Tuesday December 12, 2017

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One Step Closer to Tackling Wisconsin’s Lead Crisis

Posted by Chris Larson, State Senator, District 7
Chris Larson, State Senator, District 7
Chris Larson (D) is the Wisconsin State Senator from the 7th District in Milwauk
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on Thursday, 02 November 2017
in Wisconsin

baby-lead-paintSenator says we need to continue the momentum after the passage of SB 48 relating to lead service line replacements and take immediate action to keep our kids safe from being further poisoned by lead.


MADISON – Each of our neighbors deserve to live in a healthy, safe community. Lead pipes are an avoidable public illness that is quietly devastating Wisconsin neighborhoods. Over the past few decades there has been significant research revealing how devastatingly harmful lead exposure is for both children and adults. We must prioritize addressing and preventing lead poisoning in our children.

Tackling the threat of lead poisoning is a moral and economic imperative. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS), our state would save $7 billion if the threat of lead poisoning was eliminated. This includes savings in medical care, special education, and even crime reduction among adults and youth.

Today, the Senate took up a bipartisan bill (Senate Bill 48) that moves our state one small step towards addressing Wisconsin’s lead crisis. During the state budget debate last month, Senate Democrats fought for Wisconsin to take swift action by introducing a Lead Abatement Amendment, which would have committed the necessary funds to provide adequate relief to communities access the state, after Senate Bill 48 was stalled in committee for months.

I urge my Republican colleagues to continue the momentum and take immediate action to keep our kids safe from being further poisoned by lead. Among the available bills are Senate Bill 41, which would protect renters from lead poisoning, Senate Bill 141, which would give schools more flexibility to invest in lead abatement costs, Senate Joint Resolution 67, a bill to declare a Lead Poison Prevention Week in Wisconsin.

So far, despite the lead pipe crisis, none of these bills have even received a public hearing.

***

This statement from Senator Chris Larson (D - Milwaukee) regarding the Senate passage of Senate Bill 48 on October 31, 2017.

Senate Bill 48 was introduced by Senators Cowles, L. Taylor, Bewley, Carpenter, Darling, Feyen, Harsdorf, Johnson, C. Larson, Lasee, Miller, Olsen, Petrowski, Risser, Vinehout, Vukmir, Wanggaard and Hansen; cosponsored by Representatives Thiesfeldt, Krug, Genrich, Crowley, Barca, Bowen, E. Brooks, Brostoff, Fields, Goyke, Horlacher, Jagler, Kitchens, Kolste, Mason, Novak, Ohnstad, Ripp, Schraa, Spreitzer, Spiros, Steffen, Stuck, Subeck, C. Taylor, Tauchen, Tusler, Zamarripa, Zepnick, Anderson and Allen

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WEDC Admits They Are Not Following the Law

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

foxconnwisconsinA recent LAB audit showed WEDC’s failure to comply with the laws to protect taxpayer’s money for job creation efforts in Wisconsin. WEDC’s lack of transparency, their numerous examples of misrepresenting job creation numbers and their frequent disregard for LAB recommendations call into question their ability to oversee a $3 billion contract with Foxconn.


MADISON - “We have not been able to verify the jobs,” said Secretary Mark Hogan at a recent public hearing of the Joint Committee on Audit.

In this statement, the head of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) confirmed what several years of audits repeatedly found: our state awarded hundreds of millions in tax credits and cash payments to companies to create jobs without ever checking to see if jobs were actually created.

walker-wedcWEDC is the state agency overseeing economic development efforts. They hand out tax credits and cash payments to corporations to create and retain jobs. WEDC writes contracts for companies to receive state money. When a company abides by the contract, it receives a payment, a certificate for a tax break, or their loan is forgiven.

Secretary Hogan’s statement above was his response to questions from myself and others who asked whether he was going to follow the law. We did not trust WEDC was prepared to follow recommendations of the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) to set up policy and really start following the law.

The law states WEDC must verify the company actually created jobs, not just their word. It’s a bit like your son telling you he cleaned his bedroom. You always walk upstairs and check to make sure.

In the last four years, audit after audit by the nonpartisan LAB found WEDC never verified companies followed through with their contracts.

Numerous times, companies admitted they failed to hold up their end of the bargain. Instead of enforcing the contract, WEDC changed it to reflect what the company did do and gave them the money anyway. Hundreds of millions of tax dollars went to companies without WEDC staff independently verifying the promised jobs.

Even when WEDC knew a company didn’t comply with the terms of their contract, they would sometimes still award tax credits and cash payments. In other cases, WEDC claimed the promised (but not delivered) jobs on the WEDC website even though they knew the numbers weren’t accurate.

For example, auditors found WEDC claimed credit for 485 jobs a company promised to create. The company pulled out of the program and created no jobs but the state website still showed 485 promised jobs. In another case, WEDC claimed credit for keeping 340 jobs despite the company going out of business.

