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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 the State Senator from the 31st District of Wisconsin. She was a candidate for Governor in 2014 until an injury forced her out of the race , was one of the courageous Wisconsin 14, and ran for Governor again in 2018.

Sen. Vinehout "Saying Goodbye"

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 Wednesday, 26 December 2018
in Wisconsin

kathleen-vinehoutKathleen Vinehout looks back at her twelve years of service as the State Senator for the 31st District as she reflects on the 624 columns she personally wrote, the countless heartfelt constituent cases she worked on, and the breadth of legislation she drafted.


MADISON - “Good Bye,” I said to my friend. “I remember the first time I met you,” she said in reply. “It was at the ‘New Legislator Training’ …I was going through my spiel. You kept asking questions about auditing and program evaluation. I was impressed way back then.”

Twelve years – to that day – my Senate career is history. My, how time flies.

Cleaning out my desk, I found notes I took on my orientation day. I set my goals as part of the training. Here’s what rookie Senator Vinehout promised herself: vote my conscience; match my votes to my district; be honest; respond to constituents; show respect to everyone in the Capitol; be the ‘servant leader’ – humble and listening; be the professor and folksy farmer.

I’d say, I did pretty darn good.

capitol-dome-mdsnAs a rookie, I wanted to solve every problem. I naively thought getting the policy correct meant a bill would become law. My first big project was to draft a healthcare bill that covered everyone and saved a billion dollars – my colleagues and I called it Healthy Wisconsin.

I quickly learned just coming up with a plan was a long way from changing the law. The plan failed. Later, I was able to pass less ambitious, but important health bills. For example, keeping your adult children on your health plan until they turn 27 – years before the Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed.

Today, Wisconsin still grapples with high health care costs. Recent court decisions to overturn the ACA make state health protections even more critical.

School funding, like health, was a perennial concern. In the new legislator orientation, my notes tell me, we learned “What’s wrong with the existing system.”

I recently attended my last hearing in the Capitol – The Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding Reform. Twelve years later, I’m still listening to experts, including school superintendents, about what’s best to help kids. I joined with other commissioners to propose nearly 20 solutions for fixing our school funding problems.

I was encouraged the Commission found so much agreement. I’m hopeful the recommended solutions will be adopted in the upcoming state budget.

I carry the stories of people and their problems with me, in my mind and heart. Sometimes I helped. Sometimes I couldn’t. People called me when they faced impossible conundrums. Like the truck driver who needed his CDL renewed. The federal law called Real ID, requires birth certificates for driver licenses. The man was born in Mexico. As an adopted infant, his American parents never finished the naturalization process. He needed a birth certificate that didn’t exist. His adopted parents passed away. The adoption agency closed. I could find no solution.

This kind of situation tears at my heart.

Along the way, I’ve learned that just having a Senator listen can be a powerful act. I spent a lot of time listening. I slowly learned that, by itself, listening can heal.

I’ve heard so many stories. Many were shared in my weekly column. You are reading the 624th column I’ve written. And, yes, I personally wrote every single one.

There’s a lot to a lawmaker’s job. One metric for measuring success is the bills one introduced. Over 12 years, I introduced 364 bills. Forty-three became law. Working in a Republican Legislature for the past 8 years, I’ve had to work with my Republican colleagues as 2nd author to get my bills passed.

Of course, merely counting bills doesn’t address the breadth or quality of the proposals. Like Healthy Wisconsin, I’ve grappled with transformational issues. Topics like free college tuition, universal broadband, and, of course, universal healthcare.

I’ve always thought of my job as a team effort. Yes, my name is on the door. But that role cannot be accomplished by one person. Doug, my loving husband, is my rock and political guru. My son Nathan is my greatest joy.

I was blessed with amazing staff: Jacob Wipperfurth, Beau Stafford and my retiring, fabulous, Chief of Staff, Linda Kleinschmidt. I was also blessed with incredible constituents. Thank you to all of you. I’m a better Senator because of your help.

Keep Sowing Seeds for Peace on Earth and Good Will to All!

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Conversations with Constituents

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 Wednesday, 19 December 2018
in Wisconsin

kvinehout_tvannounceSen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about her contacts with constituents while in the state Senate, from the many who had problems that required her help to how she benefited from all the times they shared their stories and knowledge with her.


MADISON - “You all lie, steal and cheat,” the Sparta woman told me. I did not know her, and when I disagreed, she said “Well, you will.”

Then she smiled and handed me a piece of the chocolate bar she was eating.

The year was 2006. I was a rookie candidate passing out literature at the Butterfest parade. I don’t think I will ever forget that woman.

Just the act of having a brief conversation caused something to soften in her. Listening to constituents is a powerful act. By itself, listening can heal.

As my twelve years in the Senate comes to a close, I reviewed conversations with constituents over the years. My Senate records show that we logged 70,662 contacts with constituents.

These people came forward with their problems, opinions, knowledge and good wishes. They taught me much about people’s lives and what people care enough about to contact my office. Many more people shared stories, concerns and feelings with me as I traveled.

kc-workersPeople care about their family and their neighborhood. They want a great place to live, work and raise a family. They want healthcare for their family, a great education for their kids and grandkids, and safe communities.

People want to cross the railroad tracks to go ice fishing. They want the roads and bridges fixed. They want to know they can rely on SeniorCare for help with prescription drug costs. People are concerned about the rising cost of health insurance. They want to know why Minnesota residents get the same health insurance coverage for less money. People don’t like legislation that took away local powers.

Over the years, I saw patterns in the types of contact we received. Agriculture, healthcare, better funded schools, money for universities and technical colleges, programs for children and families were all reoccurring themes in my conversations with constituents.

As I examined the contacts I received over 12 years, I was a bit surprised to learn the number one issue was natural resources. Almost 15,000 people contacted me about our environment. There were many sides of the issue including, hunting and fishing, water and air quality, sand, sulfide and iron ore mining, and high capacity wells.

We live in a place of breath-taking beauty. People want to protect our part of the world. They are willing to take time from their busy schedule, move outside their comfort zone, and contact their senator, for which I’ve been grateful.

Folks commonly contacted us in the spring and summer of odd-numbered years which is state budget time. About one-third of all contacts I received over 12 years was related to the massive state budget.

The most common way people contacted my office was through email, although we still received many phone calls, in-person visitors and snail-mail letters.

People call or write all times of year when they face really difficult and complex problems.

From help with health care, polluted wells, or regulation and licensing, these problems are as diverse as the people themselves.

kathleen-vinehoutOver the years, I averaged two new complex constituent cases every day – 365 days a year. Walking people through the labyrinth of state bureaucracy is an important part of public service. I would say social work made up at least half of my job.

These numbers don’t reflect the intensity of the cases. Like the Eau Claire parents who wanted to adopt an African orphan who was HIV positive. This work took months and months of effort by state, federal and private agencies who all joined with our office to bring the boy home to his new family.

Many times, people call with an immediate work crisis: a bill written in a way that would close their business, a librarian without the proper credentials, a Minnesota-trained dental hygienist who needed a Wisconsin license.

Over 12 years, I met many amazing people. Like the phenomenal Eau Claire woman who served as foster parent for severely disabled children. My staff and I helped her navigate the state’s bureaucracy to get care the children needed. She shared the devastating effects of proposed budget cuts on the vulnerable children under her care. Her compassionate nature is a true blessing for the children she cared for and our entire state.

Conversations with constituents really does matter. Attitudes change. Laws change. Bad ideas are stopped. Thank you to each one of you for the stories, concerns and knowledge you shared. You made a difference.

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A Tribute to the Dean of the Senate

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 Wednesday, 12 December 2018
in Wisconsin

fred-risser-senatorSen. Vinehout writes about fellow Senator Fred Risser, the longest serving State Legislator in the nation. He has served over 60 years in the Legislature seeking bipartisanship and ensuring the public is involved and shows no signs of slowing down.


MADISON - If I had a mentor in the State Senate, it would be my colleague from Madison, State Senator Fred Risser. He and I share a head for details, a dedication to the legislative process and a love of western Wisconsin. He often traveled to his grandparents’ farm near Fountain City. “I like that country. I would climb the bluffs and look out for rattle snakes.”

Senator Risser is the longest serving Legislator in the United States. He was born in 1927 and first elected to office in 1956 and elected to the state Senate in 1962.

At 91, Senator Risser has one of the sharpest minds in the Senate. He understands aspects of bills only a lawyer with vast legislative experience would know. I frequently turn to him to understand the breadth and background of bills. He often finds details hidden in the bills that I overlooked.

kathleen-vinehoutDuring our recent 21-hour long Extraordinary Session floor debate, I asked Senator Risser why no bills were officially before us and no one provided any material regarding what we were voting on. He reached in his desk and pulled out his copy of the Senate rules. He flipped through a few pages and said, “Look at the rules they [Republicans] made up. They don’t even have to give us a Senate Calendar.”

Senator Risser is an energetic and passionate man. Only last week, as the current Senate President expelled all observers from the Senate gallery, Senator Risser was the first lawmaker to jump out of his seat and plead with the current president to allow citizens to stay and watch.

wisconsinSenator Risser believes the Legislature’s business belongs in the public eye. “As President of the Senate and head of [the Committee on] Senate Organization, I insisted that everything be done in public. One time, [former Senator] Tiny Krueger was in the hospital and we took the Committee there.”

