Thursday May 23, 2019

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Boards & Commissions: Opportunities to Serve

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 28 November 2018
in Wisconsin

wisc-elections-commThere are many opportunities for Wisconsinites to serve our great state through the various boards, commissions, and councils. Here is how you can apply.


MADISON - “I’m retired and I want to stay that way,” the gentleman told our Senate Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism Committee. “But I am looking for opportunities to give back to our state.”

This gentleman was one of many who crossed my path over the past twelve years. His nomination to a council came before our committee prior to confirmation by the full Senate.

Wisconsin is a state of many opportunities for citizens to serve in appointed boards, councils and commissions. These positions are mostly volunteer, although some offer reimbursement for related expenses. This type of service provides citizens the opportunity to share their experience and expertise in a statewide leadership role.

The gentleman I quoted was nominated by the Governor to serve on the Snowmobile Recreation Council. He and his family had a long history of participating in local snowmobile recreation. He wanted to share not just his wealth of knowledge, but also his incredible passion and dedication to making Wisconsin’s snowmobiling the best in the country.

snowmobilesThe Snowmobiling Recreation Council is just one of over 180 different boards, commissions and councils on which Wisconsinites may serve. Understanding these various service opportunities is an exercise in understanding state government itself.

The 2015-16 State of Wisconsin Blue Book provides a detailed overview of the state government’s structure. The state has 17 departments. Each department, from Administration to Veterans Affairs, is headed by a secretary appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. Citizens serve on boards, commissions or councils to provide guidance to many of these departments. For example, eleven people make up the Board of Veterans Affairs.

State government also includes ten independent executive branch agencies. These entities include the University of Wisconsin and the Technical College Systems, the Public Service Commission (which oversees utility regulation) and the Commissioner of Insurance. Most of these agencies are directed by citizen-controlled part-time boards and commissions.

Most boards and commissions have requirements potential candidates must meet, ranging from professional experience to geography. For example, at least five members of the 15-member Snowmobile Recreational Council must be from the state’s northern region.

Licensure and regulation of many occupations is overseen by an associated state board. These board members, from architects to veterinarians, are professionals who give their own time to ensure professional quality, which helps protect Wisconsin citizens. Several professional boards include public members. For example, the Marriage and Family Therapy, Professional Counselling and Social Work Examining Board includes three public members in its 13-member Board.

Authorities are an odd creation of the State Legislature that are intended to be both financially self-sufficient and an organization of the state. The UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority is perhaps the most well-known example of a state authority. This Authority operates the UW Hospitals and Clinics, including the American Family Children’s Hospital. The authority is composed of a 16-member board, six of whom are citizens appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Another example is the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. It is not a corporation – despite its name – but a state authority. However, WEDC is not at all self-sufficient, instead relying almost entirely on funding from the state budget.

While most Senators take seriously their role of confirming the governor’s appointees, the Senate Majority Leader failed to bring some 150 gubernatorial appointments to the Senate for confirmation this year. The Senate Leader was quoted saying he may bring these appointments forward for a full Senate vote in a possible Extraordinary Session before year’s end. No word yet on when this session may take place or what else may be a part of the calendar.

kathleen-vinehoutOver my tenure in the State Senate, I am often asked, “how will you fix our state’s problems?” No one single person can address the breadth of issues and details needed to resolve the challenges facing Wisconsin. The wisdom we need is found in the genius of the people of our state.

If you are interested in serving the following website provides information about and application for the various boards, commissions and councils: https://walker.wi.gov/apply-to-serve. As we transition to Governor Evers’ Administration, the website will change.

Wise leaders before us created the boards, commissions and councils that play a very integral role in carrying out the people’s business. Consider how you might give back to our great state by sharing your time, talents and wisdom.

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Preserving Our Hunting Heritage

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 21 November 2018
in Wisconsin

deer-huntingSen Kathleen Vinehout writes about deer hunting and rules related to CWD. Hunters are encouraged to have their harvested deer tested for the disease.


ALMA, WI - Opening weekend of gun deer season, conditions were nearly perfect. The weather was cool, but not too cold. The sun came out and warmed us. A light dusting of snow made it easy to see critters’ tracks from the night before.

I saw nine deer opening morning. What an abundance!

By 7:30 a.m., my hunting partner Lisa and I bagged deer. Lisa shot a nice six-point buck and me a tender doe. My husband will be happy with new meat in the freezer. I recalled my husband said we served up the final helpings of last year’s stash of venison.

Time for the sportswoman of the family to deliver. No pressure there.

hunters-deerIn my family, the woman brings home the harvest. The guys package it and eventually fry it up in the pan. Both my husband and son are awesome cooks.

Out on a nearly perfect Monday morning. Deer were again grazing on our organic alfalfa fields. The weather was cloudy and mild. No new snow, but predicted snow fall was showing up on the radar.

“I got out there and it was just beautiful,” Lisa said. “Suddenly, it was like a blanket came over the area. Humid but chilly. Then sleety stuff started falling.” In just a few moments, conditions totally changed.

Change happens. All around us. All the time. A skilled outdoors woman interprets the signs nature provides. Just like being mindful of the signs of nature, there are signs of change in our state Capitol that hunters should heed.

“We have a problem. A big problem. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a sister to BSE or “mad cow” disease, is threatening our deer and elk,” wrote the Alliance for Public Wildlife, over a year ago. “Without immediate action, we are heading for worst case outcomes that include severe population impacts, extinctions, crashing economies, and, although unlikely, potential transfers of CWD to people.”

CWD is spread through animals’ body fluids. The disease can be spread from animal to animal or through a contaminated environment. Wild animals can contract the disease from captive animals kept on deer farms. They could also contract the disease when landowners set up baiting and feeding stations on private lands.

While landowners are restricted to two gallons of bait or feed per 40 acres, too often landowners violate the law. For example, in my neighborhood, rumors swirl about out-of-the-area landowners baiting deer with hundreds of pounds of shelled corn. For years, every deer we harvested on our farm had a belly full of corn even though we don’t grow corn.

In response to the problem of CWD positive deer, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) banned any baiting and feeding in 43 of 72 counties. This summer, the DNR wanted to go further, requiring increased fencing at deer farms and restricting movement of deer carcasses unless the meat was sent for CWD testing, deboned and quartered, or taken to a licensed processor within three days of moving out of the county in which the deer was shot.

kathleenvinehoutThe rules were approved by the DNR board and sent to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. The Committee approved the rule on fencing. However, just weeks before the opening of gun season, the Committee stopped the plan to restrict the movement of harvested deer meat.

Hunters are encouraged to submit their deer for testing. CWD testing collection sites are operating around the state including new sites in Buffalo County.

To fund these sites, and dozens of other programs protecting wildlife, the DNR uses money from fees and licenses. A recent study by the Wisconsin Policy Forum (formerly the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance) reported nearly 9 of every 10 dollars of the fish and wildlife budget comes from fees for licenses and federal excise taxes paid by sporting women and men. Total deer hunting licenses dropped almost 6% over the past 18 years. With a shrinking population of hunters, heavy reliance on fees and deep budget cuts, the DNR eliminated important positions.

Passing the abundance we have on to the coming generations is a desire I share with many folks. To accomplish this goal means paying attention to the health of our wildlife and to the health of the funds that support wildlife management and staff.

Wishing all of you a Happy Thanksgiving and a safe and successful hunt.

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Citizens Vote to Raise Property Taxes to Pay for Schools

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 14 November 2018
in Wisconsin

teaching-studentsA historic amount of school referenda passed in last week’s election to meet the challenges school districts face with increasing student needs without adequate state revenue.


MADISON - A little-told story from the recent election is the change happening across Wisconsin as citizens voted to increase their property taxes to pay for local schools.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2018 was another record year for school districts to pass referenda. State law imposes caps on school spending, so voters must approve referenda to exceed their spending limits to fund property tax increases for their local schools.

According to the Department of Public Instruction, citizens approved at least $1.3 billion more for schools across Wisconsin in last Tuesday’s election. These decisions by local voters will result in higher property taxes in the coming years.

school-closedWhy did so many citizens vote to increase their taxes to pay for schools? Programs cut, new fees, fewer opportunities for students and delayed maintenance are all examples of why voters chose to increase property taxes.

Recent numbers from Kids Forward, a nonprofit children’s advocacy organization, explained in stark detail why voters across the state chose to help schools by paying more in the least-favorite type of tax: property tax.

Kids Forward reported between 2012 and 2019, Wisconsin will spend a cumulative $3.5 billion less in state aid to schools than if the state had stayed at the 2011 funding level.

This decline in state spending is the result of a series of decisions over the past eight years, including a dramatic increase in taxpayer subsidies to private schools.

While many schools face less state aid, local costs are going up. Teachers are leaving. Schools have new expenses, like improving student safety and replacing outdated technology. This means budgets today are very different than ten years ago.

