CHICAGO — The Wisconsin Legislature adjourned late last week, ending its session after approving legislation that authorizes the creation of a new conduit bonding commission and leaving on the table a bill that would have established a regional transportation authority in the Milwaukee area.
Gov. Jim Doyle last week signed SB 399, which allows for the establishment of an authority that would serve as a conduit borrower to assist state businesses in accessing the tax-exempt market for public benefit at the request of local governments. The measure was promoted as an economic development tool that would help spur job creation.
“This legislation has received overwhelming support from our leaders in Madison. This doesn’t happen often in this town, but when it comes to creating a better Wisconsin for our citizens, our leaders and the governor all agreed that tools which help businesses create jobs and employ people should be put in place whenever possible. SB 399 accomplishes this goal,” Wisconsin Counties Association executive director Mark O’Connell said in a statement.
The state’s existing conduit authorities are focused on the housing, higher education, and health care sectors.
Backers of the creation of a transportation agency with bonding authority saw their hopes for the new entity dashed after Assembly Republicans were able to amend the bill to require Milwaukee County voter approval for a half-cent sales tax.
The measure then went to the Senate, where it lacked support. A special session would be needed to resurrect the legislation — which would have also allowed other areas of the state to establish regional transportation agencies — before next year.
The Legislature approved and Doyle is expected to sign an education reform bill that gives the state’s superintendent of public instruction more power over failing schools. The plan evolved from a more controversial proposal from Doyle that would have handed academic and financial control of the Milwaukee Public Schools over to the city’s mayor.
Lawmakers approved and Doyle signed legislation last week that imposes a tax on the revenues of 59 rural hospitals to leverage more federal funds. The Legislature last year approved a similar tax on larger hospitals.
Lawmakers last year adopted a new two-year budget. The $61.8 billion budget for fiscal 2010-11 relied on the restructuring of $285 million of debt along with a mix of federal stimulus funds, spending cuts, and tax and fee increases to wipe out a $6.6 billion deficit.
Wisconsin’s GOs are rated AA by Standard & Poor’s, AA by Fitch Ratings, after recalibration, and Aa2 with a stable outlook by Moody’s Investors Service based on its recalibration to a global scale.
The state was previously rated Aa3 with a negative outlook. Its strengths include a diverse economy and moderate debt levels. Weaknesses include an ongoing structural budget imbalance and weak reserve levels.
Lawmakers now will focus on the upcoming September primary election and November general election. Democrats hold a majority in both chambers.
The governor, a Democrat, announced last year he would not seek re-election. Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett is the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination and Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and former congressman Mark Neumann are frontrunners for the Republican nod.