Over the years, Senator Risser watched as public hearings became less and less about the public. All too often, adequate public notice is not given and voting happens without the public watching. Senators will vote using a process of “paper ballots” filled out in the privacy of their offices. This was the process used by Senate Republican Leaders to approve last week’s extraordinary session. The business of the Senate has certainly changed.

Politics is in Fred’s blood. “From the day I was born, I knew I was going into political office,” he told me. “Politics was a matter of supper time conversation.” He reminisced about hitchhiking to Chicago to catch President Franklin D. Roosevelt at a rally in Wrigley Field. “I’ve met them [US Presidents] all since,” he told me. “But I have not met Trump.”

Senator Risser shared with me a photo showing four generations of his family in the Wisconsin Legislature. “Four different political parties,” he explained. “My father was the last member of the Progressive Party,” he said “That’s because he held office two years after the party disbanded. … My great grandfather served in the Civil War. He shattered his arm and had it amputated on the battlefield. He was later elected as a Unionist.”

One thing Senator Risser and I share is a bit of a rebellious streak, especially when it comes to leaders who want to twist arms. I asked Fred how he dealt with finding common ground among Senators.

“When I was Minority Leader I created a Committee on Committees,” Senator Risser described. “We had three senior Senators who would make decisions with a consensus. Members accepted this. We had different senior members after every election. This worked out well. Members would contact the committee if they wanted a chairmanship. It wasn’t a one-man ballgame.”

He became Senate Minority leader because “no one else wanted the job.” Working with the consensus of his colleagues, he noted that “we were able to function well.” Among Senator Risser’s numerous achievements is the creation of the role of Senate President – the presiding officer of the State Senate. He led the effort to amend the state Constitution with the help of rural newspapers.

I had my share of injuries and illness during my Senate career. But Senator Risser bragged to me that he never missed a Senate roll call vote, “except maybe when we went to Illinois. I think they expunged those records.”

Part of his secret to a long and healthy life is exercise. He takes the stairs every day to his Capitol office. “I’ve never taken an elevator as Senator. That includes when I once was on crutches,” he said. “Walking up and down steps is good for you.” Senator Risser is also an enthusiastic bicyclist and rode a total of 2,825 miles this year. He has a tradition of biking for his birthday. He rides one mile of every year of the age he celebrates, which was 91 miles this year, and he shows no sign of slowing down.

Thank you, Fred, for your service to our state, your help and inspiration. Even after twelve years, next to you, I’ll always be a rookie.

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Speed and Secrecy: The Last Act

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 Wednesday, 05 December 2018
in Wisconsin

scott-fitzgeraldThe bills proposed in the Extraordinary Session called by Republican Leaders will create powers for the Legislature that handcuff the new administration and curtail the power of the incoming Governor and Attorney General. Wisconsinites expect a respectful transition of power, not a power grab by one party.


MADISON - If you were a legislative leader in Wisconsin, and had an opportunity to pass new laws before your party’s governor left office, what would you do? What would you fix as your last act in power?

As I face my last Senate votes, I am working hard to understand what laws my Republican colleagues choose to pass before the new Democratic Governor takes office.

Late last Friday night, after Senate staff went home for the weekend, Republican leaders released their last act. Five bills detailing changes to over 400 sections of state law.

I learned late Friday, there would be one public hearing on Monday and the full Legislature will act on Tuesday. By the time many of you read this column, the bills passed both houses and await Governor Walker’s signature into law.

I’ve witnessed a lot of speed and secrecy by legislative leaders. But this final action, to make bills public late Friday and seek final passage the following Tuesday ranks among the worst of the worst. Speed and secrecy seriously threaten democracy. No time to ask questions. No time for constituents to learn. No time for lawmakers to hear and heed the desire of constituents.

walker-signs-budgetBased on concerns expressed by Wisconsinites, you would think the last act of the GOP leaders would be fixing the transportation budget, school funding reform and lowering healthcare premiums.

Not a chance.

Instead, Republican leaders are pushing a series of bills that provide tax loopholes for company owners, and removing caps on the number of large companies that could claim very large cash subsidies. These same bills give control of the troubled Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) to the two Republican leaders by creating a majority of GOP legislative leaders’ appointees.

These same bills create harsh rules that must be followed by people facing challenges, like being unemployed, needing supplemental nutrition, health care or facing difficulties in proving citizenship to vote.

Based on my preliminary read of the bills, provisions in the bills limit powers of the incoming Governor and Attorney General and create onerous requirements for the new administration. Agency directors will be coming back to the Legislature for permission to file federal reports over and over again, rather than catching up on backlogs, and providing better service to people of the state.

Innovation should be encouraged in a new administration. Instead, the bills would handcuff agency officials by requiring repeated approval for any different or new use of federal funds from the Legislature’s budget writing committee. For example, I counted at least four repeated approvals needed by the Secretary of Health Services to seek federal money for nursing homes – a high priority because Wisconsin ranks last in reimbursement. These onerous requirements would affect many health programs Wisconsinites love, including Senior Care, FamilyCare, IRIS and BadgerCare.

In many cases, borrowing and cash transfers used by the Walker administration to fill budget holes, show more cash at year’s end, and move money around for pet projects, like Foxconn, would no longer be allowed.

Ironically, a computer project financial disclosure Walker vetoed as onerous, would be required of the incoming governor. Presumably, Governor Walker will sign the bills into law as his last act. Perhaps he will change his mind about what disclosure should and should not be required of the executive branch.

While some provisions in the bill create seemingly meaningless monthly reports and repeated seeking of permission, other provisions alarmingly undermine the critical balance of powers between the three branches of government.

kathleen-vinehoutFor example, provisions of the bills would emasculate the Attorney General. In cases of constitutionality and enforceability of statutes, it would be the Legislature representing the state in court – not the Attorney General. Legislative leaders would accomplish this by appointing outside counsel beholden only to the leaders and paid for by taxpayers.

It appears other changes in the court system are directed at influencing environmental protection enforcement cases.

The final act of the Party in power tells us something about the priorities of that Party – prioritizing tax breaks and corporate cash subsidies and penalizing those needing healthcare, supplemental nutrition, and help finding employment.

The will of the people is not represented in this final act by Republicans and Governor Walker. Wisconsinites elected a new governor with different priorities and their expectation is a respectful transition of power.

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Boards & Commissions: Opportunities to Serve

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 Wednesday, 28 November 2018
in Wisconsin

wisc-elections-commThere are many opportunities for Wisconsinites to serve our great state through the various boards, commissions, and councils. Here is how you can apply.


MADISON - “I’m retired and I want to stay that way,” the gentleman told our Senate Agriculture, Small Business and Tourism Committee. “But I am looking for opportunities to give back to our state.”

This gentleman was one of many who crossed my path over the past twelve years. His nomination to a council came before our committee prior to confirmation by the full Senate.

Wisconsin is a state of many opportunities for citizens to serve in appointed boards, councils and commissions. These positions are mostly volunteer, although some offer reimbursement for related expenses. This type of service provides citizens the opportunity to share their experience and expertise in a statewide leadership role.

The gentleman I quoted was nominated by the Governor to serve on the Snowmobile Recreation Council. He and his family had a long history of participating in local snowmobile recreation. He wanted to share not just his wealth of knowledge, but also his incredible passion and dedication to making Wisconsin’s snowmobiling the best in the country.

snowmobilesThe Snowmobiling Recreation Council is just one of over 180 different boards, commissions and councils on which Wisconsinites may serve. Understanding these various service opportunities is an exercise in understanding state government itself.

The 2015-16 State of Wisconsin Blue Book provides a detailed overview of the state government’s structure. The state has 17 departments. Each department, from Administration to Veterans Affairs, is headed by a secretary appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Senate. Citizens serve on boards, commissions or councils to provide guidance to many of these departments. For example, eleven people make up the Board of Veterans Affairs.

State government also includes ten independent executive branch agencies. These entities include the University of Wisconsin and the Technical College Systems, the Public Service Commission (which oversees utility regulation) and the Commissioner of Insurance. Most of these agencies are directed by citizen-controlled part-time boards and commissions.

Most boards and commissions have requirements potential candidates must meet, ranging from professional experience to geography. For example, at least five members of the 15-member Snowmobile Recreational Council must be from the state’s northern region.

Licensure and regulation of many occupations is overseen by an associated state board. These board members, from architects to veterinarians, are professionals who give their own time to ensure professional quality, which helps protect Wisconsin citizens. Several professional boards include public members. For example, the Marriage and Family Therapy, Professional Counselling and Social Work Examining Board includes three public members in its 13-member Board.

Authorities are an odd creation of the State Legislature that are intended to be both financially self-sufficient and an organization of the state. The UW Hospitals and Clinics Authority is perhaps the most well-known example of a state authority. This Authority operates the UW Hospitals and Clinics, including the American Family Children’s Hospital. The authority is composed of a 16-member board, six of whom are citizens appointed by the governor with the advice and consent of the Senate.

Another example is the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. It is not a corporation – despite its name – but a state authority. However, WEDC is not at all self-sufficient, instead relying almost entirely on funding from the state budget.

