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Investing in Wisconsin…For our Children, for our Future

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, 23 June 2014
in Wisconsin

high-speed-railThis week Senator Vinehout writes about the impact of decisions made to send federal dollars back by the governor and legislative leaders.  Those Federal dollars would have boosted the economy, created jobs and prepared Wisconsin for the future.


ALMA - I climbed aboard the tractor-driven wagon at the Pierce County Dairy Breakfast and nodded to two smiling girls clutching brightly colored balloons. Two families down was a little boy with tears in his eyes. His mother comforted him.

“Would you like my balloon?” I asked the boy. “Let me put the string around your wrist so you don’t lose it.” He stuck out his little arm and I slid the loop of string on the yellow balloon around his wrist.

At that point, his teary face turned into a priceless ear-to-ear smile.

I knew what every grandparent, parent, aunt or uncle knows: you’d do just about anything to get that reward of a big bright smile. We want the best for our children. We do a lot to invest in their future.

So when it comes to investing in our future why do some Wisconsin leaders have such a hard time?

I felt caught between the motivation to leave that young man a vibrant growing state to call home and a majority of colleagues in Madison very reluctant to invest in our state’s future.

I recently received a memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) detailing the federal money Wisconsin leaders turned back in the last four years, effectively saying ‘No thanks. Send this money to another state. We don’t want it.’

The day before my encounter with the teary young man, I sat near a Chippewa Valley legislator at the Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce Legislative Forum. Representative Larson justified sending federal money back by saying “We’ve got to wean ourselves from taking federal money. The federal government doesn’t have any money.”

Never mind that the federal budget is over 50 times larger than the state. Never mind that 28% of Wisconsin’s budget is already made up of federal money. Never mind that Wisconsin historically brings back less money than state taxpayers send to Uncle Sam.

The work of the nonpartisan LFB tells the story about what won’t happen in our future because of decisions made in the last four years: 82 schools and 385 libraries won’t be helped with new broadband after $22 million in grant money was sent back. The first leg of high-speed passenger rail won’t be built as the governor turned back almost $800 million. Wisconsin doesn’t have a statewide marketplace for finding low cost health insurance or independent navigators to help folks sign up for health insurance. The Department of Health sent back to the feds over $33 million in grants awarded to the state.

Some 84,000 low-income parents would have BadgerCare if the state had taken federal dollars. Over the next three budgets over $2 billion in federal funds won’t flow through the state to health care providers to care for parents of lesser means.

In addition, had the state agreed with President Obama to cover these parents, over the next 3 budgets, $500 million in state tax dollars would be freed up. This is money sorely needed just to continue to balance the state budget.

In another LFB memo, analysts report the state started 2014 with almost a billion dollar surplus; but is expected to start the next budget $642 million in the red. In just the 2014-15 fiscal year, beginning July 1st, the state is estimated to spend $500 million more than we take in.

Revenue estimates are dropping as the state’s recovery stalls. The federal dollars turned away would have pumped over $3 billion into our economy over the next 3 budgets. This is estimated to be equivalent to a 4% growth in tax revenue and over 15,000 new jobs.

What do we want for our children and our future? Will covering parents with low income save us money when they turn 65? Will high-speed rail ease the congestion and cost of repairing roads and improve our quality of life 30 years from now? Will broadband in our rural libraries and schools help the students living in rural Wisconsin in 2034?

I don’t know the little guy’s name with the yellow balloon, but I won’t forget his smile. His future is worth working for today.

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Walmart's Wrong Plan for Green Bay

Posted by Randy Scannell
Randy Scannell
Randy Scannell is an Alderman representing the 7th District of Green Bay.
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 18 June 2014
in Wisconsin

walmartGREEN BAY - The size of the Larsen Green is comparable to 10 Lambeau fields or 3 Port Plaza Malls. If it were on the east side of the Fox it would extend from Walnut to Pine Street and from the riverbank to Adams Street. I recommend anyone who is interested in the Larsen Green debate to walk around the site. It is immense.

