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We Need to Better Connect

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 23 June 2021
in Wisconsin

broadband-map-northwoodsSen. Jeff Smith provides an update on what’s been happening with broadband expansion efforts during the state budget process.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - While the weather has warmed up, I’ve been able to hold more Stop N’ Talks and meet people throughout the district. During these visits, the question I’m asked most often is “Can’t you just get along?”

At the beginning of this legislative session, I was looking forward to finally getting back to work after a year the legislature seldom met. When this session began, I had high hopes that we had at least one important issue that every legislator seemed to agree on and that we might actually accomplish: broadband expansion.

This past year really illustrated how important it is for every household to be connected. It was encouraging to hear my colleagues on both sides of the aisle talk about the undeniable need to invest in and improve broadband access.

Governor Tony Evers heard Wisconsinites’ calls loud and clear by declaring 2021 the Year of Broadband Access. Governor Evers proposed a historic $200 million investment in his 2021-2023 biennial budget and added an additional $100 million in federal funding from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for broadband expansion.

Governor Evers delivered on his commitment to make 2021 the Year of Broadband Access. The application window for broadband expansion grants is currently open for communities and their partners to apply.

Meanwhile, the Republican Majority countered the Governor with a half-baked, deeply-flawed plan earlier this spring before the U.S. Treasury Department issued its guidance on how to use the ARPA money. Despite the problems with their proposal, the silver lining is that Republicans are finally willing to follow the Governor’s lead on broadband expansion.

Just last week, Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) – the legislative budget-writing committee – voted to borrow $125 million to expand broadband. Earlier this year, the Wisconsin State Journal reported that expanding broadband statewide would cost roughly $1.4 billion.

jeff-smithI’m not an accountant, but I know a bad deal when I see one. We could spend $1.4 billion to fully expand broadband in Wisconsin utilizing the $4.4 billion in new revenue we have today. But JFC Republicans decided to borrow, which will cost us $35 million in interest over the course of 20 years according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

To summarize, Republicans want to borrow and pay interest to address what may be the most pressing issue facing Wisconsinites, even though we have the funding immediately available.

So, why borrow? Well, this goes back to funding our public schools. Yes, it’s related. You see, the JFC slashed Governor Evers’ K-12 budget by 90%, thinking they could recoup that loss with federal ARPA funds. Unfortunately, this cut to our schools prevented Wisconsin from meeting a federal standard on state education spending to be eligible for $2.3 billion in additional funding. Republicans couldn’t invest any more state dollars – like $200 million for broadband access – without having to spend more in our classrooms. So, instead of investing our windfall of revenue into broadband expansion and putting a few more dollars in schools, Republicans chose to create more debt. This goes to show the lengths Republicans are willing to go to avoid properly funding our schools. It’s pretty hard to reconcile that and get along.

There was a time when opposing ideas could be worked out for the best outcomes. There was a time when elected officials were more responsive to your real needs rather than their own ideology. After such a difficult year, I, like many, hoped for a chance to work together, but it just isn’t panning out that way.

Internet isn’t the only thing we’re lacking connection on. Elected officials have become so disconnected from the communities they represent – communities who want better schools, better broadband and a better state for future generations. I still believe collaboration is possible, but it’ll take elected officials willing to listen and lead, putting your priorities over party interest.

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How a Surplus Can Help Us Bounce Back

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, 16 June 2021
in Wisconsin

wisconsin_unionSen. Smith shares a budget update and writes about the recent economic forecast, projecting $4.4 billion in new revenue coming into Wisconsin. This surplus gives ample opportunity for state leaders to address immediate needs and build our state up for success.

MADISON - Let’s face it, political philosophies often prevent elected officials from actually getting done what is expected of them. No news there.

Even when a legislator presents a good idea, members of the opposite party feel obligated to oppose it. They’ll find excuses to explain why now isn’t the right time to make the effort like “the state doesn’t have the money right now,” “there are higher priorities” or “we need to study it more.” Did I mention the “we just don’t have the money for it” excuse? That’s always the popular one.

