we have to pay for a channel, I’m not sure where that revenue source is going to come from and what the cost is. That’s the biggest hurdle,” Luckett said. “The scary thing is, this could knock us off Charter’s cable TV service just because of financial reasons. Then the only people we’d be serving are the cable cord-cutters and not the subscribers.”
JATV, which broadcasts everything from government meetings to local church services, would still exist online or possibly via a streaming platform. But losing cable access would cut off many residents who have not adapted to changes in TV viewing habits, he said.
The station is still in the dark over what its fair market value—and therefore its new fee—would be. It likely would be too expensive to remain on cable, he said.
This isn’t the first time JATV has dealt with damaging policy changes.
A 2007 state law allowed cable providers to drop extra fees paid to cities—JATV had been receiving $50,000 annually under that policy. The law also allowed cable companies to charge government buildings for cable service.
JATV now pays $1,000 annually to watch its own channel at its Hedberg Public Library studio, Luckett said.
A public comment period for the current FCC proposal remains open until Friday.
Luckett doesn’t understand what the FCC’s motivation is.
But somewhere there are lobbyists who have captured the agency’s ear, he said.
For critics who don’t see the value of JATV to the Janesville community, Luckett said the station likes to promote local nonprofits by giving them high-quality video content. That’s vital marketing material that goes beyond social media posts and newsletters, he said.
He also lamented the possibility that this change could make local residents less informed.
“It’s stifling to the local governments,” Luckett said. “I think by closing down or making it difficult for community-based programs to reach their public and educate their public, it’s a bad move.
“It’s taking away some of the rights of the local government, and it’s taking away their way to communicate with the residents.”
Nestled between Milwaukee, Madison and Chicago, Walworth County is one of the most prolific and profitable tourism destinations in Wisconsin.
In 2016, the county raked in $528.9 million in direct visitor spending. That number jumped to $544.2 million in 2017, ranking it the sixth-best tourism economy in state.
But recent budget cuts to the Walworth County Visitors Bureau have left some wondering about the future of the county’s tourism funding.
In its 2019 budget, the county lowered its share of aid to the bureau by $14,000, or 10 percent. That move sparked some local business owners to speak out, saying the bureau provides a significant boost to local businesses and that its funding is critical to the county’s tourism economy.
Kathleen Seeberg, executive director of the visitors bureau, said the organization was aware of the upcoming cuts. She said the visitors bureau increased membership fees and advertising rates in its travel guide and pulled back in other areas to compensate for the drop in funding.
Seeberg said the visitors bureau will look at diversifying its revenue stream in the future but securing funding is “always a concern, regardless of what year it is.”
Walworth County Board member Dan Kilkenny, who represents the city and town of Delavan, says one additional funding source might already exist for local tourism: room taxes.
Municipalities were recently mandated under state law to forward a portion of their local room tax revenue to tourism promotion and development, Kilkenny said. That mandate could pave the way for a potentially large revenue hike for tourism funding.
“Tourism promotion has a new and probably expanding funding source,” Kilkenny told The Gazette on Friday.
“I would just like to see the tourism bureaus working with the other municipalities that now have to spend this additional room tax.”
Kilkenny said the suggestion is not a criticism of the bureau but rather a way to explore tapping into what could be a massive funding bump. According to room tax reports from the state Department of Revenue provided by Kilkenny, the city of Delavan raked in $709,421 in room taxes last year, and $230,008 of that went to its tourism commission.
In Lake Geneva, room tax revenues were $667,820, and $244,999 of that was paid to its tourism commission, according to the Department of Revenue.
The visitors bureau also provides advertising and promotion to the city of Delavan, Seeberg said, and it receives a share of Delavan’s room tax for those services. But that revenue is applied only to the visitors bureau work for Delavan. Seeberg said a Delavan tourism commission determines that portion.
Walworth County Administrator Dave Bretl could not be reached for comment Friday.
This year, the visitors bureau’s overall budget is $323,059, with $140,000 coming from the county.
Next year, the county’s aid will drop to $126,000. Other funding sources for the visitors bureau are membership dues, website advertising and other member-based programs, Seeberg said.
When asked if the visitors bureau contributes to the county’s booming tourism economy, Seeberg said, “Absolutely. There is no doubt, especially with our efforts in the group tour market.”
Dorothy M. Gessert
James J. Washebeck