Thursday June 27, 2019

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Gov. Walker’s Plan for Milwaukee State Building

Posted by BOWEN PRESS
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on Tuesday, 13 February 2018
in Wisconsin

milw-state-ofcBuilt in 1963, the current State Office Building on 6th Street in Milwaukee is old and needs to be replaced, but maybe we should combine it with some County functions to save time and money.


MILWAUKEE – Last week, Governor Scott Walker announced his plans to sell state offices in Milwaukee to a private developer and build a new state building in the Milwaukee area. The current state office, located at 819 North 6th Street in downtown Milwaukee, was built in in 1963 and houses multiple state offices and the Governor’s office. State Representative David Bowen (D-10) attended the announcement and released the following statement:

david-bowen“While the Milwaukee State office is aging and needs to be replaced, I’d like to take Walker’s plan for a new facility a step further. In order to ensure that even more taxpayer dollars are saved, I call on Milwaukee County to submit a proposal within the RFP 30 day time period to replace our current state building with one that houses both the state and county offices together in order to save taxpayers more money. The County Safety Building serves important functions and has long been in the category of severely needed replacement.”

“Before my time in the legislature, I served on the county board and am aware of the challenges of budget constraints and Capital improvement challenges at the county level. Placing the county and state in the same new & energy efficient building will help alleviate some of those constraints savings millions that can be invested in other needs.”

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Bills Should Help, Not Hinder, Those Who Need Path Out of Poverty

Posted by League of Women Voters Wisconsin
League of Women Voters Wisconsin
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on Monday, 12 February 2018
in Wisconsin

working-poorOur fellow citizens who receive FoodShare and other government benefits already face substantial barriers to improved employment. Increased bureaucratic requirements to hunt for better jobs is not the most efficient way to help them.


MADISON - The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin agrees with Governor Walker that employment in jobs that pay a living wage is the most effective means for families to move out of poverty and become vital, contributing members of society.

However the majority of people in Wisconsin who continue to receive FoodShare and other government benefits are people who already face substantial barriers to improved employment: many have disabilities that limit their options; they may be single mothers with children and inadequate access to good child care; they have chronic or acute health concerns that require frequent—perhaps daily—treatment regimens; they lack access to good transportation to travel to work or to daycare or to medical appointments; they lack modern skills to meet employers’ technical requirements; they live in constant fear of domestic violence and sabotage of their employment prospects.

Increasing the bureaucratic compliance requirements is not the most humane, and certainly not the most efficient, way to help people train for and compete successfully for good jobs.

While some of these bills propose changes to our existing systems that may help a small percentage of low-income individuals, they largely do not provide the types of assistance that would result in meaningful change. Unfortunately, these proposals are mostly about increasing the barriers faced by struggling families, which we know will simply result in fewer resources for the families involved. And this misguided effort will cost Wisconsin taxpayers $90 million. Imagine how that money could be used to benefit Wisconsin workers!

Instead of increasing barriers to accessing assistance, the League encourages the legislature to develop proposals that will: help families with their transportation problems; provide good, neighborhood child care that is available at the times, which is needed by the erratic schedules employees are now required to work; ensure that people are receiving needed medical care; expand training opportunities for the modern job market; and provide that available jobs pay a family-sustaining wage.

Unemployment in Wisconsin is approaching historically low levels. Employers and the government will have to work together to expand the labor force to meet the increasing demand for skilled employees. This cannot be done by making it harder for low-wage workers to access supplements to their low wages. It can only be done by expanding the opportunities for families to participate in the modern labor market. We encourage the legislature to take a new look at how to make it possible for more people to meaningfully participate in building Wisconsin’s economy.

As they stand, these proposals will not help the state move forward, and we urge lawmakers to reject them.

*****

Written by Ingrid Rothe, Member, League of Women Voters of Wisconsin Legislative Committee

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Who is Working Under the Governor's New "Wisconsin Works" Program?

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
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on Tuesday, 06 February 2018
in Wisconsin

walker-wi-worksDuring testimony last week on the 10 Special Session bills covering new requirements for FoodShare, Medicaid and other government assistance programs, one of the questions that no one answered was the cost. Here is some research to help you understand the implications of these bills.


MADISON - “With more people working in Wisconsin…, we can’t afford to have anyone on the sidelines, we need everyone in the game,” stated Governor Walker, calling for a special session to take up bills he nicknamed, “Wisconsin Works for Everyone.”

The Senate Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations Committee, of which I am a member, took up the special session bills in a recent public hearing. The 10 bills make substantial changes in eligibility for FoodShare (nutrition) or BadgerCare (medical care). Many of the bills limit assistance for families experiencing hard times.

To move things quickly, Senate and Assembly Committees met in a joint hearing – the only public hearing scheduled. Committee chairs took up all ten bills at the same time. At times, during the hearing, members were admonished by the Chair to ask only one question on all of the ten bills.

Lawmakers had scant information on the plans. Agency directors, who will carry out the new laws, knew very little about who would be affected. They could not answer questions about how much the state would pay to implement the new laws. No fiscal estimates were available at the hearing.

During the hearing, we learned about the hub of the Governor’s plan to get everyone working – the FoodShare Employment and Training program – commonly called “FSET.”

FSET is run by private companies. Curiously, our Assembly Chairman was a former employee of one of these companies.

Getting training and employment sounded like a great idea. I was eager to learn if the program really helped people. I wanted to know who would be participating under the new law.

grocery-store-checkoutAbout two-thirds of the people who get help from FoodShare cannot work. They are blind, elderly, disabled or children. Of the one-third left, nearly half are already working. Most folks are working part-time, low wage jobs. They want more hours, but can’t get them.

We heard about problems with the private contractors, including contractors that received incentives to get people into low-wage work, not training. In one case, a woman’s work experience was in fast food. She wanted to obtain her high school diploma, but the contractor sent her to another low-wage fast food job, without a chance to get back in school.

From her perspective, the program was a failure. From the state’s perspective, with her low wages, she would continue on FoodShare. Her life was not better. The state did not have fewer people on FoodShare. But the private contractors got paid.

I began to wonder, who’s working here and at what cost to taxpayers? Do we know if this program works? Has it been evaluated?

In brief, I learned that Wisconsin moved to a voluntary FSET program in 2008. In 2013, lawmakers asked for a yearly evaluation of the program. Walker vetoed the evaluations. In 2015, money was budgeted for a program evaluation. However, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, by May 2017, no evaluation was completed. When I asked where was the $850,000 budgeted for evaluation, no one could answer the question.

Why wouldn’t the state want to know if the program is working? When I finally obtained the fiscal estimates, I began to see a very different story of who works and who pays.

