Friday June 23, 2017

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From people looking forward with education and reason.

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 , and is one of the courageous Wisconsin 14.

Celebrating Wisconsin’s Dairyland

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Monday, 19 June 2017
in Wisconsin

wisc-dairy-farmThis week Sen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about celebrating Wisconsin’s Dairyland as part of June Dairy Month. She shares some reminiscences about being a dairy farmer.


ALMA, WI - “Do you still milk?” I asked Jim at a recent gathering. “No,” he told me. “My son tells me the most help I can be is to stay out of the way,” he joked. We both agreed that was hard. Dairying gets in your blood.

June is dairy month. A time to celebrate all we love about ‘America’s Dairyland’ – home to 1.28 million dairy cows, which is more than one cow for every five Wisconsinites.

Reminiscing with an old dairy farmer, you realize the love of cows and farming never really goes away. The smell of newly mowed hay or the glistening dew on the field of newly emerging corn brings back tangible memories. While the body is worn and weary, the mind still remembers the satisfaction of a job well done when every cow is milked and fed, the barn is clean and limed, and all the other farm animals are ready to settle in for the night.

Dairying is a life of details. Every good farmer I know carried a notebook in his or her coveralls. Did Daisy finish her feed? Is that heifer calf sucking up breakfast with the relish of yesterday? Did I call the mill to order feed? Which heifers need vaccinating? Everything is written down. A human’s touch completes each task.

Today we have computers to help remember the details. Robotic milking helps some farmers handle the milking chores. But, no matter the technology, there’s a human paying attention to the details on every successful farm.

That farmer also has back up from many other human resources who pay attention to details. Veterinarians, agronomists, implement dealers, dairy equipment technicians all answer that emergency call for the sick cow, sick crop or broken machinery. These folks are the back-up team that helps the farm family succeed.

Then there are the folks that provide psychological and moral support, like the spouse, who pays the bills, keeps the house clean and the hay crew fed. The pastor who counsels the family through hard times and the accountant who helps navigate moving the farm from father to daughter and son-in-law.

Reminiscing with Jim brought back my own memories of cold January mornings when I didn’t want to get out of bed at 4:00 a.m... Grudgingly I donned long underwear and layers of warm clothing and headed out into frigid weather.

Before I got the cows fed, Bob Bosold’s cheery voice came over the radio. “It’s the shank of the morning,” he crooned. Bob reported that it was another day (about the 16th in a row) where the high temperature was expected to be “two below.” He then launched into some corny joke about “Tupelo, Mississippi.” I do not remember the details, but it made me smile.

I am sure dairy farmers across western Wisconsin had a better day because every one of them knew Bob was up before the sun and hard at work before they ever ventured out into the subzero weather.

Bob Bosold, the long-time farm broadcaster at WAXX radio in Eau Claire, was recently recognized as the National Farm Broadcaster of the Year. This well-deserved honor cannot possibly capture the dedication of forty years Bob made to the farm families across Western Wisconsin. Every dairy breakfast, FFA convention, Farm Progress Days and early morning milking, Bob was present, by radio, bringing the important news and stories to the farming community.

His counterpart in the southern part of the state, Pam Jahnke – the Fabulous Farm Babe – has done the same since 1990. Bob and Pam are just some of the folks that make up a part of the fabric of our great dairy state.

We celebrate our great dairy state during June. However, every day we should be thankful for the farmers’ endless work, which feeds us and contributes to our economy. As Daniel Webster said, “Let us not forget that the cultivation of the earth is the most important labor of man. When tillage begins, other arts will follow. The farmers therefore are the founders of civilization.”

So hats off to the hard-working moms and dads, uncles and aunts, daughters and sons. Big thanks to the 84-year-old grandpa who still cuts the hay and the “retired” farmer Jim who “just can’t seem to stay out of the way!”

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Will Wisconsin’s Future Children Receive an Equal Education?

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Monday, 12 June 2017
in Wisconsin

teaching-studentsSen. Kathleen Vinehout argues the current budget stalemate is due in part to competing education funding proposals that do not address the needs facing school districts across the state. Legislative leaders know the school funding formula is broken, but they choose to ignore State Superintendent Tony Evers’ plan to change that way Wisconsin funds schools.


MADISON - Progress with the state budget is at a standoff in the Capitol. Behind closed doors, leaders are talking details and trying to find votes.

