Wednesday August 23, 2017

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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 the State Senator from the 31st District of Wisconsin. She was a candidate for Governor in 2014 until an injury forced her out of the race , and is one of the courageous Wisconsin 14.

Chicago on Foxconn "Thank you, Wisconsin, for the Beautiful Gift"

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 Tuesday, 22 August 2017
in Wisconsin

WalkerA recent Chicago Sun Times editorial thanked Wisconsin for taking all the risks of the Foxconn deal while Illinois reaps the benefits. How will the deal help Illinois? What risks do Wisconsin citizens face? Read on.


CHICAGO - “Friends in the Wisconsin Legislature, we beg you: Sign that bad deal with Foxconn,” recently wrote the Chicago Sun Times editorial board. “It’s the neighborly thing to do.”

The Wisconsin Assembly obliged the Chicago newspaper and recently voted 50-39 to approve the Governor’s deal with the Taiwanese company, Foxconn.

But lawmakers were not voting on the deal itself. Contract negotiations are presumably underway. Legislators who voted on the deal did not see the contract, they do not know the details under negotiation, nor will they approve the final negotiated contract.

In essence, they gave the Governor a blank check. For his part, the Governor assigned his troubled economic development agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the task of negotiating a good deal for the state.

For the most part, the bill passed by the Assembly reflected the Governor’s original request. Some job training money was added. Language clarified that locals could use a sales tax to pay for needed infrastructure. Furthermore, the state could in essence “co-sign” part of the loan locals took out to pay for infrastructure.

Answering the big question – how do we ensure the state gets promised jobs – was left murky.

In its analysis of the Assembly version of the Foxconn bill, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau noted the bill “would require WEDC, to the extent possible, attempt to include terms in any agreement negotiated between it and [Foxconn to] encourage the business’s hiring of Wisconsin residents.”

As the Chicago Sun Times editorial writers gleefully reviewed the benefits to Illinois, they also summarized the risk taken by Wisconsin Assembly members who voted in favor of the bill.

“Best we can tell, it’s a crap shoot as to whether luring the giant electronics company to Wisconsin would work out well for you, given the billions of dollars in tax breaks your governor has promised, but it would be terrific for Illinois. It would cost our state nothing, yet up to half of the new jobs could go to our residents, while O’Hare Airport would get the new international travel business.

“The best thing that ever happened to Illinois might be losing Foxconn to you, Wisconsin. Much appreciated.

“…Walker downplayed the $3 billion worth of tax incentives that the Wisconsin Legislature still must approve, and an independent analysis says it would take at least 25 years for Wisconsin taxpayers to break even on the deal. The break-even point would come even later, according to the analysis by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, if Foxconn employed closer to only 3,000 — which could happen — and 40 percent or more of those jobs went to people who live out of state. In Illinois, that is.”

“Under that scenario, an analyst for the Bureau told Reuters, the break-even point would be so far in the future that it’s “silly to talk about.”

I heard much discussion among local residents about the “break-even point” of the plan – the point at which the state would recoup its “return on investment”. These numbers are fuzzy at best.

A break-even number makes many assumptions, including the number of jobs created. The administration claims 13,000 jobs although Foxconn publically said 3,000 jobs. The administration uses average wages of $53,874 but the bill voted out of the Assembly cites $30,000. Most investment analyses discount future dollars while the administration’s analysis, reviewed by the LFB, uses all amounts in current dollars.

The Bureau reminds lawmakers “any cash-flow analysis that covers a period of nearly 30 years” is “highly speculative”. The Bureau also mentions other provisions hidden in the Governor’s bill. A Brookfield financial services company is given an award, and other enterprise zones are created. These new commitments, passed by the Assembly, would cost the state another estimated $100 million.

Sun Times editorial writers summarized the deal, “Wisconsin would be taking all the risks, even as Illinois enjoyed a nice share of the benefits. The Foxconn plant likely would be located right across the border in Kenosha County or Racine County. The commute from Waukegan to Kenosha is just 16.5 miles. The commute from Zion is ten.”

