Tuesday October 15, 2019

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State Building Commission: Leaders or Followers?

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, 03 April 2019
in Wisconsin

uwec-campusSen. Smith writes about the budget process and the role the State Building Commission plays in approving Gov. Evers’ capital budget requests. We need bipartisanship throughout the budget process to support Wisconsin’s future.

MADISON - As leaders and policy makers in Wisconsin it is our job to ensure that our state government and operations run smoothly. Our agencies must be funded properly, people must be paid and projects should be moving forward in a timely fashion. It doesn’t need to be complicated. There are processes in place that have worked for decades.

The process begins with the presentation of the budget proposal from Governor Evers in the administrative branch to Wisconsin’s legislative branch. The legislative process is headed by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC), a 16-member bipartisan group of legislators, which reviews and makes recommendations based on the Governor’s budget proposal. These recommendations are then voted on by all members of the legislature before returning to the governor for his or her approval. Sounds simple, right?

Often overlooked in this process is the approval of the Governor’s capital budget requests by the State Building Commission. This commission is made up of the governor, a 6-member bipartisan group of legislators from the Senate and Assembly, and one private citizen appointed by the governor.

The commission is responsible for the state’s building program by approving and managing construction and improvement projects for our state buildings that play a vital role for communities throughout Wisconsin. The legislative members of the commission vote on building funding proposals and share their recommendations with JFC for final approval of the capital budget requests.

budget-hearingMembers of the State Building Commission have a history of working closely with each other to make sure these major projects go smoothly. It was always one place where partisanship did not usually blind the needs of progress.

For instance, during the early years of the Doyle administration (when the Republicans controlled both houses as they do today) the State Building Commission worked together and approved capital projects without any political ambitions getting in the way. The Commission was instrumental in funding key projects to support our higher education and healthcare facilities. That was 2003 and 2005. This is 2019.

On March 18th and 19th, the State Building Commission subcommittees met to vote on the capital requests from agencies to be included in the budget. All members of both subcommittees voted unanimously on the requested projects. However, something happened in the next 24 hours and the Republicans had a change of heart.

The commission began to vote on each individual item on the list. One by one, the votes were taken and each vote ended the same. While the two Democratic legislators, Governor Evers and the private citizen voted to approve each item, the 4 Republicans voted “no” on important projects, including the renovation of Phillips Science Hall at UW-Eau Claire. The tie meant no action taken. Thus, these projects are left in limbo and will be sent to the JFC without the Building Commission's recommendation.

This hasn’t happened before. The locked step negative vote really signals a change and raises a lot of questions. Is there any hope that our legislature can really work together in this shared government? Can the elected legislators in the Republican caucus stand up against the leaders that don’t have their constituents’ best interests at heart? How will this affect the budget process moving forward?

After Governor Evers introduced “The People’s Budget” on February 28th, we heard the usual rhetoric from opposition leaders referring to it as a non-starter. It’s a shame that partisan politics is getting in the way of the historical investments Governor Evers proposed. Improvements in our state’s infrastructure should be an issue that we all rally behind. Previous State Building Commissions worked together to approve projects that have made positive impacts in our local communities. We’ve seen the powerful result of compromise in the past. Now it’s time to be the leaders we were elected to be for the future of Wisconsin.

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Nygren Wrong on State Budget

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 Sunday, 31 March 2019
in Wisconsin

wisconsin-koch-industriesState Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay responds to Rep. John Nygren’s column on the State Budget in the Marinette Eagle Herald.

GREEN BAY, WI - To hear Rep. Nygren tell it you would think Governor Evers’ budget should be dismissed because it isn’t Republican enough. In truth Governor Evers’ budget is a responsible budget, moderate in its approach and reasonable in its effort to work for all of the people, not just corporations and the wealthy.

Under Walker and the Republicans, the state budget grew by leaps and bounds. Yet we saw embarrassingly little progress on fixing our roads, lowering health insurance costs, or dealing with the public school funding crisis. Despite controlling all branches of state government, Republicans also failed to deliver on Walker’s promise to create 250,000 jobs.

