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Cutting Taxes by Supporting Schools

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 19 February 2020
in Wisconsin

teaching-studentsSen. Smith writes about Wisconsin’s expected budget surplus and how we can use that to invest in our public schools while providing tax relief to homeowners.

MADISON - Every other January the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), a nonpartisan agency, reviews Wisconsin’s general fund and projects an economic forecast for the state. Recently the LFB reported an expected $450 million surplus by the end of this biennium, on June 30, 2021.The question now is what do we do with that surplus?

Governor Tony Evers has a plan. Two weeks after the LFB released their findings, the Governor called for a special session to invest in our public schools and reduce property taxes. He did this because he knows that what’s best for our kids is what’s best for our state. However, Republican leaders rejected Governor Evers’ plan and touted a one-time tax break to property owners in Wisconsin.

Governor Evers’ plan would restore the state’s commitment to fund two-thirds of public education costs, invest more in special education and increase mental health services available for school children. Additionally, it would prioritize funding rural schools through sparsity aid.

Schools in the 31st Senate District would see new investments over $3.9 million in general school aid, $880 thousand in sparsity aid and $2.1 million in special education aid. And these are just part of Governor Evers’ recommendations.

The complete package would also fund special education readiness grants, aid for mental health programs and service grants and tribal language revitalization grants. Altogether, the schools in the 31st Senate District would receive more than $12 million.

Properly supporting our public schools at the state level would decrease the burden on homeowners by not requiring school districts to pass referenda just to keep operating. These much needed, overdue contributions would ensure all students have access to a quality education while fulfilling shared goals to provide tax relief. Residents of the 31st Senate District would see more than $7 million in property tax relief under Governor Evers’ proposal.

If there is a way to satisfy both sides, shouldn’t we at least be open to discussing it? We should lay all ideas out on the table and figure out how to use the best ideas of both sides to work for the better good of Wisconsin. I know it can be done and I know there are legislators on BOTH sides who want to work together.

We need long-term solutions to address the challenges our public schools and rural communities are facing. I don’t think tax credits are a long term answer to any subject we try to tackle, especially not critical issues like education. The other side of the aisle is saying the opposite and adds that the governor’s proposal is not the answer either.

jeff-smithAnd just like the call to work together on other fundamental issues from helping our farmers to gun safety; why does it have to be one or the other? The Governor has one package of bills he would like passed and the Republicans have their own. Once again I ask, “Why does it have to be one or the other?” After all, the most common questions I hear from our constituents is “Why can’t you get along and work together?”

I want to believe there is room to agree because we all care about these issues and can collaborate to find a solution. If government worked as it should, we would lay all proposals down side by side and hash it out. This is a great opportunity to prove to citizens that we can work as a shared governance.

This place in history is the perfect opportunity to restore shared governance as it once was. No, we don’t need to bring back the practice of making decisions in “smoke-filled rooms.” However we may benefit from adapting a collaborative spirit and restoring faith and trust in our elected officials. Now is the time to work for everyone and cut taxes by prioritizing Wisconsin’s future.

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Americans Cannot Allow a King or an Emperor to be in the White House

Posted by Randall Schumann, Madison
Randall Schumann, Madison
Randall Schumann, Madison has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 12 February 2020
in Wisconsin

donald-trumpWhen America consisted of 13 colonies 244 years ago, the colonists enacted a Declaration of Independence and forcibly in a war, got rid of America's first "King" -- England's King George III.

MADISON, WI - In the 3 years since Donald Trump has been President, he has continually violated his Oath of Office to "uphold the Constitution" which establishes 3 co-equal parts of government. The executive branch (President), the legislative branch (Congress), and the judicial branch. But rather than uphold the constitutionally established separation of powers, Trump has unconstitutionally refused to comply with mandated requirements to provide Congress with lawfully subpoenaed documents, and has vilified Federal court decisions that have determined numerous actions and executive orders of Trump to be unconstitutional.

And most recently during Trump's impeachment (non) trial in the Senate, a Trump defense attorney, Alan Dershowitz, argued that whatever Trump does as President, "if it is something he believed would get him elected in the public interest, he could not be impeached for it."

constitutional-conventionThat arrogant argument essentially says that there are no constitutional limits on a President's power, that the powers of Congress under the Constitution are null and void, and as a consequence, Donald Trump is, in effect, a 'King" who is above the law and cannot be called to account by Congress under the Constitution.

