Wednesday December 19, 2018

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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 , was one of the courageous Wisconsin 14, and ran for Governor again in 2018.

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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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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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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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
User is currently offline
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
User is currently offline
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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