Sunday September 15, 2019

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GOP Lawmakers Pushing Bill to Repeal the State Prevailing Wage Law

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 Wednesday, 06 May 2015
in Wisconsin

rtw-hearingRepublicans push for lower pay and less skill for Wisconsin workers and their families.


MADISON - On Tuesday, Republican leaders in the Wisconsin legislature held a hearing on the repeal of our prevailing wage law.

After hours of testimony, it is crystal clear Wisconsin workers and businesses do not support dismantling yet another protection for Wisconsin’s middle class, our prevailing wage law, which has been critical in creating a top-notch construction industry in our state since the 1930s. This system is effective in delivering quality work, by a well-trained Wisconsin workforce, at a price that is mindful of our shared, public investments.

Hardworking Wisconsinites are already struggling under the failed policies of the governor and his Republican allies in the Legislature. Recently, it was unveiled that Wisconsin ranks the worst among all 50 states in terms of a shrinking middle class. Instead of facing this reality, we are talking about repealing a law that helps ensure jobs go to local workers whose families shop in local businesses, thus strengthening local communities. At the same time, just down the hall from the hearing, legislators on the Joint Finance Committee are discussing a budget that spends and borrows more money than at any point in state history.

In addition to workers, we heard from an expert who has studied the construction industry for over 20 years, Dr. Peter Philips. Dr. Philip’s posed a crucial question to lawmakers: ‘Do you want this to be a high-wage, high-skill industry or a low-wage, low-skill industry?’

The facts from other states show, repealing prevailing wage will drive down wages, promote the outsourcing of workers, lower productivity levels, decrease workplace safety, and restrict access to health care. It will ultimately prevent people from being part of the middle class and reaching the American Dream – an already increasingly rare commodity in our state.

Prevailing wage laws ensure we have well-trained, skilled workers, who give the taxpayers the best deal by doing high-quality work, efficiently. In fact, under the prevailing wage law, Wisconsin is the third most productive in the country and even the best in the Midwest in terms of our workers getting things done right and on time. Pulling prevailing wage out by the roots is morally and economically the wrong direction for Wisconsin. As one person who testified put it: ‘this is the kind of bill that will make those who build our bridges, end up living underneath them.’

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Genrich Calls for Sensible Approach to School Testing

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
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on Wednesday, 06 May 2015
in Wisconsin

students-testingBipartisan effort by Wisconsin Legislators seeks to lessen burden on students and teachers.


GREEN BAY - On Tuesday, State Representative Eric Genrich (D-Green Bay), along with a bipartisan group of 23 Wisconsin legislators, sent a letter to the Wisconsin Congressional delegation urging their support for legislation to eliminate annual federal testing requirements.

The Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act, introduced by Sen. Tester (D-Montana) in the Senate and Rep. Sinema (AZ-9) and Gibson (NY-19) in the House, replaces the current provision in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that requires every public school child to sit for an annual test in grades 3-8 and once in high school with one that instead requires testing in three grade spans: elementary, middle and high school.

eric-genrich"The current federally-required testing regime reduces instructional time, sidelines creativity in the classroom, and has not proved to be successful in the effort to improve academic success," said Genrich. "This legislation allows teachers to place more of the focus where it belongs: on classroom teaching and learning."

As the Congress moves to reauthorize the ESEA, a diverse set of lawmakers and advocates have stepped forward to support efforts to remove the burdensome annual federal testing requirements and empower local teachers and school boards to determine educational priorities.

Genrich continued, “Now is the right time to acknowledge that annual standardized tests do not drive student success. While we face an uphill battle in the fight to reduce unnecessary testing in our classrooms, I am encouraged by this bipartisan recognition of the need to free our students and teachers from a system of testing that has failed them.”

The U.S. Senate is anticipated to begin its floor debate on ESEA reauthorization later this month. Sen. Tester has pledged to offer his legislation as an amendment at that time.

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Growth of Poverty Wage Jobs Makes Rejection of BadgerCare Dollars a Fiscal Threat

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 Tuesday, 05 May 2015
in Wisconsin

wi_madison_poverty-jobsSTATEWIDE - The combination of the growing number of poverty wage jobs that do not provide health benefits and Governor Walker’s decision to reject federal dollars for BadgerCare are already having a major fiscal impact on the state budget, which will grow worse for the foreseeable future.

The number of Wisconsin workers eligible for BadgerCare and who work for large poverty wage employers has increased by 8% over the last year, according to data released last week by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. Highly profitable corporations such as Walmart, McDonald’s, Kwik Trip and Target now have more employees on BadgerCare than they did in 2013. New federal data released last week shows that Medicaid enrollment in Wisconsin has increased more than 6.8% over the last year.

One of the main drivers increasing BadgerCare enrollment is the failure of Wisconsin’s economic development policies to produce family supporting jobs which include health benefits. Nine of the top ten occupations with job openings in Wisconsin have low or very low wages and benefits. The two fastest growing occupations in Wisconsin are retail and fast food jobs. Recent reports from the UW-Madison Institute for Research on Poverty and the UW-Milwaukee Center for Economic Development confirm that poverty wage jobs are the major source of job growth in Wisconsin, and that poverty continues to increase even as more of these jobs are created.

The disturbing growth in poverty wage jobs is making the fiscal impact of Governor Walker’s decision to reject enhanced federal dollars for BadgerCare even worse. This is because Wisconsin is needlessly paying 40 cents on the dollar for many BadgerCare enrollees who could be entirely paid for with federal dollars. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates each individual on BadgerCare not covered with the enhanced federal funding Walker rejected costs Wisconsin $4,596 per year. The Fiscal Bureau estimate of the cost of this decision continues to increase. According to the most recent estimate, the decision to reject enhanced federal Medicaid dollars will cost the state $345 million in the next budget, unless the Legislature reverses it.

“The combination of the failure of Governor Walker’s economic policies to create family supporting jobs and his misguided decision to reject federal funds for BadgerCare together are having a major negative impact on the state budget which will grow worse over time,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Governor Walker’s economic, health care, and budget policies are creating a perfect storm of destruction, needlessly denying affordable health care to tens of thousands, shrinking the middle class, and leaving hundreds of millions of dollars on the table that could be used to support education, long term care, and other vital investments needed to expand opportunity.”

