MADISON, Wis. (AP) -- Issues expected to be addressed by the Legislature next year:
BUDGET: The projected record-high $5.4 billion budget shortfall should dominate lawmakers' time in 2009. The shortfall is blamed on the national recession, poor state budgeting that in the past relied on accounting tricks and one-time expenditures to balance instead of meaningful, long-term moves, and a drop in state tax collections.
ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT: Democrats are trying to put together an incentive package to increase jobs. Whatever form it takes will be greatly influenced by the level of federal money Wisconsin receives and what limits are placed on how it can be spent.
SMOKING BAN: Supporters of a statewide smoking ban for all workplaces, including restaurants and bars, hope to reach a compromise with opponents who favored an exemption for bars and taverns.
TEACHER PAY, SCHOOL FINANCES: Gov. Jim Doyle supports eliminating the "qualified economic offer," which has effectively capped teacher raises since 1993. The law precludes teachers' unions from going to arbitration as long as teachers are offered 3.8 percent increases in salary and benefits. Critics say the QEO has held down teacher salaries because most of the increase is eaten up by benefits. While Doyle wants to repeal the law, he's also wary about allowing schools to exceed revenue caps, which limit how much they can collect from property taxes and in state aid. Without increases in aid from the state, schools likely would have to make cuts to afford the higher teacher salaries or be forced to ask voters for more money from property taxes.
DRUNKEN DRIVING: Making the first-offense drunken driving a crime, instead of just a ticket, is part of a push by those who want to strengthen penalties. Other options include making a third offense, rather than a fifth offense, a felony and legalizing roadside sobriety checkpoints, something that Doyle supports.
HEALTH CARE REFORM: Democrats in the Senate pushed their universal health care plan known as Healthy Wisconsin last year, but it lacks the support of Doyle and opponents say the $15 billion cost is prohibitive and makes the plan unrealistic. Some other more modest changes, likely in line with what President-elect Barack Obama's administration comes up with, are more probable.
AUTISM: One of Doyle's top priorities is requiring health insurance coverage for children with autism. The bill, previously blocked by Republicans, has a much better chance now with Democrats controlling the Assembly.
DOMESTIC PARTNER HEALTH INSURANCE: Republicans have blocked past attempts to allow domestic partners of state workers to get health insurance coverage through state-sponsored plans. That is expected to see new life under Democratic control.
BUSINESS TAXES: One of the priorities of Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker is closing loopholes that allow corporate subsidiaries to be taxed separately and therefore avoid paying taxes on profits for entities operating in Wisconsin. Decker and supporters argue that closing those will help bring in more money for the state to plug its budget hole.
MINIMUM WAGE: Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker promises that the first bill introduced will be to increase the minimum wage from $6.50 to $7.60 an hour, with future increases based on inflation. A similar bill passed the Senate last year but was blocked by Assembly Republicans.
CAMPAIGN FINANCE REFORM: Incoming Assembly Speaker Mike Sheridan said one of his priorities will be campaign finance reform. Sheridan has been outspoken about the influence of unregulated outside groups that sent mailers and ran radio ads in many legislative races this year. Reformers have pushed for public financing for state Supreme Court races, at the least.
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