Monthly Archives: June 2013

Mary the Millionaire

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The Democrats think they may have found the perfect candidate to challenge Governor Scott Walker next year.  In fact, they’re so excited by the prospect, they’ve already registered 6 separate internet domain names and have poll tested messages to see if Jim Doyle’s former Commerce Secretary, Mary Burke will stand up to scrutiny.

The poll hit a snag when the questioner refused to tell a respondent who was paying for the call. State law requires political organizations to disclose who is sponsoring polling and advocacy phone calls.

The Republican Party of Wisconsin filed a complaint with the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board, and in doing so revealed what the Democrats perceive to be some of Mary Burke’s biggest vulnerabilities:

As part of the poll, several message testing questions were asked, including whether voters would be more or less likely to vote for Burke given the following information:

  • Mary Burke took a snowboarding sabbatical and avoided working during stretches of her life
  • Mary Burke spent six figures running for a school board seat, and could spend millions running for governor.
  • Mary Burke’s family business, and former employer, has outsourced jobs overseas

“The first impression of Mary Burke is that she is out of touch with Main Street Wisconsin and places herself above the law. Voters deserve better, and I trust that the Government Accountability Board will resolve this issue in a timely and efficient manner,” Fadness said.

We never trust the Government Accountability Board to do anything in a timely or efficient matter but hats off to the Wisconsin GOP for asking.

Back to the Middle-Ages

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Today we ponder the significance of President Obama’s travels, jetting off to Africa less than 24 hours after delivering the highly- touted speech about his plan to regulate the Earth’s climate.

Might he be seeking a glimpse of the future he envisions for America? After all, he will spend the next week on a continent typified by the kind of stunted economies found in nations where the government is contemptuous of the rule of law and the people can only dream of inexpensive energy.

In roughly 40 minutes yesterday at Georgetown University, President Obama avoided the increasingly laughable phrase “global warming” and unveiled his plan to have the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) restrict carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants. That means coal-fired plants, and possibly the natural gas-fired plants a lot of companies have built to escape the cost of Obama’s coal regulations. 60 percent of Wisconsin’s electricity and 40 percent of the nation’s comes from coal.

The object is the same as it’s been since Jim Doyle was fooling around with a state-level global warming task force: Use regulation to make fossil fuels too expensive and force people to use the even more expensive, heavily subsidized and thoroughly unreliable “green” wind and solar gizmos owned by Obama’s political allies.

In other words, get ready for energy supplies to become more and more dependent on the whims of the wind and sun. Some critics have accused Obama of thinking he was elected king. Maybe so; if nothing else, his energy policies seem designed to re-create the times when kings were in their heyday.

Political Science, 101

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If you follow the “global warming” issue, chances are you’re aware of a sharp partisan divide. Gallup polling consistently finds Democrats far likelier than Republicans to fear a man-made climate crisis.

We expect the divide to widen as our Beloved Leader rolls out endless streams of demonstrable lies to advance the climate regulation plan he announced yesterday. To prepare yourself, know this about current climate science:

  • There is no trend of increasing tornado numbers or severity.
  • There is no trend of increased hurricane numbers or strength; each day sets a new record for the longest period without a major U.S.-landfalling hurricane. The welcome hiatus could end anytime, but it’s now necessary to look back to the 19th century to find as long a period without a Category 3 or stronger hurricane striking the U.S.
  • Sea levels have risen gradually since the last ice age ended, but have slowed in recent years.
  • Human-induced carbon dioxide emissions climb steadily, yet global temperature averages have stayed flat for about 16 years.

Alarmist predictions of catastrophic human-induced warming are all based on computer modeling. In other words, they depend on computers spitting out results derived from suppositions fed into them by climate scientists who live off government grants that depend on “detecting” worrisome trends. For nine of the past 13 years, actual observed temperature averages have been lower than the lowest boundaries of the temperature range predicted by the models.

All of this might lead an objective observer to suspect the whole 25-year fracas has been more about politics than science. Remember those sanctimonious 1970s bumper stickers admonishing you to “Be nifty, drive 50?” Human-induced climate disaster is the same tiresome thing, from the same tiresome people, on a grand scale.