Further, changes in student needs are occurring at a rapid pace in our state. Communities have more students in poverty, students with special needs, English-language learners, and students experiencing trauma and suffering from mental illness.

State spending for schools has failed to keep up with increased needs for students facing special challenges. For example, the state funds only 26 cents on the dollar for special education needs. But federal law requires all special education needs be met. As a result, general education money is used for students with special needs. This forces schools to divert money from all students to pay for the increased special education needs.

At a public hearing this past summer for the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, Peter Goff, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the UW-Madison described the situation. “Huge chunks [of general education money] are getting torn off to pay for these special education mandates – that is the state’s responsibility but [the state] is not paying for it.”

kathleen-vinehoutSpecial education is not the only area of growing need where state spending has failed to keep up.

“In 1990, the reimbursement rate for [English-language learners] was 63%,” said Julie Seefeldt, Director of the English-language Learners Program at Green Bay told the Committee. “The current reimbursement rate…is at approximately 7.9%.”

Historically, Wisconsin had one of the best public education systems in the country. Together, Act 10 and the budget cuts had a devastating effect on the quality of public education in Wisconsin. Teachers left the profession. College enrollment in teacher education programs dropped precipitously. School districts are finding it increasingly more difficult to hire qualified teachers to fill vacancies.

In an attempt to fix the problems they created, the Governor and Republican legislators enacted the lowest teaching standards for any state in the country during the 2015 State Budget.

Voters told leaders they want students to thrive. Citizens are even willing to increase their own property taxes.

Reversing the downward spiral of the last eight years will take a concerted, bipartisan effort, but clearly this is the will of many voters. Citizen’s votes reflect their values: high quality schools in all parts of the state. Voters know the future of our children depends on our actions.

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Menominee Nation Honored for Assisting Victims of Peshtigo Fire

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 07 November 2018
in Wisconsin

menominee-nation-nowNovember is National Native American Heritage Month, and we remember the service and sacrifice of the Menominee Nation for their history of helping victims of the Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871.


MADISON - On October 8, 1871, an intense firestorm roared through the village of Peshtigo, Wisconsin and the surrounding area. The Great Peshtigo Fire burned parts of northeastern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan on the same night as the Chicago Fire, however there are little similarities between the two fires.

The prolonged drought and extreme summer heat made conditions in the region tinder dry. Combine that with the 50 miles an hour winds that whipped the area, it was perfect conditions for a firestorm.

Flames from the Peshtigo Fire reached a thousand feet into the sky. The intense heat melted the church bell, turned sand into glass, and caused trees to literally explode into flames. The fire burned a total of 2400 square miles, which is larger than the state of Delaware.

Peshtigo FireWhile 250 people lost their lives in the Chicago Fire, the Peshtigo Fire took the lives of an estimated 1,500 people. Some reports note it is possible as many as 2,500 souls perished. The Peshtigo Fire remains the most costly in loss of life in American history.

That fateful autumn, Menominee tribal members knew the forest was too dry. Back in the spring, the Menominee worried they would not have enough food for the winter. Elders warned the settlers large fires were on the way, but few paid attention to the words of the Natives.

One settler, named Abraham Price, defied convention. He married a Menominee women, Elizabeth. They had one son, Henry. He built a trading business in a Menominee village. Even though some of his white neighbors looked down on him, Abraham was considered a “substantial citizen” owning 800 acres of land. The tribe and his family worked closely, with Mr. Price respecting Menominee knowledge.

Mr. Price took great care to heed the Elders’ warnings of possible large fires. He and his extended tribal family prepared for the risk of fire by plowing large circles of land around their home to form a barrier between it and the forest.

As the firestorm approached, Mr. Price and his extended family protected their house by covering the roof with water-soaked burlap bags and blankets. One of the tribal members pumped water steadily for nine hours showing “an endurance possessed by very few white men.”

When the Great Fire receded, only one building was left standing – the home and trading post of Abraham Price and his Menominee extended family.

That lone-standing building became the center of recovery efforts. Mr. Price and the surviving members of the Menominee Nation welcomed other survivors regardless of their race. His home became a field hospital and the tribe provided emergency care for victims. Later, the home became the survivors’ protection for the fast-approaching winter.

The history of the tribe assisting the victims of the Great Peshtigo Fire has largely gone unrecognized. However, in October, the city of Peshtigo recognized the Tribe.

kathleen-vinehoutAt a recent public hearing of the Legislature’s State Tribal Relations Committee, our Chairman, Representative Jeffrey Mursau, presented long-neglected honors to Tribal Lawmaker Representative Gary Beesaw.

In accepting the recognition, former Tribal Chairman Beesaw said, “We are all related… all tribes understand there are the four colors of [peoples] in our prayers – red, yellow, white, and black. We are all related. When we say our prayers and when we have our ceremonies, we pray for all of us because it is important that we do that. The Creator loves all of us, so we do that. Sometimes it seems like we have disagreements politically, and those pale compared to something like this that speaks of what really is important.”

Every November, we celebrate National Native American Heritage Month. We remember and celebrate the achievement and contributions of our Native people. We remember our ancestors who benefited from the kindness and service of our Native Heroes.

We also celebrate the work of Tribal members today. These Native Heroes work tirelessly to create communities of support. We are deeply grateful for our Native Tribal members who teach children Native languages and culture, serve our veterans (who are disproportionately from Native Tribes), care for our Elders and those suffering from addiction and mental illness. And we owe profound gratitude for Tribal members work tirelessly to protect Mother Earth and all its riches.

We are blessed by their service and sacrifice.

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Ed Wall: Scott Walker Lacks Ethics

Posted by Ed Wall
Ed Wall
Ed Wall was a 32-year career public safety professional who served as the Admini
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on Friday, 02 November 2018
in Wisconsin

scott-walker-photo-jeramey-jannene-2018-02-09Former Walker Cabinet insider reveals how the Governor’s lack of ethics and continued efforts to conceal the operations of government from public view stopped him and others from providing the best, cost effective services to Wisconsin's citizens.


MADISON - In Wisconsin, a litany of stubborn facts is helping define the race for governor between Scott Walker and the state’s school superintendent, Tony Evers. As a life-long conservative, I once thought Walker was the answer. However, after serving in his cabinet as Secretary of the Department of Corrections, the state’s largest cabinet agency with more than 10,000 employees and a $2.5 billion budget, I was taught an invaluable lesson on ethics, and how the lack of them impacts government operations.

As a career law enforcement officer and public servant, the driving force behind my personal beliefs revolved around integrity; doing the right thing, at the right time and for the right reason. That core belief would unfortunately run afoul of Walker’s political ambitions and his administration’s continued efforts to conceal the operations of government from public view.

This propensity to avoid the law and accountability became so clear that four cabinet secretaries who were appointed by Walker felt compelled to publicly call out his unethical actions. Let that sink in for a moment. Not one, not two or three, but four cabinet secretaries, or one third of his cabinet, who were chosen by Walker because of their skills and abilities. It was ethics, not partisan motivation, that drove us to step forward to let the public know that the polished politician they were watching in countless TV ads was actually a charlatan with only one motive: get reelected at any cost.

In the perfect world, government should be concerned with providing the best, cost effective services for its citizens. As leaders, we should be asking how can we do this better, not who did you vote for. Walker demonstrated time and again that the only thing he wanted from his cabinet secretaries were devoted admirers and cheer leaders. He had no use for leaders who might have ideas that would improve educational services, address transportation issues, create accountability or protect families. What we found instead was that if your considered and educated opinions ran afoul of his political talking points, your future in the cabinet was going to be short lived.

Walker stated publicly when pressed by the media about his cabinet secretaries coming out against him that he “didn’t want yes men” in his cabinet and welcomed differing opinions. Really? His words contradict a demonstrated proclivity to shun anyone who might actually have considered opinions with facts to support their positions. Walker expects the public to believe that his secretaries, who took the unprecedented step of coming forward to denounce him, were “yes men”. That’s interesting since he is now on his third corrections secretary in less than two years. Is that because the previous secretaries agreed with how he was running government operations? No. We separately came to the realization that we could not serve a governor whose indifference to ethical behavior and responsible government was so evident.

boy-in-docWhen I became aware of the allegations of youth prisoners being potentially abused by state employees at the state’s juvenile correction institution, I immediately notified Walker and called in the state Department of Justice and Attorney General Brad Schimel. The allegations were not something that could be ignored and demanded the most robust response possible. Unfortunately, that would not be the position of Walker or Schimel.

Schimel’s anemic response to the crisis was to assign a single special agent to investigate the case on a part time basis for many months, while refusing to share information with the Department of Corrections on their progress. Simultaneously, the governor and his staff refused to push for resolution, as they seemed more annoyed with the problem because the story was constantly in the news as Walker floundered in his presidential bid. It was not until just before leaving my cabinet position that I learned Walker had been warned about the Lincoln Hills issues by a judge 10 months before I was even appointed. The governor just never thought that was something I should know about. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that Walker and Schimel had conspired to bury the investigation for political reasons.