If all 10 special session bills are enacted, the implementation and ongoing costs will be nearly $240 million in the next budget. In eight of the 10 bills, the state will pay a significant amount of new money to outside contractors. For example, mandatory FSET participation and incentive payments would add almost $50 million for the FSET contractors.

Many of the bills will allow the contractor to collect public money for program changes not currently allowed under federal law. The state will seek special permission from the Trump administration to make the changes.

Now, I see a new story. Private contractors stand to gain. Governor Walker has new initiatives he can brag about across the state. New employees will work for the now wealthier contractors.

But is Wisconsin Working for Everyone who is hungry, in need of health care, or child care – not so much. All of the organizations focused on helping the working poor testified against the bills.

Please tell your Legislators to Vote No!

****

Read 10 Special Session Bill here.

Wisconsin Public Radio: Walker Calls For Special Session On Welfare Reform

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Area Legislators Propose Help for Paper Industry

Posted by Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd
Wisconsin Senate Democrats, Jay Wadd
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on Tuesday, 06 February 2018
in Wisconsin

kc-neenahStuck, Hansen, Nelson, Hintz Call for State Action to Help Keep Mills Open in the Paper Valley.


APPLETON, WI – Following the recent announcement of paper mill closures from Kimberly Clark, State Representative Amanda Stuck, State Senator Dave Hansen, and Outagamie County Executive Thomas Nelson spoke at the Paper Discovery Center, home of the Paper International Hall of Fame about steps the State of Wisconsin should take to help preserve the paper industry in Wisconsin and in Paper Valley.

tom-nelson“I grew up five miles from here, in Little Chute, where every other household had a family member who worked at a paper mill. I’m here today for those folks,” stated Outagamie County Executive Tom Nelson. “I understand marketplace dynamics; I know that industries change. But I also understand that if the State of Wisconsin can muster $3 billion for a Chinese company, it can spare one percent for one of its own,” said Nelson, “We need to help the home team and that’s why I’m here.”

dave-hansen“The closing of these mills and resulting loss of jobs loss is especially troubling. Paper industry jobs are some of the best in Wisconsin. For generations, they have played a key role in creating a sustaining a strong middle class in our state. These jobs are some of the best blue collar jobs in Wisconsin,” said Sen. Dave Hansen. “The funds we are proposing today account for just 2% of the total commitment that Governor Walker has made to Chinese-owned Foxconn,” stated Hansen. “But we believe it’s more than enough to help our mills convert to more prosperous lines of paper and become more efficient in the process.”

amanda-stuck“In the last 20 months we have seen 6 companies in the Fox Valley announce closures and layoffs impacting more than 1,800 family supporting jobs in our community,” stated Rep. Amanda Stuck. “It is past time that the State of Wisconsin takes action to help stabilize the paper industry, if we can afford billions in taxpayer support to Foxconn we can afford to help protect this home-grown industry” said Stuck. “We are proposing legislation that will help mills transition to brown paper product production and a fund that will help this industries become more efficient and reduce one of the only costs that are within their control to reduce. These proposals will help paper stay in the Paper Valley for many years to come.”

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Republican Trickle-Down Economic & Tax Policies Cost Wisconsin Jobs

Posted by Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Melanie Conklin
Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Melanie Conklin
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on Friday, 02 February 2018
in Wisconsin

kimberly-clarkScott Walker owns the Kimberly-Clark layoffs say Dems.


MADISON - Yesterday, Kimberly-Clark, a paper-based manufacturing company, announced that it was shuttering two facilities in the Fox Valley. The closure of these facilities, Neenah Nonwovens and the Cold Springs plant, will cost 600 Wisconsin workers their jobs.

Kimberly-Clark’s Chief Financial Officer, Maria Henry stated clearly that these closures were prompted by the recent Republican tax bill, promoted by Gov. Scott Walker and pushed into law by Speaker Paul Ryan and Sen. Ron Johnson to enrich their corporate backers. Henry said that the GOP tax bill provides capital for their “restructuring” and layoff plans, so they can still have “flexibility to continue to allocate significant capital to shareholders.”

Translation: The Republican tax bill allows them to close factories and ship jobs out of Wisconsin while making their rich shareholders even richer.

martha-laning“Wisconsin deserves a governor who stands up for workers and fights to keep jobs here,” said Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Martha Laning. “Walker has shown that he’s not interested in making efforts to stop Wisconsin plant closings like Oscar Mayer and Appleton Coated. Republican tax and economic policy focuses only on those in the boardroom, not the workers in the lunchroom.”

kc-workersWisconsin deserves to know: Did Walker do anything to keep these good jobs and factories in Wisconsin? Did he meet with Kimberly Clark or make any attempt to stop the job cuts caused by Republican tax plans?

During his 25 years in public office, Walker has pushed tax policy that benefits the ultra-wealthy and mega-corporations he serves. A prime example of this is his 2011 tax cut said to benefit manufacturing, which in reality focused on billionaires. A full 75% of the benefits of this Republican tax cut went to individuals with a yearly income over $1 million. By the end of 2019, this Walker tax bill will have cost Wisconsin taxpayers $1.3 billion - $1 billion of which will have gone to the wealthy elite.

Had Republicans tax giveaways required supporting jobs here in our state and country, Kimberly-Clark might not be laying off 600 Wisconsinites.

Making matters even worse is Walker’s reckless and shockingly expensive giveaway to Foxconn. Revised estimates show the deal now costing $4.5 billion, most of which is a cash payment to a giant foreign corporation.

The shuttering of two more major manufacturing facilities begs the question: Why are we giving away so much to billionaires and Foxconn when Wisconsin businesses are struggling?

“Workers are losing their jobs due to Scott Walker and Republicans failed trickle-down economics,” added Laning. “They keep showering the ultra-rich and giant corporations with our hard-earned tax dollars, and the only thing that trickles down from it are pink slips.”

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Farmers Advocate for Agriculture and Rural Communities

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
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on Tuesday, 30 January 2018
in Wisconsin

farm-familyFarmers need to take on the role of citizen lobbyists to share concerns with their legislators about the importance of the state of agriculture and rural communities.


ALMA, WI - Farmers from several western Wisconsin counties traveled to Madison as part of the annual Ag Day at the Capitol.

On the day the Governor delivered his State of the State address, farmers shared with their legislators, the state of things in their world.

Safety is always on the mind of farmers. For one farmer, farm safety was a heightened worry when his daughter took drivers education. He told me, folks traveling down rural roads often ignore the turn signals and lights on his tractor. People will make the dangerous decision to pass him when he is turning left into a farm field. There have been instances when drivers hit the farm equipment.

“Why don’t they teach drivers education students about taking care while driving around farm equipment?” he asked me. “How can we change this?” We talked about how many schools out-sourced drivers’ education, which made it difficult for school board members to influence what was taught in farm country.

