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Wisconsin Republicans advance transportation-related lame-duck bill (UPDATE).

Byline: Dan Shaw,

Wisconsin Republicans were moving on Tuesday to pass a bill seeking to concentrate federal money into fewer highway projects to prevent work from coming under Davis-Bacon prevailing-wage requirements and other federal regulations.

That piece of legislation is just one part of a series of bills GOP lawmakers planned to pass in a so-called extraordinary session in the weeks before electoral defeats in November cause Republicans to lose control of both the governor's and attorney general's office. Other proposals up for consideration would limit the governor's ability to adopt administrative rules and shield the state's jobs agency from his control.

Much of the legislation has been criticized by Democrats and members of the public as a power grab. But the bill dealing with transportation, although it has drawn opposition from various union groups and local governments, has given rise to little public controversy.

Its main provision would require that whenever federal money is used for highway construction and rehabilitation work estimated at less than $10 million, that at least 70 percent of the funding come from federal sources. Various state GOP legislators have long sought to concentrate federal money in a relatively small number of highway and bridge projects in order to prevent such work from coming under federal Davis-Bacon requirements and other federal regulations.

Many Republicans contend that Davis-Bacon and similar prevailing-wage requirements artificially inflate the cost of public construction projects. Wisconsin GOP lawmakers repeatedly cited such concerns when passing legislation over the past several years gradually eliminating the state's own prevailing-wage laws.

At least one representative of local governments says he thinks the claims of cost inflation are exaggerated. Dan Fedderly, executive director of the Wisconsin County Highway Association, said he is eager to see if moving more federal money out of local projects and thus avoiding Davis-Bacon requirements will really lead to savings.

"Before I would agree or disagree I'd want to see the actual dollar figures and numbers of projects and where it was applied," he said.

Fedderly expressed support for other parts of the transportation-related bill, technically named Assembly Bill 1069. One provision would prevent local projects that receive no federal money from having to comply with state regulations other than design standards.

Fedderly said these regulations can make small, local projects needlessly complicated. Federal rules, for instance, often require local officials to interview at least three design firms for any road project they might be contemplating. Their final choice must also be approved by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, a step requiring both additional time and money.

Fedderly said there's no reason why local officials especially on small projects shouldn't be trusted to select a design firm on their own.

"It's one thing if you are working on the Marquette Interchange in Milwaukee," he said. "But if you are doing a 2-mile paving project in Vilas County, it's not real complex. So you shouldn't have to go through that same process."

Fedderly also supports a bill provision that would require WisDOT to tell local officials promptly if federal money would be allocated to a particular project. Fedderly and others have complained that WisDOT has not always been forthcoming with such information, making it difficult to know if they will have to abide by federal rules or not.

Until they're signed into law, AB 1069 and the other lame-duck bills remain works in progress. AB 1069 was amended on Monday to include a provision requiring local governments to bid out highway jobs that doesn't receive federal money. Fedderly said the change was a real puzzler, since such work already must be bid out, and predicted it would be removed before a final version is adopted.

Lawmakers had not taken votes on the lame-duck legislation by press time on Tuesday. Although most of the bills up for consideration seemed likely to advance, at least one appeared dead.

For the past week or so, Republicans have been discussing plans to move the date of the 2020 presidential primary. Their goal: to prevent the conservative Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly from having to stand for election on the same day as the primary, when Democratic turnout is expected to be heavy.

Various powerful Republicans, including Gov. Scott Walker, have expressed support for the change. But the state's budget committee declined to advance the plan on Monday after top GOP officials said it didn't have enough votes to pass.

During that same committee session, which sometimes grew raucous and lasted deep into the night on Monday, all but one person testified against the proposed legislation. The bill sponsors, meanwhile, broke from normal practice by not appearing in person or sending surrogates to speak on their behalf.

"The people aren't asking for this," said Rep. Chris Taylor, a Democrat from Madison. "You did not run on this. You didn't tell people you would do everything in your power to take away the power of a newly elected governor and attorney general. You rig the system when you win and you rig the system when you lose."

Rep. John Nygren, a Republican and a chairman of the Joint Finance Committee, downplayed the lame-duck proposals, saying he and his fellow Republicans were merely trying to ensure there is a balance of power between the Legislature and governor. Nygren said the legislation would "bring us together to solve the problems of the state."

Evers, Attorney General-elect Josh Kaul and other opponents urged Republicans to reject the proposals. Protesters flooded the Capitol on Monday, chanting "Shame!" and occasionally disrupting the public hearing and a news conference with Republican leaders.

Walker signaled support for the proposals on Monday, and his office has been working with Republicans on the legislation. Evers, for his part, called the unusual lame-duck session "rancor and politics as usual."

- The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Publication:The Daily Reporter
Geographic Code:1U3WI
Date:Dec 4, 2018
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