In a third case, WEDC claimed credit for 68 jobs that weren’t created because the company sold its Wisconsin operation. In yet another example, a company informed WEDC they only created 18 jobs of the 226 promised. WEDC still claimed the entire 226 jobs on their website.

In another instance, a company promised 657 jobs. WEDC staff decided the company was only eligible for tax credits for 489 jobs. But WEDC still claimed the additional 168 jobs on their website.

Another example showed a company reported the creation of 742 jobs, but WEDC staff found only 678 were eligible for tax credits. The online data still reflected the larger number.

During the hearing, I found it difficult to determine if WEDC was incompetent or deliberately skirting the law.

I was most disturbed when Secretary Hogan flat-out said “no” to my request to release documents to LAB so auditors could complete their work. The document I wanted released was a study by an independent attorney the state paid $8,600 to answer the question: “Is WEDC complying with statutes?” (are they following the law?)

This question was central to the findings of the audit. If agency leaders didn’t think there was a law they needed to follow, I had no hope they would follow the audit recommendations and adopt verification policies and procedures.

I left the hearing with many unanswered questions. Does Secretary Hogan understand he must follow the law? What is Secretary Hogan hiding in the document he refused to release to auditors? How can lawmakers stop WEDC from rewriting contracts if companies don’t deliver? How can we get an accurate count for how many jobs were created with the millions of taxpayer dollars?

But the most pressing question was; how can we possibly trust WEDC to oversee a $3 billion contract with Foxconn?

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Expand Family Medical Leave

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 Monday, 30 October 2017
in Wisconsin

healthcare-familyEnsuring working moms and dads have access to family medical leave is one way we can strengthen families and expand economic opportunities for all.


LA CROSSE, WI - Whether it’s caring for a newborn or tending to a sick parent, at some point in our lives most adults will have to take time off from work to care for a loved one.

As a working mother with two young boys, my husband and I can relate to the daily challenges that families face when raising children and helping care for a relative. Like many others, we value flexibility and believe that reforming outdated workplace policies will strengthen our state and enable businesses to be more competitive.

Unfortunately, only 11% of U.S. employees have access to paid family leave through their jobs, which means millions of workers are forced to choose between family health obligations and the income they need to cover basic expenses.

Wisconsin was one of the first states in the country to adopt a Family and Medical Leave Act to protect the jobs of workers who must miss work to care for a sick loved one or newborn. Sadly, a recent Republican proposal would reduce access to family and medical leave protections and create more obstacles and barriers for working parents. This will take our state in the wrong direction and severely hinder further progress for the residents of Wisconsin.

Democrats are pushing for solutions to elevate Wisconsin families and address the changing work-life balance of modern families. With more dual-income households than ever before, our economy needs to move past the 1950’s-era family structures and implement workplace policies that ensure flexibility and create a healthier workforce.

Democratic leaders Sen. Janis Ringhand (D-Evansville) and Rep. Sondy Pope (D-Mt. Horeb) recently introduced legislation to create a Family Medical Leave Insurance Program that allows employees to contribute a portion of their paycheck into a trust fund. Employees would be eligible to receive a percentage of their pay during the time they take family or medical leave from work, at no cost to the employer. This innovative new proposal has earned the support of organizations that advocate for Wisconsin workers, including 9to5 Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Alliance for Womens Health.

Expanding family leave not only improves health outcomes and reduces health costs, but is an affordable way for businesses to support and retain workers when unexpected family and medical needs arise. All businesses, from Fortune 500 companies down to local mom and pop stores, benefit from a safe and healthy workplace. And so do working families.

If we want to boost our middle class, we need to focus on policies that will help families succeed. Ensuring working moms and dads have access to family medical leave is one way we can strengthen families and expand economic opportunities. Combined with additional Democratic solutions to expand health care coverage, student loan debt relief and affordable child care, we can modernize our workplace policies to be more efficient, cost-effective and family friendly.

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WEDC’s History Raises Concerns about State’s Ability to Oversee Foxconn Deal

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, 24 October 2017
in Wisconsin

foxconn-dealWEDC has the new responsibility of overseeing the $3 billion contract for the Foxconn deal despite a very troublesome history watching over Wisconsin’s economic development efforts while tracking job creation, administering loans and verifying their work.


MADISON - “Can you find out the nuclear flaw in the Foxconn deal?” a woman asked me. She was referring to words leaked out of secret negotiations between the state and a Taiwanese billionaire.

Lawmakers, who recently voted in favor of the Foxconn deal, did so without seeing any contract. They put faith in a state operation known as Wisconsin Economic Development (WEDC).

Despite being paid for entirely with public funds, the $3 billion contract with Foxconn is not public. Nor do lawmakers who approved the plan know what problems exist in the draft contract. As the saying goes, the devil is in the details. Lawmakers and the public cannot see the details and are asked to trust WEDC negotiating the deal and later overseeing the Foxconn’s compliance.

walker-WEDCBut is WEDC worthy of our trust?