Walker’s administration maintained a manic obsession with not creating or maintaining records. Instead, they worked hard to manipulate the open records laws in their favor. For example, at the height of the Lincoln Hills affair, after Walker had ignored our pleas for help for nearly a year, Walker’s chief of staff called and advised that he was going to draft a letter to me, instructing me to take actions to address the Lincoln Hills issues. My staff and I were dumbfounded. This was the administration that had done everything possible to avoid getting involved with the Lincoln Hills issues. He was going to now write me a letter that would undoubtedly try to look like the governor’s office was galloping in to take control of the situation that they went out of their way to avoid.

ed-wallThe chief of staff asked me to come to the capitol to help draft the letter he was going to send me, because we could not create an email trail to show the absurdity of the exercise.

Ultimately the letter was drafted and the chief of staff advised he would email it to me, explaining that it would then be creating a record that he could release promptly to the press demonstrating the governor’s leadership on this critical issue. He then instructed that I should draft a response letter outlining what we had done to respond to the governor’s instructions. When I had the draft completed, I was to call him on his personal phone and read it to him. When it was approved, I would then send it by email to create another record the governor’s office would promptly release, demonstrating his command of the situation.

All of this from the governor who refused to even visit a prison during his eight years in office. He said that he “saw no use in it” and “those people will only show you what hey want you to see”. He saw “no use” in learning more about the largest cabinet agency operations. He time and again demonstrated his disregard for “those people” that were state employees, who he went to war against eight years before with his divisive Act 10 legislation that dismembered state employee representation.

You see, Scott Walker was always more interested in visiting businesses and entities that might donate to his campaigns, rather than the backbone of state government service. If you had a checkbook, you had Scott Walker’s attention. If you had integrity, honest desire to improve government operations or ideas that were supported by studies and evidence, you were “those people”.

Perhaps never in the history of our state have four former cabinet secretaries come forward to call attention to unscrupulous and deceitful actions by a governor, let alone endorse his opponent from a different political party than we had all associated ourselves with. Each of us joined the Walker administration because we believed he wanted to do what was best for Wisconsin. What we found was a purely political machine that looked at the governor’s office as simply a springboard to higher office beyond the state’s borders. Ultimately, Scott Walker’s hubris and lack of a moral compass are what has defined him and inspired those he chose to lead the state’s most critical agencies to step forward and declare that the emperor has no clothes.

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Sen. Vinehout: What Does Foxconn Mean to Me?

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 31 October 2018
in Wisconsin

foxconn-wisconsin-plantThe commitment of millions of dollars to Foxconn will impact budget priorities and decisions going forward for many years. So much state funding Foxconn will limit funding for other priorities such as K-12 education and transportation – priorities that are vital to a strong Wisconsin economy.


MADISON - “Hard to wrap my head around,” the woman shared as she considered Foxconn. Just what do big budget decisions mean to us?

Work has begun on crafting the next state budget. Over the next few months, this work will continue in earnest. One hefty unbudgeted expense added to upcoming budget math is a large taxpayer funded payment to a foreign corporation.

Foxconn is the Taiwanese company building a manufacturing plant in southeast Wisconsin. To lure the company to our state, majority lawmakers and the governor created the largest state corporate give-away in American history.

The first big Foxconn payment, nearly $470 million, will come out of our next two-year budget. There is no pot of money set aside for this payment. Budget writers are faced with three choices: increase borrowing, increase taxes, or take money from other parts of state government.

school-bus-kidsWhen you consider the trade-offs lawmakers must make in the next budget, it is helpful to think of our tax dollars (mostly income and sales tax) like a checking account that pays for five big items. About eighty-five percent of our general fund money goes to pay for health care, K-12 education, colleges and universities, corrections and local government. Money for roads and bridges are in a separate fund.

All five areas of these areas are challenged; by chronic underfunding, growing caseloads, rising social problems (like drug addiction) and shifting demographics (for example, an aging population).

What kind of budget trade-offs must be made by budget writers to absorb the new money commitments made to Foxconn? Let’s start with the largest part of the general fund: K-12 education.

Our children’s education makes up about a third of the general fund spending. This includes the private subsidies known as vouchers. While public spending for private schools has grown dramatically, overall education revenue as a percent of our budget has steadily dropped. Over the past 15 years or so, Wisconsin moved from spending a little more than forty percent to spending less than a third of our general fund on schools.

Reviewing work by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), one can easily see that money to public schools has still not been fully restored from the deep cuts in state aid made in the governor’s first budgets.

Looking forward to the next eight years, Wisconsin is committed to sending over two billion dollars to Foxconn. To give some context to these payments, consider this – the estimated payments to Foxconn for five of the next eight years is larger than the largest funding increase to public schools in any of the last eight years.

road-potholesRepairing roads and bridges are another priority returning lawmakers must consider. Many suggest a nickel increase (about 16%) in the gas tax to keep road funds balanced. Number crunching by the LFB put this request in context. The LFB calculated that to pay for Foxconn over the next six years, Wisconsin would need to increase the gas tax by over thirty percent.

That’s without putting another dime of the new gas tax money into roads, bridges, harbors or rail, which are vital investments to a thriving Wisconsin economy.

We cannot spend money twice. Once state leaders prioritize a project like Foxconn, they limit other priorities, such as schools and roads.

kathleen-vinehoutOnce state leaders started down the road of cash payments to corporations, they find it difficult to stop. Just a few weeks ago, our Senate Majority Leader announced a Special Senate Session to consider another large corporate subsidy to the Kimberly Clark Corporation. The decision to pass this corporate subsidy by majority Senators would further limit budget options for future leaders.

Budgets reflect our values and priorities. They set our choices and chart our state’s course well into the future.

The budget is the one bill the governor writes. Deliberations on the governor’s budget is the first significant job of any lawmaker in a new session. We don’t often think of the importance of budget actions, but it is THE most impactful legislative decision affecting our communities.

Citizens would be wise to consider how future leaders will make decisions on state priorities. Get involved. And, remember to vote!

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We Can Win this Election on Healthcare

Posted by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Robert Kraig is Executive Director, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, 221 S. 2nd St.,
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on Saturday, 27 October 2018
in Wisconsin

hcsignmattMILWAUKEE, WI - I am absolutely thrilled with the direction of this election!

At Citizen Action we made a strategic judgement years ago that if we organized to elevate the issue of pre-existing condition discrimination, health care would be a decisive election issue.

Now years of organizing is paying huge political dividends. Here we are in the home stretch of the critical 2018 election, and pre-existing condition discrimination is the driving issue in the Senate and Governor’s races.

Right Wing politicians are in panic mode. Leah Vukmir shockingly claimed in her debate with Tammy Baldwin this week that pre-existing condition discrimination is a “big lie” that never happened. Scott Walker is taking on water on this issue, despite his best efforts to mislead the public record of health care sabotage.

We have them on the run, but we need to keep the pressure on through election day!

I hope I can count on you to make an immediate donation to Citizen Action so we have the resources to tell as many voters as possible that conservative politicians will make pre-existing discrimination legal again.

As I wrote in a strategic memo almost 3 years ago about a term invented by insurance bureaucrats to obscure the truth: What is absolutely astounding about pre-existing conditions is that this seemingly innocuous term seems to be known by virtually every adult.. . . . The idea of someone being denied or thrown off health insurance because they have a medical condition strikes a deep emotional chord in American culture, and seems deeply immoral to most people.”

The new Marquette Law School poll released on Wednesday backs us up on this. It shows a stunning 93% of likely Wisconsin voters think pre-existing condition discrimination is an important issue heading into the election.

No wonder Scott Walker, Leah Vukmir, and all the right-wing Legislators who are locked in tight re-election fights, are terrified.

If you agree with me that pre-existing condition discrimination can help us bring down Scott Walker and hLeah Vukmir, and shift control of the Legislature, please chip in whatever can to support our work.

In Peace & Solidarity,

Dr. Robert Kraig

Executive Director

P.S. We are also building support or constructive solutions to the health care cost crisis. We are the driving force behind the BadgerCare Public Option bill, which Tony Evers strongly supports. The BadgerCare Public Option is a big stepping stone towards the ultimate solution, Medicare for All.

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Democratic Radio "Preparing to Vote"

Posted by Mark Miller, State Senator 16th District
Mark Miller, State Senator 16th District
Mark F. Miller (D-Monona) is serving his third term in the Wisconsin Senate. He
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on Thursday, 25 October 2018
in Wisconsin

voterid_handSen. Mark Miller gives you important information on where and how to vote in the Fall General Election on Tuesday, November 6th.


MADISON, WI – Senator Mark Miller (D-Monona) offered the weekly Democratic radio address today.

The audio file of this week’s address can be found here.

A written transcript of the address is below:

mark-miller

“Hello, this is Senator Mark Miller with this week’s Democratic Radio Address.

