Thursday September 19, 2019

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Legislative Audit Bureau: The Sentinels of State Government

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 03 October 2018
in Wisconsin

wisc-capitol-domeWe acknowledge the exceptional work of the award-winning Legislative Audit Bureau, which is critical to oversight of state government.


MADISON - “As Governor, I would get rid of the programs that don’t work and fund the ones that do,” said a candidate at a forum last summer. I am sure people thought just how would you know that?

Many folks think someone is paying attention to details of state government, but they don’t really know. The way we can know is to study the work of the state auditors. The Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) helps answer questions about the effectiveness and efficiencies of state government.

Recently, the work of the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau was given the highest possible rating by the National State Auditors Association. An independent, external review team, which included auditors from other states and the federal government, traveled to Wisconsin and spent a week reviewing the work of the LAB.

For fifty-three years, the LAB has assisted legislators, agency directors and the people of Wisconsin in answering questions about how money is spent and how programs are managed. The auditors’ work provides answers to questions such as, did the program meet its goals, did the program follow state law, and how was the money spent?

kathleen-vinehoutLong before I became a Senator, I assumed that someone was paying attention to all the different functions of state government. As a Senator and member of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, I understand the critical role of the LAB in assisting the Legislature with oversight. With a state government of dozens of agencies, hundreds of funds and thousands of programs, the 86 authorized employees of the Audit Bureau have a massive task.

Audits of state government, conducted by the LAB, are approved by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee which is made up of legislators from both sides of the aisle and both houses. The Co-chairs are always of the Majority Party and they determine which audits come to the committee for approval. Auditors depend on lawmakers to attend the hearings, read the audits ahead of time and ask questions. They also depend on lawmakers to share the findings with the public and involve the public and their colleagues in a discussion about solutions to the findings in the audit. To maintain the integrity of the LAB and its work, state law forbids lawmakers from interfering in the audit process.

The LAB also maintains a state hotline on waste, mismanagement and abuse that has some of the strongest whistle-blower protections in state law. That protection provides confidence for those who come forward to help the LAB know where to find problems that need to be remedied.

Audit findings are always accompanied by recommendations to address the problems found during the audit process. Frequently these findings are related to compliance with state law. It is up to the Joint Audit Committee to make sure the agencies follow the LAB recommendations. This work can be much harder than you might think.

For example, the law requires the state’s economic development organization validate that any company receiving money for creating jobs actually creates the jobs. A series of audits detailed that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) was not following the law. When lawmakers insisted WEDC follow the law, the agency director pompously retorted, “We are not in the business of validating jobs.”

A few years ago, after the release of an economic development audit that detailed continued problems, two lawmakers called for the elimination of the LAB. These lawmakers, who called for the demise of the LAB, showed staggering ignorance in the vital functions auditors perform.

Without the LAB’s work, our state would not be able to conduct business with the federal government due to requirements for a review. Nearly thirty percent of Wisconsin’s $76 billion-dollar budget is federal money. Without the work of the Audit Bureau our state could not borrow money or, in state terms, issue bonds. Our state has about $14 billion dollars in bonds (debt).

The LAB staff are the sentinels of state government. They point the way to problems, offer recommendations to solve those problems, and give the “all-clear” that everything is working well.

The staff at the LAB is doing a very difficult job in a way that absolutely deserves recognition. For their exceptional work, we all offer heart-felt congratulations and appreciation.

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Potato Disease, the UW and the Wisconsin Idea

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 26 September 2018
in Wisconsin

potato-farmerRecent cuts to the UW have affected it’s role in supporting our potato industry, and to retain world class researchers and crucial grant funds for important initiatives like the Wisconsin Seed Potato Program.


MADISON, WI - Late blight is a devastating potato and tomato disease that spreads quickly in late summer. It can wipe out a crop in just a few days. This disease caused the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s which led to the starvation or relocation of millions of Irish, including my ancestors.

Blight happens when it’s humid and muggy. The disease spreads very fast. Spores can move 40 miles a day. There are 30,000 spores in a patch the size of a dime. Because the devastating disease can “scale up quickly,” state laws exist for its control.

Wisconsin is home to 63,000 acres of potatoes. Our state is ranked third nationwide in potato production. For over one hundred years, the University of Wisconsin has helped potato farmers work with the weather, disease and new varieties of potatoes.

“The work of the University of Wisconsin is incredibly important,” an Antigo grower told the Senate Agriculture Committee last year. They have “the best potato research team in America.”

While explaining the relationship between the UW and the potato growers, one of the growers said, “the UW grows baby potatoes, they test chemicals, they give us advice on the mix we give the co-ops.” The UW potato research team is critical to the success of Wisconsin potato growers. “We pay the UW Inspection Crew to look at our fields.” The team created a “blight forecasting tool” that helps growers predict when plants are most at risk for blight.

Alex Crockford, a former Langlade County Ag Agent explained to the committee how roughly 9,000 acres of seed potatoes come from the Wisconsin seed potato certification program. “They go to the south, they go internationally. We [UW] are recognized as a national leader in quality and research.” The state farm in Rhinelander is the source of most of the seed potatoes in Wisconsin. “Here, we’ve been able to create very clean potatoes.”

Controlling disease begins with clean seed and a clean field. The UW is also one of the biggest seed potato growers in the United States. The program began in 1912.

This was the same year Charles McCarthy, the head of the Legislative Reference Library, wrote a book entitled, The Wisconsin Idea.

UW’s assistance to potato growers is a shining example of the Wisconsin Idea. The Idea’s guiding principle is for Wisconsin’s public universities and state government to serve the people using the best ideas of the entire nation. The knowledge and work of the university should be spread across the entire state for the benefit of its citizens.

The Antigo farmer explained to our committee that the Co-Director of the Seed Potato program recently left Wisconsin. The University of Idaho offered her a $50,000 raise to bring her knowledge and her research to the Potato State.

kathleen-vinehoutThis loss had a devastating effect on potato growers and led some to worry about the state’s commitment to the critical programs.

Unfortunately, the loss of the Director of the Seed Potato Program is not the only loss to the UW.

“We lost some of our best people,” UW Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank told Jon Marcus of The Atlantic last year. “It is our very best faculty that get outside offers. If you’re looking at research dollars, those are the people who are bringing in millions in research funding. And the people you replace them with bring in much less. So those retention issues have a real impact.”

According to Marcus, the UW calculated nearly $8 million in research dollars left the university in just one year, when faculty left and took their research projects with them to other universities.

The exodus of the potato researcher and other key faculty are related to the deep budget cuts, changes in tenure, shared governance and threats to undermine the mission of the UW system.

As soon as other universities got wind of troubles they looked up faculty rosters and started making calls. “We called UW faculty,” my son’s Department Chair told me at his recent department graduation gathering. “We knew they were some of the best.”

The potato growers would agree. Our UW faculty are well worth our collective efforts to keep them here in Wisconsin.

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Tribes and Lawmakers Meet to Resolve Issues

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 19 September 2018
in Wisconsin

tribal-courtsSen. Kathleen Vinehout explores the issues facing Wisconsin’s eleven sovereign tribes, like Tribal courts, voter ID and educating our children about the importance of State Tribal relations.


MADISON - “Can you fix Syria?” a woman asked me. “No,” I said as I shook my head. “Syria is a bit above my pay-grade. My international work [as State Senator] is limited to work with our Native Tribes.”

Native Tribes are sovereign nations.

Tribes have their own government including legislatures and courts. Many federal laws and treaties govern Wisconsin Tribes. But so do our state laws.

