News – March 20, 2009

Van Hollen Clarifies State Vs. BD Development Corp

3/20/09 – Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen has issued an informal opinion on the State Supreme Court decision involving the Beaver Dam Area Development Corporation. The case stemmed from a local group that complained a deal was done in private to bring the Wal-Mart distribution center to town six years ago. In last July’s decision, the court ruled that economic development groups have to follow open meetings laws since they closely resemble government bodies. The argument was that the Development Corp was funded by the city and had offices in the city’s municipal building. The court said that means the Development Corp is a “quasi-governmental” entity and is subject open meetings laws. But questions lingered, and Kristen Fish of the Wisconsin Economic Development Association asked the Attorney General to clarify the definition of a “quasi-governmental” entity. Van Hollen says an entity is more likely to be deemed “quasi-governmental” if it is involved in traditional governmental actions like municipal planning, regulatory powers or the exercise of eminent domain. Van Hollen says it is less likely to be considered “quasi-governmental” if it instead contracts with the municipality for the sale of professional services, like marketing, appraising or expert consulting. In addition, Van Hollen says entities that are directly funded by public capital or credit, are more likely to be held to a higher standard than those that bargain for contracts. The bottom line, Van Hollen says, is that the entity in question can minimize risk of breaking the law if they “keep in mind the general legislative purpose of promoting transparency” in government.

A copy of the opinion request is available here:

Attorney General Van Hollen’s informal opinion can be accessed here:

Regional Census Figures Show Population Increase

3/20/09 – Wisconsin gained over a quarter-million residents in the eight years since the last Census in 2000. The U-S Census Bureau has released an estimate, saying the state’s population was just over five-point-six million as of last July first. Dodge County remains as the state’s 17th largest county in terms of population size, gaining just over 1900 residents during the eight year period to an estimated total of 87,912. Columbia County is 26th largest with 55,196 residents, an increase of over 2500 people. Jefferson County is ranked 20th in size and grew by just under 5000 people to a population of 80,792. Eleventh-ranked Washington County saw a population boom of over 11,500 residents to a total of 129,477. The biggest gainer was Saint Croix County, where the Twin Cities metro area continues to spread eastward. The county with Hudson has gained 19-thousand residents in the current decade. Dane County had the second-highest growth this decade, at 13-percent. Twenty of the 72 counties lost population.

Watertown SD Putting Referendum Money To Work

3/20/09 – The Watertown School District will soon present its budget for the building projects funded by last November’s referendum. Residents approved one of two referenda allowing for $22-million-dollars worth of renovations at the elementary buildings. Superintendent Doug Kaiser says they’ve been working with the architect and construction company and will present their budget to the school board next week. Kaiser says if everything goes to plan they hope to break ground in July with the possibility of having some of the new additions available for use in the spring of next year. The question that did not pass was for money to help staff the new buildings. Kaiser says they’ll attempt to reshuffle a few things but most likely they’ll becoming back to the public for some of the money.

Hearing Aid Law Introduced

3/20/09 – An estimated 200 children are born in Wisconsin each year with some level of hearing impairment. It can take years before the condition is fully discovered, although many of them can be helped through the use of hearing aids or cochlear implants. However, State Senator Julie Lassa says families are often in for a shock when they turn to insurance companies to help cover the average three thousand dollar of a hearing aid — because providers aren’t required to offer coverage for hearing-related devices. Lassa is co-sponsoring legislation that would require them to cover the devices and the surgery needed to install a cochlear implant, if a doctor or audiologist prescribes it for a child.

Layoffs Set Record

3/20/09 – Wisconsin companies have cut a record number of jobs over the last year. State officials say the unemployment rate for February was eight-point-eight percent – the highest for the month since 1984. The new rate is more than a full-percentage point higher than in January. And it’s almost four-percent higher than a year ago. About 89-thousand-600 jobs have been lost in the Badger State since February of 2008. That’s the most for a 12-month period since 1939, when records started being kept on that. Three-point-two percent of Wisconsin jobs were cut in the past year – the highest since December of 1982. Keith Bender of U-W Milwaukee says the new figures eliminated any hope that Wisconsin would not suffer as much from the recession as other states. And unlike past downturns, Bender says white-collar employees are being hit the hardest. Wisconsin factory jobs are down nine-percent from a year ago. Professional and business service jobs are down by almost 11-percent. Meanwhile, more companies are telling the state about upcoming layoffs. Wausau Homes of Rothschild has announced 79 permanent layoffs, and W-H Transportation of Wausau is cutting 49 workers. U-S Bank is closing its adjustments’ department in Milwaukee in late May, leaving 33 people out of work.

Jobs Cut In Manitowoc

3/20/09 – Operators of an aluminum rolling mill in Manitowoc have announced permanent elimination of 23 salaried and 63 hourly production employees beginning in May and continuing through July. Koenig & Vits’ human resources department sent notification of a “mass layoff” to the state Department of Workforce Development Tuesday. The company says no union represents the affected employees. The company says all of those employees will be paid all earned wages and benefits upon the termination of their employment.

Fitzgerald on Community Comment

3/20/09 – On Community Comment this afternoon our guest will be Wisconsin Assembly Minority Leader Jeff Fitzgerald. The Republican from Horicon will join us to answer questions from our listeners and discuss issues important to taxpayers across the state, like the budget deficit, the proposed smoking ban and stricter OWI laws. Community Comment airs weekdays on WBEV 1430AM beginning at 12:35pm.