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Wis Democracy Campaign - Beware! Poison in the Revenue Sharing Bill

Posted by Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Matt Rothschild
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Matt Rothschild
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Friday, 02 June 2023
in Wisconsin

wdc-logo-2022Matt finally gets to testify on State's revenue-sharing bill.


MADISON - Last week, I went to a hearing at the State Capitol on the revenue-sharing bill.

I got there a good fifteen minutes before the hearing was to start, and I was one of the first to fill out the form that I wanted to testify about the bill.

The meeting started at 9:00 a.m. By 10:00 a.m., the sponsors of the bill had testified. By 11:00 a.m., a lot of local officials had already testified. By noon, still more. By 1:00 p.m., there were only a few people left to testify. By 1:45 p.m., there was only one person left to testify: Me!

If Committee Chair Dan Knodl thought he could wait me out, he was dead wrong. Here’s the testimony I waited so long to give:

Don’t Abridge Our Right to Petition Our Government!

Speaking of Knodl, we’ve completed our first count of the cost of the special election he won in April when he narrowly defeated Jodi Habush Sinykin. If you want to find out who the big donors in that one were, just click here:

Special Legislative Election Cost Nearly $3M

And here’s a tasty little item! The Milwaukee businessman who’s running the GOP Convention there next summer actually donated the max to Joe Biden last time around:

gop-conv-2024WI GOP Donor Heading 2024 Presidential Convention Also Gave to Biden

I hope you like these offerings, and I hope you have a nice weekend!

 

 


matt-rothschild-2018Best,

Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
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Save Lives, Stop Prohibition

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, 31 May 2023
in Wisconsin

marijuana-wi-presentIllinois and Michigan have long been collecting hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue from Wisconsin residents who cross the border to purchase marijuana. Now Minnesota is poised to join them. Wisconsin needs to catch up.


MADISON - Wisconsin is in a rapidly-shrinking minority of states that have not legalized marijuana, one of only ten in the country.

Our immediate neighbors are way ahead of us. Illinois has generated $425 million in tax revenue from legal sales of marijuana, with an estimated $36 million coming directly from Wisconsin residents. Not only is the new source of funding benefiting Illinois as a whole, a portion of each dollar spent is being reinvested in communities that have been forced to do more with less.

marijuana-store-beloitWhile Michigan does not break down marijuana tax revenue by the buyer’s state of residence, Michigan collected $325 million in marijuana tax revenue overall. Dispensaries near the Wisconsin-Michigan border report about half their sales are to out-of-state customers. That tax revenue supplied $60 million to Michigan municipalities and counties in the past fiscal year and sent $70 million to both K-12 education and the Michigan Transportation Fund.

Minnesota will be the next to legalize recreational pot. Our neighbor to the west has had medical marijuana since 2014. As I write this column, both houses of the Minnesota Legislature have passed the bill to legalize recreational marijuana and the governor has pledged to sign it. This renders Wisconsin a desert island in the Great Lakes region, denied a safe and effective medicine, the tens of thousands of jobs the industry could create and a massive source of funding that could be used to improve communities here in Wisconsin.

Over two-thirds of Wisconsinites support marijuana legalization, according to an August 2022 Marquette Law School poll, yet the gerrymandered Republican majority won’t even hold a hearing on the subject.

Marijuana legalization would grow Wisconsin’s economy and help us recover from the fiscal turmoil of COVID-19. Governor Evers’ proposed budget taxes marijuana similarly to alcohol, and would generate an estimated $165 million in revenue. Close to $80 million from marijuana sales would be reinvested statewide through the Community Reinvestment Fund, with $34 million to support our smaller and more spread-out rural schools.

marijuanaplantshandsLegalizing marijuana is not only about the potential tax revenue. Marijuana would be a boon to Wisconsin’s agriculture industry. Many of our farmers are rapidly aging out of the workforce – the U.S. Census Bureau reports the average American farmer is 57 ½ years of age. It’s vital for our farm industry and land stewardship for young farmers to have new opportunities to grow with this new and lucrative crop.