Farmers play numerous roles in our communities. Many serve on the local school board because they see public schools as essential to sustaining rural communities. Schools are the heart of our rural communities. Schools are where we all gather to cheer on our local teams, laugh at the antics of actors in the school play or cry tears of joy when our babies graduate.

school-closed“I’ve been on the school board now for six years,” one of the farmers shared. He saw what happened to the school after rounds of state budget cuts. The farmers knew the current school funding formula hurt rural schools. They also knew the importance of sparsity aid to rural schools. A budget deal cut back increases in sparsity aid.

Farmers were concerned about bills to take away local school board powers related to referenda. While they agreed, school boards should not keep going back to voters when a referendum to raise taxes failed, but they also thought the state should not take away local authority to decide what to do.

Concerns about immigration and police actions worried farmers whose livelihoods depend on the skills of their devoted workers.

“We hire good, hard working, legal Mexican farm laborers who have families,” said one Pierce County farm couple. “They are continuously getting pulled over by police in the morning and receiving tickets for operating without a license.” The couple was frustrated that legislative leaders were not taking up a bill to allow undocumented farm workers to get a driver’s license.

One Buffalo County farmer said he knew of a worker who was jailed for multiple violations of operating a vehicle without a license. The farm worker requested to remain in jail over Christmas so federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents would not send him back to Mexico.

Rumors of several ICE raids in the middle of the night created anxiety for many farmers and their employees. Some workers moved away because they did not feel safe. Losing workers creates an immediate crisis for dairy farmers who rely daily on the dedication and skill of farm workers.

Losing workers adds to the already tough times for some farmers. Some farm commodity prices are low and farmers experience increases in their input costs – squeezing the farm budget. Recent reports tell us about a decline in the number of western Wisconsin farms. The Eau Claire Leader Telegram reported Dunn, Eau Claire, and Chippewa counties lost a combined 27 dairy herds in 2017. Statewide slightly more than 500 herds were lost last year.

Reflecting on the tough times, Wisconsin Public Radio reported western Wisconsin had the highest number of farm bankruptcies in the United States last year.

One of the farmers who visited my office is part of the network of Discovery Farms. This state program uses on-farm research to provide evidence of what works and what doesn’t when it comes to best practices for keeping nutrients where plants can use them and keeping our waterways clean. The farmers reminded us to use science in setting environmental policies.

Farmers told their stories, and through them, I saw a deep concern for their communities, their workers and the environment. I appreciate the farmers who took time out of their busy schedule to take up the important role of citizen lobbyists for rural Wisconsin.

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Economy a Challenge for Most of Wisconsin

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Friday, 26 January 2018
in Wisconsin

lines-farmsMeasures of the economy are split, with some booming counties and others struggling. We need to use our funds wisely when we invest in schools, roads and economic development.


MADISON - Wisconsin’s economy is recovering in some factors, but in general the measures are split and the divide between the economy of booming counties and struggling counties continues to grow. What does that mean and how can we fix it? That just means that the State of Wisconsin needs to use our funds wisely when we invest in schools, roads and economic development.

The unemployment rate in Wisconsin remains at the low rate of 3% according to December 2017 data. That low number is largely driven by a few high population areas in the state that have the lowest rate of unemployment like the Madison area which is as low as 2.1% unemployment. Whether unemployment rate is a good measure of the economy is certainly an open topic for debate, but it is a fact that Wisconsin’s unemployment rate has consistently trended below the national rate for 30 years. While there are more people working in Wisconsin, more people in the workforce is a reflection of more people in the state, it is that simple.

Our neighbors, Minnesota created new private sector jobs at a faster rate than Wisconsin in 22 of 24 quarters since the 2011 state budget. And over six years, Minnesota added 10.8% new private sector jobs, 23rd in the nation where Wisconsin only created 8.5%, 34th in the nation.

Another measure of the state economy is our poverty rate. Unlike unemployment that simply measures if people are working, the poverty rate measures people that are living below the Federal poverty rate, even if they are working. In 2016, the percentage of people living below the Federal poverty line, less than $24,250 for a family of four, was 11.8% that is 683,867 people. The rate of children living in poverty is higher at 16%. This is just another example of why our investments in education and other supports for children in poverty are essential. Wisconsin deserves equal opportunity for our children regardless of where they live or family income.

School spending is certainly a driving factor behind equal opportunity in Wisconsin and after historic cuts of $1.1 billion in public education funding under the current Governor and majority, the slow crawl to increase funding should be faster. School aids in Wisconsin remain $175 million dollars below even inflationary costs since 2010-2011. That is why we must invest our additional education dollars fairly. This past budget gave a bump to every student in the state, but all schools are simply not funded the same because of the value of local property. Wisconsin deserves schools that are funded fairly regardless of where you live and how expensive the houses in your community are.

There is always room to improve our overall economy for the people of Wisconsin. Focusing across the state whether you live in a rural, urban or suburban economy is essential because wasted human potential is wasted opportunity for our state.

****

For more information on state support for working families and the state economy call 608-266-6670 or 888-549-0027 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Senator Chris Larson remarks on Gov. Walker’s ‘State of the State’

Posted by Chris Larson, State Senator, District 7
Chris Larson, State Senator, District 7
Chris Larson (D) is the Wisconsin State Senator from the 7th District in Milwauk
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on Thursday, 25 January 2018
in Wisconsin

walker-state-denialThe Governor's smooth talking spin on the State of our State ignores the facts that reflect the reality our neighbors are facing every day.


MADISON, WI – On Wednesday the legislature gathered once again to hear Governor Walker’s State of the State address. True to form Governor Walker donned his rose-colored glasses and told the state that our lackluster economy, healthcare crisis, underfunded schools, job creation failures, dismantled environmental safeguards, threats to our drinking water, and struggling middle class are not a problem. Like Trump, he is ignoring the facts that reflect the reality our neighbors are facing every day.

Just a few things Governor Walker is running away from:

 Rejecting the Medicaid expansion for the people of Wisconsin, costing our taxpayers over $700 million  Selling out our state’s future to a foreign company, costing taxpayers a staggering $4.5 billion

 Pushing for the dismantling of our conservation heritage

 Devastating the ability of our neighborhood schools to educate our children by cutting nearly $1 billion for their futures. Cutting more money from public schools than ever before

On behalf of my neighbors, I will continue to fight for a fair economy that expands opportunities for families and strengthens our community. I am committed to:

 Strengthening our neighborhood schools by restoring the over $1 billion in state aid that was cut by Republicans

 Making child care more affordable and expanding access to paid leave

 Updating our infrastructure to meet the needs of our current generation

 Adequately funding lead abatement to stop the poisoning of our children

 Protecting our environment

 Legalizing the recreational and medicinal use of marijuana

 Protecting and promoting Wisconsin born and grown businesses

Despite the smooth talk offered by the governor, Wisconsinites are still stuck cleaning up Walker’s mess of the last seven years. His apparent rush from his record of partisan extremes is a little too late to mediate the damage he has done. Our neighbors are calling out for sensible leadership that will serve the people, not just the wealthy and well-connected.

