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State Senators Pass Budget at Midnight, Bill Goes to Walker

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Friday, 21 June 2013
in Our View

scott-walker-clapsBudget includes statewide school voucher plan and rejects federal assistance to provide access to affordable health care options for state residents. Republican plan does little to cut taxes for average citizens or create jobs.


MADISON - Senate Republicans passed the state budget by a one-vote margin just after midnight Friday, moving it on to Gov. Scott Walker’s all but assured signature.

The budget passed 17-16, with Sen. Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) joining all Democrats in opposing it. Walker can alter the plan using his vast line-item veto powers, but few expect any substantial change to it’s key provisions.

The budget would cut state income taxes by $651 million, mostly for wealthy taxpayers, and create a new statewide school voucher program that would allow children who meet income thresholds to use taxpayer money to attend private schools, including religious schools.

In a statement released after the budget was approved, Walker said he was proud of the Legislature for its work on the budget.

The state schools superintendent raised concerns a little-noticed provision in the school voucher plan that could lead to a flood of students attending private schools at taxpayer expense. Superintendent Tony Evers said late Thursday that attorneys are reviewing the issue but that he is worried about it.

The provision could "essentially negate any kind of caps," Evers said. "That would make a separate system of publicly funded private schools."

However, the matter is far from clear, Evers said. Bob Lang, the director of the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, said it would be up to Evers to determine whether such satellite schools would be subject to the cap.

While the Republicans wanted to characterize the budget as a big tax cut, it would actually only cut income taxes by an average of $150, raise property taxes by $29 on the typical home and reject a key element of the federal Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare.

The budget passed includes the governor’s plan to reject nearly $1 billion in federal assistance to provide access to affordable health care options for all state residents. Experts estimate Walker’s plan will stick Wisconsin taxpayers with approximately $75 million in additional costs the first year, with fewer people under coverage.

The budget provides no major provisions to improve Wisconsin’s dismal performance in job creation under Walker. The Democrats stressed that Wisconsin ranked 44th in private-sector job creation in the last quarterly jobs census.

"We are worse now than we were two years ago," said Sen. Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton). "And we’re not trending up. We’re trending down. Wisconsin’s economy is actually contracting … And this budget won’t do anything about that."

Sen. Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) denounced the budget as a "road map to mediocrity" that "doubles down on the failed policies of the past."

Three and a half hours into the debate, the Senate fell briefly into turmoil as protesters chanted, "Focus on jobs, not on vaginas" — a response to the Legislature’s vote last week to require women seeking abortions to get ultrasounds.

In a statement issued early this morning, State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) said that “since 2011 Governor Walker and the Republican majority have been doing everything they can to move Wisconsin 60 years back and 1,000 miles south”. He goes on to say that “this is the wrong budget at the wrong time for all the wrong reasons”.

In a summary provided by the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, the nearly 1,400-page Joint Finance budget bill would:

Tax cuts. Cut income taxes by $651 million over two years and provide $30 million a year in income tax savings for the parents of the nearly 100,000 private school students in Wisconsin. Families could receive an income tax deduction of up to $4,000 for private school tuition paid for each kindergarten through eighth-grade student and up to $10,000 per high school student.

School funding. Provide public schools with $150 more per student in state aid and local property taxes this fall and another $150 increase in 2014-’15, for a total of $289 million over two years. However, because of the $50 one-time per-pupil bump to many districts in this past school year, the proposed $150 per pupil funding increase in 2013-’14 would represent a $100 per-pupil increase this fall over current spending.

Health care. Shift nearly 90,000 people from the BadgerCare Plus program into a new online insurance marketplace, where the participants are supposed to find replacement health coverage. A detailed analysis of the plan by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau found that many of the people now receiving BadgerCare Plus coverage through Medicaid likely would not buy the more expensive insurance through the marketplaces.

In doing so, Republicans are passing up a federal offer to cover 84,700 more people in Medicaid than their plan and receive enough additional federal tax money over the next two years to pad the state budget by $119 million even after covering the cost of those additional people, according to the Fiscal Bureau.

Walker has said he wants fewer people on government coverage and is concerned that the federal government won’t keep its commitment to the higher Medicaid funds over the long term.