Building the Base

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It’s no secret that Democrats and the hard-core Left that’s taken complete control
of their party are busy all day, every day, identifying and building a communication network among potential supporters—the idea being to activate those people and get them to the polls on election day.

Everyone has the right to do that, and the good news is Republicans are getting into the game.
There’s been no broad-based statewide voter registration drive by the Republican Party of Wisconsin in more than ten years, believe it or not. Now, moving forward on the strong grassroots foundation laid by Governor Walker the past three years, the GOP this week announced a registration drive aimed at bringing more Republican voters to the polls.

Party volunteers will be working to reach an estimated 800,000 eligible but unregistered voters. A new web site also provides information on how to register and become part of the team.

The effort is timely as Wisconsin looks forward to being a critical battleground state for the foreseeable future. Democrats have said they intend to place operatives in all 72 counties. Republicans opened eight full-time field offices around the state in June.

GOP Executive Director Joe Fadness was quoted saying “It’s time to get back to neighbor-to-neighbor contact.” We couldn’t have said it better.

GOP leaders predict budget will help reverse sagging job numbers

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June 26, 2013 Wisconsin State Journal

Cutting income taxes and freezing property taxes will reverse Wisconsin’s flagging job creation numbers, the Republican leaders of the Legislature and its powerful budget committee predicted Tuesday.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Joint Finance Committee co-chairs Alberta Darling and John Nygren told the State Journal editorial board Tuesday that the $1 billion in proposed tax cuts over the next two years sends a message to businesses to create more jobs. Wisconsin currently ranks 44th in the nation in job creation, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

“We spent the first two years trying to get our budget in order,” said Vos, R-Rochester. “Next, we are at this budget, where I am proud of the fact that we had a very large tax cut that will impact almost every single taxpayer in Wisconsin who pays income taxes. In essence, we have a property tax freeze, with less than

1 percent (increase) statewide.”

At the same time, K-12 education funding is proposed to increase $100 per student in the first year of the 2013-15 budget and $150 per student in the second year. Gov. Scott Walker had proposed

keeping education funding flat.

The leaders also defended the insertion of policy items, such as reinstituting bail bonding in Wisconsin, in the two-year spending plan. That measure — tucked into the budget by the Joint Finance Committee during an all-night session — would let private companies post bail for defendants and arrest them if they skip court.

The system has been illegal in Wisconsin for 35 years — following kickbacks and bribery scandals — and the state’s law enforcement community — from Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen on down — opposes it.

“This is about, do you want to take a chance in returning corruption to our judicial system?” asked Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca, D-Kenosha.

Vos defended the measure, saying 46 other states have such a system and it would be “100 percent voluntary — no judges in Wisconsin have to use it.”

The top Assembly leader said he was proudest of the tax cuts in the budget awaiting Walker’s signature. State taxpayers earning $50,000 or less a year would get an average break of $45 a year while those earning between $100,000 and $150,000 would see a cut of $272 a year.

Darling, R-River Hills, said she has heard from business owners that “whether the tax cut is big enough or too small, it sends the right signal to job creators that Wisconsin is changing and you’re here to do more.”

But Barca said the measure would give poor people just a few extra dollars a month compared to an average $140-a-month cut for those earning $300,000 or more.

“Economists say all the time — if you want to stimulate the economy, give money to the middle class and those struggling to get into the middle class,” he said.

Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he also sees economic strengths that the job numbers don’t show. Both sales tax and income tax revenues are projected to increase by hundreds of millions of dollars over three years. “That really tells me … the economy of Wisconsin is expanding,” he said.

The four also defended tax cuts for parents sending children to private K-12 schools. Fitzgerald said the deduction — a maximum $600 on a $10,000-a-year private high school tuition — would boost the private school system in Wisconsin. He said such schools lift a “huge tax burden on the state” by educating thousands of students.

Barca responded: “A lot of public schools are on the bubble as to whether they’ll stay open. And you want to subsidize the private schools?”