I could not agree more with the conclusion of the editorial, “Border wars are stupid. Interstate job-poaching is nothing but a race to the bottom. And the best way to tap global markets would be to create a regional economic development strategy.”

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"Loving Us" Pow Wow Encourages Recovery

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 Tuesday, 15 August 2017
in Wisconsin

At the “Wogixete Wi" traditional pow wow hosted by members of #StoptheStigma and the Ho Chunk Nation, Sen. Vinehout learns about their efforts to remove the stigma of drug addiction and give people a place to seek help in a loving and nurturing environment.


ALMA, WI - “I lost my granddaughter to heroin addiction,” Anita told me. “We’ve lost so many people,” Tena added.

Recently, former Marine Tena Quackenbush and her friends, including Quincy Garvin, Jasime Funmaker, Lori Pettibone, Cindy Ward hosted a gathering to promote and encourage recovery from addiction, especially the scourge of heroin addiction.

Ms. Quackenbush started #StoptheStigma, an organization with a mission to stop the stigma of addiction. She was joined by members of “Natives Against Heroin” in hosting the event.

“Wogixete Wi” was a traditional pow wow. Translated from Ho-Chunk, wogixete wi means “Loving Us.” Reaching out with love to those in recovery and to those still suffering from addiction was the theme of the pow wow.

I was honored to be one of the speakers at the gathering.

“You are making a difference,” I told the pow wow attendees. “Building a culture that heals. Putting aside our differences and working to bring love and healing to all who suffer.”

Traditional drummers joined us, including the Red Bone drummers from Minneapolis. The Andrew Blackhawk Legion Post #129 assisted in organizing the event. Ho-Chunk members of all ages danced in brightly colored costumes adorned with intricate beadwork.

Eighty-one year-old Clyde Bellecourt mesmerized the group with his stories. The famous Native American civil rights organizer co-founded the American Indian Movement (AIM). Mr. Bellecourt is a White Earth Ojibwa. He shared how a group of a few motivated people can change the world.

“AIM was started with fewer people than you have here,” Mr. Bellecourt told us. “And mostly women and children.”

At the potluck dinner following the pow wow, I was seated with some of the elder women. They shared with me many sad stories about the scourge of heroin addiction.

Celeste told me, “My grandson OD’d in my home. I didn’t even know he was there.” She found all types of drug paraphernalia hidden in her house. The boy just turned 25 and is now in jail.

Tena showed me a photo of the dresser in the room where a woman recently succumbed to addiction. On it were two bottles of Naloxone, more commonly known as Narcan, which blocks the effects of narcotics. Even with this prescription antidote, the woman died of an overdose of heroin laced with a deadly elephant tranquilizer.

“This is murder,” tribal elder Anita told me. “Johnny just buried his daughter yesterday.” Johnny was sitting right behind me. As I gave him a big hug, he thanked me for coming to the pow wow. “We don’t want her to die in vain,” Anita continued. “This is all so senseless…we are fighting. We need something done immediately.”

The discussion continued with important questions asked but not answered. Why the moms and dads didn’t pay attention to their young ones? Why the police showed up too late to an area where a “heroin party” took place? Why are the young girls willing to “sell” themselves to the dealers who got them hooked? Why aren’t the tribal police watching the “party houses”? Why aren’t the abandon “party houses” boarded up?

“We have to close down the houses,” Anita said. “They talked of policies and procedures, but people are dying.”

Closing up the abandon houses as soon as possible is something Tena’s group #StoptheStigma is working hard to accomplish. They boarded up some abandon buildings. There are policies and procedures to work though, but the group has been successful. Tena even received permission to open up one of the buildings as a house of sobriety and recovery.

