Tuesday October 15, 2019

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Senate Democrats Push for Real Accountability for Voucher Schools

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 07 January 2015
in Wisconsin

teaching-studentsMADISON - Senate Democrats announced today introduction of legislation to protect voucher schools students, and their parents as well as taxpayers by requiring real accountability measures for schools that participate in the taxpayer funded private voucher school program.

The legislation being introduced by Senators Nikiya Harris-Dodd and Chris Larson would require voucher schools to hire licensed teachers, conduct criminal background checks on their teachers and administrators, meet basic graduation standards and be based in Wisconsin.

dave-hansen“For too long we have seen how the lack of strong accountability standards for voucher schools has cost students, families and taxpayers,” said Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay). “We can no longer afford to keep investing tax dollars into a private school program that is unaccountable to taxpayers and that has produced so many expensive failures.”

Taxpayers gave over $139 million dollars to fifty voucher schools that ultimately were barred from receiving taxpayer support after they failed to meet minimal existing requirements. Still others have closed costing state taxpayers millions and leaving families who put their trust in them out in the cold.

Just last month, the Travis Technology High School closed after failing to meet existing minimal state requirements In 2013, the LifeSkills Academy in Milwaukee closed in the dead of night leaving behind 66 students who were not proficient in math or reading.

Hansen concluded: “We shouldn’t be taking money from our public schools and giving it to private schools at a time when we are forcing our public schools to make difficult and painful cuts. But if the Governor and Republicans are going to force taxpayers to fund a separate, private school system then the taxpayers have a right to expect that that their teachers will be able to teach, the students able to learn and that the schools will be safe.”

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Pay Attention to Madison, There’s a New Legislature in Session

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, 05 January 2015
in Wisconsin

madison_capitolSenator Kathleen Vinehout’s column about the new Wisconsin Legislature and legislative session. Kathleen shares her committee appointments and writes about what business the Legislature will take up in the next weeks.


MADISON - “Raise your right hand and repeat after me,” the Supreme Court Justice directs newly elected and re-elected lawmakers.

So begins the new 2-year Legislative Session.

On the first working day of 2015 a new group of freshman legislators began their work. Ordinary folks from ordinary lives receive a crash course in state services, agencies, budgeting and parliamentary procedure.

Soon an onslaught of proposed bills will appear in the email in-boxes of lawmakers.

Over 1,500 bills will be introduced before the 2-year legislative session adjourns. These bills will flow through 16 Senate and 33 Assembly committees. Certain proposals will also be reviewed by 10 joint committees.

Each lawmaker is assigned a number of committees, other appointed commissions, boards or special study committees. This year I will serve as the Ranking Minority member of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee and the Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism Committee. I am also assigned to the Sporting Heritage, Mining and Forestry Committee, the State Tribal Relations Committee, the Joint Committee on Information Policy and Technology and the Education Reform and Government Operations Committee.

Education leaders are preparing for numerous proposed changes widely anticipated to include an expansion of state money for private schools. Special education advocates are concerned about public money going to private schools for special ed students. Others are concerned about a proposed expansion of independent charter schools run with tax dollars. Funds are limited and any tax dollars to private schools must be argued in the context of a tight budget and many needs.

Work on the state budget begins right away. The governor is expected to unveil his proposed budget near the end of January. Lawmakers will be crafting additions to the budget before they see the Governor’s details. Once the two-year spending plan is unveiled, I’ll be picking through the details and crafting changes. This work will be my focus for the spring.

As a rookie lawmaker, several years ago, I found it curious that my very first job was the most demanding task of the two-year session. This year more than one in five lawmakers never voted on a state budget. Special efforts must be made to educate newly elected ‘ordinary citizens’ on the impact of decisions on our local communities.

The task of understanding the budget is made more difficult with the addition of non-fiscal policy – law changes unrelated to the financial matters. This practice is seldom a good idea but has been popular among recent governors. Perhaps the practice is popular because the budget is the only bill the governor writes.

Last session nearly 100 separate pieces of policy unrelated to the state’s finances became law with the passage of the state budget. This policy included unpopular items like taking away local powers to set locations for cell or TV towers.

The most important work of the Legislature will be the passage of this budget bill by midyear. The decisions made in the next few months will affect all our lives. Some of the results of these decisions will not be seen for several years.

Because of the widespread and important decisions made by the Legislature – a group of ‘ordinary citizens’ from all walks of life - it is very important for us all to take the time to let our Legislators know the local effects of what is being discussed.

People want things fixed and nowhere is that more evident than with potholes and bridges. One closed bridge made life harried for all the residents near Taylor, Wisconsin. Getting a grip on the money needed for transportation repairs and new construction will be a real challenge in the coming year. Finding a way to pay will not be easy. It’s the general “wisdom” about taxes: “Don’t tax you, don’t tax me. Tax the fellow behind the tree.”

Tight dollars will increase the lure of tricks and smokescreens to balance the state budget. My plan is to do the homework to unravel the details and then bring the budget home to you with Town Hall meetings around western Wisconsin. We all need to know what’s being discussed and how it affects you and your neighbors.

So stay tuned. There will be a lot happening!

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Looking Forward to the Challenges of 2015

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, 30 December 2014
in Wisconsin

new-year-2015Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about some of the challenges that will face us here in Wisconsin during the new year.


ALMA - There’s something about the New Year that brings freshness and hope. Pain and loss are eased as the calendar turns to 2015. Opportunity and change await.

Farming taught me the importance of new beginnings. While the ground lies fallow, plans begin. The farmer sees the snow covered field. But in the mind’s eye, the field is lush green. The weeds are few; the crop bountiful; the balance sheet in the black.

So begins the work of the people in 2015. Every bill is new (although many are recycled). Each bill begins the laborious process of committees and public hearings. Many legislators are new; returning lawmakers have new offices and some new staff.

Acrimonious campaigning is put aside. Even long-time opponents sound similar as they compete to deliver the best bipartisan speech.

Farming taught me the importance of having a plan; so in this spirit of fresh beginnings this week and next I’ll offer my hopes and plans for the coming year.

The new session begins with the Governor’s proposal for the two-year state budget. The most important work of the Legislature will be the passage of this bill by midyear. The largest state-funded part of the budget will be K-12 education. What happens to schools will affect every community in Wisconsin.

Schools are the heart of our communities. Many who contact me are afraid they will lose their local school – or trade increasing property taxes as the only way to keep their school open. Fixing school funding is at the top of my 2015 plans. Many have offered answers including State Superintendent Tony Evers who proposed a new funding formula in his budget request.

“We must do something to help rural schools,” my Republican colleague said at a December legislative forum. “Don’t let partisanship stop a fix to rural schools”, directed the op-ed headline. I agree. The answers are before us. Let’s get the job done.

Fear of closing college campuses ranks right up there with the fear of closing local schools. UW Superior recently cut nearly half of its graduate programs including art, reading and library science. Suspended undergraduate programs include music with theater and computer science programs still under review. Campuses across the state are struggling with less state aid and the effects of tuition freezes.

UW campuses make our communities what they are today: a vital engine of progress humming along inspiring our youth and providing creativity, culture, and – in medical advances – life itself. We must invest in colleges and universities and plan to provide an affordable college education to the next generation of smart, hardworking youth.

Many people are concerned the New Year will bring additional challenges to local government. They fear new state laws will take away local ability, for example, to site and regulate sand mines. The state sends new –often unwanted – responsibilities to locals but keeps the resources and removes local powers.

Instead of removing local powers, let’s add to them in bipartisan action aimed at real local empowerment. Let’s provide local people with the resources to get the job done; to deliver services people want and need.

Since I’ve written about the Government Accountability Board (GAB) and its challenges in the New Year, I’ve heard from local clerks. One municipal clerk from Pierce County wrote that she found staff at the GAB very helpful. She thought they did a great job in the face of all the ‘continual law changes’. So let’s keep this nonpartisan watchdog and give them resources to get their job done.

Finally, let’s make 2015 about real economic prosperity for all families. We know businesses locate in great places to live. Great places to live mean local decisions kept local, great schools and universities, and great parks, rivers and other places to play; all these state government can help locals.