“The Fall General Election is less than two weeks away, on Tuesday, November 6th. With all of the changes to election law that Republicans have made in the last 7 years, it is important to be aware of how, when and what you’ll need to vote.

“First, make sure you are registered. You can check myvote.wi.gov to see if you’re currently registered, if not, you can register at your local clerk’s office during business hours or at your polling place on Election Day.

“Additionally, absentee ballots are currently available statewide and many municipalities also offer in-person absentee voting at local clerk’s offices. Online, you can search for your polling place, see what’s on the next ballot or learn more about absentee voting. Find this information at myvote.wi.gov.

“To make sure you have the proper ID needed to vote head to bringitwisconsin.com. If you need a free ID to vote, take proof of identity, proof of residency, proof of citizenship and social security card to your DMV. This information can be found online at bringitwisconsin.com.

“The polls are open from 7:00am to 8:00pm on Tuesday, November 6th, 2018. For any other questions, the Wisconsin Elections Commission can be contacted at 608-266-8005.

“Voting is your constitutional right. Make a plan to exercise that right on Tuesday, November 6th.”

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WEDC: Facts Don’t Jive with Rhetoric

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 24 October 2018
in Wisconsin

walkerA public letter shared this week from three of Gov. Walker’s former Secretaries, including former Secretary/CEO of WEDC Paul Jadin, reports serious problems in the structure and management of WEDC, only adding to the concerns raised by other former Walker administration officials.


MADISON, WI - What happens to state money given to companies to create jobs? Do the jobs get created? How do we ensure the money is not misspent?

These questions came to mind as I recently communicated to a constituent who feared state economic development money was being misused. I encouraged, among other actions, a call to the Legislative Audit Bureau’s Fraud, Waste and Mismanagement Hotline (877-372-8317).

Hopefully, the case is now under investigation.

About the same time, former Secretary/CEO Paul Jadin came under reproach by the governor for his handling of the state’s economic development organization the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

Mr. Jadin recently made news by joining two other former Secretaries from the Walker Administration who shared in a public letter their disapproval of the governor’s actions.

Such public disapproval is uncommon. According to a Wisconsin Journal Sentinel story, UW Political Science Professor Barry Burden called this action “unprecedented”.

executive-moneyThe Governor’s spokesperson, quoting 2013 findings by the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB), seemed to blame the problems on Mr. Jadin’s mismanagement. The State Journal article quoted the spokesperson saying, “WEDC has grown by leaps and bounds in success after moving on from the days of Paul Jadin’s management. … [WEDC is] the linchpin to huge wins and good paying jobs in the Wisconsin Comeback, including bringing Amazon, Haribo and Foxconn.”

The facts however don’t support this rhetoric. WEDC’s lack of compliance with state law has a legacy as long as the agency itself and continued long after Secretary/CEO Jadin left in 2012.

Just one year ago, I wrote in my column, “WEDC admits they are not following the law.”

At a public hearing of the Joint Committee on Audit, current WEDC Secretary/CEO Mark Hogan stated, “We have not been able to verify the jobs” even though state law requires WEDC to verify a company actually created jobs before the company keeps cash payments or tax credits.

Back in October 2012, I wrote, “State law is very clear. WEDC must collect information on the results of job creation or the lack thereof…. We need to know who received what money and what they are doing with the money.”

By 2017, I did not trust that WEDC followed the LAB recommendations to set up policies that would bring them into compliance with state law. This distrust was well founded.

kathleen-vinehoutAfter four nonpartisan audits over six years, we still cannot answer the questions I raised about state money used for job creation. WEDC is still under scrutiny by the LAB. A new audit is likely to be released in the spring of 2019.

WEDC was created to be the state’s lead economic development organization, however it is not a state agency. It is funded primarily with state funds and has awarded hundreds of millions in loans, grants and tax credits. WEDC is outside the normal rubric of state government which created many problems, resulted in federal penalties, and produced a lack of transparency for lawmakers and the public.

Partly because of this opaque structure, lawmakers have not gotten answers to the most basic questions about state funds used for job creation. Nonpartisan audits provide one of the few windows into what is actually happening with state money. The facts show, for many years, auditors could not corroborate job creation success in numbers used by the governor’s office and WEDC’s own publications.

The three Secretaries who disapproved of the governor’s actions shared insight gained from experience in their open letter to the public, “Governor Walker has consistently eschewed sound management practices in favor of schemes or cover-up and has routinely put his future ahead of the state. The result is micromanagement, manipulation and mischief. … It’s time to build a more open and transparent government to ensure the integrity of our public agencies and institutions.”

The Secretary’s letter did not include specific details about the problems which lead them to share their disapproval. But we do know WEDC’s top official publicly refused to follow the law after a long history of detailed, audit work showing noncompliance. This should give taxpayers no confidence that the public’s interest was followed.

The former Walker Administration officials remind us of the importance of having transparent structures and continued public scrutiny. That is how government functions in the public’s best interest.

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Laura Kiefert: End false political advertising

Posted by Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Laura Kiefert lives in Howard and is a Partner in the Green Bay Progressive. Mem
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on Tuesday, 23 October 2018
in Wisconsin

attack-ad-eversThe worst are funded by political action committees like Restoration PAC and Americas PAC, along with out-of-state special interest Koch brothers groups. We need to support campaign finance regulations that ensure truth.


GREEN BAY, WI - Once again, we are being bombarded with negative political ads, often filled with half-truths and outright lies. I am disgusted by the attack ads being levied this year against gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers and Senate candidate Tammy Baldwin.

laura-kiefertThe most egregious ads are funded by political action committees like Restoration PAC and Americas PAC, along with out-of-state special interest Koch brothers groups. They have spent millions on negative false advertisements designed to promote their conservative agendas. Their philosophy that "the end justifies the means" continues to threaten, and possibly destroy, our democracy.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin allows a candidate to petition donors asking them to contribute unlimited money to a third-party group that can then spend anonymously on the candidate’s behalf. This allows the candidates like Scott Walker and Leah Vukmir to trash their opponents without being held personally responsible for the content of the ad.

We need to overturn Citizens United and be smart about what we see and hear, be vigilant in researching outrageous claims in these ads and demand candidates promote themselves and their values and only compare themselves to opponents with fairness and facts.

Media outlets need to be more concerned about content and truth than their profit and apply the same rules and regulations requiring honesty and factual proof of claims to political ads that is required for brand advertising.

Finally, elected officials need to clean this mess up. Wisconsinites need to support campaign finance regulations that ensure truth, transparency and integrity in all advertising.

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Getting Ready to Vote

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Wednesday, 17 October 2018
in Wisconsin

voteEvery Wisconsin citizen needs to know what steps they must take to vote and their voting location, so Sen. Vinehout writes about the process of voter registrations and voter ID to help people prepare for the November 6th election.


MADISON, WI - “I talked with a group of women in Galesville,” my friend Mary Lee told me. “They were full of questions about the election, like when is it, where do I vote, how do I find out if I’m registered?” Mary is one of many folks helping to make sure people know and when to vote.

She told the women the election is November 6th. She also told them to check their registration and voting location at www.MyVote.wi.gov.

Wisconsin laws regarding elections have changed. For example, changes were made to absentee voting. Our state also has some of the strictest voter identification laws in the country. However, court decisions did require some changes to that law. To make sure you are up to date on requirements, visit the Wisconsin Election Commission at www.elections.wi.gov.

The Wisconsin Election Commission has a wealth of information about voting. If you don’t use the Internet, you can reach the Election Commission by phone at 1-866-Vote-Wis. You can also reach out to your municipal or county clerk.

uw-mdsn-studentsMark Koehler, a student at UW-Madison, is helping new voters register on campus. “The endless questions I’ve been asked about registering show how difficult the process of voting has become in Wisconsin,” he shared with me.

You can register in-person at your municipal clerk’s office up until Friday, November 2nd. You can also register at the polls on Election Day. When registering you must bring a Proof of Residence documentation that includes your current name and current address, such as a lease or electric bill. Wisconsin law requires you to reside at your current address for at least 10 days prior to the election. Temporary absence from your current address does not affect residency as long as you intend to return.

When you vote, you must bring an approved photo ID. Acceptable photo IDs include a driver’s license or state-issued ID card. You can use a driver license or state ID card receipt for those whose license is revoked or suspended. A valid Veterans Affairs ID, U.S. Passport, Military ID, Tribal ID, Certificate of Naturalization are all acceptable.

If you don’t have a photo ID, you can get one for free at a Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. The Elections Commission website outlines what documents you need to bring such as a birth certificate and proof of current residence. Under the ID Petition Process, the DMV will provide a document with your photo which can be used for voting. If the election is soon, the DMV will send your photo ID by overnight delivery.

voter-idStudents can use a student ID for voting, but you must also have enrollment verification. A student ID is only valid for voting if the expiration date is not more than 2 years from the date the card was issued. Different colleges approach ID cards in different ways which makes it difficult for student to know exactly what IDs are acceptable.

