Tag Archives: wisconsin

Managers of state pension funds get $14 million in bonuses

Wisconsin pension fund managers and those who work directly with the state’s investments will receive bonuses totaling nearly $14 million this year. This is the highest total ever, as a reward for strong returns, the State of Wisconsin Investment Board announced.

The $13.8 million in bonuses was approved for 152 of 163 board employees, exceeding the $11.1 million handed out last year, the board announced.

Eleven people did not receive bonuses because they either did not qualify or their job performance did not meet expectations, said board spokeswoman Vicki Hearing.

Fifty-one employees — a third of those who got bonuses — received $100,000 or more. The highest — $582,489 — went to David Villa, the board’s chief investment officer. That’s on top of his annual salary of $442,500.

Charles Carpenter, a managing director, received the second highest at $550,770. His annual salary is $291,500.

The third biggest bonus went to Todd Ludgate, another managing director, who received $541,221. His salary is $236,000.

The bonuses were $500,000 more than the previous record high of $13.3 million in 2014.

The bonuses are awarded based on investment performance above market returns over the past five years, the board said in announcing the pay-outs.

The board ended 2016 beating one-, three- and five-year performance benchmarks.

Over the past five years, investment performance above market returns has added $1.2 billion to the retirement system, the board said.

David Stein, chair of the SWIB Board of Trustees, said “Bottom line, you get what you pay for, and by virtually any measure, this plan is working.”

The board’s management of its investment is a reason why Wisconsin’s public pension fund is financially strong at a time when many others are struggling, said SWIB executive director Michael Williamson. His bonus was fourth highest at $520,000.

Last year the “Core Fund,” a diversified group of investments that all retirees have some money in, had an 8.5 percent return. The more volatile “Variable Fund,” which has higher risk and about 40,000 investors, had a 10.6 percent return.

The board manages more than $104 billion in assets, most of which is in the Wisconsin Retirement System, which has more than 600,000 participants.

 

Signs go up in Racine marking Frank Lloyd Wright Trail

Signs have gone up in Racine to guide visitors to buildings designed by architect Frank Lloyd Wright.

The signs are part of the state-sponsored Frank Lloyd Wright Trail, which highlights Wright-designed buildings throughout his home state of Wisconsin.

The Racine Journal Times reports the buildings highlighted in Racine County include the administration building at the global headquarters of the SC Johnson Co., and Wingspread, on Lake Michigan, which was designed as a home for a grandson of the founder of SC Johnson.

Wright, considered America’s best-known architect, was born in 1867 in Richland Center.

Wisconsin has 41 Wright-designed sites in all. The 200-mile self-guided trail was announced last year. The trail signs — inspired by Wright’s spare, geometric aesthetics and style — are going up in nine counties.

On the Web

Read about the trail.

 

Wisconsin tribes clash in casino expansion fight

At 85, Betty Putnam-Schiel has trouble standing, but she gets along well enough in her home on the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohicans’ northern Wisconsin reservation thanks to tribal assistants who do everything from shovel her snow to change her lightbulbs.

But maybe not for much longer.

Another tribe, the Ho-Chunk Nation, is expanding its nearby casino into a full-fledged resort that would rival the Stockbridge-Munsee’s own casino, threatening the gambling revenue that supports services like Putnam-Schiel’s helpers.

The Ho-Chunk say they’re simply trying to provide for their own people.

The increasingly bitter quarrel illustrates how tribes across the country are clashing as they battle for gambling revenue in an ever-tightening market.

“It’s unfair,” Putnam-Schiel said of the Ho-Chunk expansion. “I count on the help from the casino money. It’s survival for a lot of us.”

According to the National Indian Gambling Commission, 240 tribes offered gambling in 28 states as of January. With casinos restricted to reservations and land held in federal trust, tribes have been left to beef up their existing facilities to grow revenue rather than expand into new territories. That means more tribes have found themselves in direct competition with their neighbors, said Steve Light, co-director of the Institute for the Study of Tribal Gambling Law and Policy at the University of North Dakota.

Intertribal disputes over casinos have happened in Connecticut, California and Michigan in the past five years.

Just two years ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker refused to give the Menominee Nation permission to build a second casino on trust land in Kenosha after the Potawatomi and Ho-Chunk complained about competition — just as the Stockbridge-Munsee are now.

The current dispute looks like a classic David vs. Goliath fight.