During the budget cycle, when legislators are fussing over funding priorities, partisan excuses are heard on a daily basis. Sometimes it seems like the only reason things don’t get done is because it wasn’t the idea of the people in charge.

Over the last several weeks, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) – the legislative committee tasked with reviewing the state budget – has made sweeping changes to Governor Tony Evers’ initial proposal. The Republican Majority removed BadgerCare expansion (again), marijuana legalization, millions for our K-12 schools, key environmental conservation initiatives and more than 390 other proposals from the governor’s budget. All the usual excuses were uttered as one after another, Republicans couldn’t get themselves to support ideas put forth by Democrats no matter how logical and popular they might be.

Just last week though, the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, updated their economic forecast and projected $4.4 billion in new revenue coming into Wisconsin. That’s not a misprint. Over the last 15 months, state leaders expected slower growth, or even a shortfall, because of the pandemic. This would’ve forced many services and projects to be delayed or shelved. But, now here we are with a surplus. Oh, what to do?

There is ample opportunity to address immediate needs and build our state up for success. We could start by investing in infrastructure projects that are so sorely needed, including local road projects and improved broadband access. If someone didn’t understand the need to expand broadband before, the pandemic certainly showed them why broadband access is essential.

We can improve health and public safety by investing in substance abuse and mental health services. Many communities have also requested assistance in order to expand access to police body cameras and provide additional training for law enforcement officers.

It’s possible to invest this surplus to help our public schools. The Republican-led JFC chose to cut 90% from the governor’s budget for K-12 education. They can make up for that now and do even better for our students and families.

This surplus could help modernize Wisconsin’s outdated unemployment insurance system, which is still using computer software from the 1950’s and hardware from the 1970’s. We saw how much trouble the antiquated systems caused for so many Wisconsinites – there’s no reason to say “no” right now.

All of these ideas are investments into Wisconsin. State leaders should act on these ideas today to guarantee Wisconsin remains a state where business owners want to stay and families want to live. Good schools, good roads, connectivity and help when you need it – it’s the return you should expect from your investment.

jeff-smithBut this seems to be a philosophical difference we can’t get past. You see, the Republican Majority immediately thinks they can benefit themselves in their next election by targeting more tax breaks to corporations and the wealthy, rather than putting it back into our communities.

It’s interesting how we have this surplus after a year when so much slowed down. As our Fiscal Bureau noted in their report, this unprecedented surplus was possible because of the stimulus packages that targeted relief to working families, seniors and our local economies. This blueprint for success should serve as an example of how we should apply this $4.4 billion in unexpected revenue toward community investments, continuing the momentum to grow our economy and improve our financial security.

Let’s not squander this opportunity. We have a chance to bounce back stronger and build back better, so let’s get politics out of the way and make it happen.

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A Wisconsin Summer Adventure Awaits

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 09 June 2021
in Wisconsin

door-county_bikingSen. Smith writes about the many ways Wisconsinites can enjoy the outdoors during National Camping month and the summer months beyond.

EAU CLAIRE, WI - We love our beer and cheese in Wisconsin. But Wisconsin is more than beer and cheese. A whole lot more.

Over the last century, Wisconsin has been an escape from the hustle and bustle of the big city life. In the 1920s, the state was literally an escape for gangsters, like John Dillinger, who ran away to Little Bohemia Lodge in Manitowish Waters. Baby Face Nelson’s hideout was in Lac du Flambeau and the Capone’s family favorite was in Mercer. But you don’t need to be hiding from the law to find great adventure and enjoyment in Wisconsin.

Now is as good a time as any to plan and enjoy your great Wisconsin outdoor adventure. June happens to be National Camping Month to kick off the summer season. With numerous campgrounds spread throughout the state – access to rivers, lakes and parks is unmatched anywhere else – Wisconsin truly is the place to see, enjoy and explore.

