Monday December 11, 2017

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Trickle Down Policies

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
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on Friday, 08 December 2017
in Wisconsin

trump-ryanA guest column from Senate Jon Erpenbach on how Federal policies affect our lives and the state budget bottom line.


MADISON - For most of us, Washington DC and the politics of President Donald Trump and a Republican Congress seem a million miles away. But the reality is that our lives, and the lives of those we love, are impacted by the Federal government and decisions made in Washington DC every single day. Whether you drive to work on a road that gets Federal funds, receive or are building social security, qualify for Medicare, have a child in school, receive the child tax credit, eat food from a farm that is subsidized, take medication that is regulated; all of this and countless more daily operations of our lives are impacted by the decisions made in Washington DC.

taxes-The Federal tax bill, which will be reconciled soon between the Senate and the House, spends in deficit. That is an inarguable point because the bill enacts tax cuts that are not paid for. Because the bill has deficit spending, it is regulated by another Federal law that prohibits deficit spending. While tax breaks enacted for corporations and wealthy will remain in place, programs that benefit our elderly or low income individuals will be cut. It will be an automatic action unless Congress passes a bill to reverse their “Pay As You Go” 2010 law. The Medicare the cuts, although immediate, are capped yearly but will still be felt deeply simply because of the number of people that qualify for this Federal health care program for the elderly. For other Federal programs the cuts will simply come without regard for need.

According to the Associated Press, “The program that would be most affected by the automatic cuts is Medicare, whose budget would be slashed by more than $25 billion a year. Other programs that would experience deep cuts include vocational training for individuals with disabilities, block grants for foster care and Meals on Wheels and federal funding for historically black colleges and universities.”

jon-erpenbachThere are consequences for decisions made in Washington DC and sometimes they are not so obvious. If you are lucky enough to make an income three times the Wisconsin median income, the tax plan being decided in Washington DC will likely benefit you. But if you are like the rest of us who are the proven fuel in the US economy, those that spend all the income they receive on cost of living, it will be harder to find a benefit. If you are over 65, disabled, a foster child, a farmer, a construction worker, an addict in recovery, a Meals on Wheels recipient, or living on a fixed income, be ready for cuts to your income, health care and services; not only as the primary action of the tax plan but the mandatory secondary action of current Federal law.

Wisconsin will have lots of tough choices in the upcoming budgets because of less revenue from the Federal government and fewer block grants to support our state budget. I stand ready as a member of the Joint Committee on Finance to help navigate Federal cuts and to work to help make the best decisions we can for the people of the State of Wisconsin given this fiscal shortfall.

You can contact my office at 608-266-6670 or toll free 888-549-0027 or via email at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Free Tuition for Two-Year and Tech Colleges Means Freedom to Learn

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

matc-studentsResearch shows the need for people to work in middle skill jobs, the largest share of jobs in Wisconsin. Sen. Vinehout’s proposal will give residents the opportunity to get an education and give Wisconsin a pool of skilled workers.


MADISON - “Every Wisconsinite should have access to education or training past high school… To be pursued at whatever point and pace makes sense for individual workers and industries,” wrote researchers at the Center on Wisconsin Strategy (COWS) eight years ago.

Long before the current shortage of skilled workers, COWS anticipated the need for additional training. In 2009, the Center teamed up with the Workforce Development Board, Skills2Compete and others to study “Wisconsin’s Forgotten Middle-Skill Jobs.”

Middle skill jobs are those jobs that require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree. The study I quoted above, found “Middle skill jobs still represent the largest share of jobs in Wisconsin – some 54 percent – and the largest share of job openings into the next decade.”

Georgetown University just released a study that found similar conclusions. “Across the nation, good jobs have shifted toward Associate Degree holders and away from workers with a high school diploma or less.”

In response to the demonstrated need, I am proposing free tuition for Wisconsin residents at our Technical Colleges and University of Wisconsin two-year campuses.

Expanding our skilled workforce is the surest way to grow our economy and raise wages. Raising wages in Wisconsin should be a top priority. We are ranked 18th worst in the nation in average wages and salaries.

My proposal, Freedom to Learn, allows students to learn at their own pace and choose their own course of study.

Long ago, I worried about how to pay for college. My only option was a two-year campus. I know firsthand what it’s like to not know how to make ends meet and also go to college. Many see tuition as an insurmountable obstacle. I want to eliminate any hesitation someone might have in pursuing his or her opportunities and dreams.

I want to make it possible for someone who is already working or has family obligations, doesn’t have the cash and can’t afford to take time off, to get the education and training they want. Freedom to Learn, in allowing students to attend school part-time, and learn at their own pace, goes further than tuition programs in other states.

In 2014, Tennessee became the national leader in eliminating tuition and fees for incoming full-time students. Since then, several states followed including most recently, California.

Like other states, my proposal uses state tax dollars as the last dollar scholarship. This means students apply for financial aid. Free tuition grants kick in after all other federal and state aid are used. Wisconsin already has a similar last dollar free tuition program for our veterans.