Getting people into treatment is a challenge. “It shouldn’t take three weeks for an assessment and six months for treatment,” Tena told me. People need “a safe place to go. They are in immediate crisis and they need intervention.”

For all of us, as Tena says, “Our goal should be saving lives.”

Tena and her friends started the group because they and their mentees/sponsees in recovery suffered hateful posts on Facebook. They realized the stigma of addiction not only added to the difficulties of recovery but also made it harder for someone suffering from addiction to BEGIN the long recovery journey.

Changing the culture takes longer. The Wogixete Wi Pow Wow was a beginning. Each one of us can continue “loving us” and act to help #StoptheStigma.

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Conversations at the County Fairs

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 Monday, 07 August 2017
in Wisconsin

farm-familyMany people share the same concerns related to health care, the condition of the roads, and specific legislation that will help their home business. Others share their work with those who struggle with addiction.


ALMA, WI - I love county fairs. I love the sights, sounds, smells and the tastes of the fair. Moreover, I love all the people. Adorable little kids wander around with snow cones. Grandparents catch up on family news. Hardworking 4-Hers show cattle, cakes and cookies.

I especially love the opportunity for conversations with voters about what’s important. The relaxed atmosphere of the fair invites good conversations about what’s going on and how our state should help.

Cookies, roads and health care took up much of my conversations.

Several home bakers spoke with me about a recent court decision that found a group of home bakers could sell cookies and cakes at a local farmers’ market. But, the court decision did not apply to all of our state’s home bakers, which frustrated Charlene of Hixton and Ashley of Merrilllan.

Charlene told me home baking “will come to a screeching halt” if lawmakers don’t pass legislation called the “Cookie Bill.” The proposal, which I support, allows people to sell up to $25,000 of baked goods at farmers’ markets. I voted in favor of this bill in committee and in the full Senate. However, for reasons unknown, the Assembly won’t take up the bill.

Ashley has sold home baked goods for over a decade. The cinnamon rolls at Molly’s café in Black River Falls were her creation. She pointed out that “we give people a choice when they can pick up fresh baked goods made that day.”

Several bakers invited me to the Jackson County Farmers’ Market by the Lunda Center on Thursday from 2:00pm - 6:00pm and Saturday from 9:00am - 1:00pm.

Bad roads were also on people’s minds. Due to no increase in road aid from the state, Jackson County officials were forced to turn black top roads back to gravel. One man told me, “We’ve got to fix the roads. We can’t keep borrowing money and sending it to southeast Wisconsin. Roads are the backbone of Wisconsin.” He read my column about increasing the gas tax by a nickel. “My mom said to raise it by twelve-cents,” he directed me.

Health care was a hot topic too.

Bobby from Eau Claire shared her concerns about chronically ill patients she works with struggle to get needed care. She told me how the type of insurance a patient has can dictate what care they receive, not the doctor’s orders. “If you have regular Medicare or Medicaid, you can get the treatment you need,” she said. “But if you have another insurance – that is paid for by Medicaid or Medicare – you have to go through this long prior authorization process.”

Bobby also pointed out that “people can’t afford the premiums, the deductibles. We need a one-payer system that puts everyone on the same level playing field.”

I heard over and over again stories about the middle class feeling squeezed.

People shared their struggles in daily life, such as a woman whose nine-year old son kept trying to pull her away. His two front teeth were missing. She signed up for food stamps after her partner was injured and couldn’t work. Trying to keep her family fed meant trips to the food pantry.

I also met people reaching out to help those less fortunate. Donna spends her life helping foster children. “Thirty-eight percent of kids in foster care end up homeless. Half of children who are homeless used to be in foster care,” she told me. She started her own nonprofit called Network for Youth to help foster kids.

I talked with Tena who is just as passionate about the mission to rescue people from the destructive path of addiction. She started a group called #StoptheStigma.

“We ask no questions. We make no judgements. We meet our people where they are. We save people one individual at a time,” she said. Tena is Ho-chunk. Many of her fellow workers are also Ho-Chunk.