Framed by Lake Superior on the northern border, Lake Michigan on the east and the St. Croix and Mississippi Rivers on the west, Wisconsin’s freshwater resources highlight Wisconsin’s natural beauty. Between those GREAT lakes and rivers, Wisconsin has 15,074 lakes according to the Department of Natural Resources. There are more than 12,600 rivers and streams meandering along 84,000 miles of terrain. Out of those rushing waters, there are over 2,700 trout streams. For fishing enthusiasts, there’s no better place for the thrill and adventure of the outdoors than here in Wisconsin.

The beauty of Wisconsin can truly be enjoyed along our waterways. For canoe and kayak enthusiasts, it’s always a thrill to explore the caves along the south shores of Lake Superior. One of the longest stretches of free-flowing rivers in the nation is right here in Wisconsin. After the removal of 4 dams, the Baraboo River has 112 miles of free-flowing river that can be traveled by canoe or kayak without ever leaving the water.

It’s no coincidence that some of the most noted environmentalists attached themselves to the beauty of Wisconsin. From First Nation members to more recent environmental conservation leaders, like Aldo Leopold, John Muir, Sigurd Olson and Gaylord Nelson, the natural splendor of Wisconsin inspired them and many others to protect our precious natural resources. Thanks to the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship program, established in 1989, we continue to preserve and enhance the enjoyment of Wisconsin’s natural treasures. As stewards of our land and water, we must ensure future generations will continue to have the same opportunities we have by making smart investments to preserve Wisconsin’s natural resources.

jeff-smithWisconsin has done a great job of mixing the natural beauty around us with fun recreational activities. From Northern getaways around Hayward, Bayfield and Minocqua to Door County and the Wisconsin Dells, tourists and residents alike have plenty of fun and wondrous choices where to enjoy Wisconsin. Tourism had an economic impact of $22.2 billion in Wisconsin in 2019 and we expect an even greater impact in 2021.

Campgrounds play an important role when it comes to enjoying Wisconsin’s outdoors. Camping isn’t only for those who fish, hike or canoe, either. Summer is also the time for music festivals, fairs and shows. Campgrounds provide that place where folks who share interests interact and extend the fun they had during the day.

Wisconsin’s music fest scene reaches nearly every corner of the state. Summerfest in Milwaukee is the largest music festival in the world. In western Wisconsin, we have Country Jam, Eaux Claires and Blue Ox in Eau Claire, Country Fest and Rock Fest in Cadott, Ashley for the Arts in Arcadia and Blues on the Chippewa in Durand. No matter where you are in Wisconsin, camping options and outdoor activities are never too far away.

During National Camping Month and the summer months beyond, take advantage of all that Wisconsin has to offer. You’ll be amazed by the opportunities and adventure that await.

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Wis Democracy Campaign - 2 Actions for You to Take

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Friday, 04 June 2021
in Wisconsin

wdc-logoMADISON - I hope you’re having a good week.

Here are two actions I’d like you to take:

1.     Tell your legislators to oppose Assembly Bill 369 relating to the timeline for local redistricting in Wisconsin following the 2020 federal decennial census.

This is a bill whose draft we were notified about last Friday as Memorial Day weekend was starting. It was formally introduced on Tuesday, the Assembly committee public hearing held yesterday, and it is on the agenda for a vote without a hearing in the Senate committee tomorrow morning! That’s far from adequate process. On substance, the bill would postpone the redistricting of local political districts until 2023. It would unconstitutionally disadvantage local communities, such as Madison, that have grown in population, and it would also let the State Legislature impose boundaries on local communities after that, which goes against the traditional way of Wisconsin, which starts the redistricting process from the local level on up, as I noted in my testimony here:

Don't Extend the Gerrymander

>>>Contact Assembly committee members and your legislators and strongly urge they oppose AB369.