My program is modeled after Tennessee. Republican Governor Bill Haslam showed the nation what works. As Tennessee added dollars for tuition, the number of students applying for student loans dropped by 17%. In addition, the number of students enrolled in two-year and tech colleges increased by 30%.

Under the proposal I recently released, the cost of free tuition at two-year and tech colleges is funded by repealing the manufacturing portion of the Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit. This tax credit is one of 43 different tax credits claimed by businesses in the past year. The effect of this specific tax credit is to reduce state taxes owed to near zero.

Corporate profits and corporate cash reserves are at an all-time high, while wages are stagnant. Companies have the money. They don’t have the workers. Trading one manufacturers’ tax break for a pool of skilled workers is a good exchange.

Freedom to Learn is a great opportunity to invest in the potential of our own Wisconsin workers and grow our economy from the inside out. It makes more sense than trying to lure workers from other states or giving billions to one foreign corporation.

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Wis Democracy Campaign "Kochs, WMC Behind Bills"

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Sunday, 03 December 2017
in Wisconsin

koch-brothersMADISON - Over the last couple weeks, the influence of the Koch Brothers and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) has been on display, if you were looking.

And we were looking!

First, we discovered that two senior officials at the Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity suddenly resigned to do campaign work for Michael Screnock, the Walker ally who is running for Wisconsin Supreme Court:

Court candidate hires former Koch group executives as campaign advisors

Then we saw that Koch groups were the only ones that registered in favor of another bill that Walker just signed which will deregulate several occupations:

Walker approves Koch bills to loosen licensing

WMC and the Kochs were behind yet another bill Walker just signed that’ll let landowners do just about anything with their property, even if it wasn’t zoned for such a purpose:

Walker signs lax land-use bill backed by big boys

And WMC, along with a veritable polluters’ lobby, is backing a bill to do away with Wisconsin’s regulations that protect our clean air:

WMC behind Republican bill to repeal state air pollution rules

This is why I say that the Koch Brothers and WMC are the folks that really run Wisconsin – not Walker or Fitzgerald or Vos. They’re just the hired help.

You can count on us to keep showing you who the real powers are in Wisconsin – and what effect they are having on all of our lives!

Best,

Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

P.S. If you appreciate our urgent work, please send us a tax-deductible gift today. It’s simple: Just click here. Or mail it in the old-fashioned way to the address below. Thanks!

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Confusing Health Coverage Dominates Thanksgiving Conversations

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, 27 November 2017
in Wisconsin

thanksgiving-family-dinnerConversations around the Thanksgiving dinner table reveal people are confused about health care, spending more and unhappy about health insurance coverage. Approaching deadlines are adding a sense of urgency.


ALMA, WI - “My family conversations over Thanksgiving were all about health care,” Mary shared with me. “It’s all so confusing.”

Mary’s family is not alone. From recent conversations, I’m betting that health care dominated talk at many Thanksgiving gatherings.

Premiums are too high. Young people worry about finding money to buy insurance. Older people are trying to figure out Medicare. Many are struggling with unpaid or surprise bills.

Everyone has a health care story.

“My employer pays $3,000 for my HSA [health savings account]. What happens if they decide not to pay?”

“My premium is almost double what it would be if I lived across the river in Minnesota. Why?”

“The insurance company told us the doctor was covered. Then we got a bill for $2,800. Insurance said he was NOT covered. How can this be?”

“Becky turned 26. We can’t keep her on our plan. The company offered to cover her – alone – for another $876 a month. Can you believe it? They are not charging us any less now that Becky’s not on our plan. How can that be?”

“Do I stay on my individual plan or do I move my small business to a ‘small business health options’ Obamacare plan? Can I deduct my insurance as a business expense?”

Great uncertainty this fall about the future of health insurance has fueled confusion. Efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare at the federal level and the Governor’s plan to have the state self-insure state workers, left insurance companies uncertain about the future. Some left the market.

Previously available plans, through the healthcare.gov marketplace, are no longer available.

Six plans previously offered to state employees, no longer cover them. My plan was one of them. I researched options, trying to find a covered doctor within an hour’s drive. I couldn’t find one within two hours’ drive! I called the Human Resources person. He spent several days researching my problem. Eventually, he came to my office.

Both of us worked on different phone lines. While waiting on hold for a long time, we chatted. The HR people were very busy. I learned 20-30 lawmakers lost their coverage and their providers. Many other state workers lost their providers. The information provided on the websites was not accurate. One plan offered a provider on the website but told us the provider was NOT covered on the phone. Another plan told us on the phone they DID offer a provider, but that provider was not listed on their website.

I represent about 172,000 people. I’m worried, if I can’t figure health care out, how can everyone else?

Norman, my brother-in-law, echoed the same concern. After a long discussion of the problems facing our family members, he exclaimed, “I am a doctor turned accountant, who’s now retired. I’ve got the time and the knowledge. And I can’t figure this out. How can anyone else understand it?”

One source of confusion is different deadlines. All of them rapidly approaching.