The delicate intersection between Wisconsin Tribes and the State of Wisconsin is the purview of the Special Committee on State-Tribal Relations.

Recently the State Tribal Relations Committee convened in the Capitol. This committee is one of the most unique in all of the Legislature. It consists of leaders of all of Wisconsin’s eleven tribal nations and a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers.

The Tribal Leaders are so much a part of the committee that the Chair in our recent meeting referred to long-time Menominee Tribal Chair and current Tribal Legislator, Mr. Gary Besaw, as “Representative” Besaw.

kathleen-vinehout“I’ve lived here long enough to be part of the Legislature,” smiled Mr. Besaw. The Chair of our committee apologized for an easily-made mistake.

Tribal leaders work directly with lawmakers and Legislative Council attorneys to craft laws that affect the tribe. Like lawmakers, they propose legislation, review bill drafts and ask for research from our attorneys.

The meeting began with an overview of past legislative successes. Last year, lawmakers passed a new law to allow tribal identification cards to be used for various purposes when state law requires an ID card. Most importantly, the cards can be used for proof of residence for voting.

Frequently lawmakers pass laws that may benefit Tribal Nations but forget to include the proper language in the law. One such oversight was remedied by allowing Tribal Nations to seek state grants for alternatives to prison. Many of our local courts started alternatives to prison programs for those suffering from addiction and/or mental illness. These treatment courts are effective at helping folks stay clean and avoid prison.

Another successful law passed in 2017 was Act 352. This law stiffens penalties for individuals who threaten or cause bodily harm to tribal judges, prosecutors and police officers – just as their non-native counterparts in our local courts.

Tribal judges from Oneida and Lac Courte Oreilles, a Menominee attorney and Tribal Representative, Gary Besaw testified asking for an expansion of the law protecting those who work in our tribal courts.

The judges mentioned several stories about court officers threatened or killed by unhappy defendants or family members. The discussion around expanding the protection of court officers provided us “non-native” members a glimpse into how tribal courts are different from “western” courts.

“In traditional tribal courts, we often teach our own traditions,” explained one of the judges. Tribal Elders can provide testimony. There’s a “Counsel of Grandmothers” the court calls on for advice. As non-natives, we think of court as adversarial. But the tribal judges explained that court proceedings can be healing for family members.

Resolving differences between tribal law and Wisconsin law is why the committee exists. But committee work is much broader. At its heart, the committee exists to promote positive relations between our state and the eleven sovereign Tribal Nations.

An act to teach students about these relations came up as a topic before our committee. Known by its legal name, Act 31, the law set requirements for schools. Tribal leaders asked for changes in this nearly thirty-year-old law. Mr. Besaw shared challenges faced by his daughter who felt isolated after a classroom discussion about ancestry and the lack of understanding of the history of Native peoples.

The committee grappled with how to create a 21st century education system so all students are welcome and prepared to live and work in our diverse state.

The issues aren’t quickly resolved, but having a space for the discussion begins the process. As a longtime member of the Committee, and currently it’s Vice Chair, I find this committee’s work most cordial and refreshingly bipartisan.

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Speed and Secrecy in Lawmaking

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 12 September 2018
in Wisconsin

wisconsin_senateThe tactics used by Majority Party leadership to rush bills through the Legislature sacrificed public input and prevented thoughtful debate in the lawmaking process.


MADISON - “The length of time bills were deliberated [in the Wisconsin Legislature] dropped significantly soon after Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators took control in 2011,” wrote investigative reporter Teodor Teofilov.

In the Governor’s first two years in office, average deliberation time of a bill was 119 days, compared to a 20 year average of 164 days. For comparison, during the 1997-98 session under Governor Thompson, it took an average of 227 days for a bill to move from introduction to becoming law.

The new study is a project of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The center sought to answer the question Is Wisconsin’s democracy declining? Former Capitol reporter Dee J. Hall is Managing Director of the Center.

“I noticed that some bills in the Legislature sprang up with little or no warning and were quickly approved, giving the public and opposing parties little chance to influence the course of the legislation,” wrote Ms. Hall.

Examining the public’s opportunity for input in crafting new laws was a measure of democratic involvement in the process. The longer a bill takes to become law, the more opportunities for members of the press to report on, and for the public to influence the proposal. Investigators examined the process and followed more than 3,500 bills over the past 20 years. They used the 48-days from introduction to enactment for the Foxconn corporate subsidy as a benchmark for fast-tracked legislation.

Since 2011, more bills were fast-tracked, and it was changes in the legislative process that led to quick movement of bills.

Small but significant changes take place in the function of committees that limit public involvement. Changes like shortening the length of notice before a public hearing; providing a public notice on one version of a bill and then offering a complete rewrite shortly before the public hearing; time limits for those testifying; limiting questions from committee members; allowing invited testimony only in a public hearing or voting on a bill immediately following the public testimony.

While many of these techniques were used before, there was in 2011 there was a dramatic increase in the frequency of these methods.

Inadequate notice of public hearings often means only those groups with a full-time lobbyist in Madison are able to testify. Short notice makes it difficult for committee members to understand the details and consequences of proposed legislation. Limiting testimony stifles thorough discussion. Information gathered during a public hearing can be skewed by inviting only those in favor of legislation; or by limiting the input of those opposed.

kathleen-vinehoutI remember well the public hearing on a bill to limit local people’s voices in sand mine operations. Many people traveled by bus from western Wisconsin to testify before the Senate mining committee. The first six hours of the testimony came from those who benefited from the legislation – none of whom lived near a mine. When the committee chair finally called those opposed to the bill, which was the majority of people at the hearing, it was very late in the afternoon. Folks who made the trek to Madison had to catch their bus home before they could testify.

The data from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism study certainly supports my experience as a Senator. In the 2009-10 session, when Democrats controlled both houses and the governorship, bills that became law took an average of 159 days to do so, spending an average of 91 days in the Senate. Thirty-nine bills (9.6%) qualified as “fast-tracked” by investigators’ definition.

For comparison, 2011-12, when the GOP had complete control, bills that became law spent an average of 57 days in the Senate, 119 days to move through the entire process and 74 bills (over 25%) were fast-tracked. This is the fastest average of any legislative session in twenty years.

Speed and secrecy are the exact opposite of what’s necessary for a successful democracy.

Alexandra Petri, a newspaper columnist and daughter of former Congressman Tom Petri, captured perfectly how the legislative process should work. She wrote, “Bills ought to be passed with deliberation by committees. Change should be achieved in a bipartisan manner. Incrementally, day by day, we should reach a consensus – not perfect, by any means – but something that we can be proud of nonetheless.”

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Governor Walker’s Foxconn Bait-and-Switch

Posted by Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30 has not set their biography yet
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on Saturday, 08 September 2018
in Wisconsin

foxconn-groundbreakAs Foxconn pulls the classic bait-and-switch on jobs and commitment to Wisconsin, the people are stuck with a  deal that will cost everyone for 25 more years. Is Walker's big deal turning into just another empty election year promise?


GREEN BAY, WI - Since Governor Walker’s initial announcement of the Foxconn deal he has been promising it will create 13,000 jobs.

But anyone who remembers his promise back in 2010 to create 250,000 jobs during his first term in office knows to take such promises with a large grain of salt.

The same day that Walker made his promise of 13,000 new jobs, Foxconn’s owner Terry Gau would only commit to creating 3,000 jobs and even President Trump said 3,000 jobs would be initially created.

Since that time the Foxconn project has been a moving target with Foxconn officials recently admitting that they now plan to build a much smaller plant less than half the size of the original and one that will require far fewer workers.