I unfortunately hear from some folks who believe their vote doesn’t matter.

Many races in Wisconsin are very close. For example, in 2010, I won my State Senate race by one vote per ward. Without my presence in the State Senate, there would not have been 14 Senators who left Wisconsin to slow down the passage of Act 10. Just a vote per ward in western Wisconsin changed our history.

As a result of Act 10, and the budget that followed, public schools suffered historic cuts. According to a study by the non-partisan Wisconsin Budget Project, legislative leaders still haven’t fully restored state aid to public schools.

Perhaps this is why school referenda are on the rise. According to the recent issue of the Wisconsin Taxpayer, voters will decide on more than one-billion in new taxes to pay for schools in November. If approved, 2018 could be the highest year on record for referenda to increase property taxes.

State and local races have a real impact on our lives. Who becomes our Governor, who has majority control of the Legislature determines what priorities move forward. These decisions affect our local communities.

“Despite these [voting] obstacles,” Mr. Koehler wrote, “it is as important as ever to make sure people use their voice and strongly encourage one another to register, make a plan, and get to the polls on November 6th.

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Protecting Our Great Lakes

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Wednesday, 10 October 2018
in Wisconsin

lake-michigan-shoreThe collaborative work of eight states and two Canadian provinces, members of the Great Lakes Compact, protects and enhances the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world despite the potential challenge of large water withdrawals by Foxconn and other businesses in Wisconsin.


MADISON - Our Great Lakes hold twenty-one percent of all the world’s fresh surface water. Wisconsin has over 1,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline. More than half our population lies within its watershed. The Lakes provide us with many opportunities for recreation, commerce, transportation, and immeasurable occasions to enjoy their immense beauty.

Folks are worried about protecting our Great Lakes. Particularly when the state rushed through, about a year ago, a very large corporate subsidy to a Taiwanese company. David Hon of Eau Claire was one of many who wrote, “The environmental exemptions proposed are unfair to the companies that have had to struggle through permitting for good reason. … [Environmental protections] are there to protect what little is left of natural resources in that part of the state. I’m concerned the Great Lakes Compact would be substantially violated.”

The Great Lakes Compact protects our Great Lakes. This agreement between the states and Canadian provinces that border the Great Lakes is enshrined in law.

Wisconsin recently celebrated the tenth anniversary of the signing of this law.

door-countyAcross the world, citizens worry about where their water will come from and how it will be kept clean. Fear that others would look to divert the water from the Great Lakes, inspired leaders to collaborate to protect our region’s incredible water resource. Leaders of areas bordering the Great Lakes formed an agreement between eight states and two Canadian provinces

The anniversary of the Great Lakes Compact is a great opportunity to remember why this arrangement exists and how we all benefit. It also reminds us of the challenges we face while protecting our Great Lakes.

According to Bridge a publication of the Center for Michigan, the Great Lakes Compact was forged over five years. The Compact was approved by all eight states bordering the Great Lakes. The Wisconsin State Senate took up the Compact on May 15, 2008. I recall, as a rookie Senator, reading the 250-page bill. Next to the state budget, the Compact was one the most complex pieces of legislation I voted on. The Compact was signed into law by President Bush on October 3, 2008.

The Great Lakes Compact was not limited to just protecting what we have, but it was also designed to improve the Lakes. This work is accomplished through Wisconsin’s Great Lakes Strategy and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. According to the Great Lakes Commission, more than $330 million was invested for more than 400 protection and restoration projects in Wisconsin.

A new report coordinated by the University of Michigan and a host of economists and others showed that every dollar invested in the Great Lakes Initiative project produced $3.35 of additional economic activity.

milwaukeeThe benefits come back to us in many ways, including recreation, tourism, and commercial navigation. Study authors pointed to an “emergence of a new type of tourism focused on kayaking, kitesurfing and paddle-boarding; improved quality of life, as indicated by a willingness to pay more for housing in coastal areas; and increases in the number of young people who are choosing to stay in or relocate to Great Lakes communities.”

Among many parts of that 250-page bill, the Compact stops new or increased diversions of water from outside of the Great Lakes watershed. One exception is for communities where part of the community is inside the Great Lakes basin. These communities are known to “straddle” the watershed border.

The Foxconn deal challenges this agreement.

Almost ten years to the day of Compact’s passage in Wisconsin, environmental groups filed a formal legal challenge that Wisconsin violated the requirements of the Compact with the Foxconn deal. In addition to this challenge, both New York and Illinois raised questions about the nearly 6 million gallons a day that Foxconn is expected to withdraw from Lake Michigan.

Our Great Lakes Compact is “regarded as one of the most significant public water policy achievements in the world,” author Peter Annin recently told Bridge. “You wouldn’t even be grappling with these questions [of Foxconn] if you didn’t have the Compact.”

Congratulations to all those who worked on the Compact in 2008, including the DNR, advocacy groups, lawmakers, and Governor Doyle. Join me in learning more by reading Mr. Annin’s book, “The Great Water Wars.”

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Andy Gronik Supports Local Candidates

Posted by Andy Gronik, Former Candidate for Wisconsin Governor
Andy Gronik, Former Candidate for Wisconsin Governor
Andy Gronik, Former Candidate for Wisconsin Governor has not set their biography
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on Friday, 05 October 2018
in Wisconsin

andy-gronikAvoid Gov. Scott Walker and Attorney General Brad Schimel's sleight-of-hand politics. Gabriel Gomez, Shyla Deacon, Julie Henszey, Kriss Marion, Dan Kohl and Erica Flynn want to get back to representing YOU.


MILWAUKEE, WI - The political season is in full on misdirection with Governor Scott Walker and Attorney General Brad Schimel competing to be the next sleight-of-hand winner on America’s Got Talent.  Walker’s trick is convincing Wisconsinites he cares about preexisting conditions while suing to declare Obamacare unconstitutional, while Schimel’s trick is convincing women he cares about sexual assault while thousands of rape kits sat on the shelf untested until Josh Kaul forced the issue.  Let's get back to being Wisconsin by voting for Tony Evers for Governor and Josh Kaul for Attorney General on November 6th.

We have lots of other great candidates on the ballot that I hope you will take a few minutes to get to know, including: 1) Gabriel Gomez, 2) Shyla Deacon, 3) Julie Henszey, 4) Kriss Marion, 5) Dan Kohl and 6) Erica Flynn.  These people want to get back to representing YOU.

gabriel-gomezGabriel Gomez for Wisconsin State Assembly District 21

I first met Gabriel to brainstorm about a process to assist Milwaukee residents in preparing for successful job interviews.  Gabriel’s life experience includes his family fleeing the military dictatorship in Argentina when he was a child; living in Israel and working on a kubutz; being issued a gas mask to protect against the possible deployment of chemical weapons; moving with his parents to Texas; and enlisting in the Marine Corps Reserve.  Gabriel and his family moved to Milwaukee for a job opportunity with Badger Meter.  A graduate of the UW-Milwaukee Executive MBA program, Gabriel was motivated to run for office because he recognizes the need for real economic development that will help families working 2 and 3 jobs and still struggling to get by.  He will advocate for common-sense gun laws that reduce gun violence and for public education that gives all children the tools to succeed.  Please join me in supporting Gabriel Gomez by donating to his campaign, voting for him on November 6th, and asking all your friends to do the same.

shyla-deaconShyla Deacon for Milwaukee Public Schools Board of Directors, District 1

With four beautiful children of her own, Shyla is dialed into the educational needs of all children attending MPS, but especially tuned into the unique challenges faced by children of color.  Shyla is currently a Wisconsin Impact Partner for Children’s Mental Health, Board Member and Policy Council Chair for Next Door Foundation, and a member of the Early Education Task Force for the City of Milwaukee. With a Bachelor’s degree in Educational Policy & Community Studies and a Master’s degree in Cultural Foundations of Education, Shyla is an informed and activated leader who understands the importance of early childhood education, the unique social and emotional needs of children attending MPS, and the necessity to strengthen the academic performance of neighborhood schools.  Shyla is uniquely qualified to serve and will be an informed seat at the table. Please join me in supporting Shyla Deacon for MPS Board of Directors by donating to her campaign, voting for her on November 6th, and asking all your friends to do the same.

julie-henszeyJulie Henszey for Wisconsin State Senate District 5

Julie is an endurance athlete with the strength of conviction to push her way up the mountain to help so many Wisconsin residents faced with adversity.  She entered this race to fight for every voice in Wisconsin and to embrace the diversity that strengthens our state.  Julie is a Fulbright Scholar who has mopped floors, tended soybean fields, worked on a factory assembly line and run her own small business.  When we first met, I was impressed with Julie’s passion and crystal-clear brand of candor.  She’s a smart and inclusive leader who recognizes what healthy and growing small businesses mean to Wisconsin’s economy.  She stands for a strong system of public education and a clean environment.  Please join me in supporting Julie Henszey for State Senate by donating to her campaign, voting for her on November 6th, and asking all your friends to do the same.

