In this update:

  • Legislative Updates
  • Election Updates
  • Fundraising Opportunities

Legislative Updates

Four agency heads testify on budget to JFC




Watch DOC & DOT                                             Watch DOA & DSPS

This week, the Joint Committee on Finance hosted four of Governor Evers’ cabinet secretaries to give them the opportunity to present their agency’s proposed budget to the Committee. Presenting at the Joint Finance Committee this week was the Department of Corrections, Department of Transportation, Department of Administration, and Department of Safety and Professional Services. An overview of the testimony from the hearings can be found below. Click on the above images to watching the hearings.

Department of Corrections

The hearing opened with DOC Secretary Kevin Carr explaining his agency’s budget priorities and the institutional change he is trying to implement across DOC. Sec. Carr said DOC’s goal is to hold people accountable who break the law while still giving them a chance to change. He said DOC will continue to prioritize reducing the prison population through evidence-based initiatives.

Regarding budget priorities, Sec. Carr touched on several items funded in Gov. Evers’ budget that he found particularly important. Staffing vacancies was identified as the most pressing issue for DOC to address in the governor’s budget. Sec. Carr said DOC’s average vacancy rate currently is 32% for correctional staff. The agency has teamed up with a marketing firm to attract more job applicants, as well as raised wages across the board for DOC employees. In the governor’s budget proposal, DOC wages would see a 5% increase in 2023 and an additional 3% increase in 2023. The governor’s budget would increase add-on bonuses for all guards and sergeants system-wide and an additional add-on for staff at maximum security prisons. Sec. Carr said the second budget priority for DOC is additional funding for several programs that would help prevent recidivism and provide job skills training to inmates. Those programs include the Opening Avenues to Reentry Success (OARS), Windows to Work, Mobile Labs, Earned Release, Substance use, and Alternative to Revocation (ATR). The third budget priority for DOC as identified by Sec. Carr concerns juvenile justice. Those initiatives include creating a new youth detention facility in Milwaukee, funding for a second Type 1 juvenile justice facility in Dane County, exploring the option for a third Type 1 facility in northern Wisconsin, expanding the GROW Academy from 6 to 16 beds, and funding for HVAC improvements to Lincoln Hills and Copper Lakes Schools.

Read the full memo: click here 

Department of Transportation

Secretary Thompson provided opening remarks on DOT’s budget request and some of agency’s upcoming priorities. He said investments in the past two budgets have allowed for a more robust construction program in the state with funding for major projects being up 5%. Sec. Thompson also said transportation revenue from all sources is anticipated to be $7.9 billion over the biennium. He said that investing in electric vehicle technology and charging infrastructure will help tourism and drivability in the state. On budget priorities, Sec. Thompson said DOT was spending money to combat reckless driving with driving calming measures such as rumble strips, bumpers, and curbs. He also said the budget provides funding to local governments with programs that receive federal funding. The budget also recommends the creation of 35 new state trooper positions.

Read the full memo: click here

Department of Administration

The hearing opened with Secretary Blumenfeld explaining the role of DOA. The Department has 13 divisions and 1,400 employees. Some of their various duties include managing the State Real Estate Portfolio, working with Wisconsin’s 11 federally recognized tribes, administering federal and state grant programs, and providing Human Resources support to all state employees.

Sec. Blumenfeld shared that the number one goal of this budget would be to effectively and responsibly fund the necessities of the state. With the over $7 billion surplus and unprecedented rainy-day fund, this budget takes advantage of the best opportunity to invest in the long-term success of Wisconsin. It invests in kids, farmers, communities, health systems, workers, and employers in ways that will deliver health and economic returns in the long-run. Blumenfeld explains that the majority of this budget’s spending will be from one-time expenditures that invest in programs that “promote continued prosperity for our state”. Some examples of these investments are paying down $380 million in previously accrued state transportation debt, proactively putting $1.9 billion towards the capitol budget to reduce the need for new bonding, and adding $500 million to the rainy-day fund. Secretary Designee Blumenfeld shared that the budget will maintain a positive $1.5 billion at the end of fiscal year 2025.

