Monday May 22, 2017

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Medicaid Matters to Wisconsin

Posted by Disability Rights Wisconsin, Dan Idzikowski
Disability Rights Wisconsin, Dan Idzikowski
Daniel Idzikowski is the Executive Director of Disability Rights Wisconsin
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on Monday, 22 May 2017
in Wisconsin

americanhealthcareactThe American Health Care Act passed in the House cuts $839 billion from Medicaid, removes coverage from millions, and drastically alters healthcare protections for the rest. It would shift billions to Wisconsin taxpayers and does nothing to reduce health care costs, it only reduces the revenue available to pay them.


MILWAUKEE, WI - The House of Representatives voted last week to deliver Wisconsin citizens, including our most vulnerable adults and children, a multi-billion-dollar bill we cannot pay. The American Health Care Act (AHCA) initiates a $839 billion cut to Medicaid, removes healthcare coverage from millions, and drastically alters healthcare protections for the rest. Most disturbing, rather than focusing on the promised replacement of the Affordable Care Act, the AHCA robs a quarter of the Medicaid budget to pay for tax changes that will benefit only the wealthiest Americans.

Medicaid funds far more than medical insurance for the poor. In Wisconsin, forty percent of Medicaid funds support popular and innovative programs like Family Care, IRIS, and Community Options that keep older adults and people with disabilities in their homes and out of expensive institutions, supporting them to work, volunteer, and contribute to the economy.

people_with_disabilitiesMedicaid funds HealthCheck, ensuring babies and children get the early care and treatment they need. Medicaid funds Katie Beckett, the Children’s Long Term Support program, and special education services that support families of all incomes with children with significant disabilities. Medicaid funds mental health services, addiction treatment, and BadgerCare, providing health care security for low-income working adults. For nearly 1.2 million Wisconsinites, Medicaid matters.

Medicaid is an investment in Wisconsin’s economy. With access to healthcare, Wisconsinites can avoid illness and manage chronic conditions, keeping them working. Family caregivers can keep their jobs instead of being forced to leave to care for family members. Tens of thousands of Wisconsin jobs and our healthcare infrastructure are supported by Medicaid.

Wisconsin now receives 59 cents from the federal government for every dollar it invests in Medicaid. It invests those dollars efficiently. By selectively expanding coverage and moving to a statewide managed care system for adults with disabilities and the frail elderly, Wisconsin has saved tens of millions of dollars in more expensive hospital and institutional care.

Under the Affordable Care Act, nearly a quarter of a million more Wisconsinites have health insurance. In fact, Milwaukee won an award for the highest increase in coverage. This has benefitted Wisconsin’s economy. Hospital based uncompensated care costs have decreased by $500 million dollars from 2013 to 2015, lowering hospital costs and reducing cost shifting.

In contrast, Wisconsin stands to be one of the AHCA’s biggest losers. The AHCA will cap future federal payments based upon 2016 state Medicaid spending. In 2016, Wisconsin underspent its Medicaid budget by $312 million, refused Medicaid expansion funds, and had the lowest per capita spending on children in the nation. Worse, any attempt by Wisconsin to make up the “difference” will be met by a dollar-for-dollar reduction in federal funding. That is not flexibility – that is an unfunded mandate to reduce coverage, care, and support for our most vulnerable citizens.

The AHCA would shift billions of costs to Wisconsin, cause thousands to lose coverage, and pass on to Wisconsinites the hard decisions about waiting lists, terminations, and rationed care for our most vulnerable citizens. Nothing in the AHCA addresses the actual drivers of health care costs – it only reduces the revenue available to pay them.

It’s time for Wisconsin – and the United States Senate -- to recognize the value of Medicaid and the ACA to its people, the economy, and our State. We can’t afford any less.

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When Officers Die, Words Are Not Enough

Posted by Janet Bewley, State Senator Dist 25
Janet Bewley, State Senator Dist 25
Janet Bewley, State Senator Dist 25 was elected to the Senate in the fall of 201
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on Saturday, 20 May 2017
in Wisconsin

police-officersTime for Assembly to Step Up for Spouses and Children of Law Enforcement Officers Killed in the Line of Duty.


