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Give Voice to the Voiceless - Families Support Family Care and IRIS

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, 23 March 2015
in Wisconsin

caregiver-elderlyThis week Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about the advocacy of hundreds of Wisconsin citizens in support of Family Care and the IRIS programs. Gov. Walker’s budget proposes significant changes to these programs and the adverse impacts of the changes were shared in personal stories from people all over the state.

MADISON - I remember when I first met a man I’ll call ‘Ron’. He came to my office with his caregiver. He couldn’t speak but used a speech synthesizer and an iPad to introduce himself. He was joined by several friends – all in wheelchairs – who told me their inspiring stories of independence.

Ron passionately detailed how his caregiver assisted him with everyday activities we take for granted. He wanted me to work for funding so he could pay his caregiver a living wage. Wages for care workers are very low and have been for years.

Fast-forward a few years. Ron and his friends joined hundreds of citizens in the Capitol to advocate for critical long-term care programs. Many of the visitors had never been the Capitol and never met with a legislator. These citizen lobbyists were advocating for programs that provide them or their family member with health and independence.

The governor’s budget proposal would likely turn Wisconsin’s Family Care system over to a large for-profit insurance company in a no-bid contract. Wisconsin’s IRIS program would be eliminated. Opponents are concerned the insurance company would deny services and eliminate caregivers.

Parents, family members, caregivers, neighbors and participants in the Family Care and IRIS programs called on legislators to stop the governor’s proposed changes. These people gave a strong voice to the often voiceless participants in the long-term care portion of the state’s Medicaid program.

Family Care is organized around regional non-profit Medical Care Organizations (MCOs) that oversee services for over 40,000 frail elderly, developmentally and physically disabled. In 2011 the Legislative Audit Bureau reported that nearly 60% of Family Care participants were able to stay in their own homes. IRIS is a fee-for-service option that establishes a small budget participants can self-direct to certain services and caregivers. Another 11,000 people use this option. Without these services most people would be forced to reside in expensive institutions.

Instead many individuals live more independently in Group Homes. An owner of a Black River Falls group home recently contacted me. She was forced to close one home because of previous budget cuts. She now worries about the other home she and her dairy farm family operates.

“I am scared for our disabled and mentally ill people, and I don't want to see the MCO's go away. They provide such wonderful care for these people! The teams I work with are amazing people, and they sincerely care about these clients, it's not just a job. Several of the team members have given me their cell phone numbers in case of issues outside of business hours, they do not get paid for this. Please help keep these MCO's intact: the people need them.”

Family situations are all unique. The self-directed IRIS program allows flexibility in services based on those unique circumstances. I was contacted by an Eau Claire County couple who maintain their independence with the help of IRIS. The husband is a Gulf War vet; his wife of 16 years has severe disabilities because of a brain tumor.

“If IRIS loses funding, Karen and I will be separated, her to a nursing home and me out of a job and homeless. Can you help us please?”

Tammy McKelvie recently shared with me how IRIS changed her son Noah’s life and “gave him a voice.” IRIS allowed her son to live independently despite the fact he needs constant care.

“Noah may never reach the level of independence most people strive for but at least let him have choices over the parts of his life he can control. Let him be the architect to design blueprints to create a life of meaning."

“As human beings, none of us are totally independent. In some ways we are all interdependent upon each other and that is how it should be because we all live in society together."

Indeed. As Hubert Humphrey so eloquently said, “It was once said that the moral test of government is how that government treats those who are in the dawn of life, the children; those who are in the twilight of life, the elderly; and those who are in the shadows of life, the sick, the needy and the handicapped.”

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Affordable Care Act a Huge Advance for Wisconsin

Posted by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Robert Kraig is Executive Director, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, 221 S. 2nd St.,
User is currently offline
on Monday, 23 March 2015
in Wisconsin

citizenaction_healthcareFive years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act the law is guaranteeing Wisconsinites more freedom to control their own health decisions. But benefits are at risk due to inaction on Supreme Court threat. Reform more important in Wisconsin due to higher insurance costs.

STATEWIDE - Five years after the passage of the Affordable Care Act the law is guaranteeing, more than any time in American history, the freedom of Wisconsinites to control their own health decisions. Before the Affordable Care Act passed, Americans faced shocking health insurance discrimination based on age, preexisting medical conditions, gender, and other factors. Today over 207,000 Wisconsinites have quality health coverage that can never be taken away by insurance companies.

There are substantial tax subsidies to make health coverage affordable which have an especially important benefit in a high cost state like Wisconsin. Because Wisconsin health insurance premiums are higher than surrounding states, Wisconsin health consumers gain substantially more. Local numbers and comparison charts are below.

As significant as these advances are, Governor Scott Walker’s refusal to prepare for the potential adverse decision in the U.S. Supreme Court decision of King v. Burwell threatens to take health coverage away from over 183,000 Wisconsinites who receive tax subsidies and have nowhere else to go. Many of these consumers have pre-existing conditions and faced shocking discrimination from insurance companies before the passage of health reform. Others were forced on the marketplace by Governor Walker’s ill-conceived decision to reject hundreds of millions of federal dollars for BadgerCare provided by the Affordable Care Act.

“The advance in freedom provided by health reform is at risk in Wisconsin due to Governor Walker’s actions,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “It is political malpractice for Governor Walker not to prepare for a predictable disaster which could strip affordable health coverage from over 183,000 Wisconsinites. By failing to prepare a Wisconsin health insurance marketplace in the event the Supreme Court makes a damaging decision, Walker is putting at risk the lives and fundamental freedoms of people in every corner of Wisconsin.”

Table 1: Affordable Care Act’s Tax Credits Very Effective At Making Private Insurance More Affordable

(Click here to see data for more Metropolitan areas)


Lowest Cost Silver, 40 year old, before tax credits

After tax credits, 200% FPL

Annual savings from credits

Milwaukee, WI

$301 per month

$94 per month


Madison, WI




Minneapolis, MN




Chicago, IL




Detroit. MI




Des Moines, IA




Data collected from and for 40 year old single applicant, non-smoking. Tax credits estimated for 40 year old single applicant making 200% of the federal poverty line, or $23,541 a year

Table 2: Affordable Care Act’s Outlawing of Pre-existing Condition Discrimination Protects Thousands

(Click here to see data for more Wisconsin localities)


Est. Number of Consumers With Diagnosed Pre-existing Conditions

Milwaukee County

214,600 people

Dane County


La Crosse County


Eau Claire/Chippewa County


Marathon County


Brown County


Fox Valley




Racine County


Sheboygan County


Kenosha County


Rock County


Estimates from Families USA analysis of consumers in Wisconsin of non-institutionalized, non-Medicare-eligible population

Table 3: Citizens Around Wisconsin Have Signed Up for Health Coverage

(Click here to see data for more Wisconsin counties)


Est. County Enrollment

Est. Qualified for Tax Credits

Est. Total Tax Credits Annually

Brown County




Dane County




Douglas County




Eau Claire County




Fond du Lac County




Kenosha County




La Crosse County




Manitowoc County




Marathon County




Milwaukee County




Oneida County




Outagamie County




Portage County




Racine County




Rock County




Sheboygan County




Waukesha County




Winnebago County




Wood County








Source - County enrollment distribution based on Dept of Health Services June 2014 enrollment report adjusted for most recent February state enrollment numbers. Total tax credits are based on local enrollment and HHS reported average Wisconsin tax credit, annualized.