Interestingly, a recent article noted that the same inability to separate the personal interests of a leader (such as Trump) from the country he leads (America) has echoes to ancient Rome. Roughly 2,000 years ago, the Roman Senate over a relatively short period of time, abdicated to their "princeps"/ "first among equals" leader, the Senate's oversight powers over the military, their veto authority over legislation, and also granted any Princep immunity from prosecution. Not surprisingly, the result was that what had been a "first among equals" leader became a series of "Emperors" with sole, unquestioned authority over the Senate and the Roman people. Another result was the notion that the identity of the Emperor was inseparable from the identity of the State, such that any disagreement with the Emperor was an attack against the state itself - and thus arguably "treasonous" subject to the death penalty. The final result of Rome and its Senate/government allowing the creation of Emperors was the fall of the Roman empire.

If that description of what happened with the creation of Emperors in Rome 2000 years ago sounds familiar, that is because it also describes Trump's defense attorney Dershowitz's argument referenced above in Trump's Impeachment (non) trial in the Senate.

The bottom line: America forcibly got rid of its first "King" 244 years ago. Americans now need to learn from both Roman history 2000+ years ago, and from our own Revolutionary War, and act in little more than 244 Days to vote out of office and get rid of, a President who sees himself as, and acts as, a King /Emperor in violation of his oath to uphold our Constitution.


Randy Schumann
Madison, WI

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Pay Attention Before Your Car is Towed

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 12 February 2020
in Wisconsin

car-repoRecently, Senate Bill 613, legislation that could devastate the life of someone who relies on their vehicle to drive to work or take their children to school, was quietly introduced under the radar in Madison.

MADISON - Every day, we consume so much new information. While watching TV, reading the local paper or scrolling through social media, we may even feel overwhelmed by all the news available to us.

I start feeling the same way when I think about the legislation introduced this session. There have been more than 800 bills introduced in the Senate, alone. Most likely, you’ve learned about some legislative proposals; however, there are some policies quietly introduced or adopted under the radar that have huge implications for Wisconsinites.

Despite everything that’s going on in our lives and the news everywhere around us, it’s important to pay attention and be aware of the policies affecting our future.

jeff-smithRecently, I joined my colleagues on the Senate Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection for a public hearing. Public hearings serve a useful purpose for legislators. Once a bill is introduced, it’s assigned to a committee and the committee Chair can decide whether to hold a public hearing on the proposal. During a public hearing, legislators can learn a lot about the bill, its background and the potential consequences of the policy before taking a vote.

During the recent hearing, we learned about Senate Bill 613, a seemingly simple bill that could have a huge impact on the lives of Wisconsin residents, like in the following scenario.

If a lessee missed payments on a car loan, the lender may employ someone to repossess the vehicle right out of the lessee’s driveway. Of course, the lender has the legal right to do so if the lessee truly missed payments. If the lender believes a lessee missed payments, the lender will send a letter notifying the lessee of the overdue fees.

If the lender hasn’t heard back in 15 days, they may contact a repossessor. The next day, the tow truck pulls up and the driver begins to hook up the vehicle. However, the lessee may not have received the letter, their payment may have come in after the repossession order was made or the lender may have mistakenly given the repossessor the wrong vehicle identification number. The lessee comes outside, insisting the repossessor stops the towing process.

Currently, the lessee has the ability to stop the repossession temporarily through this “breach of peace” until the lender can prove they deserve repossession to a court. Situations like these have the capacity to escalate. The “breach of peace” policy is in place to protect everyone involved and prevent escalation and potential violence.

Senate Bill 613 redefines “breach of peace” which, consequently, weakens the rights of consumers and holds the repossessor harmless from charges even if they took the lessee’s vehicle. During the executive session, I proudly voted against this bill.

The passage of this bill on the Senate floor could be devastating to someone who relies on their vehicle to drive to work or take their children to school, but mistakenly had this vehicle taken. This could cause the individual to miss work and lose pay to support their family, which could continue to snowball causing great harm to the family. Yet, there still would be no repercussions for the lender or repossessor.

This bill is so tilted against the consumer, it’s ironic that the bill was assigned to the Committee tasked to protect consumers. It’s shameful, but unfortunately, not surprising.