That number is likely to become even smaller now that Foxconn admitted what many of us already said would happen: that most of the assembly and production jobs will not be done by people. Foxconn executive Louis Woo admitted as much when he said it’s more likely that Foxconn will only hire 2,000 workers initially and that the majority of the assembly jobs will be done by robots.

dave-hansen-gbThe impact on other state businesses is now a question mark as well since  Foxconn also recently announced they will go to businesses in other states for the parts and materials they need.

The one thing that does seem consistent here, though, is that the people of Wisconsin will be paying off this boondoggle for a good part of their lives.

In fact, even if Foxconn doesn’t hire a single employee, it can still reap up to $1 billion or more in public assistance including: $764 million in local property tax subsidies, $164 million in new state and local roads for Foxconn at the expense of our own local roads and highways, $120 million for a new electric line that will be paid for by utility customers who may have no connection to Foxconn whatsoever, a $139 million sales tax exemption for building materials, and $15 million in state grants to help local governments pay for Foxconn.

It’s been estimated that the Foxconn deal could cost every man, woman and child $500 or more and that taxpayers won’t see their money returned in full until at least 2043 and possibly later.

Governor Walker and Republicans are fond of saying that “you know how to spend your money better than the government does.” Except, of course, when they’re doing favors for their corporate friends. In this case they’ve decided that billions of your and your children’s money is better given to a foreign billionaire than used to feed your family, pay your rent, put toward your health insurance or invest in your local schools and roads.

Given Foxconn’s ever-changing stories, their past history of making big promises only to renege on them, and the Governor’s own issues with the truth, it’s time to call the Foxconn deal what it is, a classic bait-and-switch that is harmful to taxpayers and that will do nothing to help the vast majority of struggling families and communities around the state.

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Local Leaders Call for Fixing the Road Budget

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, 04 September 2018
in Wisconsin

road-construction-workerRoads across the state are deteriorating and the current administration and republican leaders have not addressed the funding problem. Revenue for roads is down and borrowing is up. This is not sustainable.


MAXVILLE, WI - “We budget, and have to save up, for over three years to do one mile or less [of road],” wrote Barb Traun the Maxville Town Clerk. Even with the savings, the Buffalo County Township must borrow to pave roads.

Maxville Township is not alone. Local governments are trying to cobble together a road budget because local road aid hasn’t kept up with inflation for years. According to a report released by the Department of Transportation (DOT) local road aid, in real dollars, dropped almost 4% from 2006 to 2019.

Many local units of government are tired of being told the lack of local road money would be fixed in the next budget – only to see, year after year, the local road aid budgets fall further behind. Locals are committed to keeping roads and bridges in good repair but cannot provide these services if the state does not deliver the funds.

Now they are working to make the issue a top state priority.

Barb Traun’s statement was accompanied by a resolution passed by the Town of Maxville asking the governor and lawmakers to fix the unmet transportation needs. The town’s advocacy is part of a trend.

In the fall of 2016, local governments passed 559 resolutions calling on state leaders to fix the road budget. According to the Transportation Development Association (TDA) over the past few months they received another “200 plus” local government resolutions.

Because of state imposed levy caps, local governments have little ability to raise property taxes to pay for roads. So, they are often stuck with the declining state support.

One avenue locals have available is to raise funds through a “wheel tax”. Eau Claire County took this unpopular approach and enacted a $30 per vehicle “wheel tax” to pay for roads. Other Wisconsin counties are considering a similar approach.

“It’s a start,” Supervisor Colleen Bates recently told the Eau Claire Leader. “It gets us back on track to having roads that are viable.” The county faced increasing pressures as they borrowed to cover road needs. This path became increasingly unsustainable.

Likewise, continuing to borrow is unsustainable for the state.

The recent DOT report shows the state has, according to former DOT Secretary Gottlieb, “engaged in an irresponsible reliance on borrowed money.” In a recent Capitol Times article, Secretary Gottlieb said, “Debt service has increase 85-percent in the last eight years, to the point where we now spend five dollars on debt service for every three dollars we spend on the maintenance of state highways. These problems will continue to worsen until the current funding crisis is resolved.”

Transportation is a key public service. Wisconsin needs leaders who will balance several factors to make wise transportation decisions. This means maintaining our current investments, including our local roads and bridges. It means careful attention to efficiencies and quality construction, planning for future growth and reconciling spending with revenue.

Further, as our climate changes and massive storms deluge us, planning for the future takes on a new urgency.

A prudent transportation budget is a balancing act.

The deteriorating condition of our roads and bridges and the escalating local and state debt shows how deeply Wisconsin is out of balance.

kathleen-vinehoutWe must also consider the realities of the new age of intense weather patterns, which calls for a 21st Century approach to infrastructure that Wisconsin has not begun to realize.

Recently, leaders applauded the completion of a portion of a giant Milwaukee road project known as the Zoo Interchange. As the governor lauded the project as “on time and on budget” we must remember the current budget delayed or left unfinished other parts of this same project. In the road budget, delays mean increased costs later.

The governor’s claim “road projects…are staying on track or getting done sooner” was rated, earlier this year by Politifact as “mostly false”. Walker’s claim that he invested “$3 billion more than what former Governor Jim Doyle spend on transportation over the same period of time” was also rated “mostly false.”

Staying honest and acknowledging the problem is the first step to finding a solution.

There are many solutions. In Secretary Gottlieb’s budget a few year ago he proposed 24 different approaches. It’s time we dust off his 600-page budget and use his guidance to seriously work on solving the transportation problems.

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Supporting the UW Helps All of Wisconsin

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 28 August 2018
in Wisconsin

uwgbBudget cuts and tuition freezes have hampered the UW System’s ability to retain professors, continue research and deliver high quality affordable education.  UW President Ray Cross has a plan to increase funding in the next budget.


MADISON - “Investing in the UW System is an investment in Wisconsin,” said University of Wisconsin President Ray Cross, calling for an investment of another $107.5 million in the next biennial budget.

Over the past several years, budget cuts and tuition freezes hampered the UW System’s ability to retain professors, continue research and deliver high quality affordable education.

To bolster his argument, President Cross cited a recently released study by NorthStar Analytics that showed the UW System adds $24 billion each year to Wisconsin’s economy. The study estimated UW’s economic contribution at a 23-fold return on state dollars invested.

The UW Board of Regents agreed with the President’s proposal, sending the budget forward to Governor Scott Walker. The Governor, for his part, called on the university system and all other parts of state government to submit budgets with no funding increases and a five percent cut.

Budget cuts, and policy changes coupled with a tuition freeze created difficulties for the UW.

Think of tuition and state aid as a teeter-totter. As one goes down, the other must come up. When tuition is frozen, state aid must be increased to pay for the freeze. In addition, the cost of doing business constantly rises. Meaning, budgets must be increased to keep up with rising costs – the cost of inflation.

uw-mdsn-studentsHere’s actually what happen. Tuition has been frozen since 2013. The same budget cut $65.6 million. The freeze was never funded. Both the 2011-13 and the 2015-17 budgets were cut by $250 million. The most recent budget returned a meager $36 million – nowhere near what was needed to make up the cut – let alone allow for funding the tuition freeze (since 2013) and the needed cost of living increases (since 2011).

Tuition was frozen, no cost of living increases provided, and a deep cut to the base was never repaired. Holding down both ends of the teeter-totter caused real stress.

To make matters worse, changes in policy – like the loss of the protection of statutory tenure – sent a clear message: higher education was not valued by state leaders.

Much of the UW budget pays for people. Without funding increases, professors and staff are paid less. People leave the system. Courses and programs are cut. The general reputation of the UW declines.