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New Poll Shows Wisconsin Public Wants Major Changes to Budget on Health Care

Posted by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Robert Kraig is Executive Director, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, 221 S. 2nd St.,
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 17 March 2015
in Wisconsin

peoplePoll shows massive public support for Wisconsin to take the enhanced federal funding for BadgerCare rejected in the Governor’s budget and for Governor Walker and the Legislature to prepare for the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court could yank health insurance subsidies from over 183,000 Wisconsinites.

STATEWIDE - This morning Citizen Action of Wisconsin joined Public Policy Polling and members of the Legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee to release new poll results on key health care issues.

Audio of the release can be accessed here.

The polling shows massive public support for Wisconsin to take the enhanced federal funding for BadgerCare rejected in the Governor’s budget. It also shows overwhelming support for Governor Walker and the Legislature to prepare for the possibility that the U.S. Supreme Court could yank health insurance subsidies from over 183,000 Wisconsinites. Both are closely related budget issues. The polling results can be accessed here.

On taking the BadgerCare dollars currently being left on the table by Governor Walker, the public supports taking the money by an overwhelming 31 point margin (58% to 27%).

On the question of taking precautions against a U.S. Supreme Court decision that could endanger health insurance subsidies for over 183,00 Wisconsinites, the public by a 20 point margin (53% to 33%) thinks it is the Governor’s responsibility to take action to prevent anyone from losing their health care. This is a budget issue, because Governor Walker pushed 57,000 people off BadgerCare, and denied access to 81,000 people who would have been eligible, placing them on the federal marketplaces where they are vulnerable to an adverse U.S. Supreme Court decision.

The media call this morning was joined by three members of the Joint Finance Committee, Senator Jon Erpenbach, Representative Gordon Hintz, and Representative Chris Taylor.

“This is not the time to point fingers, we need leaders to step up,” said Representative Hintz.

On BadgerCare, Representative Chris Taylor said: “It’s a no-brainer. Why wouldn't we take this money to cover more people for less money.”

“For the life of me, I can’t understand why we have not done this,” added Senator Erpenbach. “It is up to Governor Walker to fix the problem, It’s the right thing to do.”

“It is clear that the Wisconsin public by huge margins supports major revisions to the state budget on health care issues,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “The public wants Wisconsin to take all the money that is on the table to strengthen BadgerCare, and believes it is Governor Walker’s responsibility to take action to safeguard the health coverage of the over 183,000 Wisconsinites at risk from a potentially dangerous U.S. Supreme Court decision.”

About the poll: Public Policy Polling surveyed 1,071 registered Wisconsin voters from March 6th to 8th. The margin of error for the survey is +/- 3.0%. 80% of interviews for the poll were conducted over the phone with 20% interviewed over the internet to reach respondents who don’t have landline telephones. Full poll results can be accessed  HERE

Web Link to Release

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Farmers say Walker's Budget Damages Farm Research, Schools and Conservation Input

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, 16 March 2015
in Wisconsin

dairyfarmAs Farmers come in as part of Ag Day at the Capitol, they focus on parts of the state budget that hurt rural communities. That includes rural schools, conservation, on-farm research, the Natural Resources board, the spring Conservation Congress, funding for the U.W. Extension, 4H, and farm safety. Many wonder why the governor is doing away with needed services.

MADISON - “It’s very important that we are here today,” the farmer from Independence told me. “In fact, it’s more important that we be here than anywhere else.” Here was in my Capitol office. Local farmers were visiting as part of Ag Day at the Capitol.

The weather that day was dry and warm. It was perfect for getting early spring chores done. Instead, these farmers drove hundreds of miles to meet with their legislators.

They were on a mission to change parts of the state budget that hurt rural communities. The first thing on their mind – in every group that visited – was rural schools.

“What are you going to do about rural schools?” the Buffalo County man asked me. “Our local school has two referenda on the ballot in April – one to fix the furnace and other delayed improvements; another to continue to keep the school open”.

“See this binder?” I showed him a large binder full of pages with red and green Post-It notes. “This is the Cliff Note version of the budget: It’s over 500 pages.”

“Everything in red I’m trying to get rid of. Everything in green is money I’m trying to get for education, the UW and other cuts,” I explained. Red notes far outnumbered green ones. Changes to agriculture and conservation were among the notes I flagged in red.

We talked through the farmers’ problems: managing tillage, conservation, chemical applications and nutrient management – i.e. when to spread manure. Many of the management questions farmers had to answer were assisted by on-farm research.

The flagship system of on-farm research is Discovery Farms. At twenty farms across the state, scientists monitor details like water and nutrient flow, erosion and soil structure, to help farmers develop best practices.

Thousands of farmers and ag support folks visit Discovery Farms to learn first-hand from U.W. Extension staff, scientists and the farmers themselves. The research brings a steady stream of knowledge to help preserve land and protect water for all of us.

Farmers also strongly opposed taking away the power of the citizen Natural Resources and Ag Department boards. “We just got a farmer on the Natural Resources board,” one farmer said. “This takes away our voice,” said another.

We talked about spring Conservation Congress meetings. Folks gather by the hundreds in school gyms around the state. Anglers and hunters use wisdom they’ve gathered over decades to make recommendations related to conservation. For example: should the pan fish limit at the local lake be changed?

The vote goes to the state Conservation Congress board, made up of members elected by their neighbors, and on to the Natural Resources board. Policy is made from the votes of those affected by the decisions. But the governor’s proposal would eliminate the input of the Conservation Congress by taking away the power of the citizen Natural Resources Board.

Many farmers also served on town boards. More than once I heard about the governor’s proposal to take away towns’ ability to hire property assessors. “This just doesn’t make sense,” one farmer told me. “The counties don’t want to take over the assessors, the state hasn’t given money to do this. And we lose our powers.”

We talked through other farmer concerns including funding for U.W. Extension, 4H, and farm safety. The conversation came back to schools and education. “Our schools pay for the independent charter schools in Milwaukee. I don’t think that’s fair,” said one farmer. “My children already spend an hour and a quarter on the bus,” said another.

“You know I was just appointed to the environmental education board,” said a third. “I really don’t understand why the governor is doing away with environmental education. These programs help school kids learn about Wisconsin’s natural resources.

As he got up to leave one of the farmers gestured to my budget binder still sitting on the table. “I like the way you did that,” he said, referring to the red and green tabs.

“It’s a big budget with a lot of bad in it,” I nodded. “You’ve got to eat an elephant one bite at a time.”

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Legislative Season Brings Many Capitol Visitors

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 10 March 2015
in Wisconsin

rtw-capitolThis week Sen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about recent visits from constituent citizen lobbyists who came to Madison to discuss a myriad of important concerns. These visits are a critical way for legislators to learn about issues of concern to their constituents.

MADISON - “I’ve never done this before,” the young woman told me. She came to my Capitol office for the first time to talk about issues important to her and her profession. She was one of about two-dozen groups that recently visited.

People imagine a legislator’s job as debating on the Senate floor. But much of my time is spent listening and learning. Here’s a sample of visits from a single day.

My day started working with my staff to distill the important decisions of the state budget into a PowerPoint for use at Town Hall meetings. Budget choices include what happens to local schools, the UW, health care, local government, public safety, state parks, our environment, agriculture, roads and bridges.