So can you! Please share your thoughts because the best ideas for improving our communities come from the people who live in them.

A big thank-you to the dedicated staff of the 31st District: Ben Larson, Linda Kleinschmidt and our intern turned-part-timer Paige Humphrey.

Wishing you and yours a Happy and Prosperous New Year!

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Audit Shows Walker Jobs Agency "Too Busy" to Talk to Unemployed

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 16 December 2014
in Wisconsin

joblessWalker’s DWD blocked the calls from almost 1.7 million Wisconsin workers seeking unemployment assistance. As a result thousands of unemployed workers appear to have been forced to wait for or did not receive much-needed benefits.


MADISON - A new state report released today says the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development (DWD) call centers were too busy to answer almost 1.7 million calls from people looking to claim unemployment benefits in the year that ended June 30. The Legislative Audit Bureau issued findings showing that DWD placed people in a hold queue when call center staff were busy.

Despite being last in the Midwest for job growth, Governor Walker’s DWD blocked the calls from Wisconsin workers seeking unemployment assistance. As a result thousands of unemployed workers appear to have been forced to wait for or did not receive much-needed benefits they paid for.

dave-hansen“At a time when families are at their most vulnerable the state should not be forcing them through an endless frustrating loop of delays and dead-end phone calls simply for trying to get the benefits they earned and paid for,” said Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay).

In response to an increasing number of calls received from constituents who were having trouble getting through to the DWD last February, Senator Hansen and several Democratic senators wrote to Governor Walker urging him to take action to fix the problem.

“We wrote to the Governor after hearing from constituents, many of whom had been calling dozens of times per day and others spending entire days trying to get through so they could access the benefits they paid for. The audit conducted by the non-partisan Legislative Audit Bureau shows just how badly the department failed so many Wisconsin families when they needed help the most.”

According to the audit since 2011 over 3.6 million calls were blocked and another million callers hung up out of frustration after being put on hold. Although the number of people filing claims declined last year the problem got worse leading to 1.7 million calls being blocked.

“This was not an unknown problem. They had years to fix it. Combined with the Governor’s failure to create the jobs he promised, the fact that they didn’t bother to fix the problem suggests an appalling lack of concern for the average family.”

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Don’t Let Government Accountability “Reform” Mean Return to Corruption

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, 15 December 2014
in Wisconsin

madison_capitolSenator Kathleen Vinehout writes about the Legislative Audit Bureau report on the Government Accountability Board and the attempt of GOP leaders to use it to dismantle the agency. Do we really want Wisconsin to be like Illinois, Texas and Louisiana – all of which have the reputation of freewheeling, corrupt elections?


MADISON - “I promise you that two years from now, when we are sitting here, the GAB will not be in the current format,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told a crowd at a Madison luncheon as reported by the Wisconsin State Journal.

The Government Accountability Board (GAB) was created seven years ago to prevent corrupt practices in state government. The agency had its beginnings when the existing ethics and election board failed to stop lawmakers from using public resources for campaign purposes in the 2002 “caucus scandal”.

A recently released Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) audit of the GAB provides insight to the activities of the GAB. The audit also spurred a partisan attack on the agency crippled by underfunding and unprecedented challenges.

Auditors confirmed that GAB officials complied with many legal duties but, among other findings, did not promulgate required administrative rules, adequately track late reports or consistently assess penalties.

Local government administers elections with oversight from the GAB. Many actions of the agency are working well. Municipal clerks are trained using a variety of methods to allow on-line attendance. The agency regularly audited polling places to assure accessibility for disabled voters. The GAB matches computer information on voters to prevent voter fraud.

Some problems existed in the consistency and accuracy of computer matches. To assure, for example, felons still serving time do not vote or no one casts a ballot in the name of the deceased, coordinated efforts must take place between the GAB and local clerks.

Sometimes errors were made. In stopping ineligible felons from voting the Department of Corrections included aliases. Sometimes those names matched real people. Locals must take care to not revoke the voting privileges of innocent people.

In other activities of the GAB, the audit found over 90% of lobbying groups and over 85% of campaigns filed required reports on time. But GAB staff did not consistently track or enforce penalties for late reports and violations of lobbying laws. Staff did not have written policies when making exceptions to the assessment of penalties.

The oversight of the GAB could not be completely evaluated by the LAB because an Attorney General’s opinion this summer limited release of documents to the auditors. The action of the Attorney General affected auditors’ ability to review complaints investigated by the GAB. Over 1,900 complaints were received but auditors could examine less than a third of these complaints.

Critics of the GAB cite its failure to promulgate administrative rules as a deliberate action of a “rogue” agency that “ignored state law”. This is hyperbole.

Administrative rules took a backseat to agency duties at a time of great demand on the GAB’s strained human resources. During this time period, the GAB repeatedly asked for additional staff and was turned down by the Governor. More than a quarter of its state funds were cut since 2011.

At the same time the GAB faced unprecedented challenges: historic recall elections; the enactment of 31 separate pieces of new legislation and lawsuits affected the agency, including several over photo ID. To make compliance more difficult, a 2011 law changed the length and complexity of the rule-making process leaving many agencies – not just the GAB - with delayed or eliminated permanent rules.

Problems must be corrected. The agency response to the audit sets out details on how to do this. Some agency failures happened before 2011. Clearly tight budgets and tough workloads are not the only explanation.

But lawmakers can’t starve the agency, load it with additional work, and then complain staff isn’t doing the job fast enough.

If Wisconsin wants clean elections, transparent campaigns and lobbying and ethics among elected officials, the state must provide the GAB with adequate resources to do the job.

Dismantling the agency will put the people back in the dark when it comes to elections, campaign finance, lobbying and ethics. Destroying the agency to save it should not be an option.

I question the end game of critics of the GAB.

To Assembly Speaker Vos: “Do we really want Wisconsin to be like Illinois, Texas and Louisiana – all of which have the reputation of freewheeling, corrupt elections?”

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Serving Wisconsin: Retiring Senators Offer Wisdom

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, 08 December 2014
in Wisconsin

capital-madisonwiThree retiring Senators – Tim Cullen, Bob Jauch and Dale Schultz call upon their colleagues to work together in the best interest of the people and warn against the dangers of hyper partisanship and outside groups taking the power that should rest with the people.


MADISON - “There is a yearning outside the Capitol for common sense, cooperation and compromise,” Senator Tim Cullen told his fellow Senators. “You all know how to do this if you’ve been married for more than 15 days.”

As 2014 comes to a close, so do the public careers of several extraordinary Senators. I listened carefully as these public servants delivered farewell speeches on the Senate floor. The wisdom shared by three great men comes from a cumulative 80 years of experience that spanned four decades.

“We came because we care,” Republican Senator Dale Schulz told his colleagues. “I ran for public office because I felt called.”

“We’re on this earth to help others,” said Democratic Senator Cullen who also served in Governor Thompson’s Republican administration as Secretary of Health.

“Our obligation is to empower the people; not to avoid them because they are of a different political persuasion,” said Democratic Senator Bob Jauch. “We are the caretakers of the public trust. We serve in the people’s place.”

Empower the people is certainly what Senator Jauch accomplished. This year the Pepin-based Flyway Film Festival presented the film Wisconsin’s Mining Standoff, which prominently features Senator Jauch and his work to empower local people and protect the natural resources of our state.

Senator Jauch joined Senators Cullen and Schulz in drafting an iron ore-mining bill that addressed the stated concerns of the mining company while respecting the local people’s wishes, the Native American tribes’ role and the federal regulator’s requirements. Although the carefully crafted bill didn’t pass, the work stands as one of the last great bipartisan achievements.

It’s not surprising as all three men retire, the lessons they share relate to the value of working together and the dangers of partisanship and ideology.

“[We should] lift up ideas, not ideology. Ideology stifles thought,” said Cullen.

“Our history is not written on partisanship, but on partnership,” said Jauch. “Politics ought to be the practice of solving problems.

