Brian Dake

Supreme Court Field Set with Neubauer, Hagedorn Facing Off

The field is set for this spring’s state Supreme Court race.

State Appeals Court Chief Judge Lisa Neubauer and state appellate Judge Brian Hagedorn are vying to replace retiring Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

The deadline for filing nomination signatures was 5 p.m. Wednesday. Neubauer filed hers Dec. 20. Hagedorn filed his Wednesday morning. No one else filed by the deadline, eliminating the need for a primary. The general election is set for April 2.

State Supreme Court justices are officially nonpartisan, but four conservative-leaning justices currently control the court. Abrahamson is part of a three-justice liberal-leaning minority.

 

Additional State Tax Auditors Generate $72 million more in Tax Revenue

Wisconsin tax collection officials say a boost in the number of auditors generated an additional $72 million in revenue in 2018.

The State Journal reports the additional revenue, while $10 million short of the Department of Revenue’s goal for 2018, in part is generated by the state’s increased focus on collecting taxes from out-of-state businesses that may not be aware they owe Wisconsin taxes.

Lawmakers set aside nearly $14 million in the 2015 budget to fund more than 100 additional positions in the revenue department to better ensure businesses outside the state were paying their required Wisconsin taxes. Before the positions were added, the state had about 290 tax auditors.

Governor-elect Evers Names More Cabinet Picks

Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers has chosen a retired U.S. Navy captain to lead Wisconsin’s Department of Veterans Affairs, he announced Friday as he unveiled three new additions to his administration.

Dane County Supervisor Mary Kolar has represented downtown Madison on the county board since 2013. She served 28 years on active duty in the Navy, chaired the Dane County Veterans Service Commission and served as vice president of the Wisconsin Veterans Museum Foundation Board of Directors. She also serves on the Wisconsin Counties Association Board of Directors.

Evers, with Lt. Gov.-elect Mandela Barnes at his side, also introduced his selections for Department of Financial Institutions Secretary and state budget director.

Kathy Koltin Blumenfeld, executive vice president of special operations at TASC, is Evers’ appointee to head DFI. Before joining TASC, Blumenfeld worked for CUNA Mutual Group for 25 years.

Blumenfeld to work to “ensure the safety and the soundness of our state’s financial institutions, to protect consumers of financial services and facilitate economic growth by ensuring access to capital.”

Evers has chosen Brian Pahnke, assistant state superintendent for finance and management at the Department of Public Instruction, to serve as his budget director in the Department of Administration.

Pahnke has held budget and finance positions in state government for 28 years, including nearly five years in the state budget office under Republican former Gov. Tommy Thompson.

 

Carolyn Stanford-Taylor to be Appointed next State School Superintendent

Governor-elect and State Superintendent Tony Evers announced today his intention to appoint current Assistant State Superintendent Carolyn Stanford Taylor as the next state superintendent following his oath of office on January 7.

“Carolyn is a dedicated, thoughtful leader, who puts the best interests of kids before all else,” Evers said. “She is known and respected throughout the education community for her commitment to equity and her work to help all students reach academic success. I have known Carolyn for the better part of three decades and know she will be an exceptional state superintendent.”

Stanford Taylor is the first female, African-American appointed to serve as an assistant state superintendent. She will be Wisconsin’s first African-American state superintendent of public instruction. Carolyn currently oversees the Special Education Team, one of the agency’s largest teams; the Student Services / Prevention and Wellness Team, which focuses on student safety, support, and engagement; and the residential schools for students who are blind and visually impaired in Janesville and students who are deaf and hard of hearing in Delavan. She is the 2018 Virginia Hart Special Recognition recipient, an honor bestowed by the Department of Administration, Division of Personnel Management, to female state employees who are making a difference through their service to Wisconsin.

The state superintendent of public instruction oversees Wisconsin’s educational system and leads the Department of Public Instruction. The position is a non-partisan, constitutional officer, responsible for providing guidance and oversight to the state’s primary and secondary schools, licensing educators, and administering funds.

When a vacancy occurs with the state superintendent, state law allows the governor to appoint a replacement to serve out the remainder of the term. The last such appointment took place when then State Superintendent Herbert Grover resigned, and former Governor Tommy G. Thompson appointed Lee Dreyfus.