The 7,000-member Ho-Chunk Nation has no true reservation. The federal government moved the tribe from Wisconsin to Nebraska in the 1830s; members who returned to Wisconsin in the 1870s received or purchased homesteads. As a result, the tribe has established six casinos on trust land around Wisconsin, including in Wisconsin Dells, the state’s tourism center. They also have established office supply distribution centers, gas stations, an RV park and a theater.

The Stockbridge-Munsee, by comparison, have about 1,400 members. About a third live on a swampy, rural reservation in Shawano County, about 50 miles east of Green Bay. It’s a hardscrabble existence; 21 percent of the American Indians in the county lived below the poverty line in 2015 and a drive through the reservation reveals aging, isolated homes linked by lonely two-lane roads.

The tribe runs a banquet hall, a golf course, an RV park and a gas station but depends almost entirely on revenue from its North Star casino. The money funds tribal health care and elder centers, elder chore assistants and the reservation’s police and fire departments. The money also has paid for body cameras for county sheriff deputies, a police liaison officer and tutors in Shawano County schools and workers who help the county with road repairs, tribal President Shannon Holsey said.

But the Stockbridge-Munsee has always struggled with location. The reservation is about 10 miles from U.S. Highway 29, the main thoroughfare that crosses the state. Gamblers have to travel winding two-lane roads through a bog to reach the North Star.

The Ho-Chunk, meanwhile, have run a casino just off Highway 29 about 17 miles west of the North Star since 2008. Last year, the tribe began work to add hundreds more slot machines, a hotel and a restaurant to the site.

The Stockbridge-Munsee estimate the expansion will cost them $22 million in lost gambling revenue as players choose the Ho-Chunk facility over the North Star. That could lead to job cuts and severely curtailed tribal services, the band’s leaders say.

The Stockbridge-Munsee filed a federal lawsuit last week alleging the expansion violates the Ho-Chunk’s gambling compact with the state, arguing the compact doesn’t allow for such an extensive expansion. They also contend that Walker has breached the Stockbridge-Munsee’s own compact, which calls for the state to protect the tribe from competition. And they dispute that the Ho-Chunk land was properly taken into trust to allow gambling in the first place.

“We’re not just going to roll over,” Holsey said. “This is our home.”

Walker administration officials wrote to the Stockbridge in January that they were satisfied that the Ho-Chunk expansion was legal, citing a 2003 amendment to the Ho-Chunk compact and an earlier Bureau of Indian Affairs determination on the trust issue.

Ho-Chunk leaders responded to the Stockbridge lawsuit by calling their arguments frivolous, weak and trivial.

“The only issue here is dealing with competition,” Ho-Chunk spokesman Collin Price said in a telephone interview. “The tribes own businesses. These businesses provide resources and programs for tribal members. That’s why it’s so important to protect them and try to offer more.”

GOP plans to cut Medicaid would jeopardize critical health services for Wisconsin students

Wisconsin’s schools receive more than $107 million in federal Medicaid funds each year, according to data released by the Washington, D.C.-based Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. That amount is higher than in all but six other states.

The Medicaid funding pays for health care services for many of the students with disabilities, such as mental health and speech therapy. It also covers vision and dental screenings provided in schools to Medicaid-eligible children and helps schools connect low-income children to other health care services that aren’t provided in schools, but are critical to a child’s development.

“Medicaid plays a very important role in supporting students in Wisconsin’s schools. Schools depend on these payments to help provide services like speech therapy, social work services, and personal care so students with disabilities can be successful at school.” said Sally Flaschberger, lead advocacy specialist at Disability Rights Wisconsin.

House Republicans tentatively plan to bring up a health bill this week, the American Health Care Act, which would cut federal Medicaid funding by $839 billion over the next decade.

In addition to putting health care at risk for millions of adults, these efforts would jeopardize critical health-related services for students and put an important source of funds for schools and states at risk.

Jon Peacock, research director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, said federal cuts to Medicaid could be especially difficult for schools in Wisconsin.

“Because our schools have done a good job of utilizing federal assistance to support school-based health services, we rank seventh highest nationally in federal Medicaid spending in schools,” Peacock said.

Medicaid provides health care for more than 1.1 million Wisconsinites, including about 500,000 children, but Peacock said many people are unaware of its significance for schools.

That’s not the case for school nurses, who are well aware of Medicaid’s importance for schools, according to Valerie Hon, president of the Wisconsin Association of School Nurses.