Report: Property values dropped, taxes didn’t

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Local governments raised rates to maintain property tax revenue, Public Policy Forum says

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel June 25, 2013

Total property values in southeastern Wisconsin dropped 5% in 2012, but municipal and school district property tax levies did not follow suit, says a Public Policy Forum report to be released Wednesday.

As values declined for the fourth consecutive year, local governments and school districts boosted 2012 property tax rates an average of 6.3% to sustain levies for their 2013 budgets, the forum’s annual values and taxes report found.

Total levies from 2012 tax bills in the seven-county region increased 1% from the previous year, reversing a trend of slowing growth or decline in levies from the previous two years, said Rob Henken, president of the Milwaukee-based nonpartisan government watchdog group.

The report examines a standard component of budget-setting practices for school districts, cities, villages, towns and counties in Wisconsin: If property values decline, then the tax rate applied to each property must increase to yield an equal or greater amount of property tax revenue than the previous year.

As a consequence, a decrease in the assessed value of one’s home does not always translate into a lower tax bill, according to the report.

From 2011 tax bills to 2012, the forum found aggregate property tax levies — a combination of municipal, school district, technical college and county taxes — had increased in 101 of 147 communities in the region.

“Municipalities and school districts in Wisconsin are much more reliant on property taxes as a primary source of revenue than local governments in other states,” Henken said.

Such dependence shows the need for a greater diversity of revenue sources, he said.

Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, agreed that local governments in this state are more dependent on property taxes.

“In Wisconsin, the state government decides who gets to use what tax,” he said.

For municipalities, the only local option tax, other than a property tax, is a room tax on lodging, but not every community has hotels and motels, according to Berry. Use of room tax revenue is restricted and not authorized for general costs of government.

A sales tax is available to counties, and that rate is fixed by the state, Berry said.

Limits on levies

Other states provide local governments with more revenue options or directly fund more local services than Wisconsin, he said.

The 2011-’13 state biennial budget imposed levy limits, and the region’s total 2011 property tax levy dropped 0.3%, the first overall levy decrease in 10 years, according to the Public Policy Forum report.

This year’s 1% increase in the region’s total levy can be partially explained by relaxed limits on school districts for the 2012 levy.

Although districts were required to cut total revenue by 5.5% in the first year of the biennium, no additional cuts were imposed in the second year, and revenue was allowed to remain flat. For their levies to stay the same from one year to the next, tax rates had to be increased to offset declining property values.

The total school districts’ 2012 tax levy for the region increased 0.4%, one year after a 1.2% decrease.

Levy limits for municipalities and counties are tied to the value of new construction added each year to the property tax base. Those levies largely were held in check since there has been little building of new residences or commercial properties in much of the region.

Limits on levies are good news for property-tax payers, Henken said.

But the combination of levy limits and declining property values poses a challenge for local governments and school districts to maintain services in the face of steady cost increases, according to the report.

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has recommended creation of a state task force to propose strategies for reducing “the heavy reliance on property taxes to fund schools and local government services.”

In a regional housing study published this year, the commission suggests local dependence on the levy is one barrier to building more affordable workforce housing projects in the region.

One perspective expressed by municipal and school district officials is that higher-cost housing generates more tax revenue, so there is no incentive to set aside space for lower-cost housing in their communities, according to commission staff.

Tom Barrett, two Milwaukee officials seek two Scott Walker budget vetoes

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel June 26, 2013

In a pointed letter to Gov. Scott Walker, Mayor Tom Barrett and two top city officials say the city’s tax base, policy-making authority, public safety and improvements to infrastructure all have been under attack as a result of the state budget awaiting the governor’s signature.

“The full impact of the state budget that has been sent for your signature will reverberate across our community for years to come,” says the letter, which was sent to Walker on Tuesday.

“Despite statements to the contrary, many of the budget actions taken over the past few months reflect a lack of understanding or recognition of the role we can play in job creation and the state’s economic recovery.”

In an interview, Barrett said the budget bill affected not only the state’s largest city, but all of the state’s municipalities.