2015-budgetThey did, however, cut billions in taxes for corporations and the rich and while committing over $3 billion of your tax dollars to Foxconn which so far has failed to live up to any of its promises. They also rolled back important environmental protections that protect our air and water and managed to drive down wages for workers by opposing any effort to increase the minimum wage and by repealing the law that would help close the gap in pay between women and men.

For those who like to cry socialism anytime someone suggests ideas to help low-income and middle-class families improve their standard of living, it’s easy to suggest that dependence on government is the problem while ignoring that it’s nearly impossible to raise a family on Wisconsin’s minimum wage of $7.25 per hour.

So it should come as no surprise that our new governor has a lot on his plate.

When he campaigned for governor, Tony Evers did so on some very basic but important promises: Get our fair share of federal MA funding to expand and lower the cost of health insurance.

As governor, Scott Walker refused to take our share of federal MA money because he was running for president. Now that he’s gone we should accept the MA money. Doing so would bring back hundreds of millions of our federal tax dollars making it possible to help families who earn too much to qualify for BadgerCare but not enough to afford their own health insurance. Unfortunately, Republicans in Madison are still opposed.

Close loopholes that help the rich and corporations and provide a real middle-class tax cut.

diane-hendricksThe Manufacturing and Agriculture Tax Credit has done nothing to create jobs but has been very good at taking money out of everyone else’s pockets and giving it to a bunch of rich billionaires and millionaires, many of whom also happen to donate to Republican campaigns. Under the M&A credit billionaires like Diane Hendricks get a check from the state each year averaging $2 million.

Governor Evers’ budget leaves the Agricultural Tax Credit in place but ends the handouts to the billionaires and millionaires, using the savings to cut taxes for the middle class.

teaching-studentsSave our public schools.

Under Walker, the Republicans cut over $1 billion from our public schools. Governor Evers is committed to restoring that funding. Unfortunately, Rep. Nygren and the Republicans seem willing to accept “failing schools” as the status quo in our state, instead preferring to subsidize a second, unaccountable private school system with taxpayer dollars.

Fix our roads and highways.

No one wants to raise taxes. But after eight years of neglect and borrowing to the point that nearly 25 cents of every dollar raised for transportation goes to pay debt rather than fix our roads, something needs to be done. In a truly bi-partisan, Governor Evers adopted part of a Republican plan that Rep. Nygren himself supported but which Republicans now oppose.

This is just the beginning of the budget process. But if the Republicans’ lame duck session and their actions since are any indication of what’s to come it is going to be a very long process indeed. After eight years of neglect, the voters said it was time for a change. It’s past time for Rep. Nygren and the Republicans to admit this fact and start working with Governor Evers for the good of all the people of our state, not just their wealthy friends.

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State Government: The Budget Mosaic

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 Thursday, 28 March 2019
in Wisconsin

wisc-capitol-domeIt’s important to understand the budget from afar, but we learn even more from looking closer to see how everything connects.

MADISON - Connecting dots can be very satisfying -- when it all clicks together our eyes get big, our jaws drop and we become stunned with our newfound knowledge.

The bigger the conclusion, the more satisfying the result. For legislators, much is the same for comprehending the state budget. Pouring over the details and reading the documents line-by-line can be dull, very dull. But when things start to click and make sense, it’s all worth it.

Governor Tony Evers listened to the experiences and values from many different people and put together a budget that represents a large mosaic - tiny little pictures that make up a larger picture. There is value in viewing the mosaic from afar, but there can also be a benefit peering closely at one of the small pictures within to see how it all connects.

meeting-crowdThe other day, when giving a presentation about the budget at one of our listening sessions, a retired assistant district attorney chimed in about criminal justice changes in the state budget. He was concerned about forgetting the seriousness of some crimes. He stressed that sometimes incarceration is the only safe place for some criminals.

This gentleman had a point - we will never stop all crime. Some crimes are so heinous the guilty need to be locked up from society. Most often, criminals are the product of many factors. Without a good education some may be more at risk of committing a crime. Some grew up in a family stuck in a cycle of violence. Others still may have grown up in a good family, but struggle with mental health.