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Citizen Input Provides Important Details of Conservation Budget Cuts

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 Monday, 04 May 2015
in Wisconsin

wiscdnr-160It can be difficult for legislators to know the full effect of cuts without the critical input of citizens. Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about how citizen input provided her with details about the effect of cuts in the DNR budget.


MADISON - “Why is it I keep hearing more about what’s in the governor’s budget?” the woman asked me. “Don’t you see it all at once and then decide what to do?”

It can be difficult for legislators to know the full effect of cuts without the critical input of citizens.

For example, news of cuts to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) made its way to western Wisconsin. Constituents communicated back to me the effect of these cuts. Through emails, phone calls and office visits I was able to piece together the real effect of a few lines of DNR budget cuts.

County conservation staff assists locals in protecting water resources and rehabilitating lost habitat. For example, last summer I was delighted to attend the “opening” of a rehabilitated trout stream in Buffalo County. While only Mother Nature can create a trout stream, a hard-working coalition of people made possible the restoration of habitat to bring spawning trout back to Buffalo County.

There are dozens of best practices farmers can use to protect waterways and keep nutrients where they belong – on the crops. Investing in the assistance farmers need to be good land and water stewards is an investment that will pay off for future generations.

One way to accomplish change in the quality of our waterways is to engage groups of farmers through a process known as farmer-led councils. This water quality enhancement process focuses energy of many community members in a transparent and democratic process. But to be successful, projects need a dedicated coordinator. This role falls to UW Extension staff funded in part through a line in the DNR budget called nonpoint source contracts.

When I first saw this budget line, I imagined contracts to private industry. Only through emails, phone calls, office visits and more phone calls did I realize the full extent of the decision to eliminate these funds. Further, I began to understand the value of farmer-led watershed councils and the important role conservation and extension staff play in coordinating the work of many community groups and levels of government.

Residents of Dunn and Barron Counties are working hard to restore Lake Menomin and Tainter Lake. Restoration efforts are enhanced by the Red Cedar River Water Quality Partnership, made up of 14 different groups including businesses, Wisconsin Farmers Union, nonprofits and local residents through their lake association. But without the coordination of UW extension staff, the partnership would not be effective.

I received a letter and office visits from Dunn County Board Chair Steve Rasmussen who told me about the work to “mitigate the pollution of the watershed and algae blooms” in the lakes.

Chair Rasmussen wrote, “Elimination of these two positions would be a major setback in a multi-county/multi-municipality effort to improve the health of the Red Cedar River Watershed…The health of the Red Cedar River is of critical importance to the citizens of Dunn County.”

Later I spoke with Mr. Rasmussen who told me 68% of all pollution in the Red Cedar came from agriculture. Farmer-led initiatives were an effective way to address nonpoint source pollution. Farmers talk with each other. They learn from each other. Sometimes folks will more readily accept new practices if they see their neighbors doing it.

Cutting conservation and extension staff comes at a critical time for the Red Cedar and watersheds across the state. I spoke to a man with intimate knowledge of land and water conservation, Jim VandenBrook, the executive director of Wisconsin Land and Water Conservation Association. He said “The facts are clear: water quality has progressively gotten worse since the 1990s; Great Lakes Initiative money is disappearing; DNR does not have the staff to do education. We are the educators for DNR.”

In our discussion about the work of the conservation and extension staff Jim noted the watershed partners “are all worried all our work is going by the wayside.”

Indeed. The partners know why we work so hard to protect land and water.

Thank you to all who wrote or called. Your input is critical for Wisconsin’s future. In the words of the ancient proverb, “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children”.

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Hansen Says Governor’s Admission of Outsourcing Problems at WEDC is Not Enough

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
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on Saturday, 02 May 2015
in Wisconsin

walker-no-jobsMADISON - On Thursday, Governor Scott Walker told WKOW TV 27 Madison that he was open to more sanctions against companies that take state job creation money and then outsource Wisconsin jobs.

This is a major reversal for the Walker, whose administration has repeatedly denied claims by Citizen Action of Wisconsin and others that it is still perfectly legal for companies to outsource and to also receive large grants, loans, and tax credits from the Governor’s jobs agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

Walker's admission followed an announcement last Wednesday by Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay), who said he was drafting an outsourcing accountability bill. Senator Hansen’s bill bans companies who receive public economic development money and then outsource jobs from state aid for a period of five years.

dave-hansen-gbIn a statement released Friday, Sen. Hansen acknowledged Gov. Walker’s admission of outsourcing problems at WEDC. Hansen said:

“It is heartening to hear the Governor admit there are problems with businesses applying for and receiving tax payer assistance from WEDC on the promise they will create jobs here in Wisconsin only to turn around and send Wisconsin jobs to foreign countries or other states."

However, it is clear that Sen. Hansen believes Walker's admission of problems at the WEDC last week is too little, too late for the troubled agency.

"Governor Walker and WEDC officials acknowledged the outsourcing problem last summer yet so far they have made little if any effort to stop it. In addition to paying back the tax dollars they received, businesses that commit this kind of fraud should be banned from receiving any taxpayer assistance for a minimum of five years," Hanson said.

Walker's plan of re-branding WEDC under a new name and merging it with WHEDA will not be enough, says Hansen, to make taxpayers forget about the disaster that WEDC has proven to be or stop the continued use of tax dollars to help companies ship their jobs overseas.

Hansen concludes Walker's plan does not "provide much hope that such a move will solve WEDC’s problems rather than hurt WHEDA. Without fundamental changes that put safeguarding the taxpayer’s money first and foremost the merger between WEDC and WHEDA is bound to fail.”

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Walker Admits Jobs Agency Has Outsourcing Issues

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, 01 May 2015
in Wisconsin

walkerCitizen Action of Wisconsin believes outsourcing scandal shows whole WEDC model is flawed and can only be permanently fixed by scuttling the agency.


STATEWIDE - Yesterday Governor Scott Walker told WKOW TV 27 Madison that he was open to more sanctions against companies that take state job creation money and then outsource Wisconsin jobs.