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State of the State Address

Posted by Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
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on Thursday, 25 January 2018
in Wisconsin

walkerGov. Walker can spin his record anyway he wants, but is more spin what we really needed?


GREEN BAY - The Governor’s latest series of flip flops on health care, education and the lack of jobs in our rural communities just shows how desperate he is about his chances in the upcoming election.

- Not that long ago he took President Trump’s side in supporting the ability of insurance companies to deny people with preexisting conditions.

- In his first term he inflicted the biggest cut to our public schools in our state’s history—costing many of our schools some of their best teachers and forcing local school districts to beg taxpayers for enough money to keep the lights on.

- And offering $50 million to rural communities in north and western Wisconsin is a pittance compared to the $4 billion he is giving to a Taiwanese billionaire to help create jobs for people living in northern Illinois.

Governor Walker has also failed to keep his promise to create 250,000 jobs.  He has failed to take responsibility for driving our transportation system into the ditch, and he has signed into law some of the most egregious corporate attacks on our environmental protections that will lead to more of our wetlands being lost and more of our lakes, streams and drinking water being polluted.

And, despite his claims to the contrary, Governor Walker has still done absolutely nothing to lower student loan payments for the over 800,000 people in this state who are struggling under the weight of high cost student loans.

Governor Walker can spin his record anyway he wants, but as we have seen around the country and in western Wisconsin, the people want change.  And next fall they will have the ultimate say on whether his speech today was a success.

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Walker Shift on Health Care Not Enough

Posted by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Robert Kraig is Executive Director, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, 221 S. 2nd St.,
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on Wednesday, 24 January 2018
in Wisconsin

walker-healthplan-2015Will not undo damage from years of sabotage says non-partisan healthcare group. Opening BadgerCare as a public option, and other reforms, are needed to make coverage affordable.


STATEWIDE - Citizen Action of Wisconsin released its preliminary response on Monday to the health care proposals Governor Scott Walker will unveil Wednesday in his State of the State Address.

Walker’s sudden interest in addressing the health insurance affordability crisis will not undo the damage his 7 years of sabotage has done, let alone make coverage affordable for most Wisconsinites. In addition, Walker’s proposal on pre-existing condition exclusions would still leave many vulnerable to life-threatening insurance discrimination.

healthcare-rates-gbWhile Walker’s admission that state government has a role to play in making health care affordable is a small step forward, his proposed policies pale in comparison to the scale of the problem and do not make up for the damage done by his ongoing efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA). According to research released by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, premiums and deductibles have increased by a combined 209% in Wisconsin since 2000, and far more in some regions.

The centerpiece of Walker’s proposal, which will be unveiled in his State of the State Address on Wednesday, is a reinsurance plan which pays public money to health insurance companies for high-cost patients. Walker’s plan to give more public subsidies to insurance companies impacts very few Wisconsinites who are struggling to afford health coverage, and would result in only a moderate impact on affordability.

Reinsurance will not reduce the premiums of 83% of the Wisconsinites who buy health coverage through the ACA marketplace and receive tax subsidies. It will not effect deductibles or copays and will not help small businesses. Although it will modestly help the 17% of enrollees who make too much money to be eligible to federal tax credits, it will according to national research lower premiums only by an average of 4%. According to Citizen Action Wisconsin research, premiums increased by over 50% statewide from 2017-2018 and by even more in some areas of the state.

There are a number of far more effective policy changes that would make health coverage much more affordable if we deployed the full power of state government.

  1. Opening BadgerCare to everyone in Wisconsin as a public option would, at no cost to the state, reduce premiums and deductibles by an average of 24%. It would also help people who buy insurance on their own and small businesses, most of whom cannot afford to provide coverage to their employees.

  2. Reversing Walker’s decision to turn down the Medicaid expansion money in the ACA could reduce premiums by about 7%.

  3. Reversing the Walker Administration's decision to allow the sale of substandard plans in Wisconsin could reduce premiums by as much as 10%.

Walker’s new interest in protecting people with pre-existing conditions from discrimination by insurance companies is grossly inadequate. His proposal would allow insurance companies to trample upon the rights of anyone who’s had a gap in coverage, and does next to nothing to prevent people with serious health conditions from being priced out of coverage.

Walker’s sudden reversal does not go nearly far enough to the reverse the damage he has done through his ceaseless efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act. As Citizen Action of Wisconsin has continuously documented, the Walker Administration has sought to sabotage the ACA by encouraging healthy people to buy substandard policies outside of the market, refusing to enact robust rate review. turning down Medicaid expansion, hamstringing health care navigators, rubber stamping health insurance industry mega mergers, and seeking waivers that would allow insurance companies to take larger profits. Taken together the Walker Administration has aided and abetted the ongoing effort of the national for-profit insurance companies to continue to insure healthy people and find ways to avoid covering people with pre-existing health conditions.

“It is amazing that the best Walker can come up with to address skyrocketing health care costs is more public subsidies for insurance companies. Walker’s refusal to use the power of state government to guarantee affordable health care makes it impossible for him to meaningfully address the affordability crisis,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Insurance and pharmaceutical corporations are not in the business of securing affordable health care; they are driven by profit imperatives dictated by Wall Street. That’s why insurance companies will deny coverage to sick people and pharmaceutical corporations will price gouge if we let them. It is a simple truth that only “we the people,” through the agency of our own democratic government, can guarantee health care to everyone in Wisconsin.”

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FoodShare Bill "Kicking Us When We Are Down"

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
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on Tuesday, 23 January 2018
in Wisconsin

grocery-store-checkoutA new bill pending in the Senate would require FoodShare participants to show a photo ID at the store. History has shown such a requirement is very costly and has little impact on fraud, a problem Wisconsin took far more effective steps in the past to reduce.


MADISON - The little girl walked home through the snow. She took the longer route. Mom asked her to stop at the store to buy milk. She touched the coupons and note. She couldn’t lose them. Mom was so sick with cancer.

Some little girl might be asked next year to show a photo ID to get milk. The Senate Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations committee recently had a hearing on a bill to require those using FoodShare to show a photo ID. Advocates argued this would treat people in need of help in an undignified way, add unneeded bureaucracy and increase government expenses without reducing fraud.

