Thursday June 27, 2019

Forward with Education & Reason

FacebookTwitterYoutube
Newsletter
Feeds:

Progressive Thinking

Discussion with education and reason.

Hemp: Its Time has Come

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 10 October 2017
in Wisconsin

hemp-fieldSenate Bill 119 would legalize growing hemp and create an active industrial program and license growers, actions eagerly supported by Wisconsin farmers. The Bill has strong bi-partisan support and Sen. Vinehout hopes it will pass quickly.


MADISON - Farmers in diverse states like Hawaii, Kentucky, Maine and Minnesota are researching a new crop: industrial hemp. Many states are changing laws to allow growing of hemp.

Wisconsin is slow to get in the game. Hopefully, this is about to change.

Lawmakers on the Senate Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism Committee are considering a hemp legalization bill. If Senate Bill 119 becomes law, the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Protection (DATCP) would create an active industrial hemp program and license growers.

Hemp is not a new crop to Wisconsin. We once had flourishing fields of hemp. But, as the saying goes, you are sometimes known by your relatives. Even for a plant. Hemp suffered from an association with its cousin, marijuana. By the 1950s, farmers stopped growing hemp. Federal and state drug laws swept up hemp in an effort to eradicate marijuana.

According to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) publication, industrial hemp and marijuana are separate varieties or cultivars of the same species of plant cannabis sativa.

Generally, hemp is defined by having less than 0.3% of THC, an active ingredient in marijuana. However, the plant differs in other genetic aspects, in cultivation practices, and in its use.

Thirty counties around the world grow hemp as an agricultural commodity. Hemp can be used to create plastics, mixed with lime to create concrete, as a fiberglass alternative for use by aviation or automobiles or as a potential biodiesel fuel. The CRS reports more than 25,000 hemp products fall into nine markets: agriculture, textiles, recycling, automotive, furniture, food and beverages, paper, construction materials and personal care.

According to the CRS, growth in the sale of hemp products averaged over 15% annually between 2010 and 2015. The biggest demand for hemp related products are hemp-based body products, food or supplements. These products account for more than 60% of the value of U.S. sales.

Until recently, U.S. farmers were forbidden to grow hemp. This policy forced industries to import hemp raw materials or use finished hemp products for further processing. China now leads the world as a grower and supplier of hemp. United States processors also rely heavily on Canadian growers.

A provision in the 2014 federal Farm Bill allowed universities and state agriculture departments to begin supervising hemp in pilot programs. This caused a flurry of activity within state legislatures to create new hemp laws.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) as of July 2017, 33 states passed some legislation related to industrial hemp including all our Midwestern neighboring states except Iowa. Twenty-six states created laws that began research on hemp, or a grower pilot-program.

Many states passed laws encouraging the development of hemp for certain purposes. For example, Colorado is researching the use of hemp for animal feed. Kentucky funded research on the use of hemp for biofuels. North Carolina is studying hemp for soil conservation and reforestation. The CRS cites research showing hemp may be less environmentally degrading than some other crops. Hemp can play a role in crop rotation, breaking the cycle of disease and pests.

Wisconsin farmers are eager once again to get in on hemp production. The Wisconsin Farm Bureau and the Wisconsin Farmers Union are advocating for the passage of SB 119. Farmers from both organizations and local agriculture agents contacted me asking for quick passage of the SB 119.

Like many agricultural issues, hemp legislation this year has strong bipartisan support. Forty cosponsors of both parties signed up to help pass SB 119. This is a significant improvement from when I introduced the first Senate bill in 2016. Several earlier bills died in the Assembly.

This year, Senators Testin and Harsdorf took the bill I authored and added some important provisions. They gave the UW a role in supervising a seed certification program. The new bill allows any university or tribe to establish agricultural hemp plots. Additionally, it encourages our State Tribal Relations Committee to investigate hemp as an economic development tool for our tribes.

Hemp in Wisconsin is a crop whose time has come. Passage of SB 119 will begin the work of bringing back Wisconsin’s hemp industry. Let’s make 2017 the year of hemp.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Proposal to De-license Occupations Gains Steam in Senate

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 04 October 2017
in Wisconsin

nurseTwo bills moving through the Senate would create a non-elected council to review professional licenses and propose legislation that would de-license professions in Wisconsin. Many professionals around the state have voiced opposition.


MADISON - Imagine you are with your loved one who is in the hospital. Night comes. You prepare to leave, gently kissing your loved one “good night”.

As you walk down the corridor and into the hospital parking lot, you might wonder how your loved one will feel in the morning. Will things be better, worse or stay the same?

One thing you don’t worry about is the quality of care provided to your loved one because the nurses working the night shift are licensed by the state.

Nurses and other professionals follow “standards of care” that are spelled out in their education and clinical training. They follow licensing and board requirements set in state law. Patients are protected from incompetent nurses by a board that oversees the practice of nursing. This is true for dozens of other professionals in Wisconsin.

Recently, a Senate committee on which I serve passed two bills that set up a process to potentially de-license professionals. Senate Bill 288 establishes a partisan appointed council that reviews licensing, registration or other state approval for ALL occupation and professional licensing in Wisconsin. Senate Bill 296 creates a process for self-certification that allows a person to claim “state certification” even though they may have no training or experience in their chosen occupation.

workersElectricians, nurses, certified public accountants, plumbers, physical therapists, doctors, and other professionals will have their licensing and continuing education requirements reviewed by a non-elected, partisan council. The Council would have the power to write and introduce a bill making changes to the laws governing occupational licensing. These powers are generally reserved for lawmakers.

The process set up by these bills is eerily similar to a process laid out in an August 2017 publication of the ideologically conservative Mercatus Center:

Policymakers…would be wise to follow these steps:

  1. Pass legislation that sets an ambitious goal for the elimination of licenses and the reduction of licensing burdens.
  2. Establish an independent commission charged with examining the state’s licensing laws. …the commission should be charged with evaluating all licenses.
  3. The commission should be charged with setting a comprehensive path for licensure elimination and reform. The authorizing legislation should commit elected officials to accepting the commission’s recommendations in their entirety or not at all.

…the institutional structure that we recommend borrows elements from other reforms that have succeeded in eliminating favoritism. In particular, it allows elected officials to cast conspicuous votes in the public interest while giving them some degree of “cover” from the special interests that will inevitably be harmed by the elimination of their regulatory privilege.

Let’s break down that last sentence.

The elected officials cast “votes in the public interest” – your elected representative is voting to de-license your plumber. “Giving them some degree of ‘cover’” – your elected official is now able to say, “I didn’t really want to de-license your plumber, but it was part of a larger bill and I couldn’t change the bill.”

“Special interests that will inevitably be harmed”—those “special interests” would be the plumbers’ union or the nurses’ association.

The public likely did not hear about the de-licensure plan because the daylong hearing by both the Senate and Assembly committees happened at exactly the same time as the public hearing on Foxconn. The Foxconn hearing dominated headlines, not the concerns of over 100 Wisconsinites who traveled to Madison to testify or register against the de-licensure bills. Those speaking in favor of the bills were, almost exclusively, conservative ideological groups.

When I asked what problem the bills were trying to solve, proponents said they wanted to eliminate “fence me out” legislation that left people unable to get into a desired profession. When I asked them to provide me a list of professions with licenses that create a “fence me out” problem, they did not give me a single example.

Over the years, the Legislature created licensure requirements in conjunction with professionals. If we have unnecessary licensing, committees of the Legislature should review details of a professional license and determine if change is necessary.

Setting up a process to de-license professionals by unelected appointees is an attempt by conservative ideological groups to remake Wisconsin in their own image. In fact, a republican colleague commented that these ideological groups have become a shadow legislature.

These bills need to be stopped.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Two Worlds Apart: The Capitol and the Great River Road

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 26 September 2017
in Wisconsin

great-river-roadThe contrast between the frenzy in the Capitol on the state budget and Foxconn and the slow pace of life along the Great River Road in western Wisconsin is great, but the decisions made in Madison will significantly influence people’s lives in western Wisconsin.