This is a major reversal for the Walker, whose administration has repeatedly denied Citizen Action of Wisconsin’s contention that it is still perfectly legal for companies to outsource and to also receive large grants, loans, and tax credits from the Governor’s jobs agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporations (WEDC). In October, Wisconsin Public Radio reported that WEDC officials refused to respond to Citizen Action’s contention. WEDC also refused to respond to similar questions from the Shepherd Express.

Wednesday Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) announced he was drafting an outsourcing accountability bill. Senator Hansen’s bill bans companies who receive public economic development money and then outsource jobs from state aid for a period of five years. Hansen’s bill follows revelations first reported by WKOW TV Madison that a multinational corporation, Eaton Corp., receiving state economic development support is outsourcing Wisconsin jobs to Mexico for a second time.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin believes that the outsourcing scandal demonstrates that the entire WEDC model is hopelessly flawed and can only be permanently fixed by scuttling the agency.

“The outsourcing scandal is only the tip of the iceberg. That state aid to corporations engaged in undermining Wisconsin workers is even possible debunks Governor Walker’s whole idea that precious state job creation dollars should be doled out by an unaccountable semi-public agency like WEDC,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “The best solution to the failure of the WEDC model is to disband it, and create a fully accountable public agency which focuses investments like a laser beam on creating family supporting jobs, not merely doling out money to multinational corporations who are selling out Wisconsin workers.”

Reporting by the Milwaukee Business Journal sheds further light on WEDC’s shobby outsourcing standards. WEDC officials have claimed that performance standards assure that companies receiving state assistance are adding jobs to the economy, even if they are also engaged in outsourcing. However, business reporter Tom Held found that Eaton received nearly $370,000  in WEDC tax credits to create 25 jobs and to retain 150 jobs. They then turned around and outsourced 93 jobs to Mexico, a net loss of 68 jobs in Wisconsin.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin also argues that preventing the merger of WEDC with another public authority simply leaves the present failed system in place.

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Hansen to Introduce Legislation Banning State Taxpayer Money to Companies That Outsource Jobs

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
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on Wednesday, 29 April 2015
in Wisconsin

dave-hansen-gbGreen Bay's Senator is drafting legislation to ban companies that outsource jobs from receiving taxpayer assistance for five years. Recent news reports show outsourcing continues while number of delinquent loans has tripled.


MADISON - State Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) announced today that he is drafting legislation to ban companies from receiving taxpayer assistance for five years if they are found to have outsourced jobs from Wisconsin after receiving state aid.

“We are seeing all too often under WEDC cases where companies have received help from state taxpayers for the purpose of creating jobs only to send Wisconsin jobs out of state or overseas while state officials appear to ignore it or look the other way,” said Hansen.

Corporations taking state tax dollars intended for job creation only to layoff Wisconsin workers in favor of lower cost labor in other countries are becoming an increasing problem. According to Channel 27 News in Madison outsourcing by Eaton Corporation is just the latest example:

“A global power systems management corporation that has received nearly $370,000 in tax incentives from the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) since 2012 is shipping jobs from Wisconsin to Mexico for the second time in three years.

Eaton Corp. announced last week it is permanently discontinuing the manufacture ofprinted circuit boards at its facility in Watertown, which will result in the elimination of 93 employees there.”

“When a corporation promises to create jobs here in order to receive $370,000 in taxpayer money and then actually eliminates jobs here and sends them to a foreign country one can only assume there is no fear they will be held accountable for their actions,” said Hansen.

Under Hansen’s bill any company that is found to have outsourced jobs from Wisconsin after receiving taxpayer funded assistance would be banned from applying for future taxpayer help for five years.

According to Hansen: “Protecting Wisconsin jobs requires more than lip service. There needs to be consequences for taking taxpayer money on the promise that you’re going to create jobs and then do the opposite. If we are going to hold people on the bottom rungs of the economic ladder accountable when they do not fulfill the responsibilities required of them to receive taxpayer help we should hold those at the top accountable as well.”

Governor Walker’s administration continues to struggle to meet his promise of creating 250,000 jobs amid reports that Wisconsin has fall to 38th in the nation for job creation and Wisconsin is on track to see its highest number of layoffs since Governor Walker first took office in 2011.

“Given the dismal performance of this administration you might think they would be taking a tougher stand on outsourcing. But given this latest report it appears to be business as usual—corporations taking taxpayer dollars while giving their jobs to foreign countries,” Hansen concludes.

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Walker’s Subsidies to Corporations that Outsource Jobs to Mexico

Posted by Jennifer Shilling, State Senator 32nd District
Jennifer Shilling, State Senator 32nd District
Jennifer Shilling serves as the Senate Democratic Leader and represents the 32nd
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on Wednesday, 29 April 2015
in Wisconsin

walker-no-jobsScandal-plagued WEDC agency linked to business outsourcing again.


MADISON – Multiple news reports have revealed that a Wisconsin company that received $370,000 in taxpayer subsidies from Gov. Walker’s Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) plans to cut 93 positions and outsource Wisconsin jobs to Tijuana, Mexico. The Eaton Corporation in Pewaukee, WI had previously outsourced 163 Wisconsin jobs to Mexico in 2013. Governor Walker serves as the Chairman of the WEDC.

At a time when Wisconsin is facing a $2.2 billion budget deficit, it is unacceptable that Republicans would provide taxpayer subsidies to a company with a history of outsourcing Wisconsin jobs. It’s time to start investing in Wisconsin families and stop subsiding corporations that outsource jobs.

While Gov. Walker continues to travel around the nation preparing for his presidential campaign, Wisconsin has plummeted economically. Recent reports have shown that family wages are declining, poverty rates have increased and Wisconsin has dropped to 40th in the country for job creation.

Rather than catering to out-of-state special interests, we need to invest in local businesses that are going to stay in Wisconsin and pay their workers a fair wage. Democrats remain committed to boosting family wages, creating quality jobs and investing in the 21st century infrastructure that is needed to move our state forward.

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A Business Owes Nothing in Taxes & Gets a State Check?

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 Monday, 27 April 2015
in Wisconsin

kohls-corpWhy doesn’t the press cover what’s happening with refundable tax credits? This week Sen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about tax credits – the difference between non-refundable and refundable tax credits, the impact on the budget and Wisconsin taxpayers.