Over the last decade, Republicans have turned their back on consumers at the request of an industry. This proposal adds one more weight in the scales of justice against Wisconsin families. The same shift in the scales occurred in the relationship between tenants and landlords, which has greatly contributed to the affordable housing crisis Wisconsin is facing.

As session continues and some proposals move forward to public hearings, I’m committed to protecting families from harmful policies, like Senate Bill 613. Consumers and families working to make ends meet are overdue for attention to their needs. Let’s find solutions for those dealing with debt, rather than doubling down on their despair.

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Connect Wisconsin with Better Broadband

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 05 February 2020
in Wisconsin

broadband-map-northwoodsLast week, Sen. Smith introduced the “Better Broadband” package, 6 bills to expand broadband and better connect our communities. Today he covers accessing high speed broadband to guarantee rural prosperity for our future.

MADISON - Governor Tony Evers shined a bright light on the urgency of strengthening our rural communities by calling a special session to take up agriculture bills, creating the Blue Ribbon Commission on Rural Prosperity and establishing the Office of Rural Prosperity. In western Wisconsin, we have an opportunity to step up and continue leading the way.

We should think of rural prosperity as a jigsaw puzzle.  Rural prosperity relies on our agricultural industry, job security, entrepreneurial opportunity, tourism, quality schools, community spaces and more. Each individual piece contributing to rural prosperity has a purpose and need. However, these pieces don’t create an image and illustrate rural prosperity unless all the pieces are connected.

internet-ruralAccess to reliable broadband matters for the many Wisconsinites who want to continue enjoying rural life or for those who want to settle down in a new community. These connections will only strengthen rural prosperity in Wisconsin.  Investments in broadband reliability and connectivity correlate to investments in our rural communities – let’s make it happen.

While there may be plenty of good reasons to live in a metropolitan area, I find it hard to believe that most people who grow up in the beauty of rural Wisconsin wouldn’t continue living here if they had access to a job or entertainment for themselves or their family.

Reliable internet access would help farmers connect to UW-Extension, potential dealers and markets, loan offices, mental health resources and more. Small town businesses must also be able to connect to the rest of the world to compete and offer the same level of services as any large city business.

Every household and business should be connected, period. In this ever changing world of technology, it’s increasingly more possible for employees to work from home and for students to study at home, only IF they’re connected to true high speed internet. We must expand broadband to offer the same opportunities in our rural areas to what’s available in our metropolitan areas.

Last week, I introduced the “Better Broadband” bill package, 6 important bills to connect communities and help our state attain real rural prosperity. The “Better Broadband” package will:

·         Increase funding for broadband expansion grants to $100 million annually in 2020-21, improve broadband mapping and require internet service providers to disclose to the Public Service Commission which properties have service and their minimum average speed.

·         Prioritize grant funding for projects to expand fiber optics to farms.

·         Protect consumers by prohibiting companies from advertising their service as “broadband” unless it’s capable of providing minimum download speeds.

·         Allow a city, village, town, county or the Department of Transportation to require installation of empty conduit lines for future fiber optics expansion.

·         Give municipalities the authority to use broadband expansion grant money for project planning purposes and encourage municipalities to create and expand municipal-owned broadband networks.

·         Require grant recipients to provide broadband speeds that are at least 25 Mbps (megabits per second) while downloading and 3 Mbps while uploading, or the speed set by FCC if higher than 25/3.

jeff-smithThese proposals seem so logical that many may wonder why we’d need to pass legislation for the proposals to go into effect. But, just like routing electrical power into rural America, government leaders have a responsibility to connect all homes, businesses and communities. While private Internet Service Providers are driven by profit margin, government is driven by the public good.

In today’s world, we need high speed broadband to guarantee rural prosperity for our future. Let’s put all our best resources, both private and public, into expanding broadband for Wisconsin. We need to make Wisconsin a state that works for all of us. After all, when rural Wisconsin thrives, all of Wisconsin thrives.

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Economic Growth Not Felt By Everyone

Posted by Jan Koch, Shawano
Jan Koch, Shawano
Jan Koch, Shawano has not set their biography yet
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on Tuesday, 04 February 2020
in Wisconsin

donald-trump-deficitBe careful when Trump uses the term “the economy”, it all depends who you are talking about and where they live, says northeastern Wisconsin resident.