2.     Sign the Fair Maps petition.

As part of the Wisconsin Fair Maps Coalition, we’re encouraging all of our members to sign this petition demanding that our legislators pass nonpartisan redistricting legislation:

>>>Tell Your Legislators to Pass Fair Maps

matt-rothschild-2018Thanks for taking these two actions to keep the heat on the Legislature!


Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Raise Your Glass (of Milk) and Celebrate Dairy Month

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 02 June 2021
in Wisconsin

farm-familySen. Smith writes about how Wisconsinites can celebrate Dairy Month in June. Dairy breakfasts are just one way to show your appreciation for our farmers and members of Wisconsin’s agricultural industry.

MADISON - There has always been an attachment to agriculture for Wisconsinites. From the earliest days, the hilly landscape and fertile soils of the Driftless region provided perfect conditions for producing food. It helps, too, that Wisconsin has so much fresh water nearby.

Thanks to this ideal landscape and generations of hard work, Wisconsin built a reputation over time as a top agricultural producer and a state that will never deny a love for food.

While our state is a national leader in cranberry and potato production, dairy is still king in Wisconsin. Despite the loss of many farms in our state, we’ve still held on to the title of America’s Dairyland – and for good reason. We have 1.28 million cows and almost 7,000 dairy farms in Wisconsin, which is more than any other state. Dairy alone accounts for $45.6 billion to our economy in Wisconsin. If these numbers didn’t convince you, the fact that Packer fans wear a foam cheese hat to games is evidence enough that we take our title of America’s Dairyland very seriously.

Wisconsinites will never shy away from the chance to eat a squeaky cheese curd, order a scoop of fresh ice cream or go head-to-head in a milk chug challenge. And that’s why we proudly celebrate June as Dairy Month. It all starts with fresh milk from healthy cows, but there are so many hardworking professionals that go to work every day so you can enjoy the best dairy products in the country. From our dedicated farmers and milk haulers to the technicians and cheesemakers of Wisconsin – we celebrate them and their work during Dairy Month!

Year after year, Wisconsin cheesemakers prove their products are incomparable. From Colby to cheddar; from Gouda to asiago; from string cheese to cheese curds, we’re spoiled here with the best tasting cheeses in the world. With over 1,200 licensed cheesemakers producing over 600 types of cheeses, we have almost twice as many cheese choices than any other state. Our cheesemakers produce 26% of the cheese consumed in America, which amounted to 3.39 billion pounds in 2020.

Our cheesemakers export their products around the world with the leading importers of our dairy products being Canada, China and Japan. Okay, maybe the deep-fried cheese curds aren’t the healthiest food, but you can’t beat that very special treat to share with friends.

Don’t just take it from me; athletes can also vouch for Wisconsin dairy. Fun fact: chocolate milk is a proven best source for sport recovery. In fact, studies conducted in high school sports camps found that athletes drinking chocolate milk saw greater improvement in their performance over those who drank a sugary sports drink. It appears chocolate milk is not just for fun and flavor.

jeff-smithFor almost 50 years, Wisconsin has celebrated June Dairy Month with dairy breakfasts in nearly every county. Each year a different farm will host a dairy breakfast in their county, making it even more fun and interesting. Anyone can attend and they do by the thousands. You’ll find hundreds of people in line for delicious pancakes, waffles, milk, cheese curds and ice cream served by the host family and volunteers from the area.

Dairy breakfasts are more than just about the food, though. It’s about learning where our milk comes from. As visitors tromp around the grounds, they’re able to take hay rides, examine the latest equipment and even watch demonstrations. Of course, the animals are often the main attraction for young kids.

Dairy breakfasts have proven to be extremely successful over the years. Host families put in a lot of work to make it a memorable experience for every visitor. Show your appreciation for our farmers and members of Wisconsin’s agricultural industry by visiting a dairy breakfast this June. Find your nearest dairy breakfast at WisconsinDairy.org and bring the family out this month to enjoy some live music, farm activities and the best breakfast you could ask for.

Statistics in this column come from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

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