“We have to quit asking ourselves which team we’re on. I’m on the people’s team,” shared Schultz. “Partisanship is a lens not a straightjacket. We’ve got to stop thinking of the other side as the enemy.”

Senator Schultz expanded on the idea of ‘who the real enemy is’ in a Wisconsin State Journal story:

“Here’s how I see the enemy. The enemy is poverty in a country and a state that has no business having kids and families go to sleep hungry at night or in their cars.

“The enemy is unemployment and underemployment, because nobody asked an employer advertising a good job if they were R or Ds, they were just thankful to get a job that gave them worth and put food on the table.

“The enemy is those who encourage an undereducated citizenry. Education is the key to helping give people a hand up and a better future.

“The most dangerous enemy of all…is the enemy closest to us. It lives with us and within us. The real enemy is fear. We fear what we do not understand. We fear those who are different. We fear losing what we have.

“When we take away our masks, and face each other…without judgment, fear of loss or recrimination, then we can begin to listen, we can begin to talk, and then we can begin to build a better future.

All three Senators speak about the dangerous trend of allowing outside groups to take power that should be reserved for the people and about elected officials representing the people’s interests.

“’We the people’ has been substituted with ‘we the privileged,’” said Jauch.

“Be careful of accepting support from powerful groups,” warned Cullen. “You may think you have your hands in their pockets but in the end, they have their hands in your pockets. The best thing we can do is to say ‘no’ to our friends.”

Senator Schultz summed it up well, “When some think tank comes up with the legislation and tells you not to fool with it, why are you even a legislator anymore? You just sit there and take votes and you’re kind of a feudal serf for folks with a lot of money.”

Thank you for your service gentlemen. We are humbled in your shadow.

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GOP “Right-to-Work” Bill is Wrong for Wisconsin

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Friday, 05 December 2014
in Wisconsin

union-members-at-capitolGOP State House Leaders are considering so-called "open shop" legislation to prohibit employers from striking deals with private-sector unions to require workers to pay dues. The move, called "right-to-work" legislation, reopens the public sector Act 10 confrontation of 2011.


MADISON – In a complete shift from the general election rhetoric of then candidate Scott Walker and state Republicans in recent months, who have said that the issue is a distraction and not a priority, the top leader in the state Senate made clear Thursday that lawmakers in his house would debate the issue of so-called "right-to-work" legislation within weeks and bring the volatile issue of union law back into the statehouse.

According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report today, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) told conservative talk radio host Charlie Sykes of WTMJ-AM (620) Milwaukee that he was considering so-called "open shop" legislation to prohibit employers from striking deals with private-sector unions to require workers to pay dues. He said he was considering making Wisconsin the first state in the nation to attempt to exempt certain private workers such as the operators of earth movers who have supported Wisconsin Republicans in recent years.

His comments come as conservative state Rep. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), a longtime activist in the state with ties to national groups that have started an organization to promote the legislation, vowed this week to introduce a bill to do just that.

As recently as Wednesday, Walker said in a stop in Milwaukee that he did not want to take up a “right-to-work” bill at this time.

"As I said before the election and have said repeatedly over the last few years, I just think right-to-work legislation right now, as well as reopening Act 10 to make any other adjustments, would be a distraction from the work that we're trying to do," Walker said, according to Wisconsin Public Radio.

But as with other election promises like creating 250,000 new jobs, it appears times have changed.

Gov. Scott Walker and GOP lawmakers already banned such requirements for most public employees in Wisconsin, but their 2011 law known as Act 10 didn't affect private-sector unions or police and firefighters. Tens of thousands of workers protested for weeks and Walker later became the first governor in the nation to win a recall election because of it.

After the Republicans in Madison stuck it to the public sector workers, their counterparts in the private sector did little to come to their aid. Now it appears to be their turn, as many Democrats said at the time.

dave-hansenAccording to Assistant Senate Democratic Leader Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) in a statement released today:

“Despite the Governor denouncing Rep. Kapenga’s legislation as a distraction he does not want, legislative Republicans appear poised to fast-track this extremely divisive and controversial legislation at a time when our economy is still reeling from the harmful effects of their Tea Party agenda.

“This legislation isn’t about protecting anyone’s rights or freedom. Real freedom is about having a workplace that allows people to balance their work with those things that are important in their lives like being able to make time for their children, spend time with their spouse or take a parent to the doctor.  Their idea of right-to-work is nothing more than a way to stack the deck against the workers who actually create the profits so CEOs can get bigger bonuses and line the pockets of their shareholders.

“Not only is this legislation harmful to the economic freedom and wellbeing of Wisconsin families everywhere, it violates the rights of employers to decide how to run their business.  It is anti-American and wrong for Wisconsin.

“Governor Walker is correct when he says this is a distraction we cannot afford.  Unfortunately, by not stating publicly that he will veto this legislation, Governor Walker himself is creating the very distraction he said he wants to avoid.  If he truly does not support this attack on Wisconsin families he needs to state publicly that he will veto it.”

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Enjoy 100 Miles of Western Wisconsin Christmas

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, 01 December 2014
in Wisconsin

lacrosse-xmas-lightsIt's the beginning of the Christmas holiday season so Senator Kathleen Vinehout shares some of the special events that make western Wisconsin the place to enjoy holiday traditions and special events.


ALMA - “It’s the holidays,” the Buffalo County man told me. “It’s time to enjoy all we have here.” This farmer will be joining many others who take time to travel the Great River Road during the Holiday Season.

Communities along the Mississippi River are rolling out the welcome mat for holiday travelers. They want you to come and enjoy the season in the snow covered hills and historical river towns.

This month’s Midwest Living features a story about Christmas along the river. Writer Jeff Hoffert and photographer John Noltner explore Minnesota and Wisconsin towns along more than 100 miles of the river.

Alma, Pepin, Stockholm, Maiden Rock and Fountain City are mentioned in the magazine’s review of great places. But the article just touches the tip of what the Coulee and Chippewa Valley communities offer visitors. Many of the seasonal festivities begin Saturday and Sunday December 6th and 7th.

Your Wisconsin River trip begins at Prescott. The Friends of Freedom Park host the Holiday Bazaar at the Great River Road Visitors and Learning Center. The breathtakingly beautiful park is located high above the St. Croix River. Local artists date their tradition back to the 1930s with the founding of the Prescott Little Colony Art Group. Many artists and craftspeople will show and sell their art including the current artists of the Little Colony.

A little way down river, the Old Fashioned Christmas celebration in Maiden Rock offers carriage rides, food and good cheer. Demonstrations and workshops on knitting and textile crafts and a free ornament making workshop for children are just a few of the opportunities. Travel further down the road to the famous little village of Stockholm where Santa roams and fresh holiday pies are baking. Your horse drawn wagon awaits and around every corner fresh local food, art, crafts and other treasurers abound.

A few miles south, St. Nick hosts the Pepin’s Home Town Holiday. There are church bazaars, wagon rides and a cookie walk that will sell out by noon. Up the road, Wisconsin celebrates in Durand and Downsville at the galleries of Jean Accola and John Thomas.

In Alma you can tour historic homes and buildings decked out for the holidays, visit more than a dozen galleries and shops, a medieval museum and view the eagles while surrounded by warmth and art at Wings Over Alma.

The Christmas joy continues down river in Fountain City at what is boasted to be the largest Holiday Craft Fair in the area and The Taste of an Irish Christmas at the Monarch – the longest serving pub in Wisconsin.

Though not part of the 100 miles of Christmas, many other communities gather for their traditional holiday celebrations. Parade goers will bundle up and enjoy festivities in Trempealeau, Whitehall and Menomonie. Black River Falls and Eau Claire celebrate the delight and charm of holiday season this weekend with Old World Traditions in Black River Falls and sleigh rides, tree lighting and caroling along the confluence of the Chippewa and the Eau Claire Rivers in beautiful Eau Claire.

Opportunities to enjoy holiday music and festive theatre productions abound in Eau Claire, Stockholm and at the Old Main in Galesville. And you can take time to relax from the holiday bustle at one of the fantastic wineries in our area. They will offer wine tastings and special treats throughout the month of December.

