Wednesday February 19, 2020

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Wisconsin: Questioning Our Economy

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 07 August 2019
in Wisconsin

family-worried-billsAn economy should work for all people, not just our country’s corporations. A successful economy is more than the unemployment rate. We need to understand the hidden factors in our economy that affect the way people work and raise a family.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - Do you ever wonder how our economy stopped working for all of us? How have we arrived at stagnant wages, mega-rich corporations buying elections and people lacking essential access to healthcare?

Politicians like to cherry-pick numbers to show the economy is doing well under their watch. That’s why every Republican in this state talks about the unemployment rate. Here’s the dirty little secret -- they use the unemployment rate because it’s easy for voters to understand and it’s easy to manipulate. And it seems to work, too often, on people. They’re willing to overlook the insulting tweets from the White House because they’ve been told the economy is so great. But who is the economy really working for?

The unemployment rate is measured by how many people are looking for work. It doesn’t factor in many people who are underemployed or have given up on their work search. These people are forgotten. They gave up and were ignored. These individuals include people who took an early retirement, our adult children living in our homes, low-income workers who scrape by on whatever means they can or people who lost it all and are homeless. Just because the “numbers” sound good, doesn’t mean that people aren’t struggling.

The media judges our economy by the numbers. And, as we know, numbers can be skewed to show whatever we want. It seems the media takes the easy way out by reporting how the stock market does each day or over a period of time. That means stockbrokers and corporations are doing well, but where are the wages? It’s just rich people getting richer off of us.

A number I never see is how many jobs some people work to pay their bills. The most important measure of our economy is income.

Income disparity has never been greater. Why should anyone work one full-time job and still struggle to live? Everyone deserves a chance to live free and have a quality life. We are not put on this earth just to serve others without the chance to enjoy our own lives. That’s why you’ve heard so often about $15 per hour as a “living wage.” That’s the minimum anyone should be paid to afford health insurance, food, and a place to live. So why’s our “minimum wage” stuck at $7.25? That should be called “less than half a wage.” Why should someone have to work more than one job to get by?

There are numerous “hidden” factors in our economy affecting everyone, one way or another. Access to healthcare and college affordability are two of the biggest factors that can either enhance or hurt our earning potential.

During the 1940s, employers started offering health insurance policies as a way to attract workers and keep them healthy. It seemed like a win-win at the time. Nowadays, with the health insurance market too expensive, employees are stuck in jobs they may not like or they cannot afford to leave even if the pay is substandard. What if healthcare access wasn’t a factor in our career decisions? Would you, or someone you know, change jobs?

uwgb-studentsCollege affordability is becoming more difficult for our younger generations. Millennials and Generation Z graduates are entering the workforce with mountains of student loan debt. Sure, it’s easy to say don’t take out loans, but what jobs in our current economy don’t at least require a college degree or technical training? Unless wages increase, we cannot expect young people to save for retirement, buy houses or start families.

Our economy could do better if we start treating people better than corporations or treating people less like numbers. Every day, I hear stories from people in western Wisconsin trying to scratch out a living, raise a family and enjoy life. These stories can be uplifting and heartbreaking at the same time. When you hear how well the economy is doing, don’t be afraid to ask yourself: “Is it working for everyone?”

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State Government: Transit for Our Future

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 31 July 2019
in Wisconsin

highway-crowdedSenator Smith explores Wisconsin’s future mass transit needs and the importance of local decision making. Better funding sources are needed so we can make the necessary investments.

MADISON - Summer travel season is in full swing. During this busy time, families are crisscrossing through Wisconsin squeezing in those final summer vacations before kids go back to school. Summer is also construction season, causing headaches for everyone trying to get to and from our summer fun.

It seems like we just can’t catch up on road construction, especially on our county and town roads. Fewer and fewer of our tax dollars are returning to our local governments in the form of road aids. It‘s been especially difficult for local municipalities to repair and rebuild roads in our communities.

When we make our travel plans, what are the options? Usually we drive to our destination in Wisconsin or fly to some other state or country. When visiting other places, I’m sure you’ve noticed other travel options such as bus or passenger rail. Travel, like everything else, is always evolving. As we discover how expensive and difficult it is to keep up with road repairs, maybe we should get serious about mass transit options.

Supporting alternative travel methods will become more important whether we are traveling within our cities, to other counties or across our state.

Just think, if you plan to spend a day with the family in Wisconsin Dells or Door County; wouldn’t it be great if you and your family could jump on a train, bypass the traffic, get there safely and actually enjoy the ride? And what if we could connect travelers to towns along the Mississippi River or all the lakes up north? We could explore without the hassle and have a greater opportunity to enjoy the wonders of Wisconsin. Imagine the economic benefits as well. Now, I realize connecting all corners of the state may be a dream at this point, but you can’t accomplish great things if you don’t start dreaming.

Like a garden, we need to plant the seeds, then carefully nurture what we plant until they reach their full potential. That’s why I strongly believe local transit decisions create strong roots for our state’s transportation system to flourish.