SHAWANO, WI - “It’s the economy, stupid.” This now infamous phrase has been used to point out how a country is doing financially. Saying that “the economy” in the United States is booming is ignoring what is really going on.

Yes, the unemployment rate is at an historic low. However, that does not take into account the millions of laborers who are “underemployed”. Many are working part-time hours when they are in desperate need of full-time, salaried work. Also existing are a large number of Americans so depressed over their economic situation that they have not applied for a job in a year or longer.

Yes, it looks like the United States has most of its work force employed but since the crash of 2008 seventy-five percent of new jobs pay less than $50,000 a year. Wages might be rising slightly nationally but In Wisconsin a large percentage barely pay above the $7.25 minimum wage, which is one of the lowest in the nation.

Today millions of people fall under the degrading classification of “working poor”. In contrast, the top 1 percent of earners take home eighty-five percent of income.

The unemployment number means nothing. The stock market’s advances mean nothing either.

The richest 10 percent of Americans own 84 percent of stocks. The bottom half of households don’t own stocks. The daily rise and fall of Wall Street has no effect on most Americans. It won’t have very much influence on the waitress at the diner, the family farmer, or the home health care worker helping an elderly diabetic inject his insulin—a drug he could not afford if he were not on Medicare.

For most Americans “The economy” does not exist. What do all the economic forecasts mean for the 58 percent of who have less than $1000 in savings, or the 28 percent who have no savings at all? One misfortune could bring them to bankruptcy.

Whether “the economy” grows by 3 percent of 3.5 percent next quarter will have no relevance in the lives of those who are juggling thousands in credit-card debt and student-loan payments, along with the rising healthcare costs and the expenses of living.

There is no “economy” for most poor and work-class Americans. There is only everyday life. Because they don’t have adequate healthcare, they pray that their children don’t get sick. Unfortunately, paid family leave is not given to low-income wage earners. They pray their car doesn’t break down and they can’t get to work. Job security is fragile in low-income jobs. They pray their landlord does not raise the rent. It is difficult to find affordable housing for families.

When Donald Trump became president, the nation had a major economic recovery going on according to a new study at the Harvard Business School on U.S. competitiveness. Co-author Michael Porter said it could have given us the chance to take some significant resources and devote them to some of our well-known challenges, like infrastructure or health care. But very little of that happened.

The overwhelming majority of business leaders surveyed in the report said lobbying primarily advanced company interests, sometimes at the expense of the public interests. Those surveyed said businesses’ overall engagement worsened the political system by advancing policies that benefited special interests.

Even though candidate Trump promised to reduce the deficit, his 2017 tax cuts and increased government spending have increased the treasury’s deficit which is expected to grow to a trillion dollars this year.

Donald Trump’s massive tax cut only made the wealthy richer. It has proven to be nothing more than a handout for the largest corporations. Companies have given even bigger bonuses to their executives instead of increasing the number of good paying jobs and bringing back jobs which were shipped overseas.

trump-tariffsDue to President Trump’s trade war Wisconsin’s manufacturing sector is in a recession. Companies have had to slow their business growth, putting expansions on hold and laying off workers to ensure their businesses can survive. Some estimates show Trump’s trade war could result in Wisconsin losing 37,344 jobs. The tariffs have cost the state nearly a billion dollars.

Even though we just lived through a seemingly prosperous decade, the bulk of Americans don’t have enough money in their retirement accounts to retire on. Moreover, some people who retired and thought they would live on their fixed income have had to take a job because they found out their income wasn’t enough.

For Wisconsin’s growing elderly population there is a glimmer of hope. Governor Tony Evers has set up a Retirement Security Task Force. It’s not that Wisconsin’s workers don’t want to save, it’s that the have been living under economic conditions that have made saving either impossible or inaccessible. A recent AARP of Wisconsin study revealed that 1 in 7 registered voters have no way to save for retirement at work. The Governor and StateTreasurer Sarah Godlewski believe hard-working individuals deserve to have peace of mind and feel secure when they retire.

When the term “the economy” is being used, be cautious. Using it as a measure of success shows a clear absence of any long-term strategy which lies outside the next election cycle. Focusing on what is happening in people’s real lives makes for a more intelligent conversation. It could also make for a better country.

Jan Koch,

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