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Walker's “Eat Dessert First” Budget

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 Wednesday, 19 June 2013
in Wisconsin

walkerSenator Kathleen Vinehout gives an overview of provisions included in the AB 40, the 2012-15 State Budget Bill and the impact of some of those provisions. Spending in this budget does not decline and includes the revenue lost to the state as a result of the tax cuts, leaving less revenue for the state’s largest financial investments: local government, education, health care and corrections. It also increases debt and leaves a structural deficit for the future.


MADISON - “I love to eat dessert first,” the Prescott man said as he munched on cake. He smiled and said, “The problem is you don’t have room for the good things you need to eat.”

The first course of dessert in the state budget is a tax cut for about seventy five percent of tax filers. For a taxpayer making $30,000 a year the tax cut would be about $50 a year and for someone making over $300,000 about $1,500.

Tax rates would be collapsed - income at the $14 an hour range would be taxed at the same rate as income made at the $150 an hour range.

“It’s hard to be against a tax cut,” my colleague told me. “But the rest of the budget suffers because of this cut.”

The tax change would permanently remove about $600 million of state revenue. Because spending is not reduced – this budget spends $4 billion more than the last – a half a billion dollar structural deficit is created down the road.

The second course of dessert is almost 100 policy changes unrelated to the state’s finances that, in many cases, reward special interests or benefit certain lawmakers. One example is elimination of the UW sponsored Center for Investigative Reporting; another is overturning a Supreme Court decision on lead paint.

The real meat and potatoes of state government are state operations and funding sent to our local communities, colleges and universities. The state budget affects many parts of our lives. For simplicity’s sake I’ll mention just a handful of major programs with a few details on what’s in the budget.

Six items make up 85 percent of the state budget: health, K-12 education, corrections, transportation, the UW system and local government. Each of these areas of spending deserves a thorough look at how to improve operations. Unfortunately most of the discussion on the budget hasn’t focused on the meat and potatoes.

Health spending increases by over two billion dollars despite the Governor’s proposal to end BadgerCare for nearly 100,000 people. A simple change in eligibility would have saved over one hundred million in state funds. Instead the state spends more and fewer people are covered by Medicaid.

K-12 education receives a slight increase, but a large part of this goes to fund a statewide expansion of public spending for private schools.

The prison budget adds millions more to account for an increase in the prison population. Drug court, community policing and other programs to reduce crime and addictions are eliminated or in jeopardy.

Money for roads and bridges is dwindling, as autos are more efficient. As gas tax collections fall, lawmakers consider other ways to fund transportation. Instead of solving this long-term problem, the budget transfers nearly half a billion from the general fund – leaving less to fund K-12 schools, UW and other state expenses.

Local government and the university system receive very little additional money leaving questions about how these entities will cut services as they try to cover increasing costs.

Long-term finances are stable but precarious. The economy is improving. Tax collections are expected to increase. But financial forecasts are inconsistent. For example, budget writers built into the budget several hundred million in new tax collections. Yet a recent forecast by the Philadelphia Federal Reserve shows Wisconsin’s economy contracting over the next six months.

This budget continues to increase debt. Not enough money is put away should the state face another economic down turn. Following the law and setting aside 2% of the general fund as a cushion in the state’s checkbook could improve finances. Instead, the Governor changes the law and keeps a mere half a percent as a financial cushion in the reserve fund.

Every parent who tells their children not to eat dessert first knows there will not room for the meat and potatoes. They also know there’s going to be a crash from eating all that sugar.

Wisconsin’s fiscal sugar crash is likely to show up in the spring of 2015 when the next Governor and lawmakers pick up the pieces set in motion in June of 2013.

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Freedoms Lost Are Hard To Regain

Posted by Dr. Steve Kagen, M.D.
Dr. Steve Kagen, M.D.
Dr. Steve Kagen, M.D. is a physician and a former congressman from Appleton.
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on Monday, 17 June 2013
in Wisconsin

reid_ribble_congressAPPLETON - In 2011, Rep. Reid Ribble voted to give away our right to privacy and, last week, we see its shameful consequences.

With Ribble’s permission, federal agents searched and seized personal telephone and electronic communications. In a single vote, Ribble erased what thousands of patriotic Americans died for — our right to privacy and our freedom of speech. As events in Washington show, freedoms lost are hard to regain.

The excuse offered by Ribble to allow the government to spy on all Americans was based on ignorance and fear. His statement reads in part, “While I have reservations with programs that put civil liberties at risk, the provisions that we voted on yesterday are carefully balanced to protect our vital, constitutionally protected civil liberties. These provisions permit law enforcement engaged in foreign terrorism investigations to carry out their duties without curtailing our rights. I’ve heard from law enforcement officials, other members of Congress and leaders from both parties that these tools have prevented attacks on our country and are necessary in our fight against terrorism.”

