STATE OF THE STATE (copy) (copy) (copy) (copy)

Gov. Scott Walker

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker will act Friday afternoon on a set of proposals passed quickly by the state's Republican-led Legislature in a lame-duck session last week. The bills would strip away some powers from his Democratic successor and restrict early voting, but Walker has argued Gov.-elect Tony Evers will still have "some of the strongest powers of any governor in the nation." 

Walker will take action on three bills at the Green Bay state office building at noon, his office announced Friday morning. He is expected to make some partial vetoes. 

The action from Walker comes the day after his announcement that the state's economic development agency had reached a deal with Kimberly-Clark to keep the company from closing one of its Fox Valley plants. The company is eligible for $28 million in tax credits in exchange for retaining 388 jobs and investing $200 million in its Cold Spring plant, which manufactures personal care products including Depend undergarments and Kotex pads. The extraordinary session bills, as presented to Walker, would remove the ability to strike such a deal without legislative approval. 

Since lawmakers approved the lame-duck bills last week, Walker has faced calls from Democrats and a handful of Republicans urging him to veto them entirely. Republican former Gov. Scott McCallum told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel the effort "appears completely political, (like) a power grab," while longtime GOP donor Sheldon Lubar and former talk radio host Charlie Sykes have urged Walker to consider his legacy as he weighs a decision on the bills.

Walker has responded to the "legacy" appeals by tweeting a list of accomplishments from his two terms in office.

"To me, if there is any talk about a legacy, I want this to be my legacy," Walker said Thursday as he announced the Kimberly-Clark deal.

Evers has not ruled out a lawsuit if the bills become law. Dubbing the bills a "hot mess," Evers has said Walker is acting against the will of voters. 

"The people of Wisconsin demanded a change on November 6th. Governor Walker knows this and needs to decide whether he wants the final act of his legacy to be overriding the will of the people," Evers spokeswoman Britt Cudaback said in a statement earlier this week. "Governor-elect Evers has called on Governor Walker to do the right thing and veto this legislation. It’s time for Republicans to stop putting politics before people and to start working together with the incoming Evers administration on the pressing issues facing our state."

Voters on Nov. 6 elected Democrats to lead the executive and judicial branches, but Republicans retained majorities in both chambers of the Legislature. Proponents of the legislation have argued it is necessary to maintain a balance of power among each branch of state government, while opponents say it unfairly restricts the authority of the incoming Democratic administration.

In a Facebook post  earlier this week, Walker noted that nothing in the bills would take away Evers' broad, line-item veto authority or his powers to appoint cabinet members and some state and local government officials, to sign off on administrative rules, to introduce a two-year state budget and to pardon convicted felons.

Walker will take action on three bills:

SB 883

This bill would give the Legislature more oversight over how the Department of Transportation spends money and how roads are built. It would also require at least 70 percent of the budget for southwest Wisconsin freeway megaprojects and other major highway rehabilitation projects to come from federal funds. 

The legislation would also eliminate the DOT's authority to transfer state and federal funding between highway programs.

The bill would also slightly lower the state's income tax rates in response to about $60 million in online sales tax revenue the state now collects from out-of-state retailers after a recent Supreme Court ruling.

SB 884

Under this bill, the state could not withdraw from a lawsuit without legislative approval — a change that would prevent Evers and Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul from upholding their campaign promises to remove Wisconsin from a multi-state lawsuit to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

The legislation would also eliminate the solicitor general's office. It would also allow lawmakers to hire private attorneys to intervene on their behalf if a state law is challenged in court. Lawmakers, not the attorney general, would be given final approval of legal settlements.

The bill would also prevent Evers from banning guns in the Capitol without legislative approval, and would limit the ability of Evers' administration to implement the rules that dictate how state laws are enforced.

Under the bill, legislators would have increased influence over the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, and the WEDC board, not the governor, would appoint the job creation agency's CEO. The governor's power to appoint a CEO would be restored in September 2019.

The bill also limits the time during which early voting may take place to two weeks before an election. A similar provision was struck down by a federal judge in 2016.

SB 886

This bill codifies into state law a work requirement for able-bodied, childless adults under age 50 who are insured through the state's BadgerCare Plus program. BadgerCare Plus is available to adults whose incomes fall below the poverty threshold. President Donald Trump's administration approved the work requirement in October, but Evers said last month he is considering ending the policy.

Also under the bill, some childless adults insured under BadgerCare would be required to pay monthly premiums depending on their income level, and would be charged co-payments for nonemergency visits to the emergency room.

The bill would also codify a plan authorized by Walker to create a reinsurance pool — a tool available under the Affordable Care Act to compensate insurers for covering high-risk individuals who, under the Obama-era federal law, cannot be charged higher premiums based on their status. The effort was designed to bring premiums down and encourage insurers to participate in the individual marketplace.

Share your opinion on this topic by sending a letter to the editor to Include your full name, hometown and phone number. Your name and town will be published. The phone number is for verification purposes only. Please keep your letter to 250 words or less.

Jessie Opoien is the Capital Times' opinion editor. She joined the Cap Times in 2013, covering state government and politics for the bulk of her time as a reporter. She has also covered music, culture and education in Madison and Oshkosh.