If state legislators allowed municipalities to make transit decisions based on their local needs, we would be much further along in meeting the needs of our state as a whole. That’s why I introduced the Chippewa Valley Regional Transit Authority (RTA) idea during the 2009 state budget.

The law allowed local elected officials to design transportation systems to move people throughout the region, including between counties. Chippewa and Eau Claire counties passed the required referendum and appointed their members to the Authority.

In 2011, Republicans repealed the law and stripped our local officials of their power to handle regional transportation planning. Republicans pulled the plug while regional leaders were developing solutions to our local transit challenges.

In the near future, I’ll be reintroducing the Chippewa Valley RTA bill. It was a great idea the first time it passed, and it’s a great idea now. Local governments are better stewards of the public’s trust and they fully understand their unique challenges and how to set their priorities.

jeff-smithIt all boils down to funding. Mass transit investments are hard to come by while we scramble to address the transportation funding crisis. The budget is signed into law now and people can thank Governor Tony Evers for finally taking a step in the right direction for addressing the revenue shortfall and our unsustainable debt. Under Republican leadership, we paid nearly 20 cents of every dollar to debt. Now, we will be paying 18.5 cents per dollar.

Unfortunately, Republicans rejected Governor Evers’ modest 8 cent gas tax increase which would’ve brought in revenue from out-of-state drivers. Instead, Republicans socked Wisconsin drivers (only) with vehicle title fee and registration fee increases. Balancing the road costs solely on the backs of Wisconsin drivers is wrong, especially considering most neighboring states increased their gas tax so we can pay for their roads too.

It’s time to get off this do nothing treadmill. We need to capture out-of-state revenue for our roads, reign in our reliance on debt and move mass transit options ahead.

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Toxic PFAS Threat Grows

Posted by Wisconsin Conservation Voters, Ryan Billingham
Wisconsin Conservation Voters, Ryan Billingham
Wisconsin Conservation Voters, Ryan Billingham has not set their biography yet
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on Sunday, 28 July 2019
in Wisconsin

sulfide-mining-runoffDespite mounting evidence linking PFAS to a range of negative health effects including cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, and increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease, polluters try to minimize it.

MADISON – On Monday, the city of Rhinelander shut down one of its municipal wells after testing indicated the presence of perfluorinated compounds, commonly known as PFAS.

There is mounting evidence linking PFAS to a range of negative health effects including cancer, liver damage, decreased fertility, and increased risk of asthma and thyroid disease.

While the city has issued assurances the water is safe and that the well was only one of many that combine to service homes, residents are beginning to take notice and demand action.

Rhinelander is the latest of a growing number of communities across Wisconsin beset by this emerging pollutant, including Marinette, where Tyco Fire Products spread toxic sludge on more than 3,500 acres of farm fields between 1996 and 2017.

This week, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) asked 125 municipalities to begin voluntarily testing for PFAS. The announcement, along with bipartisan proposals to rid Wisconsin’s drinking water of these chemicals, has whipped Wisconsin’s big polluters into a frenzy of misdirection and half-truths.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business organization and one of the biggest spenders on outside electioneering activities and lobbying, issued an irresponsible, hyperbolic statement decrying common sense solutions – like testing and remediation – designed to protect people from PFAS.

clean-drinking-water-womanIn league with the so-called “Water Quality Coalition" – a front group made up of polluters and their enablers – WMC claims that practical steps aimed at protecting people from PFAS will “devastate Wisconsin’s economy” and minimizes the science that links the chemicals to health problems.

Currently, there are no state or federal guidelines on PFAS in drinking water. The steps Wisconsin is taking to both prevent and protect people from toxic drinking water are similar to those other states have adopted, and are modern, sensible, and address this growing problem robustly. They will not destroy the state’s economy – they will protect the state’s people.

“Once these toxins are out in the world, they do not go away,” said Kerry Schumann, executive director of Wisconsin Conservation Voters. “Polluters and the politicians who have enabled them for years are beginning to see yet more evidence that their actions have serious consequences. Unfortunately, it’s their constituents who bear the cost.”

Schumann urged legislators to support the DNR’s effort to set new PFAS standards and pass SB 302/AB 321 to create a comprehensive framework to address this threat to public health.

According to the U.S. EPA, other health effects of PFAS include increased risk of pregnancy-induced hypertension, high cholesterol, liver damage, thyroid disease, asthma, fertility problems, cancer, and decreased responses to vaccines.

Rhinelander sits in Sen. Tom Tiffany’s district. Tiffany has relied heavily on campaign contributions from polluters. WMC has paid Tiffany a total of $18,780. In return, Tiffany has continually enabled the dirtiest industries in the state, and has openly advocated for policies that leave Wisconsinites vulnerable to toxic pollution.


Engaging voters to protect Wisconsin's environment.

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Enough of Divide and Conquer Politics

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 24 July 2019
in Wisconsin

scott-fitzgeraldWisconsin is a great place to live, work and raise a family because of the unique cities that make up our state. Building relationships between our rural and urban communities makes us stronger.