For example, research reported by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau pegged UW professors’ salaries well below other institutions. UW Stevens Point professors fared the worst, nearly one-quarter below the national average. At seven of thirteen four-year campuses, senior faculty were twenty percent or more below the national average. At two-year campuses, associate professors were thirty percent below the national average.

As a result, it’s increasingly difficult to retain high quality faculty and recruit qualified professors, especially in high demand fields like nursing and engineering. Professors departing the UW System, coupled with difficulties in recruitment, lowers the overall quality of faculty. This also makes it harder for faculty to obtain grants and lowers the quality of education and advisement students receive.

“We lost some of our best people,” UW Madison Chancellor told Atlantic reporter Jon Marcus last year. “It is our very best faculty that get outside offers. If you’re looking at research dollars, those are the people who are bringing in millions in research funding. And the people you replace them with bring in much less. So those retention issues have a real impact.”

The new NorthStar study shows the UW economic impact more than doubled since the last study in 2002. The biggest change was the economic development activities contributing to “a very significant start up activity.” It’s well known Wisconsin lags the nation (the least or near last) in start-up companies.

Fixing the UW means a significant increase in state funding. If policy makers want to keep tuition frozen, let’s begin by funding that tuition freeze. Next, we need to fill in the big budget holes created since Walker’s first budget in 2011. Then we need to create a steady increase pegged to inflation. Finally, let’s truly honor the work of our scholars by rescinding the numerous policy changes that undermine higher education.

Supporting the UW helps all of Wisconsin. It’s time we invest our dollars where we can really grow our state.

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Peering in the Schoolroom Window

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 22 August 2018
in Wisconsin

school-kidsSchool districts have not recovered from the historic cuts to state aid for schools included in Governor Walker’s budgets, forcing school superintendents and boards to make very difficult funding decisions as they deal with the needs of students.


ALMA, WI - “Welcome back to school,” the newsletter proclaimed. The Superintendent welcomed all with a cheery letter describing the amazing team at the school.

As students walk toward the school doors, they see from the outside that everything looks great. My local school district is proud of the new asphalt on the parking lot.

Inside the building, teachers worked hard to create a welcoming environment. For weeks, teachers, administrators and staff prepared a friendly and positive atmosphere for students, including cheerful posters decorating the walls and bright colors adorning the halls.

But, metaphorically, pulling back the blinds and peering deeper into our local classrooms shows a different picture.

Parents looked through the school supply list and made a shopping trip to prepare their children for school. Many teachers made lists and purchased needed supplies with their own checkbook.

To meet student needs, teachers stock their shelves with food for children who come to school hungry. Or hygiene supplies for children who need help keeping their young bodies clean. Often, it means creating a clothes closet for children who need coats, hats, shirts or shoes.

Peering into the schoolroom window we see children in poverty, children suffering from mental illness and/or trauma. Schools are helping more students with special needs. Many schools have more students who are English Learners.

Schools take on the challenge of meeting the needs of all students. However, children in poverty need more resources. They can succeed, but they need more help to do so.

Schools grapple with finding resources to help children with special needs. The federal government requires certain services for special needs students. Regardless of the tight school budget, schools must offer those services.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin only provides twenty-six cents for every dollar schools spend on special needs services. As a consequence of this policy, school boards and superintendents are forced to cut services for general education to meet the federally required special needs services. In essence, all children sacrifice to help fill the gap in the special needs budget.

A similar pattern emerges with the education of children who are English Learners. In 1990, the state paid 63 cents of every dollar a school spent on bilingual/ bicultural programs. Now, the state pays about eight cents of every dollar. As children’s needs increase, resources must be shifted from other programs to make up for the shortfall.

Likewise, mental health needs of students are increasing. For example, a recent survey of students reported nearly half of all girls and thirty-percent of all boys surveyed reported anxiety, along with higher rates of sadness, hopelessness and thoughts of suicide. Students are also increasingly facing trauma, especially students in poverty. Trauma affects students’ cognitive abilities as well as their behavioral and impulse controls. Schools need resources to help these children.

Declining enrollment in more than half of our schools is creating perpetual budget crises and leading to approval of a high number of school referenda just to pay for operations.

In real dollars, state funds flowing to schools are less than a decade ago. Wisconsin public schools suffered historic budget cuts under Gov. Walker. Despite increases in his Election Year budget, schools have not recovered from the massive cuts in 2011. In real dollars, public schools are getting less this year than they received in 2008-09.

kathleen-vinehoutFollowing enactment of Act 10, and the historic cuts to schools, teachers left the profession and fewer college students are becoming teachers. Budget cuts forced rural schools to cut support staff and courses in art, music, ag, along with advanced placement classes. Now, schools across the state are experiencing difficulties filling vacancies.

I serve on the Legislature’s Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding. We heard public testimony from schools around the state that experience serious budget challenges. Often the problems facing rural and inner-city schools are cited as reasons to change the state’s current course on school funding. However, I learned even suburban schools, like Kettle Moraine, are facing program cuts.

When we couple the increasing needs of children with historic budget cuts to schools, we can see through the school room window that challenges cannot be solved by our local school districts alone.

Wisconsin must reverse course and return to making education our top funding priority.

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New Research Points to Benefits of Medicaid Expansion

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, 15 August 2018
in Wisconsin

healthcareSen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about recently released research that points to benefits of Medicaid expansion, under the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately, Wisconsin leaders did not opt to expand Medicaid.


ALMA, WI - “The dramatic decline in the share of children without health insurance over the past two decades is an American health policy success story,” wrote Alan Weil, the Editor in Chief of the journal Health Affairs. The journal is widely seen as a leader in reporting research related to health policy.

Medicaid (MA), known in Wisconsin as BadgerCare, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, are credited with an astounding ninety-four percent participation rate of eligible children. This is the highest level of health care coverage since researchers began measuring children’s coverage.

With one in six Wisconsin children living in poverty, and an increasing rate of childhood poverty, programs that provide health care coverage to children are even more important.

Unfortunately, researchers found states that did not expand MA coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) had fewer eligible children and parents participating in Medicaid.

Wisconsin’s governor chose not to expand MA under the ACA.

States that opted to expand MA successfully increased their level of health care coverage for eligible populations. Those states were effective at outreach, easy enrollment and easy renewal processes.

Researchers however cautioned that cuts to the funding available for outreach and elimination of the “individual mandate” (the requirement that everyone have health insurance) is predicted to lower health coverage for children in the future.

Health news from states that did expand MA coverage brings us a clearer picture of the benefits Wisconsin could reap under a change in our state policy.

Diabetes is one of Wisconsin’s top “avoidable” disease burdens. Diabetes can lead to many other health problems including eye and heart disease. Diabetic patients can control their blood sugar through lifesaving medications. But patients without health insurance frequently cannot afford costly medications.

kathleen-vinehoutGetting folks to fill their prescriptions and use their medicine as prescribed, can prevent other health problems, provide long-term benefits for the patient’s health and lower overall cost.

New research comparing MA expansion states with non-expansion states (like Wisconsin) show a significant increase in patients filling prescriptions for diabetic medication among the expansion states when compared to the non-expansion states. Researchers found older – below age 65 – patients experienced the largest increase in prescription fills.

The study looked at patterns in over ninety-six million prescription fills. Authors suggested that state savings can grow over time as people age but stay healthier. These savings could help justify the state’s investment in MA expansion.

Researchers also looked into better understanding the effect of MA expansion on coverage for those suffering from addiction. Researchers in Oregon suggested MA expansion was associated with a decrease in depressive symptoms and an increase in self-reported mental and physical health.