While most Senators take seriously their role of confirming the governor’s appointees, the Senate Majority Leader failed to bring some 150 gubernatorial appointments to the Senate for confirmation this year. The Senate Leader was quoted saying he may bring these appointments forward for a full Senate vote in a possible Extraordinary Session before year’s end. No word yet on when this session may take place or what else may be a part of the calendar.

kathleen-vinehoutOver my tenure in the State Senate, I am often asked, “how will you fix our state’s problems?” No one single person can address the breadth of issues and details needed to resolve the challenges facing Wisconsin. The wisdom we need is found in the genius of the people of our state.

If you are interested in serving the following website provides information about and application for the various boards, commissions and councils: https://walker.wi.gov/apply-to-serve. As we transition to Governor Evers’ Administration, the website will change.

Wise leaders before us created the boards, commissions and councils that play a very integral role in carrying out the people’s business. Consider how you might give back to our great state by sharing your time, talents and wisdom.

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Preserving Our Hunting Heritage

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 Wednesday, 21 November 2018
in Wisconsin

deer-huntingSen Kathleen Vinehout writes about deer hunting and rules related to CWD. Hunters are encouraged to have their harvested deer tested for the disease.


ALMA, WI - Opening weekend of gun deer season, conditions were nearly perfect. The weather was cool, but not too cold. The sun came out and warmed us. A light dusting of snow made it easy to see critters’ tracks from the night before.

I saw nine deer opening morning. What an abundance!

By 7:30 a.m., my hunting partner Lisa and I bagged deer. Lisa shot a nice six-point buck and me a tender doe. My husband will be happy with new meat in the freezer. I recalled my husband said we served up the final helpings of last year’s stash of venison.

Time for the sportswoman of the family to deliver. No pressure there.

hunters-deerIn my family, the woman brings home the harvest. The guys package it and eventually fry it up in the pan. Both my husband and son are awesome cooks.

Out on a nearly perfect Monday morning. Deer were again grazing on our organic alfalfa fields. The weather was cloudy and mild. No new snow, but predicted snow fall was showing up on the radar.

“I got out there and it was just beautiful,” Lisa said. “Suddenly, it was like a blanket came over the area. Humid but chilly. Then sleety stuff started falling.” In just a few moments, conditions totally changed.

Change happens. All around us. All the time. A skilled outdoors woman interprets the signs nature provides. Just like being mindful of the signs of nature, there are signs of change in our state Capitol that hunters should heed.

“We have a problem. A big problem. Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD), a sister to BSE or “mad cow” disease, is threatening our deer and elk,” wrote the Alliance for Public Wildlife, over a year ago. “Without immediate action, we are heading for worst case outcomes that include severe population impacts, extinctions, crashing economies, and, although unlikely, potential transfers of CWD to people.”

CWD is spread through animals’ body fluids. The disease can be spread from animal to animal or through a contaminated environment. Wild animals can contract the disease from captive animals kept on deer farms. They could also contract the disease when landowners set up baiting and feeding stations on private lands.

While landowners are restricted to two gallons of bait or feed per 40 acres, too often landowners violate the law. For example, in my neighborhood, rumors swirl about out-of-the-area landowners baiting deer with hundreds of pounds of shelled corn. For years, every deer we harvested on our farm had a belly full of corn even though we don’t grow corn.

In response to the problem of CWD positive deer, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) banned any baiting and feeding in 43 of 72 counties. This summer, the DNR wanted to go further, requiring increased fencing at deer farms and restricting movement of deer carcasses unless the meat was sent for CWD testing, deboned and quartered, or taken to a licensed processor within three days of moving out of the county in which the deer was shot.

kathleenvinehoutThe rules were approved by the DNR board and sent to the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Administrative Rules. The Committee approved the rule on fencing. However, just weeks before the opening of gun season, the Committee stopped the plan to restrict the movement of harvested deer meat.

Hunters are encouraged to submit their deer for testing. CWD testing collection sites are operating around the state including new sites in Buffalo County.

To fund these sites, and dozens of other programs protecting wildlife, the DNR uses money from fees and licenses. A recent study by the Wisconsin Policy Forum (formerly the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance) reported nearly 9 of every 10 dollars of the fish and wildlife budget comes from fees for licenses and federal excise taxes paid by sporting women and men. Total deer hunting licenses dropped almost 6% over the past 18 years. With a shrinking population of hunters, heavy reliance on fees and deep budget cuts, the DNR eliminated important positions.

Passing the abundance we have on to the coming generations is a desire I share with many folks. To accomplish this goal means paying attention to the health of our wildlife and to the health of the funds that support wildlife management and staff.

Wishing all of you a Happy Thanksgiving and a safe and successful hunt.

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Citizens Vote to Raise Property Taxes to Pay for Schools

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 Wednesday, 14 November 2018
in Wisconsin

teaching-studentsA historic amount of school referenda passed in last week’s election to meet the challenges school districts face with increasing student needs without adequate state revenue.


MADISON - A little-told story from the recent election is the change happening across Wisconsin as citizens voted to increase their property taxes to pay for local schools.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, 2018 was another record year for school districts to pass referenda. State law imposes caps on school spending, so voters must approve referenda to exceed their spending limits to fund property tax increases for their local schools.

According to the Department of Public Instruction, citizens approved at least $1.3 billion more for schools across Wisconsin in last Tuesday’s election. These decisions by local voters will result in higher property taxes in the coming years.

school-closedWhy did so many citizens vote to increase their taxes to pay for schools? Programs cut, new fees, fewer opportunities for students and delayed maintenance are all examples of why voters chose to increase property taxes.

Recent numbers from Kids Forward, a nonprofit children’s advocacy organization, explained in stark detail why voters across the state chose to help schools by paying more in the least-favorite type of tax: property tax.

Kids Forward reported between 2012 and 2019, Wisconsin will spend a cumulative $3.5 billion less in state aid to schools than if the state had stayed at the 2011 funding level.

This decline in state spending is the result of a series of decisions over the past eight years, including a dramatic increase in taxpayer subsidies to private schools.

While many schools face less state aid, local costs are going up. Teachers are leaving. Schools have new expenses, like improving student safety and replacing outdated technology. This means budgets today are very different than ten years ago.

Further, changes in student needs are occurring at a rapid pace in our state. Communities have more students in poverty, students with special needs, English-language learners, and students experiencing trauma and suffering from mental illness.

State spending for schools has failed to keep up with increased needs for students facing special challenges. For example, the state funds only 26 cents on the dollar for special education needs. But federal law requires all special education needs be met. As a result, general education money is used for students with special needs. This forces schools to divert money from all students to pay for the increased special education needs.

At a public hearing this past summer for the Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding, Peter Goff, Professor of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at the UW-Madison described the situation. “Huge chunks [of general education money] are getting torn off to pay for these special education mandates – that is the state’s responsibility but [the state] is not paying for it.”

kathleen-vinehoutSpecial education is not the only area of growing need where state spending has failed to keep up.

“In 1990, the reimbursement rate for [English-language learners] was 63%,” said Julie Seefeldt, Director of the English-language Learners Program at Green Bay told the Committee. “The current reimbursement rate…is at approximately 7.9%.”

Historically, Wisconsin had one of the best public education systems in the country. Together, Act 10 and the budget cuts had a devastating effect on the quality of public education in Wisconsin. Teachers left the profession. College enrollment in teacher education programs dropped precipitously. School districts are finding it increasingly more difficult to hire qualified teachers to fill vacancies.

In an attempt to fix the problems they created, the Governor and Republican legislators enacted the lowest teaching standards for any state in the country during the 2015 State Budget.

Voters told leaders they want students to thrive. Citizens are even willing to increase their own property taxes.

Reversing the downward spiral of the last eight years will take a concerted, bipartisan effort, but clearly this is the will of many voters. Citizen’s votes reflect their values: high quality schools in all parts of the state. Voters know the future of our children depends on our actions.

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Menominee Nation Honored for Assisting Victims of Peshtigo Fire

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 Wednesday, 07 November 2018
in Wisconsin

menominee-nation-nowNovember is National Native American Heritage Month, and we remember the service and sacrifice of the Menominee Nation for their history of helping victims of the Great Peshtigo Fire of 1871.


MADISON - On October 8, 1871, an intense firestorm roared through the village of Peshtigo, Wisconsin and the surrounding area. The Great Peshtigo Fire burned parts of northeastern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan on the same night as the Chicago Fire, however there are little similarities between the two fires.

The prolonged drought and extreme summer heat made conditions in the region tinder dry. Combine that with the 50 miles an hour winds that whipped the area, it was perfect conditions for a firestorm.

Flames from the Peshtigo Fire reached a thousand feet into the sky. The intense heat melted the church bell, turned sand into glass, and caused trees to literally explode into flames. The fire burned a total of 2400 square miles, which is larger than the state of Delaware.

Peshtigo FireWhile 250 people lost their lives in the Chicago Fire, the Peshtigo Fire took the lives of an estimated 1,500 people. Some reports note it is possible as many as 2,500 souls perished. The Peshtigo Fire remains the most costly in loss of life in American history.

That fateful autumn, Menominee tribal members knew the forest was too dry. Back in the spring, the Menominee worried they would not have enough food for the winter. Elders warned the settlers large fires were on the way, but few paid attention to the words of the Natives.

