MADISON, Wis. — Wisconsin Senate Republican are expected today to cut $56 million yearly from benefits for newly-unemployed Wisconsin workers just as figures show Wisconsin’s unemployment rate under Gov. Scott Walker has jumped higher than most states in the past two months. This vote comes after it was revealed Gov. Walker spent $500,000 for private legal counsel to the firm where Republican National Committee chair Reince Priebus is partner.
“Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has risen more quickly than most states in the nation and that Senate Republicans today will join Assembly Republicans and Scott Walker in cutting $56 million from newly-unemployed is a disgrace,” said Scot Ross, One Wisconsin Now Executive Director. “They will delay family-saving benefits to unemployed workers, but pay out to Reince Priebus’s law firm $500,000 that could cover benefits for 33 displaced Wisconsin workers for an entire year.”
The Senate will meet today to concur in a Republican Assembly amendment to add a week-delay for workers in Wisconsin who have just lost their jobs. The move will cut up to $56 million a year from unemployment benefits. [Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, 6/11, page 710]
Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has gone from 7.3 percent in April to 7.6 percent in June 2011, among the highest increases in the country over the same period. Since June 2009, the rate had been steadily falling from 9.4 percent.
The cut to benefits comes just as revelations have hit about Gov. Walker paying $500,000 to the politically-connected law firm Michael Best & Friedrich, where Priebus is a partner on leave. Members of the firm donated $35,000 to Walker’s gubernatorial campaign. The hourly fee for the contract was between $275-300 an hour, a near 50 percent hike from any contract signed by the previous administration.
Additional criticisms about the sweetheart deal surround Ray Taffora, the GOP Attorney General’s former second in command, signing the agreement, as well as the need for the firm in the first place. When the case went to court, it was the Wisconsin Department of Justice which defended Walker and the GOP-run State Legislature’s passage of the law in violation of the open meetings rule, leaving critics to question why the $500,000 contract was needed if the Attorney General’s office was defending the law.
“This entire episode stinks and is another example of Gov. Walker and the Republican legislature caring about campaign donors and corporate special interests more than the people of Wisconsin,” said Ross. “The newly unemployed must not be as generous in campaign donations as Reince Priebus’s law firm.”