Getting the full complement of treatment options to MA patients suffering from substance abuse is a challenge for many states. Limits on MA – the nation’s largest payer for addiction treatment – has been a problem for many years.

Restricting access to services for addiction makes no sense, especially with the often small window when patients realize how sick they are and are willing to comply with treatment. For MA expansion states, the Affordable Care Act “ushered in landmark reforms to Medicaid coverage for addiction treatment,” wrote researchers in the recent edition of Health Affairs.

Wisconsin has the option of expanding MA coverage under the ACA. The current administration rejected MA expansion even though data from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau showed over a billion dollar six-year savings to the state budget (fiscal years 2013-14 through FY 18-19).

If leaders chose MA expansion in the current budget, the state would save two hundred and eighty-six million as federal money replaced precious state “general fund” dollars. I proposed using this savings to make a long-needed investment in community-based mental health and addiction recovery services.

Uninsured patients cost all of us, as hospitals shift the costs of those unable to pay their bills onto other patients. Programs like MA help all of us by providing lifesaving coverage.

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Not Much State Revenue Sharing Going On

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, 08 August 2018
in Wisconsin

road-repair-wiSen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about how stagnant shared revenue payments cause problems for local units of government as they try to address increasing costs.


ALMA, WI - “I just hope the county doesn’t cut the budget,” a local judge told me. We were discussing how effectiveness of his alternative treatment court program and how much he needed money to keep the program operating.

Across the State, local governments – counties, cities, village and towns – are preparing budgets for their 2019 operations. A major source of their income is shared revenue from the state.

“Shared revenue” has been a fixture in Wisconsin since 1911. The state sends money to local units of government at the end of July and again in mid-November. These payments help offset the property taxes folks pay to operate local government.

The system of sharing of revenue began as a way to return a portion of the new state income tax to local governments in order to offset the property tax exemptions that were enacted at that time. The state sent the money back to locals based on how much residents of each city, village, town or county paid into the state.

At first, ninety percent of the income taxes collected were sent back to the local governments from which they came. Called “return to origin,” the payments were higher to wealthier areas as those residents paid more in income taxes on their higher incomes.

During the 1970s, the system was changed to match local need. Lawmakers created a complex formula that included population, property values and local revenue efforts. Communities that had a utility, which didn’t pay property taxes, received additional payments. The policy objective was to provide a minimum amount of money from the state even if a community had many costs and low property values.

Changes over the years ‘tweaked’ the formula. Automatic increases were eliminated, and even though the formula was still law it wasn’t followed. During the 2008-2010 recession shared revenue was cut by three and one-half percent.

kathleen-vinehoutIn Governor Walker’s first budget, funding was cut by over nine percent. Since 2012, annual shared revenue aid to local government has remained unchanged.

In addition to not increasing shared revenue payments, the state asked more of local government in the form of mandates. Many of these mandates were unfunded, leaving local governments with more to do without additional resources.

State law limits local governments’ ability to raise revenue from property taxes by imposing levy caps. The combination of levy caps and decreased shared revenue from the state leaves local officials asking ‘What do we cut?’

On this one-way street where the state makes the rules, limits what local government can spend, and doesn’t share increasing revenue, local folks are stuck paying more of the cost and have few options to get extra money.

Many local governments have spent their reserves and are forced to consider borrowing money to cover needed improvements or unexpected costs, like repairing flood damage.

As discretionary programs are eliminated, more of local government budgets are taken up by public safety. Police and fire protection costs are increasing. But neither the levy cap nor the state shared revenue payments cover the increase.

Local officials are forced to choose whether to cut: public safety, repairing the roads, and/or community mental health and drug addiction programs.

Local officials are looking at increasing deficits in coming years. Next year state budget writers must address the shortfall or residents may face dire cuts in local programs.

In a memo I requested from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, shared revenue would need to increase by about 30% just to keep up with inflation since 2004. That would require an investment of $415 million in the next state budget.

That sum compares to the estimated $464 million payment promised by the Governor to Foxconn for building a factory in Racine.

As local governments cut their programs this fall, we will be reminded that we can’t spend the same dollar twice. What goes to Foxconn won’t be available for shared revenue.

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Fix State-Local Mental Health Partnerships

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, 01 August 2018
in Wisconsin

jailedLocal governments faced with decreased shared revenue and Wisconsin Medicaid payments are hard pressed to combat addiction with community-based treatment alternatives instead of incarceration. Sen. Kathleen Vinehout describes the challenges and offers solutions.


ALMA, WI - “Let me tell you a story,” the county supervisor said.

A man I’ll call Frank was picked up for drunk driving. Frank faced a felony charge. Frank was sent by our local judge to a county-based program funded with a grant. Over the years, the county supervisor helped the county get funding from the Treatment Alternatives and Diversion (TAD) program.

“The drug counsellor asked the man why he drank a quart of vodka a day,” the supervisor told me. The man said, “My teeth hurt.”

Counsellors worked to get Frank BadgerCare, and medical care. They got him to a dentist, who pulled all his teeth. Frank spent two months on antibiotics. He’s now sober and able to do some fishing – something he loves and hadn’t done in years. The supervisor thanked me for my help, saying the TAD program saved money and saved lives.

In county court rooms, judges have alternatives to sending those suffering from mental health and addiction issues to prison. But not all judges and counties are able to use this life changing program. In the current budget, the state funds only a tenth of what is needed to expand TAD statewide. In the alternative I wrote to the Governor’s budget, I showed how to pay for fully expanding the program with the same state dollars by rearranging priorities.

Folks like Frank need treatment, not prison. Our state mental health system is not adequate. As a consequence, law enforcement and prison costs are increasing, as lives are wasted.

For example, the new Secretary of Corrections recently told the Audit Committee seventy percent of Wisconsin inmates suffer from addiction and over eighty percent of women in prison have mental health conditions.

Minnesota has a very different approach to mental health and addiction recovery. Minnesota is called by some the Land of Ten Thousand Treatment Centers. Years ago, the state invested in a community-based mental health and addiction recovery system. Now, with a similar crime rate and similar population, our neighbor to the west has less than half its residents in prison compared to Wisconsin.

The key to helping those with addiction and mental health challenges are community-based resources. For two decades, the state cut or level funded local governments in the “shared revenue” counties and cities received. In addition to facing decreased funding, state officials piled on more requirements with less help.

When the state adds more requirements but no more money, locals describe the combined effect of less money and spending caps as “the vise squeezing counties.”

“Relationships work when they share purpose and responsibility,” a local county health official recently wrote. “The State-County partnership delivering health and human services to Wisconsin residents falls short on many fronts.”

For example, he said, mental health services are coordinated through a system called Comprehensive Community Services. Like the help Frank received, many mental health and addiction recovery services are paid for through Medicaid (MA).

“MA revenues are billed services vulnerable to disallowances [non-payment],” the local official said. “When this occurs, the county provider is responsible for paying funds back.” With mental health care “the State has taken back hundreds of thousands of dollars but refused to provide guidance to counties … the State provides little technical assistance.”

kathleen-vinehoutWe can and must do better. Wisconsin must treat local governments like the full partners they are in delivering needed mental health services. We must invest in expanding services as the state works with locals to find the best path forward.

To address the struggle families face across our state, Wisconsin must take the Medicaid expansion money from the feds, cover 79,000 additional people with healthcare and use the freed-up state dollars - almost $300 million estimated for this budget – to make a down payment on a community-based mental health and addiction recovery system.