For years, the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) reported concerns about WEDC’s administration and oversight of economic development programs.

In 2013, nearly two years after WEDC was created, auditors could not report on state dollars spent by WEDC because their financial and accounting systems were not adequate. Members of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee learned spending was tracked largely by credit card statements. To remedy this serious problem, legislators passed a new law that included an independent audit of all WEDC financial statements. Financial statement preparation should be basic for any state agency.

At an October 2013 Audit Committee public hearing, WEDC leaders promised they had complied with all the LAB recommendations. However, a year later, auditors reported many problems related to basic operations and the tracking of money. For example, auditors found some spending not recorded in the accounting system and found past due loans that were missing.

By 2015, auditors discovered a larger than necessary cash balance at WEDC. By the end of June 2015, WEDC had accumulated in excess of $85 million as reported in a 2017 audit.

Losing loans and not properly accounting for internal expenses are problems associated with the operation of a troubled agency. But the problems WEDC could encounter in overseeing a large project like Foxconn are related to the independent evaluation of the company’s promises compared to their actual records.

Four years after WEDC was established auditors finally could report that WEDC made ANY effort to obtain information about jobs were actually created. However, further review by auditors showed the attempts made by WEDC only compared a company’s own promises to report and the reports a company itself filed. WEDC made no effort to verify the information submitted.

In its most recent audit, the LAB reported WEDC paid an outside consultant $24,900 to do the work they were required to do since their existence in 2011. Auditors found concerns including that the contractor’s work was limited and did not include grants.

In the LAB’s own evaluation of completed economic development projects, auditors’ findings included: companies gave money for job creation without any contract requiring such, companies quitting before the end of their contract period without delivering promised jobs, contracts to create jobs were written with no specific number of jobs to be created, WEDC forgave loans even though the company created or retained a lower number of jobs than required, and WEDC counting twice the number of jobs created by a company.

If Wisconsin taxpayers cannot be confident after seven years and the investment of hundreds of millions of state dollars that promised jobs were created, how can we possibly be confident WEDC can negotiate and oversee a $3 billion contract?

No local government would ever agree to spend money without seeing a contract. No banker would agree to loan funds without a contract. No businessperson would ever commit funds without a contract.

Lawmakers bought a pig in a poke – an unknown deal.

WEDC has not earned lawmakers trust, nor that of the public. Lawmakers can and should do more to oversee this project.

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State of the Real Estate Market October 2017 and What to Expect in 2018!

Posted by Bruce Nemovitz, Realty Executives
Bruce Nemovitz, Realty Executives
Bruce Nemovitz is a Senior Real Estate Specialist, as well as Certified Senior A
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on Monday, 23 October 2017
in Wisconsin

bc_houseBruce has over 35 years of experience in helping people make real estate decisions.


BROOKFIELD, WI - Many of you have asked how the real estate market is doing and the market is ever changing.

The first half of this year was fabulous in almost all sectors. Homeowners were receiving multiple offers within hours of putting their homes on the market! This did not happen in all cases, but if the home was priced properly based on condition the result was positive. Overpricing a home is always a bad idea, especially when the market is strong because buyers wonder why a home is sitting on the market for longer than a month.

I expect the market to flourish next year, especially in spring. The best months to sell are late February to the end of May. That is when buyers will pay the highest prices for the year. If you are thinking of buying first, the off months are the best time to buy (November-February). There are less buyers competition and sellers price their homes during the off months realistically due to need type sales (death, divorce, job relocation, health reasons). They are motivated to sell quickly and price homes accordingly. If you buy in the off months, you can then capitalize on selling your home in spring and you will know where you are going to live.

bruce-nemovitzI am often asked what are the best improvements to make to get the ‘best bang for the buck’. Paint, paint, paint! That is the cheapest and best way to get your home ready for market. But the key is to paint with colors that resonate with today’s young buyers. Examples are steel grey in living rooms and hallways, pale green in kitchens and tope in bedrooms. There are many other colors that work and you can always go online to check out what are the most popular colors for today’s savvy buyer.

Make sure all defects are corrected, especially roof, basement and furnace. It is critical that your electrical system is at least 100amp circuit breakers because insurance companies won’t insure a home in most cases with 60-amp service.

If the exterior needs paint, do it now! It is still warm enough. So often I get a call in winter or early spring to sell a home and the exterior trim and siding show poorly. There is nothing you can do about that when temperatures are below 60 degrees in most cases. So, think ahead.

If you have a parent that needs to sell in the coming year or two, start the downsizing process now! We work with professionals who can help. Just give us a call or email and we will send you the information to connect with the professionals we trust. Downsizing can be so easy if you let others help!

Don’t hesitate to call us with any questions you may have. We have over 35 years of experience in helping you make the best real estate decisions for your future!!

Enjoy Halloween and we hope to connect with you in the coming year!

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