FoodShare is Wisconsin’s version of the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program”. SNAP has the strongest program integrity, or fraud prevention, standards of any federal program. For example, the old Food Stamp program used paper coupons. Under President Clinton, states moved to a plastic card that operates like a debit card, dramatically cutting down on fraud.

On average, eligible families receive $1.39 per person per meal, according to recent testimony from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. People often are on the program for a short time. A Department of Agriculture study found a little more than half of new participants stay on SNAP for less than a year.

In Wisconsin, a quarter of recipients are elderly, blind or have a disability. Forty-three percent are children. Forty percent have jobs. During the hearing, we learned the state worked hard to reduce fraud and now has an accuracy rate (benefits properly going to those eligible) of ninety-nine percent.

Efforts made to fix problems in FoodShare included reducing the many errors made by those working in the system. Wisconsin had a history of being a state with one of the highest error rates in the nation. Changes made under Governor Doyle resulted in bonus payments for improvements. However, problems remained.

Audits conducted by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) found problems with the Department of Health (DHS) oversight of the FoodShare program. Prisoners were still receiving benefits, reports showing fraud were not being read or acted upon, and fraud investigators were woefully understaffed. State work was sent to private companies in violation of federal law.

DHS responded with many changes. Workers can now verify social security numbers in real time. This process helped eliminate prison inmates who continued to receive benefits.

Selling or buying a card is illegal. DHS maintains a Trafficking Enforcement and Audit Unit that reviews the details of requests for replacement of lost cards. This unit identifies vendor (grocery store) fraud. It works with local agencies to share fraud-related data and conducts fraud and misuse audits. In addition, an Investigation and Technical Assistance Unit follows up on calls to the fraud hotline among many other aspects of fraud investigation.

This work paid off. Last spring, DHS announced two people were facing criminal charges for FoodShare fraud. One man requested 13 cards in 12 months. The data obtained by our system showed purchases made by multiple people using the man’s personal ID number.

The Department reported in 2016 that almost 1400 people were suspended from the program compared to 203 in 2012. Of those, 113 resulted in criminal prosecution. The new system was put in place in 2013.

Photo IDs for SNAP is not a new idea. In fact, many states tried to require photo IDs and stopped. Missouri stopped using photo IDs in 2001 because they did not show significant cost savings. Massachusetts abandon the program under Governor Romney. One problem is that federal rules require that SNAP beneficiaries not be treated differently at a grocery story. This means stores would be required to ask EVERYONE for an ID.

The program is expensive. To start the program would cost over $7 ½ million and another $1.6 million as ongoing costs.

Getting assistance to those who need it and getting rid of fraud are goals we all share. But let’s be smart about the rules. Unnecessary or politically motivated rules result in wasted dollars and fewer folks signing up who truly need help.

Long-term studies show the supplemental nutrition program resulted in marked reduction in serious nutrition problems among children. My family and I are part of the success story. The little girl in the story was me.

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Governor Walker’s Re-election Health Care Plan

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Tuesday, 23 January 2018
in Wisconsin

walker-rejects-fedmoneyGov. Walker has finally decided to join most Americans and support the Affordable Care Act, so now it’s time to bring our Federal taxpayer dollars back.


MADISON - Even though last year he fought for repeal, in his re-election campaign now Governor Walker has finally decided to join most Americans and support the Affordable Care Act. Democrats in Wisconsin have always worked to strengthen our health care system and now Governor Walker finally joins us in that fight. Now it’s time for Governor Walker to bring our Federal taxpayer dollars back to Wisconsin and expand BadgerCare – our state has now lost over $1 billion because of Governor Walker’s refusal to expand BadgerCare.

These newly loved Democratic plans are a drop in the bucket compared to what accepting funds to expand BagerCare could do for the people of this state. Finally, without a CHIP extension, Wisconsin will have a huge hole in our Medicaid budget so maybe this plan should include a Governor Walker guarantee Congress will extend CHIP for the children of this state.

On Reinsurance funds: Reinsurance is a tool that has been used by other states including Minnesota who funded $500 million. Governor Walker’s plan is less than half of what Minnesota invested which begs the question, is it really enough to lower the premium for participants?

On $50 million in Medicaid savings – The Medicaid report just came out and counts on Congress renewing CHIP. I wish Governor Walker could waive his magic wand to make Congress renew CHIP for the children of Wisconsin, where is that promise? Without it we will have a huge hole in our Medicaid budget.

On SeniorCare Medicare Part D exemption permanent – That’s up to the Federal government – the current SeniorCare extension was just filed (down to the wire). Seniors have basically had to beg Governor Walker to renew it for the past ten years. Again – glad he is finally willing to commit to always renewing the SeniorCare waiver – something he has NEVER been willing to do before.

On the preexisting conditions bill – I am curious why Governor Walker did not like this proposal when it was an Erpenbach/Riemer proposal. Clearly coverage for preexisting conditions is – and has always been – a huge concern for the people of Wisconsin. Governor Walker did not speak up when President Donald Trump and Congress tried to repeal ObamaCare – it is interesting that he is speaking up now.

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Governor’s Call for Special Session on Welfare

Posted by Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30 has not set their biography yet
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on Saturday, 20 January 2018
in Wisconsin

walkerWalker's call for special session on welfare reform last Thursday was attempt to divert people’s attention from latest Republican failures says Green Bay Senator.


GREEN BAY - Adam Jarchow lost in Tuesday’s senate election in part because he and his Republican friends chose to attack struggling families.

Despite voters’ rejection of these types of attacks, Governor Walker sees them as his opportunity to excite his supporters and shift their attention away from the fact that he, President Trump and Republicans in Madison and Congress have failed to help improve their lives.

Instead of giving a Taiwanese billionaire over $4 billion that will do little to help the vast majority of people in this state, a more informed governor might have decided instead to invest that money into our own families, businesses, schools and roads all across the state.

Now, seeing that his reelection ploy is not working, he is trying to divert the people’s attention by calling a special session to wage new attacks on working families and the poor.

Governor Walker’s call for a special session is another sign that he and legislative Republicans are running scared. It is a transparently political move that is just another reason so many people are voting for real change in Wisconsin and around the country.

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Tuesday's Vote Swing Shows Healthcare Professionals Engaged in Elections

Posted by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Robert Kraig is Executive Director, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, 221 S. 2nd St.,
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on Friday, 19 January 2018
in Wisconsin

healthcareHealthcare professionals see elections as a necessary part of their work.


STATEWIDE - Healthcare professionals are getting involved in the 2018 Wisconsin elections. “I’m tired of the attacks on BadgerCare and I’m tired of the government not putting any regulations on pharmaceutical companies jacking up prices,” said Lynn Carey, a retired nurse who helped in Dennis Degenhardt’s race in Assembly District 58, “I volunteered for Dennis because of his stance on healthcare.” The seat swung 25% in the direction of the Democrat candidate.