One settler, named Abraham Price, defied convention. He married a Menominee women, Elizabeth. They had one son, Henry. He built a trading business in a Menominee village. Even though some of his white neighbors looked down on him, Abraham was considered a “substantial citizen” owning 800 acres of land. The tribe and his family worked closely, with Mr. Price respecting Menominee knowledge.

Mr. Price took great care to heed the Elders’ warnings of possible large fires. He and his extended tribal family prepared for the risk of fire by plowing large circles of land around their home to form a barrier between it and the forest.

As the firestorm approached, Mr. Price and his extended family protected their house by covering the roof with water-soaked burlap bags and blankets. One of the tribal members pumped water steadily for nine hours showing “an endurance possessed by very few white men.”

When the Great Fire receded, only one building was left standing – the home and trading post of Abraham Price and his Menominee extended family.

That lone-standing building became the center of recovery efforts. Mr. Price and the surviving members of the Menominee Nation welcomed other survivors regardless of their race. His home became a field hospital and the tribe provided emergency care for victims. Later, the home became the survivors’ protection for the fast-approaching winter.

The history of the tribe assisting the victims of the Great Peshtigo Fire has largely gone unrecognized. However, in October, the city of Peshtigo recognized the Tribe.

kathleen-vinehoutAt a recent public hearing of the Legislature’s State Tribal Relations Committee, our Chairman, Representative Jeffrey Mursau, presented long-neglected honors to Tribal Lawmaker Representative Gary Beesaw.

In accepting the recognition, former Tribal Chairman Beesaw said, “We are all related… all tribes understand there are the four colors of [peoples] in our prayers – red, yellow, white, and black. We are all related. When we say our prayers and when we have our ceremonies, we pray for all of us because it is important that we do that. The Creator loves all of us, so we do that. Sometimes it seems like we have disagreements politically, and those pale compared to something like this that speaks of what really is important.”

Every November, we celebrate National Native American Heritage Month. We remember and celebrate the achievement and contributions of our Native people. We remember our ancestors who benefited from the kindness and service of our Native Heroes.

We also celebrate the work of Tribal members today. These Native Heroes work tirelessly to create communities of support. We are deeply grateful for our Native Tribal members who teach children Native languages and culture, serve our veterans (who are disproportionately from Native Tribes), care for our Elders and those suffering from addiction and mental illness. And we owe profound gratitude for Tribal members work tirelessly to protect Mother Earth and all its riches.

We are blessed by their service and sacrifice.

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Sen. Vinehout: What Does Foxconn Mean to Me?

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, 31 October 2018
in Wisconsin

foxconn-wisconsin-plantThe commitment of millions of dollars to Foxconn will impact budget priorities and decisions going forward for many years. So much state funding Foxconn will limit funding for other priorities such as K-12 education and transportation – priorities that are vital to a strong Wisconsin economy.


MADISON - “Hard to wrap my head around,” the woman shared as she considered Foxconn. Just what do big budget decisions mean to us?

Work has begun on crafting the next state budget. Over the next few months, this work will continue in earnest. One hefty unbudgeted expense added to upcoming budget math is a large taxpayer funded payment to a foreign corporation.

Foxconn is the Taiwanese company building a manufacturing plant in southeast Wisconsin. To lure the company to our state, majority lawmakers and the governor created the largest state corporate give-away in American history.

The first big Foxconn payment, nearly $470 million, will come out of our next two-year budget. There is no pot of money set aside for this payment. Budget writers are faced with three choices: increase borrowing, increase taxes, or take money from other parts of state government.

school-bus-kidsWhen you consider the trade-offs lawmakers must make in the next budget, it is helpful to think of our tax dollars (mostly income and sales tax) like a checking account that pays for five big items. About eighty-five percent of our general fund money goes to pay for health care, K-12 education, colleges and universities, corrections and local government. Money for roads and bridges are in a separate fund.

All five areas of these areas are challenged; by chronic underfunding, growing caseloads, rising social problems (like drug addiction) and shifting demographics (for example, an aging population).

What kind of budget trade-offs must be made by budget writers to absorb the new money commitments made to Foxconn? Let’s start with the largest part of the general fund: K-12 education.

Our children’s education makes up about a third of the general fund spending. This includes the private subsidies known as vouchers. While public spending for private schools has grown dramatically, overall education revenue as a percent of our budget has steadily dropped. Over the past 15 years or so, Wisconsin moved from spending a little more than forty percent to spending less than a third of our general fund on schools.

Reviewing work by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), one can easily see that money to public schools has still not been fully restored from the deep cuts in state aid made in the governor’s first budgets.

Looking forward to the next eight years, Wisconsin is committed to sending over two billion dollars to Foxconn. To give some context to these payments, consider this – the estimated payments to Foxconn for five of the next eight years is larger than the largest funding increase to public schools in any of the last eight years.

road-potholesRepairing roads and bridges are another priority returning lawmakers must consider. Many suggest a nickel increase (about 16%) in the gas tax to keep road funds balanced. Number crunching by the LFB put this request in context. The LFB calculated that to pay for Foxconn over the next six years, Wisconsin would need to increase the gas tax by over thirty percent.

That’s without putting another dime of the new gas tax money into roads, bridges, harbors or rail, which are vital investments to a thriving Wisconsin economy.

We cannot spend money twice. Once state leaders prioritize a project like Foxconn, they limit other priorities, such as schools and roads.

kathleen-vinehoutOnce state leaders started down the road of cash payments to corporations, they find it difficult to stop. Just a few weeks ago, our Senate Majority Leader announced a Special Senate Session to consider another large corporate subsidy to the Kimberly Clark Corporation. The decision to pass this corporate subsidy by majority Senators would further limit budget options for future leaders.

Budgets reflect our values and priorities. They set our choices and chart our state’s course well into the future.

The budget is the one bill the governor writes. Deliberations on the governor’s budget is the first significant job of any lawmaker in a new session. We don’t often think of the importance of budget actions, but it is THE most impactful legislative decision affecting our communities.

Citizens would be wise to consider how future leaders will make decisions on state priorities. Get involved. And, remember to vote!

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WEDC: Facts Don’t Jive with Rhetoric

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, 24 October 2018
in Wisconsin

walkerA public letter shared this week from three of Gov. Walker’s former Secretaries, including former Secretary/CEO of WEDC Paul Jadin, reports serious problems in the structure and management of WEDC, only adding to the concerns raised by other former Walker administration officials.


MADISON, WI - What happens to state money given to companies to create jobs? Do the jobs get created? How do we ensure the money is not misspent?

These questions came to mind as I recently communicated to a constituent who feared state economic development money was being misused. I encouraged, among other actions, a call to the Legislative Audit Bureau’s Fraud, Waste and Mismanagement Hotline (877-372-8317).

Hopefully, the case is now under investigation.

About the same time, former Secretary/CEO Paul Jadin came under reproach by the governor for his handling of the state’s economic development organization the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

Mr. Jadin recently made news by joining two other former Secretaries from the Walker Administration who shared in a public letter their disapproval of the governor’s actions.

Such public disapproval is uncommon. According to a Wisconsin Journal Sentinel story, UW Political Science Professor Barry Burden called this action “unprecedented”.

executive-moneyThe Governor’s spokesperson, quoting 2013 findings by the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB), seemed to blame the problems on Mr. Jadin’s mismanagement. The State Journal article quoted the spokesperson saying, “WEDC has grown by leaps and bounds in success after moving on from the days of Paul Jadin’s management. … [WEDC is] the linchpin to huge wins and good paying jobs in the Wisconsin Comeback, including bringing Amazon, Haribo and Foxconn.”

The facts however don’t support this rhetoric. WEDC’s lack of compliance with state law has a legacy as long as the agency itself and continued long after Secretary/CEO Jadin left in 2012.

Just one year ago, I wrote in my column, “WEDC admits they are not following the law.”

At a public hearing of the Joint Committee on Audit, current WEDC Secretary/CEO Mark Hogan stated, “We have not been able to verify the jobs” even though state law requires WEDC to verify a company actually created jobs before the company keeps cash payments or tax credits.

Back in October 2012, I wrote, “State law is very clear. WEDC must collect information on the results of job creation or the lack thereof…. We need to know who received what money and what they are doing with the money.”

By 2017, I did not trust that WEDC followed the LAB recommendations to set up policies that would bring them into compliance with state law. This distrust was well founded.

kathleen-vinehoutAfter four nonpartisan audits over six years, we still cannot answer the questions I raised about state money used for job creation. WEDC is still under scrutiny by the LAB. A new audit is likely to be released in the spring of 2019.

WEDC was created to be the state’s lead economic development organization, however it is not a state agency. It is funded primarily with state funds and has awarded hundreds of millions in loans, grants and tax credits. WEDC is outside the normal rubric of state government which created many problems, resulted in federal penalties, and produced a lack of transparency for lawmakers and the public.

Partly because of this opaque structure, lawmakers have not gotten answers to the most basic questions about state funds used for job creation. Nonpartisan audits provide one of the few windows into what is actually happening with state money. The facts show, for many years, auditors could not corroborate job creation success in numbers used by the governor’s office and WEDC’s own publications.