Soon into my budget work, my staff interrupted saying, “There’s a group waiting for you.”

The first group of almost 100 employees and retirees represented a local utility. The group leaders shared several concerns including federal guidelines that called for a reduction in carbon emissions. They worried Wisconsin was not given credit for prior lowered emissions. After the leaders explained utility concerns, I invited employees to speak. Their most important issue was protecting local schools.

“I’m very concerned about the Eau Claire school district,” a man shared. “I want my grandchildren to have a better education than my children, but how can the school do this with so many budget cuts?”

Back at my office I started adding up budget dollars spent on large road construction projects in Southeast Wisconsin. I was adding the third nine-digit number when my staff said, “The Optometrists are here to see you.”

An independent optometrist from Eau Claire told me about her new business and the problem she was having with insurance companies. “They won’t cover simple things I can treat, like pink eye,” she said. “Instead patients are required to go to the large healthcare system. The patient stays there and doesn’t come back to my office.”

She and her fellow optometrists wanted support for a bill to provide, as they called it, ‘patient equity and access to care’. The bill would allow optometric, chiropractic and podiatric (foot doctor) patients to choose their own doctor.

Shortly after this meeting I was visited by a nurse from Eau Claire who talked about creating a new law for independent nurse practitioners. Mid-level providers are a growing field. Research and patients alike support independent practice for nurse practitioners and certified nurse-midwives. But the law is slow to keep up with changes.

She also explained problems with a shortage of nurses and injuries to nurses in the workplace.

My next visitors were quite familiar with the job of citizen lobbyist. The Kwik Trip employees joked with me -“It’s Groundhog Day” - as they told me for what seems like the 6th time about big companies trying to repeal the Unfair Sales Act.

You might think of Kwik Trip as a big company but the La Crosse-based company is small potatoes in a big world. They are firmly behind protecting the mom and pop gas stations from unfair competition.

As the Kwik Trip folks left I hurried to another hearing room where nursing home administrators expressed concerns about budget cuts. “We just can’t continue,” one administrator said. “In 10 years, three nursing homes closed in our area,” said another. “We are competing with Wal-Mart and McDonalds for workers and we have to pay our workers more,” said a third. “Wisconsin must invest in caring for our elders.”

As I got back to my office, an Eau Claire man visited. He was helping the Amish keep their homes. Because of their religious convictions and culture, some Amish don’t follow laws related to plumbing, electricity and smoke alarms. The man shared stories of Amish being evicted in subzero weather. The loss of their home was devastating.

It was now quite late. I turned back to my desk. Waiting for me were finishing touches on health care legislation, the Department of Health Services budget briefing and an invitation to a Constitutional Officers reception.

I didn’t get far on my budget math, but I did benefit from the knowledge gained on issues of concern to my constituent citizen lobbyists.

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Walker Signs So-Called 'Right to Work' Bill

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 Monday, 09 March 2015
in Wisconsin

walker-open-businessMADISON - This morning, Gov. Scott Walker, who in 2011 succeeded in slashing collective bargaining rights for most public sector workers, signed a private-sector right-to-work bill that makes Wisconsin the 25th state to adopt the policy and has given new momentum to the business-led movement.

For decades, low wage states across the South and Great Plains have enacted such policies, known as “right to work” even though the right to work has nothing to do with them. They really are simply designed to prevent organized labor from forcing all workers in a shop covered by their collective bargaining agreement to pay union dues or fair share fees.

Also for decades. the higher paid industrial Midwest has resisted. Those days are gone, as Wisconsin follows neighbors Michigan and Indiana. While it may take years before the full effect of the new law becomes apparent here, most expect it to weaken unions and drive down the wages of union employees.

"This freedom-to-work legislation will give workers the freedom to choose whether or not they want to join a union, and employers another compelling reason to consider expanding or moving their business to Wisconsin," Walker said in regard to the signing, even though there is little evidence that either claim is true.

Walker’s real motivation is much more likely about politics than job creation: breaking a dwindling union movement in Wisconsin and boosting his standing as the conservative choice for the Republican presidential nomination next year. In the long run, the new laws throughout the region are intended to help Republicans build a favorable electoral map for 2016, by weakening the labor groups that have traditionally provided muscle and money to Democratic candidates in crucial swing states.

So the political ambitions of Scott Walker and his big business donors once again trump the interests of the people of Wisconsin, who still face a lagging economy and a $2.2 billion state budget deficit. Only time will tell how the events of the last two weeks will affect Walker's electability.

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The Path Forward After Passage of So-Called 'Right to Work'

Posted by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Robert Kraig is Executive Director, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, 221 S. 2nd St.,
User is currently offline
on Friday, 06 March 2015
in Wisconsin

union-members-at-capitolMADISON - The Republican controlled Wisconsin State Assembly passed the so-called 'Right to Work' bill this morning. Governor Scott Walker is expected to sign the bill into law next Monday.

The passage of this bill is another step in the conspiracy of multinational corporations and right wing billionaires to rig the economy against average working people. The bill undermines the fundamental freedom of workers to band together, and have a voice in the decisions made by the CEOs of large multinational corporations. When added to the other elements of the conspiracy, encouraging the outsourcing of jobs, driving down the value of the minimum wage, devastating public employee unions, and gutting our generational investments in our schools and colleges, it will accelerate a race to the bottom by shrinking the middle class. It will make it harder and harder for millions of working families shutout of opportunity to work their way up the economic ladder and claim their piece of the American dream.

The heroes in this rigged legislative process are the thousands of average workers who over the past two weeks came to their State Capitol from all over Wisconsin to do that most American of things, exercise their first amendment rights as citizens. The culprits are a conservative majority that is so ideological that they cannot even hear the voices of their own constituents, and are willing to act on fraudulent facts made up out of whole cloth by the special interests they serve. The complete absence of workers coming to the Capitol to support this legislation is a powerful proof that this bill is about the demands of Corporate CEOs to drive down wages and benefits, and has nothing to do with the interests of average working families.

Although the radical brand of conservative who has seized control of the machinery of our government celebrate a present victory, they are actually sowing the seeds of their ultimate defeat. In due time their deliberate rigging of the economy to shrink and shut off the middle class will become an undeniable fact, and will inspire a wave of outrage which big money politics and gerrymandered legislative districts cannot not contain. The conservative “divide and conquer” path to power will not work once the consequences of their manipulation of the economy are fully felt and understood across Wisconsin. Once the vehicle of our economy is driven off a cliff, the wreckage will be visible for all to see. It is a shame that we must re-learn the harsh lessons of the past that when workers have no power in the economy multinational corporations will drive their wages and benefits into the ground. Once this harsh lesson is learned again, the action of today will not stand.

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Wisconsin Needs Its Own Health Insurance Marketplace

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 Thursday, 05 March 2015
in Wisconsin

healthcare-familySen. Kathleen Vinehout is circulating a bill that would create a Wisconsin based Health Insurance Marketplace. Hard-working Wisconsin families will lose health insurance if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs in 'King vs Burwell', a case that challenges whether citizens who buy insurance through the federally facilitated health exchange are eligible for premium assistance.

MADISON - On Wednesday, I unveiled a plan to create a state-based Health Insurance Marketplace as United States Supreme Court Justices opened arguments on a case that could strip Wisconsinites of their health insurance premium tax credits.