Wisconsin Bankers have Mixed Outlook for 2019

Fifty-four percent of Wisconsin bank leaders expect the state’s economy to remain the same over the next six months, while 25 percent say it will weaken and 21 percent expect it to grow, according to a new survey by the Wisconsin Bankers Association.

About 27 percent of Wisconsin bank CEOs and presidents view the state’s current economic health as excellent, up from 9 percent at the end of 2017. Another 58 percent of respondents rated the state’s economy as good, down from 80 percent at the end of 2017. And 15 percent describe the Wisconsin economy’s health as fair (up from 11 percent), while 0 percent rated it poor (flat).

The current demand for business loans is good, according to 65 percent of respondents (up from 59 percent in 2017). Another 26 percent said business loan demand is fair (down from 37 percent), while 5 percent said it is excellent (up from 3 percent) and 3 percent said it’s poor (up from 1 percent).

Over the next six months, 63 percent of bankers expect business loan demand to stay the same (up from 43 percent), 22 percent expect demand to grow (down from 53 percent) and 16 percent expect it to weaken (up from 4 percent).

“As predicted in our last survey, 2018 was a great year for Wisconsin’s economy, as well as lending activity. It’s very encouraging to see most bankers believe 2019 will continue that strong performance,” said Rose Oswald Poels, president and chief executive officer of WBA.

“Bankers are the best barometers of the economy as they see all segments of every marketplace. They work together with their communities and are the first to see and understand Wisconsin’s economic trends due to their customers’ activities. In turn, our members use that information to help their communities prosper.”

Governor-elect Evers Announces Additional Cabinet Appointments

Governor-elect Tony Evers continued to fill out his cabinet with the announcement of four more appointments. Rebecca Cameron Valcq will serve as Chair of the Public Service Commission; Craig Thompson will serve as Department of Transportation secretary; Mark Afable will serve as Commissioner of Insurance; and Brad Pfaff will serve as Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection secretary.

Rebecca Cameron Valcq, Public Service Commission

Rebecca Cameron Valcq is currently a partner at Quarles & Brady in the Energy, Environment and Natural Resources Practice Group. Prior to joining the firm, Valcq spent 15 years as regulatory counsel for We Energies where, among other responsibilities, she represented the company before the Public Service Commission in Wisconsin and advised management on multiple areas of compliance.

Craig Thompson, Department of Transportation

Craig Thompson currently serves as the Executive Director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin (TDA). Prior to joining TDA in 2007, he served as the legislative director for the Wisconsin Counties Association where he managed legislative initiatives at the state and federal levels. Thompson, a Racine native, has also been appointed to numerous boards by Wisconsin governors from both parties.

Mark Afable, Commissioner of Insurance

Mark Afable currently serves as the chief legal officer at American Family with corporate legal, government affairs, and compliance and claims legal divisions reporting to him. He joined American Family in 1994 and has served numerous roles in the company. Before joining American Family, Mark served as counsel for the National Association of Independent Insurers and worked for Allstate Insurance in the corporate legal area.

Brad Pfaff, Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection

Brad Pfaff currently serves as the deputy chief of staff to U.S. Representative Ron Kind. Born and raised on a dairy farm in Western Wisconsin, he has spent most of his career working on behalf of Wisconsin farmers and rural residents. Previously, he served in the U.S. Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency as the executive director, where he oversaw the implementation of federal crop assistance programs, the Conservation Reserve Program, and federal farm loan programs. Pfaff grew up on a dairy farm in La Crosse County.

 

Governor-elect Evers Announces Cabinet Appointments

Yesterday, Gov.-elect Tony Evers today announced Joel Brennan, who ran Tom Barrett’s 2002 guv campaign and has been CEO of Milwaukee’s Discovery World for the past 11 years, will be his first DOA secretary.

Evers also tapped three others from Milwaukee for his cabinet:

*Preston Cole at Natural Resources. He now serves as a commissioner for the Department of Neighborhood Services under Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and is a member of the state Natural Resources Board that advises DNR. According to a profile on the city’s website, he was the first African-American forester hired by the Conservation Department.