Openly, legislative leaders point to a lack of agreement on public education. They say no progress can happen until they round up necessary votes for the education portion of the budget. Privately, some GOP lawmakers are also angling to spend money on a big change to business personal property taxes. However, changes to taxes could take away money promised to schools.

Education is the largest part of the general fund budget (the portion of our budget paid for with mostly income and sales tax). Local school funding is made up of a combination of state aid and local property taxes. The two sources of money interact a bit like a teeter-totter – as one source drops (state aid), the other source goes up (property taxes). For example, property taxes go up school districts pass referenda to fund needs left unserved by declining state aid.

Wisconsin pays for schools through an Equalized Aid formula, which is meant to equalize resources to children no matter where they live in the state. The idea of equal opportunity for children regardless of their zip code is deeply rooted in our state. Principles enshrined in Wisconsin’s Constitution include public education as a state function that is free with reasonable equality of education opportunities for all children and without excessive reliance on property taxes. Lawmakers must grapple with meeting those principles.

Under the Governor’s proposal, school funding through equalized aid would be lower in the 2018-19 school year than it was thirteen years prior. The effect of these decisions will intensify the inequalities schoolchildren across Wisconsin face.

Progress with the state budget is at a standoff in the Capitol. Behind closed doors, leaders are talking details and trying to find votes.

Openly, legislative leaders point to a lack of agreement on public education. They say no progress can happen until they round up necessary votes for the education portion of the budget. Privately, some GOP lawmakers are also angling to spend money on a big change to business personal property taxes. However, changes to taxes could take away money promised to schools.

Education is the largest part of the general fund budget (the portion of our budget paid for with mostly income and sales tax). Local school funding is made up of a combination of state aid and local property taxes. The two sources of money interact a bit like a teeter-totter – as one source drops (state aid), the other source goes up (property taxes). For example, property taxes go up school districts pass referenda to fund needs left unserved by declining state aid.

Wisconsin pays for schools through an Equalized Aid formula, which is meant to equalize resources to children no matter where they live in the state. The idea of equal opportunity for children regardless of their zip code is deeply rooted in our state. Principles enshrined in Wisconsin’s Constitution include public education as a state function that is free with reasonable equality of education opportunities for all children and without excessive reliance on property taxes. Lawmakers must grapple with meeting those principles.

Under the Governor’s proposal, school funding through equalized aid would be lower in the 2018-19 school year than it was thirteen years prior. The effect of these decisions will intensify the inequalities schoolchildren across Wisconsin face.

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What Choices Would You Make?

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, 06 June 2017
in Wisconsin

walkerEvery dollar spent in a budget is a reflection of choices. Sen. Kathleen Vinehout shares some of the ideas in an alternative budget she created to the one proposed by the Governor and encourages people to let their choices be known.


MADISON - In the next few weeks, state lawmakers are voting on how Wisconsin spends money over the next two years. The choices legislators make will affect our communities and our lives.

Lawmakers are working off a spending plan submitted by the Governor earlier this year. Changes have already been made to his proposal.

For example, the budget writing committee removed much of the new money for the University of Wisconsin System. Big spending cuts in the last budget forced, among other things, a reorganization of UW-Extension, which may leave local communities without their own Ag or 4-H agents.

This year, the Governor’s budget returned about one-sixth of that cut and ties the increase to new “performance” standards. However, majority party lawmakers cut that increase roughly in half and disapproved a small decrease in tuition.

Every dollar spent in the budget is a choice. Not funding the UW System may be a choice to finance another tax change for some businesses. Lawmakers are pushing to get rid of the business personal property tax that provides revenue to local governments.

What would your choices be for state spending? How might we spend the same amount of money but make different choices.

I tackled this question in writing an alternative to the Governor’s budget. I focused recently on the General Fund budget – where most of our tax dollars go.

To break down the choices, it’s helpful to remember the vast majority of state tax dollars go to fund health, K-12 education, technical colleges & the UW, local government and corrections. These five programs are most directly affected by general fund tax changes. For example, tax breaks result in less money for schools.

Those who deliver services in all five of these areas would tell us spending has not kept pace with inflation. Past budget cuts had serious consequences, such as teacher shortages, nursing home closures, loss of UW professors, and prison lawsuits. In addition, an aging population, more mental health and drug addiction problems, and increasing childhood poverty are straining our capacity to respond.

Over the past six years, Wisconsin spent hundreds of millions in new business tax credits. Yet legislative audits show little evidence of anticipated results. State and national economic statistics demonstrate Wisconsin’s new private sector job growth trailing a majority of states. Local businesses report workforce shortages.