For those who buy insurance for themselves, the sign-up period is much shorter than prior years. By December 15th, people need to sign up for individual health insurance at healthcare.gov. Sign up is important for everyone who buys insurance on their own. It’s especially important, for adults in their late twenties, who may have previously been able to stay on their parents’ plan.

Small business owners may have a choice to also use the Small Business Health Options Program. This deadline is also December 15th. If you work with an agent, be sure to contact them much sooner. Agents are very busy helping folks talk through decisions.

Medicare recipients have until December 7th to make their choices for the New Year. Others have differing deadlines depending on your employer.

The more insurance companies invent their own rules, the federal government waffles on its commitments and the state fails to provide leadership, the less the public has sympathies for government, insurers or providers.

Confusion over health coverage is driving many I’ve spoken with to throw up their hands and tell me, “I’ve never said this before, but can’t we just have some kind of National Health Insurance?”

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The Zen of Deer Hunting

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, 21 November 2017
in Wisconsin

deer-huntingSen. Vinehout writes about her experience deer hunting on her farm in western Wisconsin, the sights, sounds and beauty of hunting on opening day. She also wishes you a Happy Thanksgiving, and she hopes you enjoy reading her story.


ALMA, WI - Sitting alone in the fog. Blending in with the grass and trees. Don’t move. Just listen. Breathe.

“Caaw, caaw caaw.” Two crows overhead. One higher, hoarser, more nasal. A young one. Looking for food. They are opportunists. Listen.

“Tuk, tuk, tuk tuk, tuk.” A wild turkey to the north.

The soft whoosh of wings overhead. Something flies by. Very still. Don’t move. Wondering. An eagle screeches. A Hairy Woodpecker drums. It’s still early. Dark. Quiet. Watch.

A glimpse of a silhouette on the horizon. Too far. Too dark. Stay still. Watching. Waiting. Listening.

A twig snaps. My heart pounds. Stay still. I silently chuckle as the red squirrel starts to chatter.

The distant sound of gunshots to the west; answered by two shots to the east. The red squirrel again scolds.

The morning turns slowly from night to day. Wisps of fog linger above the hills. Thirty shades of brown and gray. I meditate. The rhythms of nature are so much slower than our hectic lives. The shades of brown and grey so much subtler.

Another silhouette. Not grass. It’s moving. Coming nearer. I watch as it angles away. My heart’s pounding. Be still. Breathe.

More shadows take shape. What I imagined as wild creatures, solidify into small bushes and clumps of dark grasses. Mother Nature playing with my mind.

Listen.

“Tzeet, tsititititit tit!” a small bird hops from branch to branch in a nearby brush pile. Size of a junco. A flash of a salmon colored breast, an eye stripe. What is that bird?

Daylight settles in. The weather turns from a cool, enveloping dampness to a steadier, drier, cold wind with a bite to it. I zip my jacket and pull down my hat. Breathe.

The sound of wind, a whisper I heard before I felt. Whooshing through the tops of the spruce. The rustling of leaves, the fabric of the blind.

Then settle back to blend once again with the trees and the grasses. Listening. Watching. Waiting.

Movement to the left. A slow turn of my head. I see a flock of White Throated Sparrows flitting in the bushes. Feeding.

“Huuurp, Huuurp, Huurrp.” The nasal, honking of the Trumpeter Swans. The pair spent the summer in the backwater of our valley. I don’t see them, but I know their voices.

“Graaak, Graak.” A throaty deep hoarse call, “Kraaaaah.” The ravens are back.

Many crows calling. “Caarr, Caarrr.” Another answer, “Prrrrk, Prrrk.” They come closer.

Two “caaw” together. Very close. I stick my head out of the blind and peak up. Sitting on branches near me two crows eye me. One cocks her head. She seems to say, “how can you find breakfast sitting there, not moving?” I wait. Listen.

The sound of tires on gravel. Someone else is going to find breakfast.

“ToWEE toWee toWeeto, tweet.” The high rapid song of goldfinches near me. Though I can’t see them in the tall grasses, I know they are flitting from seed head to seed head. Feeding for winter. I listen.

Above me, a chorus of Canadian Geese. A slow paced, mellow, “h-ronk, h-ronk, h-ronk, h-ronk.” I feel drowsy. Minutes pass.

The wind picks up. Building like the sound of trains coming from opposite directions. The fabric of the blind flaps. A sustained gust picks up one edge of the blind. Cold fingers, nose and toes.

The crack of a rifle behind me, echoing down the valley. I’m alert. Heart pounding. Breathe. Minutes pass.

A dark shape in a far-off field. Too far to make the heart beat faster, but fun to watch. She grazes. And I wait and watch. Listening.

Tundra swans overhead. They fly low. A gentle “Klooo, kwoo.” I remember how they babble all night long. Like teenagers at a slumber party. I focus on my breath. Listening.

What I miss when I forget about the power of being still. All around me. Every day. I feel a reverence for my place in the world, for my place in the circle of life. I share this story with you. A bit of a Thanksgiving gift. Wishing you peace and gratitude. The power of now.

For those who are wondering, Yes, I did get my deer. Happy Thanksgiving and Safe Hunting!

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