The letter, also signed by Common Council President Willie Hines and Ald. Michael Murphy, questioned the relationship between municipalities and state government.

“On the one hand, we are being asked to be increasingly self-reliant. On the other, we are being stripped of our ability to make decisions that reflect the priorities of our communities,” the three wrote.

Tom Evenson, a Walker spokesman, said in a statement that “Gov. Walker is evaluating the budget in its entirety. From tax relief to infrastructure improvements and increased school aid, all in all, the taxpayers of Milwaukee do exceptionally well in this budget.”

The city officials asked Walker to veto two provisions in the budget. One, first proposed by Walker, would end the city’s 75-year-old residency law and residency laws statewide for all local units of government. The residency provision would allow police officers, firefighters and other emergency personnel to live within 15 miles of the boundaries of the municipality they work in.

Barrett said ending residency was a “blatant usurpation of home rule.”

Barrett also asked Walker to veto a provision involving billboards.

The budget bill changes the way billboards are classified for tax purposes. Milwaukee currently assesses billboards as real property parcels and includes the value of the permit, which allows billboard companies to operate them legally.

The net effect of the change in the budget bill is that billboards would be classified as personal property. That means, according to Barrett, that assessments of billboards in Milwaukee alone will drop from $76 million to $6.6 million.

“We share your goal to lower the tax burden throughout the state, but this provision will only reduce the tax burden for companies that are primarily based out-of-state while raising property taxes for Milwaukee-based businesses and homeowners,” Barrett said.

State budget action could propel Teach for America’s growth

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$1 million in new funding will help alternative teacher preparation program expand

June 26, 2013 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

When Kiesha Johnnies said goodbye to her kindergarten students on the last day of school this month, it marked the end of her two-year Teach for America commitment at a north side charter school.

But it won’t be Johnnies’ last day in the classroom — the 24-year-old plans to pursue a career in education and hopes to one day work as a leader in Milwaukee schools.

Now, a state budget provision just approved by the Legislature could help fast track Johnnies to that goal, and another could bring a new stream of state funding to the organization — both moves that have drawn the ire of some local education leaders.

The high-flying but controversial alternative teacher preparation program has also renewed and expanded its contract with Milwaukee Public Schools, despite some hesitation by School Board members who raised concerns about the commitment and effectiveness of the two-year teachers.

Teach For America just completed its fourth school year in Milwaukee. It sent 50 new teachers to schools across the city this year, a number that will grow to 70 next year.

In part, that expansion will be aided by a budget provision giving the organization $1 million of state funding over the next two years. That funding will mark the first state investment in the program since it began operating in Milwaukee.

Maurice Thomas, executive director of TFA-Milwaukee, said the funds will increase TFA’s ability to recruit, select and train new teachers to be placed in public, charter and voucher schools across the city. Thomas also said the organization plans to match every dollar of state investment with two dollars from the private sector.

Critics of the program, and the program’s receiving money, point out that TFA puts recent college graduates in front of some of the city’s toughest classrooms after only a five-week summer training course. They also point out that many leave teaching after their two-year commitment.

Nationally, 60% of TFA graduates continue on in education in some form, either through policy or management or teaching. In Milwaukee, that number is slightly higher, with 63% of the local TFA teachers through 2012 staying involved in education, either in Wisconsin or other states.

Other studies have shown that, on a national level, only a small portion of TFA teachers remain teaching in their initial placement school. Only about 15% remain after five years.

Milwaukee Teachers’ Education Association union President Bob Peterson said he disagrees with the budget provision that would send $1 million to TFA over the next two years.

“Wisconsin taxpayers should not have to subsidize a national organization with net assets of over $350 million that is essentially a job training program for privileged college students mostly from out of state,” he said.

School boards across the state could find better uses for $1 million, Peterson added.

MPS Chief Human Capital Resources Officer Karen Jackson said the district looks forward to a continued partnership with TFA, and that the organization provides valuable services to local schools.