Every dollar spent in a budget is a choice. What choices could we make to address problems facing the state?

We could make technical and two-year UW colleges more accessible for students who might not otherwise get post high school training. In my alternative budget, I create a program to provide free tuition for Tech College and two-year UW Campuses. Use federal financial aid first. Then eliminate the remaining financial barriers. In addition, let us fix the UW System. Return the dollars lost, keep our county Extension agents, and retain professors at our world class UW campuses.

Reducing just one tax credit would allow for elimination of tuition for Wisconsin students at our technical and two-year UW colleges. Is this a trade-off you’d make to solve our workforce needs?

To fix public schools, let’s eliminate the statewide expansion of private school subsidies. In addition, take the new school money the Governor put outside the school aid formula and put it through a new formula. Childhood poverty, struggling rural schools, special education needs, and many other school problems are addressed in the new aid formula proposed by State Superintendent Tony Evers. Positive changes the Governor chose to ignore.

Addiction recovery, increasing mental health provider payments, caring for our elders, and disabled (and those who care for them) and prenatal outreach are all changes I choose to make in the health budget. Moving administrative functions in-house rather than out-sourcing those functions to private consulting firms would cut costs by thirty percent. Taking federal Medicaid expansion opportunities would save state dollars AND cover 79,000 additional people with BadgerCare.

Other choices I would make to general spending include investing $100 million in broadband expansion and putting a half a billion dollars in the state’s savings account. All these choices are possible without spending more dollars.

Every dollar spent in our state budget is a choice, which makes the budget a reflection of our values. What choices would you make? Take opportunities to let your voice be heard!

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Is There a “Good” Tax?

Posted by Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout, State Senator 31st District
Kathleen Vinehout of Alma is an educator, business woman, and farmer who is now
User is currently offline
on Monday, 29 May 2017
in Wisconsin

roads-i-39-90-94Sen. Kathleen Vinehout writes about a public hearing before a committee, of which she is a member, on a bill to eliminate the personal property tax. What will be the financial impact of the proposed change, who pays more, and what goods and services do we do without?


ALMA, WI - “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society,” Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said ninety years ago.

Taxes pay for much of the goods and services we take for granted, such as roads, fire and police protection, consumer protections, schools, parks, and our social safety net. Taxes make up the largest part of the revenue in our state budget.

Taxes are a part of our daily lives, through the money we pay in sales tax or a deduction in our paycheck for income tax. Once a year, property owners send in a check to their local government for property taxes on their homes and farms.

Property tax is probably the most unpopular tax. A subset of this tax, the personal property tax, came under fire at the recent Senate committee hearing.

“When the tax bill came, I always viewed this tax as a penalty.” Quentin Schultz of River Falls told our committee. He joined dozens of business owners who traveled to Madison with hopes of getting rid of the personal property tax.

About three percent of the property tax paid is for things that are not land or buildings. Our committee heard from a diverse group of businesses who asked for things such as the equipment to bake bread or their ski lifts at a ski resort to not be taxed.

Over the years, business groups advocated for loopholes or “exemptions” to the personal property tax. In a January 2017 paper, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) listed 18 pages of “exemptions” to the personal property tax. The list includes many common items from A to Y: from animals to youth hockey.

Business owners at the committee hearing gave many examples of how difficult it was for them to know what was and was not taxed, and how expensive the tax was for them to keep records. Many complained the tax on them was unfair, calling it a “bad” tax.

But is there ever a “good” tax?

To answer this question, I turned to the teachings of many economists I learned from over the years. Recognizing that all taxes have negative effects, a “good” tax is broad-based - it affects everybody. It has a low rate and does not have loopholes. When a tax is broad-based and has a low rate, everyone pays something but no one pays too much.

A “good” tax is easy for taxpayers to comply with and easy to collect. Finally, a “good” tax causes little change in normal economic activity. The personal property tax fails this standard on many levels.

Lawmakers following the wisdom of “good” tax policy would choose a reform that gets us closer to these standards. To be revenue neutral, any lowering of the state’s revenue should be made up somewhere else.

The “somewhere else” or how the lost revenue would be made up was never discussed in the committee hearing. The cost of this personal property tax change would be about $520 million. For comparison, that is about that same amount the Governor put in his budget as a “per student” increase for all public schools.

Lawmakers who support eliminating the personal property tax said they planned to add state money to offset the loss to local community. They also said, without that additional state money, homeowners would pay higher property taxes. Some communities would see a much higher increase in property taxes. For example, the City of Blair in Trempealeau County receives 22% of its property tax revenue from personal property taxes.