Listed below is a small sampling of local events. Check area newspapers and local media outlets for other holiday events and festivals. Businesses and communities can post events and travelers can contact locals for more details at http://100milesofchristmas.org

December 3:

Alma Christmas House Walk (2:30pm-7:30pm)

December 5:

Whitehall Festival of Trees Parade

Pepin Hometown Holidays (also December 6 and 7)

Black River Falls Christkindl Festival (also December 6)

December 6:

Whitehall Santa Day and Craft Fair

Stockholm Country Christmas (10am-6pm)

Maiden Rock Old Fashioned Christmas

Prescott Holiday Bazaar at Freedom Park

Eau Claire Christmastime in the City (12:00 – 5:00pm)

Fountain City Holiday Craft Fair (9am-4pm) and Taste of Irish Christmas

Trempealeau Holiday Parade

December 6 – 13:

Wisconsin Celebrates in Durand and Downsville (10am-5pm)

December 11:

Menomonie Winterdaze Parade

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Voters Show Strong Support for Local Schools

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, 24 November 2014
in Wisconsin

middle-school-studentsVoters across the state decided to raise their property taxes in order to save their schools. The use of referenda for continuation of school operations is the result of less state aid coming into school districts.


MADISON - “I voted for the referendum,” the Mondovi woman told me. “I don’t have kids. I know it’s going to raise my property taxes. I don’t want to pay more, but I think we need to keep good schools.”

All across Wisconsin voters chose to raise property taxes in support of their schools by passing school referenda.

Ten years ago only 24% of school referenda passed. This year 68% passed. No year in the past 20 comes close to that percentage except 2012.

Following the 2011 historic cuts in state school aid, Wisconsin voters passed 53 of 77 school referenda in 2012. This year, voters faced 120 referenda and passed 82.

Why did voters across the state vote to raise their own property taxes?

Voters believe in the importance of strong local schools. People saw how schools consolidated; how school districts share services, staff, even football teams. Voters know fewer dollars mean fewer opportunities for children.

Voters see schools as the heart of their community and their schools require funding. Eight out of ten of the referenda passed this year provide for continued operations of the schools, including safety and maintenance. Some of these schools faced closure – for example elementary schools in Eleva and Strum. Others faced leaky roofs, potholes in parking lots, staff cuts, aging technology and increased class sizes.

Rural schools are especially hard hit, as the state’s funding formula doesn’t recognize the cost structure of many schools. When schools lose students, they lose state aid - which drops faster than the school’s ability to cut expenses.

School board members tell me it takes so much money just to open the doors and heat the building. State aid doesn’t account for these high fixed costs. The state pays on a per student basis, but more than 60% of schools have fewer students every year. Fewer students and less state aid means more costs pushed on property taxpayers.

At what point do we reach the limit of a community’s ability to pay increased property taxes? Soon, local people tell me. I’m reminded of a Pepin resident who rode a school bus to Madison to tell me that he loves his school but he can’t pay any more in property tax.

That is why Republican Governor Tommy Thompson invested in state support for schools by providing 2/3rds state funding for schools. As a result, property taxes dropped over 3% each year for two years in a row.

But state support as a percent of total school costs has eroded ever since.

Recently huge sums of state dollars were subtracted from the public school budget. Over the past four years, a cumulative one billion in state dollars were removed from the budget of local schools across the state. At the same time hundreds of millions in new dollars went to state subsidized private schools in one of the largest new state sponsored entitlements we’ve seen in years.

Private school parents tell me they don’t even like the idea of private schools getting large sums of taxpayer dollars – in some Milwaukee private schools 100% of their school budget is taxpayer money.

Behind the push for state subsidized private schools is a national movement made up of some very wealthy groups who see dollar signs when it comes to state subsidized private schools.

And caught holding the bag are folks in districts where referenda passed who all will be writing checks in the next few weeks to pay property taxes.

Great schools make for great communities. You can’t have one without the other. Folks know schools are the heart of the community. We see all those who attend a school function and realize in no other place do so many gather. Everyone benefits from an investment in education.

I heard of a school district with a failed referendum now considering cuts to science classes. Imagine the future doctor who doesn’t get the science she needs and the lost potential to cure your loved one’s ailment 15 years from now.

This is why we must invest in public schools now.

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State Retirement Funds Bear Careful Watching

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, 17 November 2014
in Wisconsin

seniorsMore than one out of ten Wisconsinites participates as a current or former state or local government employee.  Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about the Wisconsin Retirement System and the State of Wisconsin Investment Board.


MADISON - “What’s going on with the state retirement system?” the retired woman asked me. She’d started a business but needed retirement income to keep things going. “Wisconsin’s system is the best funded in the country,” I told her. “But we’ve got to carefully watch what happens there.”

More than one out of ten Wisconsinites participates in the Wisconsin’s Retirement System (WRS) either as a current or former state or local government employee. Countless more family members depend on a well-run system to keep their aging relatives out of poverty.

As reported by the La Crosse Tribune in June of 2012, “Wisconsin is the only state in the nation to receive high marks for its public employee pension system.” The article commented on work of the Pew Center for States. Over the years Pew has released several reports analyzing states’ obligation to their employees. Many states have a large funding gap but not Wisconsin.

Much confusion exists as to why Wisconsin is so far ahead of other states. The La Crosse Tribune article reminds us, “The ‘solid performer’ ranking is for fiscal year 2010. That’s before Republican Gov. Scott Walker and the Legislature required public employees to contribute more to their pensions.” Some of the action to protect funds happened late in the last decade despite the recession.

The answer to why Wisconsin is so far ahead of other states in funding retirement lies in the unusual ‘self-righting’ WRS formula that adjusts based on investment returns. Another success factor is the strict discipline WRS follows in collecting contributions. A third factor is action taken in 2003 when the Governor and Legislature authorized General Fund bonds to eliminate the WRS unfunded liability.

Cost to taxpayers is kept low – according to a 2012 state report – “the portion of state and local government budgets allocated to retirement costs was only 1.26%”. Compare this to 2.9% nationally using US Census Bureau data.

Recently the Audit Committee, of which I am ranking minority member, held a public hearing reviewing the agency that manages money in the state’s retirement system. We learned details of an important but relatively unknown part of government that oversees investments known as the State of Wisconsin Investment Board or SWIB.

The Investment Board is to – by law - “manage investment assets with the care, skill, prudence, and diligence that a prudent person would exhibit acting in a similar capacity with similar resources, and for similar types of funds.” As of calendar year 2013, SWIB had an operating budget of $34.9 million and managed assets totaled $101.3 billion. This is by far the largest fund in any part of state government.

Because the retirement system is a ‘mature’ system – meaning the number of retirees is expected to be increasing – the money in the system is necessarily very large. WRS funds make up most of the fund SWIB manages. WRS funds total $93.7 billion.

The role of the Audit Committee in overseeing the activities of the Investment Board took on new meaning when the Governor and the Legislature reduced legislative oversight of SWIB. Those voting for the 2011 budget gave SWIB power to create staff positions and set its own budget. This is highly unusual.

At the recent hearing, members quizzed SWIB officials about rising operating and investment costs, increased risky and expensive investments and poorer performance as measured by one-year and three-year returns compared to nine other states’ pension investments.

Money going to salaries, bonuses and other expenses comes out of investment earnings. SWIB saw a 55.7% increase in operating expenses over a 4 year period (from 2009 to 2013). This increase was during the Great Recession when many public employees saw no raises, took unpaid furloughs, and retirees took deep cuts.

A large part of the increase in the operating budget was due to increases in bonuses – one totaled $660,400! Officials argued that keeping good employees requires an investment.

I’d argue investing in good employees includes helping them through retirement. Changes in the autonomy of the Investment Board makes it doubly important the public and the Legislature keep a close eye on the money invested and those doing the investing.

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Today is Veterans Day

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 Tuesday, 11 November 2014
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iraqVeterans leave the service much older and wiser than they entered. They don’t want a parade. They want a good job and respect and their dignity. They hope the girl or family they left behind will still be there. To honor them, you must do more than talk.