MADISON, WI - “Oh, my gosh,” I said to the Senate page. “I need that book.” The ‘book’ was a 744-page binder written by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) detailing, in plain language, the decisions in the massive state budget.

Knowing what was in the binder was critical to making an informed vote on the state budget. However, there was no time. The binder showed up in my office just as the Senate was about to go into session to debate a $3 billion dollar deal for Foxconn.

wisconsinLess than twenty-four hours earlier, the budget writing committee made its final decisions on the state’s two-year, seventy-six billion dollar spending plan. In the next twenty-four hours, the full Assembly would vote on the budget bill. By the end of the same week, Friday night, a majority in the Senate would pass the budget. In less than another week, both Foxconn and the budget would be law.

Lawmakers, on both sides of the aisle, scrambled to know what was in the budget bill.

After three months of delays and false starts, the rush was on. For the first time, we had the actual bill – a 1,087-page document listing specific changes to 9,052 sections of Wisconsin law. Each of the sections modified parts of the law, although some single law changes had many sections devoted to accomplishing the change. In addition to a 744-page summary, the LFB wrote over 200 papers detailing individual changes.

The rush to move both Foxconn and the budget left little opportunity for the public to know what was happening and to react. Additionally, the public had no opportunity to react to nearly seventy pieces of policy unrelated to the budget but added into the budget at the last minute.

All this activity, and the magnitude of the decisions committing state funds forward for decades, stood in sharp contrast to the western Wisconsin world I returned to following the last Senate votes.

On the Great River Road that runs along the Mississippi and down the western edge of Buffalo County the state budget was not on people’s minds.

Conversation was about the hot weather and this being the first week of autumn. The leaves are beginning to drop. There is not much color yet except in the bottomland of the Buffalo River where the marsh plants are turning a rosy, reddish purple.

The grapes up on the bluff at Danzinger’s Vineyard were harvested. The view as the sunsets over the Mississippi Valley is magnificent. The organic sunflowers at Hetrick’s farm turned black, the heads hang down, waiting for the combine.

The corn and soybeans are drying down and a year’s worth of work will soon be in storage bins or taken to the grain elevator.

Motorcycles are angled neatly in front of the Nelson Cheese Factory. Riders sat on benches in the shade licking ice cream cones and considering the next stop on their weekend ride down and back along the River.

The Fresh Art fall tour is on tap for next week. The self-guided tour wanders through the back roads of Buffalo, Pepin and Pierce counties with stops at 17 galleries. Local artists display local art of all kinds, including, painting, pottery, photography, ceramics, weaving, sculpture, jewelry, metalwork, furniture and more – a glorious display of a year of work coming to fruition.

The two worlds – the state Capitol and the Great River Road – seem so disconnected. It is hard to move so quickly from one back to the other. Nevertheless, the ties are strong.

Even as crops are harvested and we enjoy the turning of the seasons, county boards, city councils and school boards are beginning to work on next year’s budgets. Trying to figure out how to catch up on fixing the damage to roads caused by flooding, how to deal with increasing mental illness and drug addiction and provide alternatives to incarceration, how to maintain the classes and opportunities for students in our schools.

All of those decisions by local officials are shaped and limited by what the legislature did at the Capitol. The quality of life along the Great River Road will depend on those local decisions. We are all connected.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Problems Left for the Next State Budget Writers

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 19 September 2017
in Wisconsin

school-bus-kidsSen. Kathleen Vinehout examines the lack of foresight in the budget just passed by the legislature and how it relates to three major issues – education, transportation and shared revenue.


MADISON - “Policy is who pays, who doesn’t pay and where the money gets spent,” said the President of the NAACP in a recent speech.

Policy making was center stage at the State Capitol when the long delayed $76 billion two-year state budget was rushed to passage just days after a majority of lawmakers voted to give a Taiwan billionaire $3 billion in state subsidies.

Budgets are about choices. Budget writers this year chose to leave major problems for the next budget writers.

Education is the most important job state government does. For years, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle agreed the state’s school funding formula was broken.

This budget, there were enough funds to change the formula. Efforts to do so were voted down. Instead, more state dollars were spent on vouchers for unaccountable private schools.

Under this budget, private schools will receive $8,396 a year in state taxpayer money for a high school student. Public schools would receive $6,671 for the same student. These estimates are detailed in a memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

The total cost of an average public-school student is a little over $11,000. Most of the difference comes from local property taxes. Remember, these numbers are averages. Many of our local districts receive much less than the state average of $6,671.

school-closedParticularly hurt by the formula are small rural schools. There is a fundamental disconnect between what drives school revenue – the number of students - and what drives expenses – the cost structure. For example, if three students leave a class of 20, the district revenue is cut by 15%. But the cost of teaching a class of 17 is almost the same as teaching a class of 20.

Other problems exist. The formula assumes all children cost the same to educate. But children who are in poverty or are English Language Learners, for example, cost more to educate. Costs also vary with the size of districts.

The solution by majority lawmakers was to add money outside the broken formula instead of fixing the formula. This increases the inequity between school districts and makes fixing the problem later more difficult.

Fixing transportation was also left for the writers of the next budget. Instead of adding sustainable funding sources, budget writers cut 253 positions from the Department of Transportation (DOT). A few years ago, the former DOT Secretary added positions arguing engineering costs decrease when work is done by in-house engineers rather than by consulting firms. A recent audit by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau confirmed that conclusion.

The transportation budget was “balanced” in part by lowering inflation estimates. Which made me wonder since DOT in the past has underestimated inflation when anticipating costs.

road-closed-delayPotholes and locals turning asphalt roads back to gravel are the result of past state budget decisions that are not fixed in this budget. In the past six years, local road aid has been underfunded. After steady increases to keep up with inflation – even during the recession – the 2011 budget cut over 9% out of county road aid. All but one of the following years saw no increase at all. This budget includes an increase, but nothing near what is needed to make up for past cuts and inflation.

An even worse pattern exists in the general funding of local government. It’s budget time for local communities. But counties and cities do not have the money to keep up with expenses. Recently, a county board chair shared that department budget requests far exceeded a miniscule increase in expected revenue.

Over the past sixteen years, there has been a 20% decrease in state dollars given to locals in what we call “shared revenue.” In the same time period Wisconsin has seen a 56% increase in the state budget. I’d say the state has not done a good job of sharing. No wonder county and city services are being cut back.

The budget has passed, but the problems in local communities have not been addressed. Roads aren’t getting repaired, people aren’t getting mental health placements, referenda are being passed to keep the lights on at local schools. A lot of heavy lifting has been passed on to whoever will be writing the next budget.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry

Foxconn Giveaway is Bad for Wisconsin Taxpayers

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
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 13 September 2017
in Wisconsin

walker-terry-gou-foxconnThe Governor and Republicans were quick to say we can’t afford very minimal investments in Wisconsin residents, but they can’t give away our money fast enough when a billionaire shows up for a hand out.


GREEN BAY - As someone who helped Marinette Marine land the Navy LCS contract that created thousands of new jobs in Northeast Wisconsin and around the state, I am supportive of responsible efforts to create jobs regardless of which party those ideas come from.

Unfortunately, the deal negotiated by Governor Walker and Senate Republicans is short on protections and long on risks to the taxpayers of the 30th Senate District who will be forced to contribute up to $90 million as their share of nearly $3 billion in cash payments to Foxconn, a $100 billion corporation based in Taiwan and China. That’s nearly $500 for every person and $1200 for every family of four in our district.

The Governor and Republicans are quick to say we can’t afford to make very minimal investments to help the nearly 1 million Wisconsin residents refinance their student loans at lower rates or help nearly 1.5 million private workers save for retirement. But no sooner does a billionaire show up with their hand out, they can’t give away our money fast enough.

The Governor used to say that the people know better how to spend their money than the government does. Except when it comes to giving one of the wealthiest people on Earth a few billion dollars of other people’s money. Never mind that $500 or $1200 for a family could go a long way to helping them make ends meet, or help pay for technical college or job training. When it comes to helping average folks or rich billionaires we now know who the Governor and Republicans truly care about.