If we address the ailments of society head on, we have the best chance at fighting crime before it happens. Helping people with addiction and mental health issues get access to affordable and high-quality health care can help. Or fixing our broken school funding formula can help schools better educate at-risk youth. There’s no shortage of opportunities to help society heal.

Just as we think of numerous ways to address a single facet of the budget, let’s now talk about a single issue in the budget and how it affects all different aspects of our society.

It’s hard to go a day as state senator without hearing how broadband internet expansion can help Wisconsin prosper. I was encouraged to see Governor Evers include nearly $100 million in additional broadband funding in his budget. That’s more than double the amount we’ve spent on broadband in the last 5 years combined!

The budget also defines broadband as speeds that can download content at least 25 megabytes per second (mbps) and upload content at 3mbps. That’s also the Federal Communications Commission’s standard of broadband.

Farmers will be able to connect to learn more about best practices, find new opportunities to sell their products directly to consumers and file reports. Kids will be able to do their homework and research at speeds that keep up with the rapidly advancing world. Patients and doctors will be able to use telehealth screenings. Broadband is the difference that makes our communities stronger. Agriculture, education and healthcare all need broadband access.

internet-ruralLike rural electrification, rural broadband access is critical if our small cities, villages and towns are going to thrive and continue to exist. And, like rural electrification, government has a role. Broadband expansion is expensive and most service providers don’t believe there are enough profits to justify the cost in rural areas. They need incentives to expand into underserved communities.

The biggest difference between rural electrification and rural broadband expansion is the benefits to all for connecting more people. Every single person or business that connects to the world wide web not only gets access to the world’s largest repository of advice and information, but they also become a contributor for everyone else in the world.

Now, those are two prime examples of how multiple budget matters connect to affect citizens across all spectrums of life in Wisconsin. The budget is a moral document -- it lays out our values and offers us a glimpse of how everything we do in state government is connected.

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“You be the Judge of the Budget”

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, 20 March 2019
in Wisconsin

crowdSen. Jeff Smith will hosting nine budget listening sessions in northwestern Wisconsin in March and April.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - Ever since my two daughters were young and able to ice skate, I attended their figure skating practices and competitions. I’ve respected the work and dedication these young women put in for such an incredible sport. I became so interested that I started volunteering as the announcer for the Eau Claire Figure Skating Club competitions.

Competitive figure skating is mostly a solo sport. This changes however on the last day of the competition when many of the athletes get the opportunity to skate as a team. Synchronized skating has become a standalone competitive sport which adds that special team element to the skills they honed as solo artists. It's on that final day that I'm the announcer at the rink and introduce each team.

I’ve learned to appreciate the countless hours these young skaters put in with their coaches to perfect their spins, jumps, speed, and coordinating it all to music. Watching the perfect figure skating routine is the final product of hours of practice and countless falls and mishaps. There’s so much more than the few minutes the judges get to see on the ice including rivalry, high emotions, tears, and clashes in practice or the locker room.

I’ve found that description rings true for politics as well. There’s plenty of competition in the legislature as well as high emotions, disagreements, and tears at times. Certainly, it’s a rivalrous atmosphere with passionate individuals vying over sensitive issues.

At the end of the day, the young figure skaters put aside their craving for individual recognition to create a perfectly synchronized skating routine. I’m always amazed when they come together and create something great.

Just like a skater putting together a routine, Governor Evers put in his time practicing and training to perfect what he called the “People’s Budget.” Throughout this process, the Governor asked the people what he should include in his budget. To get suggestions, he hosted listening sessions in Superior, La Crosse, Milwaukee, Green Bay and Wausau.

As you can imagine, everyone has different ideas to move Wisconsin forward. Governor Evers embraced these diverse opinions and so do I. In the budget development phase, Governor Evers heard Wisconsin residents echo a few common ideas. Much of the suggestions revolved around affordable health care, roads that don’t bust up our cars, fully-funding public schools, and reforming our criminal justice system.

jeff-smithI will be hosting nine budget listening sessions to discuss Governor Evers’ biennial state budget proposal. I need you to be the judge for the Governor’s work on the People’s Budget, so please join me at one of the locations below.