GREEN BAY - We used to call it Armistice Day, to mark the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of 1918 when an armistice, or temporary cessation of hostilities, between the Allied nations and Germany went into effect to stop the bloodshed of World War I. The Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended “The Great War” or the “War to End All Wars” was not signed until seven months later.

Many historians regard the Treaty of Versailles as the first event leading to World War II, since it put into place many of the social and economic factors in Europe that lead to that bloody event. It seems like we have been fighting ever since.

Today we observe Veterans Day to remember and honor the courageous men and women who have served our country in all of our wars. It is fitting we do that, at least. We owe them all our gratitude for a job well done.

But many veterans struggle to reenter civilian life after their service, whether it be finding a job, accessing health care, or finding the other services available to them.

Veterans leave the service much older and wiser than they entered. All the claims of patriotism and glory that they heard on TV before they entered are dulled now by the reality of war and the loneliness of deployment. Most now just want to go home.

But they don’t want a parade. They want a good job and respect and their dignity. They hope the girl or family they left behind will still be there. Many would like to go to college and better themselves. They hope for what all of those lucky enough to stay behind in civilian life take for granted.

So today is Veterans Day. Give them a parade if you like. But tomorrow, do something. Open some doorways to those good jobs or college educations. Be there for them, just like you would be there for your own son or daughter, husband or wife, if they were returning home.

That’s what veterans day should really be about.

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Deer Hunters Ask “What About that Private/Public Thing?”

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, 10 November 2014
in Wisconsin

deerThis week Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about the upcoming deer hunt and changes made to deer hunting rules.


ALMA, WI - “What happens if I have a public permit because I’m not rich enough to afford a private one?” the deer hunter asked me. “I shoot a deer and it runs across the road. There’s my deer. It’s not dead. But I don’t have a private permit to go get it.”

“It just seems to me that the new rules are set up to force people to lease hunting land because there are more permits on private land than public land.”

Deer hunters taking to the woods in Wisconsin are facing a slew of new hunting rules. Hunters will experience the long-talked-about rules of the Texan ‘Deer Czar’ James Kroll.

In the DNR’s words, the new rules change the “season framework, management units and antlerless deer hunting permits”. DNR press releases tout their “robust public outreach” and the “Deer Trustee Report” guiding this year’s changes.

Gone are “management zones” setting deer overwinter population goals. Gone are free tags & $2 tags in highly populated or CWD areas; gone are landowner deer tags. Soon-to-be gone is registering your deer at the local bar or convenience store.

Deer management units – usually set by natural boundaries and major highways – are replaced by county borders and four major ‘management zones”. Urban areas have their own “metro units”. DNR is pilot testing deer registration on-line. Next year all registration will be on-line.

Rules about antlerless tags are the biggest rule changes affecting hunters. Everyone who purchases a license will receive one buck and one doe or youngster (antlerless) tag. Many hunters, including our family, hunt for food. Filling the freezer with many critters, especially with hamburger prices rising, can make a real difference in the food budget. Buying tags was easy, cheap and –when deer were plentiful – families could easily fill up freezers for the year.

Now those ‘extra tags’ are limited. First, you do not get an extra tag when you buy archery and then a gun license. The new deer-hunting license is not weapon specific – meaning you can shoot an antlerless deer in archery season - that’s it for the year.

Second, tags are more expensive (6 times more expensive), limited, and depend on whether you hunt a private or public area.

Many times Secretary Cathy Stepp repeated, “The rules have changed, but the tradition remains.” Hunters whom I’ve spoken with wonder if all we’ll have years from now is the fond memory of what used to be Wisconsin’s very equal deer hunting tradition. Many things are changing. New rules could hasten the loss of our populist deer hunt.

For years those who live in the Northwoods have hunted paper mill land. Now the companies don’t need the pulp and they are selling off the land. Hunters concerned about the deer rule changes reminded me, “open for public hunting” is different than “public land”. Mostly land up north is corporate owned but “open to the public”.

What happens when the land is sold?

Cash strapped counties up north are contributing to the problem. As one Eau Claire hunter whose family hunts up north told me, “Starve local government and things suffer. Local government looks for cash. The state isn’t giving them enough to keep up with the demand for services. So they clear-cut the county forest. The deer are driven out of the forest because the forest isn’t there anymore.”

Convenience store owners and hunters are also concerned about on-line registration. Storeowners are worried folks won’t stop for coffee and a doughnut if they register deer on-line. Hunters tell me: change the rules, make it hard to get public tags, expensive to hunt in private land and leave folks on their own to register a deer? Isn’t this asking for trouble?

Murmuring among hunters I’ve heard deals with the ‘artificial’ boundary between public and private. Deer don’t know who owns what. “If I shoot a deer on public land and he wanders across to private land, do I go get him and break the law, or let him suffer?” The general consensus was…. You can imagine.

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Burke is the Best Choice for Wisconsin

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 Monday, 03 November 2014
in Wisconsin

mary-burkeIf you put aside all the political ads and smears and judge them on their resumes, sitting before you in the final job interview are two candidates, Scott Walker the politician and Mary Burke the businesswoman. Past performance is the best indicator of the job they will do in the future.


GREEN BAY - The long Wisconsin Governor’s race will finally end tomorrow, Tuesday, November 4th 2014. We are selecting a chief executive officer to run the largest single business entity in our state, a company with a multi-billion dollar budget and over 65,000 employees, and you are a member of the evaluation panel that is being asked to pick just one for the job.

As the Wisconsin State Journal, typically a conservative newspaper, said in it’s endorsement of Mary Burke today “State politics is far too divisive under Gov. Scott Walker. Wisconsin lags on jobs and faces its third largest budget shortfall in two decades.” The State Journal goes on to say “Mary Burke, a former Trek Bicycle executive and state Commerce secretary, offers our state decades of business experience on a global scale.”

If you put aside all the political ads and smears and judge them on their resumes, sitting before you in the final job interview are two candidates, Scott Walker the politician and Mary Burke the business woman.

You look at their resumes and see Scott Walker is a college drop out. Burke earned a finance degree from Georgetown, ranking number one in her class, and a master's degree in business administration from Harvard.

After graduating from Harvard, Burke quickly becomes an entrepreneur, launching Manhattan Intelligence, a service for consumers in New York City. Later on, Burke joins Trek Bicycle, her family's growing Wisconsin company in Waterloo. She serves as director of European operations for three years, living in three different countries and opening offices in five. Trek reports that its European sales soared during her tenure. She later serves as director of forecasting and strategic planning for nearly a decade.

Meanwhile Walker has never held a significant job in his life outside of elective political office. He works at getting himself elected, first to the State Assembly and then as Milwaukee County Executive. At Milwaukee County, he directly supervises a staff of 19 in the Executive’s office, at least 4 of which later end up being convicted of misconduct. He says he doesn’t know what they were doing. He encourages labor strife among county employees by breaking their contracts and hiring outside temporary employees to do their jobs. He throws out the employment contracts of nearly 300 top level managers and forces many to resign or retire. He can offer no evidence that his administration did anything exceptional to improve the business climate in Milwaukee County as a whole during his six years in office.

Walker then goes on to four years as Wisconsin’s Governor, pledging to foster private-sector job growth and balance the state budget. Walker fails on both. He again encourages labor strife by trying to break the unions with ACT 10. He cuts $800 million  out of revenue sharing to our local schools and governments, passing the discord on to them. The record of Walker’s signature jobs agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC), has been sloppy and disappointing. State exports slipped last year, and job growth has been slow, less than half what the governor promised and trailing the rest of the states in the Midwest during the national recovery. The budget faces a 1.8 billion dollar deficit.

The Wisconsin State Journal says “Our editorial board met with both candidates for governor, and we've closely followed their public lives and careers. Our endorsement of Burke isn't a prediction of who will win. It’s who we believe is best to lead Wisconsin forward.”

The State Journal concludes “Mary Burke is that candidate”.

