Free Tuesday Trends sample: Chinese relations rising, food stamp reform mixed and UW System falling

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RISING

Chinese relations: Gov. Scott Walker wraps up his first trade mission abroad by touting a series of developments in Wisconsin’s trade relationship with China — most importantly, the opening of a center dedicated entirely to the Badger State in Shanghai. Wisconsin Center China, Walker says, will enable the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to contract with trade representatives to provide market assessments, partner solutions and meeting facilities to bolster Wisconsin companies in the Middle Kingdom. Four agreements between Wisconsin and Chinese groups help mark the opening of the Wisconsin Center, including deals on animal feed products, ag equipment and advanced farm manager training, as well as for welding systems from Appleton-based Miller Electric. In addition, WEDC signs an agreement with the China GreenTech Initiative to be an adviser on clean water and power technology. Under a memo of understanding, the two will collaborate on solutions to the country’s environmental issues. Walker says those he’s talked to say Wisconsin’s aggressive effort in China over the last week has been unmatched by other states in recent memory.

MIXED

Food stamp reform: A Republican lawmaker’s effort to rein in the potential use of food stamp benefits — a frequent conservative punching bag — hits a snag amid protests from some business groups. The legislation would limit purchases made with food stamps to food with “significant nutritional value,” which some argue is a fairly straightforward attempt to stop abuse of the program with reports swirling that some participants are buying extravagant items and junk food. But concerns have been raised at each attempt to define “significant nutritional value” and how the regulations would be implemented. The Wisconsin Grocers Association worries about the amount of policing members would have to do. The potato growers worry it’d hurt them if the legislation would put potato chips on the banned list, while cranberry growers fear their juice would end up on the list as a sweetened drink. It all adds up to delaying a committee vote, through observers believe Assembly leaders are trying to find a way to make the bill work. Meanwhile, the Assembly hits the floor to approve a bill making it illegal to trade food stamps for anything of value.

FALLING

UW System: Officials with the University of Wisconsin roll out its budget proposals for the next two years under the governor’s recommended state budget, including tuition increases of 2 percent in each of the next two years. That would be down from the 5.5 percent hikes seen in recent years. But the proposal also falls on the same day as a review from the Legislature’s nonpartisan fiscal analysts showing the university has more than $1 billion in its reserves. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau document notes some of that money — such as federal funding and gifts to the system — has been earmarked for specific purposes, dropping the balance to $648.2 million. Still, the LFB memo notes the system had a $414.4 million surplus from tuition alone as of June 30. The disclosure draws outrage from top Republicans, who immediately call for a tuition freeze over the upcoming biennium. The UW System says it has always maintained a cash balance and stresses only $207 million of the more than $1 billion is uncommitted or unrestricted. GOP lawmakers maintain, however, that the surplus shows a “pattern of incompetence shown by university system administrators” — and put the funding and structural reforms proposed in the governor’s budget in jeopardy.