Tuesday February 19, 2019

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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.

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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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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