She emphasized that, “our people are everyone suffering from addiction… We speak up for all who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.”

The county fair is a snapshot of our lives; people facing struggles and people who are the heroes; people who make our communities great and so special. It is always an honor and joy for me to engage with them in conversation.

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Foxconn: The Hype and the Small Print

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 Tuesday, 01 August 2017
in Wisconsin

walker-ryan-gou-foxconnAs lawmakers and citizens consider the Governor's proposal to bring Foxconn to the State of Wisconsin, it is critical to be aware of all the details of the state’s commitments to lure Foxconn and the precedent this will create for other companies considering coming here.


MADISON - Great News! A big tech company called Foxconn is coming to southeast Wisconsin and bringing with it a lot of new jobs. The new company will build a big factory and make flat screens for computers.

The Governor tells us the company will create 13,000 jobs that pay nearly $54,000. Other businesses will benefit because the company will buy things from Wisconsin businesses.

But, as Paul Harvey used to say, “Here’s the Rest of the Story.”

For its part, Wisconsin will pay $3 billion in tax credits and other subsidies over 15 years to the company. Tax credits are refundable – meaning if the company owes nothing in taxes, they will still get a check from the taxpayers of Wisconsin for the amount of the tax credits. It is important to note that manufacturing companies already pay almost nothing in state income tax.

foxconn-wisconsin-plantFoxconn announced the company would create up to 3,000 new jobs. Local people will not get any benefit of property tax dollars from the factory for 30 years. We don’t yet know who the local community is but rumors point to Racine.

The bill to authorize the project was made public late Friday.

In the proposed legislation, there is no mention of 13,000 or 3,000 jobs. Tax credits can be awarded for full time jobs with a salary of $30,000 in Racine or $22,600 for a job in Milwaukee.

At a salary of $30,000 in Racine for 3,000 jobs, the state would be paying all the salary of the workers for 15 years at a cost of $90 million a year. At $3 billion in state dollars, the state will be paying a million per job – more than the total cost of all the new jobs.

Marketwatch, a publication of Dow Jones, analyzed the deal. How, the author asks, will this plant find and keep its workers in an economy with 3.2% unemployment by paying less than state average wages?

The answer may be found in an assumption made in the economic analysis paid for by the company and touted by the Governor’s office. Job numbers reflect “job location” and could be filled by residents or nonresidents.

The company will pay nothing in sales tax for building materials, supplies, equipment and services. This provision is directly at odds with the economic analysis. If sales taxes are not paid, the projected state and local tax benefits fall in the short term by half and in the long term by a quarter.

Other details one might ponder.

The bill borrows over a quarter billion to fix the Interstate between Milwaukee and the state border. This move helps finesse the impasse on the state’s transportation budget.

The Governor adds five new enterprise zones to be given away. Remember enterprise zones make refundable tax credits – a check that goes to the company’s owners even if they pay nothing in state taxes. Some legislators are cautious of these giveaways. Efforts beyond what is needed for the Foxconn deal might be seen as a way to expand giveaways later without legislative oversight.

Nestled in the bill is the authorization for local government to write no-bid contracts; exemptions from state environmental protections including for navigable waters and wetlands. The company is not required to submit an environmental impact analysis to the state. The bill changes the law related to diversion of water under the Great Lakes Compact. Some rules related to permitting utilities do not apply to the project. The claw back provisions are only permissive, not mandatory.

And nothing about the company’s obligation to the state is set. The three-page Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) released by the Governor’s office ends with a vague paragraph that reads all the terms of the MOU are “subject to final negotiations” with the State and Mr. Gou “acknowledging the importance of finalizing an agreement” by the end of September.

All of the environmental and economic concerns must be taken into consideration in the context of an industry rapidly moving toward automation and robotic workers; a company with a history of not delivering promised jobs. And a company with a history of abusing its relationship with its workers.