Dawn Garcia, a healthcare consultant, volunteered for Patty Schachtner in her Senate District 10 win. Senate District 10 is a traditionally Republican district, but Schachtner won on the message of fully expanding BadgerCare and increasing mental health resources. Garcia state, “I think healthcare professionals are realizing that they have the power and responsibility to change the US healthcare system, and part of that is getting involved in elections.”

Garcia and Carey are part of Citizen Action of Wisconsin’s organizing co-ops network forming across the state, including the Western Wisconsin Co-op which includes Senate District 10 and Healthcare for All co-op in Southeast Wisconsin and which is made up of doctors, nurses, and other health professionals.

“We are only just beginning,” said Carey. The group is putting on a “Healthcare Jeopardy” governor candidate forum on Saturday, January 27 at 9:30am at MATC Milwaukee. They expect for the room to be full of newly politically-engaged healthcare professionals looking to get involved.

In addition to the health professionals involved, Citizen Action of Wisconsin Western and North Central Wisconsin Organizing Co-ops members also volunteered the Senate District 10 election.

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How Haste Empowers the "Shadow Legislature"

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
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on Tuesday, 16 January 2018
in Wisconsin

mta-madisonLast week, 49 committees took action on 150 bills. This hasty process allows for out-of-state “Shadow Legislature” groups to push for action on bills while Wisconsin citizens struggle to keep up with the process and make their voice heard.


MADISON, WI - “Who put all this policy in the budget?” I whispered to my colleague the night the budget passed. “Groups,” he said glumly. “I call it the ‘Shadow Legislature.’”

These groups are often from outside Wisconsin and often funded by large donors. Behind the scenes, they push for policy, added at the last minute, which is unrelated to the state budget but changed laws.

Recently, these groups came out of the shadows to directly ask for what they wanted.

It was a busy week in the Capitol. Forty-nine committee hearings and 150 bills moved in three days. Lawmakers scrambled to research complex bills.

Big issues were debated. Should lawmakers further limit the powers of local schools to set referenda? Should the state take away more local power to set rules related to workers? Voted out of committee were bills to limit pollution rules and shut down state air monitoring.

public-hearing-emptyHearings scheduled with short notice made it difficult for interested citizens to follow the flurry of activity.

In an effort to be informed, Glory Adams from Eau Claire took advantage of the legislative notification system on four topics: local control, and environmental, consumer and worker protections.

Glory found out about a bill to take away local powers that I had missed. I called her to thank her for her vigilance. Glory explained how difficult it was to stay informed. “I get 25 or 30 notices a day,” Glory said. “I can’t keep up with them.”

No one can.

Many bills were moving to public hearings and a vote with only a few days’ notice. The speed and volume of bills made it tough to gain any meaningful public input. Sometimes, the only person testifying on a bill, besides the legislative author of the bill, was a representative of an out-of-state group pushing the bill.

For example, a group from Tallahassee, Florida sent a young man named Jared to push legislation on their behalf. Besides the Senate author, Jared was the only one to testify on the bill. The group is one of several working to do away with professional licensing.

I asked Jared where else he was sent to push for action on bills. “I’ve been working on bills in Arizona,” he said. “I’ve also been to Indiana and Florida. I recently testified in Nebraska.” Jared lives in Washington, D.C. “But I grew up in Illinois,” he offered, hoping that fact would help.

It didn’t.

In two cases, bills were pushed by outside groups to get out from under insurance rules. In one case, a different group from Tallahassee, Florida wanted to take a car insurance product and make it a financial contract. After much research, it seems to me the current law protects consumers from companies looking to make a big profit. Changing the law would eliminate those protections.

In another case, the Chicago-based Heartland Institute pushed a bill to sell a type of health insurance that would not really be health insurance. At least not with the protections currently provided in law.

“People don’t realize these bills don’t even originate in Wisconsin,” Glory Adams noted. “They come from various organizations, and are repeated here… Often times [the bill] doesn’t even apply to Wisconsin. [The groups] aren’t looking at the needs of Wisconsin.”

With so many hearings scheduled at the same time, the chairs of many legislators were empty. “They aren’t even listening to us,” one man said. I began to wonder if the leaders really wanted any public input.

This process of haste and obscurity diminishes the public voice. Lawmakers aren’t hearing Wisconsin citizens who are testifying. How do you create a thoughtful law or fix a bill when you do not hear about the unintended negative effects on Wisconsin from a proposal written by an out-of-state group?

At the end of a long day, I spoke with a woman from Ettrick who shared my opposition to a bill to eliminate the requirement of local government to put notices in the newspaper of their public meetings. “How am I going to know what’s going on?” she asked me.

Someday, when someone asks, “Where did my democracy go?” I will tell them about how haste and the influence of the “Shadow Legislature” suppressed the public voice.

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Why Are My Property Taxes So High

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
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on Tuesday, 09 January 2018
in Wisconsin

tax-billSenator Vinehout is often asked why property taxes increased while folks hear their property taxes are supposed to be less. She offers some reasons why some people are facing a bigger bill.


MADISON, WI - “I’m paying higher property taxes and I haven’t had a raise in years.” Sound familiar?

You are not alone.

Property taxes are a regressive tax – the tax falls harder on those with less means. Property tax bills take a bigger bite out of the paychecks of people who have not received a raise in years. At the same time, the very wealthy see their tax bill as a smaller share of their increasing piece of the pie.

I fielded many questions lately about property taxes.

Folks are hearing taxes are supposed to be lower. However, they see increases in property taxes and want to know why. “Who is benefiting when I’m not?’ one woman asked.

In some cases, recently passed school referenda are showing up on some tax bills.

Additionally, this year, people are learning that newly passed federal tax changes will prevent them from deducting their property taxes on their federal tax return.

Last month a report by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance provided insight into understanding property taxes. Since statehood and before, the property tax has been Wisconsin’s largest state or local tax. After World War II, needs on a local level grew quickly. Property taxes increased as communities needed schools and other services for their residents. To help offset the increases, lawmakers sent state money to locals in the form of tax credits.

Wisconsin has a long history of providing public services locally. In contrast to some states where services are provided by the state, Wisconsinites value local services and local decision-making. But the state has not kept up in “sharing” the money through an aid called “shared revenue.”

For example, state spending for local aid (shared revenue) from the state was lower in 2017 than in 2007 using last year’s estimates from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

When needs grow, and state money does not keep pace, locals make decisions that end up raising property taxes. Schools are an example. Local schools are funded by state aid and local property taxes.

In recent years, the state has not kept up with the cost of local schools. In real dollars (adjusted for inflation), schools will be getting less in the next two years than a decade ago. To make up for rising costs and less state aid, referenda passed at record high rates. Passing school funding referenda raises property taxes.

