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State lawmakers show ties to public sector

By Ben Jones

Associated Press

Published: Monday, March 14 2011 10:31 a.m. MDT

MADISON, Wis. — For some state lawmakers, recent votes over public employee benefits and collective bargaining hit close to home.

Thirty of Wisconsin's 129 legislators received family income of at least $1,000 within the past two years from public-sector employers such as cities, school districts, counties and state agencies besides the Legislature, Gannett Wisconsin Media found in reviewing lawmakers' most recent financial disclosure forms.

The annual statements of economic interests, required by law from about 2,500 public officials, include details of family investments and income and are meant to provide a public check on potential conflicts of interest.

Officials must list all employers from which the official or a family member received at least $1,000 of income during the previous year. The forms do not specify total dollar amounts, recipients or work performed.

Sixteen Democrats, 13 Republicans and one independent reported public sources of income. Thirteen lawmakers received income from a public school district, including eight Democrats and five Republicans.

Public school employees have been at the center of a storm of debate in recent weeks over public worker compensation and collective bargaining powers. Last week, the Republican-controlled Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker put an end to most collective bargaining powers for some 175,000 public employees in Wisconsin and will require them to pay more of the costs for pension and health insurance benefits.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, who helped push through the dramatic changes, said family connections made the choices even tougher.

"It has a direct impact on my family," said Fitzgerald, whose wife is a guidance counselor who received a layoff notice from the Hustisford School District earlier this year.

Fitzgerald did not list his wife's income on his disclosure statement. He said he did not know why it was missing.

"If Lisa's not on there, she's a high school counselor, it's pretty well known," he said. "I'm certainly not trying to hide it if it's not on there."

Records from the state Department of Instruction showed that her salary last school year was $50,703, and her benefits were valued at $20,303.

The Legislature's recent votes fell largely along partisan lines and do not appear to be connected to any pattern of family income detailed in the forms.

One lawmaker who did break party ranks to vote against the public employee plans was Sen. Dale Schultz, R-Richland Center, who is married to the district administrator of the Richland Center School District.

Reid Magney, a spokesman for the Government Accountability Board, said he didn't think that a lawmaker with a family member working in state or local government presented a conflict of interest.

"We've had questions on whether someone can have a spouse who is a lobbyist, because there are tight rules regarding what can be received from a lobbyist," Magney said. "That's one of the most regulated relationships, between lobbyists and lawmakers, and it's OK for a lawmaker to be married to a lobbyist. It's OK for a lawmaker and lobbyists to be living together under the same roof as members of the same household.

"In terms of whether a lawmaker's spouse has other employment with another unit of government, that's not something I believe is regulated."

State Rep. Bob Ziegelbauer, a Manitowoc independent, also is Manitowoc County executive. He said he doesn't see a conflict between the positions.

"I see myself in both jobs being representative to this community that has elected me to both jobs, and trying to do my best for them on both facets," he said. "So, sometimes legislation might make my other job more difficult, but if it's the right thing to do I try to embrace it and go forward."

Dale Knapp, research director of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, a nonprofit research group, said statewide, 14 percent of people work for state or local government.

A lot of Wisconsin residents outside the Legislature have a connection to public jobs.

Knapp said that in 2009, there were 382,000 full and part-time Wisconsin workers employed by state or local government. Still, Knapp said that on a per-capita basis, Wisconsin has fewer public workers than other states.

"We are actually relatively lean, which surprises people," he said.

Information from: The Post-Crescent, http://www.postcrescent.com

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