“Without the support they get from Medicaid, some Wisconsin schools would struggle to afford keeping school nurses and other specialized instructional support personnel on staff, give students with disabilities the services they need and are entitled to receive, and provide basic screenings for Medicaid-eligible children,” Hon said. “Policymakers in Washington should protect Medicaid — not cut it.”

According to the new report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, 68 percent of school superintendents reported earlier this year that they used Medicaid funding to keep school nurses, school counselors, speech therapists, and other health professionals on staff.

Peacock said the proposed changes in health care spending would have broader implications for schools. “Medicaid cuts are also likely to impede efforts to help schools implement proven reforms such as hiring and retaining excellent teachers, reducing class sizes, and expanding the availability of high-quality early education — keys to helping all children thrive in school.”

Milwaukee County sued by game developer over park-permit requirement

A California game developer has sued Milwaukee County over its requirement that developers get a permit to have augmented-reality games like “Pokemon Go” played at its parks.

The lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Wisconsin is one of the first tests for how far state and local governments can go in trying to regulate virtual games.

Irvine-based Candy Lab, Inc. asks in a federal lawsuit for the ordinance to be declared unconstitutional on free-speech grounds and for the court to prohibit Milwaukee County from ever enforcing the law.

A spokeswoman for Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele, who signed the ordinance, said he can’t comment on pending litigation.

The lawsuit filed in the Eastern District of Wisconsin is one of the first tests for how far state and local governments can go in trying to regulate virtual games.

Candy Lab is developing an augmented-reality game called “Texas Rope ‘Em,” a variation of Texas Hold ‘Em, currently being tested in Milwaukee, Austin, London and other select cities. In the augmented reality version, gamers are directed to different stops to pick up cards and build a five-card hand to play against a computer-controlled dealer.

Just as in “Pokemon Go,” virtual cards appear in the real world as the players use their smartphones to go to different spots.

Milwaukee County passed its ordinance in February in response to the large crowds “Pokemon Go” attracted to one of its parks along Lake Michigan. Officials said the sudden influx of people left the park trash-ridden and the county paying to clean up.

The ordinance requires that game developers apply for and obtain a permit like any other business or group that wants to host park events. Fees are due on a sliding-scale — anywhere from $100 to $1,000, depending on how much of the park will be used and how many people are expected to be there.

The money is meant to help with the park’s upkeep and the permits are supposed to help the county prepare for the volume of people, according to County Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman, who authored the ordinance.

The lawsuit acknowledges that Candy Lab “is apparently already in violation of the ordinance” because it doesn’t have a permit.

The lawsuit contends that Milwaukee County’s permitting process is vague and that, as a startup with a handful of investors, Candy Lab “cannot afford to undertake the process of researching the need to, and undertaking the effort to apply for, permits from municipal governments before publishing the very mobile applications that are the source of the company’s revenue.”

Study finds Wisconsin faces water infrastructure problems

A new report from the American Society of Civil Engineers says Wisconsin will have $7 billion in drinking water and wastewater infrastructure needs in the next 20 years.

Wisconsin Public Radio reported the state is already facing water problems, such as the pollution of nearly one-third of private wells in Kewaunee County and the possible contamination of nearly 2,000 La Crosse County wells.

Bill Davis, the head of the Wisconsin Sierra Club-John Muir Chapter, said things like allowing more concentrated animal feeding operations and high-capacity well regulations jeopardize groundwater quality.

The issue of traces of pharmaceutical drugs found in drinking water and tens of thousands of lead pipes still carrying drinking water to Wisconsin homes are areas Davis said state and local governments need to address.

La Crosse County Health Department Director Jen Rombalski says protecting groundwater quality needs to become part of statewide planning because it’s cheaper to maintain clean groundwater than it is to treat contaminated areas.

“It’s one of those things that we should have our eye on. We should know what needs to be updated,” Rombalski said.

The county health department is encouraging residents to have their wells tested for contamination, Rombalski said. The department will then work with landowners to find a solution if the drinking water is polluted.

Thousands march in Madison on Earth Day

Thousands of Wisconsinites marched April 22 from the state Capitol to Madison Gas & Electric for the Madison Climate March.

With a message of “Jobs, Justice, Climate.” the grassroots organizers of the march led a call on MGE to be an ally on climate action by investing more boldly in clean energy while divesting from dirty fossil fuels.

