GOP legislators champing at the bit

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When Republicans take control of both houses of Wisconsin’s legislature and the governor’s mansion in January, expect them to waste little time in making big changes in Madison.

A quick canvass of GOP legislators from the Milwaukee area this week produced a list of some “low-hanging fruit” that will be targets for immediate cuts from the state budget.

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For instance, Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale) would like to see the elimination of the Department of Motor Vehicles’ automobile emission testing stations.

Rep. Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee) says his immediate pet priorities include: eliminating millions of dollars of current fraud in the Wisconsin Shares program; demanding a “top to bottom” evaluation of state agencies to justify their spending and eliminate vacant positions; and launching mediation arbitration reform to provide local government the tools they need to control costs, reduce spending and make reforms of their own.

Rep. Jim Ott (R-Mequon) echoes Honadel’s call for auditing the budgets for all state agencies. Ott also suggests that the state office of the Commissioner of Railroads be merged into the Department of Transportation.

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“Duplication of services is a problem in state government,” Ott said.

Honadel and Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) both say an immediate priority should be renegotiating pensions and benefit plans for state employees, including legislators, who currently pay nothing toward the costs of their health care plans.

“As co-chair of finance (committee), I have to put us all on the alert that we’re all low-hanging fruit. That would be number one,” Darling said. “The other thing I would directly look at to help reduce costs is to bring teachers, firefighters and police into the state (benefits) plan. That would help reduce property taxes and the state’s share (of shared revenue).”

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Another priority should be to provide incentives for Wisconsin’s multiple layers of governmental bodies to consolidate or at least share services such as property appraisals, assessors, transportation, plowing and campus services, Darling said.

“With technology, there is so much that can be done to reduce the costs without affecting the quality of the service. It’s a good opportunity for us. I’m looking forward to it,” Darling said.

As the incoming speaker of the Assembly, Rep. Jeff Fitzgerald (R-Horicon) will be steering much of the agenda.

“This session will have two concurrent themes – job creation and reducing government spending. One of the first things we will due is reform the Department of Commerce to combine many of the grants and programs into fewer, more powerful programs that will take fewer people to administrate,” Fitzgerald told BizTimes. “Combining operations to enhance business development and reduce positions accomplishes both goals.”

One challenge Fitzgerald will have is keeping the Republican caucus focused from the outset on Governor-elect Scott Walker’s mission to create 250,000 jobs in the state in the next four years.

That focus will mean trying to keep some of the pet conservative social causes, such as voter identification cards, illegal immigrant laws, conceal and carry and embryonic stem cell research restrictions at bay – at least until the economy is turned around.

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