kriss-marionKriss Marion for Wisconsin State Senate District 17

If you want to experience “dynamic,” just attend any event where Kriss is in the room – her passion for everything is inescapable.  She’s passionate about small towns (she’s from one), family farms (she farms one), main streets (she’s an entrepreneur) and Wisconsin’s natural resources (she wants everyone to enjoy them).  A member of the Lafayette County Board, Kriss is committed to reducing suicide among farmers and boosting local economies.  She co-sponsored the “Cookie Bill” which (finally) allows home bakers and budding entrepreneurs, to make some money to help make ends meet.  When I met Kriss I instantly wanted to support her passion to make living in Wisconsin better for everyone, and you will too. Please join me in supporting Kriss Marion for State Senate by donating to her campaign, voting for her on November 6th, and asking all your friends to do the same.

dan-kohlDan Kohl for U.S. Congress in Wisconsin’s 6thDistrict

Dan Kohl is a strong and smart leader who believes country comes before party and the needs of people come before politics.  Dan’s not a politician; he is not accepting PAC money; he’s pledged to term limits if elected; and he will fight for mandatory term limits to end the trend of career politicians.  Dan will work across the aisle to find essential solutions to the healthcare crisis that has put people throughout Wisconsin at risk of losing their lives or life savings. He’ll be an independent voice fighting for people and not lobbyists.  Please join me in supporting Dan Kohl for U.S. Congress by donating to his campaign, voting for him on November 6th, and asking all your friends to do the same.

erica-flynnErica Flynn is running for Wisconsin State Assembly District 84

Erica Flynn is as real and genuine as people get.  A first-time candidate, Erica was compelled to run for office because she is determined to help put an end to today’s destructive politics.  Her compassion for people is informed by the sacrifice of her single father who worked nights so his adopted daughter had what she needed to thrive.  Having been diagnosed with pneumonia 50 times, Erica knows the importance of having a healthcare system that works for everyone and brings the experience of having worked in the health insurance and financial technologies industries.  Erica has her Bachelor’s degree in International Studies, has lived in China and still studies Mandarin.   Please join me in supporting Erica Flynn for State Assembly by donating to her campaign, voting for her on November 6th, and asking all your friends to do the same.

It's time to get back to a Wisconsin That Works for everyone!  Together, we'll make that happen.

Let's get it started,

Andy Gronik, Former Candidate for Wisconsin Governor

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Legislative Audit Bureau: The Sentinels of State Government

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Wednesday, 03 October 2018
in Wisconsin

wisc-capitol-domeWe acknowledge the exceptional work of the award-winning Legislative Audit Bureau, which is critical to oversight of state government.


MADISON - “As Governor, I would get rid of the programs that don’t work and fund the ones that do,” said a candidate at a forum last summer. I am sure people thought just how would you know that?

Many folks think someone is paying attention to details of state government, but they don’t really know. The way we can know is to study the work of the state auditors. The Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) helps answer questions about the effectiveness and efficiencies of state government.

Recently, the work of the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau was given the highest possible rating by the National State Auditors Association. An independent, external review team, which included auditors from other states and the federal government, traveled to Wisconsin and spent a week reviewing the work of the LAB.

For fifty-three years, the LAB has assisted legislators, agency directors and the people of Wisconsin in answering questions about how money is spent and how programs are managed. The auditors’ work provides answers to questions such as, did the program meet its goals, did the program follow state law, and how was the money spent?

kathleen-vinehoutLong before I became a Senator, I assumed that someone was paying attention to all the different functions of state government. As a Senator and member of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, I understand the critical role of the LAB in assisting the Legislature with oversight. With a state government of dozens of agencies, hundreds of funds and thousands of programs, the 86 authorized employees of the Audit Bureau have a massive task.

Audits of state government, conducted by the LAB, are approved by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee which is made up of legislators from both sides of the aisle and both houses. The Co-chairs are always of the Majority Party and they determine which audits come to the committee for approval. Auditors depend on lawmakers to attend the hearings, read the audits ahead of time and ask questions. They also depend on lawmakers to share the findings with the public and involve the public and their colleagues in a discussion about solutions to the findings in the audit. To maintain the integrity of the LAB and its work, state law forbids lawmakers from interfering in the audit process.

The LAB also maintains a state hotline on waste, mismanagement and abuse that has some of the strongest whistle-blower protections in state law. That protection provides confidence for those who come forward to help the LAB know where to find problems that need to be remedied.

Audit findings are always accompanied by recommendations to address the problems found during the audit process. Frequently these findings are related to compliance with state law. It is up to the Joint Audit Committee to make sure the agencies follow the LAB recommendations. This work can be much harder than you might think.

For example, the law requires the state’s economic development organization validate that any company receiving money for creating jobs actually creates the jobs. A series of audits detailed that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) was not following the law. When lawmakers insisted WEDC follow the law, the agency director pompously retorted, “We are not in the business of validating jobs.”

A few years ago, after the release of an economic development audit that detailed continued problems, two lawmakers called for the elimination of the LAB. These lawmakers, who called for the demise of the LAB, showed staggering ignorance in the vital functions auditors perform.

Without the LAB’s work, our state would not be able to conduct business with the federal government due to requirements for a review. Nearly thirty percent of Wisconsin’s $76 billion-dollar budget is federal money. Without the work of the Audit Bureau our state could not borrow money or, in state terms, issue bonds. Our state has about $14 billion dollars in bonds (debt).

The LAB staff are the sentinels of state government. They point the way to problems, offer recommendations to solve those problems, and give the “all-clear” that everything is working well.

The staff at the LAB is doing a very difficult job in a way that absolutely deserves recognition. For their exceptional work, we all offer heart-felt congratulations and appreciation.

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Potato Disease, the UW and the Wisconsin Idea

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Wednesday, 26 September 2018
in Wisconsin

potato-farmerRecent cuts to the UW have affected it’s role in supporting our potato industry, and to retain world class researchers and crucial grant funds for important initiatives like the Wisconsin Seed Potato Program.


MADISON, WI - Late blight is a devastating potato and tomato disease that spreads quickly in late summer. It can wipe out a crop in just a few days. This disease caused the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s which led to the starvation or relocation of millions of Irish, including my ancestors.

Blight happens when it’s humid and muggy. The disease spreads very fast. Spores can move 40 miles a day. There are 30,000 spores in a patch the size of a dime. Because the devastating disease can “scale up quickly,” state laws exist for its control.

Wisconsin is home to 63,000 acres of potatoes. Our state is ranked third nationwide in potato production. For over one hundred years, the University of Wisconsin has helped potato farmers work with the weather, disease and new varieties of potatoes.

“The work of the University of Wisconsin is incredibly important,” an Antigo grower told the Senate Agriculture Committee last year. They have “the best potato research team in America.”

While explaining the relationship between the UW and the potato growers, one of the growers said, “the UW grows baby potatoes, they test chemicals, they give us advice on the mix we give the co-ops.” The UW potato research team is critical to the success of Wisconsin potato growers. “We pay the UW Inspection Crew to look at our fields.” The team created a “blight forecasting tool” that helps growers predict when plants are most at risk for blight.

Alex Crockford, a former Langlade County Ag Agent explained to the committee how roughly 9,000 acres of seed potatoes come from the Wisconsin seed potato certification program. “They go to the south, they go internationally. We [UW] are recognized as a national leader in quality and research.” The state farm in Rhinelander is the source of most of the seed potatoes in Wisconsin. “Here, we’ve been able to create very clean potatoes.”

Controlling disease begins with clean seed and a clean field. The UW is also one of the biggest seed potato growers in the United States. The program began in 1912.

This was the same year Charles McCarthy, the head of the Legislative Reference Library, wrote a book entitled, The Wisconsin Idea.

UW’s assistance to potato growers is a shining example of the Wisconsin Idea. The Idea’s guiding principle is for Wisconsin’s public universities and state government to serve the people using the best ideas of the entire nation. The knowledge and work of the university should be spread across the entire state for the benefit of its citizens.

The Antigo farmer explained to our committee that the Co-Director of the Seed Potato program recently left Wisconsin. The University of Idaho offered her a $50,000 raise to bring her knowledge and her research to the Potato State.

kathleen-vinehoutThis loss had a devastating effect on potato growers and led some to worry about the state’s commitment to the critical programs.

Unfortunately, the loss of the Director of the Seed Potato Program is not the only loss to the UW.

“We lost some of our best people,” UW Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank told Jon Marcus of The Atlantic last year. “It is our very best faculty that get outside offers. If you’re looking at research dollars, those are the people who are bringing in millions in research funding. And the people you replace them with bring in much less. So those retention issues have a real impact.”

According to Marcus, the UW calculated nearly $8 million in research dollars left the university in just one year, when faculty left and took their research projects with them to other universities.