“The group serves a threefold function for MPS: It provides certified teachers in schools that are hard to staff; it provides specialists in hard-to-fill areas such as special education, bilingual, math and science; and it adds to the diversity of our workforce,” she said.

Becoming a principal

Another budget provision allows TFA teachers, who teach under emergency credentials while working toward their teaching licenses, to count their two years with the organization toward the three-year teaching requirement necessary to qualify for an administrator’s license.

An administrator’s license is required for any individual serving as a principal in Wisconsin.

Without the change, TFA teachers needed to teach for five years — two with TFA that don’t count, and then three that do — before meeting the requirements to become a certified principal.

Thomas said he is pleased with the proposal, adding that he believes it could motivate some additional Milwaukee corps members to stay involved in education when they otherwise may not have.

Peterson said the proposal does not serve students well and is insulting to current administrators.

TFA recently finalized a new contract with Milwaukee Public Schools that would allow up to 50 TFA teachers to work within the district. Last year, 10 TFA teachers worked in MPS. This year, TFA is expecting to place between 30 and 40 teachers in the district depending on the final hiring needs, according to TFA spokeswoman Jackie Primeau.

During the May 30 Milwaukee School Board debate on the contract, concerns about the organization were raised by board member Tatiana Joseph, who serves the city’s 6th District.

“To me (a two year teaching agreement) doesn’t speak to commitment, to me that speaks to ‘I didn’t get into law school, I didn’t get into med school, I need to do something, kind of like Peace Corps, volunteer work, and then apply again,’” Joseph said.

MPS Superintendent Gregory Thornton countered Joseph, saying TFA teachers provide valuable support within the district.

“These individuals go places where we can’t get teachers,” he said. “These folks fill holes that substitutes typically fill every day. We’ve had situations where youngsters have had three or four subs throughout the school year (with) none of the subs being certified in the subject area.”

The contract was approved for one year and also contains options for two additional one-year terms.

Johnnies, who taught at the Milwaukee Math and Science Academy and is pursuing a master’s degree in urban education at Cardinal Stritch University, said she would have pursued the leadership track, with or without the budget change, and had positive views of the organization and the people it introduces into education in Milwaukee.

“I think that Teach For America brings in individuals who already have something stored in them and want to do something about it within education,” she said.

J.B. Van Hollen calls on Scott Walker to veto bail bonds budget item

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He also opposes changes GOP lawmakers made to DNA legislation

June 25, 2013 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Madison — Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen joined other law enforcement officials Monday in calling on Gov. Scott Walker to veto a budget provision that would allow those accused of crimes to post bail through commercial bondsmen and let bounty hunters track down those who don’t show up for court.

“I’m opposed to it, always have been,” Van Hollen said in an interview. “If it’s not broken, why are we passing legislation to fix it?”

Van Hollen — like Walker, a Republican — said he also opposes changes GOP lawmakers made to a plan to take DNA from those accused of felonies when they are arrested, rather than when they are convicted.

With the legislators’ changes, DNA could be taken at arrest but couldn’t be analyzed in most cases until a judge found there was probable cause to suspect the defendants committed crimes. That would create difficulties for law enforcement officials as they try to determine when samples can be analyzed, Van Hollen said.

Van Hollen talked to Walker about the provision Monday but said he did not know what the governor would do. Walker has broad powers to veto provisions of the budget and has said he will issue any vetoes by Sunday.

A spokesman for Walker declined to say how the governor would act on those issues.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said he had not heard from Van Hollen about his concerns during the budget process.

“Considering the fact that it’s a Monday, it sounds like he’s attempting to play Monday morning quarterback,” Vos said of Van Hollen. “To now engage only at the end is disappointing.”

Until Monday, Van Hollen had repeatedly refrained from publicly saying whether he supported the bail bond proposal, which the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee tucked into the budget earlier this month.

Judges, clerks of courts, sheriffs and others in the legal community have nearly universally opposed the plan. A few, such as Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr., have spoken in favor of commercial bail bonds.

