Wednesday November 21, 2018

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Discussion with education and reason.

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 Schools have new expenses, like improving student safety and replacing outdated technology.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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Ed Wall: Scott Walker Lacks Ethics

Posted by Ed Wall
Ed Wall
Ed Wall was a 32-year career public safety professional who served as the Admini
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on Friday, 02 November 2018
in Wisconsin

scott-walker-photo-jeramey-jannene-2018-02-09Former Walker Cabinet insider reveals how the Governor’s lack of ethics and continued efforts to conceal the operations of government from public view stopped him and others from providing the best, cost effective services to Wisconsin's citizens.


MADISON - In Wisconsin, a litany of stubborn facts is helping define the race for governor between Scott Walker and the state’s school superintendent, Tony Evers. As a life-long conservative, I once thought Walker was the answer. However, after serving in his cabinet as Secretary of the Department of Corrections, the state’s largest cabinet agency with more than 10,000 employees and a $2.5 billion budget, I was taught an invaluable lesson on ethics, and how the lack of them impacts government operations.

As a career law enforcement officer and public servant, the driving force behind my personal beliefs revolved around integrity; doing the right thing, at the right time and for the right reason. That core belief would unfortunately run afoul of Walker’s political ambitions and his administration’s continued efforts to conceal the operations of government from public view.

This propensity to avoid the law and accountability became so clear that four cabinet secretaries who were appointed by Walker felt compelled to publicly call out his unethical actions. Let that sink in for a moment. Not one, not two or three, but four cabinet secretaries, or one third of his cabinet, who were chosen by Walker because of their skills and abilities. It was ethics, not partisan motivation, that drove us to step forward to let the public know that the polished politician they were watching in countless TV ads was actually a charlatan with only one motive: get reelected at any cost.

In the perfect world, government should be concerned with providing the best, cost effective services for its citizens. As leaders, we should be asking how can we do this better, not who did you vote for. Walker demonstrated time and again that the only thing he wanted from his cabinet secretaries were devoted admirers and cheer leaders. He had no use for leaders who might have ideas that would improve educational services, address transportation issues, create accountability or protect families. What we found instead was that if your considered and educated opinions ran afoul of his political talking points, your future in the cabinet was going to be short lived.

Walker stated publicly when pressed by the media about his cabinet secretaries coming out against him that he “didn’t want yes men” in his cabinet and welcomed differing opinions. Really? His words contradict a demonstrated proclivity to shun anyone who might actually have considered opinions with facts to support their positions. Walker expects the public to believe that his secretaries, who took the unprecedented step of coming forward to denounce him, were “yes men”. That’s interesting since he is now on his third corrections secretary in less than two years. Is that because the previous secretaries agreed with how he was running government operations? No. We separately came to the realization that we could not serve a governor whose indifference to ethical behavior and responsible government was so evident.

boy-in-docWhen I became aware of the allegations of youth prisoners being potentially abused by state employees at the state’s juvenile correction institution, I immediately notified Walker and called in the state Department of Justice and Attorney General Brad Schimel. The allegations were not something that could be ignored and demanded the most robust response possible. Unfortunately, that would not be the position of Walker or Schimel.

Schimel’s anemic response to the crisis was to assign a single special agent to investigate the case on a part time basis for many months, while refusing to share information with the Department of Corrections on their progress. Simultaneously, the governor and his staff refused to push for resolution, as they seemed more annoyed with the problem because the story was constantly in the news as Walker floundered in his presidential bid. It was not until just before leaving my cabinet position that I learned Walker had been warned about the Lincoln Hills issues by a judge 10 months before I was even appointed. The governor just never thought that was something I should know about. Ultimately, I came to the conclusion that Walker and Schimel had conspired to bury the investigation for political reasons.

Walker’s administration maintained a manic obsession with not creating or maintaining records. Instead, they worked hard to manipulate the open records laws in their favor. For example, at the height of the Lincoln Hills affair, after Walker had ignored our pleas for help for nearly a year, Walker’s chief of staff called and advised that he was going to draft a letter to me, instructing me to take actions to address the Lincoln Hills issues. My staff and I were dumbfounded. This was the administration that had done everything possible to avoid getting involved with the Lincoln Hills issues. He was going to now write me a letter that would undoubtedly try to look like the governor’s office was galloping in to take control of the situation that they went out of their way to avoid.

ed-wallThe chief of staff asked me to come to the capitol to help draft the letter he was going to send me, because we could not create an email trail to show the absurdity of the exercise.