The proponents of the bill suggested the money lost to communities like Blair would be made up in more state aid. However, no one could answer my question of where this money would come from.

I applaud my colleagues who want to get rid of a “bad” tax. However, we must have an honest discussion about how we are going to pay for local services upon which people depend.

History shows us that local government bears a heavy burden to make up for cuts in state funding. Eliminating the personal property tax increases that burden. If promises to make up for the loss of revenue are not met, it will affect local programs and local taxes.

If we are going to eliminate “bad” taxes, we must consider the consequences and discuss either who pays more or what goods and services we want to do without.

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WEDC Cannot Be Certain of Any Jobs Created or Retained

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, 23 May 2017
in Wisconsin

walker-no-jobsThe most recent LAB report again points out that WEDC does not collect the information necessary to report on the jobs promised when taxpayer dollars are used. Is our money effectively and efficiently invested?


MADISON – Our state spends a great deal of money on economic development. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) is responsible for overseeing much of the taxpayer money that goes to job creation.

A recently released audit by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) found that “WEDC cannot be certain about the number of jobs actually created or retained as a result of any awards that ended.”

By law, WEDC is required to report jobs created or retained. The agency meets the requirement through reports posted on its website. However, auditors found these data inaccurate.

“We found that the on-line data in January of 2017 included 183 jobs created and 1,082 jobs retained by recipients that had sold their operations in Wisconsin, ceased their operations in Wisconsin, or had withdrawn from their contracts before the contractually specified completion dates.

For example, WEDC claimed credit for retaining 340 jobs for a company that ceased operations in Wisconsin; claimed credit for creating 68 jobs for another company that sold its operations in Wisconsin; and claimed 485 jobs retained for a third company that withdrew from its contract years before it was to deliver the created and retained jobs.

In addition, auditors found WEDC double counted jobs created and retained. For example, one company received awards in both June 2012 and September 2012 for the same 305 jobs created and 284 jobs retained. Another company signed two different contracts in July of 2011 but the company claimed they would retain the same 110 jobs for both awards.

Auditors also looked at 192 contract awards made since July 2011 through the end of September 2016. Presumably, at the end of a contract one would know if the promised results were achieved. Upon review of the 192 awards, LAB found only 12.5% (24) even had an expected result of job creation or retention.

Of those 24 with expected results, three of the contracts did not actually require the company to create or retain jobs; 13 contracts ended before their completion date (meaning the requirements were not fulfilled). Of the eight contracts completed, WEDC did not collect sufficient information to verify that promised jobs were created.

Without accurate information about WEDC program results, lawmakers and taxpayers cannot know if the investment in job creation and retention was money well spent.

WEDC authorized hundreds of millions in tax credits, grants and loans since its 2011 inception. The most recent audit is the third report that raises ongoing concerns about the lack of independent verification of jobs created or retained.

Some WEDC problems were corrected, such as establishing accounting policies and procedures for the agency (the lack of which was a finding in 2013). But other problems identified in prior audits continue. For example, in 2015 auditors found WEDC kept a reserve of state money larger than necessary. In the most recent audit, auditors found WEDC’s cash and investment reserves more than doubled over four years.

Prior problems with administering its loan program caused legislators to phase out any further loan activity by WEDC. In this most recent audit, the potentially uncollectable loan balance nearly tripled and auditors found a substantial rise in the loan delinquency rate.

Just days before the release of the audit, the Legislature’s budget writing committee voted, along partisan lines, to restart WEDC’s troubled loan program. The committee also voted along partisan lines to increase state taxpayer dollars going to WEDC.

Both of these actions should be stopped.

For nearly six years, Wisconsinites asked whether WEDC lived up to the promises made at its inception. The Legislative Audit Bureau continues to tell us that WEDC does not collect adequate information to provide lawmakers and citizens with accurate information on whether promises of job creation and retention were delivered

Most of WEDC’s money is state taxpayer dollars, a precious resource that is used to fund many other programs. A dollar spent on unverified job creation/retention programs means a dollar is not available for critical investments like transportation infrastructure, public schools or local government.

It is time for all of us to demand that the Governor and the WEDC Board step up and correct the ongoing problems documented in three separate audits of WEDC over the last six years. Job creation is important, but so is the most effective and efficient investment of state taxpayer dollars.

****

The audit briefing sheet and full audit can be viewed online.

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