Make no mistake, this is the largest taxpayer giveaway in U.S. history. And despite the claims of supporters, it comes with very few guarantees that Foxconn will uphold their end of the agreement. In fact, Foxconn thinks so little of the people of our state that they couldn’t even bother to show up at one of the two public hearings on this deal to answer questions, ensure they will be accountable to the taxpayers, or even just say thank you.

P.T. Barnum must be laughing.

***

State Senator Dave Hansen (D - Green Bay) released this statement Tuesday on the passage of the Foxconn deal in the Senate.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

WEDC’s Poor Accountability Record Makes Foxconn a Scandal Waiting to Happen

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.,
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 13 September 2017
in Wisconsin

walker-terry-gou-foxconnIndependent analysis reveals 14,000 jobs deficit for existing corporate tax credits and loans is greater than the direct job creation claim for the Foxconn deal. A full 60% of WEDC-supported corporations have failed to meet job creation goals.


STATEWIDE - On a media call Monday, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, State Rep. Amanda Stuck, and State Rep. Jonathan Brostoff released a new analysis of Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) data showing that the troubled economic development agency has an extremely poor record of holding corporate recipients accountable for their jobs promises. The analysis, which comes from the agency’s own self-published data, provides additional evidence that WEDC is completely unqualified to manage the gigantic Foxconn deal, which would be by far the largest job creation tax credit program ever issued by an American state. Audio of the call can be found here.

The Citizen Action of Wisconsin analysis examines job creation tax credits issued by WEDC three years ago and longer to allow time for corporate recipients to execute the hiring plans they submitted to WEDC. The analysis finds a large gap between “Actual Job Creation” (the jobs companies actually reported creating) and “Planned Job Creation” (the jobs that were promised in return for tax credits).

Key Findings

  • Of the 337 WEDC awardees with established job creation goals at least 3 years old, 60% (203 awardees) failed to meet their goals. (company list available on our website)

  • Of the 203 awardees that have not met their job creation promises, the difference between their actual job creation as reported by WEDC and their goals are 14,744 jobs. This means the WEDC job creation gap is larger than the total number of direct jobs being proposed by Foxconn in the best case scenarios (13,000 jobs).

  • The numbers would be even worse if WEDC kept net job creation numbers, because it is well documented that many WEDC recipients have outsourced other jobs while taking state tax credits.

  • WEDC has a very poor record of taking back tax credits when corporate recipients fail to fulfill their job creation promises. WEDC has only sought to claw back $9.9 million from 24 companies, less than 12% of companies who have not met their job creation goals after 3 years. WEDC does not report how much of this money has been successfully recovered.

  • The 203 companies that still have not hit their jobs goal in at least 3 years have already received $94.8 million in verified tax credits from WEDC, with another $158 million awarded but not yet dispersed.

“The Walker Administration's abysmal record of holding corporations accountable for their job creation promises makes the Foxconn deal a scandal waiting to happen,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Any Senator or Representative that is thinking of voting for the Foxconn deal this week should think long and hard about whether they want to be held accountable for potentially the biggest economic scandal in Wisconsin history.”

As both data sets used in this analysis are self-reported by WEDC itself, they indicate the best-case scenario for job creation. The Legislative Audit Bureau found in May that all of WEDC’s job creation claims should be treated as suspect because the agency has failed to implement basic verification procedures. Given the continued refusal to implement basic accountability procedures, it is highly likely that WEDC’s performance record is much worse. The Legislative Audit Bureau concluded that WEDC does “not contractually require grant and loan recipients to submit information sufficiently detailed to allow it to determine the extent to which jobs were actually created or retained.” In addition, the Audit Bureau found that “WEDC did not collect sufficiently detailed information from tax credit recipients about their existing employees. Collecting such information will help WEDC determine in future years the extent to which recipients actually created or retained contractually required jobs. WEDC also did not comply with statutes because it did not annually verify jobs-related information submitted by recipients on the extent to which contractually required results were achieved.”

“Given WEDC’s record of scandal, the Foxconn deal does not make sense even if you believe in extreme corporate welfare,”said State Representative Jonathan Brostoff (D-Milwaukee).

“I have been told by WEDC when trying to help my constituents that the agency has no way of verifying with the Department of Revenue which companies have claimed job creation tax credits or how much they’ve recovered from those that don’t follow through on their commitments,” said State Representative Amanda Stuck (D-Appleton). “We have no guarantees that we will get the public’s money back from Foxconn if they do not follow through on their promises. I want to know that we have a system in place to protect our state.”

TABLE 1: Select companies receiving WEDC awards 3 years ago or more

WEDC Award Recipient


Kohl's Corporation

Was awarded $62.5 million in 7/12 to create 3,000 jobs. Currently listed as having allegedly created 473 jobs and received $18.3 million. Company outsourced 67 employees to India in 12/13.

Kestrel Aircraft Company, Inc.

Was awarded $20 million in credits and loans in 1/12 to create 1,265 jobs according to WEDC’s tracking. Currently listed as having allegedly created 45 jobs and received $717,500 in verified credits. Company announced in 10/16 they will not create the facility.

Plexus Corp

Was awarded $2 million in 8/11 and $15 million in 6/12 to create 350 jobs. Currently listed as having allegedly created 43 jobs and received $8.9 million in combined verified credits. In 7/12 the company announced layoffs of 116 workers and moved their operations overseas.

Laserwords U.S. Inc.

Was awarded $375,000 in 12/13 to create 286 jobs. Currently listed as having allegedly created 42 jobs and received $51,168 in verified credits. In June 2017 was certified as having outsourced 48 out of 55 jobs to Mexico

Exodus Machines Incorporated

Was awarded $1.1 million in loans in 10/12 to create 250 jobs. Currently listed as having allegedly created 35 jobs. In 9/16 the company was certified as having outsourced 20 jobs.

Hampton Products International

Was awarded $420,000 in 9/12 to create 140 jobs. Currently listed as having allegedly created 3 jobs. In 4/2015 was certified as having 29 jobs outsourced

W.W. Grainger, Inc.

Was awarded $500,000 in 7/11 to create 130 jobs. Currently listed as having created 0 jobs and received $50,000 in verified credits. In 8/15 the company was certified as having outsourced jobs to Panama

Green Box NA Green Bay, LLC

Was awarded $1.1 million in loans and $95,000 in grants to create 116 jobs. WEDC’s records show it as having created 41 jobs in one record and 64 jobs in another record. The company owner was investigated in 2016 for defrauding financial institutions.

Oneida Seven Generations Corp.

Was awarded $2 million in loans to create 22 jobs. Currently listed as having created 0 jobs. The company was listed as in default and WEDC sought to recover $1.99 million in 9/14, to date it is not clear how much WEDC has recovered.

Novation Companies, Inc.

Was awarded $750,000 to create 88 jobs. Currently listed as having created 68 jobs. The company was revealed to have not been located in the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee where WEDC listed them, and was actually purchased by another company after layoffs.

 

The full analysis can be viewed here

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

When “Up” is “Down”, Last Minute Budget Deals Worry Western Wisconsin

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 12 September 2017
in Wisconsin

sand-mining-wiLate night secret dealings. No notice to local elected officials. No local powers to say “no”. Sen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about a last-minute, late-night budget motion to take away local powers to oversee sand mines and quarries in Wisconsin.


MADISON - A last-minute budget amendment has folks in Western Wisconsin very worried.

Locals have spent seven years negotiating with large sand mines to reach agreements that allow neighbors and mines to co-exist. In some cases, locals decided certain sensitive and tourist areas needed protection from mines.

All the careful negotiations appear poised to go out the window in a strangely evolving budget deal that seems to affect quarries – or, as we often know them, gravel pits.

First, in full disclosure, my farm is located next door to a quarry. My neighbor crushes rock for construction projects. The details I provide here will personally affect my family.

Late Tuesday night last week, the public and minority members of the budget writing committee got their first look at a transportation deal. The deal was to break the impasse that’s stymied budget passage for four months. Buried in the amendment was language that stopped all local oversight of quarries using sand, rock and gravel for road projects.