The exodus of the potato researcher and other key faculty are related to the deep budget cuts, changes in tenure, shared governance and threats to undermine the mission of the UW system.

As soon as other universities got wind of troubles they looked up faculty rosters and started making calls. “We called UW faculty,” my son’s Department Chair told me at his recent department graduation gathering. “We knew they were some of the best.”

The potato growers would agree. Our UW faculty are well worth our collective efforts to keep them here in Wisconsin.

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Tribes and Lawmakers Meet to Resolve Issues

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Wednesday, 19 September 2018
in Wisconsin

tribal-courtsSen. Kathleen Vinehout explores the issues facing Wisconsin’s eleven sovereign tribes, like Tribal courts, voter ID and educating our children about the importance of State Tribal relations.


MADISON - “Can you fix Syria?” a woman asked me. “No,” I said as I shook my head. “Syria is a bit above my pay-grade. My international work [as State Senator] is limited to work with our Native Tribes.”

Native Tribes are sovereign nations.

Tribes have their own government including legislatures and courts. Many federal laws and treaties govern Wisconsin Tribes. But so do our state laws.

The delicate intersection between Wisconsin Tribes and the State of Wisconsin is the purview of the Special Committee on State-Tribal Relations.

Recently the State Tribal Relations Committee convened in the Capitol. This committee is one of the most unique in all of the Legislature. It consists of leaders of all of Wisconsin’s eleven tribal nations and a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers.

The Tribal Leaders are so much a part of the committee that the Chair in our recent meeting referred to long-time Menominee Tribal Chair and current Tribal Legislator, Mr. Gary Besaw, as “Representative” Besaw.

kathleen-vinehout“I’ve lived here long enough to be part of the Legislature,” smiled Mr. Besaw. The Chair of our committee apologized for an easily-made mistake.

Tribal leaders work directly with lawmakers and Legislative Council attorneys to craft laws that affect the tribe. Like lawmakers, they propose legislation, review bill drafts and ask for research from our attorneys.

The meeting began with an overview of past legislative successes. Last year, lawmakers passed a new law to allow tribal identification cards to be used for various purposes when state law requires an ID card. Most importantly, the cards can be used for proof of residence for voting.

Frequently lawmakers pass laws that may benefit Tribal Nations but forget to include the proper language in the law. One such oversight was remedied by allowing Tribal Nations to seek state grants for alternatives to prison. Many of our local courts started alternatives to prison programs for those suffering from addiction and/or mental illness. These treatment courts are effective at helping folks stay clean and avoid prison.

Another successful law passed in 2017 was Act 352. This law stiffens penalties for individuals who threaten or cause bodily harm to tribal judges, prosecutors and police officers – just as their non-native counterparts in our local courts.

Tribal judges from Oneida and Lac Courte Oreilles, a Menominee attorney and Tribal Representative, Gary Besaw testified asking for an expansion of the law protecting those who work in our tribal courts.

The judges mentioned several stories about court officers threatened or killed by unhappy defendants or family members. The discussion around expanding the protection of court officers provided us “non-native” members a glimpse into how tribal courts are different from “western” courts.

“In traditional tribal courts, we often teach our own traditions,” explained one of the judges. Tribal Elders can provide testimony. There’s a “Counsel of Grandmothers” the court calls on for advice. As non-natives, we think of court as adversarial. But the tribal judges explained that court proceedings can be healing for family members.

Resolving differences between tribal law and Wisconsin law is why the committee exists. But committee work is much broader. At its heart, the committee exists to promote positive relations between our state and the eleven sovereign Tribal Nations.

An act to teach students about these relations came up as a topic before our committee. Known by its legal name, Act 31, the law set requirements for schools. Tribal leaders asked for changes in this nearly thirty-year-old law. Mr. Besaw shared challenges faced by his daughter who felt isolated after a classroom discussion about ancestry and the lack of understanding of the history of Native peoples.

The committee grappled with how to create a 21st century education system so all students are welcome and prepared to live and work in our diverse state.

The issues aren’t quickly resolved, but having a space for the discussion begins the process. As a longtime member of the Committee, and currently it’s Vice Chair, I find this committee’s work most cordial and refreshingly bipartisan.

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Speed and Secrecy in Lawmaking

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Wednesday, 12 September 2018
in Wisconsin

wisconsin_senateThe tactics used by Majority Party leadership to rush bills through the Legislature sacrificed public input and prevented thoughtful debate in the lawmaking process.


MADISON - “The length of time bills were deliberated [in the Wisconsin Legislature] dropped significantly soon after Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators took control in 2011,” wrote investigative reporter Teodor Teofilov.

In the Governor’s first two years in office, average deliberation time of a bill was 119 days, compared to a 20 year average of 164 days. For comparison, during the 1997-98 session under Governor Thompson, it took an average of 227 days for a bill to move from introduction to becoming law.

The new study is a project of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The center sought to answer the question Is Wisconsin’s democracy declining? Former Capitol reporter Dee J. Hall is Managing Director of the Center.

“I noticed that some bills in the Legislature sprang up with little or no warning and were quickly approved, giving the public and opposing parties little chance to influence the course of the legislation,” wrote Ms. Hall.

Examining the public’s opportunity for input in crafting new laws was a measure of democratic involvement in the process. The longer a bill takes to become law, the more opportunities for members of the press to report on, and for the public to influence the proposal. Investigators examined the process and followed more than 3,500 bills over the past 20 years. They used the 48-days from introduction to enactment for the Foxconn corporate subsidy as a benchmark for fast-tracked legislation.

Since 2011, more bills were fast-tracked, and it was changes in the legislative process that led to quick movement of bills.

Small but significant changes take place in the function of committees that limit public involvement. Changes like shortening the length of notice before a public hearing; providing a public notice on one version of a bill and then offering a complete rewrite shortly before the public hearing; time limits for those testifying; limiting questions from committee members; allowing invited testimony only in a public hearing or voting on a bill immediately following the public testimony.

While many of these techniques were used before, there was in 2011 there was a dramatic increase in the frequency of these methods.

Inadequate notice of public hearings often means only those groups with a full-time lobbyist in Madison are able to testify. Short notice makes it difficult for committee members to understand the details and consequences of proposed legislation. Limiting testimony stifles thorough discussion. Information gathered during a public hearing can be skewed by inviting only those in favor of legislation; or by limiting the input of those opposed.

kathleen-vinehoutI remember well the public hearing on a bill to limit local people’s voices in sand mine operations. Many people traveled by bus from western Wisconsin to testify before the Senate mining committee. The first six hours of the testimony came from those who benefited from the legislation – none of whom lived near a mine. When the committee chair finally called those opposed to the bill, which was the majority of people at the hearing, it was very late in the afternoon. Folks who made the trek to Madison had to catch their bus home before they could testify.

The data from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism study certainly supports my experience as a Senator. In the 2009-10 session, when Democrats controlled both houses and the governorship, bills that became law took an average of 159 days to do so, spending an average of 91 days in the Senate. Thirty-nine bills (9.6%) qualified as “fast-tracked” by investigators’ definition.

For comparison, 2011-12, when the GOP had complete control, bills that became law spent an average of 57 days in the Senate, 119 days to move through the entire process and 74 bills (over 25%) were fast-tracked. This is the fastest average of any legislative session in twenty years.

Speed and secrecy are the exact opposite of what’s necessary for a successful democracy.

Alexandra Petri, a newspaper columnist and daughter of former Congressman Tom Petri, captured perfectly how the legislative process should work. She wrote, “Bills ought to be passed with deliberation by committees. Change should be achieved in a bipartisan manner. Incrementally, day by day, we should reach a consensus – not perfect, by any means – but something that we can be proud of nonetheless.”

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Governor Walker’s Foxconn Bait-and-Switch

Posted by Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30 has not set their biography yet
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on Saturday, 08 September 2018
in Wisconsin

foxconn-groundbreakAs Foxconn pulls the classic bait-and-switch on jobs and commitment to Wisconsin, the people are stuck with a  deal that will cost everyone for 25 more years. Is Walker's big deal turning into just another empty election year promise?


GREEN BAY, WI - Since Governor Walker’s initial announcement of the Foxconn deal he has been promising it will create 13,000 jobs.

But anyone who remembers his promise back in 2010 to create 250,000 jobs during his first term in office knows to take such promises with a large grain of salt.

The same day that Walker made his promise of 13,000 new jobs, Foxconn’s owner Terry Gau would only commit to creating 3,000 jobs and even President Trump said 3,000 jobs would be initially created.

Since that time the Foxconn project has been a moving target with Foxconn officials recently admitting that they now plan to build a much smaller plant less than half the size of the original and one that will require far fewer workers.

That number is likely to become even smaller now that Foxconn admitted what many of us already said would happen: that most of the assembly and production jobs will not be done by people. Foxconn executive Louis Woo admitted as much when he said it’s more likely that Foxconn will only hire 2,000 workers initially and that the majority of the assembly jobs will be done by robots.

dave-hansen-gbThe impact on other state businesses is now a question mark as well since  Foxconn also recently announced they will go to businesses in other states for the parts and materials they need.