Hard-working Wisconsin families will lose health insurance premium credits if the Supreme Court rules in favor of the plaintiffs, and Wisconsin can avert this crisis by creating its own state-based Marketplace.

The U.S. Supreme Court took up a case (King vs Burwell) that challenges whether citizens who buy insurance through the federally facilitated health exchange are eligible for premium assistance. Nearly 90% of the over 200,000 Wisconsinites who signed up for insurance through the federal exchange are receiving assistance.

Over $58 million going to our hard-working families is at risk. "On average, the benefit to Wisconsin families is about $300 a month in credits to cover about 70% of their premium" according to Misra, A. & T. Tsai in  “Health Insurance Marketplace 2015: Average Premiums after Advance Premium Tax Credits through January 30 in 37 states using the platform”. ASPE Research Brief. Department of Health and Human Services. Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, February 9, 2015, p. 5..”

The bill captures those aspects of Wisconsin’s health care industry that are unique to our state and builds off work already in progress by Wisconsin health plans and providers to create a balance between health quality, costs and access.

The Badger Health Benefit Marketplace is a one-stop shop for small businesses and people who buy insurance on their own. This will give folks a truly competitive market for health insurance and help drive down health costs for everyone.

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GOP "Right-to-Work" Show Moves On to Assembly Hearing

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, 03 March 2015
in Wisconsin

rtw-outside-2015The Republican fast tracked bill would ban any requirement that nonunion members in the private sector pay union dues. The majority of those speaking Monday were against the measure, viewed as a distraction from Governor Walker’s harmful budget.

MADISON - Six days after the Senate Labor Committee held it's controversial public hearing on the same subject, the Assembly Labor Committee heard testimony into the night on Monday on Assembly Bill 61 – the so-called “Right to Work” bill. The bill would ban any requirement that nonunion members in the private sector pay union dues.

Just like last week's Senate hearing, where opponents vastly outnumbered supporters, the majority of those speaking Monday at the Assembly Labor Committee were also against the measure.

The few supporters, including the state chamber of commerce, said they represented many other people who were reluctant to speak publicly. Backers argue that the change will make Wisconsin more competitive with other states, in particular Indiana and Michigan, and allow workers to decide whether they want to pay union dues rather than have them deducted automatically.

Union members, construction contractors, and other opponents reiterated their arguments that the measure would weaken unions, leading to lower wages and unsafe workplaces. They also questioned who really wanted the law, given that coalitions representing hundreds of contractors and other businesses had formed in opposition, and said it was wrong to rush the bill through in less than two weeks.

peter_barcaIn a statement released after the hearing, Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said:

“We just heard hours of thoughtful, compelling testimony from business owners, workers, researchers and everyday citizens who agree that ‘Right to Work’ is wrong for Wisconsin and recognize that it will drive down wages and hurt our middle class. I want to thank everyone who came out today – including those who drove hundreds of miles and waited hours to testify – against this destructive legislation.

“‘Right to Work’ is a distraction from Governor Walker’s harmful budget and it will keep pushing Wisconsin’s economy in the wrong direction. Even the governor himself has said private-sector unions are important partners in economic development efforts that put people to work – efforts the governor and Republican legislators are undermining with this bill.

“We as elected officials must be doing everything we can to restore economic opportunity for our citizens, not tear it down. As Professor Chowdhury from Marquette testified today, this bill would take $3.89 billion a year out of the Wisconsin economy.

“Democrats stand ready to debate this harmful legislation on the Assembly floor and continuing to work toward a stronger economy for Wisconsin.”

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Economic Development Money Grows and Public Oversight Shrinks

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, 02 March 2015
in Wisconsin

walkerThis week Sen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about the proposal in Governor Walker’s budget related to the combining of WEDC and WHEDA. Her concern is that as the dollars for economic development grow, the ability of the public to determine how well their public dollars are used does not.

MADISON - “I’ve heard about the cuts,” the Buffalo County man said. “But this budget spends more. Who’s getting more money?”

Folks are concerned about big cuts to the UW; cuts to local schools; scaling back of health programs for the disabled; public radio and TV losing state support.

But the new budget spends $3 billion more than the last. Where is that money going?

One place to look is the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). Despite its name, WEDC is a part of state government; in fiscal year 2012-13 it received over $62 million from the budget (including about $4 million in federal funds) and the agency can authorize potentially millions more in tax credits.

The Governor’s flagship program turned troubled when auditors found procedures weren’t written down, loans were lost and Wisconsin was penalized. Three Chief Financial Officers left – one after only a day on the job.

I described the creation of WEDC four years ago as putting the cookie jar in a dark pantry with a sign on the door that says, “Trust Us”.

In this budget the Governor combines WEDC with another agency that administers loans: the Wisconsin Housing & Economic Development Authority.

The Governor creates a new board. He kicks off the board the legislators who ask too many questions. The new board will only be private sector folks chosen by the Governor.

The budget adds more money into the mix: $55 million in a revolving loan fund and almost another $10 million in tax credits. Governor Walker then proposes taking existing business tax credits and converting them into refundable tax credits. What does that mean?

Think about the refund you might receive when you file your taxes. The refund comes because you paid in more than you owed. It’s your money coming back.

What if the rules were changed so you didn’t owe any taxes? You still filed your tax return but you owed nothing. A refundable tax credit would still give you a refund check signed by the people of Wisconsin. That’s what’s going on.

Imagine you’re the CEO of a multi-national company that reported sales in billions. You’re making a lot of money. But the tax laws are changed so the company owes very little or nothing at all.

When your accountant files your company’s tax returns instead of paying on what you owe (which is nothing) the people of Wisconsin pay you. This is a refundable tax credit.

And then the budget proposal takes away a few of the rules.

For example, under the ‘qualified new business ventures’, your company would not have to comply with one or more of the current rules: you would not have to be a Wisconsin company, you would not be required to have 51% of your workforce in Wisconsin, and you would not have to commit to keeping your business in Wisconsin.

Reminder: the public purpose of the current rules is to grow good paying Wisconsin jobs.

The public wouldn’t know if you followed the rules or even received the grant because the budget changes the open records laws so the company can never be identified. No data in the agency’s record keeping software can be made public.

I wondered how the auditors would do their work. But then I learned the budget also says the watchdog Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) won’t complete a program evaluation audit until 2017 and won’t complete a financial audit at all.

An independent private auditor will be hired in 2016. But an outside auditor won’t give us the information we receive from the LAB.

To perhaps add an incentive to companies to play nice with the people in charge of the cookie jar, the Governor takes away any oversight on the creation of a nonprofit company to accept private gifts and grants.

It’s not a big stretch to see companies giving gifts to the nonprofit arm and receiving tax credits from the other arm.

I explained all this to my constituent in Buffalo County. He said, “They took the cookie jar from the dark pantry and put it in a dark castle with a moat around it!”

The sign in front of the moat reads, “Just trust us.”

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Walker Says Wisconsin Workers are Like ISIS at CPAC

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 Friday, 27 February 2015
in Wisconsin

scott-walker-cpac15"If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world," he said. Walker has been trying to exaggerate the 2011 peaceful protests and subsequent recall election into some kind of noble stand against "union thugs" for years.

WASHINGTON - Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker is trying to give himself some chops in foreign affairs at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington this week. Speaking on Thursday, Walker criticized President Barack Obama's handling of the threat of "radical Islamic terrorism", but gave little substance on how he'd address the challenge himself.