The next morning, I received several calls from local government officials who wanted to know if the budget writing committee had taken away local powers to oversee sand mines and quarries. Locals worried details were never made public until after supper, when most folks were getting their little ones off to bed, and voted on the same night, when most had gone to bed.

At first, no one seemed to know the origin of the idea to remove any oversight of quarries by locals. Why take away local powers related to gravel pits? There are hundreds of gravel pits across Wisconsin. Some are idle, some are large, some are very small. But they are everywhere.

The budget amendment was comprehensive and dealt with many of the issues written in previous attempts to take away local oversight of sand mines. The proposal would stop locals from requiring a quarry to get a zoning permit, including a site that has not previously been developed as a mining pit. Locals could not set limits on explosives or other types of blasting, on noise, the number of trucks leaving a mining pit, and the hours of mining operation. The proposed law forbids locals from setting air or water standards, or putting any type of restrictions related to monitoring air quality or water quality or quantity.

I’ve heard from local elected leaders and citizens all across western Wisconsin who do not like lawmakers taking away any local powers. And they certainly did not like this.

But when this proposal became public I also heard from interest groups that the plan DID NOT GO FAR ENOUGH in taking away local control.

In what must be the strangest “up” is “down” memo I’ve ever seen, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) and others asked lawmakers to get rid of the quarry provisions because they did not go far enough.

Remember, this amendment is taking away local powers, not rewriting state laws adding more local powers.

WMC wrote, “…there is no getting around the fact that the Republican-controlled Legislature will have granted expanded environmental regulatory powers to municipalities… This Legislature has done so much to turn our state around. Now is not the time to begin turning that progress back by deciding which Wisconsin industries can be subject to significant regulatory overreach by local governments.”

A local county official had a very different description of what the late-night budget motion did.

“It comes within a 16th of an inch of including sand mines to say nothing of how it takes away our local control. They will be blasting and crushing rock all night, all summer long. Why don’t they trust local officials? Who is going to take the complaints we get? Somebody went to a lot of trouble to write this amendment if all they wanted to limit were quarries.”

Somebody indeed. A few hours later, I learned sand mines were included in the amendment, as late as Sunday evening of Labor Day weekend.

Late night secret dealings. No notice to local elected officials. No local powers to say “no”. An “up” is “down” memo. The public left out in the cold.

The vote is “no”!

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Wisconsin’s Long Journey toward a Living Wage

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 05 September 2017
in Wisconsin

business_peopleWisconsin was one of the first states to enact a Living Wage law in 1913, at first only for women and minors over age 17. Opponents fought the law in the courts and the legislature, and the Governor and Legislative majority repealed the very definition of “living wage” by the 1980s. The federal minimum wage law replaced it, but has not kept up with the cost of living since 1968.


MADISON - “For an adult with a family who has to pay for food, clothing, and a place to live, and be able to pay for a car, the minimum wage is clearly not high enough,” wrote Bethany of Eleva-Strum High School.

Wisconsin was one of the first states to enact a Living Wage. The law gave authority for determining a living wage to an Industrial Commission made up of a balance of employers, employees and the public. The year was 1913.

Two years earlier, people attending a national conference of the National Consumers’ League in Milwaukee called for a minimum wage. Advocates made a minimum wage the top issue.

Following the conference, Wisconsinites called on leaders to create a state minimum wage.

The next year, UW Professor John Connors wrote the first minimum wage bill. Progressive lawmakers introduced two bills. But neither bill was signed into law.

Massachusetts has the distinct honor for passing the first minimum wage law in 1912.

In 1913, Wisconsin joined seven other states, including Minnesota and Oregon, to pass state minimum wage laws. But not until 1919 did workers see the result in better wages.

Opponents challenged an Oregon law, similar to Wisconsin’s, in court. A tie vote in the United States Supreme Court eventually cleared the way for action.

The first Wisconsin minimum wage was only for women and minors over age 17. Men were not included in state minimum wage laws until 1975 law when lawmakers first used the term “employees”.

The first wage was set at twenty-two cents an hour. Advocates challenged this wage, asking the commission to make the pay “more commensurate with a proper living standard”. A few years later the minimum wage was increased to a quarter an hour.

Again, action of the courts interfered with people’s ability to make a living wage. In 1923, the US Supreme Court declared all minimum wage laws unconstitutional. The action was a set-back for all living wage advocates. Wisconsin reacted by passing an “oppressive” wage law protecting women and minors from very low wages.

By 1937, the Supreme Court reversed its decision clearing the way for Wisconsin’s original law to again take effect. The next year President Roosevelt signed a law setting the first federal minimum wage at twenty-five cents an hour.

Wisconsin kept its own living wage. Even so, inequalities continued for women, and worse for rural women. For example, in 1956, the federal minimum was a dollar an hour. The state wage for women and minors was seventy cents in an urban area and fifty cents for women and minors who worked in a small town or rural area.

The Industrial Commission regularly reconsidered a living wage. The Commission authorized studies of the cost of living and made many adjustments. The last “living wage” study was done in 1967. The study recommended Wisconsin use the federal Consumer Price Index (CPI). The state then set a policy to revise minimum wages every other year using the CPI. As near as I can tell by reading state historical documents, this approach continued through the 1970s.

But by the 1980s, the minimum wage was no longer a living wage. And in the last budget, the Governor and Legislative majority repealed the very definition of “living wage” and the law allowing an employee to file a complaint if he or she felt unfairly compensated.

If the minimum wage kept up with inflation since 1968 workers would now be paid $11.17 an hour. According to a recent report of the Economic Policy Institute (EPI), in 2016, $7.25, the current minimum wage, buys ten percent less than when it was last raised in 2009 and one-quarter less its value in 1968.

According to EPI, raising the minimum wage to $15 in 2024 would undo the erosion that began in the 1980s. Several members of Congress have introduced a bill to raise the minimum wage in eight steps to $15 by 2024.

Yes, Bethany, the minimum wage is clearly not enough. For a hundred years, Wisconsinites traveled a long journey to keep a minimum living wage. Now is it’s our turn to take up the struggle and advocate for our neighbors and friends.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Possible Failure for a Successful Program: Historic Tax Credits

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
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 30 August 2017
in Wisconsin

cedarburgBudget announced by Senator Fitzgerald earlier this summer caps total spending on the Historic Tax Credit at $20 million and limits the funding a project can receive at $5 million.


MADISON - Drive through a quaint renovated small village or town in Wisconsin and you are likely seeing a downtown renovated with Historic Tax Credits. In my opinion the Historic Tax Credit is the most successful rural and small town economic development program administered by Governor Walker’s Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). As the Legislature considers venturing into the great unknown on high tech manufacturing with checks from our taxpayers for 15 years, that same Republican majority is planning to cap the Historic Tax Credit program.

This cap is defended as needed as an austerity measure. But clearly these budget cuts are not needed elsewhere. The Republican compromise budget announced by Senator Fitzgerald earlier this summer caps total spending on the Historic Tax Credit at $20 million and limits the funding a project can receive at $5 million. These limits will have a significant impact on the program’s success.

fond_du_lacIn 2014, 60 percent of the Historic Tax Credit projects renovated buildings that had been vacant for more than 20 years. The return on investment for taxpayer investments in the Historic Tax Credit has been proven to be 8 to 1. Capping the program will jeopardize projects that will revitalize our communities and provide a known payback to taxpayers. I have heard from local leaders from all over the state and the 27th Senate District asking to leave the program alone, so I know other Legislators have received contact as well.

I cannot figure out why Governor Walker has continually tried to kill this program and why Republican Legislators would consider allowing it to happen. 2016 brought 38 projects into the Historic Tax Credit. Projects all over Wisconsin including Plymouth, Superior, Fon du Lac, Evansville, Platteville, Darlington, Waupaca, Wausau, Prairie du Chien, La Crosse, Manitowoc, Watertown, De Pere, Oshkosh, Neenah and Kenosha. I know of projects in the works in the 27th District as well.

In the last three budgets the Historic Tax Credit destruction has been defeated, but it appears we are at the cusp of a “victory” for Governor Walker limiting the Historic Tax Credit for communities all over Wisconsin in planning phases for redevelopment. I truly hope that the final budget will save the Historic Tax Credit again and deter those that wish to punish communities that are working to redevelop their downtowns.