You have to decide who gets the job offer and who gets that nasty rejection letter, and you have to live with your selection for the next four years. In Human Resource Management, “past performance is the best indicator of the job they will do in the future”.

For Wisconsin Governor, do you want more of the same or a change? All the polls still say the race is a toss up. Tomorrow is your last chance to vote, to make your selection heard.

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Budget Numbers: Is It Really All Smoke and Mirrors?

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, 03 November 2014
in Wisconsin

capital-madisonSenator Kathleen Vinehout writes about a question she is often asked on the state’s budget – is it in the red or in the black. She explains the process by which the estimate is generated and has been for decades.


ALMA - Are we in the red or in the black? What’s the truth? What’s the reality?” The rural Trempealeau County woman was clearly frustrated.

“What do the figures really mean?” she asked me. “Is there a big hole? Or not? Is it all smoke and mirrors?”

Fresh off the rhetoric of the campaign trail, people are rightly confused about where the state is headed and what numbers are real. It’s hard to find someone who is not just outright frustrated at what they see as intentional distortions.

But when spring comes, lawmakers will be working hard trying to balance what is sure to be a $70 billion-plus spending plan. Somehow, they will have to balance the books.

How can we tell what’s real?

Let us begin with hard cash: money coming into state coffers. In a two-year budget, what’s real – money actually coming in – can be found in the tax returns of the first year. The state’s budget year runs July 1 through June 30. It takes a while to tally things and pay year-end bills. So numbers change a bit while accounts are tallied and then audited.

Preliminary tax returns show that individual income tax collection is down by about 2½% and corporate income tax is down by over 9%. Individual income tax makes up over half of the general fund. This puts the actual total down about 2% over the budget estimate.

A sharp drop in corporate income tax collection is important. There are different theories why. Perhaps companies are not making money; or too many dollars were given away in corporate tax breaks.

Just one tax break – the manufacturing and ag tax credit – cost taxpayers almost half the amount by which corporate income tax collection dropped. (Tax breaks passed in the last four years total over 50 separate items and will cost taxpayers an estimated $1.1 billion next fiscal year.)

So we know things did not go well in the last fiscal year. Will they get better?

This depends on with whom you talk – but let’s take the least politically minded entity in the state budget process – the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB).

When allowed to do the math without any partisan driven assumptions – and this is important – the LFB estimates Wisconsin will begin the next budget process in the red by about $1.766 billion. You may have heard this number rounded up to $1.8 billion.

This is how much money is needed to fund the commitments in the coming budget.

The number is an estimate – as all budget numbers are estimates. But it is based on the best nonpartisan assumptions going forward and follows the conventions used in estimating past budget ‘starting points.’

In the final weeks of the campaign there were several other numbers tossed around. One used by the Governor was that Wisconsin was $535 million in the black.

The Governor used a memo prepared by LFB to buttress his claim. In this memo the nonpartisan LFB was directed by Finance Co-Chair John Nygren to make several assumptions. Namely, “let us assume Wisconsin brings in more money and spends less.” Not surprisingly, the numbers were better.

Politifact in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel analyzed the ‘$535 million in the black’ and rated it False.

Other factors loom large in balancing the next state budget. Not included in this analysis is the mismatch between money coming in for roads and bridges and money going out.

The Governor and lawmakers voting for the last budget put nearly a billion in new spending on the state’s credit card. The transportation fund cannot support this level of borrowing.

Balancing the next budget will be a challenge. Needs are great. Tax money given away in the form of tax breaks cannot be spent on vital services.

To begin an honest budget discussion, let’s start with the best information and agree on the facts. To paraphrase Ambassador and former US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan: You can have your own opinion but not your own set of facts.

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Don't Believe GB Media Blitz - WI GOV Race is Still a Dead Heat

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, 01 November 2014
in Wisconsin

voteLocal Press and TV media claims of a huge Walker lead in the area and Statewide based only on Marquette's "likely voters" are suspect. A conclusion based on same results could easily be "still tied with Burke closing".


GREEN BAY - Last Thursday, the local Green Bay press and TV media had a field day reporting that the Final Marquette Poll showed Governor candidate Scott Walker with a 17 point lead in the area and a 7 point lead statewide among "likely voters" over challenger Mary Burke. Last 2 minutes of the 4th quarter, Packer fans, and game over, right?

Well, not so fast. There are serious problems with that interpretation of the Marquette Poll results and there are other polls.

If you look closely at the Marquette poll, you may have noticed that among all "registered voters", Walker received 46 percent to Burke's 45. That shows a 2 point improvement for Burke over the previous Marquette Law School Poll, conducted Oct. 9-12, which had Walker with a 48-45 lead over Burke among these same voters. Based on these results, the conclusion could be still tied with Burke closing.

So the real shift in the Marquette poll was only among those they declared to be "likely voters". The Poll's director, Charles Franklin, even said as much, and that's where the results become suspect. Marquette defined "likely voters" as those who said they were extremely likely to vote when polled. Most polls we are familiar with traditionally use an actual record of voting in similar elections to define "likely voters". While this method can have problems of it's own, such as including new voters, it is generally more trustworthy than the method Marquette used.

Said simply, the Marquette poll "likely voters" might just have lied about, or at least exaggerated, their intention to vote.

The conclusion that the race is still tied is also supported by other final polls. With just three days until Election Day, the two final public polls in the Wisconsin governor's race both show the race between embattled Gov. Scott Walker and Mary Burke is a dead heat.

The final poll from Public Policy Polling (PPP), released yesterday, shows a statistical dead heat, with  Walker holding a 48 - 47 lead over Burke. The poll was taken over three days and surveyed 1814 likely voters. PPP has been one of the consistently most reliable polls both in Wisconsin and nationwide.

Also released yesterday was the final poll from YouGov, which surveyed 1494 voters, showing another dead heat with Walker leading Burke 42-41.

When asked for comment, Democratic Party of Wisconsin Chair Mike Tate said Saturday "The final public polls released over the last few days confirm what we've known for months -- the race between Scott Walker and Mary Burke is all going to come down to turnout". He went on "Wisconsin voters need to know this race is incredibly close and their vote will make a difference between four more years of Scott Walker's failed policies or a new direction with Mary Burke."

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Biggest Missed Election Story: Outsourcing Loopholes Never Fixed

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, 31 October 2014
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scott_walkerBig Corporate For Profit Media Missed “Bait and Switch”, Outsourcing Safeguards Were Never Implemented as Walker Administration Announced But Did not Implement WEDC Outsourcing Prohibitions.


STATEWIDE - In July the outsourcing issue dominated the Governor’s race, generating wall-to-wall news coverage, and some excellent reporting on the use of public money to support outsourcing companies by Governor Walker’s jobs agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

But when both candidates seemed to take strong positions against public job creation dollars going to companies engaged in outsourcing Wisconsin jobs, and WEDC seemed to enact safeguards, the issue vanished from the Governor’s race. This disappearance was so complete that it did not even come up in the two debates.

An analysis of the public record by Citizen Action of Wisconsin reveals that the strong protections announced in the media against providing state job creation grants, loans, and tax credits to firms engaged in outsourcing jobs were never implemented.

In addition, even the safeguards that were announced in the media and not implemented do not effectively prevent huge state tax breaks from going to outsourcing companies. Shockingly, Wisconsin tax policies enacted by Governor Walker and the Legislature actually could allow companies to claim large tax credits for some of the costs of outsourcing Wisconsin jobs.

“It is stunning as we witness an eleventh hour media frenzy over pseudo stories that have no impact public policy that the media is missing one of the biggest and most impactful stories of this election,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “It is scandalous that voters are in danger of going to the polls knowing all about various fake campaign stories and no knowledge that state policy still allows their tax money to go to corporations engaged in outsourcing their jobs, and even could allow corporations to write off some of the expense of outsourcing.”

Walker Administration Announced But Did not Implement WEDC Outsourcing Prohibitions

In July, as a result of an intense debate about which candidate would take effective action to deter companies receiving state job creation grants, loans, and tax credits from outsourcing jobs, the Walker Administration announced in the media a number of changes in state policy designed to prevent companies which receive state aid from outsourcing Wisconsin jobs. It was announced and reported in the media that a series of reforms, championed by Representative Peter Barca (D-Kenosha), were discussed at the July WEDC meeting and would be implemented at the next meeting.