But then, the Presidential hopeful Walker got carried away with himself.

"We need a president, a leader, who will stand up and say, we will take the fight to them and not wait until they bring the fight to America's soil, to our children and our grandchildren," Walker said.

Later, when asked by an audience member about how he'd deal with the threat of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, Walker responded that he gets FBI threat briefings from his adjutant general and that "without divulging confidential information," he's been concerned about the group for years.

But he didn't offer a specific answer to how he'd take on the group, instead pivoting back to his experience in Wisconsin.

"If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the world," he said.

It was a reference to Walker's attack on labor unions in Wisconsin, where his move to strip public employees' collective bargaining rights caused months of protests in 2011, and turned him into a rock star on the right. His Republican supporters in the state legislature are continuing his agenda with a so-called "right-to-work" bill this week.

Reporters were quick to jump on the Wisconsin Governor with no foreign policy experience. Did he really mean having some protesters with picket signs outside his office was similar to an attack by terrorists? Walker is still trying to clarify his statement.

Walker has been trying to exaggerate the 2011 peaceful protests and subsequent recall election into some kind of noble stand against "union thugs" for years. But, ISIS?

Will the national press and conservative voters let this one stand? Only time will tell.

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Republican "Right to Work" Public Hearing Turns into Mockery

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, 25 February 2015
in Wisconsin

rtw-walkoutThe three Republican members showed little interest and asked few questions. The public hearing turned into a complete mockery when chairman Nass said he was cutting off the meeting because of what he called a "credible threat" that turned out to be a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report saying union demonstrators were planning to peacefully disrupt the committee vote.

MADISON - Nothing usually gets decided at public hearings. They are mostly an exercise to make the public feel heard. But the GOP majority failed Tuesday to even do that at the Senate Labor Committee public hearing they had hurriedly staged for the so-called “Right to Work” Bill.

About 2,000 demonstrators showed up outside the Capitol earlier in the day to keep the politicians honest and the “hearing” had proceeded peacefully for about six hours. Committee chairman Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater)introduced several witnesses from Bradley Foundation and Koch Brothers funded Republican think tanks to support the legislation and a long parade of small businessmen and labor union representatives, mostly from the Building Trades, to oppose it. Other private citizens, almost all opposed, then gave their testimony.

The three Republican members on the committee showed little interest and asked few questions, leaving that work up to the Democratic Senators Bob Wirch of Kenosha and Chris Larson of Milwaukee.

The public hearing turned into a complete mockery shortly before 6:30 p.m. when committee chairman Nass said he was cutting off the meeting abruptly because of what he called a "credible threat". What Nass called a "credible threat" turned out to be a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report that said union demonstrators were planning to peacefully disrupt the committee vote by raising their voices if Republicans didn't let everyone from the public testify.

Nass called for a quick vote on the measure and the fearful Republicans exited the room. The vote was 3-1, with all three Republicans voting for the bill to prohibit requiring workers to pay union dues and one Democrat, Sen. Wirch, voting against. The other Democrat on the committee, Sen. Chris Larson, did not cast a vote as he and people in the room argued unsuccessfully for Republicans not to take the vote at that moment.

Afterwards, hundreds of business owners, union members, veterans, and just plain concerned citizens sat in stunned silence in the room waiting to speak. Many have been waiting since eight in the morning.

"There was no threat," Bruce Colburn of the Service Employees International Union state council said. "We wanted to ensure that people had a right to speak."

"They used it as a straw man to get out of a very uncomfortable position," AFSCME Council 48 Executive Director Boyd McCamish added. "It's an act of political cowardice."

The so-called “Right to Work” Bill now moves on the Republican controlled Senate and Assembly where quick passage is expected.

The bill has also spotlighted Governor Scott Walker's stance on the measure. In May 2012, the governor said he would do "everything in my power" to keep the legislation from getting to his desk. But Walker, who is now eyeing a run for the presidency, has said in recent days he would sign the bill.

dave_hansenIn a statement released earlier today, Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) commented on the events in Madison saying:

“Senate Republicans once again have shown their disdain for those who disagree with them by shutting down the public hearing this evening on legislation that will cost Wisconsin families over $5,000 a year in lost wages, increase child poverty and create more dangerous working conditions.

“As Wisconsin business owners, workers and veterans waited to testify Senate Republicans chose to shut the hearing down early rather than continue listening to the overwhelming testimony against the bill.

“Senate Republicans talk about less government intrusion but the fact is Senate Bill 44 is one of the most intrusive bills of all because it denies Wisconsin employers the right and freedom to run their businesses as they see fit.

“It is unfortunate that at a time when our state needs to work together to move our economy forward governor Walker and Senate Republicans have chosen to continue their attempts to “divide and conquer” Wisconsin families.”

peter_barcaAssembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) released the following statement after Republicans shut down a committee public hearing on their so-called "Right to Work" bill:

"I am deeply disappointed that Senator Nass and Republicans did not at least live up to their promise of holding the public hearing until 7:00 tonight. Slamming the door on public testimony and silencing the hundreds of people who have come all day to testify is just another abuse of power by Republicans and an affront to our Wisconsin values of open, honest and transparent government.”

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Elderly and Disabled Respond to Privatizing Family Care & IRIS

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, 23 February 2015
in Wisconsin

elderly-crowdSenator Kathleen Vinehout writes about drastic changes to Family Care and IRIS included in the Governor’s budget. If these changes become law, many frail elderly and disabled persons would be put at risk of losing the services that help them stay in their community and out of expensive institutions.

MADISON - “You have got to be kidding!” a Chippewa Valley advocate responded when I told her about a plan to potentially turn Family Care over to a for-profit insurance company.

Family Care and its fee-for-service sister, IRIS, provide thousands of Medicaid-eligible frail elderly and disabled people the help they need to remain in their homes. Services could include help getting places; keeping a job; managing money; preparing meals; keeping healthy; bathing and dressing.

People who benefit from Family Care or IRIS might easily end up in an expensive institution. Personal care and other workers help them stay in their own home – and many times – stay gainfully employed.

If the current version of the governor’s budget becomes law, it will mean big changes to care for frail elderly and disabled people of modest means. For the rest of us, it could mean many more of our neighbors and family members end up in expensive institutions. Worse yet, folks could be stranded at home without the services they need to independently live and work.

Buried in the mammoth state budget is the elimination of IRIS as we know it. IRIS serves more than 11,000 people statewide. The philosophy of the program is in its name: Include, Respect, I Self-direct. People hire their own workers who perform many tasks including meal preparation, bathing, and getting people to work.

As Jason Endres of Eau Claire told me, “Without these services, the way IRIS provides, it would prevent us from being part of our community.”

Also eliminated are local centers to assist elderly and disabled people find services. Known as Aging and Disability Resource Centers (ADRCs), these publically run centers would close and their citizen oversight boards disband. They could be reopened by a private company but with no requirement to be conveniently located or to tell people about all the services for which they may qualify. For example, the woman I wrote about in last week’s column who is served by SeniorCare, said without the help of local ADRC staff she would not have known about SeniorCare.

Family Care is a managed care program serving over 40,000 elderly, physically disabled, and developmentally disabled folks. A large number of developmentally disabled people use Family Care in the Chippewa Valley because of the closure of Northern Center. Services such as residential homes, mental health services and job coaches help folks stay in the community. Local providers work with non-profit Managed Care Organizations that oversee service delivery.