Read the full memo: click here

Department of Safety and Professional Services

Secretary Hereth started his testimony by stating that this budget meets the needs of workers and employers in the state. Today’s economy is vastly different than even a few years ago due to highly progressive technology; innovation is a requirement and DSPS must keep up. This budget allows DSPS to do so and therefore will ensure that Wisconsin maintains a competitive job market and remains a state where workers want to move to. He shared that they are not asking for any funding from revenue, but rather to use their accrued funding from fees. He then shared some statistics that defend their budget asks. First, their call answer rate is currently at over 90% when just last year it was at 30%. This is because they were able to contract in staff, however, if they cannot get full-time staff their numbers will fall again. Long-term staff lead to more effectiveness because they do not need to be retrained, and also their experience helps them assist Wisconsinites better. Furthermore, they are looking for technology updates because, in states like Colorado and Arizona that have these advancements, they are far more successful. He concluded his opening remarks by reiterating the fact that they are not asking for money, but rather to use their own money they have saved from fees.

Read the full memo: click here

Marklein sets target for initial budget votes

With the first public hearings on the budget set for next week, Co-Chairs Sen. Howard Marklein and Rep. Mark Born shared additional details on their targeted timeline for the budget. Senator Marklein stated at Tuesday’s committee hearing that the committee is targeting the first week of May for its initial votes on the budget. If the committee has its first executive session then, that will mean the committee is on the same timeline as the 2021-2023 budget. In the previous budget session two years ago, the first executive session was May 6th.

Representative Born also shared this week that conversations are ongoing on whether to revamp shared revenue in the budget or as separate legislation. He also shared that the committee is having conversations as well regarding possible state aid to the Milwaukee Brewers stadium.

Election Updates

Protasiewicz discusses bail amendment, abortion at NAACP & UW-Milwaukee events

Liberal candidate Janet Protasiewicz hosted several events this week in which she gave remarks on several different topics. At an NAACP Milwaukee virtual event this week, liberal candidate Janet Protasiewicz said that the proposed constitutional amendments to revamp bail policies “could go a step further.” The amendment, which is also on the ballot on April 4th, would allow judges to consider “serious harm” and “violent crime” when setting release conditions. She additionally suggested that going further would allow for judges to “hold them in custody without even giving them the opportunity to even post bail.”

Judge Protasiewicz also spoke at a candidate forum on the UW-Milwaukee campus this week which was hosted by VoteRiders. During her remarks, Judge Protasiewicz said that ‘[e]very single issue that you care about is going to be on the ballot… every single issue that you care about is likely to come in front of our Wisconsin Supreme Court in the next number of years.” Judge Protasiewicz also expressed to the university’s students that she is running for office to ensure “extremeists” don’t take over the state Supreme Court. Protasiewicz also further explained her stances on abortion during the forum, stating that she could not make comment in how she would rule in a case regarding abortion. However, Judge Protasiewicz did say that she believes that women should be able to make their own healthcare decisions and that she has spoken to healthcare workers who do not think they would work in the state under the current ban. State Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley, who stood in for Justice Dan Kelly at the forum, hit back at Judge Protasiewicz for sharing her view, stating, “It will come before us. No candidate should be discussing his or her position on that issue. It is prejudging the issue.”

Kelly says he looks to keep legal precedent stable 

Justice Kelly said at an event this week at a Rotary Club of Madison that he believes it is important to maintain stability when it comes to legal precedent, and that it is important for the public to be confident in the court’s decision. Justice Kelly stated, “We want people to be confident when the court decides a case that it’s doing it correctly, and we don’t bounce back and forth between different views of what the law requires in any given circumstance.” However, he stated that just because a court has decided an issue before “doesn’t necessarily mean that we got it right.” Justice Kelly further explained, “And so when a party comes to the court and says, ‘You know what, this has gone unremarked upon for a long time, but we think that you’ve gotten something wrong in the law,’ then it’s our responsibility to look back and correct it.”