MADISON - “Why doesn’t the press cover what’s happening with refundable tax credits?” I asked the journalist. We were chatting about what I found in the state budget.

“Because the press doesn’t understand them,” she told me.

“Doesn’t understand them?” I thought. “There has to be an easy way to describe what’s happening...”

Imagine if you had no state tax taken out of your paycheck. You filed your tax return but you owed nothing. Now imagine the state sent you a refund check. Wow!

This is like a refundable tax credit. A company owes little to nothing in taxes but gets a check back from the state - cash from the taxpayers of Wisconsin.

Tax credits are different than deductions on your income tax form. The credit is subtracted dollar for dollar from the tax you owe - simple subtraction. You owe $1,000. You have a $500 credit. You now owe $500.

But what if your credit was $10,300,000? Under a refundable tax credit you would end up with a check for $10,299,000.

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) Wisconsin has two refundable tax credit programs: “Enterprise Zone Tax Credits” and “Jobs Tax Credits.” The “Enterprise Zone” used to refer to a designated place in which eligible businesses received tax credits for economic activity. In recent years it morphed into a credit to designated companies for jobs created and retained, training, capital expenditures and purchases from Wisconsin vendors.

A recent publication from the LFB details the 18 recent recipients of “Enterprise Zone Awards”. The table below is in millions of dollars:

Mercury Marine $65.0

Kohl’s Corporation $62.5

Quad/Graphics $46.0

Oshkosh Corporation $35.0

W Solar Group $28.0

Fincantieri Marine Group $28.0

Bucyrus $20.0

Uline $18.6

Kestrel Aircraft Company $18.0

Plexus $15.0

Northstar Medical Radioisotopes $14.0

Amazon.com.dedc LLC $10.3

Weather Shield Manufacturing $8.0

The report also details five other designated “Enterprise Zones”: 1) Insinkerator; 2) Ashley Furniture; 3) Medline Industries, Inc.; 4) Trane; and 5) Exact Science. The LFB reported in January that Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) had not yet entered into contracts with these five companies to finalize the amount awarded.

WEDC is authorized to designate up to 20 “Zones” and the Governor designates an additional ten “Zones” in the budget. The Administration estimates this action would have a ten-year price tag of $168.8 million for Wisconsin taxpayers.

The Governor also wants to take a nonrefundable tax credit (economic development tax credits) and convert it into a refundable tax credit. WEDC is currently authorized to spend $164.2 million on the “economic development tax credits”.

Why rush to create NEW refundable tax credits? Perhaps the Manufacturing and Ag Tax Credit has something to do with the rush. A late budget amendment in 2011 created this credit targeted at manufacturing companies. The tax credit takes tax rates for manufacturing and ag corporations down to .04% by 2016.

What happens if you owe less than 1% on your profits? Pretty soon your tax obligation is so small another tax credit isn’t help much. Step in the refundable tax credit. You owe nothing? You still get a check.

How much might these companies have paid if not for the tax credits slipped into the budget in 2011? The LFB estimated the fiscal impact of just the Manufacturing and Ag credit at $509 million in the coming budget.

So what’s lost to Wisconsin taxpayers when the companies owing little to nothing in taxes cash their refundable tax credit checks?

School funding reform for one – the manufacturing tax credit money would more than cover changes in the school funding formula and hold harmless the wealthier suburban schools. The University of Wisconsin System for another – the credits awarded in the table above would more than cover the Governor’s proposed university system cuts.

Fixing things like the state parks, Wisconsin Public TV and Radio, Family Care and IRIS could be done with the money given in credits to just Plexus. Dollars headed to Uline could instead fund SeniorCare and the School Violence Prevention Program.

Decisions made to give dollars away to profitable corporations have a big impact on future choices.

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The Party of Big Government

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
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on Monday, 27 April 2015
in Wisconsin

dems-v-repubDistrust of government is in our country’s DNA. The GOP has successfully passed themselves off as the party of less government, but the truth is that both major parties want big government to work for a privileged few at the expense of the many.


MADISON - Suspicion and distrust of government is a core American value. It is in our country’s DNA.

Republicans have proven far more capable than Democrats at both recognizing and capitalizing on this fact, taking great pains to pass themselves off as the party favoring less government while their opponents are for more government.

The GOP has successfully created a perception.

Then there is reality. The truth is that both major parties want big government. Both have worked persistently to expand government’s size and reach.

The truth is that the biggest expansion of the federal government in the last half-century was the doing of a Republican administration with near-universal support of Republicans in Congress. That would be the creation of a vast new federal bureaucracy devoted to domestic surveillance and a radically enlarged police presence.

Today’s Republican Party also favors a very activist and intrusive government with respect to our personal lives, morality and sexuality. Republicans talk a good game about trusting in individuals to make their own life choices and in families to serve as the moral backbone of our society. But there is a big gap between word and deed. Modern-day Republicans have repeatedly supported interventions that effectively put government everywhere from the bedroom to the doctor’s office. They have repeatedly sought to dictate who can love and marry whom, and have not hesitated to meddle in doctor-patient relationships and medical decision making.

Democrats are known as the architects of the welfare state. Republicans are devoted to the public dole, too. In fact, the kind of welfare Republicans favor dwarfs the Democrats’ welfare programs. The truth is both parties like to fill the public trough. They just have very different ideas about who should be allowed to feed from it. The debate we should be having is how to create an economy where both kinds of welfare are unnecessary and can be eliminated. Neither major party has shown much interest in that conversation.

Blue Jean Nation believes government is necessary to a civil and just society and prosperous economy. But we insist on a limited government – one that is as small as possible and only as big as required to do what society needs done collectively. Government programs that work should be supported and ones that do not should be reformed or ended. Most importantly, what government does must serve the broad public interest and promote the common good, not just benefit those who lavishly fund election campaigns or have high-priced lobbyists advocating on their behalf.

So much time and energy is wasted fruitlessly arguing over which party wants more government and which one wants less, when the plain evidence shows that both are equally skilled at making government bigger. If we spent half as much time zeroing in on government’s purpose – what it does and for whom – as we spend assigning blame for its size, then we would really get somewhere.

Both major parties have proven they are for big government. And both have shown a distressing tendency to put government to work for a privileged few at the expense of the many. That’s what needs to change. We need a repurposed government, one that is serving the whole of society both consistently and well.