It’s hard for our kids and grandkids to consider farming a viable career and a thriving lifestyle while we are stuck in the past. In states that have legalized recreational marijuana, new opportunities have attracted younger farmers to the growing and profitable industry of cultivating cannabis.

My colleague Senator Melissa Agard (D-Madison) often says the most dangerous thing about marijuana is that it’s illegal. I agree wholeheartedly, and throughout communities in my district I’ve seen cannabis prohibition does more harm than good.

Like other food, drug and alcohol products, our elected bodies determine what is legal and regulated. When we buy our food in a grocery store or alcoholic beverages in a tavern, consumers can be confident that they are buying products that have been approved and inspected for safe consumption. Marijuana legalization will create a safe product for consumers while opening doors for farmers and entrepreneurs to get involved in a well-regulated market.

jeff-smithThere’s much to be said about the long-term health benefits of marijuana legalization. Those who use cannabis to treat chronic pain will have access to a medicine that, unlike opioids, does not lead to debilitating addiction. Those who use cannabis recreationally would be assured a safe and regulated product, free from poisonous additives.

Times and attitudes are changing, but still, the most dangerous thing about cannabis right now is that it’s illegal. Wisconsin needs to catch up to our neighboring states and create a safe market for marijuana. This plan makes sense – it’s about time the Wisconsin Legislature acts on it.

Wisconsin should take advantage of the same opportunities our neighbors have by legalizing cannabis. In doing so, we take a huge step toward modernizing our economy and strengthening our future.

****

Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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Proof We Can Get Things Done Together

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, 24 May 2023
in Wisconsin

wi-senate-swearing-inLast week, the Joint Finance Committee voted unanimously to raise the pay of public defenders and district attorneys. This step can help restore confidence in the Legislature’s ability to get the people’s work accomplished.


MADISON - In an environment where politics can be so disagreeable, it is nice to report something good coming out of the Capitol. Last week, taking a break from the vitriol to which we have become all-too accustomed, members of the Legislature came to a bipartisan agreement.

The state of Wisconsin has faced a crisis brewing in our justice system for years. The old adage states “the wheels of justice turn slowly,” and in the past couple years it seems to have come to a near stop.

People accused of offenses are guaranteed a speedy trial by our Constitution. Victims also deserve to have cases resolved in a timely manner. Yet our system has become so broken that justice has become unreliable. With challenges faced by law enforcement and our courts, neither victims nor the accused always see justice served.

In simple terms: justice should be fair and timely. It’s the state’s responsibility to ensure this, and yet in past years the investment just hasn’t been there. The pay available for assistant district attorneys (DAs) and public defenders has not been competitive enough to keep positions filled. Understaffed and overworked, elected DAs have resigned when it became impossible to keep up with the caseload.

Members of both parties in the Legislature have been concerned about this issue, and Governor Evers and the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) have taken steps to fix it. After years of falling behind in pay equity for assistant DAs and public defenders, the JFC voted to raise pay for public defenders, assistant DAs and elected DAs alike.

attorney-public-defenderAssistant DAs and public defenders would receive $8.76 more per hour, increasing starting salaries from $56,659 per year to $74,880. The provisions also exempt current assistant DAs and public defenders from current maximum salary levels so they can qualify for deserved increases in pay.

We’ve also seen elected DAs take a demotion to deputy DA to take advantage of better pay. These budget provisions ensure DAs are being paid in keeping with the position of leadership they hold.

In the case that a public defender is not available, the court system engages private attorneys. Under these budget provisions, compensation for private attorneys needed for those cases will also be raised to better incentivize attorneys to step in when needed.

Funding is included for some much-needed positions in Kenosha and Sauk Counties, currently funded through pandemic funds that are slated to expire. These two counties often take on cases for offenders who are not considered local to them, severely overtaxing their courts. These provisions increase funding to pay for the additional circuit court branches created in the last budget. The budget includes funding to help the Supreme Court update and maintain aging cybersecurity software.