Locals should be at the table when decisions are made. Flexibility is important. One-size does not fit all. Incentivizing local creativity would improve service delivery.

People are suffering. But there is hope. Comprehensive treatment can be available – just like in Minnesota. Wisconsin can become the Land of Fifteen-Thousand Treatment Centers. Now is the time to act to solve the problems of mental health and addiction. This saves lives and saves money.

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Walker Plan Does Not Make Up for Cost of Sabotage

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 Monday, 30 July 2018
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affordablecareGovernor now finds it convenient to pretend to care about health care costs, but 7 years of sabotage of the ACA reveals that he has been more than willing to play politics with the lives of Wisconsinites.


STATEWIDE - Governor Scott Walker is touting the approval by the Trump Administration of his complicated health insurance scheme that does not even begin to make up for the cost of ongoing efforts to sabotage the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

scott-walker-talksWalker’s complicated scheme called “reinsurance” funnels $200 million in direct public subsidies to insurance companies in the hope that they would lower premiums for some consumers. The proposal does not require that health insurance companies pass on any savings to consumers, and even if they did it would only impact a small percentage of Wisconsinites.

Reinsurance will not help anyone who gets insurance at work or small businesses or most people who buy insurance on their own. Although Governor Walker claims it is focused on people who buy insurance on their own, it will not impact 83% of the Wisconsinites who buy health coverage through the ACA marketplace and receive tax subsidies. Reinsurance will not effect deductibles or copays. It will only modestly help the 17% of enrollees who make too much money to be eligible to federal tax credits

Walker’s press release touts a 3.5% reduction in premiums for some Wisconsinites who buy insurance on the ACA marketplace, a much lower number then what was claimed when the proposal was introduced.  But according to the Urban Institute just two of Donald Trump’s acts of sabotage, refusal to enforce the individual mandate and the extension of short term “lemon” health plans will increase premiums by 18.2%.

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

  1. Opening BadgerCare to everyone in Wisconsin as a public option would reduce premiums and deductibles by an average of 38%. It would also help people who buy insurance on their own and small businesses, most of whom cannot afford to provide coverage to their employees.

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

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

In addition, although Walker has decided to tout what he is doing to stabilize the ACA, he approved the filing of a lawsuit by the Wisconsin Attorney General that would strike down the law, taking health care away to nearly 200,000 Wisconsinites.

“Scott Walker now finds it politically convenient in an election year to pretend to care about health care costs, but 7 years of sabotage of the ACA reveals that he has been more than willing to play politics with the lives of Wisconsinites who do not have good coverage at work,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “More corporate subsidies are not the answer. It is a simple truth that only “we the people,” through the agency of our own democratic government, can guarantee health care to everyone in Wisconsin.”

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Happy Birthday, Medicare and Medicaid!

Posted by Patty Schachtner, State Senator 10th District
Patty Schachtner, State Senator 10th District
State Senator Patty Schachtner represents Wisconsin’s tenth senate district. The
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medicare-patientNorthwestern Wisconsin's new Senator Patty Schachtner talks about these crucial health care coverage programs and how we need to expand access to them.


SOMERSET, WI - Medicare and Medicaid will celebrate their 53rd birthday on July 30. Since the programs’ inception, millions of elderly, low-income, and disabled Americans have benefited from crucial health care coverage. This coverage helps individuals afford hospital stays, fill prescription drugs, and access preventative care.

The proposals, packaged together under the Social Security Amendments of 1965, were signed into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson in Independence, Missouri. The concept was simple: people would contribute during their working years and insure themselves against health ailments during old age or poverty.

At the time, more than 18 million Americans were age 65 or older, and about a third of all seniors lived in poverty. Many seniors feared that medical expenses would wipe out saving and limited incomes, and almost half of Americans aged 65 and older had no health insurance.

During the bill signing, President Johnson detested the “injustice which denies the miracle of healing to the old and to the poor.” The 1965 proposals were to end this perceived injustice, and strengthen the health and economic status of millions of vulnerable Americans.

patty-schachtnerBy the end of 1966, 24 million Americans were insured by Medicare and Medicaid. The programs marked an era of healthier communities and increased financial independence. Just ten years after the 1965 Act, Medicare and Medicaid helped cut the poverty rate among seniors by 47.4 percent.

Despite the success of the programs, federal and state officials have sought to reduce access to health care coverage. The House Republican budget offered this June would cut funding for Medicare by $537 billion. It would also shuffle Medicare enrollees toward a “voucher system” to purchase private insurance. Medicaid and other affiliated programs would be cut by $1.5 trillion, and recipients would have to jump through new bureaucratic barriers.

At the state level, a refusal to expand Medicaid – as 32 states have already done – has cost state taxpayers $190 million a year, $1.07 billion in total, all while covering fewer individuals. This is in addition to Governor Walker’s 2013 decision to reduce income eligibility limits for Medicaid, which resulted in 63,000 Wisconsinites losing their Medicaid coverage.

Instead of making it harder for individuals to receive health care – and live independent lives – we need to expand access to it. That means protecting Medicare and Medicaid this birthday and beyond.

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Democratic Radio "Just Fix It"

Posted by Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling, State Senator Dist 32 (B)
Jennifer Shilling lives in La Crosse with her husband and two children. She curr
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on Thursday, 26 July 2018
in Wisconsin

road-constructionCrumbling roads, deteriorating highways and structurally unsafe bridges have created headaches for Wisconsin drivers.


MADISON, WI – Senator Jennifer Shilling (D-La Crosse) offered the weekly Democratic radio address today.

The audio file of this week’s address can be found here.

A written transcript of the address is below:

jennifer-shilling“Hi, I’m State Senator Jennifer Shilling with this week’s Democratic Radio Address.

“As the summer travel season continues, so have the headaches for Wisconsin drivers.

“Crumbling roads, deteriorating highways and structurally unsafe bridges have created a dangerous situation.

“After eight years of Republican budgeting, Wisconsin has over 2,800 bridges that need repairs and our roads are among the worst in the nation.

“Even the Republican chair of the state’s budget committee admitted that “The roads in Illinois are better than in Wisconsin.”

“Rather than delaying projects and laying off workers, Democrats are pushing to prioritize community safety and expand economic opportunities across our state.

“We’re proud to stand with the overwhelming majority of Wisconsin workers, families and businesses who want a responsible, long-term funding solution to repair our crumbling roads and improve transportation safety.

“If you’ve noticed how bad our roads have become, then you know it’s time to #JustFixIt and build toward a brighter future.

“Thank you.”

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Kimberly-Clark Bailout Plan Questioned

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, 26 July 2018
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kc-layoff-wbayAfter management wrestles $20,000 pay cuts from workers, Green Bay's Senator Dave Hansen doubts company's sincerity in fulfilling their part of the $115 million bailout deal.


GREEN BAY, WI - Back in January, Kimberly-Clark Corporation (KC) of Neenah announced it was considering closing two manufacturing facilities in the Fox Valley. These included the Neenah Nonwovens Facility, within the next 18 months, and the Cold Spring Facility in Fox Crossing after consultation and negotiation with the plant's labor stakeholders.

According to Kimberly-Clark, the whole thing would result in at least 600 people being cut around here. Given the $4.5 billion state incentive package then being heaped upon Foxconn, local politicians quickly asked for something to be done in Madison to save these jobs.

The Assembly passed a tax break package for KC 56-37 in February and sent it to the state Senate where it stalled. Many in the Senate balked at the cost. The tax credit on jobs alone would cost the state between $100 million and $115 million over the 15 years, or over $191,000 per job saved, and the company itself was noncommittal on whether the tax breaks would even entice them to reverse their decision.