When the Legislative session begins in January, a set of bills are pending that would help lower residential property taxes.

Big retail companies, like Walgreens, use a loophole to have their property taxes lowered, which shifts more of the tax to homeowners.

Known as the “dark store loophole” big retail companies have their property assessed as if the store was vacant and that lower value is used in computing property taxes. For example, the Mayor of Appleton testified, that a new drugstore cost $4.7 million to build and was assessed at $1.7 million. The city lost in court and paid the drugstore $800,000 in tax refunds.

“This is not about raising property taxes,” the Mayor told our committee. “This is about fairness. Because residents will pay more. We’re not raising taxes but your taxes are going up.”

The Appleton scenario was repeated as community after community came to testify. To make matters worse for local homeowners, the big stores used more local services that cost the city more resources.

The Mayor of Oshkosh testified, “Easily our police department responds to about 2,000 calls per year [from the big box stores]. The demand for services at these types of stores exceeds anything the so-called “dark store” would ever generate. … This is an unfair shift to residential property owners and their families.”

There are two bipartisan bills to fix the problem. The bills need votes to pass.

Solving the issue of high property taxes means, in part, providing more money from the state to locals. In my alternative budget, I added more money for schools, fixed the school aid formula so the money went where it was needed, and I increased aid to locals (shared revenue) by ten percent.

Increasing state aid makes schools and local government less reliant on property taxes, which takes the increasing burden off local property owners.

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Time to Work Smarter As We Fight Veteran Suicide

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Saturday, 06 January 2018
in Wisconsin

veterans_army_medicIn Wisconsin we say we value military service and our veterans, but some of our financially failing services will not survive unless we make smart decisions.


MADISON, WI - Everyone knows the statistic, 22 veterans are victims of suicide each day in our country. The reality that those who have served us risking life and limb are struggling to point of taking their own lives is a failure of our nation. While many policies that address veterans issues, like health care and duty disability are Federal policies, there are many programs and policies administered by the State of Wisconsin that affect veterans. Our goal as we seek to address the crisis of veteran suicide should be meeting the needs of those veterans in crisis in a nimble and effective way.

Spreading the word about existing programs and making sure veterans are receiving all of the support they deserve is our most important first action. After attacks on our County Veterans Service Officers in the recent past, most Legislators now understanding the true value of a face to face connection point in every county of the state. Having an officer at the County Veterans Service Office is invaluable. No one knows more about how to connect veterans to services they need and deserve than a CVSO. Make sure the veterans in your life know they can make connection points, not just for earned service, but also for local organizations and groups that support veterans at their local CVSO.

Protection of programs that are only in Wisconsin that are meeting needs where Federal programs fall short is another essential goal. The Wisconsin GI bill has stronger college support for veterans and their children than the Federal GI. Our universities have worked to understand and support our veteran community better and it shows. The Needy Veterans Program is another Wisconsin specific support that is very valuable to our veteran families in need of medical equipment or emergency financial support. My hope is to expand the Needy Veteran Program to support emergency mental health services for veterans and their families.

Once again this year, I have introduced(with Representative Gordon Hintz) Senate Bill 631 that would expand the use of the Needy Veteran Program to include mental health and substance abuse services. Using an existing program and spending money already set aside to help veterans make this a bill that can be seamlessly adopted now. The bill requires action on the veterans request in 48 hours to meet needs quickly. We know that the average wait time for an initial mental health appointment at the VA is 26 days. Being able to get substance abuse treatment and mental health services as veterans wait for treatment from the VA is the kind of nimble smart support we should be exploring in Wisconsin. I am also drafting a bill to pilot a text message veteran’s crisis line so we can offer an option for counsel and support without having to talk, using texting technology.

Finally, I will continue to work to support the Department of Veterans Affairs with general purpose tax dollars just like most other state agencies. Our financially failing Veterans Fund will not survive unless we make some smart decisions. The people of Wisconsin want to support our veterans and most people think they already do. In Wisconsin we value military service and our veterans.

For more information on proposals affecting veteran’s in Wisconsin contact my office at 608-266-6670 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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The Wisconsin Way Forward in 2018

Posted by Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling lives in La Crosse with her husband and two children. She curr
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on Wednesday, 03 January 2018
in Wisconsin

kewaunee-harbor-familyWisconsin families are working harder than ever but can’t seem to get ahead, while Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans are draining resources from our schools, roads and local communities to fund the huge taxpayer giveaway to Foxconn. We need to work together to move ahead.


LA CROSSE, WI - As I look back at the political battles of 2017, I’m reminded that our state does better when we all work together for the shared values of stronger communities, opportunity and fairness for all. In short, Wisconsin does better when we all do better.

Despite other states rebounding from the Great Recession, Republican policies have shrunk Wisconsin’s middle class, shifted more costs onto working families and created an 111,000 jobs deficit.

Seven years of failed Republican budgets are felt every time we drive over a pothole or cast a ballot for a school referendum. We feel it in our pocketbooks as our wages remain stagnant, while 47 millionaires receive a new tax break.

walker-terry-gou-foxconn-flagWisconsin families are working harder than ever but can’t get ahead because Republicans continue to favor the wealthy and foreign corporations. Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans are draining resources from our schools, roads and local communities in order to fund the largest taxpayer giveaway to a foreign corporation in U.S. history.

Instead of pitting families against one another and favoring out-of-state corporations at the expense of home-grown businesses, we should work to level the playing field and make sure everyone who works hard has an opportunity to succeed.

In 2018 Democrats remain united in our values to create a more fair economy, expand opportunities and strengthen communities.

Democrats have offered dozens of forward-looking solutions to expand access to affordable health care, invest in infrastructure and improve workplace flexibility for hardworking Wisconsin families. We’ve introduced bills to address the sky-rocketing costs of childcare, expand the family medical leave act, provide student loan debt relief, and invest in our local schools.

These are the issues that impact families across Wisconsin and these are the issues that families want fixed. By focusing on policies that encourage growth and drive innovation, we can expand economic opportunities and move Wisconsin forward.

I know we can do better. If we want to grow our middle class and help our next generation succeed in a competitive global economy, we need to invest in our state and retain the best and the brightest. We will continue to fight for common-sense solutions to lower student loan debt, expand access to child care, raise family wages and increase retirement security.

Onward, upward and forward to 2018.

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Looking Forward to 2018

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
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on Wednesday, 03 January 2018
in Wisconsin

new-yearState Senator and possible gubernatorial candidate Kathleen Vinehout writes about the big events happening in 2018 and about the work the Legislature will be doing throughout the course of the year.


ALMA, WI - Snow falls gently on the farm. It’s the light, fluffy snow that comes when it’s very cold.