Services are tailored to the needs of the individual as determined by an independently completed functional assessment. This way services are based on the needs of the individual and not on what the provider has available.

Changes in the budget would eliminate most of the Managed Care Organizations. Their job could be taken over by a very large for-profit insurance company. Budget language gives the state Department of Health (DHS) authority to hire the insurance company in a no-bid contract and removes any legislative oversight of the contract between DHS and the insurance company.

This new insurance company could become the gatekeeper for all medical, rehabilitative, personal living and employment services for over 50,000 people (DHS enrollment numbers from 2014).

In essence, every service needed by the disabled or frail elderly person of modest means would need approval by potentially one for-profit insurance company.

“This takes the personal choice right out of it,” an Eau Claire woman told me.

It also makes it more likely people will not receive the care they need. Insurance companies are very good at denying care and shifting the cost of care to patients and families.

Jason said to me, “One for-profit, national insurance company in a no-bid contract? It makes me very sad. It’s no longer about local choices. It’s about big business making decisions about very personal things.”

Advocates are working hard to save these important programs. People can learn more at Jason reminded me to thank Amber and Nancy for this awesome website. Check it out. You’ll see Amber, Jason and read many more amazing stories.

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State GOP Rush to Pass “Right to Work” Legislation Distracts from Bad Budget

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 Friday, 20 February 2015
in Wisconsin

scott-walkerMADISON - Today Republican leaders in the state legislature announced plans for an extraordinary session of the legislature next week to pass so-called "Right to Work"  legislation.

Is this rushed discussion of such a controversial subject necessary? Many in the Assembly and Senate, especially Democrats, do not appear to think so. The move is seen as a distraction by many in Madison, an attempt to talk about anything but Scott Walker’s proposed budget.

Walker’s Budget has stirred up a hornet’s nest all over Wisconsin. As we get into the budget’s details, we have learned it mean a tough road ahead for local schools, the UW and our children who will inherit increased state debt.

"Right to Work"  legislation will do little to solve any of these problems. It does not even have anything to do with the right to work. It is merely a political argument between Republicans and the unions over the collection of union dues.

Scott Walker’s first term has left Wisconsin with a lagging economy and a $2.2 billion deficit. His administration has drained needed funds from public education and state agencies and given it to the wealthy few in the form of a huge tax cut. And now, with Scott Walker a part time governor gone much of the week to campaign for President, the bill to pay for all of this has fallen on the legislature.

Is it any surprise the Republicans would rather talk about “Right to Work” ?

peter_barcaWhen asked for his response on the Extraordinary Session, Assembly Democratic Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) said in a prepared statement:

"Governor Walker has called so-called `Right to Work' legislation a distraction and apparently that's exactly what he wants. By rushing to pass Right to Work in less than a week, clearly the governor and Republican legislators want to distract from how destructive their budget is for Wisconsin's workers, students and middle-class families.

"Wisconsin is already lagging behind most of the nation in jobs and wage growth and `Right to Work' would only make things worse. In fact, the average worker in Right to Work states makes between $5,000 and $6,000 less than the average worker in other states. And calling an extraordinary session will make the budget disaster Republicans have created worse since we're already scheduled to be in session the following week anyway. What's the emergency?

"There is broad agreement among workers, businesses and everyday citizens that Right to Work is wrong for Wisconsin. Yet the governor and Republican lawmakers have proven they will do anything to change the subject from their mismanagement of Wisconsin's economy, including driving down wages for our workers and further dividing our state."

dave-hansen-gbOur local Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) went on to say:

"How unpopular is the Governor's budget? Apparently so unpopular that Republican leaders feel the need to hide their members behind RTW to help them avoid having to answer to the voters about their $2.2 billion deficit, their plan to eliminate SeniorCare and assistance for the elderly and disabled, their continued cuts to our public schools and their attack on our UW campuses.

"This is bait and switch politics at its worst that will cost the average Wisconsin family $5,000 - $6,000 per year in lost wages and that will limit the freedom of employers to run their businesses as they see fit.

"Rather than owning up to their failed policies, they are desperately trying to change the subject rather than defend what is proving to be an indefensible budget that puts the Governor's presidential ambitions before the people of Wisconsin."

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Save SeniorCare, Again!

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, 16 February 2015
in Wisconsin

elderlyThis week Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about Governor Walker’s proposed changes to SeniorCare. She is hearing from people who are very concerned about the proposed changes which may cause seniors to pay huge increases in the cost of their prescription drugs.

MADISON - “Please do what you can to keep SeniorCare as is. It is critical to those of us on it.” wrote a rural Buffalo County woman.

“I will be 70 years old in a couple of months and not on any prescription medicines. SeniorCare is perfect for me as I very seldom require a prescription for illness or injury, usually going for a year or more without needing one. I should not have to pay the outrageous high cost of Medicare Part D which I would very seldom use and it would cause a terrible financial burden for me that I could not handle on my fixed income.”

The rural woman I’ll call ‘Dawn’ signed her letter, “Thank you from a very satisfied SeniorCare participant.”

Slipped into the Governor’s state budget is a requirement that seniors sign up for Medicare Part D before they sign up for SeniorCare. The program is a substitute for Part D.

To justify his action, the Governor told the Wisconsin State Journal “It’s not about changing benefits; it’s ultimately about changing who pays for it.”

According to Dawn that is the problem.

She figures under the Governor’s new plan she’d pay $60 a month. Now she pays $30 a year. “I shouldn’t have to pay an outrageous bill for something I won’t use,” she said in a recent phone conversation.

SeniorCare is truly a Wisconsin invention. It is the only state-based alternative to the complicated maze of plans comprising Medicare Part D – the drug benefit for seniors.

To participate in SeniorCare, people must be Wisconsin residents, over age 65, and meet an income requirement. The program has a simple one-page enrollment form and requires a $30 annual fee. Folks pay a deductible and small co-payment of $15 for brand name and $5 for generic prescriptions.

Seniors love the program, as do health care workers, pharmacists, nursing homes and elder advocates. Not only is the program simple, it is also less expensive. In 2011, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) estimated that SeniorCare saves the federal government $85.8 million a year.

SeniorCare is a state-run program while Medicare Part D involves the sale of private insurance policies under federal government rules. Part D plans differ quite a bit with different formulas for coverage, different deductibles, different coinsurance and different lists of drugs covered. In addition, plans offer different levels of coverage in the “doughnut hole” — gap in coverage.

Part D plans require seniors to pay a monthly premium, in addition to the per-prescription copayment and the deductible. Seniors tell me the Part D premium alone could easily be 24 times the annual $30 cost of SeniorCare.

SeniorCare depends partly on federal Medicaid funds. To continue to get federal funds, Wisconsin must periodically prove to the feds through a waiver request that they are saving taxpayers’ money. Unlike Part D Medicare, one way that SeniorCare saves money is to negotiate with drug companies.

This is the second time the governor proposed doing away with SeniorCare as we know it. In 2011, a statewide petition drive saved the program.

Spearheading the petition drive was Representative Andy Jorgenson. He was recently quoted in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: "What is wrong with Governor Walker? Did he not get the message the first time, or doesn't he care? … Governor Walker is pushing a plan that will hurt seniors financially."