Residency. Repeal all residency rules for teachers and other workers for local units of government with one exception: Local officials could still require police, fire or emergency personnel to live within 15 miles of the boundaries of their jurisdictions.

Bail bonds. Allow for-profit bail bondsmen in Wisconsin for the first time since 1979, with judges able to opt out of the system. The program would be limited for the first five years to Milwaukee, Waukesha, Kenosha, Racine and Dane counties.

State property. Allow the Walker administration to sell state assets including parking garages, university dormitories and roads.

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Rand Paul Right On This One

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Thursday, 07 March 2013
in Our View

rand_paulGREEN BAY - Yesterday, Rand Paul spent thirteen hours on the Senate floor conducting an old fashioned filibuster questioning the U.S. drone policy. Rand Paul has a lot of lame ideas, but on this one he was right on both questioning the policy and the method in which he did it.

In the first place, he had the guts to actually stand up on the Senate floor and speak his mind for as long as he could in a filibuster as intended by the framers of our Constitution. Of course, it was theatrics, but that’s what a filibuster is. He did not hide behind the questionable rule commonly used in the Senate to stop discussion by merely saying you want to filibuster. He stood up and talked. He took responsibility for his words. It was a fundamental exercise in democracy that progressives should applaud.

But in a larger sense, in forcing a discussion of the Constitutionality of our government’s use of drones to kill people without charge or even demonstration of just cause in a Court of law, Rand Paul has forced us to face a question we have dodged for over ten years. Under our Constitution, even in a time of fear, how do we keep our form of democratic government viable while still providing for our defense.

It is a thin line and delicate balance. As progressives, we all love President Obama and generally trust him to do the right thing. But our founders had just cause to fear too much arbitrary power in the hands of one leader, as in a King, and placed in our Constitution a division of power between three branches. A President could lead us in war, but only after the people through their representatives in Congress declared it a war, and even then the President’s power was limited by the Courts and the law of the land.

On September 11, 2001 our nation was profoundly shocked by a dastardly attack by an international group of terrorists, and in the atmosphere of fear that followed President George W. Bush embarked our nation on a war-like foreign policy that lead to our invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq and a number of policies on the treatment of combatants that clearly stretched the limits of our law and national character. The Congress, too timid to appear to question the public mood, looked the other way rather than declare it a real war. The draft was gone, and the majority of people really didn’t have to get involved. And the undeclared war against some shadowy, undefined terrorist enemy has continued for over ten years.

Osama bin Laden is dead, our adventure in Iraq has concluded, and the commitment of troops in Afghanistan is winding down. Our national treasury has been bled dry. The question now is “when does it all end?” When do we go back to being the nation of law and rules I remember as a boy?

Rand Paul has done us a service in pushing this debate, at least a little bit, back into our public consciousness. As citizens of a country we declare a democracy, we should not let it slip back under the rug.

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Scott Walker Beats the Rap in Milwaukee John Doe Investigation

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 05 March 2013
in Our View

scott-walkerMADISON - On Friday we learned that Scott Walker will not be charged with crimes in the John Doe criminal corruption probe. Six close associates of Walker were convicted in actions directly related to Walker and some currently sit in prison. Nineteen individuals, constituting Walker's entire inner circle, were granted transactional immunity for their truthful testimony.

The entire affair speaks directly to Scott Walker's bad values. The court record speaks clearly to the fact that Scott Walker was directly involved in criminal activity. That he was not charged with crimes is no feather in his cap-the standard should be much higher for an elected official.

But does it matter that Walker acts, and the people around him act, as if though he is above the law?

This investigation was without precedent, and as it ends, we have a clear picture of Scott Walker. He has abused the trust of the people he is supposed to serve. He wasn't charged with crimes, but he clearly was involved in crimes.

Scott Walker beat the rap. We can only hope that the corruption that he brought with him from Milwaukee does not continue any more in his current administration.

Now that the investigation is over, we should expect that all documents obtained throughout the course of the John Doe to be made public. When all the documents are out, the fuller picture of Scott Walker's involvement will finally be revealed, as will the involvement of several current cabinet and administration officials. Any governor whose greatest accomplishment in his first two years in office is that he escaped the criminal charges for which several close aides were brought to justice really needs more to brag about. So far, Scott Walker has cleared the bar set by Illinois, but barely.