ASHLAND, WI - Soon we will all be celebrating the unofficial start to summer, Memorial Day. I will spend the day with a group of veterans from Mellen VFW Post 2273 visiting cemeteries across Ashland County. I’m honored to join them as they quietly pay their respects and remember the men and women who answered the call, and too often lost their lives defending our freedom. I also will speak at a Memorial Day Ceremony at the Northern WI Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Spooner on the Saturday before Memorial Day. It’s important to find the right words. Even more important is making sure that our actions speak as loud as our words.

The same is true when it comes to honoring the men and women who lose their lives policing our streets, fighting fires and responding to emergencies. Sadly, we’ve lost too many good public safety professionals in Wisconsin recently. In the 25th Senate District we lost Dan Glaze, a 33 year old Rusk County Deputy Sheriff killed in the line of duty responding to reports of a suspicious vehicle in November of 2016. Trevor Casper, a young Wisconsin State Trooper was gunned down in a grocery store parking lot in 2015. Dennis Swenson, a dedicated EMT for South Shore Ambulance, died trying to save his 95 year old mother who also perished in the fire in 2015. Dennis left behind an abundance of family and friends; he did not leave behind a family who depended on him for financial support.

Unfortunately, other public servants who lose their lives in the line of duty do leave behind spouses and children who depend on their incomes and benefits. In 2009 the legislature passed a law that required municipalities to pay health insurance premiums for the survivors of a Firefighter who dies, or has died, in the line of duty. For some reason, the law did not extend the same benefit to the surviving spouses and children of Law Enforcement Officers, Emergency Medical Technicians, Rangers, Foresters and others who lose their lives while on duty protecting the public.

Jason Zunker, A Chippewa County Sheriff’s Deputy and graduate of Maple Northwestern High School, died in the line of duty in 2008. He left behind a young wife, Lisa. After Deputy Zunker’s loss, people in Northern Wisconsin began asking: “Why do we treat the surviving spouses and children of these public servants differently?” It is a good question, one that should be answered by passing legislation that extends the benefit to the young children and spouses left behind when any of our public safety personnel lose their lives while on duty.

I am proud to be working with one of my colleagues, Republican State Senator Van Wanggaard, a retired Racine Police Officer, to make this happen. I have coauthored a bill with him again this session to extend health insurance coverage for spouses and children of Law Enforcement Officers, DNR Firefighters, Correctional Officers and EMTs who are killed in the line of duty.

The bill passed in the State Senate, but not in the State Assembly. No one has been able to give me a straight answer as to why the Republicans who control the Assembly won’t step up, pass the bill and send it to the Governor. Today Governor Walker will lay a wreath at a State Capitol Ceremony in honor of Wisconsin's fallen Law Enforcement Officers. At a similar ceremony earlier this month in Milwaukee, he laid another wreath and said “we owe them respect and honor their selfless courage.” I couldn’t agree more. I believe we can and should do better than some nice words and a wreath. We should pass the bill that provides health insurance benefits to their surviving spouses and children and give the Governor the chance to sign it.

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Blue Jean Nation 'Work at the crossroads'

Posted by Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe, Blue Jean Nation
Mike McCabe is the founder and president of Blue Jean Nation and author of Blue
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on Saturday, 20 May 2017
in Wisconsin

matc-studentsWe can steer clear of the social, political and economic turmoil and upheaval this new economy has the capacity to create. If heads are buried in the sand, chaos will reign.


ALTOONA, WI - Those in power in Wisconsin’s Capitol want everyone to notice that the state’s unemployment rate has come down some. They are equally eager to have everyone to look past other troubling facts, such as wage and job growth that is lagging behind the national average, a poverty rate that’s higher than it’s been in 30 years, and a middle class that’s disappearing faster than anywhere else in the country. They pay no attention to rising economic inequality and hope no one notices that the income gap is growing faster in Wisconsin than in other states.