In 2011 people collected over 15,000 signatures. Moments after the signatures were delivered to lawmakers, Republicans pledged their support for SeniorCare.

Dawn knew about the success of the first petition drive and was already at work.

“I spent all day Saturday and Sunday sending emails,” she told me. “Most [lawmakers] sent a letter back saying they were not accepting emails. It was frustrating. Don’t you think if they represent Wisconsin they should accept my email?”

When I complemented Dawn on her persistence she said, “What scares me is that $60 a month,” she paused and nearly whispered, “I’m not going to be able to buy groceries.”

You can get a copy of the SeniorCare petition by calling my office toll free (877-763-6636) or sign the SeniorCare petition at my Senate website.

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State Budget: Take Time to Learn and Express Yourself

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, 09 February 2015
in Wisconsin

2015-budgetThis week Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about the importance of citizen involvement in the budget process. She provides background about the budget process and urges people to attend hearings, to write, call or send an email.

MADISON - “What people need to understand is that we are seeing this budget for the first time,” the Republican staff member told me. “There are a lot of things that need to change.”

Recently the Governor made public his proposal for the state’s two-year budget. The day following his speech a Senate page brought around a hand-truck load of budget documents.

When I visited my Republican Senate colleague, the staff had budget papers spread out over a desk and were trying to make sense of it – even as phone calls and emails from constituents were coming in.

As we scramble to find buried details, some constituents already were expressing themselves to lawmakers. The back-and-forth between constituents and legislators is a vital aspect of the political process, and input from citizens is never more important than during the two-year budget process.

We all know the headlines: $300 million cut to the UW; cutting the UW loose from state government; lower funding for K-12 schools; statewide subsidy for private schools; state money to make a small dent in rising property taxes.

But it will take months to identify all the specifics.

That’s where you come in. It’s one thing to see a number on a page. It is quite another to understand the effect of a budget action across the state.

This budget, like in the past, contains hundreds of pages of non-fiscal policy. Said another way, the budget makes law changes unrelated to the money in a budget.

In the last budget, nearly 100 separate pieces of non-fiscal policy were passed. Some were things that might not have passed on their own – like taking away local powers to site TV and cell phone towers or to set protections from erosion on construction sites.

Time and partisanship further complicate our ability to find and react to pieces of the large budget bill. The only documents now available for lawmakers and the public are the summary prepared by the Governor’s own partisan budget staff and the budget legal language itself in over 1,500 pages.

We all must wait for the work of the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB). Analysts are working hard to prepare a plain language summary of the budget including numbers and policy. The work is complex and time consuming. When finished, the summary will be nearly 500 pages. This document is the best single source about details that will affect citizens’ lives for the next two and a half years – sometimes much longer.

As I learn information I will share details in columns and letters. I will hunt down details to put budget policy and fiscal changes in context. I will ask for LFB memos to provide a nonpartisan verified source. But LFB won't always be able to put answering my requests for data at the top of their to-do list.

After the LFB finishes its analysis of the budget, they begin writing memos covering details of the many budget decisions the Joint Finance Committee will ponder. These papers are very useful. Members of the Finance Committee will have first crack at getting LFB to answer their questions (I am not on this committee).

During April I expect the Finance Committee to hold public hearings around the state. These hearings are often held during the day and can be a long drive away. I will be holding town hall meetings about the budget at more convenient times and locations.

Please take the time to learn how the state budget affects you and your family. I will make my town hall meeting locations public. If you want a personal invitation, let me know (877-763-6636).

Please express your opinions about the budget. Write, call, send an email – let your representatives know. Don’t let past disagreements stop you from writing again.

Only about 20% of people contact their representative. But sometimes only one or two letters can change a bill. Telling your story about how budget decisions affect you and your community can make a real difference.

“If there were just 10 people in every congressional district who really pushed on an issue…we could literally change the world.” – Illinois Senator Paul Simon

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Budget Thoughts

Posted by Eric Genrich, State Rep. District 90
Eric Genrich, State Rep. District 90
Eric Genrich, (D-Green Bay) is currently serving as State Assembly Representati
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on Thursday, 05 February 2015
in Wisconsin

capitolMADISON - As I left the state capitol yesterday evening, I was thinking about how much I love my job: the service to my constituents, the participation in the legislative process, the great honor it is to work in the people’s house. At the same time, though, I was overwhelmed by a feeling of deep sadness for the substance of Governor Walker’s recently introduced budget. The blatant disregard this proposal shows toward the people of our state and Wisconsin's greatest traditions is shocking and upsetting.

Walker will have a page in the history books, but he will not be judged kindly. He will be seen as the Governor who turned his back on the conservation ethic of Aldo Leopold and Gaylord Nelson, the Wisconsin Idea of Fighting Bob and Lee Dreyfuss, the ideal of an equal and integrated education of Lloyd Barbee and John Reynolds.

There is nothing constructive or forward-looking in his vision for our state, and, therefore, nothing lasting. Governor Walker will have the votes to pass this budget, of course, but the people of Wisconsin still have the opportunity to influence its crafting. In the wake of his destructive leadership - or in the course of it, really - it is our charge to own the task of rebuilding the state we love. It is within our capacity to honor our past and win our future, but these goals can only be accomplished if we all do our part today, tomorrow, and every day forward.

Throughout these next few months, I pledge to do everything I can to raise my voice in opposition to the policies I find damaging to the people of Wisconsin. I will also advance proposals that do justice to our proud, progressive heritage. I ask for and welcome your input and participation during this process and beyond. As always, please feel free to contact me with any and all concerns or questions.

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Every Successful Sniper Round Leads to a Knock on the Door

Posted by Buzz Davis, Army Veteran & Activist
Buzz Davis, Army Veteran & Activist
Buzz Davis, now of Tucson, AZ, a member of Better With Bernie Gone Green and Tre
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on Thursday, 05 February 2015
in Wisconsin

vietnamwar2One veteran's reaction to the new 'American Sniper' movie.

STOUGHTON - All the senseless deaths, grievous injuries and destruction in war.  Maybe we will "never learn."  Across the world many are fighting back against these death machines we call governments.  This is a fight we can never stop.

American Sniper is just one item in this world that shows how much we have lost our way.  The supposed moral leaders of our nation are for the most part silent on America's never ending wars - called the War on Terror.

For each successful sniper shot, somewhere in the world there is a knock on the door - the messenger of death has arrived.

It reminds me of some of the worst days of my life.  I was a lieutenant stationed at Fort Bragg, NC.  I was informed that I was to serve as a survival assistance officer.  I soon found out what that meant.

I had to go tell a family that their young son was missing in action.  The soldier killed was a young Black man about 18, drafted, in Vietnam just a week or two.

The Mother and Father were divorced or separated.  The Army demanded I go and tell the Father first.  I had to go to the Mother's town to ask were the Father was, then go tell him in another town where he was working and then drive back to the Mother's town and tell her.  The agony for the Mother and his sisters was probably terrible.  When people saw my military car and driver I am sure the phones started ringing and they all dreaded for those we were going to see.

A few days later the Fort received a telegram that the young man had been killed in action in a "firefight."

I told the colonel I should go tell the Mother first and then tell the Father after I found out where he was working that day.  But he said you will tell the father.