***

Please contact members of the Legislature and ask them to support the Historic Tax Credit as current law in the state budget. The Legislative Hotline is (800) 362-9472 or you can email from the Legislative website: http://legis.wisconsin.gov/

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry

Public Hearings: Where Are the People?

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 29 August 2017
in Wisconsin

capitol-night-wiscAt a recent public hearing, ideological groups push a de-licensing plan for state professionals in an all-to-common process of speed and secrecy. Notice was posted late Friday for a meeting the following Thursday to discuss public safety as well as erosion of wages and workers’ rights.


MADISON - “This bill does not allow for public debate...is the public even aware? You’re not allowing the public to have adequate input into this issue,” testified Stephanie Bloomingdale.

Ms. Bloomingdale is the Secretary-Treasurer of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO. She represented many workers who, along with the rest of us, just found out about bills that set up a process to get rid of occupational licensing.

In Wisconsin, many professions are licensed, such as plumbers, electricians, doctors, lawyers, architects, and teachers. Those folks affected by the bill had little time to become aware of efforts to change their professional credentials. The rest of us, who may hire plumbers or use deaf interpreters, had little way of knowing what was happening.

public-hearing-emptyIn what has been an all-to-common process of speed and secrecy, a public hearing notice was posted late Friday for a joint Assembly and Senate committee hearing the following Thursday. Scheduling a joint hearing means there is only this one opportunity for public input.

The bills, Senate Bills 288 and 296, set up an “occupational license review council” and a “self-certification registry”. In short, SB 288 creates a politically appointed council that would review all professional licensure requirements and recommend repeal of certain licenses.

Senate Bill 296 would create a registry for people to use the term “state certified”. This registry would allow individuals to work in a field even if they were unlicensed. The bill singled out certain professions for potential self-certification including dieticians, landscape architects, private detectives and sign language interpreters.

Two very different types of people came to testify during the all-day joint hearing.

On one side were conservative “think-tanks” who came from out-of-state to testify. Groups with names like the “Mercatus Center” and the “Institute for Justice.” According to Wikipedia, the Mercatus Center was founded with a $30 million-dollar Koch Industries donation and the founding CEO was a former Koch Industries lobbyist. Both the former lobbyist and Charles Koch serve as board members, according to the Center’s website. The “Institute for Justice” employs 39 attorneys and was co-founded in 1991 with seed money from Mr. Koch.

Two Milwaukee-based groups also joined in the push for the de-licensing process. According to press reports, the “Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty” and the “Wisconsin Policy Research Institute” are entities funded, in part, by the Bradley Foundation. The Koch-funded group “Americans for Prosperity” submitted written testimony and registered in favor of the bill.

On the other side were folks from all over Wisconsin who took the day off work to come to Madison and tell lawmakers about their profession. In every case, these people opposed the two bills before our committees.

Dozens of professionals explained what they did and how the public would not be well served by taking away the professional licensing process. Not only did licensing assure that a person was properly educated and skilled in their profession, but also the state’s involvement in overseeing professions protects consumers. When a licensed professional is guilty of a misdeed the state removes that professional’s license.

I asked the co-sponsors of SB 288 and 296 what type of protections consumers would have under the new regime if their bills became law. The answer was some version of “you can’t legislate everything so no one gets hurt”.

I’ve never seen a hearing that more clearly illustrated the power conservative “think tanks” have gained in the Capitol. A review of my notes shows only one ordinary Wisconsinite who testified in favor of the bills compared to the dozens who spoke in opposition.

The process laid out by the bills eerily reflected a process outlined in an August 2017 report by the Mercatis Center. This process included a commitment by elected officials that they would accept the Council’s recommendation “in their entirety or not at all.” Parts of one bill contained wording identical to 2013 model legislation set out by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Where are the people in this process?

I wondered, where are the people in this process and why do these groups want to remake Wisconsin in their own image.

“What, do you suppose, is the real purpose of these bills?” I asked.

“We’ve seen a pattern to drive down wages and workers’ rights,” Ms. Bloomingdale replied.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Sen. Hansen on U.S. AG Sessions Green Bay Visit

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
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 29 August 2017
in Wisconsin

opioid-young-startState Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) is calling on the Wisconsin and U.S. Attorneys General to stand up for taxpayers by holding big drug companies accountable for their role in the opioid crisis.


GREEN BAY - When the media has a chance to talk with both the state And United States Attorneys General a good question to ask is whether or not they will stand up for taxpayers by holding big drug companies like Purdue Pharma accountable for their role in the opioid crisis.

Twenty years ago Purdue Pharmaceuticals introduced OxyContin with the promise that it relieved pain for 12 hours—longer than any other similar medication. Purdue promoted the drug as a way to reduce addiction: One pill in the morning and one at night and a person would be pain free without having to take multiple pills during the day and at night.

As a result Purdue made billions and OxyContin became the leading painkiller in America.

But, for all kinds of people the drug didn’t last 12 hours and many found themselves in excruciating pain as the drug wore off. According to a Los Angeles Times investigation, Purdue has known about this for decades—even before OxyContin went on the market.

Since 1996 even more evidence came to light from doctors, independent research and from reports of Purdue’s own sales reps. Despite increasing evidence that OxyContin is extremely addictive their response was to recommend prescribing more OxyContin.

Just ten years ago the company pleaded guilty to misleading the public about OxyContin’s risk of addiction and paid out $600 million---one of the largest pharmaceutical settlements in U.S. history. And three of Purdue’s top executives, including its President, pleaded guilty misbranding charges, a criminal violation and agreed to pay a total of $34.5 million in fines.

There is no question that people need to be responsible for the decisions they make. But there is also no question that when billion dollar corporations make decisions that they know are causing harm they should be responsible too.

The vast majority of taxpayers in Wisconsin have played no role in the opioid crisis except to be left with picking up the tab to try to stop it.

Will Attorney General Sessions bring the full weight of the federal government to bear on behalf of taxpayers by making the makers of these dangerously addictive drugs pay their fair share for the programs we need to end this crisis? Will our own attorney general follow the lead of other states and file suit on behalf of Wisconsin taxpayers? Those are questions that should be asked.

****

Legislative writer Jay Wadd contributed this story.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Blue Jean Nation 'Blowing off the Founders'

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Friday, 25 August 2017
in Wisconsin

founding-fathersOur founders saw public education as basic to cultivating the moral and civic virtues needed for people to exercise their rights and duties as citizens. But over the years, this mission has been lost, putting democracy itself at risk.


ALTOONA, WI - If you take the long view of history, our school system has strayed far from its roots. What today are called public schools originally were known as common schools. Central to the mission of common schools was making democracy possible.

In 1779 Thomas Jefferson proposed providing basic education to the masses. Civic literacy was at the heart of Jefferson’s plan. He emphasized the study of history as a means of cultivating moral and civic virtues and enabling the masses to know and exercise their rights and duties. To Jefferson, schooling’s purpose was basic education for citizenship, a public investment in the capacity for self-government. He famously observed, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Noah Webster, whose spelling book and dictionary of the English language immeasurably aided the fragile new republic by helping to expand the lettered population, considered education to be the most important business of civil society.

The common school movement really took off in the 1830s, led by reformers like Massachusetts lawyer and legislator Horace Mann who called on government to guarantee the schooling of all children and with evangelical zeal pitched free universal education as “the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance wheel of the social machinery.”

The idea of schools as first and foremost laboratories of democracy and builders of social capital continued gaining momentum as the next century dawned. In 1911 Wisconsin identified schools as “social centers” where not just students but anyone in the community could gather to discuss the issues of the day and develop solutions to the challenges facing society.

Somewhere along the line, this mission has been lost. Today’s schools focus on serving the needs of our economy but not our democracy. Responding to intense public pressure to place ever greater emphasis on vocational preparation, they concern themselves more with producing skilled workers than good citizens. Civic instruction has been pushed aside as more hours of math and science and the addition of technology classes and vocational training were ordered while neither the school day nor school year has been lengthened.