All of the details should be public before the legislature approves the project.

We wouldn’t want to buy a $3 billion lemon.

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Steps Toward the Future of Health Care

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 Tuesday, 25 July 2017
in Wisconsin

health-care-costsSen. Vinehout writes about the introduction of her Badger Health Benefit Authority bill to create a state health marketplace. She shares how Wisconsin can do better for serving all with affordable and accessible health care.


MADISON - An older man contacted me recently with a problem. A visit to the doctor left him with thousands in unpaid bills. Medicare deemed the tests “routine” and not a “medical necessity.” But the gentleman was told, for his occupation, the tests were absolutely necessary.

He was left with a medical bill costing more than his 2017 income.

The top-notch staff at the Department of Health Services (DHS), discovered the man was likely eligible for Medicaid. But the man wasn’t interested.

The constituent relations department within DHS has been a godsend over the years, helping me solve many difficult medical cases. I’m very grateful for their help. I’m sure they saved many lives by connecting people to health coverage. But, if a person doesn’t want state help, there is little they or I can do.

Unless we change our state health care system and the perception of seeking assistance.

What if everyone had affordable health care? If you hadn’t signed up, you could sign up the first time you saw the doctor, physician’s assistant or nurse practitioner.

Behind the scenes, hospitals and clinics know they’d be paid. If you were eligible for Medicaid, you’d get the benefits. Seamlessly, payers would pay bills, providers would be paid and people would no longer pay any insurance premiums.

You could choose a provider in your area from several options. Your plan would include comprehensive benefits including maternity and mental health coverage.

If you lost your job, you could keep your health coverage. If you took a new job or started your own business, you could keep your health coverage.

Employers no longer would worry about health coverage. Sure, they could offer extra benefits if they wanted, but basic coverage would be disconnected from employment – taking a huge irritation off a company’s plate.

Health care doesn’t have to be so complicated. Other countries have figured out how to solve this problem. And Wisconsin can too.

In fact, ten years ago this summer, Wisconsin actually had a plan on the table to create such a system. Senate Democrats introduced Healthy Wisconsin, a plan written by Senators Erpenbach, Miller and myself. Under our plan, coverage would have cost 14.5% of payroll – split between employers and employees.

This summer, an idea to offer BadgerCare for all attracted attention. I support the plan and see the idea as a first step. Details of the plan are sparse, but it would require the Trump administration to allow a public option in Wisconsin on the federal marketplace Healthcare.gov.

Minnesota’s Governor Dayton introduced a plan to offer MinnesotaCare as a public option. He used the state’s authority and the state’s own health care marketplace, MNsure. He put together a plan that leveraged federal dollars and the state’s large Medicaid pool to add self-employed and small business people. According to the Minnesota Department of Health, the cost would be entirely funded by premiums and tax credits.

GOP controlled Legislators didn’t deliver Dayton’s request, but Minnesota is a lot closer to moving to a public option than Wisconsin. Wisconsin needs the flexibility of our own marketplace to explore options that work best for our state. That’s why I recently introduced a bill to create Wisconsin’s own health care marketplace.

Senate Bill 359 and Assembly Bill 445, the companion co-authored by Representative Sargent, creates a unique badger-based approach to a health marketplace. Using innovations to balance high quality, cost control and wide access, Wisconsin can have its own approach.

We can move toward a system that minimizes the everyday hassles of health insurance and eliminates the fear of a loss of coverage just when you need it the most.

Access to affordable, high quality health care is a duty of our society to everyone. Health care for all is a moral responsibility of our people to each other. Finding the best way to pay for and deliver the care should be the topic of discussion. Instead, some public officials propose dropping coverage and cutting state budgets. Harsh talk stigmatizes Medicaid.

Instead, let’s share our vision of what health care for all looks like for each of us. And, meanwhile, support leaders who find ways to work together and take steps toward our mutual vision.

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