Wisconsin’s Republican governors in recent decades have gone from red vests to (almost) orange jumpsuits. Robert M. LaFollette must be not just rolling over in his grave, but downright glad that he’s dead and doesn’t have to witness this from above the ground.

As it stands, Scott Walker is the most investigated governor in Wisconsin history. By Scott Walker’s own standards, he should be considered unfit for public office.

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Scott Walker’s Budget Continues State on March to Tea Party Right

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Friday, 22 February 2013
in Our View

scott-walker-clapsMADISON - In his biennial budget address, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker had a chance to reverse the policies that caused so much unrest and recall elections in his first two years in office. Instead of moving to represent all of us, he chose to double down on his commitment to national right wing interest groups over the people of Wisconsin.

Governor Walker laid out a budget that favors corporate campaign donors and out-of-state special interests, at the expense of Wisconsin’s middle class families. While he has spent the past several months paying lip service to moderation, this latest budget proves that all that talk was just talk. There is more of the same policies that have Wisconsin ranked 42nd in the nation in job growth and 2nd to last in economic growth prospects.

Such priorities in Wisconsin as education, health care and jobs-creating infrastructure continue to face a deficit under Scott Walker and his budget. There was no attempt to provide a stronger education system by refunding the devastating cuts of last session to ensure our children have access to a quality education. He also did not provide for a stronger BadgerCare system, fully funded and truly covering 175,000 more working Wisconsinites. Finally, the budget missed a middle class jobs plan that increases access to worker training, access to capital for small businesses and incentivizes buying Wisconsin and buying American.

Scott Walker must think our memories are short and that, by making miniscule investments in schools, tech colleges and job training we won't remember that he slashed those same programs to the bone just two years ago. Will Wisconsin voters give the Governor credit for investing a penny where two years ago he cut a dollar?

Scott Walker’s new budget continues to short change public education, harm job creation, grow the debt and weaken the economic security of Wisconsin’s middle class. The following is a short summary of some of the issues.

ON JOBS

Despite the undying work ethic of Wisconsin’s middle class families, our state is last in the Midwest in virtually every economic indicator while neighboring states enjoy a robust recovery.

This budget fails to introduce any substantive economic development programs and throws chump change at worker training after $72 million in cuts in the last budget

Now, in the face of historic failure, Walker is wasting taxpayer dollars on an $11 million propaganda campaign to make people believe we are doing well instead of fixing the problem

In the face of a crucial skills gap, Scott Walker chose to cut Wisconsin back to vocational technical funding at 1989 levels. His current budget does not fix the damage already done.

Not only have jobs left Wisconsin under Scott Walker’s watch, wages and standards of living have diminished as well.

ON HEALTH CARE

Scott Walker’s budget prevents tens of thousands of people from getting access to healthcare.

Walker’s policies may play well in right-wing circles, but the reality is the cost of care in Wisconsin will be higher and fewer will have access to it.

By saddling Wisconsin with $250 million more in health care costs by turning away Medicaid expansion, and by deep cuts to BadgerCare and aid to seniors, Walker is ensuring that taxpayers will pay more for health care and more out-of-pocket.

ON EDUCATION/VOUCHERS

Through the budget process, Walker has already cut more than $1.6 billion from public education. This budget does nothing to repair the damage to our schoolchildren and Wisconsin’s competitiveness in a global marketplace.

The proposed budget increase for education would not add a single dollar, a single penny to the classrooms. Wisconsin school districts would continue to operate under the same funding levels and the increase in funds will just relieve some of the local tax levies.

Scott Walker’s voucher plan takes your tax money to pay for the wealthy to attend private schools and leave the public schools to fail.

Weakening public schools in the midst of a jobs crisis by funneling money to private schools can only continue Wisconsin’s downward economic spiral, which has us lagging nationally in job growth.

By expanding vouchers for private schools, Scott Walker is punishing public schools, rewarding out-of-state donors, and harming our children.

ON THE STATE INCOME TAX

Scott Walker is masking a tax cut that would disproportionately benefit the wealthiest by calling it a middle class tax cut.