Today, civics is hardly taught at all. Even at the college level, occasional lip service is paid to the idea that the highest office in a democracy is that of citizen, but what it takes to be an active and constructive citizen is researched less and taught less by political scientists than any other dimension of their discipline. Look at the political science course offerings of just about any higher education institution and you find courses on the American presidency and on Congress and the court system, but not Organizing 101. There are many courses in public administration examining how the bureaucracy works, but almost none on how social movements get built.

How strange that in a country that boasts of being the world’s greatest democracy, we really don’t teach democracy. We teach government, reluctantly and half-heartedly, and we teach it in a way that puts elected officials, appointed bureaucrats, career civil servants and judges in the spotlight. Jefferson’s call to invest in the capacity for self-government is no longer heeded. Horace Mann’s balance wheel of the social machinery has come off the vehicle. Webster’s dictionary surely can be found in today’s school libraries, but his dedication to the school’s role in promoting civil society is conspicuously missing.

A nation that claims to be a democracy but neglects to make citizenship education a priority is one that is very much at risk.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Chicago on Foxconn "Thank you, Wisconsin, for the Beautiful Gift"

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 22 August 2017
in Wisconsin

WalkerA recent Chicago Sun Times editorial thanked Wisconsin for taking all the risks of the Foxconn deal while Illinois reaps the benefits. How will the deal help Illinois? What risks do Wisconsin citizens face? Read on.


CHICAGO - “Friends in the Wisconsin Legislature, we beg you: Sign that bad deal with Foxconn,” recently wrote the Chicago Sun Times editorial board. “It’s the neighborly thing to do.”

The Wisconsin Assembly obliged the Chicago newspaper and recently voted 50-39 to approve the Governor’s deal with the Taiwanese company, Foxconn.

But lawmakers were not voting on the deal itself. Contract negotiations are presumably underway. Legislators who voted on the deal did not see the contract, they do not know the details under negotiation, nor will they approve the final negotiated contract.

In essence, they gave the Governor a blank check. For his part, the Governor assigned his troubled economic development agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the task of negotiating a good deal for the state.

For the most part, the bill passed by the Assembly reflected the Governor’s original request. Some job training money was added. Language clarified that locals could use a sales tax to pay for needed infrastructure. Furthermore, the state could in essence “co-sign” part of the loan locals took out to pay for infrastructure.

Answering the big question – how do we ensure the state gets promised jobs – was left murky.

In its analysis of the Assembly version of the Foxconn bill, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau noted the bill “would require WEDC, to the extent possible, attempt to include terms in any agreement negotiated between it and [Foxconn to] encourage the business’s hiring of Wisconsin residents.”

As the Chicago Sun Times editorial writers gleefully reviewed the benefits to Illinois, they also summarized the risk taken by Wisconsin Assembly members who voted in favor of the bill.

“Best we can tell, it’s a crap shoot as to whether luring the giant electronics company to Wisconsin would work out well for you, given the billions of dollars in tax breaks your governor has promised, but it would be terrific for Illinois. It would cost our state nothing, yet up to half of the new jobs could go to our residents, while O’Hare Airport would get the new international travel business.

“The best thing that ever happened to Illinois might be losing Foxconn to you, Wisconsin. Much appreciated.

“…Walker downplayed the $3 billion worth of tax incentives that the Wisconsin Legislature still must approve, and an independent analysis says it would take at least 25 years for Wisconsin taxpayers to break even on the deal. The break-even point would come even later, according to the analysis by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, if Foxconn employed closer to only 3,000 — which could happen — and 40 percent or more of those jobs went to people who live out of state. In Illinois, that is.”

“Under that scenario, an analyst for the Bureau told Reuters, the break-even point would be so far in the future that it’s “silly to talk about.”

I heard much discussion among local residents about the “break-even point” of the plan – the point at which the state would recoup its “return on investment”. These numbers are fuzzy at best.

A break-even number makes many assumptions, including the number of jobs created. The administration claims 13,000 jobs although Foxconn publically said 3,000 jobs. The administration uses average wages of $53,874 but the bill voted out of the Assembly cites $30,000. Most investment analyses discount future dollars while the administration’s analysis, reviewed by the LFB, uses all amounts in current dollars.

The Bureau reminds lawmakers “any cash-flow analysis that covers a period of nearly 30 years” is “highly speculative”. The Bureau also mentions other provisions hidden in the Governor’s bill. A Brookfield financial services company is given an award, and other enterprise zones are created. These new commitments, passed by the Assembly, would cost the state another estimated $100 million.

Sun Times editorial writers summarized the deal, “Wisconsin would be taking all the risks, even as Illinois enjoyed a nice share of the benefits. The Foxconn plant likely would be located right across the border in Kenosha County or Racine County. The commute from Waukegan to Kenosha is just 16.5 miles. The commute from Zion is ten.”

I could not agree more with the conclusion of the editorial, “Border wars are stupid. Interstate job-poaching is nothing but a race to the bottom. And the best way to tap global markets would be to create a regional economic development strategy.”

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Looking at the FOXCONN Deal with a Wisconsin Perspective

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
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 16 August 2017
in Wisconsin

Walker-gouThere is real desperation here, because our job growth has trailed the National average 22 straight quarters, but that doesn’t mean we need to give away the farm. We can do better.


MADISON - Every single elected official is interested and willing to help businesses build and create family supporting jobs here in Wisconsin. That’s because our job growth has trailed the National average 22 straight quarters, every single quarter since Governor Walker created the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). There is real desperation, because there is real need. But that doesn’t mean we need to give away the farm (literally) for the big fish that falls into our lap. We can work hard and build the businesses we have with investments in education and training, infrastructure, and our assets as a state like the environment.

We all love Wisconsin because it is such a beautiful area to live, raise a family, and retire. Every corner of our state has pristine natural areas we all use for recreation, hunting and other leisure activities. Sacrificing those natural areas as a part of the FOXCONN deal is foolish. Directly putting our water, air and environment at risk is bad public policy. The “give away our environment” attitude with this deal also opens the door to exempt future economic development deals from environmental approval rules and is simply unacceptable. We have dozens of examples of Wisconsin businesses that have grown and flourished without dumping waste and diverting streams and sacrificing Great Lakes waters.

Next we need to examine the deal. Is it really the best we could get for our taxpayer investment or does it reflect the political desperation some leaders feel because of their own failures? Any taxpayer funded investment should demonstrate the best return on investment we can get, build family supporting jobs to replace the union living wage manufacturing jobs we have lost, and have real recovery claw backs if the business packs up and moves or if they automate and eliminate jobs in the process. Governor Walker and WEDC do not have an awesome track record with recovery when companies outsource jobs and the potential replacement of supported jobs with automation is a brave new world for all of us.

The deal does have benchmarks before funds are released which is good, but lacks claw backs if jobs are outsourced or automated – the new Assembly version is just the same. Claw backs require businesses to pay back taxpayer costs if the business fails to keep the contract. Wisconsin needs to be able to at least try to take on FOXCONN if they damage our environment and our economy. FOXCONN is not a Wisconsin company building their future here. They are a Taiwanese company looking to avoid President Trump’s tariff threats and we are just the state with the best deal for them.

We cannot let the relentless pursuit of jobs take away what makes Wisconsin our home. We can do better.

****

If you would like more information on FOXCONN and special session Senate Bill 1 contact my office at 608-266-6670 or  This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Blue Jean Nation 'The taproot of our many problems'

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 16 August 2017
in Wisconsin

Real peopleWe have a poisoned political culture that glorifies greed, dooming us to a government that works for a wealthy and well-connected few at everyone else’s expense.


ALTOONA, WI - Wisconsin is up to its eyeballs in problems. Our state has lost its way. It is becoming a shadow of its former self. Same goes for the country as a whole.

The problems vary from place to place. Go to Trempealeau County and you see hills and bluffs disappearing and hear fears expressed over the effects of breathing the fine dust that hangs in the air or drinking water that has turned an amber color. In the Central Sands region you see lakes and streams drying up because a few are being allowed to drill high-capacity wells and hog all the water. In Kewaunee County you are told about massive industrial feedlots and how a third of private wells have been poisoned and you see someone turn on a water tap and what comes out of the faucet is brown and smells like cow manure. A few counties away parents are frightened about what old lead pipes in their community’s water system might be doing to their children.