Walmart's plan is to build a supercenter and pave the rest for parking. A small corner is allotted for On Broadway Inc. office space. Another corner is granted air rights above the parking lot. The historic cold storage building would be demolished and the zoning essentially changes to commercial. The tax levy on Walmart would be about $300,000.

With Walmart's plan there is no room for further development. The air rights are less than 3 acres. They sit under high-powered lines and any construction cannot be anchored between two buildings and would thus require an easement from Walmart for pillars to provide a foundation. The air rights cover too little ground and are developmentally problematical. Walmart wants to be part of the Broadway vibe, but are knocking down the historical, cold storage building. The surface parking of 600 stalls (the zoning only requires 400) takes up 2/3 of the site. The plan Walmart has submitted is a suburban plan that basically gobbles up 15 acres of downtown property. This is larger than any other Walmart site in the area. Walmart has stated they want to be downtown. If Walmart wants to build in an urban setting, they need an urban plan, one that allows for a high density of development that will increase Green Bay's tax base.

The current plan adopted by the Planning Commission zones the Larsen Green for mixed use. This allows for a dense development of housing, retail, office space, and possibly recreational construction of an indoor/outdoor musical auditorium or baseball stadium. The historic Larson Building is reutilized and the projected tax levy of the entire area will range from $900,000 to 2.7 million.

It is true this plan will require a little investment and time to be realized. However, if we consider we are coming out of a recession; if we appreciate the recent projects happening on the east side of Downtown: the Metreau, the City Deck Landing, Schrieber Foods, Prevea, the expansion of the Meyer, and the reconstruction of Monroe Street; if we remember how much the Broadway District has changed and look at the expansion of Titletown on Broadway that demonstrates how remarkable the reuse of the historic canning factory can be, then I believe we can with some confidence say a mixed use development of the Larsen Green is practical and realistic.

There is a need in the downtown or a near downtown district (perhaps Velp Avenue) for businesses that will provide goods and services people living in the area want at prices they can afford. The majority of my constituents have made this very clear to me. The majority of my constituents, however, oppose Walmart's plan of the Larsen Green. To lose hundreds of thousands of tax dollars to a parking lot that destroys an historic building is a terrible, terrible waste. For the city of Green Bay to allow Walmart to take up 15 acres of downtown property is like the farmer who sells his farm to buy a cow because he needs milk. It is not the wisest of decisions.

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Enjoy Wisconsin’s Dairy Breakfasts

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, 17 June 2014
in Wisconsin

dairyfarmThe Senator writes about the annual celebration of June Dairy Month – the county Dairy Breakfast. Each one features local dairy farms, farmers and tasty treats. Each one is a chance for people to connect with each other and with their rural roots. The dairy industry contributes significantly to our state’s economy which is why each year we celebrate June Dairy Month.


MADISON - June is dairy month. Wisconsin celebrates dairy in a special way: the dairy breakfast. Folks come early for the fresh pancakes, sausage, cheese curds and country air.

They stay for the ice cream – “Mom, this is the first time I’ve had ice cream for breakfast” – and for the neighbors.

“I’ve seen people I haven’t seen in 18 years,” the woman from Whitehall told me.

“I see people at the dairy breakfast I see nowhere else all year,” said another from Independence.

Dairy breakfasts bring together folks from all walks of life and all age groups. The youngsters love the animals, the face painting and climbing on straw bales.

The oldsters love the youngsters.

“See the gal in the cowboy boots?” the woman said. Four young ladies walked up the hill in front of us. The Dairy Princess and her court were dressed in formal gowns. Only one wore boots under her beautiful dress.

“She’s my granddaughter,” the woman told me. “She wants to be a farmer and loves pigs. She finally found a boyfriend who loves to farm as much as she does.”

The couple was working for an older local farmer, learning the trade from the experienced man. They were also planning to attend the animal husbandry program at the University of Wisconsin-River Falls.