A Citizen Action of Wisconsin analysis of WEDC Board Minutes and publicly available records finds no evidence that strong policies announced to the media were ever put in place. Instead, the policies implemented were so watered down that is still perfectly legal to provide state funding to corporations engaged in outsourcing.

There were only two changes Citizen Action could locate in the public records. First, there is now 30 days notice required for layoffs by companies receiving WEDC grants, loans, and tax credits.  Second, new WEDC contracts will require that state funds are not directly spent on outsourcing.  Given that WEDC funds large corporation such as Ashley Furniture have every ability to use non-state resources to outsource, it seems to be still perfectly legal for companies receiving state dollars to outsource jobs, and to cancel out the jobs public money is paying them to create.

Other much stronger measures reported in the media seem never to have been implemented.

One measure prominently reported as having been adopted by WEDC would have suspended funding for outsourcing companies until an equal number of jobs in Wisconsin are created.  As WKOW TV 27 reported: “companies who accept awards, then later reduce their net number of jobs in Wisconsin, cannot get any more actual money until they get their workforce back to where it was when the award was originally given out”. However,  This provision is not at all mentioned in WEDC board’s minutes or committee minutes, WEDC’s website, or in any subsequent board agendas. At the request of Citizen Action of Wisconsin, legislative staff made numerous requests to clarify the status of this policy with WEDC’s counsel, and to provide in writing the actual policies adopted by WEDC, but received no response.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on July 29th that: “Gov. Scott Walker on Monday backed a proposal by Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca to block state money and incentives from going to companies that shift jobs overseas.” The article goes onto state that the policy was discussed at the July WEDC board meeting and would be passed at the next meeting. Citizen Action’s review of public records, including WEDC minutes, finds no evidence this broad policy against giving state dollars to companies engaged in outsourcing was ever enacted. WEDC counsel has not responded to legislative requests for information on this policy.

Manufacturer's tax Credit an Even Bigger Outsourcing Loophole

Although the media has focused on WEDC’s connection to outsourcing, Governor Walker’s signature tax policy, the Manufacturer’s and Agricultural Tax Credit not only allows outsourcing companies to get massive tax credits, but even could allow them to write off some of the cost of outsourcing on their state taxes. The size of the tax credit is greater than WEDC funding for manufacturing. According to the Wisconsin Budget Project, it will add up to $874 million in tax credits over ten years.

The Manufacturer's tax credit represents a larger potential public support for outsourcing than WEDC grants, loans, and tax credits. The credit is available to those with manufacturing or agricultural property, but is not based on the size of the workforce. Because Wisconsin's corporate income tax is based on the sales a company has within the state, a company can still lay off or outsource large segments of its workforce and continue to be eligible for a sizable tax credit so long as it owns even one piece of property for manufacturing purposes. Recipients of this credit have no additional requirement to report outsourcing, and are not deemed ineligible for the tax credit if they outsource.

Although this massive tax credit is a major threat to Wisconsin workers, there has been no discussion during the Governor’s race about attaching job creation requirements to the credit or withdrawing it from corporations that outsource Wisconsin jobs.

“The Walker Administration's bait and switch on outsourcing is the biggest unreported story of this election,” said Robert Kraig, executive director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “Even the best informed voters are being left entirely unaware that it is still perfectly legal for a company like Ashley Furniture to outsource large segments of its Wisconsin workforce and claim  substantial job creation grants, loans, and tax credits while doing so. It could even be legal for them to write off some of the cost of outsourcing.”

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Walker Supporter Gary Ellerman Tries to Smear Mary Burke on TREK Record

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 Thursday, 30 October 2014
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ellerman-walkerA Green Bay Press Gazette story gave legs to a false report that Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Mary Burke was fired by TREK, questioning her business credentials just before the election. Our sources say the reported firing was made up by Walker friend Gary Ellerman, Chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party and fired by TREK himself.


GREEN BAY - Several days ago we predicted that the Republican “dirty tricks” people supporting Scott Walker would save one or two of the best smear shots at Mary Burke until the closing days of the campaign. That’s how it’s often done in the dirtier regions of Milwaukee County politics. You drop the dirt bomb just before the final weekend of the campaign so it has time to sink in with the electorate while still not giving your opponent enough time to counter it.

On Thursday morning, in a front page article entitled “Burke on report of being fired from Trek: `ridiculous'” by Adam Rodewald, the Green Bay Press Gazette gave legs to a false report that “Burke was fired by her family, who founded Trek Bicycle, following financial losses and low morale among staff.” Damage done, the seed of doubt about Burke's business credentials is planted, even if there is no truth to the story. Continued on page 10.

Of course when we get to page 10, the Press Gazette goes on to say the “report relies on statements by several anonymous sources and Gary Ellerman, who the Wisconsin Reporter identifies as a former Trek human resources director and current chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party.”

We've dealt with the Wisconsin Reporter for years, and know it to be a Madison Republican front posing as a news source. And our sources say Gary Ellerman is the man behind the latest campaign to smear Mary Burke. Ellerman is the Chairman of the Jefferson County Republican Party and is known for posing as a Democrat during the recalls to force the real Democrat into a costly primary.

Ellerman is also known for enjoying a bad joke or two at the expense of Democrats. A visit his FaceBook page by a Democratic source turned up a October 19 share of a faked picture of Michelle Obama holding a sign saying such things as “My Family is a Fake”, “Husband is a Homo”, “Kids are adopted”, and “I am a man”.

Finally FaceBook also reveals that Gary Ellerman is a friend and committed supporter of Scott Walker. The July 2, 2012 picture above that Ellerman posted of himself posing “With the Governor and a few friends Sunday” provides the evidence.

Trek President John Burke released a statement Wednesday saying the report was inaccurate and noted that it was actually Gary Ellerman who had been fired from Trek in 2004, according to the Wisconsin Radio Network.

When asked for her comments, Burke said “I read the report. It’s ridiculous,” and then “Frankly, we’re in the last six days of the election, and I think it’s a desperate attempt to undermine my credibility based on absolutely no evidence at all.”

If anyone asks him, Scott Walker will probably say he didn't know what his friend was up to. Of course, he said he didn't know what the six convicted members of his staff at Milwaukee County were up to either.

That's how it goes. You throw something out, anything, and see if it sticks. It seems to be a way of life for politician Scott Walker and businesswoman Mary Burke is new to the game. Maybe we can do a little to clarify the story here.

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Shifting Turnout Intentions, Gender Gap Put Walker in Lead Says Final Marquette Poll

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 October 2014
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walkerMILWAUKEE - The shifting winds of who says they are most likely to vote and the different realities of men and women voters appear to have turned back in Scott Walker's favor according to the Final Pre-election Marquette Law School Poll released today. The new poll finds Republican Scott Walker leading Democratic challenger Mary Burke 50 percent to 43 percent among likely voters in the Wisconsin governor’s race.

mary-burkeThe previous Marquette Law School Poll, conducted Oct. 9-12, found the race tied among likely voters, with the candidates holding 47 percent each, while 48 percent of registered voters supported Walker to Burke’s 45 percent support.

In Wednesday's poll, 3 percent say that they are undecided or that they do not know whom they will support, while 1 percent say that they will vote for someone else. Likely voters are those who say that they are certain to vote in the November election.

“Shifting turnout intentions have provided most of the dynamics of the race this fall,” said Marquette Law School Poll director Charles Franklin. “While the results among all registered voters have varied between a tie and a 3-point Walker edge, the likely-voter results have ranged from a 2-point Burke advantage to the current 7-point Walker lead.”

In the current poll, 93 percent of Republicans say that they are certain to vote, while 82 percent of Democrats and 75 percent of independents say the same. Two weeks ago 82 percent of Republicans, and 80 percent of both Democrats and independents, said that they were certain to vote. By comparison, in the final Marquette Law School Poll before the 2012 gubernatorial recall election, 92 percent of Republicans, 77 percent of Democrats and 84 percent of independents said that they were certain to vote.