Without curtailing our rights? Ignorance is no excuse, for there is no reason to give up our freedoms. Ben Franklin agreed: “Those who give up their liberty for more security neither deserve liberty nor security.”

Thomas Jefferson also warned about ill-informed politicians: “If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Human history has proven there will never be an honest excuse for giving away our freedoms. Never in Wisconsin’s 8th District history has an elected official been so easily duped into giving away our civil liberties.

By contrast, this same issue arose in the House of Representatives late at night on Aug. 4, 2007. Due to time constraints, I was not permitted to speak against a similar bill to deprive us of our Fourth Amendment rights. Instead, I submitted this handwritten statement:

“Our nation has faced many challenges in our history, and none more serious or deadly than our battle against violent extremists. Make no mistake, we must do whatever it takes to defend America and keep hostilities from our shores. We must be tough and we must be smart. We have the tough part right, and now more than ever we must be smart.

“The bill now before the House asks the American people to give up our Fourth Amendment rights without firing a single shot, even when the facts reveal we already have laws to allow intelligence agencies to protect all of us.

“The Senate-sponsored bill trades our Fourth Amendment rights for a false promise of security. It pretends to offer our people the reassurance that the current attorney general — a man few believe to be honorable or honest — will exercise good judgment in defending all of us.

“Our nation has lost faith in this administration’s competence and has lost faith in the ability of President Bush to understand and obey the rule of law. Having lost our faith in this president, we must not lose our constitutional rights as well. We must defend our nation, and we can continue to do so under the rule of law.”

Elections are about choices and consequences, and sadly the election of a man with poor judgment resulted in the loss of our right to privacy and a diminution of our freedom of speech.

It will be difficult to regain our freedoms, but by working together, we will. Next election, vote for someone else, someone with good judgment who will fight to restore and protect all our rights and freedoms.

 

— Dr. Steve Kagen is an Appleton resident who represented Wisconsin’s 8th Congressional District from 2007 to 2011.

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Do State Lawmakers Really Know All the Details of Walker's Medicaid Plan?

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, 10 June 2013
in Wisconsin

walker-rejects-med-moneyWill the truth on Walker's medicaid blunder get out of the Madison-Milwaukee echo chamber? Republican lawmakers are fooling themselves and the public if they believe Walker's talking points on health care reform, says Senator Kathleen Vinehout in her latest column on the Governor’s plan for Medicaid that was affirmed by the Joint Finance Committee.


MADISON - “We want to make things better,” one of the Finance Committee members recently told his colleagues. This Medicaid plan, he said, “Protects taxpayers, strengthens the safety net and lowers total cost to taxpayers.”

What actually happened would cost the state a hundred million more dollars than full Medicaid expansion, drop coverage for 84,000 people and leave almost half a billion of federal dollars on the table in this coming budget.

Only half of those who lost Medicaid will likely ever sign up for private insurance. When they do, their federal cost to taxpayers will be $3,000 more per person than if they had stayed on the Medicaid program.

Some lawmakers argue the safety net will be strengthened by opening up the Medicaid doors to all those who make less than $11,500 a year for a single person; that those who lose Medicaid are easily covered under the exchange and in the long run taxpayers save.

The problem: private insurance costs more to buy and more to administer. Poor people are unlikely to sign up for something they can’t afford.

Fiscal Bureau analysts caution the “take-up” rate, meaning those poor families who actually sign up for private insurance, will be much less than the near perfect number estimated in the administration’s budget.

This concern is justified. According to a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) study from last summer, an estimated one half of those losing Medicaid will never buy private insurance.

Those who do will receive federal tax credits and subsidies. Because of the increasing cost of subsidies and credits, CBO estimates federal spending would rise by roughly $3,000 per person by 2022. This is the difference between exchange subsidies of about $9,000 per person and estimated Medicaid savings of roughly $6,000.

Some analysts are quietly grateful at least the Governor decided to allow those up to 100% of the Federal Poverty Limit (FPL) - $11,500 for a single person - to receive Medicaid. Anyone below 100% of FPL is not even eligible for subsidies or tax credits. This limited lawmakers’ choices.

The majority of the state’s budget writing committee affirmed the only choice the Governor had if he wanted to continue to argue that he still opposed “ObamaCare”: cover those with incomes at or below 100% of FPL and drop (or phase out) Medicaid for parents who now receive Medicaid and make up to twice the FPL.