Each budget listening session is from 5:30pm - 7:00pm and open to the public. Here are the details of our events:

· Thursday, March 21st: Whitehall - Whitehall Memorial High School

· Friday, March 22nd: Ellsworth - Ellsworth High School

· Monday, March 25th: Eau Claire - Joint Listening Session with Rep. Jodi Emerson - L.E. Phillips Memorial Public Library

· Thursday, March 28th: Holmen - Joint Listening Session with Sen. Jennifer Shilling and Rep. Steve Doyle - Holmen Public Library

· Thursday, April 11th: Durand - Durand City Hall

· Monday, April 15th: River Falls - Joint Listening Session with Sen. Patty Schachtner - River Falls Public Library

· Thursday, April 18th: Alma - Alma High School

· Tuesday, April 23rd: Menomonie - Joint Listening Session with Sen. Patty Schachtner at the Shirley Doane Senior Center

· Date is TBD: Black River Falls - Location is TBD

For more information, check out my website or Facebook page. I look forward to seeing you at one of these events. If you can’t make it to one of our listening sessions, please call, write or email me with any feedback about the budget.

The synchronized routine of 132 legislators trying to work together on the budget has just begun. It won’t be easy, but we rely on you to be the judge of how we work together.

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Sen. Smith Celebrates Women’s History Month

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, 13 March 2019
in Wisconsin

women-3genAs we celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s make a better effort to celebrate the women in our lives says Senator.

MADISON - Last week we welcomed the beginning of Women’s History Month – a time for us to celebrate women's achievements, honor women's history and reflect on the work that still needs to be done. At an early age, I was most inspired and influenced by the women in my life. I’m fortunate to have these relationships throughout my life. Women have motivated me in so many different ways and have shaped me to be the person I am today.

I met my first best friend, Linda, when my family moved into my childhood home near Eau Claire. As kids, social norms taught us boys were supposed to play with boys and girls with girls. Despite these norms, and the taunts from the other kids in school, Linda and I played together.

Linda’s friendship taught me the importance of questioning social norms. If we had listened to the others in our classroom, I would’ve missed out on many memories, a great friendship, and an even greater lesson. Our friendship taught me to have more trust and faith in women.

Time and time again girls were at the top of our class. I learned to respect the efforts and work of the girls around me, especially the times when I fell short.

As I grew older, I continued to develop new friendships with the young women in my high school, which I still treasure to this day. In my adult life, that never changed. It was always clear to me that women in my life were motivated and knowledgeable in so many different aspects.

This includes the most important women in my life - my wife, Sue, along with our daughters, Emily and Sarah. They’ve pushed me to be well-rounded and inspired me to be who I am today. Whether it be at home, at the office, or even in the campaign to get elected as Senator, I’ve seen how the women around me stay committed and get things done.

From early on, I learned the importance of working with women and trusting women. Without these relationships I wouldn’t be as aware of the diverse life perspectives in my community or the importance of listening to others while I’m serving as State Senator.

In the first week of Women’s History Month, I had the opportunity to participate in the “Status of Girls” presentation organized by the bipartisan Alverno College Research Center for Women and Girls. This was an eye-opening presentation highlighting disparities between girls and boys in Wisconsin, from increased rates of poverty and abuse to disproportionate cases of cyberbullying and mental health diagnoses. It was concerning to learn how these issues don’t just stop when a girls becomes an adult, but they are issues that continue to impact a woman as she grows older.

jeff-smithI looked around the room at the presentation and realized that I was only one of two men present in a group with more than twenty attendees. I found this rather odd. Shouldn't more of us be concerned about the issues affecting more than fifty percent of our population? Why was there such little representation from men at this presentation on the status of Wisconsin girls – a key demographic that makes up 11% of our state’s population?

I understand that we all have busy schedules and a lot of things going on in our lives; however, we must remember to value the concerns and experiences of others, including the girls and women of our state. I’ve learned so much growing up with strong women all around me. These relationships are a reminder for me to stand up, support others, and advocate for issues that may not personally affect me. As we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month, let’s make a better effort to celebrate the women in our lives by developing new friendships, connecting with others and strengthening the voices around us.

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