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Wisconsin Idea is Still under Attack

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, 24 April 2015
in Wisconsin

scott-walker-clapsMADISON - Gov. Scott Walker’s attack on the Wisconsin Idea did not end with his botched attempt to re-write the University of Wisconsin’s mission statement. The substance of the attack is ongoing in his state budget.

The Wisconsin Idea is as simple as it is compelling. The fundamental rationale for our public universities is the on-going “search for truth” which elevates the lives of students to higher purposes than mere money getting and extends “knowledge and its application beyond the boundaries of the campus” in order to “improve the human condition.”

The Wisconsin Idea as it developed over 100 years was not mere lofty language. The words were matched by financial commitments decade after decade which, built our public education system brick by brick. Now Walker, with his slashing education cuts, is undercutting these investments

This commitment to learning as a gateway to social progress, and the fundamental belief that it is within our power to bridge the gap between the world as it is and the world as it can be, motivated generations of Wisconsinites much poorer than ourselves. Year after year farmers and shopkeepers and industrial workers put their nickels and dimes together to invest heavily in building our world class university system, our highly rated public schools, and our renowned technical colleges.

The idea that we don’t have the money is absurd. We are a far richer state than we were 100 years ago and even 50 years ago. Walker wants us to think we live in an age of limits, but they are self imposed. In Walker’s narrow ideology giving large tax giveaways to large corporations with no strings attached and turning down millions of dollars of federal health care money are more important than continuing our generational commitment to education.

This attack on the Wisconsin Idea goes beyond funding. Walker’s scheme to spin off our universities, stripping public accountability from a system the people of Wisconsin built together, cuts the UW system off from its public charge. At its core, the Wisconsin Idea is about connecting our universities to the public and its needs, applying cutting-edge knowledge to our social and economic problems to advance opportunity and better society.

Walker’s brand of conservatism is not interested in such knowledge. In Walker’s doublespeak, forcing people off health coverage is innovation, wind farms are a greater threat to human health than fossil fuels, slashing money for education is reform, the failed voucher school experiment is a success, dismal job creation numbers are a comeback, $7.25 an hour is a “living wage,” gutting unions will raises wages, and a budget deficit is a surplus. No wonder Walker wants to scuttle Wisconsin’s century-old “search for truth” and the application of knowledge “beyond the campus.”

The visionaries who framed the Wisconsin Idea, and the generations of average people who made it a reality, had great dreams for our future, and acted on those dreams. We should continue to follow in their footsteps.

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Republicans Reject Oversight of Gov. Walker’s Campaign Travel

Posted by Jennifer Shilling, State Senator 32nd District
Jennifer Shilling, State Senator 32nd District
Jennifer Shilling serves as the Senate Democratic Leader and represents the 32nd
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on Wednesday, 22 April 2015
in Wisconsin

scottwalkerMove comes less than a week after limiting travel reimbursement for veterans.


MADISON – A Democratic proposal to provide greater oversight and transparency of the state taxpayer costs associated with Gov. Walker’s national campaigning was rejected by Republicans on the Legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee along a party-line vote today. The proposal would have required quarterly reporting of taxpayer costs associated with Gov. Walker’s out-of-state travel.

The decision by Republicans to block this proposal and continue subsidizing the Governor’s campaign junkets comes less than a week after imposing a travel reimbursement limit for military veterans.

For Republicans to limit the travel of distinguished veterans and then turn around and give Gov. Walker a blank check to campaign on the state taxpayers’ dime highlights the grossly misplaced priorities in this budget. If Republicans have the money to continue subsidizing Gov. Walker’s international campaign junkets, then they should find a way to help military honor guards, disabled veterans and distinguished medal recipients attend state-sponsored events.

As Gov. Walker increasingly leaves the state in pursuit of his presidential ambitions, costs for his travel have increased drastically. His six day trip to Great Britain cost taxpayers over $138,000 or roughly $23,000 per day.

While Gov. Walker continues to jet around the country, families here in Wisconsin are left paying for his bills. With a $2.2 billion budget deficit, a lagging economy and a shrinking middle-class, it’s time for Republicans to re-evaluate their priorities. I hope that we can improve this budget and adopt the cost-effective, pro-growth initiatives being put forward by Democrats to strengthen our economy and lift up Wisconsin families.

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Free College is Both Possible and Necessary

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
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on Monday, 20 April 2015
in Wisconsin

uwgb-studentOne very important thing missing from the state budget debate, says Mike McCabe, founder of Blue Jean Nation.


ALTOONA, WI - When it comes to the future of higher education in Wisconsin, state lawmakers are stuck in a rut, thinking only about whether spending in this area should be cut a little or a lot and whether student tuition should be kept where it is (which is astronomically high) or be allowed to continue to spiral upward.

We should be talking about free college instead. The viability of the American Dream in the 21st Century depends on it.

Generations ago, Wisconsin was among the trailblazing states that built systems of universal, free public education all the way through high school. Few of the people who were paying for this creation had high school diplomas. Many were illiterate. Most were farmers, but they could see industrialization coming. They knew their children and grandchildren might not work the land as they did. They knew that chances were their kids and grandkids would be working in factories or offices. They knew future generations would need more education and different skills than they had in order to have a shot at the American Dream.

Today, we have to ask ourselves a question our lawmakers are not asking as they debate the future of education. Does a high school diploma alone provide a sure pathway to the American Dream? The answer is obvious. The answer is no. Education and training beyond high school has become a necessity.

So our challenge is simple. We have to do for future generations what past generations did for us. They were substantially poorer than we are, but they built – and paid for – a way for the American Dream to be attainable for us. We need to do the same for our kids and grandkids.

The Wisconsin HOPE Lab already has developed a detailed plan for a free college option. The state of Oregon is actively pursuing it.

Creating a pathway to the American Dream is one of Blue Jean Nation’sfive aims. Turning this aspiration into reality requires us to commit to extending the promise of free public education for everyone all the way through college.

How to do it, how soon it can be done, and how this critical investment will be made is what our elected representatives should be debating.