With climate and justice leadership unlikely from government officials at the state and federal level, the Madison Climate March called for strong local leadership to address the need for good jobs that are healthy for the people and for the planet.

The marchers’ demands echoed global calls for real solutions to a climate crisis rooted in racial, social and economic injustice, said a news release from the organizers.

Brandi Grayson, racial justice activist and Madison Climate March speaker, stated, “Climate change is no longer a question of if or when; glaciers are melting, tides are rising, and the United States is transitioning to an openly white supremacist administration with an Environmental Protection Agency headed by a man who rejects basic science . If we’re going to protect the sacred and prepare for the worst, we must look at the environmental effects of white supremacy.”

“The union movement as a whole supports the movement against climate change — but we cannot allow our common enemy to divide us, which means that our success cannot be at the expense of working people,” added David Newby, president emeritus of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO and Madison Climate March speaker.

MGE shareholder and Madison Climate March speaker Beth Esser stated, “As MGE shareholders, we know that clean energy is good for the planet and for our pocketbook. The time is now for MGE to go 100 percent coal free.”

March organizers emphasized that MGE needs to address the need for energy produced by resources that are clean and without the damaging impacts to the environment and people.

The excavation, transport and burning of fossil fuels has serious and long-standing negative impacts on public health, local communities, ecosystems, and the global climate.

As utilities commit to renewable energy across the country, localized clean energy jobs, affordable electric bills and lessened health and justice impacts from extractive industries are accompanying those transitions.

“Today’s march highlights the ways that climate, economic, and racial justice intersect, and that our climate advocacy needs to address all the systems that result in oppression and destruction. Today’s powerful display of public will demonstrates that the time is now to safeguard our health, our communities and our planet, and that we need to be in this together,” said Sierra Club’s Elizabeth Katt Reinders .

Civil rights groups seek to halt inhumane practices at Wisconsin youth facilities

The ACLU of Wisconsin and Juvenile Law Center, with pro-bono assistance from Quarles & Brady, filed a request for a preliminary injunction in federal court to halt the unconstitutional use of solitary confinement and other inhumane conditions and practices for youth in state-run correctional facilities.

The suit was originally filed in January on behalf of youth confined in the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls.

Earlier this week, the groups filed an amended complaint with additional children incarcerated at Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake as plaintiffs.

“Isolating, handcuffing and pepper spraying children is not only dehumanizing and traumatizing,” said Larry Dupuis, legal director of the ACLU of Wisconsin. “It is also unnecessary and counterproductive. As experts in the field show, these practices actually undermine institutional safety and security. As a result, most juvenile correctional facilities no longer use pepper spray, restraints or punitive solitary confinement.”

Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake incarcerate about 150 to 200 youth, some as young as 14 years old. It confines about 15 percent to 20 percent of the youths at any given time in 7 or 8 by 10 foot solitary confinement cells for 22 or 23 hours a day.

The guards keep children in handcuffs attached to a belt around their waists and then handcuffed to a table or desk, during the hour or two they are allowed out of their cells.

Guards throughout Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake also regularly use peppers spray on the youth, causing pain and burning and impairing their breathing and health.

“These practices are so harmful that we’re taking decisive action to stop them immediately,” said Jessica Feierman, associate director of Juvenile Law Center. “Putting children in solitary, shackling them to tables, and pepper spraying them isn’t rehabilitation — it’s abuse.”

The complaint says these practices violate children’s constitutional rights, including their rights to substantive due process, as guaranteed by the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and their right to be free from cruel and unusual punishment, as guaranteed by the 8th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

The plaintiffs are seeking immediate relief for the young people in these facilities while this case is being litigated.

Conservationists sound off on mines, wells, farms in survey

Wisconsin lawmakers should put future sand mines on hold, delay approval for large farms that could cause pollution and pull permits for high-capacity wells that damage state waters, an overwhelming majority of Conservation Congress spring hearing attendees told the group in its annual survey.

The congress is an influential group of sportsmen that advises the state Department of Natural Resources on policy.

It holds annual spring hearings in all 72 Wisconsin counties. A highlight of the hearings is a survey asking attendees for their thoughts on dozens of outdoors and environmental topics.

The survey is advisory only but offers insight into statewide public sentiment on some of the most pressing issues the DNR faces.

The congress held this year’s hearings earlier in April.