For both the accused and the victim of a crime, the Constitution guarantees the right to a fair trial. It is our duty to make sure everything is in place so justice is upheld in a fair and timely manner.

jeff-smithLegislators like to imagine they are being good stewards of the public’s money when they reduce spending, but this is often the opposite of the truth. In reality, when we don’t keep up with costs, it compounds problems and cuts people off from access to services guaranteed to them by our government. The longer we put it off, the more costly it becomes, putting us in a position where we are falling ever more behind.

By paying legal professionals in public service a fair and competitive wage, we will restore trust in our justice system. And it happened in the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, which agreed unanimously to move Governor Evers’ proposal forward.

If we can work towards more bipartisan agreements on the important issues facing our state, we could even start to restore faith and trust in our legislature. Isn’t that a great idea?


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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What To Do When Voters Want Something Else

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, 17 May 2023
in Wisconsin

univ-student-voteSen. Smith discusses the recently introduced Republican shared revenue proposal that would take this important tool out of the hands of local governments.


EAU CLAIRE, WI - Have you ever seen a child throw a fit when they are losing a game? They may argue that the rules are unfair, they may change the rules or even flip the game board over and stomp off. I’ve witnessed that behavior, and the best way to respond is to ignore it and continue to move forward with the rest of the game. The only person they hurt is themselves and they must learn to accept that you cannot always win and have your best day.

Some adults, it seems, never learned that lesson. Maybe that type of behavior was accepted in their childhood, and their caregivers made excuses for them when they threw fits. When they didn’t make the starting lineup, instead of trying harder they blamed the coach. When a call didn’t go their way, they blamed the referee.

I’ve heard people refer to what goes on in our legislature as “playground politics” because it can be so petty and childish.

After the election last month in which a progressive candidate won a Supreme Court seat, there was plenty of lamenting from the supporters of the runner-up and indeed, from the candidate himself, who proved to be a very bad sport in his “concession speech.”

But a few weeks later Republican strategist Cleta Mitchell spoke to donors in Nashville about the results in Wisconsin. Her answer to the poor showing of this conservative candidate was not that conservatives should adjust their message or policies. No, she suggested instead that Republicans find new ways to suppress the vote of those who disagree with them.

Because young voters are showing up in record numbers, she complained that polling places were located too close to college dormitories and we should do away with early voting and same-day registration. This is nothing new – we heard similar takes from Wisconsin Elections Commissioner Bob Spindell referring to suppressing votes in Milwaukee. If they don’t win, their strategy is to make it more difficult for their opponents to vote.

In many states, voters are able to put initiatives on the ballot by petition. For instance, Michigan voters didn’t need to wait for their elected legislators to accept a fair method of drawing legislative district lines. They made it happen themselves through a grassroots effort and put the measure directly on their ballot. When asked to vote directly on the issue, Michigan voters were overwhelmingly in support of nonpartisan redistricting and roundly rejected gerrymandering in what’s called a binding referendum.

In Wisconsin we do not have the ability to put measures directly on the ballot through grassroots initiatives. However, many communities have passed advisory ballot referenda to gauge how voters feel about various issues. You may have recently had the opportunity to make your voice heard on subjects like abortion rights, fair maps or marijuana legalization in one of these advisory referenda.

These subjects have garnered overwhelming support from voters, which almost always come out with nearly 70% in support of redistricting reform and decriminalizing marijuana. Yet nothing changes in Wisconsin, because we have a fringe group of legislators clinging to power and ignoring your voice in the Legislature.

jeff-smithIf you’re a regular reader of this column, you’ve heard me talk many times about the need for more funding for our local communities, often referred to as “shared revenue.” In his budget, Governor Evers included a robust plan to get local communities the money they need to fund essential services.

But as usual, Republicans have a different plan.

In their recent introduction of a bill to “fix” shared revenue, rather than giving local communities the reins, Republicans have attached many strings to the increased funding going to municipalities.

One of these stipulations? Communities would no longer have the opportunity to place referendum questions on the ballot. Once again, when the answer does not fit their way of thinking they just want to remove your voice from the equation. Your opinions are making them look bad. How much of our freedom to speak is going to be lost before we have no voice at all?