So I found the Father an older man in a large field near a pile of lumber.  By the time I walked across the field to him he was just standing there in the hot sun, shoulders slumped all alone with his hands at his side.  I reached him and he says I know what you're going to tell me.  And I said yes.  He says sit down.  So we sit on the pile of lumber and I tell him his son has been killed.  We talk a bit and he explains how much he appreciates me coming and telling him.  I thank him and we shake hands.  As I walk across that field back to my waiting driver I think I tell him his only son is dead and he is very kind to me and thanks me for coming all the way to tell him in person.

An hour or two later I am back at the Mother's home.  Of course they all know by now.  From the very bright sunlight his sister leads me to her Mom's bedroom.  She is in bed in the dark with just small low light lamp at the side of the bed and a chair.  She says he's gone isn't he.  I say yes and she wants me to sit down.  I open the telegram and tell her that her son has been killed in a firefight.  Then I hear a gasp in the room and I look up.  There are about 5 men and women standing around the bed that I had not seen in the dark...They had all been waiting with her.

The Mother then asked was he in much pain.  I said what?  With the fire and all.  Then I realized she thought I was telling her her son had burned to death.  And I thought to myself God we can't even get it straight how to tell loved ones their son is dead.

So I explain that her son was a gun battle which the Army calls a firefight.  She felt better that he son had not burned to death.

A week later I went back to escort his body to the funeral home and prepare everything for the funeral.  Fortunately a sergeant escorted the man's casket from the East Coast.  That sergeant taught me and the detail of soldiers sent to help with the funeral what to do.

The family wanted to have the casket unlocked - my orders were the military said the casket was to be kept locked.  I said to the funeral director and the sergeant I think the casket needs to be kept closed.  But I knew what they wanted to do.  By that time in Vietnam, there were some unusual things going on with bodies and some of course were badly destroyed.  So I left to do something else.  When I returned the sergeant and funeral director showed me the young man's body and we were all thankful everything was ok.

I will never forget giving his Mother, a very small slender woman, the American flag after we removed it from his casket at the funeral.

The chairs for the family were very close to the grave.  At the proper time, I knelt in front of her with the folded flag and said on behalf our nation and the president of the United States of America I present this flag in honor of your son's sacrifice to our nation.

Just as I finished this the rifles went off with a very loud crack a couple feet away from the foot of the grave.  People screamed and jumped up.  I was so startled I jumped up, the Mother jumped up, I started falling backward into the open grave toward the casket.  She reached out and grabbed me.  There we were holding on to each other with the flag wedged between us.  I then sat her back down, saluted, went to the back and the minister took over to conduct the ceremony.

I have blocked that young solder's name and that wonderful family's name from my memory.  I think my brain just does not want to revisit those times.

So much senseless death going on and on century after century.

Now our government has tricked us again.  The all-volunteer military has turned into a mercenary army.  Our young men and women are again being brain washed into fighting battles for the 1%ers -- the lying, cheating, conniving men and women with kill lists who would never lower themselves to serve their county in the military.  When will we ever learn?

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Governor Walker’s Budget Address Long on Campaign-speak and Light on Details

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Wednesday, 04 February 2015
in Wisconsin

walker_wavesMADISON - The Governor’s speech last night was long on campaign-speak and light on details.

What specifics we learned mean a tough road ahead for local schools, the UW and our children who will inherit increased state debt.

Taking the cap off private schools getting state dollars means less money for our public schools. Property taxes will go up in many parts of the state as schools hobble from referendum to referendum.

The twin actions of cutting UW funds and cutting the UW loose will mean fewer opportunities and higher tuition for students.

Professors who leave the system take their grant money with them- leaving fewer resources for student research and fewer professors mean students don’t have courses they need to graduate in four years.

Once a big part of state government - like the UW - is cut loose, strong constituencies will fight to keep it private. We are at risk of losing the central focus of our ‘public’ universities – to serve the public.

In this budget the Governor learned you can’t give money away and then have that money to pay bills. The election year ‘surplus’ quickly turned into red ink. Now, Wisconsin doesn’t have money to pay important bills - like the UW system and local schools.

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Governor's Higher Education Budget Cuts Bad for Wisconsin's Future

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
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on Tuesday, 03 February 2015
in Wisconsin

uw-madisonThis week Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about the Governor’s proposed cuts to the University of Wisconsin. These cuts, if passed by the Legislature, will have a significant negative impact on staff, faculty and ultimately students.

MADISON - “I love college, Mom,” my son told me. “There is nowhere else I can hear a conversation in a different language every day.”

My son got me thinking about the challenges our students face – competing in a global marketplace, changes in the economy, changes in technology. College has never been so important. Keeping colleges up-to-date costs money.

Getting one’s children through college is harder. Finding the right mix of rigor and value is a real challenge for families.

Wisconsin universities stand out for value. Over and over again UW-Eau Claire and UW-La Crosse rank as two of the best values in the Midwest.

UW-Madison is a world-class research institution. The UW comprehensive campuses statewide are the cultural heart of communities large and small; where would River Falls or Menomonie be without the UW at the center of the city?

A new proposal from the Governor would make deep cuts to the UW, dropping state support – in actual dollars - to below 1997-98 funding levels. The Governor also proposed loosening public control over the UW. The twin actions of cutting funds & cutting the university loose from the state are a recipe for disaster.

The last foray into cutting loose a part of state government – the Department of Commerce – didn’t work well for the Governor. Once a big part of state government is cut loose, its central focus is not on serving the public interest.

The constituency for keeping the university system apart from the state will be so strong it will not be possible to bring the system back. And those constituencies fighting to keep the system separate have private not public goals. Say “good-bye” to the Wisconsin Idea.

The rationale for cutting UW support is to make the system more efficient. Sure, efficiencies are important. But the reduction proposed by the Governor - $300 million over two years – will cut one quarter of current state spending.

And this year’s state funding for the UW is already lower than six years ago.

According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, Wisconsin is one of only six states that continued to cut higher education funding per student by more than 2% following the Great Recession (adjusted for inflation and using data from Fiscal Year (FY) 2013-14).

Over the last decade and a half, state support for the UW has been modest at best. For example, FY 2012 funding fell below FY 2001. Increasing education costs were shifted to steady increases in tuition. Reacting to parents’ concerns, the Governor and Legislative Leaders froze tuition. Other states froze tuition - but many also increased state funding. Not so for Wisconsin.

“Teach more classes,” the Governor said. But teaching more classes and “becoming more efficient” won’t absorb the proposed cuts. Cutting one out of every four state dollars is cutting too deep. As a consequence professors will leave Wisconsin.

The best and brightest on our campuses are not tied to Wisconsin. They are tied to their discipline – be it mathematics or biology. A local businessman once told me, “All jobs are mobile.” Professors are definitely mobile.

Once the best and brightest begin to leave (I’ve been told this is already happening) morale plummets. As more professors find new academic homes they take with them not only their expertise and international reputation - they take their federal grants.

Without federal grants UW loses another big source of funds. (Federal money, including student loans now account for more than a quarter of the UW budget.)

The Governor’s proposed actions place the UW in a downward spiral: less state money, a lock on rising tuition, loss of top faculty, declining federal money, loss of the world-class reputation. The consequences of disinvestment will take generations to recover.

Public universities are just that – “public”. Public universities are supported by the people and serve the people. Wisconsin has steadily eroded state support for the UW. We should be doing just the opposite.

Our public universities are a catalyst for the creative culture that builds the great places in which we all want to live, work, play and start a new business. They are well worth our investment.

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