*U.S. Marshal Kevin Carr at Corrections. He was sworn in as a marshal in 2010 after 30 years with the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Office and is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

*Sara Meaney, Tourism. Earlier this year, she was hired to be chief marketing officer for Milwaukee Film. Meaney has served on the organization’s board of directors since 2012.

Evers, responding to criticism that his first four picks are from Milwaukee, stressed the importance of the city to the state’s success, but said future picks will allay concerns he is ignoring rural Wisconsin.

“I happen to be in Milwaukee and these four happen to be from Milwaukee,” Evers said. “We will have more announcements in the near future, and I think the criticism will be dissipated as we move forward.”

 

Governor-elect Evers Wants Science Back in Wisconsin’s Natural Resource Managemen

Gov.-elect Tony Evers, whose platform included bringing science back to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources policy-making process, said Tuesday he will start by correcting several decisions made during Gov. Scott Walker’s two terms.

That means undoing Senate Bill 884 that was voted into law during this month’s special session, which directly affects how much clout the DNR has in setting environmental rules, Evers said in a meeting Dec. 18 with the Tribune editorial board.

When agency decisions are challenged in court, judges have been required to give “due weight to the experience, technical competence and specialized knowledge” that the agency can provide, such as scientific expertise from the DNR. Under the new law, a court “must accord no deference“ to the agency’s interpretation.

In other words, Evers said, “administrative rules will have a different and lesser standing in court.”

Resurrecting DNR’s Bureau of Science Services, which provides impartial science-based input on how the agency manages the state’s natural resources, is also high on Evers’ to-do list.

“We need to challenge things legally when we can, we need to change laws when we can, but most of all we need scientists at the table,” Evers said.

Other priorities include “reupping” the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Program, a state fund for preserving natural areas, watersheds and wildlife habitat that is up for renewal in 2020, reinstating funding for state parks, regulating sources of agricultural pollution and making sure there’s state funding available to redress contaminated wells.

Affordable Care Act Ruled Unconstitutional. So Now What Happens?

U.S. District Court Judge Reed O’Connor agreed with a group of 20 states with Republican governors or legislatures that argued the constitutionality of the law’s individual mandate dissolved when Congress removed the tax penalty for the uninsured.

In 2012, the Supreme Court upheld the law and its mandate requiring people purchase insurance on the grounds that it fell within Congress’ taxation power. O’Connor said when the tax penalty was removed, so was the central argument upholding the 2010 law’s constitutionality. His ruling declared not only the individual mandate, but the entire law, unconstitutional.

That decision leaves Republican and Democratic lawmakers, as well as millions of Americans, wondering, “So, what happens now?”

For the immediate future, the answer is nothing. The ACA will remain in place while the law’s future is handled in the courts, a process which could take months or years to resolve. People who bought coverage on the health care exchanges before Saturday’s deadline will be insured for 2019.

The case would go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit, which is dominated 11-5 by judges who were nominated by Republican presidents. Yale Law professor Abbe Gluck said the 5th Circuit will almost certainly grant a stay, keeping O’Connor’s ruling on hold pending their decision.

A three-judge panel for the 5th Circuit will then accept briefs and hear oral arguments in the case before giving their decision. From there, it’s possible the entire panel of 5th Circuit judges will ask to review the case.

“You’d be lucky if you had an opinion out of them before June,” Gluck said.

If O’Connor’s ruling is upheld, on the other hand, the Supreme Court “will have to take the case.” Barring a rare special session to hear the case, Gluck said it is most likely the Court will hear arguments in the case in early October.

Governor Signs Extraordinary Session Legislation into Law

On Friday, Governor Walker signed Senate Bills 883, 884, and 886 into law.

“Despite all the hype and hysteria out there, these bills do nothing to fundamentally diminish executive authority,” Governor Walker said. “The bottom line is the new governor will continue to be one of the most powerful chief executives in the country. This includes veto and line-item veto powers; appointing members of the cabinet and other government posts including judges, district attorneys, and sheriffs; broad executive order authority; administrative rule authority; issuing a state budget proposal; and more.

“My criteria when evaluating these bills were simple: Do they improve transparency? Do they increase accountability? Do they affirm stability? And do they protect the taxpayers? The answer is yes.”

Senate Bills 883, 884, and 886 are Acts 368, 369, and 370 respectively.