The three Secretaries who disapproved of the governor’s actions shared insight gained from experience in their open letter to the public, “Governor Walker has consistently eschewed sound management practices in favor of schemes or cover-up and has routinely put his future ahead of the state. The result is micromanagement, manipulation and mischief. … It’s time to build a more open and transparent government to ensure the integrity of our public agencies and institutions.”

The Secretary’s letter did not include specific details about the problems which lead them to share their disapproval. But we do know WEDC’s top official publicly refused to follow the law after a long history of detailed, audit work showing noncompliance. This should give taxpayers no confidence that the public’s interest was followed.

The former Walker Administration officials remind us of the importance of having transparent structures and continued public scrutiny. That is how government functions in the public’s best interest.

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Getting Ready to Vote

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 Wednesday, 17 October 2018
in Wisconsin

voteEvery Wisconsin citizen needs to know what steps they must take to vote and their voting location, so Sen. Vinehout writes about the process of voter registrations and voter ID to help people prepare for the November 6th election.


MADISON, WI - “I talked with a group of women in Galesville,” my friend Mary Lee told me. “They were full of questions about the election, like when is it, where do I vote, how do I find out if I’m registered?” Mary is one of many folks helping to make sure people know and when to vote.

She told the women the election is November 6th. She also told them to check their registration and voting location at www.MyVote.wi.gov.

Wisconsin laws regarding elections have changed. For example, changes were made to absentee voting. Our state also has some of the strictest voter identification laws in the country. However, court decisions did require some changes to that law. To make sure you are up to date on requirements, visit the Wisconsin Election Commission at www.elections.wi.gov.

The Wisconsin Election Commission has a wealth of information about voting. If you don’t use the Internet, you can reach the Election Commission by phone at 1-866-Vote-Wis. You can also reach out to your municipal or county clerk.

uw-mdsn-studentsMark Koehler, a student at UW-Madison, is helping new voters register on campus. “The endless questions I’ve been asked about registering show how difficult the process of voting has become in Wisconsin,” he shared with me.

You can register in-person at your municipal clerk’s office up until Friday, November 2nd. You can also register at the polls on Election Day. When registering you must bring a Proof of Residence documentation that includes your current name and current address, such as a lease or electric bill. Wisconsin law requires you to reside at your current address for at least 10 days prior to the election. Temporary absence from your current address does not affect residency as long as you intend to return.

When you vote, you must bring an approved photo ID. Acceptable photo IDs include a driver’s license or state-issued ID card. You can use a driver license or state ID card receipt for those whose license is revoked or suspended. A valid Veterans Affairs ID, U.S. Passport, Military ID, Tribal ID, Certificate of Naturalization are all acceptable.

If you don’t have a photo ID, you can get one for free at a Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) office. The Elections Commission website outlines what documents you need to bring such as a birth certificate and proof of current residence. Under the ID Petition Process, the DMV will provide a document with your photo which can be used for voting. If the election is soon, the DMV will send your photo ID by overnight delivery.

voter-idStudents can use a student ID for voting, but you must also have enrollment verification. A student ID is only valid for voting if the expiration date is not more than 2 years from the date the card was issued. Different colleges approach ID cards in different ways which makes it difficult for student to know exactly what IDs are acceptable.

I unfortunately hear from some folks who believe their vote doesn’t matter.

Many races in Wisconsin are very close. For example, in 2010, I won my State Senate race by one vote per ward. Without my presence in the State Senate, there would not have been 14 Senators who left Wisconsin to slow down the passage of Act 10. Just a vote per ward in western Wisconsin changed our history.

As a result of Act 10, and the budget that followed, public schools suffered historic cuts. According to a study by the non-partisan Wisconsin Budget Project, legislative leaders still haven’t fully restored state aid to public schools.

Perhaps this is why school referenda are on the rise. According to the recent issue of the Wisconsin Taxpayer, voters will decide on more than one-billion in new taxes to pay for schools in November. If approved, 2018 could be the highest year on record for referenda to increase property taxes.

State and local races have a real impact on our lives. Who becomes our Governor, who has majority control of the Legislature determines what priorities move forward. These decisions affect our local communities.

“Despite these [voting] obstacles,” Mr. Koehler wrote, “it is as important as ever to make sure people use their voice and strongly encourage one another to register, make a plan, and get to the polls on November 6th.

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Protecting Our Great Lakes

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 Wednesday, 10 October 2018
in Wisconsin

lake-michigan-shoreThe collaborative work of eight states and two Canadian provinces, members of the Great Lakes Compact, protects and enhances the largest group of freshwater lakes in the world despite the potential challenge of large water withdrawals by Foxconn and other businesses in Wisconsin.


MADISON - Our Great Lakes hold twenty-one percent of all the world’s fresh surface water. Wisconsin has over 1,000 miles of Great Lakes shoreline. More than half our population lies within its watershed. The Lakes provide us with many opportunities for recreation, commerce, transportation, and immeasurable occasions to enjoy their immense beauty.

Folks are worried about protecting our Great Lakes. Particularly when the state rushed through, about a year ago, a very large corporate subsidy to a Taiwanese company. David Hon of Eau Claire was one of many who wrote, “The environmental exemptions proposed are unfair to the companies that have had to struggle through permitting for good reason. … [Environmental protections] are there to protect what little is left of natural resources in that part of the state. I’m concerned the Great Lakes Compact would be substantially violated.”

The Great Lakes Compact protects our Great Lakes. This agreement between the states and Canadian provinces that border the Great Lakes is enshrined in law.

Wisconsin recently celebrated the tenth anniversary of the signing of this law.

door-countyAcross the world, citizens worry about where their water will come from and how it will be kept clean. Fear that others would look to divert the water from the Great Lakes, inspired leaders to collaborate to protect our region’s incredible water resource. Leaders of areas bordering the Great Lakes formed an agreement between eight states and two Canadian provinces

The anniversary of the Great Lakes Compact is a great opportunity to remember why this arrangement exists and how we all benefit. It also reminds us of the challenges we face while protecting our Great Lakes.

According to Bridge a publication of the Center for Michigan, the Great Lakes Compact was forged over five years. The Compact was approved by all eight states bordering the Great Lakes. The Wisconsin State Senate took up the Compact on May 15, 2008. I recall, as a rookie Senator, reading the 250-page bill. Next to the state budget, the Compact was one the most complex pieces of legislation I voted on. The Compact was signed into law by President Bush on October 3, 2008.

The Great Lakes Compact was not limited to just protecting what we have, but it was also designed to improve the Lakes. This work is accomplished through Wisconsin’s Great Lakes Strategy and the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. According to the Great Lakes Commission, more than $330 million was invested for more than 400 protection and restoration projects in Wisconsin.

A new report coordinated by the University of Michigan and a host of economists and others showed that every dollar invested in the Great Lakes Initiative project produced $3.35 of additional economic activity.

milwaukeeThe benefits come back to us in many ways, including recreation, tourism, and commercial navigation. Study authors pointed to an “emergence of a new type of tourism focused on kayaking, kitesurfing and paddle-boarding; improved quality of life, as indicated by a willingness to pay more for housing in coastal areas; and increases in the number of young people who are choosing to stay in or relocate to Great Lakes communities.”

Among many parts of that 250-page bill, the Compact stops new or increased diversions of water from outside of the Great Lakes watershed. One exception is for communities where part of the community is inside the Great Lakes basin. These communities are known to “straddle” the watershed border.

The Foxconn deal challenges this agreement.

Almost ten years to the day of Compact’s passage in Wisconsin, environmental groups filed a formal legal challenge that Wisconsin violated the requirements of the Compact with the Foxconn deal. In addition to this challenge, both New York and Illinois raised questions about the nearly 6 million gallons a day that Foxconn is expected to withdraw from Lake Michigan.

Our Great Lakes Compact is “regarded as one of the most significant public water policy achievements in the world,” author Peter Annin recently told Bridge. “You wouldn’t even be grappling with these questions [of Foxconn] if you didn’t have the Compact.”

Congratulations to all those who worked on the Compact in 2008, including the DNR, advocacy groups, lawmakers, and Governor Doyle. Join me in learning more by reading Mr. Annin’s book, “The Great Water Wars.”

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Legislative Audit Bureau: The Sentinels of State Government

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 Wednesday, 03 October 2018
in Wisconsin

wisc-capitol-domeWe acknowledge the exceptional work of the award-winning Legislative Audit Bureau, which is critical to oversight of state government.


MADISON - “As Governor, I would get rid of the programs that don’t work and fund the ones that do,” said a candidate at a forum last summer. I am sure people thought just how would you know that?

Many folks think someone is paying attention to details of state government, but they don’t really know. The way we can know is to study the work of the state auditors. The Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) helps answer questions about the effectiveness and efficiencies of state government.

Recently, the work of the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau was given the highest possible rating by the National State Auditors Association. An independent, external review team, which included auditors from other states and the federal government, traveled to Wisconsin and spent a week reviewing the work of the LAB.

For fifty-three years, the LAB has assisted legislators, agency directors and the people of Wisconsin in answering questions about how money is spent and how programs are managed. The auditors’ work provides answers to questions such as, did the program meet its goals, did the program follow state law, and how was the money spent?

kathleen-vinehoutLong before I became a Senator, I assumed that someone was paying attention to all the different functions of state government. As a Senator and member of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, I understand the critical role of the LAB in assisting the Legislature with oversight. With a state government of dozens of agencies, hundreds of funds and thousands of programs, the 86 authorized employees of the Audit Bureau have a massive task.