The one thing that does seem consistent here, though, is that the people of Wisconsin will be paying off this boondoggle for a good part of their lives.

In fact, even if Foxconn doesn’t hire a single employee, it can still reap up to $1 billion or more in public assistance including: $764 million in local property tax subsidies, $164 million in new state and local roads for Foxconn at the expense of our own local roads and highways, $120 million for a new electric line that will be paid for by utility customers who may have no connection to Foxconn whatsoever, a $139 million sales tax exemption for building materials, and $15 million in state grants to help local governments pay for Foxconn.

It’s been estimated that the Foxconn deal could cost every man, woman and child $500 or more and that taxpayers won’t see their money returned in full until at least 2043 and possibly later.

Governor Walker and Republicans are fond of saying that “you know how to spend your money better than the government does.” Except, of course, when they’re doing favors for their corporate friends. In this case they’ve decided that billions of your and your children’s money is better given to a foreign billionaire than used to feed your family, pay your rent, put toward your health insurance or invest in your local schools and roads.

Given Foxconn’s ever-changing stories, their past history of making big promises only to renege on them, and the Governor’s own issues with the truth, it’s time to call the Foxconn deal what it is, a classic bait-and-switch that is harmful to taxpayers and that will do nothing to help the vast majority of struggling families and communities around the state.

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Local Leaders Call for Fixing the Road Budget

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Tuesday, 04 September 2018
in Wisconsin

road-construction-workerRoads across the state are deteriorating and the current administration and republican leaders have not addressed the funding problem. Revenue for roads is down and borrowing is up. This is not sustainable.


MAXVILLE, WI - “We budget, and have to save up, for over three years to do one mile or less [of road],” wrote Barb Traun the Maxville Town Clerk. Even with the savings, the Buffalo County Township must borrow to pave roads.

Maxville Township is not alone. Local governments are trying to cobble together a road budget because local road aid hasn’t kept up with inflation for years. According to a report released by the Department of Transportation (DOT) local road aid, in real dollars, dropped almost 4% from 2006 to 2019.

Many local units of government are tired of being told the lack of local road money would be fixed in the next budget – only to see, year after year, the local road aid budgets fall further behind. Locals are committed to keeping roads and bridges in good repair but cannot provide these services if the state does not deliver the funds.

Now they are working to make the issue a top state priority.

Barb Traun’s statement was accompanied by a resolution passed by the Town of Maxville asking the governor and lawmakers to fix the unmet transportation needs. The town’s advocacy is part of a trend.

In the fall of 2016, local governments passed 559 resolutions calling on state leaders to fix the road budget. According to the Transportation Development Association (TDA) over the past few months they received another “200 plus” local government resolutions.

Because of state imposed levy caps, local governments have little ability to raise property taxes to pay for roads. So, they are often stuck with the declining state support.

One avenue locals have available is to raise funds through a “wheel tax”. Eau Claire County took this unpopular approach and enacted a $30 per vehicle “wheel tax” to pay for roads. Other Wisconsin counties are considering a similar approach.

“It’s a start,” Supervisor Colleen Bates recently told the Eau Claire Leader. “It gets us back on track to having roads that are viable.” The county faced increasing pressures as they borrowed to cover road needs. This path became increasingly unsustainable.

Likewise, continuing to borrow is unsustainable for the state.

The recent DOT report shows the state has, according to former DOT Secretary Gottlieb, “engaged in an irresponsible reliance on borrowed money.” In a recent Capitol Times article, Secretary Gottlieb said, “Debt service has increase 85-percent in the last eight years, to the point where we now spend five dollars on debt service for every three dollars we spend on the maintenance of state highways. These problems will continue to worsen until the current funding crisis is resolved.”

Transportation is a key public service. Wisconsin needs leaders who will balance several factors to make wise transportation decisions. This means maintaining our current investments, including our local roads and bridges. It means careful attention to efficiencies and quality construction, planning for future growth and reconciling spending with revenue.

Further, as our climate changes and massive storms deluge us, planning for the future takes on a new urgency.

A prudent transportation budget is a balancing act.

The deteriorating condition of our roads and bridges and the escalating local and state debt shows how deeply Wisconsin is out of balance.

kathleen-vinehoutWe must also consider the realities of the new age of intense weather patterns, which calls for a 21st Century approach to infrastructure that Wisconsin has not begun to realize.

Recently, leaders applauded the completion of a portion of a giant Milwaukee road project known as the Zoo Interchange. As the governor lauded the project as “on time and on budget” we must remember the current budget delayed or left unfinished other parts of this same project. In the road budget, delays mean increased costs later.

The governor’s claim “road projects…are staying on track or getting done sooner” was rated, earlier this year by Politifact as “mostly false”. Walker’s claim that he invested “$3 billion more than what former Governor Jim Doyle spend on transportation over the same period of time” was also rated “mostly false.”

Staying honest and acknowledging the problem is the first step to finding a solution.

There are many solutions. In Secretary Gottlieb’s budget a few year ago he proposed 24 different approaches. It’s time we dust off his 600-page budget and use his guidance to seriously work on solving the transportation problems.

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Supporting the UW Helps All of Wisconsin

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Tuesday, 28 August 2018
in Wisconsin

uwgbBudget cuts and tuition freezes have hampered the UW System’s ability to retain professors, continue research and deliver high quality affordable education.  UW President Ray Cross has a plan to increase funding in the next budget.


MADISON - “Investing in the UW System is an investment in Wisconsin,” said University of Wisconsin President Ray Cross, calling for an investment of another $107.5 million in the next biennial budget.

Over the past several years, budget cuts and tuition freezes hampered the UW System’s ability to retain professors, continue research and deliver high quality affordable education.

To bolster his argument, President Cross cited a recently released study by NorthStar Analytics that showed the UW System adds $24 billion each year to Wisconsin’s economy. The study estimated UW’s economic contribution at a 23-fold return on state dollars invested.

The UW Board of Regents agreed with the President’s proposal, sending the budget forward to Governor Scott Walker. The Governor, for his part, called on the university system and all other parts of state government to submit budgets with no funding increases and a five percent cut.

Budget cuts, and policy changes coupled with a tuition freeze created difficulties for the UW.

Think of tuition and state aid as a teeter-totter. As one goes down, the other must come up. When tuition is frozen, state aid must be increased to pay for the freeze. In addition, the cost of doing business constantly rises. Meaning, budgets must be increased to keep up with rising costs – the cost of inflation.

uw-mdsn-studentsHere’s actually what happen. Tuition has been frozen since 2013. The same budget cut $65.6 million. The freeze was never funded. Both the 2011-13 and the 2015-17 budgets were cut by $250 million. The most recent budget returned a meager $36 million – nowhere near what was needed to make up the cut – let alone allow for funding the tuition freeze (since 2013) and the needed cost of living increases (since 2011).

Tuition was frozen, no cost of living increases provided, and a deep cut to the base was never repaired. Holding down both ends of the teeter-totter caused real stress.

To make matters worse, changes in policy – like the loss of the protection of statutory tenure – sent a clear message: higher education was not valued by state leaders.

Much of the UW budget pays for people. Without funding increases, professors and staff are paid less. People leave the system. Courses and programs are cut. The general reputation of the UW declines.

For example, research reported by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau pegged UW professors’ salaries well below other institutions. UW Stevens Point professors fared the worst, nearly one-quarter below the national average. At seven of thirteen four-year campuses, senior faculty were twenty percent or more below the national average. At two-year campuses, associate professors were thirty percent below the national average.

As a result, it’s increasingly difficult to retain high quality faculty and recruit qualified professors, especially in high demand fields like nursing and engineering. Professors departing the UW System, coupled with difficulties in recruitment, lowers the overall quality of faculty. This also makes it harder for faculty to obtain grants and lowers the quality of education and advisement students receive.

“We lost some of our best people,” UW Madison Chancellor told Atlantic reporter Jon Marcus last year. “It is our very best faculty that get outside offers. If you’re looking at research dollars, those are the people who are bringing in millions in research funding. And the people you replace them with bring in much less. So those retention issues have a real impact.”

The new NorthStar study shows the UW economic impact more than doubled since the last study in 2002. The biggest change was the economic development activities contributing to “a very significant start up activity.” It’s well known Wisconsin lags the nation (the least or near last) in start-up companies.

Fixing the UW means a significant increase in state funding. If policy makers want to keep tuition frozen, let’s begin by funding that tuition freeze. Next, we need to fill in the big budget holes created since Walker’s first budget in 2011. Then we need to create a steady increase pegged to inflation. Finally, let’s truly honor the work of our scholars by rescinding the numerous policy changes that undermine higher education.

Supporting the UW helps all of Wisconsin. It’s time we invest our dollars where we can really grow our state.

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