As unwilling as they are to acknowledge much less do something about these politically inconvenient realities, they are even more reluctant to engage the public in any kind of discussion about even greater challenges that lie ahead.

There is a reason why most Americans believe our kids will be worse off than their parents. The U.S. is hurtling toward an increasingly jobless economy and everyone can see it coming. Even the politicians can see it but don’t want to deal with what is plainly visible on the horizon. Instead they look for scapegoats, telling frightened workers that immigrants are stealing their jobs. Or they offer empty promises that closed factories can be reopened and lost assembly line jobs will somehow magically reappear. This is the cruelest kind of hoax.

sherman-park-youthToday’s immigrants aren’t replacing yesterday’s factory workers on the assembly lines, robots are. Immigration is not the culprit, technology is. Even if new factories replace the old shuttered ones, how many people will work in those plants? Driverless vehicles are coming. When they arrive, what happens to the truck drivers and bus drivers and cab drivers?

Call this emerging American economy what you will. Some call it global, some call it high-tech. Others label it an information or knowledge economy. Still others see little left but a service economy. Probably the most accurate description is post-human. Workers have every reason to feel vulnerable, and those feelings are only going to intensify.

Fewer and fewer workers have union representation. There was a time when virtually every American household included at least one union member. Today, less than 11% of all Americans and only 6% of private sector workers belong to a union. Labor unions were an outgrowth of the industrial revolution. That revolution came and went. In what came after, unions struggled to adapt and steadily lost membership. Workers lost bargaining power.

In the short term, steps can be taken to empower working people, from affordable and debt-free education and job training to universal access to everything from health care to high-speed Internet. But in the longer term, if our society is going to hold together in an increasingly jobless economy, we are going to have to renegotiate the social contract. Totally new approaches to maintaining social cohesion are going to have to be considered. Maybe part of the answer is moving to the 30-hour workweek that Amazon and other companies are trying out. That would make work available to more people. Maybe the time will soon come for a universal basic income. That would require all of us to see the value in making sure no one is left behind. Maybe making union representation a civil right could be a piece to the puzzle. Perhaps some combination of these or other ideas will light the way.

If minds are open, we can steer clear of the social, political and economic turmoil and upheaval this new economy has the capacity to create. If heads are buried in the sand, chaos will reign.

— Mike McCabe

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Larson 'Lock Your Doors, Protect Your Neighbors'

Posted by Chris Larson, State Senator, District 7
Chris Larson, State Senator, District 7
Chris Larson (D) is the Wisconsin State Senator from the 7th District in Milwauk
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on Friday, 19 May 2017
in Wisconsin

david-clarkeMADISON, WI – Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke announced Wednesday that he has accepted an appointment as an assistant secretary in the Department of Homeland Security.

With this disturbing news, it’s clear that Trump continues to betray the nation’s trust with his appointment of Milwaukee County Sheriff as the newest member of the Trump Deportation Team. This is the same person who attempted to incite violence against the very institutions he has sworn to protect by telling people to get their ‘pitchforks and torches.’

In January, Clarke threatened violence to fellow air passengers saying, ‘next time he or anyone else pulls this stunt on a plane they may get knocked out.’ That threat came after a passenger on a plane shook his head at him. Sheriff Clarke has, again and again, shown our community and the nation a disturbing pattern of bizarre, irresponsible and menacing behavior. Our neighbors are right to be concerned with the damage Clarke could wreak on the national stage.

Trump knows that Clarke will back bad policies that betray our values, harm our neighbors, and enforce policies that rip families apart. As Milwaukee County Sheriff, Clarke recklessly pursued joining the Trump administration in their implementation of 287(g), which gives local law enforcement the ability to operate as federal immigration agents. Many of our neighbors oppose the program as it allows law enforcement to stop and question people based on just their appearance.

It’s no wonder Clarke was seeking an escape from his Milwaukee County mess before the next election, as he is facing communitywide anger for his gross mismanagement of the Milwaukee County Jail, including the recent tragic death of Terrill Thomas by dehydration. In a span of just months, four families lost their loved ones due to Clarke’s negligence and lack of supervision over his department.