Audits of state government, conducted by the LAB, are approved by the Joint Legislative Audit Committee which is made up of legislators from both sides of the aisle and both houses. The Co-chairs are always of the Majority Party and they determine which audits come to the committee for approval. Auditors depend on lawmakers to attend the hearings, read the audits ahead of time and ask questions. They also depend on lawmakers to share the findings with the public and involve the public and their colleagues in a discussion about solutions to the findings in the audit. To maintain the integrity of the LAB and its work, state law forbids lawmakers from interfering in the audit process.

The LAB also maintains a state hotline on waste, mismanagement and abuse that has some of the strongest whistle-blower protections in state law. That protection provides confidence for those who come forward to help the LAB know where to find problems that need to be remedied.

Audit findings are always accompanied by recommendations to address the problems found during the audit process. Frequently these findings are related to compliance with state law. It is up to the Joint Audit Committee to make sure the agencies follow the LAB recommendations. This work can be much harder than you might think.

For example, the law requires the state’s economic development organization validate that any company receiving money for creating jobs actually creates the jobs. A series of audits detailed that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) was not following the law. When lawmakers insisted WEDC follow the law, the agency director pompously retorted, “We are not in the business of validating jobs.”

A few years ago, after the release of an economic development audit that detailed continued problems, two lawmakers called for the elimination of the LAB. These lawmakers, who called for the demise of the LAB, showed staggering ignorance in the vital functions auditors perform.

Without the LAB’s work, our state would not be able to conduct business with the federal government due to requirements for a review. Nearly thirty percent of Wisconsin’s $76 billion-dollar budget is federal money. Without the work of the Audit Bureau our state could not borrow money or, in state terms, issue bonds. Our state has about $14 billion dollars in bonds (debt).

The LAB staff are the sentinels of state government. They point the way to problems, offer recommendations to solve those problems, and give the “all-clear” that everything is working well.

The staff at the LAB is doing a very difficult job in a way that absolutely deserves recognition. For their exceptional work, we all offer heart-felt congratulations and appreciation.

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Potato Disease, the UW and the Wisconsin Idea

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 Wednesday, 26 September 2018
in Wisconsin

potato-farmerRecent cuts to the UW have affected it’s role in supporting our potato industry, and to retain world class researchers and crucial grant funds for important initiatives like the Wisconsin Seed Potato Program.


MADISON, WI - Late blight is a devastating potato and tomato disease that spreads quickly in late summer. It can wipe out a crop in just a few days. This disease caused the Irish Potato Famine of the 1840s which led to the starvation or relocation of millions of Irish, including my ancestors.

Blight happens when it’s humid and muggy. The disease spreads very fast. Spores can move 40 miles a day. There are 30,000 spores in a patch the size of a dime. Because the devastating disease can “scale up quickly,” state laws exist for its control.

Wisconsin is home to 63,000 acres of potatoes. Our state is ranked third nationwide in potato production. For over one hundred years, the University of Wisconsin has helped potato farmers work with the weather, disease and new varieties of potatoes.

“The work of the University of Wisconsin is incredibly important,” an Antigo grower told the Senate Agriculture Committee last year. They have “the best potato research team in America.”

While explaining the relationship between the UW and the potato growers, one of the growers said, “the UW grows baby potatoes, they test chemicals, they give us advice on the mix we give the co-ops.” The UW potato research team is critical to the success of Wisconsin potato growers. “We pay the UW Inspection Crew to look at our fields.” The team created a “blight forecasting tool” that helps growers predict when plants are most at risk for blight.

Alex Crockford, a former Langlade County Ag Agent explained to the committee how roughly 9,000 acres of seed potatoes come from the Wisconsin seed potato certification program. “They go to the south, they go internationally. We [UW] are recognized as a national leader in quality and research.” The state farm in Rhinelander is the source of most of the seed potatoes in Wisconsin. “Here, we’ve been able to create very clean potatoes.”

Controlling disease begins with clean seed and a clean field. The UW is also one of the biggest seed potato growers in the United States. The program began in 1912.

This was the same year Charles McCarthy, the head of the Legislative Reference Library, wrote a book entitled, The Wisconsin Idea.

UW’s assistance to potato growers is a shining example of the Wisconsin Idea. The Idea’s guiding principle is for Wisconsin’s public universities and state government to serve the people using the best ideas of the entire nation. The knowledge and work of the university should be spread across the entire state for the benefit of its citizens.

The Antigo farmer explained to our committee that the Co-Director of the Seed Potato program recently left Wisconsin. The University of Idaho offered her a $50,000 raise to bring her knowledge and her research to the Potato State.

kathleen-vinehoutThis loss had a devastating effect on potato growers and led some to worry about the state’s commitment to the critical programs.

Unfortunately, the loss of the Director of the Seed Potato Program is not the only loss to the UW.

“We lost some of our best people,” UW Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank told Jon Marcus of The Atlantic last year. “It is our very best faculty that get outside offers. If you’re looking at research dollars, those are the people who are bringing in millions in research funding. And the people you replace them with bring in much less. So those retention issues have a real impact.”

According to Marcus, the UW calculated nearly $8 million in research dollars left the university in just one year, when faculty left and took their research projects with them to other universities.

The exodus of the potato researcher and other key faculty are related to the deep budget cuts, changes in tenure, shared governance and threats to undermine the mission of the UW system.

As soon as other universities got wind of troubles they looked up faculty rosters and started making calls. “We called UW faculty,” my son’s Department Chair told me at his recent department graduation gathering. “We knew they were some of the best.”

The potato growers would agree. Our UW faculty are well worth our collective efforts to keep them here in Wisconsin.

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Tribes and Lawmakers Meet to Resolve Issues

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 Wednesday, 19 September 2018
in Wisconsin

tribal-courtsSen. Kathleen Vinehout explores the issues facing Wisconsin’s eleven sovereign tribes, like Tribal courts, voter ID and educating our children about the importance of State Tribal relations.


MADISON - “Can you fix Syria?” a woman asked me. “No,” I said as I shook my head. “Syria is a bit above my pay-grade. My international work [as State Senator] is limited to work with our Native Tribes.”

Native Tribes are sovereign nations.

Tribes have their own government including legislatures and courts. Many federal laws and treaties govern Wisconsin Tribes. But so do our state laws.

The delicate intersection between Wisconsin Tribes and the State of Wisconsin is the purview of the Special Committee on State-Tribal Relations.

Recently the State Tribal Relations Committee convened in the Capitol. This committee is one of the most unique in all of the Legislature. It consists of leaders of all of Wisconsin’s eleven tribal nations and a bipartisan group of lawmakers from both chambers.

The Tribal Leaders are so much a part of the committee that the Chair in our recent meeting referred to long-time Menominee Tribal Chair and current Tribal Legislator, Mr. Gary Besaw, as “Representative” Besaw.

kathleen-vinehout“I’ve lived here long enough to be part of the Legislature,” smiled Mr. Besaw. The Chair of our committee apologized for an easily-made mistake.

Tribal leaders work directly with lawmakers and Legislative Council attorneys to craft laws that affect the tribe. Like lawmakers, they propose legislation, review bill drafts and ask for research from our attorneys.

The meeting began with an overview of past legislative successes. Last year, lawmakers passed a new law to allow tribal identification cards to be used for various purposes when state law requires an ID card. Most importantly, the cards can be used for proof of residence for voting.

Frequently lawmakers pass laws that may benefit Tribal Nations but forget to include the proper language in the law. One such oversight was remedied by allowing Tribal Nations to seek state grants for alternatives to prison. Many of our local courts started alternatives to prison programs for those suffering from addiction and/or mental illness. These treatment courts are effective at helping folks stay clean and avoid prison.

Another successful law passed in 2017 was Act 352. This law stiffens penalties for individuals who threaten or cause bodily harm to tribal judges, prosecutors and police officers – just as their non-native counterparts in our local courts.

Tribal judges from Oneida and Lac Courte Oreilles, a Menominee attorney and Tribal Representative, Gary Besaw testified asking for an expansion of the law protecting those who work in our tribal courts.

The judges mentioned several stories about court officers threatened or killed by unhappy defendants or family members. The discussion around expanding the protection of court officers provided us “non-native” members a glimpse into how tribal courts are different from “western” courts.

“In traditional tribal courts, we often teach our own traditions,” explained one of the judges. Tribal Elders can provide testimony. There’s a “Counsel of Grandmothers” the court calls on for advice. As non-natives, we think of court as adversarial. But the tribal judges explained that court proceedings can be healing for family members.

Resolving differences between tribal law and Wisconsin law is why the committee exists. But committee work is much broader. At its heart, the committee exists to promote positive relations between our state and the eleven sovereign Tribal Nations.

An act to teach students about these relations came up as a topic before our committee. Known by its legal name, Act 31, the law set requirements for schools. Tribal leaders asked for changes in this nearly thirty-year-old law. Mr. Besaw shared challenges faced by his daughter who felt isolated after a classroom discussion about ancestry and the lack of understanding of the history of Native peoples.