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Let’s Debunk a Few Budget Myths

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 Monday, 20 April 2015
in Wisconsin

senateSenator Kathleen Vinehout writes about some of the myths that are circulating about the Wisconsin state budget. A popular myth is Governor Walker has spending under control, but did you know the state owes $600 million more than when Governor Doyle left office or that the 2015-17 state budget spends $4.76 billion more than the last?


MADISON - “I’m okay with the cuts,” the man wrote me. “It’s shameful to pass debt on to our children.” In the man’s message, he implies a common misconception about Wisconsin – there is no state debt.

Wisconsin owes a lot of money. The state budget proposes that we borrow even more money. The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) reported in January that the state owed about $13.8 billion. This is slightly less than the previous year, but almost $600 million more than when Governor Doyle left office.

The conservative Tax Foundation reported in 2011 Wisconsin ranked 18th of 50 states in terms of the worst state debt per person ($4,013). In 2013, Wisconsin ranked 16th of 50 states ($4,044 per person). Wisconsin is headed the wrong direction in paying off the debt.

The Governor is proposing a great deal more borrowing in the new budget. Of greatest concern is the borrowing to pay for roads and bridges. The LFB estimates by the end of the coming budget almost a quarter of every dollar in transportation will be spent on debt payments.

Adding to future debt is the Governor’s proposal to build a stadium for the Bucks. The LFB estimates the interest alone on this proposal exceeds $400 million using the plan proposed by the Governor. Final payments are estimated to be in fiscal year 2046-47.

I’d say that’s passing debt on to our grandchildren.

Another common budget myth is the Governor paid all the debt bills coming due. To answer that myth – the Governor is not paying about $108 million in debt payments coming due this year.

In order to free up cash, governors of both political stripes did not make debt payments. Governors Doyle and McCallum did not make debt payments during downturns in the economy. The largest delayed debt payments were under Governor Walker in the 2011-13 legislative session in which over $550 million were delayed.

I imagine the reason the Governor delayed making debt payment this year was to free up cash to cover a deficit in the current budget; which brings us to another budget myth.

A popular myth is Governor Walker has spending under control. But spending in the current budget outpaced revenue.

In February of this year the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance analyzed three factors leading to an imbalance between revenue and spending.

“Tax cuts, the technical college aid jump, and soft tax collections led to revenues once again falling short of expenditures. The shortfall was $261 million last year and could grow to as large as $800 million this year, which would be the largest gap in over 20 years.”

These problems continue going forward. Using estimates released by the LFB last month, spending is estimated to outpace revenue in the next budget by over a billion in the first year and nearly $700 million in the second year.

The Legislature is required by the state Constitution to submit a balanced budget to the Governor. Therefore, when the budget passes in June, spending will be trimmed or revenues enhanced to deal with this imbalance.

Another common myth related to spending is that the Governor is spending less money in this new budget than in prior budgets.

The truth is the 2015-17 state budget spends $4.76 billion more than the last.

At $74.7 billion this budget is the largest in state history. That said, because of inflation, nearly every new budget is larger than the previous one.

But to say this budget is smaller than the last is false.

One reason the myth of a smaller budget exists is because some estimates of the size of the coming budget did not include all University of Wisconsin spending. Of course, to make an apples-to-apples comparison we need to include all the spending from the UW as we have in the past.

I hope this clears up a few of the common budget myths. If you want to learn more, please come to one of my budget town hall meetings. Check my website for dates, times and locations of upcoming town hall meetings

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Remaking Politics By The Seat Of Our Pants

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
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on Tuesday, 14 April 2015
in Wisconsin

MADISON - bjn-left-rightAmerican democracy is caught on the horns of a dilemma. Most Americans are feeling fed up with the Republicans and let down by the Democrats – with good reason – as both major parties are failing the country. Yet a third party isn’t the answer. Like it or not, America has a two-party system.

Ours was not set up as a parliamentary democracy, where competing factions can join forces and form coalition governments. We don’t have fusion voting, or instant runoff voting, or proportional representation, or any of the mechanisms that would allow third parties or independent candidates to successfully compete in our elections and hold power in our government.

This is why third-party or independent bids for office – whether it’s Ross Perot one time or Ralph Nader another – regularly lead to dead ends.

So how do we get regular people back in the driver’s seat of our government when both major parties are catering to a privileged few at the expense of everyone else, but our system is structured to enforce a two-party arrangement?

We have to start with two articles of faith. First, it hasn’t always been like it is now, and doesn’t have to be like this. Second, there is a way out of the trap we’re in.

We need to make the major parties – or at least one of them for starters – better. They won’t change unless forced. It’s like the basic law of physics . . . an object at rest will remain at rest, unless some force makes it move. A corrupt political establishment will stay corrupt and failing parties will keep failing us, unless we make them change their ways.

When past generations freed themselves from similar traps, they started by shedding old labels and fashioning themselves a new identity. They attached that newly minted brand to breathtakingly ambitious agendas. They were not bashful in the least about stating their aspirations for the future.  And then they effectively forced those aspirations down the throats of the parties. When the smoke cleared, there were not three parties or four or five. There were two. But the parties were transformed. They were reconnected to the masses.

Current conditions dictate that this must be done again.

Given how messed up politics is at the moment, we cannot in good conscience call ourselves Republicans or Democrats, liberals or conservatives. One party is scary and the other is scared. Labels like liberal and conservative no longer mean what the dictionary says they mean. Now they are little more than the political equivalent of ethnic slurs. We deserve better and need something new.

We are commoners and we are politically homeless. The royals of our political system made us so.

We aim to make a household for the politically homeless and in so doing transform parties that are failing us. And we are pulling together to make it happen. With an organizing committee of citizens from all of Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts and 19 different counties, we just formed Blue Jean Nation.

Blue Jean Nation is not a party. It is a community, and a movement in the making. We are neither elephant nor ass, but recognize that our country has a two-party system and plan to work within that system to get the parties truly working for all of us and not just a favored few who are well connected politically.

Our end goal is to make common sense in government and concern for the common good far less uncommon. To reach that goal, we will work every day against political privilege.

We will do it from the ground up, with plain people leading the way, by the seat of our pants. There’s no waiting for political messiahs to come along.