Somewhere else you run into young Millennials buried under a mountain of student debt. One owes $30,000. Another $80,000. A third carries over $100,000 in debt. All of them wonder how they are going to dig out of the hole they are in. All of them wonder when — or if — they will ever be able to buy a car or make a down payment on a house. Another place you meet a farmer who now is expected to file payroll taxes online but has no Internet access out on the farm.

At the next stop everyone is talking about the criminal justice system and racial profiling and mass incarceration. And how impossible it is to make ends meet earning the minimum wage. Then you meet some former factory workers who used to make $25 an hour working on an assembly line but could only find work paying $11 or $12 an hour after the plant closed. Their standard of living has been cut in half. They find little comfort in the news that the state’s unemployment rate is coming down some. They can find a job. What’s next to impossible to find is work that keeps them in the middle class.

Down the road a piece are town officials agonizing over a decision to tear up paved roads and go back to gravel because they can’t afford to maintain the pavement and keep filling all the potholes. Next you arrive in a community where the townspeople are resigned to their local school closing. They know how that school is a hub of local activity, and they know losing it will be a death sentence for their town.

The problems vary widely from place to place. But they all grow from the same taproot, a poisoned political culture that glorifies greed, dooming us to a government that works for a wealthy and well-connected few at everyone else’s expense and an economy that benefits a privileged few and leaves so many behind. The issue is inequality, both political and economic. The problem is privilege, both political and economic.

Solving the many problems plaguing Wisconsin and America depends on remedying the one behind them all.

— Mike McCabe

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

"Loving Us" Pow Wow Encourages Recovery

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 15 August 2017
in Wisconsin

At the “Wogixete Wi" traditional pow wow hosted by members of #StoptheStigma and the Ho Chunk Nation, Sen. Vinehout learns about their efforts to remove the stigma of drug addiction and give people a place to seek help in a loving and nurturing environment.


ALMA, WI - “I lost my granddaughter to heroin addiction,” Anita told me. “We’ve lost so many people,” Tena added.

Recently, former Marine Tena Quackenbush and her friends, including Quincy Garvin, Jasime Funmaker, Lori Pettibone, Cindy Ward hosted a gathering to promote and encourage recovery from addiction, especially the scourge of heroin addiction.

Ms. Quackenbush started #StoptheStigma, an organization with a mission to stop the stigma of addiction. She was joined by members of “Natives Against Heroin” in hosting the event.

“Wogixete Wi” was a traditional pow wow. Translated from Ho-Chunk, wogixete wi means “Loving Us.” Reaching out with love to those in recovery and to those still suffering from addiction was the theme of the pow wow.

I was honored to be one of the speakers at the gathering.

“You are making a difference,” I told the pow wow attendees. “Building a culture that heals. Putting aside our differences and working to bring love and healing to all who suffer.”

Traditional drummers joined us, including the Red Bone drummers from Minneapolis. The Andrew Blackhawk Legion Post #129 assisted in organizing the event. Ho-Chunk members of all ages danced in brightly colored costumes adorned with intricate beadwork.

Eighty-one year-old Clyde Bellecourt mesmerized the group with his stories. The famous Native American civil rights organizer co-founded the American Indian Movement (AIM). Mr. Bellecourt is a White Earth Ojibwa. He shared how a group of a few motivated people can change the world.

“AIM was started with fewer people than you have here,” Mr. Bellecourt told us. “And mostly women and children.”

At the potluck dinner following the pow wow, I was seated with some of the elder women. They shared with me many sad stories about the scourge of heroin addiction.

Celeste told me, “My grandson OD’d in my home. I didn’t even know he was there.” She found all types of drug paraphernalia hidden in her house. The boy just turned 25 and is now in jail.

Tena showed me a photo of the dresser in the room where a woman recently succumbed to addiction. On it were two bottles of Naloxone, more commonly known as Narcan, which blocks the effects of narcotics. Even with this prescription antidote, the woman died of an overdose of heroin laced with a deadly elephant tranquilizer.

“This is murder,” tribal elder Anita told me. “Johnny just buried his daughter yesterday.” Johnny was sitting right behind me. As I gave him a big hug, he thanked me for coming to the pow wow. “We don’t want her to die in vain,” Anita continued. “This is all so senseless…we are fighting. We need something done immediately.”

The discussion continued with important questions asked but not answered. Why the moms and dads didn’t pay attention to their young ones? Why the police showed up too late to an area where a “heroin party” took place? Why are the young girls willing to “sell” themselves to the dealers who got them hooked? Why aren’t the tribal police watching the “party houses”? Why aren’t the abandon “party houses” boarded up?

“We have to close down the houses,” Anita said. “They talked of policies and procedures, but people are dying.”

Closing up the abandon houses as soon as possible is something Tena’s group #StoptheStigma is working hard to accomplish. They boarded up some abandon buildings. There are policies and procedures to work though, but the group has been successful. Tena even received permission to open up one of the buildings as a house of sobriety and recovery.

Getting people into treatment is a challenge. “It shouldn’t take three weeks for an assessment and six months for treatment,” Tena told me. People need “a safe place to go. They are in immediate crisis and they need intervention.”

For all of us, as Tena says, “Our goal should be saving lives.”

Tena and her friends started the group because they and their mentees/sponsees in recovery suffered hateful posts on Facebook. They realized the stigma of addiction not only added to the difficulties of recovery but also made it harder for someone suffering from addiction to BEGIN the long recovery journey.

Changing the culture takes longer. The Wogixete Wi Pow Wow was a beginning. Each one of us can continue “loving us” and act to help #StoptheStigma.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Americans are Far More Sane than Washington Warmongers

Posted by Buzz Davis, Army Veteran & Activist
Buzz Davis, Army Veteran & Activist
Buzz Davis, now of Tucson, AZ, a member of Better With Bernie Gone Green and Tre
User is currently offline
on Saturday, 12 August 2017
in Wisconsin

war2A veteran who served in Korea believes too many juveniles in the White House, Congress and the military, are like high school wise guys saying “Nobody can tell me what to do".


TUCSON, AZ - I was fortunate to serve as an Army officer in S. Korea rather than being sent to S. Vietnam in 1969.

The Korean people are a vigorous, smart group of people who want their country can be re-united someday.

Seventy six million live on the Korean peninsula. Nearly 128 million live in Japan a few miles away. Then there is China which considers N. Korea part of its empire - just as the US thinks of S. Korea.

Everyone knows wars are easy to start but very hard to stop. Decade after decade the weapons keep getting worse. Only a fool thinks their family can live through nuclear war. Forty five to 85 million died in WWII. Enough innocent children have died. We must stop the killing.

Our problem is we have too many juveniles in Washington in the White House, Congress and the military. By juveniles, I mean they’re like wise guy high schoolers - “Nobody can tell me what to do. I’m so smart!”

Fortunately a scientific public opinion poll of nearly 1,000 voters shows Americans are, once again, far ahead of our leaders in wisdom.

  • 86% of Americans think “…[d]irect talks with North Korea should be tried before taking military action.” ( action.votevets.org/NKPoll )
  • 57% say no preemptive strike.

The Washington crowd will listen if enough people contact Pres. Trump and their Congress members and demand “Diplomacy NOT War!”

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

A Better Deal Requires Fair Courts

Posted by Tim Burns, Supreme Court Candidate
Tim Burns, Supreme Court Candidate
Tim Burns is a partner at a law firm in Madison, Wisconsin. He is a former co-c
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 08 August 2017
in Wisconsin

Late last month, the Democratic Party’s Congressional leadership announced their “Better Deal” program.  With the program’s name harkening back to the Democratic Party’s central role in America’s economic success in the first three quarters of the twentieth century, the plan seeks to rebuild our once strong middle-class economy by focusing on increasing wages, reducing costs for working families, building economic infrastructure, and lessening the power of big money in politics.  Like most Americans, I hope that the “Better Deal” has the same success as the Democratic Party’s earlier economic bargains with American voters.  Wilson’s New Freedom, Roosevelt’s New Deal, Truman’s Fair Deal, Kennedy’s New Frontier, and Johnson’s Great Society strengthened our democracy by expanding our middle-class economy.