Clarke has a history of mocking, belittling and intimidating our neighbors. He is yet another bad actor in a cast of clowns.

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Everyone Needs to Pay Their Fair Share

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 Tuesday, 16 May 2017
in Wisconsin

executive-moneyBig business tax credits mean fewer budget dollars for shared services such as police and fire protection, public education, and transportation infrastructure says Sen. Kathleen Vinehout. It's not fair for small businesses and the rest of us to shoulder the cost on our own.


MADISON - “Can anything be done to force the largest corporations in the state to pay something for the roads, ports, airports, fire and police services, educated workforce, etc. that they are using in our state?” Linea recently wrote to me. “This implies the smaller businesses are paying far more than their fair share.”

About the time Linea’s question came to me, so did a new memo from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) examining the drop in money coming to the state from corporations.

I wondered, just how have business tax credits changed and how might they change in the new budget?

Some of the items Linea mentioned are part of the transportation budget. For this column, I will set aside a discussion of road-related taxes.

Much of state government is paid through our state taxes: including corporate and individual income tax, and sales tax.

The LFB recently addressed tax money coming into the state – “revenue estimates” – for the coming budget. The nonpartisan bureau stated, “Corporate collections for the entire year are estimated to decline by 6.5%, compared to 2015-16, while the year-to-date decrease is 8.9%.”

Over the past year, monthly corporate tax collections, when compared to the same month in the prior year, were down by as much as 22%.

What is causing this rapid decline in corporate tax collections? The answer from analysists included the fact corporations were cashing in tax credits faster than expected.

Tax credits can reduce taxes owed. Business tax credits have grown both in the different types of credits and the total amount of state taxes reduced.

Wisconsin has a lot of new business tax credits.

In 2006, the state had 17 different types of business tax credits. Ten years later, the type of tax credits increased two and one-half times. The cost to the state for these credits nearly tripled. These numbers are from a report produced by the state Department of Revenue called Tax Exemption Devices.

Just one tax credit set the manufacturing and agriculture tax rate to less than half a percent, which cost $650 million in the next budget. (For comparison, this dollar amount is about the cost of State Superintendent Evers’ plan to fix the school funding formula.)

Some credits are more powerful than simply making income tax owed disappear. Some business tax credits are refundable. Claiming a refundable tax credit means you get money back from the state even if you owe nothing in taxes.

One refundable tax credit, known as Enterprise Zone, accumulated awards of over $470 million that can be claimed by companies over several years. A few of the companies benefiting and their awards include: Mercury Marine ($65 million), Kohler ($62.5 million), Quad Graphics ($61.7 million), Uline ($18.6 million), Amazon.com ($10.3 million) Dollar General and Trane (both at $5.5 million).

The stated purpose of all this money given to corporations is to spur economic growth. Of course, the expected robust economic growth has not happened. Wisconsin lost 66,000 manufacturing jobs in 2007 and 2008. In 8 years, we only gained back 44,000 of those jobs. Wisconsin wages are 18th lowest; and we are 23rd in real GDP growth, behind every Midwest neighbor except Illinois. The new revenue in this budget is about the same increase as the past few budgets.

Rather than repeal, or at least demand more accountability for these expensive tax credits, many in the legislature talk about shifting more of the tax burden away from corporations.

A bill introduced last month would eliminate the business personal property taxes and shift the cost of this tax to the general fund, which puts funding for schools, universities, and local governments at risk. Further, rumors in the Capitol suggest this tax plan will be part of a last-minute budget amendment that could cost the state a whopping $530 million. That’s a little more than the price tag of the new money the Governor set aside for K-12 education in “categorical” or “outside” the funding formula.

Lawmakers should take up Linea’s question about big businesses paying their fair share. It’s simply not fair for small businesses and the rest of us to shoulder the cost of shared services like police protection, the UW and public schools when corporations also shared the benefits.

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