Simply put – if you make under $11,500 as an individual or $15,500 as a couple you will be eligible for Medicaid. If not, you’d better find out about the exchange because you can’t get on Medicaid.

Three additional factors add sting to this decision. Unlike the federal law, the Governor’s plan does not modify your income by dropping 5% to determine eligibility. Second, the plan changes the law to require that depreciation be counted as income. This is a big change for farmers who argue depreciation is not real money they can save but an adjustment on tax forms. Third, 18 year-olds are no longer covered unless they are still in high school or technical college and will graduate by age 19. Foster children are still covered until age 26.

Republican leaders appear to be following the Arkansas approach of partial Medicaid expansion. However, if Arkansas is the model, the Governor might have duped Republicans on the Finance Committee.

To move towards the Governor’s plan, the feds require the state to seek a waiver of federal law. If Arkansas’ case is prologue, Wisconsin may be required to treat those dropped from Medicaid as if they are still on Medicaid - with choice of at least two qualifying health plans and “wrap-around” Medicaid-like services if benefits are less or cost sharing is more.

Correspondence from the feds to Arkansas makes it clear the feds will evaluate each waiver on a case-by-case basis. Budget language makes it a clear this waiver must be sought and followed. This leaves a lot up the air.

Especially for elected officials who want to hit the campaign trail saying, “I said ‘no’ to ObamaCare.”

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Vouchers Pass, While you were sleeping...

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 Wednesday, 05 June 2013
in Wisconsin

MADISON - At 3 o'clock in the morning, in the dark of the night while most of Wisconsin was fast asleep, Republicans in the Joint Finance Committee voted to expand statewide taxpayer-funded vouchers for private education in our state.  This vote occurred after weeks of closed door backroom meetings with special interest groups.

The Senate Republican plan for statewide voucher expansion is even more extreme than what Governor Walker initially proposed.

It was bad enough that Scott Walker wanted to expand vouchers schools into 9 school districts throughout the state, but now EVERY community will see voucher expansion.

This voucher scheme forces all families to pay for their neighbor’s children to attend private schools, which have been proven to under perform compared to our neighborhood public schools and are not held accountable to the taxpayers.

In addition, taxpayers whose districts are forced to accept private school vouchers will see their property taxes increase and their local school aids cut to pay for a separate under performing, unaccountable school system.

Please contribute today to show Republicans you do not support their plan to expand vouchers schools to all of Wisconsin’s school districts.


We can do better in Wisconsin. Instead of doling out millions of taxpayer dollars to private school special interests in the middle of the night, we can invest in our children's future by supporting our public schools.  The only way to ensure that happens is by taking back the majority in the Wisconsin State Senate.

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Coming to Wisconsin? Dog the Bounty Hunter?

Posted by Peter Barca, Assembly Democratic Leader, District 64
Peter Barca, Assembly Democratic Leader, District 64
Representative Peter Barca is a lifelong citizen of Kenosha and Somers. He curre
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on Wednesday, 05 June 2013
in Wisconsin

As you are aware late night backroom deals are alive and well in the Wisconsin State Capitol.

With the state budget now on its way to the Assembly and Senate for approval, it is safe to say that at least Dog the Bounty Hunter will be celebrating this recent development, while the middle class and the economy will continue to suffer.

While you were sleeping last night, the Republican controlled Joint Finance Committee approved extreme motions, one of which included permitting a private bail bond system to be implemented in Milwaukee and four other counties.

Commercial bail bonds have been banned in Wisconsin since 1979 and faced near universal opposition from judges, lawyers and law enforcement. This opposition continues today on the basis that bail bonds are ineffective and a threat to public safety.

Please help us fight against this measure with your contribution of $100, $50, $25 or $10. Republicans should not be allowed to let special interests trump the safety of Wisconsin’s citizens.

Other major motions approved exclusively by Republicans on the JFC and further undermine the middle class were:

  • Income tax cuts of $651 million that will primarily benefit the wealthy or top earning 1% of taxpayers—not the middle class
  • An expansion of taxpayer funded, unaccountable private school vouchers across the state, which DPI estimated could cost nearly $2 billion annually
  • Public school students will see an increase of only $300 per student over the next two years after suffering historic cuts of $1.6 billion in the last budget. This cut created the surplus that is now being used to bailout private school vouchers and fund tax cuts for the wealthy

You can help us stop these radical attacks on Wisconsin’s middle class by contributing $100, $50, $25 or $10. Your contribution will help ensure that we have the resources to stand up to Republicans.

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