Our democracy—our insistence on self-government—is our great accomplishment as a people.  But we cannot have a great democracy without strong small farms, strong small businesses, thriving workers and a thriving workers’ movement, public education, and vibrant diverse communities.  These bulwarks of the middle-class also are the essential ingredients of a democracy.

We also must keep in mind that the success of the Better Deal, like the success of all the Democratic Party’s earlier bargains with voters, will depend on America’s courts.  The fair and impartial courts of the mid-twentieth century strengthened our democracy and middle-middle class economy by working with Congress and state legislatures to implement and enforce common-sense economic legislation that made our nation stronger for everyone.  The judges of that era did not try to find drafting errors in Congress’ great economic legislation and use those errors to undo the legislation.  Those judges made the legislation work by interpreting it to further, not to thwart, Congress’ purpose.  And, our middle class expanded and prospered.

For the past forty years, however, right-wing judges have been chipping away at the laws that protected our democracy and our middle-class economy.  Examples abound.  John Kennedy’s New Frontier passed the Equal Pay Act, but women still receive much less pay for the same work as men because courts weakened the protections of that great law.  Earlier generations of Americans, like our current generation, sought to keep money out of politics, but the United States Supreme Court’s decision in the Citizens United case made those efforts a dead letter.  Here in Wisconsin, we passed the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act, forbidding employers from firing workers because of their age, but the right-wing majority of our Supreme Court made that law a hollow promise for parochial school teachers.

“Deals” matter.  They have lifted all of us—not just the top half of the top one percent.  But, for “Deals” to work, we need fair courts without a right-wing agenda.

Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Blue Jean Nation "Democrats will win again when. . ."

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 08 August 2017
in Wisconsin

wisdemsDemocrats will win again when they show discomfort with the current political culture and all the ladder climbing and nest feathering and back scratching gives way to actual public service and sacrifice for the greater good.


ALTOONA, WI - Over the course of my 57 years, I’ve never seen a time when our public institutions were more disrespected and distrusted. And with good reason. I’ve also never seen a time when government was less responsive to regular people. Over and over, our government is put to work for a privileged few, the wealthy and well-connected. People notice this. They realize their own voices aren’t being heard and their own interests are not being served. That’s a sure recipe for disrespect and distrust of public institutions.

These conditions are especially poisonous to the Democratic Party. The Democrats are widely seen as the party of government. There is reality to that perception. Of the two major parties, it’s the Democrats who most strongly believe that government is essential to a civil society and can have a positive and constructive impact on people’s lives.

But here’s the problem for Democrats. It’s next to impossible to be popular as the party of public institutions at a time when so many people have so little faith in those institutions. People see public officials climbing the ladder, advancing their careers, feathering their own nests. They see those officials exchanging favors, scratching the backs of those who scratch theirs. None of that looks much like public service.

This is why Democrats have been on a decades-long losing streak and are in worse shape as a party than at any point in my lifetime. It’s why Democrats do not control either house of Congress or the White House. And why they are not calling the shots in two-thirds of state capitals, including Wisconsin’s. Being the party of disrespected and distrusted public institutions explains why Democrats have lost more than 1,000 seats in Congress, state legislatures and governor’s offices across the nation just since 2008.

The current political culture celebrates greed. It emphasizes self advancement over the common good. It treats public service as just another opportunity for self dealing. When such a culture flourishes, it’s today’s Republican Party that much more comfortably fits the role of the party of the times we live in. Democrats can say they are concerned for the common good and are acting in the public interest, but when they appear to be operating comfortably within the system as it works today and when they cater to a few constituencies at everyone else’s expense, voters inevitably see them as hypocrites. In a political culture where greed is triumphant and self dealing the norm, Republicans are credited for at least being upfront about their intentions and Democrats are punished for hypocrisy.

Democrats will win again when they show genuine discomfort with the current political culture and the way the system presently functions. Democrats will win again when the political culture is changed, when all the ladder climbing and nest feathering and back scratching gives way to actual public service and actual acts of sacrifice for the greater good. Democrats will win again when today’s me politics becomes tomorrow’s we politics.

And not before.

— Mike McCabe

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes

Conversations at the County Fairs

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Monday, 07 August 2017
in Wisconsin

farm-familyMany people share the same concerns related to health care, the condition of the roads, and specific legislation that will help their home business. Others share their work with those who struggle with addiction.


ALMA, WI - I love county fairs. I love the sights, sounds, smells and the tastes of the fair. Moreover, I love all the people. Adorable little kids wander around with snow cones. Grandparents catch up on family news. Hardworking 4-Hers show cattle, cakes and cookies.

I especially love the opportunity for conversations with voters about what’s important. The relaxed atmosphere of the fair invites good conversations about what’s going on and how our state should help.

Cookies, roads and health care took up much of my conversations.

Several home bakers spoke with me about a recent court decision that found a group of home bakers could sell cookies and cakes at a local farmers’ market. But, the court decision did not apply to all of our state’s home bakers, which frustrated Charlene of Hixton and Ashley of Merrilllan.

Charlene told me home baking “will come to a screeching halt” if lawmakers don’t pass legislation called the “Cookie Bill.” The proposal, which I support, allows people to sell up to $25,000 of baked goods at farmers’ markets. I voted in favor of this bill in committee and in the full Senate. However, for reasons unknown, the Assembly won’t take up the bill.

Ashley has sold home baked goods for over a decade. The cinnamon rolls at Molly’s café in Black River Falls were her creation. She pointed out that “we give people a choice when they can pick up fresh baked goods made that day.”

Several bakers invited me to the Jackson County Farmers’ Market by the Lunda Center on Thursday from 2:00pm - 6:00pm and Saturday from 9:00am - 1:00pm.

Bad roads were also on people’s minds. Due to no increase in road aid from the state, Jackson County officials were forced to turn black top roads back to gravel. One man told me, “We’ve got to fix the roads. We can’t keep borrowing money and sending it to southeast Wisconsin. Roads are the backbone of Wisconsin.” He read my column about increasing the gas tax by a nickel. “My mom said to raise it by twelve-cents,” he directed me.

Health care was a hot topic too.

Bobby from Eau Claire shared her concerns about chronically ill patients she works with struggle to get needed care. She told me how the type of insurance a patient has can dictate what care they receive, not the doctor’s orders. “If you have regular Medicare or Medicaid, you can get the treatment you need,” she said. “But if you have another insurance – that is paid for by Medicaid or Medicare – you have to go through this long prior authorization process.”

Bobby also pointed out that “people can’t afford the premiums, the deductibles. We need a one-payer system that puts everyone on the same level playing field.”

I heard over and over again stories about the middle class feeling squeezed.

People shared their struggles in daily life, such as a woman whose nine-year old son kept trying to pull her away. His two front teeth were missing. She signed up for food stamps after her partner was injured and couldn’t work. Trying to keep her family fed meant trips to the food pantry.

I also met people reaching out to help those less fortunate. Donna spends her life helping foster children. “Thirty-eight percent of kids in foster care end up homeless. Half of children who are homeless used to be in foster care,” she told me. She started her own nonprofit called Network for Youth to help foster kids.

I talked with Tena who is just as passionate about the mission to rescue people from the destructive path of addiction. She started a group called #StoptheStigma.

“We ask no questions. We make no judgements. We meet our people where they are. We save people one individual at a time,” she said. Tena is Ho-chunk. Many of her fellow workers are also Ho-Chunk.

She emphasized that, “our people are everyone suffering from addiction… We speak up for all who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute.”

The county fair is a snapshot of our lives; people facing struggles and people who are the heroes; people who make our communities great and so special. It is always an honor and joy for me to engage with them in conversation.

Tags: Untagged
Rate this blog entry
0 votes
Copyright © 2019. Green Bay Progressive. Designed by Shape5.com