Ultimately the letter was drafted and the chief of staff advised he would email it to me, explaining that it would then be creating a record that he could release promptly to the press demonstrating the governor’s leadership on this critical issue. He then instructed that I should draft a response letter outlining what we had done to respond to the governor’s instructions. When I had the draft completed, I was to call him on his personal phone and read it to him. When it was approved, I would then send it by email to create another record the governor’s office would promptly release, demonstrating his command of the situation.

All of this from the governor who refused to even visit a prison during his eight years in office. He said that he “saw no use in it” and “those people will only show you what hey want you to see”. He saw “no use” in learning more about the largest cabinet agency operations. He time and again demonstrated his disregard for “those people” that were state employees, who he went to war against eight years before with his divisive Act 10 legislation that dismembered state employee representation.

You see, Scott Walker was always more interested in visiting businesses and entities that might donate to his campaigns, rather than the backbone of state government service. If you had a checkbook, you had Scott Walker’s attention. If you had integrity, honest desire to improve government operations or ideas that were supported by studies and evidence, you were “those people”.

Perhaps never in the history of our state have four former cabinet secretaries come forward to call attention to unscrupulous and deceitful actions by a governor, let alone endorse his opponent from a different political party than we had all associated ourselves with. Each of us joined the Walker administration because we believed he wanted to do what was best for Wisconsin. What we found was a purely political machine that looked at the governor’s office as simply a springboard to higher office beyond the state’s borders. Ultimately, Scott Walker’s hubris and lack of a moral compass are what has defined him and inspired those he chose to lead the state’s most critical agencies to step forward and declare that the emperor has no clothes.

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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
User is currently offline
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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We Can Win this Election on Healthcare

Posted by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Robert Kraig is Executive Director, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, 221 S. 2nd St.,
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on Saturday, 27 October 2018
in Wisconsin

hcsignmattMILWAUKEE, WI - I am absolutely thrilled with the direction of this election!

At Citizen Action we made a strategic judgement years ago that if we organized to elevate the issue of pre-existing condition discrimination, health care would be a decisive election issue.

Now years of organizing is paying huge political dividends. Here we are in the home stretch of the critical 2018 election, and pre-existing condition discrimination is the driving issue in the Senate and Governor’s races.

Right Wing politicians are in panic mode. Leah Vukmir shockingly claimed in her debate with Tammy Baldwin this week that pre-existing condition discrimination is a “big lie” that never happened. Scott Walker is taking on water on this issue, despite his best efforts to mislead the public record of health care sabotage.

We have them on the run, but we need to keep the pressure on through election day!

I hope I can count on you to make an immediate donation to Citizen Action so we have the resources to tell as many voters as possible that conservative politicians will make pre-existing discrimination legal again.

As I wrote in a strategic memo almost 3 years ago about a term invented by insurance bureaucrats to obscure the truth: What is absolutely astounding about pre-existing conditions is that this seemingly innocuous term seems to be known by virtually every adult.. . . . The idea of someone being denied or thrown off health insurance because they have a medical condition strikes a deep emotional chord in American culture, and seems deeply immoral to most people.”

The new Marquette Law School poll released on Wednesday backs us up on this. It shows a stunning 93% of likely Wisconsin voters think pre-existing condition discrimination is an important issue heading into the election.

No wonder Scott Walker, Leah Vukmir, and all the right-wing Legislators who are locked in tight re-election fights, are terrified.

If you agree with me that pre-existing condition discrimination can help us bring down Scott Walker and hLeah Vukmir, and shift control of the Legislature, please chip in whatever can to support our work.

In Peace & Solidarity,

Dr. Robert Kraig

Executive Director

P.S. We are also building support or constructive solutions to the health care cost crisis. We are the driving force behind the BadgerCare Public Option bill, which Tony Evers strongly supports. The BadgerCare Public Option is a big stepping stone towards the ultimate solution, Medicare for All.

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