After it ratified a new labor agreement Monday night with it's labor stakeholders (United Steelworkers), KC now says it would consider the tax incentives to keep Fox Crossing plant open. Unfortunately, union sources say the new pact would cut workers pay by more than $20,000 per person.

dave-hansen-gb“While I am pleased to hear that there is an opportunity to avoid the closure of Kimberly-Clark’s Cold Spring and Neenah Nonwovens facilities I still have serious concerns," says Green Bay Sen. Dave Hansen in a statement released Wednesday. “At a time when there is a worker shortage and the Legislature is offering over $100 million to Kimberly-Clark to keep the mills open it is deeply disappointing that K-C’s precondition for accepting such a generous offer from the taxpayers is to force their workers to accept deep cuts to their pay and benefits."

Hansen, at least, is one senator who still doubts KC's sincerity in fulfilling their part of the bailout deal.

“Under the bill introduced earlier by Senator Roth," (Sen. Roger Roth, R-Appleton) "there is no guarantee in place for how long the mills will stay open and Kimberly-Clark could lay off as much as 7% of their workers and still receive the taxpayer funded subsidies," said Hansen. "Nor are there any protections for workers at K-C’s mill in Marinette."

The Green Bay Senator also feels the Roth bill falls short in that it fails to address challenges faced by the state’s paper industry as a whole.

“When the deal with Foxconn was voted on I joined a number of my Democratic colleagues warning that Republicans and the Governor were opening the door for other businesses to ask for similar treatment," Hansen concludes. "If this Foxconn-style bailout is approved for Kimberly-Clark how many more businesses will be stepping forward looking for a handout from the taxpayers?”

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Federal and State Decisions Affect Health Insurance Premiums for Wisconsinites

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, 25 July 2018
in Wisconsin

affordablecareCandidate for Governor Kathleen Vinehout argues the state should enact her Badger Health Benefit Marketplace legislation after state and federal actions impact health insurance premiums for Wisconsinites.


MADISON - Recent news on the health front should give Wisconsinites pause when considering the direction our state is headed related to affordable health coverage.

Earlier this year, the Governor signed Special Session bills into law that limit access to needed healthcare. For example, one provision of the new law will essentially require cash strapped farmers to sell their cows or essential farm equipment to obtain BadgerCare. Another example is a provision that will set in place outside work requirements for caregivers (who already have a full-time, non-paying job) but rely on BadgerCare.

For the state to enforce these new provisions, the federal government, through a waiver process, must grant approval. The state filed its waiver request, which is pending approval by the Trump administration. However, a recent federal court ruling stopped similar plans in Kentucky. The legal wrangling leaves uncertainty for the Governor who hopes to save costs by eliminating BadgerCare coverage for some Wisconsinites.

healthcare-family-drThose who may lose BadgerCare cannot afford commercial policies. Folks without insurance often delay needed care, end up sicker, and seek care in the Emergency Room. Those without insurance frequently cannot pay for care even though hospitals are required to provide it. To make ends meet, hospitals raise rates for everyone else. Thus, more uninsured folks mean higher costs for all of us.

A recent poll, reported last week in The Hill, found 49% of those surveyed said it is more difficult to afford health insurance premiums, doctor visits and prescription drugs this year, compared to last year. In addition, almost 80% of respondents believe the government should be doing more to make health care more affordable.

However, action at the federal level is making health care less affordable.

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) pegged the GOP repeal of Affordable Care Act (ACA) individual mandate as accounting for an average ten-percent rise in insurance premiums next year.

The Trump administration abruptly stopped payments under the ACA to help even-out costs faced by health plans. The payments are made to plans that incur high costs from unusually sick patients. The idea behind the policy is similar to the basic idea of insurance – sharing the costs by sharing the risk. The interruption of “risk adjustment” funds brings higher premiums as some health plans face higher than expected medical bills.

Federal officials also announced they were cutting funds for navigators, or outreach nonprofits that help people sign up for health coverage under the ACA. Less money for this important work means less people covered – and fewer people in the pool results in higher costs for the rest of us.

Last month the Trump administration announced it would stop defending the ACA from a constitutional challenge that could affect protections for people with pre-existing conditions. This decision has significant implications for folks in our state. Kaiser Health News reported last week that residents in GOP-led states opposed to the ACA have the most to lose if pre-existing conditions are not protected.

Wisconsin and Texas led the list of twenty governors and state attorneys general that filed a challenge to the constitutionality of the ACA in court last February.

The new Kaiser Family Foundation study estimated at least one in four Wisconsinites under age 65 have one or more pre-existing conditions that could cause them to be denied health coverage, or have a condition excluded from coverage or would be forced to pay exorbitant rates to keep coverage. These conditions could include anything from acne to migraines to pregnancy.

Just living to age sixty means one has a pre-existing condition. Not surprisingly, the study reported data from 2008, which was prior to enactment of the ACA, those of ages 60-64 were most likely to experience insurance denials based on pre-existing conditions.

kathleen-vinehoutOne answer to rising health costs is to create our own health care marketplace. I authored the Badger Health Benefit Marketplace and introduced it as Senate Bill 359. This uniquely Wisconsin marketplace provides lower cost insurance to owners and employees of small businesses and those who buy insurance on their own.

While Wisconsin rates for individual insurance went up an average of 38% in 2018 over 2017, a system similar in Minnesota dropped costs an average of ten-percent in 2018. Minnesota’s costs for an average low-cost silver plan are expected to drop another 11% in 2019.

Our state must do better at creating policy to provide affordable health care for all.

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Honoring Our Aging Veterans

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, 18 July 2018
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veterans-agingSen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about the importance of honoring Wisconsin veterans by providing quality care at our state veterans’ homes and the work the LAB did to investigate staffing problems and maintenance issues at the King Veteran home in Waupaca.


ALMA, WI - “How are things at our veterans’ homes?” the Korean War vet asked me at a forum on veterans’ issues. The man was particularly concerned about what he heard about care at our Veterans Homes.

Veterans issues are personal for so many, including my family. Both my parents were veterans. My nephew serves now. My dad was a medic who flew rescue missions into Korea. Like so many, his experiences haunted him. He never talked about the trauma until he was dying.

On July 27th, we will celebrate the 65th anniversary of Korean War Armistice Day. Wisconsin is required by law to issue a proclamation for the observation of this day, asking the public to contemplate the sacrifices members of the U.S. Armed Forces made during the Korean War.

This commemoration, and a similar recognition for Vietnam Veterans Day on March 29th, exists because of the efforts of Alan Wright and many others who worked with me in 2009 to establish these important commemorations.

kathleen-vinehoutVeterans served us and it’s our obligation to serve them. When we strive to provide the best service to our veterans, we show our deep gratitude for their service. Correcting the deficits at our state veterans’ homes is a moral imperative in our service to veterans.

Wisconsin has three veterans’ homes: King in Waupaca County, Union Grove in Racine County and Chippewa Falls. Through these homes and other programs, Wisconsin made a commitment to care for our veterans. State officials are not keeping our promise.

Several audits, conducted by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB), including one released in the past year, provide details on what must be done to improve care at our homes, especially at King.

Our veterans are more in need. For example, over nine years of the audit study, there was a 28% increase in the number of residents at King with dementia and a 262% increase in the residents diagnosed with PTSD. Staffing, although increased a few years ago, hasn’t kept up with the increased needs of seriously ill veterans. Neither has staff training. Vacant positions are increasing. Mandatory overtime may be causing unsafe conditions.