The committee grappled with how to create a 21st century education system so all students are welcome and prepared to live and work in our diverse state.

The issues aren’t quickly resolved, but having a space for the discussion begins the process. As a longtime member of the Committee, and currently it’s Vice Chair, I find this committee’s work most cordial and refreshingly bipartisan.

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Speed and Secrecy in Lawmaking

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, 12 September 2018
in Wisconsin

wisconsin_senateThe tactics used by Majority Party leadership to rush bills through the Legislature sacrificed public input and prevented thoughtful debate in the lawmaking process.


MADISON - “The length of time bills were deliberated [in the Wisconsin Legislature] dropped significantly soon after Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislators took control in 2011,” wrote investigative reporter Teodor Teofilov.

In the Governor’s first two years in office, average deliberation time of a bill was 119 days, compared to a 20 year average of 164 days. For comparison, during the 1997-98 session under Governor Thompson, it took an average of 227 days for a bill to move from introduction to becoming law.

The new study is a project of the nonpartisan Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The center sought to answer the question Is Wisconsin’s democracy declining? Former Capitol reporter Dee J. Hall is Managing Director of the Center.

“I noticed that some bills in the Legislature sprang up with little or no warning and were quickly approved, giving the public and opposing parties little chance to influence the course of the legislation,” wrote Ms. Hall.

Examining the public’s opportunity for input in crafting new laws was a measure of democratic involvement in the process. The longer a bill takes to become law, the more opportunities for members of the press to report on, and for the public to influence the proposal. Investigators examined the process and followed more than 3,500 bills over the past 20 years. They used the 48-days from introduction to enactment for the Foxconn corporate subsidy as a benchmark for fast-tracked legislation.

Since 2011, more bills were fast-tracked, and it was changes in the legislative process that led to quick movement of bills.

Small but significant changes take place in the function of committees that limit public involvement. Changes like shortening the length of notice before a public hearing; providing a public notice on one version of a bill and then offering a complete rewrite shortly before the public hearing; time limits for those testifying; limiting questions from committee members; allowing invited testimony only in a public hearing or voting on a bill immediately following the public testimony.

While many of these techniques were used before, there was in 2011 there was a dramatic increase in the frequency of these methods.

Inadequate notice of public hearings often means only those groups with a full-time lobbyist in Madison are able to testify. Short notice makes it difficult for committee members to understand the details and consequences of proposed legislation. Limiting testimony stifles thorough discussion. Information gathered during a public hearing can be skewed by inviting only those in favor of legislation; or by limiting the input of those opposed.

kathleen-vinehoutI remember well the public hearing on a bill to limit local people’s voices in sand mine operations. Many people traveled by bus from western Wisconsin to testify before the Senate mining committee. The first six hours of the testimony came from those who benefited from the legislation – none of whom lived near a mine. When the committee chair finally called those opposed to the bill, which was the majority of people at the hearing, it was very late in the afternoon. Folks who made the trek to Madison had to catch their bus home before they could testify.

The data from the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism study certainly supports my experience as a Senator. In the 2009-10 session, when Democrats controlled both houses and the governorship, bills that became law took an average of 159 days to do so, spending an average of 91 days in the Senate. Thirty-nine bills (9.6%) qualified as “fast-tracked” by investigators’ definition.

For comparison, 2011-12, when the GOP had complete control, bills that became law spent an average of 57 days in the Senate, 119 days to move through the entire process and 74 bills (over 25%) were fast-tracked. This is the fastest average of any legislative session in twenty years.

Speed and secrecy are the exact opposite of what’s necessary for a successful democracy.

Alexandra Petri, a newspaper columnist and daughter of former Congressman Tom Petri, captured perfectly how the legislative process should work. She wrote, “Bills ought to be passed with deliberation by committees. Change should be achieved in a bipartisan manner. Incrementally, day by day, we should reach a consensus – not perfect, by any means – but something that we can be proud of nonetheless.”

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Local Leaders Call for Fixing the Road 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
User is currently offline
on Tuesday, 04 September 2018
in Wisconsin

road-construction-workerRoads across the state are deteriorating and the current administration and republican leaders have not addressed the funding problem. Revenue for roads is down and borrowing is up. This is not sustainable.


MAXVILLE, WI - “We budget, and have to save up, for over three years to do one mile or less [of road],” wrote Barb Traun the Maxville Town Clerk. Even with the savings, the Buffalo County Township must borrow to pave roads.

Maxville Township is not alone. Local governments are trying to cobble together a road budget because local road aid hasn’t kept up with inflation for years. According to a report released by the Department of Transportation (DOT) local road aid, in real dollars, dropped almost 4% from 2006 to 2019.

Many local units of government are tired of being told the lack of local road money would be fixed in the next budget – only to see, year after year, the local road aid budgets fall further behind. Locals are committed to keeping roads and bridges in good repair but cannot provide these services if the state does not deliver the funds.

Now they are working to make the issue a top state priority.

Barb Traun’s statement was accompanied by a resolution passed by the Town of Maxville asking the governor and lawmakers to fix the unmet transportation needs. The town’s advocacy is part of a trend.

In the fall of 2016, local governments passed 559 resolutions calling on state leaders to fix the road budget. According to the Transportation Development Association (TDA) over the past few months they received another “200 plus” local government resolutions.

Because of state imposed levy caps, local governments have little ability to raise property taxes to pay for roads. So, they are often stuck with the declining state support.

One avenue locals have available is to raise funds through a “wheel tax”. Eau Claire County took this unpopular approach and enacted a $30 per vehicle “wheel tax” to pay for roads. Other Wisconsin counties are considering a similar approach.

“It’s a start,” Supervisor Colleen Bates recently told the Eau Claire Leader. “It gets us back on track to having roads that are viable.” The county faced increasing pressures as they borrowed to cover road needs. This path became increasingly unsustainable.

Likewise, continuing to borrow is unsustainable for the state.

The recent DOT report shows the state has, according to former DOT Secretary Gottlieb, “engaged in an irresponsible reliance on borrowed money.” In a recent Capitol Times article, Secretary Gottlieb said, “Debt service has increase 85-percent in the last eight years, to the point where we now spend five dollars on debt service for every three dollars we spend on the maintenance of state highways. These problems will continue to worsen until the current funding crisis is resolved.”

Transportation is a key public service. Wisconsin needs leaders who will balance several factors to make wise transportation decisions. This means maintaining our current investments, including our local roads and bridges. It means careful attention to efficiencies and quality construction, planning for future growth and reconciling spending with revenue.

Further, as our climate changes and massive storms deluge us, planning for the future takes on a new urgency.

A prudent transportation budget is a balancing act.

The deteriorating condition of our roads and bridges and the escalating local and state debt shows how deeply Wisconsin is out of balance.

kathleen-vinehoutWe must also consider the realities of the new age of intense weather patterns, which calls for a 21st Century approach to infrastructure that Wisconsin has not begun to realize.

Recently, leaders applauded the completion of a portion of a giant Milwaukee road project known as the Zoo Interchange. As the governor lauded the project as “on time and on budget” we must remember the current budget delayed or left unfinished other parts of this same project. In the road budget, delays mean increased costs later.

The governor’s claim “road projects…are staying on track or getting done sooner” was rated, earlier this year by Politifact as “mostly false”. Walker’s claim that he invested “$3 billion more than what former Governor Jim Doyle spend on transportation over the same period of time” was also rated “mostly false.”

Staying honest and acknowledging the problem is the first step to finding a solution.

There are many solutions. In Secretary Gottlieb’s budget a few year ago he proposed 24 different approaches. It’s time we dust off his 600-page budget and use his guidance to seriously work on solving the transportation problems.

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Supporting the UW Helps All of Wisconsin

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, 28 August 2018
in Wisconsin

uwgbBudget cuts and tuition freezes have hampered the UW System’s ability to retain professors, continue research and deliver high quality affordable education.  UW President Ray Cross has a plan to increase funding in the next budget.


MADISON - “Investing in the UW System is an investment in Wisconsin,” said University of Wisconsin President Ray Cross, calling for an investment of another $107.5 million in the next biennial budget.

Over the past several years, budget cuts and tuition freezes hampered the UW System’s ability to retain professors, continue research and deliver high quality affordable education.

To bolster his argument, President Cross cited a recently released study by NorthStar Analytics that showed the UW System adds $24 billion each year to Wisconsin’s economy. The study estimated UW’s economic contribution at a 23-fold return on state dollars invested.

The UW Board of Regents agreed with the President’s proposal, sending the budget forward to Governor Scott Walker. The Governor, for his part, called on the university system and all other parts of state government to submit budgets with no funding increases and a five percent cut.

Budget cuts, and policy changes coupled with a tuition freeze created difficulties for the UW.

Think of tuition and state aid as a teeter-totter. As one goes down, the other must come up. When tuition is frozen, state aid must be increased to pay for the freeze. In addition, the cost of doing business constantly rises. Meaning, budgets must be increased to keep up with rising costs – the cost of inflation.

uw-mdsn-studentsHere’s actually what happen. Tuition has been frozen since 2013. The same budget cut $65.6 million. The freeze was never funded. Both the 2011-13 and the 2015-17 budgets were cut by $250 million. The most recent budget returned a meager $36 million – nowhere near what was needed to make up the cut – let alone allow for funding the tuition freeze (since 2013) and the needed cost of living increases (since 2011).