Spending in SCOWIS race nears $45 million

According to a recent tally by WisPolitics, total spending in the race for state Supreme Court is nearing $45 million, which is almost triple the previous national record. This number includes ads reserved for the final weeks of the race. Liberal Supreme Court candidate Janet Protasiewicz and her backers have spent $22.9 million while conservative candidate Dan Kelly and his supporters have spent $18.9 million. Of the two candidates, Judge Protasiewicz has spent $13 million while former Justice Kelly has spent $2.4 million. For independent expenditure groups, the top liberal spender is $5.8 million from A Better Wisconsin Together while conservative groups Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and Fair Courts America have spent $5.8 million and $5.2 million respectively. According to WisPolitics and sources that track media buys, Judge Protasiewicz still maintains a significant advantage in the number of ads being run because candidates pay lower rates for TV ads than independent expenditure groups and much of former Justice Kelly’s paid media support is coming from such groups.

The historic spending is made possible through monetary contributions from across the country going directly to the candidates and independent expenditure groups, as well as to the state political parties which can make unlimited contributions to candidates. Between Feb. 7 and March 20, Judge Protasiewicz raised $12.4 million with $8 million alone coming from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, which in turn received $1 million in donations apiece from Illinois’ Democratic Governor J.B. Pritzker, liberal megadonor George Soros, and liberal philanthropists Stacy and Lynn Schusterman from Oklahoma. Former Justice Kelly raised $2.2 million during the same time period. He said he would not accept donation from The Republican Party of Wisconsin, but has received smaller-dollar donations from county Republican parties and the Republican Assembly Campaign Committee. RPW in general has seen less large dollar donations come in from out of state, with the largest being a $500,00 donation to RPW from Illinois resident and Uline co-founder Liz Uihlein. Ms. Uihlein’s husband, Dick Uihlein, has also backed conservative candidate Dan Kelly with $4 million in donations to Fair Courts America, which in turn has spent $5.8 million in ads supporting Justice Kelly.

Kelly releases three new ads

Conservative Supreme Court candidate Dan Kelly has released three new ads this week that question liberal Supreme Court candidate Janet Protasiewicz’s record on sentencing criminals to prison. The first ad, “Catch and Release”, features the sheriffs of Dodge, Monroe, and Waukesha counties who claim law enforcement’s hands are tied when judges like Janet Protasiewicz refuse to hold criminals accountable. The second ad, “Janet’s Lies” features Justice Kelly alongside the sheriffs of Dodge and Monroe counties saying he never defended a child molester, that he is law enforcement’s preferred candidate, and that he will uphold the law. The third ad, “Quantrell Bounds”, says Justice Kelly will keep communities safe while Judge Protasiewicz has a long history of letting criminals off easy.

Justice Kelly’s campaign did not provide details on how much was spent on the ads or where the spots will run.

Ad 1                                     Ad 2                                       Ad 3

Protasiewicz releases new radio ad

Liberal Supreme Court candidate Janet Protasiewicz released a new radio ad this week that calls her conservative opponent “dirty Dan Kelly.” The ad claims former Justice Kelly has been telling lies about Judge Protasiewicz. It also claims Justice Kelly has never sentenced a single criminal to prison and is corrupt. Additional details on the spot were not available.

A Better Wisconsin Together opposes Kelly with new digital ads

The liberal group A Better Wisconsin Together has released three new digital ads this week. The first ad claims conservative Supreme Court candidate Dan Kelly wants to keep abortion illegal in Wisconsin while also claiming liberal candidate Janet Protasiewicz supports abortion rights. The second ad claims former Justice Kelly “supported Trump’s attack on our elections.” The third ad claims Justice Kelly “worked with an anti-LGBTQ hate group.” Additional details on the spots were not available. According to WisPoltics, A Better Wisconsin Together has spent $6.2 million on the state Supreme Court race.

Ad 1                                   Ad 2                                    Ad 3

Everytown for Gun Safety opposes Kelly with new ad

Gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety has a new ad running on broadcast and cable TV opposing conservative Supreme Court candidate Dan Kelly. The ad claims former Justice Kelly is an “ally” of former President Donald Trump, that he “could” uphold the state’s abortion ban, and that he “opposed background checks on all gun sales.” Additional details on the spot were not available.