“Tuition is so expensive,” a grandfather told me. “Don’t you think the state should put more money into the universities? When I graduated tuition, room and board, books and everything was only $238.”

I heard lots of stories about how proud parents and grandparents are of their off-spring. The work students accomplished in school is top on their list. “Joey plays the trumpet now,” one mom said. “Katie graduated with honors last week,” said a proud grandfather. Participation in youth activities, especially 4H, was also high on the list for elders to share. “Can you imagine, little Bradley is in 4H and showing rabbits at the fair,” said another.

Families dominated the talk at the dairy breakfasts I’ve attended. Tied for a close second was food and the weather. Maybe the weather won out in Melrose when dark clouds and a heavy rainstorm threatened festivities at the Jackson County breakfast on the Pfaff farm.

People also wanted to share concerns about dark clouds they saw in state government. I heard most about schools and health care. Folks told stories about cutbacks in local schools. Old band uniforms, new fees, sports combined with neighboring schools and many other actions to save money had people worried about whether the state was properly investing in the future of their children and grandchildren.

“We’ve got the best way of life,” one older woman told me. “I just hate to see the younger generation feel like they can’t stay here because the schools don’t get what they need to do a good job.”

Dairy breakfasts aren’t complete without animals.

Our local dairy breakfasts show-case the latest technology in robotic milking, GPS driven crop care and cow comfort. Owners and local farmers joined together to explain to city and country folks alike the challenges and rewards of farming.

And the relationship between animals and people knows no bounds between country and urban cousins. I heard about the family dog that saved the kitten by barking at the tree until the family came to the rescue and the steer that set the troubled teen on the road to recovery from depression.

The county elders were not to be out done with stories about horses rescuing their wayward masters. One fellow decked out in black and white spotted pants and wearing a black and white cap with a stuffed cow perched atop shared one of his favorite stories.

The team of horses waited patiently for their master to return. It never mattered how tired or incapacitated master was…the team knew the way home by heart.

If you missed the local dairy breakfast there is still time. If you live in western Wisconsin the Pierce County breakfast will be held at the Richardson Family Farm in Maiden Rock on June 21st. The Buffalo County Dairy Breakfast is June 28th from 7 am to 11:30 am at the Weisenbeck Farm in Maxville Township.

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When Good People Disagree: The Case of the Amish and State Building Codes

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, 09 June 2014
in Wisconsin

wisconsin-amishSenator Vinehout received contacts from Old Order Amish families who are facing court cases because their religious beliefs prevent them from complying with installation of smoke and carbon monoxide detectors. Local officials have concerns about the homes not having these safety devices, particularly because the Amish burn wood to heat their homes and use gas lanterns.


EAU CLAIRE - “We want to protect our religious convictions against modern technology and preserve the Heritage our Forefathers handed down on us and our children,” the man from Springfield Township recently wrote me.

“We live a humble life, therefore we also want humble houses to live in,” he wrote.

He explained he didn’t hire contractors, install electrical wiring, bathrooms, septic mounds, smoke alarms and carbon monoxide detectors. He asked me to exempt his Amish community members from the state building codes.

“Our Desire is to be good neighbors and live in Peace with our non-Amish neighbors.”

But peace is not what is facing several Amish families who, according to an Eau Claire Leader-Telegram (ECLT) article, are “butting heads with modern society in Eau Claire County”.

At issue is the county’s enforcement of state law requiring, among other things, carbon monoxide and smoke detectors in new homes. Firefighters and others are concerned the Amish homes, typically heated with wood and lighted with gas lanterns, are particularly susceptible to fire.

Another ECLT article quoted Supervisor Mark Olson, a retired firefighter, saying to his fellow Eau Claire County Board members, “a simple thing that helps save lives isn’t too much to ask of any people.”

One Amish family was already evicted from the home they built and moved out of state.

Advocates for the Amish with whom I spoke tell me more families are planning to move to another state that is “more hospitable to their beliefs”.