The questionnaire asked attendees if they would support legislation that would impose a moratorium on new frac sand mine permits until the agency completes a study of such mines’ environmental impacts.

Seventy-one counties voted yes; the vote in the lone remaining county was a draw.

The results didn’t indicate how individual counties voted.

In all, 3,226 attendees statewide said yes and 783 said no. Seventy counties said they supported a sand mine moratorium in last year’s survey as well.

The survey also asked if attendees would support legislation giving the DNR authority to suspend permit applications for large livestock farms if questions arise about potential pollution that require study.

Again, 71 counties said yes and the last county tied on the question. A total of 3,310 attendees said yes; 695 said no.

Another question asked if attendees would support legislation that would allow the DNR to suspend a high-capacity well’s permit if the well has impacted or depleted area wells, wetlands or surface waters.

All 72 counties said yes, with 3,988 attendees in support and 231 opposed.

Asked to comment on the survey results, DNR spokesman James Dick responded with an email saying the votes are non-binding.

The congress will discuss the questionnaire at its convention next month and present the results to the DNR’s board at a May 24 meeting, he said.

Dick declined to speculate on what changes the survey might drive. Still, prospects for substantial movement look dim with Republicans in control of the Legislature.

The GOP has largely left the state’s booming sand mining industry alone aside from writing a bill in 2014 that would have exempted sand mines from new local ordinances. The measure failed.

Republicans also have taken a mostly hands-off approach to large livestock farm permitting, despite a state audit last summer that found DNR staff lack the time to thoroughly monitor the operations and inspections often fell below the agency’s frequency goals.

DNR Secretary Cathy Stepp last year announced farms would be allowed to use consultants to draw up permit applications in hopes of reducing back-and-forth with DNR staff and creating more time for inspections.

As for high-capacity wells, the GOP is currently pushing a bill that would relax regulations on existing wells. The measure cleared the Senate last week.

A majority of attendees — 2,704 to 1,089 _ also said they would support repealing a law that relaxed Wisconsin’s iron mining regulations.

About 2,300 attendees at last year’s spring hearings approved the same question; 1,140 opposed the idea then. A repeal looks all but dead on arrival, though. The same Republican leaders who pushed for the law still control both the Senate and Assembly.

Parisi latest Democrat to bow out of governor’s race

Dane County Executive Joe Parisi became the latest Democrat to decide against challenging Republican Gov. Scott Walker, saying this week that he can get more done in his current job rather than taking on an “extremely dysfunctional” state government.

Parisi’s exit from the field of possible candidates is another blow for a Democratic Party still reeling from losses in the November election and searching for a top-tier candidate to take on Walker as he’s expected to run for a third term next year.

Walker’s experience and ability to raise tens of millions of dollars for the race was a key factor that led former Democratic state Sen. Tim Cullen to bow out last month.

Businessman Mark Bakken, a political newcomer, also said he was not getting in the race and an attempt by fans to recruit former Green Bay Packers player Mark Tauscher to run also feel flat.

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind and Democratic state Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling have also said they’re not running.

Still, more than half a dozen other Democrats both in office or newcomers are mulling jumping in.

And Parisi, a 56-year-old former state Assembly member who began his second full term as county executive this week, was optimistic that Democrats will find someone who can defeat Walker.

“Stronger candidates have been taken down,” Parisi said.

Wisconsin Republican Party spokesman Alec Zimmerman said Parisi’s decision shows that the state’s Democrats “are in total disarray.”

Republicans increased their majorities in the state Legislature in the November election that also saw Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson win a second term. Donald Trump also became the first Republican presidential candidate to carry Wisconsin since 1984.

Next year, Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin will be on the ballot along with Walker.

Democrats need to focus on the message that they’re the party of the working class and cultivate candidates who can follow through, Parisi said.

Some potential challengers are intimidated by Walker’s money, Parisi said, but “if you have the right candidate, the money would follow.”

But Parisi said he felt he could have more of an impact as county executive because “county government is one of the last functioning units of government.”

“I want to be where I can make a difference and get things done,” said Parisi, who has been county executive since 2011 after serving six years in the state Assembly.

Political newcomer and recent Stanford University graduate Bob Harlow is the only announced Democratic candidate.

Others considering a run include state Reps. Dana Wachs and Gordon Hintz, state Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, Jefferson County District Attorney Susan Happ, former Democratic Party Chairman Matt Flynn and businessman Andy Gronik.