WMC releases new ad opposing Protasiewicz

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) Issues Mobilization Council launched a new ad this week critical of a sentence handed down by liberal Supreme Court candidate Janet Protasiewicz to a sex offender. The ad asks viewers to contact Judge Protasiewicz and tell her to “stop letting predators off easy.” Additional details on the spot were not available, but according to a source that tracks TV buys, WMC has spent over $5.1 million on tv and radio in the Supreme Court race since the February primary.

Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America opposes Protasiewicz with new ad

Conservative group Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America is out with a new spot running on broadcast, cable and digital. The ad claims liberal Supreme Court candidate Janet Protasiewicz’s friends are “predatory abortion profiteers.” Additional details on the spot were not available, but earlier this month the group announced it would be spending $1.25 million on ads backing conservative candidate Dan Kelly.

Roggensack endorses Kelly

Retiring Justice Pat Roggensack announced this week that she will be supporting her former colleague Dan Kelly, after she previously endorsed his primary opponent Jennifer Dorrow. In a statement, Justice Roggensack said, “I support and will be voting for Dan Kelly in the general election.” Justices Roggensack and Kelly served together for four years while he was on the bench from 2016-2020. Justice Roggensack’s daughter Ellen Brostrom, who is a Milwaukee County Circuit Court judge, wrote a column for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel this week which accused Kelly of working to “undermine the constitution and our democracy.” In her column she endorsed Janet Protasiewicz, stating, “Like my mother, I am a judge who follows the law and upholds our constitutional rights. I have served alongside Judge Janet Protasiewicz as a colleague in Milwaukee for almost a decade, and I know her abilities as a jurist and as a community leader. She is the better choice for voters this April 4.”

8th SD candidates point to “supermajority” as reason to vote

Democratic candidate Jodi Habush Sinykin told “Upfront” that Democrats in the 8th senate district must vote to flip the seat and prevent Republicans from maintaining a supermajority. The 8th senate district is a historically Republican district, but Ms. Habush Sinykin has been spending time during the race highlighting the state’s 1849 abortion law. “What I’m hearing is that voters in this district really want to restore women’s healthcare options,” Ms. Habush Sinykin said. “It’s framed as abortion but it really encompasses a much broader range of concerns for women.”

Republican state Rep. Dan Knodl, who is looking to take over the seat from longtime GOP state Senator Aberta Darling, also highlighted the supermajority as a major reason that the 8th senate district race is important. On “UpFront,” Rep. Knodl pointed to the state Senate’s impeachment power that is allowed with a two-thirds majority or supermajority. Rep. Knodl stated, “Simply gives us some more authority in the areas of oversight and accountability of elected officials, appointed officials. If there are some that are out there that are corrupt, that are failing at their tasks, then we have the opportunity to hold them accountable.”

8th SD candidates release latest fundraising numbers

                                Jodi Habush Sinykin            Dan Knodl

Raised: $836,651              Raised: $261,152

Spent: $803,340             Spent: $317,060

On hand: $91,855            On hand: $51,020

Candidates for the 8th Senate District Special Election released their latest fundraising numbers this week. Democratic candidate Jodi Habush Sinykin outraised her Republican opponent Rep. Dan Knodl nearly 3 to 1 between Feb. 7 and March 20. Ms. Habush Sinykin reported $836,651 in receipts, $803,340 in expenses, and $91,855 cash on hand to end the reporting period. Rep. Knodl reported $261,152 in receipts, $317,060 in expenses, and $51,020 cash on hand.

Both candidates largest contributions came from their respective party’s senate fundraising committee with Ms. Habush Sinykin receiving $115,000 from the State Senate Democratic Committee (SSDC), as well as another $92,207 in in-kind donations from SSDC. She also received $25,000 from the Democratic Party of Wisconsin. On the GOP side, Rep. Knodl received $89,200 from the Committee to Elect a Republican Senate, as well as $69,695 in in-kind donations from the Republican Party of Wisconsin. Notable individual contributions include a $2,000 donations to Ms. Habush Sinykin from U.S. Senate candidate Alex Lasry while Rep. Knodl received $2,000 donations each from Dick and Liz Uihlein, co-founders of the packaging supplies company Uline.

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