Tuition was frozen, no cost of living increases provided, and a deep cut to the base was never repaired. Holding down both ends of the teeter-totter caused real stress.

To make matters worse, changes in policy – like the loss of the protection of statutory tenure – sent a clear message: higher education was not valued by state leaders.

Much of the UW budget pays for people. Without funding increases, professors and staff are paid less. People leave the system. Courses and programs are cut. The general reputation of the UW declines.

For example, research reported by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau pegged UW professors’ salaries well below other institutions. UW Stevens Point professors fared the worst, nearly one-quarter below the national average. At seven of thirteen four-year campuses, senior faculty were twenty percent or more below the national average. At two-year campuses, associate professors were thirty percent below the national average.

As a result, it’s increasingly difficult to retain high quality faculty and recruit qualified professors, especially in high demand fields like nursing and engineering. Professors departing the UW System, coupled with difficulties in recruitment, lowers the overall quality of faculty. This also makes it harder for faculty to obtain grants and lowers the quality of education and advisement students receive.

“We lost some of our best people,” UW Madison Chancellor told Atlantic reporter Jon Marcus last year. “It is our very best faculty that get outside offers. If you’re looking at research dollars, those are the people who are bringing in millions in research funding. And the people you replace them with bring in much less. So those retention issues have a real impact.”

The new NorthStar study shows the UW economic impact more than doubled since the last study in 2002. The biggest change was the economic development activities contributing to “a very significant start up activity.” It’s well known Wisconsin lags the nation (the least or near last) in start-up companies.

Fixing the UW means a significant increase in state funding. If policy makers want to keep tuition frozen, let’s begin by funding that tuition freeze. Next, we need to fill in the big budget holes created since Walker’s first budget in 2011. Then we need to create a steady increase pegged to inflation. Finally, let’s truly honor the work of our scholars by rescinding the numerous policy changes that undermine higher education.

Supporting the UW helps all of Wisconsin. It’s time we invest our dollars where we can really grow our state.

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Peering in the Schoolroom Window

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 Wednesday, 22 August 2018
in Wisconsin

school-kidsSchool districts have not recovered from the historic cuts to state aid for schools included in Governor Walker’s budgets, forcing school superintendents and boards to make very difficult funding decisions as they deal with the needs of students.


ALMA, WI - “Welcome back to school,” the newsletter proclaimed. The Superintendent welcomed all with a cheery letter describing the amazing team at the school.

As students walk toward the school doors, they see from the outside that everything looks great. My local school district is proud of the new asphalt on the parking lot.

Inside the building, teachers worked hard to create a welcoming environment. For weeks, teachers, administrators and staff prepared a friendly and positive atmosphere for students, including cheerful posters decorating the walls and bright colors adorning the halls.

But, metaphorically, pulling back the blinds and peering deeper into our local classrooms shows a different picture.

Parents looked through the school supply list and made a shopping trip to prepare their children for school. Many teachers made lists and purchased needed supplies with their own checkbook.

To meet student needs, teachers stock their shelves with food for children who come to school hungry. Or hygiene supplies for children who need help keeping their young bodies clean. Often, it means creating a clothes closet for children who need coats, hats, shirts or shoes.

Peering into the schoolroom window we see children in poverty, children suffering from mental illness and/or trauma. Schools are helping more students with special needs. Many schools have more students who are English Learners.

Schools take on the challenge of meeting the needs of all students. However, children in poverty need more resources. They can succeed, but they need more help to do so.

Schools grapple with finding resources to help children with special needs. The federal government requires certain services for special needs students. Regardless of the tight school budget, schools must offer those services.

Unfortunately, Wisconsin only provides twenty-six cents for every dollar schools spend on special needs services. As a consequence of this policy, school boards and superintendents are forced to cut services for general education to meet the federally required special needs services. In essence, all children sacrifice to help fill the gap in the special needs budget.

A similar pattern emerges with the education of children who are English Learners. In 1990, the state paid 63 cents of every dollar a school spent on bilingual/ bicultural programs. Now, the state pays about eight cents of every dollar. As children’s needs increase, resources must be shifted from other programs to make up for the shortfall.

Likewise, mental health needs of students are increasing. For example, a recent survey of students reported nearly half of all girls and thirty-percent of all boys surveyed reported anxiety, along with higher rates of sadness, hopelessness and thoughts of suicide. Students are also increasingly facing trauma, especially students in poverty. Trauma affects students’ cognitive abilities as well as their behavioral and impulse controls. Schools need resources to help these children.

Declining enrollment in more than half of our schools is creating perpetual budget crises and leading to approval of a high number of school referenda just to pay for operations.

In real dollars, state funds flowing to schools are less than a decade ago. Wisconsin public schools suffered historic budget cuts under Gov. Walker. Despite increases in his Election Year budget, schools have not recovered from the massive cuts in 2011. In real dollars, public schools are getting less this year than they received in 2008-09.

kathleen-vinehoutFollowing enactment of Act 10, and the historic cuts to schools, teachers left the profession and fewer college students are becoming teachers. Budget cuts forced rural schools to cut support staff and courses in art, music, ag, along with advanced placement classes. Now, schools across the state are experiencing difficulties filling vacancies.

I serve on the Legislature’s Blue Ribbon Commission on School Funding. We heard public testimony from schools around the state that experience serious budget challenges. Often the problems facing rural and inner-city schools are cited as reasons to change the state’s current course on school funding. However, I learned even suburban schools, like Kettle Moraine, are facing program cuts.

When we couple the increasing needs of children with historic budget cuts to schools, we can see through the school room window that challenges cannot be solved by our local school districts alone.

Wisconsin must reverse course and return to making education our top funding priority.

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New Research Points to Benefits of Medicaid Expansion

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 Wednesday, 15 August 2018
in Wisconsin

healthcareSen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about recently released research that points to benefits of Medicaid expansion, under the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately, Wisconsin leaders did not opt to expand Medicaid.


ALMA, WI - “The dramatic decline in the share of children without health insurance over the past two decades is an American health policy success story,” wrote Alan Weil, the Editor in Chief of the journal Health Affairs. The journal is widely seen as a leader in reporting research related to health policy.

Medicaid (MA), known in Wisconsin as BadgerCare, and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, are credited with an astounding ninety-four percent participation rate of eligible children. This is the highest level of health care coverage since researchers began measuring children’s coverage.

With one in six Wisconsin children living in poverty, and an increasing rate of childhood poverty, programs that provide health care coverage to children are even more important.

Unfortunately, researchers found states that did not expand MA coverage under the federal Affordable Care Act (ACA) had fewer eligible children and parents participating in Medicaid.

Wisconsin’s governor chose not to expand MA under the ACA.

States that opted to expand MA successfully increased their level of health care coverage for eligible populations. Those states were effective at outreach, easy enrollment and easy renewal processes.

Researchers however cautioned that cuts to the funding available for outreach and elimination of the “individual mandate” (the requirement that everyone have health insurance) is predicted to lower health coverage for children in the future.

Health news from states that did expand MA coverage brings us a clearer picture of the benefits Wisconsin could reap under a change in our state policy.

Diabetes is one of Wisconsin’s top “avoidable” disease burdens. Diabetes can lead to many other health problems including eye and heart disease. Diabetic patients can control their blood sugar through lifesaving medications. But patients without health insurance frequently cannot afford costly medications.

kathleen-vinehoutGetting folks to fill their prescriptions and use their medicine as prescribed, can prevent other health problems, provide long-term benefits for the patient’s health and lower overall cost.

New research comparing MA expansion states with non-expansion states (like Wisconsin) show a significant increase in patients filling prescriptions for diabetic medication among the expansion states when compared to the non-expansion states. Researchers found older – below age 65 – patients experienced the largest increase in prescription fills.

The study looked at patterns in over ninety-six million prescription fills. Authors suggested that state savings can grow over time as people age but stay healthier. These savings could help justify the state’s investment in MA expansion.

Researchers also looked into better understanding the effect of MA expansion on coverage for those suffering from addiction. Researchers in Oregon suggested MA expansion was associated with a decrease in depressive symptoms and an increase in self-reported mental and physical health.

Getting the full complement of treatment options to MA patients suffering from substance abuse is a challenge for many states. Limits on MA – the nation’s largest payer for addiction treatment – has been a problem for many years.

Restricting access to services for addiction makes no sense, especially with the often small window when patients realize how sick they are and are willing to comply with treatment. For MA expansion states, the Affordable Care Act “ushered in landmark reforms to Medicaid coverage for addiction treatment,” wrote researchers in the recent edition of Health Affairs.

Wisconsin has the option of expanding MA coverage under the ACA. The current administration rejected MA expansion even though data from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau showed over a billion dollar six-year savings to the state budget (fiscal years 2013-14 through FY 18-19).

If leaders chose MA expansion in the current budget, the state would save two hundred and eighty-six million as federal money replaced precious state “general fund” dollars. I proposed using this savings to make a long-needed investment in community-based mental health and addiction recovery services.

Uninsured patients cost all of us, as hospitals shift the costs of those unable to pay their bills onto other patients. Programs like MA help all of us by providing lifesaving coverage.

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