MADISON - When politicians have no answers, they find a way to distract constituents. Politicians have a knack for finding a scapegoat to blame when a plan is failing. It’s been the game played by politicians for decades.

We’re seeing it played out as Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald turn on their favorite scapegoat: Milwaukee. Republicans have failed our state time and again, they want you to believe Milwaukee is responsible for your expectations not being met.

door-county-peopleThis plan has proven to work for them. They work to anger voters and convince them that somebody else is taking more than their share.

We can’t continue to let politicians divide our state for petty political points. Rather than pitting voters against voters or one city against another, we should be working together for a stronger Wisconsin.

mke-walk-public-schoolsThis isn’t a new strategy for politicians. In 1979, Representative William Gagin (my own representative at the time) said money was going to that “black hole” in Milwaukee when asked why some critical programs were underfunded. Now, you might choose to believe he meant no harm with that statement, but you’d be wrong. It was a racist statement then and is a racist statement now. Fortunately, that statement doomed Gagin from serving another term, but sadly, the idea that Milwaukee is undeserving still exists today.

During former Governor Walker’s campaign in 2010, he blatantly said to one of his billionaire donors that his strategy was to “divide and conquer” our state. These statements by Representative Gagin and Governor Walker define what the political rhetoric is really about – tapping into the fears and biases of rural voters to hold power.

We’re still seeing this game played today. In April, Republican Joint Finance Committee members rejected Governor Evers’ proposal to provide an additional $40 million for replacing lead service lines because they feared Milwaukee would get too much of the funding. Milwaukee and the entire state will miss out on critical lead service line replacements just because Republican leaders claimed most of the additional funding was directed towards Milwaukee.

Just last week, Republican leaders threatened to take a veto override vote to prevent Milwaukee from using additional transportation dollars for their streetcar project. While Milwaukee officials publicly stated they do not plan to use the funds for that project, Republican leaders spread misinformation to villainize Milwaukee and score political points outstate.

milw-brewersWhy do Republican bullies pick on Milwaukee? After all, Milwaukee is the largest city in Wisconsin with plenty of history to make us all proud. The City is known as a manufacturing hub, shipping center, and brewing capital. The City draws in billions of tourism dollars every year and has its spot on the map as a critical freshwater research center. And millions of fans throughout the state cheer on the Brewers and Bucks each year. So, why does the Republican propaganda machine think it’s alright to dis the largest and most culturally diverse city in our state?

jeff-smithWe should treasure these important drivers of our state rather than resent them. We can’t let politicians drive wedges between the cities in our state that make Wisconsin so unique. Republican leaders shouldn’t continue playing divide and conquer political games to pit all of us against each other.

Prosperity throughout Wisconsin is not a zero-sum scenario. If Milwaukee suffers, our whole state suffers. If western Wisconsin prospers, our whole state prospers. Instead of thinking about “giving” or “taking,” we need to think about how we can all work together to make our entire state a great place to live, work and raise a family.

Just like the adage about breaking a bundle of sticks, if we remain together we will be strong. If Republicans continue choosing to divide our state, our future remains less certain. Enough with the political games! Let’s work together to move all of Wisconsin forward.

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Democracy Campaign: Foresight of Justice Stevens

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Friday, 19 July 2019
in Wisconsin

wdc-logoMADISON - I was sad when I heard the news that Justice John Paul Stevens had died.

I was sad for personal reasons, since Justice Stevens and my father practiced law together in Chicago for many years and were very close.

And I was sad for political reasons, since Justice Stevens, when he was on the Court and afterwards, used his calm and logical and brilliant voice to advocate for a pro-democracy jurisprudence.

Nowhere was this more obvious than in his scorching dissent in the Citizens United case, and I excerpted some of his most powerful passages here:

Justice Stevens’s Dissent in Citizens United Lives On!

He warned that corporate special interests would have a field day, and so they have, here in Wisconsin, as we pointed out the record spending by corporations and PACs last season:

PAC, Corporate Contributions Hit Record $27M

And we also posted something this week on the record amount spent in the Wisconsin Supreme Court race earlier this year:

2019 Supreme Court Race Cost Record $8.2 Million+

This week, we also weighed in on the issue of the veto power of Wisconsin’s governor, which we have consistently viewed as overbroad:

Wisconsin Democracy Campaign on Gov’s Veto Power

And on Tuesday, there was a jam-packed press conference in the State Capitol in favor of legislation to ban gerrymandering in Wisconsin. Here’s what I said at that press conference:

A Democracy with Fair Play (or watch here)

Those companion bills, by the way, are SB288 and AB303. Please contact your legislators to support those bills, and please contact the chairs of the relevant committees to demand they hold public hearings on them.

matt-rothschildThe chairs of the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection are Senator Stroebel (Chair) and Senator Kapenga (Vice-Chair).

The chairs of the Assembly Committee on Campaigns and Elections are Representative Tusler (Chair) and Representative Sanfelippo (Vice-Chair).

You can reach state legislators at 1-800-362-9472 or 266-9960 in Madison.

Thanks for your activism on this issue!

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