When faced with economic and political threats eerily similar to today’s conditions, past generations straightened things out on more than one occasion. I refuse to believe there is something so different about us or wrong with us that renders us less capable of making change than those who came before us. In so many ways, we have more going for us now than they did then.

Political reboots have happened before. Another one is desperately needed.

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Equal Pay Enforcement Bill Needed To Close Pay Discrimination Gap

Posted by Jennifer Shilling, State Senator 32nd District
Jennifer Shilling, State Senator 32nd District
Jennifer Shilling serves as the Senate Democratic Leader and represents the 32nd
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on Tuesday, 14 April 2015
in Wisconsin

womenMADISON – Democratic legislators led by Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) and Rep. Chris Sinicki (D-Milwaukee) announced the introduction of the Equal Pay Enforcement Act today. The bill would reinstate commonsense legal protections for victims of workplace discrimination and help deter pay discrimination.

The introduction of the bill coincides with the upcoming National Equal Pay Day on April 14th. This date symbolizes how far into 2015 women must work to earn the same amount as men earned in 2014. It is estimated that Wisconsin families lose over $8 billion each year due to the pay discrimination wage gap.

All workers should be paid a fair wage for an honest day's work. I’m proud to be a co-author of this legislation to restore Wisconsin's Equal Pay Enforcement protections and create a more level playing field for women, veterans and minorities in our state. Rather than watching as family wages continue to decline, we need to end pay discrimination and ensure that everyone is paid a fair wage for their work.

Statistics from the national census show that women earn 78 cents, on average, for every dollar men earn for similar full-time work. The majority of women in Wisconsin bring home at least a quarter of their family’s income and there are over 230,000 Wisconsin households where women are the primary source of income.

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People Speak Out About Consequences of Budget Decisions

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 Monday, 13 April 2015
in Wisconsin

public_hearingThis week, Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about a recent Eau Claire listening session held regarding the State Budget proposal.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - “This is not my cup of tea,” the farmer said quietly as he moved up to the microphone at the Eau Claire budget hearing.

“I’m a UW grad. I’m a farmer. I’m a tech college grad. My kids went to public school. There’s a lot I could talk about today. But I’m here today for Craig, my son. He loves where he lives.”

“I don’t want to lose that,” said Craig sitting between his parents. Craig had surgery to remove brain tumors at 3 years old. His mind is quick and his words are heartfelt.

“IRIS gives Craig the opportunity to be as independent as he can be, to do the things he enjoys” said his dad. “It helps allow my wife and me to work and be taxpayers.” IRIS is a self-directed option under Medicaid.

Many others spoke about the long-term consequences of changing the health programs for the elderly and disabled.

“People like Judy cannot support themselves,” said Mort, of his disabled 41-year-old daughter, “cannot lobby and cannot speak for themselves…they certainly do not need their programs to be seriously damaged.”

“We take care of others. We take care of people less fortunate,” Glory told listening legislators. “That’s who we are.”

A Menomonie School Board member shared his concerns about cuts to local schools.

“I wasn’t going to speak... But I can’t stand by with what I see happening. Our teachers pay a lot for their health insurance. We’ve been using our ‘budget tools’ all along. The current proposal will cost the Menomonie School District $1 million. Can’t the governor figure out schools’ costs go up but we don’t get any additional money? No increase in the first year? Some back in the second year but it doesn’t make any sense to put it all in school levy credit. That doesn’t go to schools. How do we keep young people in Wisconsin if we keep cutting?”

He continued, “We need good news sources. WPR (Wisconsin Public Radio) offers people a choice they can’t get anywhere else. News is less balanced these days. We need a balanced source of news. And efficiencies? I’m all for that. But to put banking and credit unions into an agency that regulates tattoo parlors? I have nothing against tattoo parlors. It just doesn’t make sense. There’s a reason why we have careful regulations over banks and credit unions.”

During the presentation before the public testimony, I talked about refundable tax credits - state checks given to large businesses that owed nothing in taxes. “It’s like no state taxes taken out of your paycheck, but when you file taxes you get a check in the mail,” I told the group.

Chris, of the Eau Claire school board, did some quick math before she came forward. “You know those refundable tax credits you talked about?” she asked me. “They are the same dollar amount as the cuts to the Eau Claire School District over the last 16 years.” She handed me a three-page, double-sided list of 210 separate items reflecting the cuts made by the district.

“Even if the revenue limit is increased to $150 per student,” she continued. “We will still have a $3 million hole. Now it’s about $5 million.”

Many people spoke about the long-term consequences of cuts to the UW. One Eau Claire City Councilman said the city calculated the cuts would take $7.6 million out of Eau Claire’s economy. He talked about the budget process in Eau Claire and encouraged legislators to look at a more open, deliberative process at the state level to reflect the views of all the people.

“One of our goals on the City Council is to create a community that is enticing for people to come to Eau Claire.”

“Take the policy out of the budget. There is no way these things could ever be done on their own. No legislator would put their name on these proposals…. This is an entire state’s budget. It affects all the people… people need to have a bigger say.”

Thanks to all who came and shared concerns. Your advocacy is making a real difference.

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Budgets Are About Priorities

Posted by Jennifer Shilling, State Senator 32nd District
Jennifer Shilling, State Senator 32nd District
Jennifer Shilling serves as the Senate Democratic Leader and represents the 32nd
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on Friday, 10 April 2015
in Wisconsin

budget-hearing-2015MADISON - At listening sessions across Wisconsin this past month, thousands of residents testified in support of local schools, cost-saving health care programs and responsible environmental stewardship.

These are the investments that make Wisconsin the state we all love and value. So why are Republicans proposing cuts to all of these areas? Why, at a time of national economic growth and prosperity, is Wisconsin facing a $2.2 billion deficit?

After four years of special interest giveaways and tax breaks for the wealthy, Wisconsin has fallen further behind our neighboring states and the rest of the country.

While other states are investing in families, strengthening communities and growing their economies, Gov. Walker and legislative Republicans have created a massive $2.2 billion budget deficit and are moving our state backwards. Wisconsin has dropped nine spots to 40th in the nation for job growth and we are experiencing the worst middle-class decline in the country.

We need to turn our state around. Something needs to change.