For more than three decades, defendants in Wisconsin have had to post their full bail to get out of jail while awaiting trial. Under the budget provision, they could pay a fee of up to 10% of their bail amount to a company that would promise to pay counties the full amount if defendants didn’t show up for court.

The bail bondsmen would have arrest powers to track down those who abscond.

The system would be in effect in five counties — Dane, Kenosha, Milwaukee, Racine and Waukesha. After five years, the system would automatically expand statewide.

Current system backed

Van Hollen said the current system works well and he is concerned about letting offenders get out of jail more easily by having them post one-tenth as much bail as they do now. What’s more, the courts and victims could lose out on millions of dollars a year, he said.

Now, when defendants meet the terms of their bail but are convicted, their bail money first goes to pay court costs and victim restitution. That totaled $9.5 million in 2012, according to court records.

“It’s money in the hand that doesn’t have to be collected,” Van Hollen said.

Under a commercial bail bond system, counties would have to seek money from those who are found guilty to pay court costs and restitution. That can be time consuming and yield unsatisfactory results, according to opponents of commercial bail bond.

Supporters of the budget provision say they believe more defendants will show up for court, making the court system more efficient. They note the purpose of bail is to ensure people do that, not to set aside money to run the courts.

Two years ago, lawmakers put a similar bail bonds provision in the state budget. Walker vetoed the measure then, writing that he agreed with the idea but felt there had not been “sufficient time to properly evaluate the proposal and to plan for appropriate regulation of this industry.”

DNA changes

As for the DNA-collection issue, Van Hollen and Walker had put together a plan that would allow law enforcement to take DNA from felony suspects when they are arrested, rather than when they are convicted, as now occurs.

Some legislators opposed the idea of collecting DNA from those who haven’t been found guilty of a crime, let alone charged. They changed the proposal to say the DNA samples could not be forwarded to the state Department of Justice or analyzed unless: the arrest was made with a warrant; a judge had determined there was probable cause to believe the suspect had committed a felony; or the defendant had waived or failed to show up for the initial appearance or preliminary examination.

Samples that had not been forwarded to DOJ within a year would have to be destroyed. Vos said the changes added due process protections that are in the mainstream.

Van Hollen said he and his staff had spent a long time on the plan, only to see legislators modify it during an overnight committee meeting. The result “left some holes in the program,” he said.

He said the adjustments by lawmakers had created potential problems for police, who would have to determine when each DNA sample could be sent to the state for analysis.

“It adds to the confusion,” Van Hollen said. “It certainly doesn’t add to the protections.”

Lawmakers made their changes less than 48 hours after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that Maryland’s system of taking DNA at arrest passed constitutional muster. Van Hollen said he was confident his proposal also was constitutional.

Gov. Scott Walker wants most state workers to get 1% yearly pay raise

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Milwaukee Journal Sentinel June 26, 2013

A general wage increase proposed by Gov. Scott Walker would be the first in four years for most rank-and-file employees and the first in five years for most managers, according to the administration.

The pay raise would cost more than $140 million over two years and apply to most state workers, including employees at University of Wisconsin System campuses. Employees making less than $15 an hour would see an additional increase of up to 25 cents an hour.

Walker’s Office of State Employment Relations released the plan to lawmakers Tuesday. It is to go before the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Employment Relations on Wednesday. If that committee approves the plan, no further action is needed.

The first set of raises would take effect Sunday and show up on employees’ paychecks at the end of July.

Elected officials would get the same pay bumps as typical state employees, but not until after the November 2014 elections. The raises would boost lawmakers’ salaries from $49,943 to $50,950 and the governor’s salary from $144,423 to $147,328.

Funding for the plan is included in the state budget now before Walker. He is expected to sign the budget by Monday, when the new fiscal year begins.

Through mid-2015, the raises and benefits changes would cost $142.6 million, with $65 million of that coming from state taxpayers, according to letters to lawmakers from Gregory Gracz, director of the employment relations office. The rest would come from the federal government, revenue from fees and other sources.

Some employees will fall under different pay plans. For instance, assistant district attorneys will receive a different set of automatic raises under a program that lawmakers incorporated into the state budget.