A true middle class tax cut would not give the biggest breaks to those making over $200,000 a year as Governor Walker’s proposal is expected to do

Democrats support giving Wisconsin’s middle class families a tax break, but Governor Walker’s proposal is not that. It does not call for shared sacrifice and for everyone to pay their fair share.

ON TRANSPORTATION SPENDING

Walker is seeking $6.4 billion in new transportation spending even as Wisconsin suffers record debt under his fiscal mismanagement. He plans on paying for this special interest giveaway by the irresponsible sale of public assets.

To pay for his new transportation spending, Walker is conducting a firesale of Wisconsin assets to his corporate benefactors.

ON THE WAR ON WOMEN

By defunding women’s health clinics such as Planned Parenthood, Walker has continued the “War on Women” that treats women as second-class citizens.

Because of his ideologically-driven cuts, Walker has left thousands of rural women without access to birth control, cervical cancer screenings and other forms of life-saving health care.

Additionally, Walker’s refusal to restore wage equity protections shows an alarming lack of compassion for women who do not receive equal pay for equal work.

ON INNOVATION

Scott Walker’s claim that his historic cuts to education, infrastructure and health care are “innovations” is false. What Walker is doing is part of the same old ideology that rewards corporate benefactors and ideological fellow travelers at the expense of workers, seniors, the middle class and the most vulnerable.

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Let’s Get Real on Gun Control

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 26 December 2012
in Our View

rambo-squirrelGREEN BAY - In the wake of the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, the President and other responsible leaders have again raised the issue of gun control as a possible answer to reducing gun violence in America. The most common solutions discussed are a return to the assault weapons ban repealed in 2004 and closing the loophole that allows the purchase of guns at local gun shows without the normal background check.

But the gun lobby has trotted out the usual diversion tactics to muddy the waters. It is a common tactic in public debate.

Shouldn’t we put a cop in every school or theater, or arm teachers, or publish the names of all gun owners, or require mandatory psychiatric care for any relative we think is a little bit weird, they say. While we’re at it, let’s round up all the semi-automatic pistols and violent video games. Why not cancel all the cop shows on TV? The beat goes on. Another media circus.

And in the end, they hope, we will all just throw up our hands, again, and say the problem is too big to solve so we should just do nothing.

Cory Booker had the best point on Meet the Press last Sunday. We are not even arguing about the real problem.

There are good reasons besides hunting for law abiding citizens to buy guns. Personal safety is one of them. I would even argue that more progressives and liberals should get guns. If something happens, like a month long power outage, we wouldn’t want the conservatives to be the only people in the neighborhood armed.

But that’s not the problem, nor is the general state of psychiatric care in the country. We are not going to stop all gun violence with a single law. But we can make things a little better.

Experience shows that, if you want to pull off a mass shooting at a school or theater, you want to arm yourself with a military style long gun with a high capacity banana clip like the AR-15. It’s been the weapon of choice in several of the recent shootings. And a return to the assault weapons ban can make it just a little more difficult for these shooters to get them.

And, as Cory Booker said, evidence in his city shows that law abiding citizens don’t commit crimes with guns. In fact, he said that of all the gun crimes committed in Newark in one recent year, only one was committed by someone who had gotten the gun by going through the normal background check at a registered gun dealer. The problem is the secondary market where nearly 40 per cent of the guns in this country change hands.

If you buy a gun at a gun store with a background check, you have to swear that you have not committed a felony lately, or been dishonorably discharged from the military, or been treated for mental illness, or are addicted to drugs, or need to be restrained from committing domestic abuse.

These are common sense questions to keep the guns out of the hands of potentially dangerous people. Why shouldn’t everyone who wants to buy a gun be required to answer them? Why keep the secondary market loophole open that allows people to buy a gun without a background check? What’s all this nonsense about taking the guns out of the hands of law abiding citizens?

We are not going to stop all future gun violence at schools like Sandy Hook. We are not going to end all wars and make the world safe for democracy. We are not going to all love one another. Those delusions ended in the sixties.

But we can do something to make the shootings a little less easy for the shooters, and that is a start. The first step is to keep the discussion on the real issues.

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