Among registered voters this time, Walker receives 46 percent and Burke 45 percent, with 4 percent undecided and 1 percent saying that they will vote for someone else.

The poll interviewed 1,409 registered voters, including 1,164 likely voters, by landline and cell phone Oct. 23-26. For the full sample of 1,409 registered voters, the margin of error is +/- 2.7 percentage points. The margin of error for the sample of 1,164 likely voters is +/- 3.0 percentage points. This is the final Marquette Law School Poll before the Nov. 4 election.

Another factor in the final poll result is the return of the large gender gap among likely voters. After narrowing to just 2 percentage points in the previous poll, the gender gap in vote choice has returned.

Among registered voters, Burke leads 50-40 among women and Walker leads 53-39 among men. Among likely voters, Burke’s lead among women is 49-43 while Walker’s lead among men is 58-36. In the six Marquette Law School Polls since July, Burke has averaged a 49-42 lead among women and Walker a 52-40 lead among men for registered voters. Among likely voters, Burke has averaged a 52-42 lead among women and Walker a 55-40 advantage among men.

Another factor in the results may have been the deluge of negative ads launched by the Walker campaign and their allies to muddy the image of Mary Burke.

Burke’s favorability ratings have turned down in the latest poll, with 38 percent of registered voters viewing her favorably while 45 percent have an unfavorable view. In earlier polls in September and October, her favorable-unfavorable ratings were 36-35, 36-37 and 40-43. Among likely voters, her current favorable-unfavorable rating is 39-49, with the ratings in the three earlier polls since the beginning of September being, oldest to newest, 41-39, 40-44 and 44-44. Among registered voters, 17 percent lack an opinion of Burke, down from 69 percent in January. Among likely voters, 12 percent say they haven’t heard enough or don’t know their view of Burke.

Walker’s favorable rating in the latest poll is 48 percent, with 47 percent unfavorable, among registered voters. His previous ratings since the beginning of September are 49-45, 47-47 and 48-48. Among likely voters he is currently seen favorably by 51 percent and unfavorably by 46 percent. His ratings among likely voters in the three most recent polls are, in chronological order, 52-46, 52-46 and 50-48.

Given the wide swings in the last three polls, this race is still up for grabs. Early voting and absentee voting have begun and people who have already voted are much more likely to "say that they are certain to vote". Democratic voters are legendary for showing up at the polls after 6 PM on election day. Many factors could cause the wind to shift back in Burke's favor.

But this poll is not good news for the Burke campaign and the Democrats will have to double their efforts in the final days to get their supporters to the polls.

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Voting? No Photo ID Required, Yet

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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voteridSenator Kathleen Vinehout writes about voting and the Voter ID law. She shares background on the decisions leading up to the U.S. Supreme Court action that puts the Wisconsin ID law on hold.


ALMA - “I haven’t voted in three years,” a Galesville fairgoer told me this summer. He leaned up against the pole barn at the Trempealeau County Fair and shoved his fingers in his pockets. “I don’t want to show up and be told I can’t vote.”

Changes in voting rules are confusing. A requirement to have a certain type of photo ID to vote has been an ‘on again, off again’ law leading up to this election.

On November 4, voters will not be required to show a photo ID.

The U.S. Supreme Court put a hold on Wisconsin’s photo ID law. The high court made no comment on the law and may rule on it later. If not, legislators in January may revisit the photo ID law. But for now, the law is on hold, so the Galesville man should vote along with every other eligible voter.

In 2011, Wisconsin passed its restrictive photo ID law. Restrictive because the types of IDs allowed are limited, requirements on absentee voters are strict and the number of people potentially unable to vote is high– estimated at 300,000.

Since 2011, the law ping-ponged back and forth in federal and state courts as one court found it legal while another declared the law unconstitutional. Most recently the U.S. Supreme Court halted enforcement of the law but did not issue an opinion on its final status.

About the same time as the Supreme Court decision, Judge Richard Posner of the US 7th Circuit Court of Appeals wrote the dissenting opinion on that court’s tied vote on taking up an appeal of Wisconsin’s photo ID law before the full court.

At issue – among others – was whether the Wisconsin law was similar to an Indiana law upheld by the courts. If the laws of the two states were similar, presumably Wisconsin’s law could go into effect.

Back in 2011, I argued Wisconsin’s photo ID would be the strictest in the nation. Since then, Texas passed a stricter law. But Wisconsin’s law remains one of the most limiting. The nonpartisan National Council of State Legislatures (NCSL) recently listed Wisconsin as one of 9 strict photo ID laws nationally.

During debate on the Wisconsin law my Senate colleagues and I who opposed the law argued courts would find it unconstitutional because of its restrictive nature and the large of people without acceptable IDs. Proponents of the law argued it was modeled after Indiana already upheld by the nation’s highest court.

In his dissent Judge Posner argued Wisconsin’s law was not comparable to Indiana’s law except that the laws “belong to the same genre”. With 330,000 voters lacking required identification and Wisconsin’s law being more limiting than Indiana, the judge wrote “the effects of the photo ID requirement on voter suppression are likely to be much greater in Wisconsin, especially since as we saw earlier its law is stricter than Indiana’s.”

Many people in Wisconsin are concerned about voter fraud. There are many types of fraud ranging from voting more than once to ballots that are unsecured. However, Wisconsin has a history of clean elections with very little documented voter fraud.

A photo ID law is used to address one type of fraud: voter impersonation. This is when a voter pretends to be someone he or she is not.

In his recent judicial opinion Judge Posner summarized: “There is compelling evidence that voter impersonation fraud is essentially nonexistent in Wisconsin.”

In conclusion, Judge Posner wrote: “There is only one motivation for imposing burdens on voting that are ostensibly designed to discourage voter impersonation fraud, if there is no actual danger of such fraud, and that is to discourage voting by persons likely to vote against the party responsible for imposing the burdens.”

Rules governing voting make a difference in how many people go to the polls. Wisconsin ranks high among voter participation in elections. For example, in 2012, Wisconsin ranked second only to Minnesota with 73% of eligible voters voting; Indiana ranked 40th with 56% of voters going to the polls.

Voting is a precious right in our democracy. Democracy works when large numbers of people are involved on Election Day.

So, go vote!

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Walker's Involvement In Real Estate Scandal Raise Troubling Questions About Rush To Sell State Property

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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walkerMADISON - Senate Democrats are alarmed at new revelations about Governor Scott Walker's role in providing insider information to a personal friend and campaign donor in a Milwaukee County real estate scandal. Democrats said the new allegations of “bid-rigging” and "pay-to-play" politics raise troubling questions about Gov. Walker’s rush to sell state property.

“Giving inside information to close friends and campaign operatives to help them circumvent the public bidding process not only cheats the other businesses bidding on projects but the taxpayers and our open form of government,” said Sen. Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay). “No matter how you look at it, it’s wrong and raises serious questions about whether Scott Walker has taken other similar liberties as Governor.”

dave_hansen“As Republicans rush to sell state property, we need to ensure that similar backroom deals for special interests aren’t cheating our taxpayers,” said Sen. Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse). “Gov. Walker’s administration has already failed to disclose the fair market value of property they are looking to sell as required by state law. The rush to sell state property to the highest bidder without having adequate safeguards in place puts taxpayers at risk and has been troubling since day one.”

Gov. Walker has recently come under fire for several high-profile scandals including a $700,000 campaign contribution from GTAC – an out-of-state mining corporation – which successfully lobbied to change state open-pit mining laws. An investigation also revealed that Gov. Walker’s Economic Development Corporation has funneled millions of taxpayer dollars to businesses and special interests with close personal ties to Gov. Walker.

“Despite Scott Walker’s denials, all of these actions have taken place since he became governor and they give the public every reason to question his ethics and what else he’s been doing that we don’t know about,” added Sen. Hansen. “Wisconsin citizens deserve answers and it’s is time for the Governor to come clean about his actions.”

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