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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What’s On the Chopping Block?

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, 10 May 2023
in Wisconsin

wisconsin-senateSenator Smith discusses several key programs Republicans eliminated from the Governor’s budget and the importance of the Governor’s proposed investments to Wisconsin’s future prosperity.


MADISON - Last week the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, made up of 12 Republicans and 4 Democrats, were supposed to begin deliberating on the Governor’s biennial budget proposal. Instead, in a 12-4 party line vote, Republicans’ first action was to remove the vast majority of Governor Evers’ proposal. No deliberation, just flat out dismissal for the third time since Governor Evers became Governor.

This is no surprise. Republican leaders promised they’d gut the Governor’s budget only minutes after he first presented it in February, before a single legislator had even seen the budget document. Blind partisanship out the gate.

I don’t think anyone expects 132 legislators to agree on 100% of any budget bill. That’s why we have listening sessions, committee hearings and floor sessions – to hear from each other and the public and to hash out differences of opinion.

In our present political environment, it’s become standard procedure that anything suggested by a Democrat is ignored or dismissed out of hand without even the slightest consideration by Republicans. It’s sad this has been the fate of the Governor’s budget for a third time in a row.

One provision that’s been unceremoniously stripped from the budget is paid family and medical leave. Paid leave is a boon to our economy – it helps families care for sick kids, aging relatives and to get themselves well enough to keep working. If Wisconsin women participated in the labor force at the same rate they do in countries with paid family and medical leave, we would have an estimated 22,000 more workers in the state and $158 million more in wages earned statewide.

But 62% of Wisconsinites do not have access to even unpaid family and medical leave under federal law. The Governor’s budget contained provisions to provide up to 12 weeks of paid family and medical leave for Wisconsin and expanded eligibility for the program to include unexpected loss of child care.

After a one-time startup cost of $243 million from our $7 billion budget surplus, the program would become self-sustaining through payroll contributions. Funding this program is critical to ensuring Wisconsinites welcoming a child into their lives or caring for loved ones at home don’t have to worry about their jobs or struggling financially while temporarily away from work.

Another provision the Joint Finance Committee stripped from the Governor’s proposed budget was marijuana legalization. Polls and referenda have shown again and again how popular medical marijuana legalization is with Wisconsinites across the political spectrum. In 2019, the Marquette University Law School poll found over 80% of Wisconsinites support the legalization of medical marijuana.

But with legalization stripped out of the Governor’s budget, Wisconsinites will need to keep crossing the border – any border – for pain relief. Just this past year, Illinois estimated they collected over $36 million in taxes from Wisconsinites travelling across state lines to purchase marijuana. It’s past time we listened to our constituents and legalized medical marijuana.

These were only two of the 545 items Republicans stripped from the Governor’s budget proposal. Some of the other changes included:

·         Passing on the $1.6 billion in savings we’d get from the federal government for fully expanding Medicaid in Wisconsin

·         Failing to close loopholes that enable manufacturers to get out of paying taxes to the tune of $400 million

·         Deleting $1.2 billion worth of tax relief for middle class families

·         Eliminating PFAS standards for drinking water, surface waters and groundwater

·         Cutting $800 million allocated to fully expand broadband in Wisconsin

·         Eradicating $576 million in additional funding for local governments in shared revenue

Governor Evers’ budget does the right thing for Wisconsinites and for Wisconsin’s economy. Tossing out reasonable proposals without serious consideration is shortsighted and disingenuous. When reasonable suggestions are dismissed without consideration, the process is broken.

jeff-smithWe Democrats in the Wisconsin Legislature have become sadly accustomed to seeing any legislation we introduce languish without a hearing. But the Governor has a power that no legislator has: the veto.

Our system of government has been designed with checks and balances. If Republicans in the Legislature continue to operate in this high-handed, non-collaborative and partisan way for the third time in a row, they should fully expect to see the Governor’s veto pen this time around.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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