Regular staff shortages pulled caregivers to other areas, leaving veterans without the consistent care they needed.

LAB conducted a survey of staff. Among those who participated, eighty-six percent of staff said they “disagreed” or “strongly disagreed” that King was adequately staffed; three-quarters of staff reported morale as being “poor” or “very poor.” Almost forty percent said they planned to look for another job in the next six months.

These results indicate very serious management problems. At the audit committee hearing, members pleaded with leaders to take these issues seriously. I left the hearing unconvinced changes would happen.

Auditors looked at concerns related to deteriorating facilities and found the Department of Veterans Affairs did not develop a systematic process for comprehensively identifying and assessing building projects. Auditors detailed a long list of needed projects including several related to potential resident safety.

Auditors documented money transferred from King to other programs. A lack of funds likely led to delayed maintenance, poor salaries and staff vacancies.

Especially serious was the way potential abuse, neglect and misappropriation of residents’ property were handled by management. In the LAB survey, thirty-seven respondents said they experienced negative consequences when they reported neglect, abuse, or misappropriation of property. Over one-third of respondents who witnessed abuse, neglect or misappropriation of property did not “always” report it – likely because they were afraid of negative consequences.

State and federal laws exist to protect our residents. Wisconsin must protect veterans and their families by protecting workers from retaliation when they report problems. We must better train managers so they understand the legal and moral problems of retaliating against workers who speak up. We must discipline and remove managers who retaliate.

To fix our veterans’ institutions, officials must stop treating King like a “cash cow” and siphoning money away from the home. Instead, wages should be raised, more staff should be hired, and facilities should be repaired.

We must engage staff, residents, and family members in finding solutions, by creating councils or regular, decision-making bodies that involve everyone in problem solving.

We face solvable problems. As stewards of our veterans’ sacrifices we must fix them.

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Senator Taylor Responds to Milwaukee Brewer Josh Hader’s Offensive Tweets

Posted by Lena Taylor, State Senator, 4th District
Lena Taylor, State Senator, 4th District
Lena Taylor, State Senator, 4th District has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 18 July 2018
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milw-brewers-miller-parkMADISON – The ten-year old social media posts that have recently surfaced by Josh Hader are incredibly offensive. I recognize that Josh has apologized for his actions and stressed that those past tweets do not reflect his current beliefs.

As with Donte DiVincenzo, who had questionable posts written when he was 14 years old, we are asked to remember that Hader was a teen when these things were said. However, the irony of Colin Kapernick— who said nothing inappropriate—being kept off the field for raising issues of race and inhumane treatment is not lost on me or many in the community. The contrast between losing your career for speaking a peaceful truth to race relations and receiving sensitivity training for racially incendiary language is glaring.

This is a teachable moment for all of us. In Hader’s case, these vile attitudes came from somewhere…he heard them or learned them somewhere. I’m glad to see the Brewers respond in a way that incorporates education and awareness of these issues.

****

Yesterday, a series of offensive tweets by Milwaukee Brewer Josh Hader were recently uncovered. Senator Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) released this statement upon learning about these tweets.

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FULL VIDEO: Rewatch the Democratic Gubernatorial Debate

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, 13 July 2018
in Wisconsin

demgovdebateOn Thursday, the eight major remaining Democratic candidates for Governor met at WUWM studios in Milwaukee. Here is the video of the debate in its entirety.


MILWAUKEE - On Thursday, July 12, 2018, the eight major remaining Democratic candidates for Governor, Tony Evers, Matt Flynn, Mike McCabe, Mahlon Mitchell, Josh Pade, Kelda Helen Roys, Paul Soglin, and Kathleen Vinehout, met at WUWM studios in Milwaukee. Here is the video of the debate in its entirety.

Rewatch the Democratic Gubernatorial debate in its entirety as it was aired on TODAY'S TMJ4 and tmj4.com below.

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Video provided by YouTube.

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Critical Needs Go Unmet at Our Struggling 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
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on Wednesday, 11 July 2018
in Wisconsin

school-kidsThe Wisconsin Budget Project recently provided insight into state school aid, which has not been restored to the funding level in 2011 when Gov. Walker made historic cuts. With schools struggling with less aid and increasing needs, resolving funding issues and the school funding formula are a priority.


BIRCHWOOD, WI - How can a rural school meet critical needs when money for schools is less than adequate?

“A school board member went door-to-door asking for support,” Birchwood Superintendent Diane Johnson said to members of the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding. “He raised $3,000 to get the front doors locked.” The money raised was for purchase of a long-needed intercom system at the front door. “The doors were not locked during the day until this month,” Dr. Johnson told Commission members in May.

Dr. Johnson went on to say next would come an effort to buy key fobs for the staff and re-key the doors. The school didn’t lock the doors or change the locks for over 50 years. With a population of less than 500 in Birchwood, “everyone has a key to the school.”

School funding is not adequate for students in many communities across our state. Mounting mental health and school safety issues are just some of the problems facing superintendents, school boards and bookkeepers like Birchwood’s Bonita Basty.

Ten percent of Birchwood’s tight school budget must be transferred to cover required costs for students with special needs, Ms. Basty explained. In addition, the small district is depleting its reserve funds to cover increasing costs for students with special needs.

The state pays only about a quarter of the costs for special education despite the legal requirement that school districts must provide these services. Both federal and state special education reimbursement dropped over the years, while the needs of students grew.

kathleen-vinehoutAcross the state, the Commission heard testimony regarding impossible trade-offs school districts are forced to make between basic building maintenance, school safety, achievement, accountability and student needs.

A new study released by the Wisconsin Budget Project, an initiative of the nonpartisan advocacy group Kids Forward, provided insight into why Wisconsin schools face such difficult challenges and what options exist to make changes in budget priorities.

“In 2019, the state will invest less in public schools than it did in 2011, something that has been true of every year in between as well. In 2019, Wisconsin school districts will receive $153 million less in state aid than in 2011 in inflation-adjusted dollars, or 2.6% less,” noted the Budget Project.

The series of cuts made to schools over the years add up. The Budget Project reported that between 2012 and 2019, Wisconsin spent a cumulative $3.5 billion dollars less in state aid to schools than if the state had retained the 2011 funding level.

Looking at where dollars moved in Wisconsin’s budget, the Budget Project reported the share of tax dollars used for schools dropped since 2011. In that year, Wisconsin spent almost forty percent of tax revenue on school districts. By 2019, this percent is estimated to drop to 32 percent.

The report provided some answers to the question, if WI didn’t spend money on schools, where did the money go? Since 2011, majority lawmakers enacted more than 100 tax changes.

“… some of which are extremely slanted in favor of the wealthy and well connected. One example is the Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit which in 2017 gave 11 filers who each earned over $30 million an average estimated tax cut of $2 million each, according to figures from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. The Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit will reduce state revenue by an estimated $324 million in 2019.

“The combined cost of the new tax cuts has climbed each year, starting from a low of $57 million in 2012, and reaching $2 billion in 2019 in inflation-adjusted dollars. The combined total cost of the tax cuts adds up to $8.7 billion over eight years.”

Wisconsin needs to increase funding for schools. One place to go to find dollars without increasing total spending, is the expensive corporate cash subsidies and tax breaks given out in the past eight years.

However, the state also needs to change how money is distributed to districts. We need a new funding formula based on student needs. Much public testimony given to the Commission detailed greater student needs because of having parents suffering from addiction, and students with challenges related to mental illness and trauma. Additionally, there are increasing needs and less state support for students in poverty, with special needs, and English learners.

The Wisconsin Budget Project study makes it clear – money is available if lawmakers are willing to change priorities.

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