If we want our next generation to succeed in an increasingly competitive global economy, we need to invest in our children’s future. Republicans have made the largest cuts to public schools in Wisconsin’s history to provide massive giveaways to special interests. Rather than diverting even more money to subsidize an unaccountable private school voucher program, we should strengthen and improve the public school system we already have.

In fact, nearly $375 million could be used for school funding and property tax relief if Republicans would simply accept federal dollars to strengthen BadgerCare. This move would free up millions that could be used to invest in our schools, improve health care access and create thousands of good paying jobs in Wisconsin.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin taxpayers have been forced to pay more and get less as a result of the misguided budget decisions made over the past four years. With a self-inflicted $2.2 billion budget deficit, stagnant family wages and a lagging economy, it’s time we get back to our core values and priorities.

What does it say about our state’s priorities when we have a Republican budget that spends more state taxpayer dollars on prison incarceration than UW education? What does it say about our priorities when Republicans reject federal BadgerCare funding and then propose health care fee increases for seniors? What does it say about our priorities when Republicans limit environmental conservation and then open the door to allow corporate naming of state parks?

These certainly aren’t the priorities or values that Wisconsin families have expressed over the past several months.

If legislative Republicans can afford to subsidize Gov. Walker’s international campaign trips with taxpayer funding, then surely we can find a way to protect our schools, working families and local communities from another round of devastating cuts.

After all, budgets are about priorities.

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Author and Government Watchdog Launches New Citizen Movement

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
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on Wednesday, 08 April 2015
in Wisconsin

Blue Jean NationMike McCabe, popular author of 'Blue Jeans in High Places' and former director of the nonpartisan watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, starts Blue Jean Nation. ‘First-party’ effort addresses failing political system.


GREEN BAY - With the goal of getting regular people back in the driver’s seat of government at a time when democratic institutions are failing the country, a new citizen group called Blue Jean Nation announced its formation Tuesday.

“We aim to make a household for the politically homeless and in so doing transform parties that are failing us,” Blue Jean Nation founder Mike McCabe said. For 15 years McCabe headed the nonpartisan government watchdog group Wisconsin Democracy Campaign where he was among Wisconsin’s leading whistle blowers and the nation’s best political money trackers. Last year he authored the book Blue Jeans in High Places: The Coming Makeover of American Politics.

The new group starts with an organizing committee of citizens from all of Wisconsin’s eight congressional districts and 19 different counties. The website BlueJeanNation.com is now live, as are social media accounts for the group on Facebook and Twitter.

“We are not starting a third party. We are neither elephant nor ass, but we recognize that America has a two-party system and we plan to work within that system to get the parties truly working for all of us and not just a favored few who are well connected politically,” McCabe said, describing Blue Jean Nation as a first-party movement.

“Our end goal is to make concern for the common good far less uncommon,” he said. “To reach that goal, we will work every day against political privilege.”

To accomplish its aims, Blue Jean Nation will engage in community outreach, civic education and engagement, grassroots organizing, and public policy advocacy and social action.

Read Blue Jean Nation's creed.

Take a look at the group's five aims.

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Wisconsin Health Insurance Rates Still Dramatically Higher than Minnesota’s

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, 08 April 2015
in Wisconsin

healthcare-familyNew Citizen Action Report Reveals Wisconsin Health Insurance Costs 20-89% Higher than Minnesota's.


STATEWIDE - Citizen Action of Wisconsin released today the new report  Tale of Two States 2015 Report: Why Wisconsin's Health Insurance Costs Are Dramatically Higher Than Minnesota's.

The full report can be downloaded here.

In addition to providing statewide numbers, the report also compares health insurance individual marketplace rates for Wisconsin’s major metro areas, revealing major differentials in cost.

Key findings in report:

  • Statewide Wisconsin health insurance rates continue to be far above Minnesota rates. Silver plans are on average 60% more in Wisconsin and have a $600 higher deductible

  • For individual metro areas, the lowest cost silver plans range from 20-89% higher in Wisconsin, compared to the average cost in Minnesota.

  • These percentage differences translate into $480 - $2,125 more per person per year in Wisconsin for a 40 year old before Affordable Care Act tax credits.

  • If the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the pending King v. Burwell case takes away tax subsidies, Wisconsin consumers just over the poverty line would see rates as much as 2,400% higher than their Minnesota counterparts.

The report also shows that the U.S. Supreme Court Case of  King v. Burwell Court could make the rate disparity between Wisconsin and Minnesota much worse. The case, that will be decided in May or June, could strip health insurance subsidies in states like Wisconsin which did not set up their own Affordable Care Act marketplaces. This could increase premiums on average over 300%. If Wisconsin were to create its own health insurance marketplace, there would be no threat to health coverage.

“The fact that Minnesota is doing so much better than Wisconsin in controlling health insurance costs should be a wakeup call to state leaders in Madison,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “This report documents that states like Wisconsin that refuse to use the tools made available by national health care reform are undermining the fundamental freedom of their own residents to access quality affordable health coverage.”

“The decisions that are made here at the State Capitol have big impacts the cost of healthcare for our citizens”, said State Representative Melissa Sargent. “This high cost hurts our families, our businesses and our state. Families will have less spending money and businesses have less money to give raises.”

“A very significant factor in the cost of health insurance is the rejection of federal funds for BadgerCare, said Jon Peacock, Research Director for the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families. “The high cost of coverage for those denied BadgerCare will mean only those that know they need the insurance will scrape together the money to purchase coverage. As a result, adverse selection in the market leads to higher rates for everyone.”

Causes:

The report finds that state policy has a quantifiable impact on the premium disparities between Minnesota and Wisconsin. To see all the public policy drivers documented in the report click here.

1. Medicaid: Wisconsin’s rejection of federal funds for BadgerCare pushes more expensive consumers onto private insurance, driving up rates.

2. Rate Review: Wisconsin has not used it’s insurance rate review power to publicly challenge rate increases to block excessive rate increases and reduce wasteful spending.

3. Substandard Plans: Wisconsin continues to allow the sale of substandard insurance plans that are not compliant with the Affordable Care Act, damaging insurance risk pools.

4. Public Leverage: Wisconsin has not taken advantage of its purchasing power leverage to reduce costs outside of Madison.

For a full list of health insurance cost disparity causes, as well as other policy proposals, download the full research report.

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