We’ve seen bitter temperatures to end the year. Like many, the cold caused its share of problems on our farm. I was reminded to appreciate running water when our well pump went out Christmas Eve. When an electric waterer failed, we carried buckets of water to our horses.

farm-snowBitter cold weather and a dwindling supply of propane caused Wisconsin to declare a state of energy emergency related to intermittent propane supplies. For the 250,000 Wisconsinites that depend on propane for heat, a shortage can be a big deal.

After the relative calm of the Holiday Season, I expect the activities of the Legislature to heat up quickly in January. No one quite knows when will be the last day to pass a bill. This uncertainty is causing a great deal of urgency among lawmakers.

What causes the uncertainty is the tension and game playing between the Senate and Assembly Leaders. As usual, both leaders have bantered about when each body will adjourn for the campaign season. The banter somewhat resembles the school yard game of “chicken”.

Members of the Legislature will soon meet the voters. Many lawmakers ponder their promises made but not-yet-kept. They work with staff to put the final touches on bills they hope to pass.

2018 will be the year of many campaigns. Special elections in January, a nonpartisan primary in February, a Supreme Court race, and local nonpartisan elections – including every county board member in the state – in April.

gotv-chippewafallsCandidates who want to run for partisan elected office will begin collecting nomination signatures in mid-April. Fun begins in June when all partisan races will be set. June 1st is the deadline for turning in signatures for all partisan races. August brings us two big partisan primaries: the GOP US Senate race and the Democratic gubernatorial primary. November 6th is the general election date.

Mid-March is likely the time both legislative chambers will have their final days to meet as the full Senate and Assembly. But this does not mean the work of the state is finished.

The Finance and the Audit Committees meet all year, every year. Special “study committees” will be formed with members of the public adding their voices to help lawmakers address complex problems.

We will see new issues arise in the next few months. I expect to see at least some discussion of how to fix big problems. Woefully inadequate broadband, a broken system of school funding and the rising problems related to addiction, especially opioid abuse, are major problems many constituents want addressed.

Many Democrats, including myself, will continue to push for real changes to improve health care access and affordability. A great beginning is to create a state marketplace for health care – a bill I’ve written to give Wisconsin the flexibility we need to fix health care.

wisstatereformatory-allouezAlso, on the agenda in 2018, is taking a good look at what’s happening with our justice system. We have roughly double the number of people in prison compared to Minnesota. Even though we have a similar crime rate and similar population. Late in 2017, GOP leaders pushed through several bills to increase the minimum required penalties on some crimes and changed rules related to probation.

The bills would cost the state more and add to already overcrowded prisons. But leaders did not have any way to pay for the increased costs. Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) recently told the Wheeler Report “we need to figure out, probably, a way to build a new state prison. … I think that is something we will probably do this spring, but probably putting either revenues or bonding into upgrading our prisons.”

Borrowing to build a new prison is going to cause controversy when our neighbor to the west already has a corrections system that costs less and reduces crime.

Looking forward, 2018 will be an exciting year of change.

The New Year is a great time for resolutions. I encourage everyone to resolve to be active in our great democracy, and be involved in the direction of this change.

Wishing you a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

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Looking Back on 2017

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
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on Wednesday, 27 December 2017
in Wisconsin

foxconnwisconsinSen. Vinehout writes about what legislation received the most attention in 2017. The Foxconn deal, biennial state budget, Prove it First Mining Law and high capacity well permit oversight were the dominate topics on people’s minds throughout the past year.


ALMA, WI - As the year draws to a close, I often look back on my time in the Legislature and think of decisions that have an effect on our families and our neighborhoods.

This year, big companies are unwrapping gifts. The luckiest of really big companies is Foxconn. The $3 billion deal to bring the flat-screen TV and computer monitor manufacturer to Racine County is overwhelmingly unpopular in western Wisconsin. I’ve received over one-hundred calls and letters from folks who asked about the lack of taxpayer and environmental protections. They wonder where the money will come from in an already tight budget.

2017 was the year of a late budget that failed to address many problems lawmakers promised to fix: roads, schools and local government relief. I wrote an alternative budget showing a path to fixing many of these problems.

One new tax was passed to help roads - hybrids and electric car owners will pay more. But the money collected won’t cover a fraction of the long term needs of fixing our roads and bridges.

No changes were made to the way local governments are funded. Flat state spending for local communities means more struggles to provide local services like police, fire and social services.

school-bus-kidsTo address the criticism the Legislature was not fixing the problems with funding our public schools, a new task force called the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding was created and just recently started its work. I’m cautiously optimistic changes will come to provide fairness in school funding. Meanwhile, many families are paying higher property taxes because of school referenda passed last year to keep schools afloat.

Two other bills stand out in 2017 as topics that brought a great deal of contact from constituents: sulfide mining and high capacity wells. Overwhelmingly, people opposed getting rid of our twenty-year-old “Prove it First” law. The old law required a company to first prove metal mining was safe before it was permitted to mine. A few weeks ago, Governor Walker signed into effect a new law. It will allow mining for silver, gold, copper and other minerals without proving it can be done without polluting the environment.

People were opposed to getting rid of DNR oversight of high capacity wells. The new law created permits for these wells to be “in perpetuity,” or forever.

sand-mining-wiWestern Wisconsin is home to more mines than any other part of the state. A big part of sand mining is access to a high capacity well permit. Here, folks know, up close and personal, what happens when a sand mine moves in next door.

A horse named Apples helped tell the story about what happens when mines open shop and neighbors are not protected. Poor Apples died, likely of toxic metals in the water. Later the family found almost ten times the limit of arsenic in their water. The family lives a little over a half mile from a sand mine. The courts will decide what killed Apples, but the family pointed out, when an oil industry down-turn caused production to stop at a nearby mine, the water cleared up.

The state failed to protect folks and their critters in Apples’ neighborhood.

clean-drinking-waterDrinking clean water and enjoying our beautiful outdoors are joys we all share. Which is why protecting the environment has been a long-standing bipartisan effort. It was a bipartisan legislature, including our current Governor when he was a State Assembly Representative, that created the Prove it First mining law.

As we close 2017, I’m grateful for a bipartisan group of lawmakers working together to legalize hemp as a commodity. This is a bill I’ve introduced for several years. I recently spoke with former Senator Sheila Harsdorf. She shared that many farmers around Wisconsin have contacted her to say they want to grow hemp.

I’m grateful for the work of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection (DATCP) to write rules so farmers can get hemp seeds in the ground next spring. The Senate lost a strong voice for agriculture in Senator Harsdorf resignation, but we’ve gained a big voice for agriculture in her appointment as the new DATCP Secretary.

Wishing all of you a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

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