Wisconsin has the fourth largest Amish population in the United States. Western Wisconsin is home to the largest communities - the largest is in Cashton. Nearly every county I represent has fairly large Amish communities and I estimate 1,000 Amish live in our Senate District.

Just like the rest of us, not all Amish are the same. The communities most concerned about complying with the building code are the Old Order Amish.

Members of the Old Order Amish and their advocates wrote and called me asking for help. Earlier this year, in response to their request, I introduced a bill to exempt those of certain bona fide religious denominations from laws regulating home construction.

I heard from several residents who didn’t like the bill I introduced. They strongly felt everyone should follow the same rules. Local officials asked me, “Where will this end? What if I set up my own religion?”

Evidently a number of legislators also disagreed with me. Only two of my 131 colleagues agreed to co-sponsor my bill – one Democrat and one Republican. The bill didn’t even receive a public hearing.

Clearly this approach wasn’t going to solve the problem. So I went back to the drawing board. I met with Legislative Council attorneys and those skilled in drafting legislation. I spoke with local leaders and advocates for the Amish. Each time I asked what they thought would be a good solution.

Meanwhile the Eau Claire County cases against the Amish were scheduled for an early August trial. I heard more Amish families are talking about leaving the state.

Legislative attorneys told me about prior court decisions related to the Wisconsin Constitution. Our constitution has a conscience clause that is stronger than federal law. Prior court decisions set out a test to determine when this conscience objection applies.

The test requires, in this case, the Amish person to prove he or she has sincerely held religious beliefs and their belief is burdened by the law. The state or in this case county must prove there is a compelling state interest and that interest cannot be served by a “less restrictive alternative”.

Court cases provided several possible ways for me to write future legislation.

I share this story to demonstrate what happens when good and well-meaning people disagree. Solving thorny issues involves much research. Solutions involve a careful balance considering people’s opinions and past court decisions. But the best solution also relies on common sense.

A baker I recently met in Plum City said to me, “Maybe we should ask the Amish to come up with a solution they can live with.” This sounds like a great idea.

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Why Can’t Scott Walker Just Give A Straight Answer?

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 04 June 2014
in Wisconsin

scottwalker-questionGREEN BAY - I was watching Governor Scott Walker last Sunday morning on Up Front with Mike Gousha and was struck by a repeated question. Can’t this guy just give a straight answer?

When Gousha tried to tie him down on his repeated 250,000 job creation campaign promise, he said we were doing better than Illinois. When Gousha pointed out that Illinois was the only one of 10 Midwestern states that we surpassed, Walker changed the subject to the last three months.

I was struck most by his answer on the John Doe investigations into illegal activities by himself and his staff at Milwaukee County. “Those who know can’t talk” Walker said, and “those who don’t shouldn’t talk”. I really don’t know what that was supposed to mean.

Back in February, I went on record in this blog, under my own name, saying Scott Walker knew as far back as 2002 about the “secret network” in the Milwaukee County Executive’s office. I knew because I helped his staff, namely Tim Russell, set it up.

What was most interesting was the reaction from the Governor’s staff. Scott Walker wouldn’t talk about it, and they said the charge came from a known Democrat. They didn’t deny it, they just implied it was only politics and that seemed to satisfy folks.

Only, I wasn’t a Democrat in 2002. Back then, I was running around with a group of Milwaukee County inner ring suburban Republicans called the Franklin Citizens for Responsible Leadership. Scott Walker and Tim Russell most likely thought I was one of their own.

But by 2014 the story changed and it was all politics.

We should not accept these evasions. That there is no real truth in politics, that it is all just spin from one side or the other. To do so demeans ourselves was well as the standards we set for our political leaders.

Mike Gousha tried to get a straight answer from Scott Walker, and you could tell he was getting frustrated. But for a guy like Walker, the answers he gave to Mike and me will be good enough unless we show him we are not buying it any more.

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