Thursday August 17, 2017

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Talk Is All Health Care at the Stockholm Art Fair

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 July 2017
in Wisconsin

art-fairSenator Vinehout shares what she learned at the Stockholm Art Fair about dwindling health care options in Western Wisconsin.


STOCKHOLM, WI - “My father-in-law is losing his health insurance,” Pam told me. She stopped to chat as we perused the booths at the Stockholm Art Fair.

Stockholm, population 66, has one of the best art fairs in western Wisconsin. Judging by the license plates, the fair is high on the list for Minnesotans too.

The 44th annual fair was held on the grounds of the city park overlooking Lake Pepin, the widest spot in the Mississippi River. Over 100 artists were eager to share their health care stories and sell their creations. There were few bugs. Weather was warm, but not too hot. Colors were everywhere.

The air smelled of fresh roasted nuts, gyro meat and kettle corn. Organic beef, wood-fired locally sourced pizza and maple ice cream kept hunger at bay.

Talented regional musicians kept folks entertained as neighbors sat on straw bales under a tent. Many shared treasures and pointed out favorite artists.

Under the surface, though, folks worried. My conversations were almost exclusively about health care.

Pam told me how a local health plan, La Crosse-based Health Tradition is quitting the federal marketplace Healthcare.gov next year. Others shared how loved ones recently received letters from Anthem or Health Tradition dropping coverage next year.

Recently, Wisbusiness.com reported roughly 23,000 will be affected by the pull out of Anthem and Health Tradition. Insurers blame the “uncertainty in federal operations, rules and guidance including cost sharing reduction subsidies.” This statement translates into: as Congress debates cutting help to people who need it, companies realize they may not have the customers to make a plan work.

In the insurance world, the larger the pool, the lower the risk. But if folks don’t have help buying insurance and younger people get cheaper plans, the folks that are left – sicker and older – end up with more expensive plans and, maybe, none at all.

The Affordable Care Act is not perfect. But it was carefully balanced to share the risk – the basic element of keeping health care affordable for all.

Many artists and musicians are self-employed. The Affordable Care Act and Healthcare.gov created a way for self-employed and small business owners to buy health coverage. Many artists I spoke with are older, coming to the profession later in life. Many of us over fifty have pre-existing conditions and need regular health care.

Artists expressed concerns about the limited health coverage available in Buffalo and Pepin counties. These counties recently joined the dubious ranks of counties with only one health plan under the Healthcare.gov marketplace. Because of federal uncertainty, five counties, include La Crosse, are down to only one provider next year under the marketplace.

Farmers feared losing health coverage or changing long-standing relationships with providers.

The fear of losing health care is stressful – I heard and felt it as conversation after conversation shifted to health insurance.

As I watched the vibrantly dressed people soaking in the imaginative art, I thought about how experiencing the art fair provided a balm for our stressful lives.

Gazing at the pottery I nearly bumped into a retired physician and his wife. He also saw the attraction people found to art as a way to heal our stressed world. He shared his experiences over the years.

“When I ask ‘How are you?’ what do you think is the number one complaint I get?” he asked.

“Patients say to me ‘I’m stressed, Doctor.’ When I open up the hood and look inside, I see stress.”

“Art brings beauty. It softens the heart,” the doctor shared. The art fair helps make it better.

I watched men in florescent orange with camo, a woman in sheer black lace with her back covered in tattoos and another in a brightly colored African Dashiki.

People came together creating their own art among all the wares for sale. In all of this diversity was a beautiful harmony.

Somehow, we must take this approach to health care. A plan unique for each person. Respecting our own individuality and needs. Also, in harmony with others. Sharing the risk. Working for all.

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Democracy Campaign 'Back in touch...Fair Maps Town Halls near you'

Posted by Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild, Wisconsin Democracy Campaign
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
User is currently offline
on Friday, 14 July 2017
in Wisconsin

highway-wiSpecial interests and the road funding plan, the Wisconsin Supreme Court copout on conflict-of-interest rules, the influence peddler of the month, and more...


MADISON - Sorry I haven’t been in touch for a bit. Between the long July 4th weekend and my son coming home for my birthday (which was yesterday), I didn’t get around to updating you on what we’ve been posting and on some exciting redistricting reform efforts under way.

So please let me catch you up.

On the budget transportation impasse, we noted the power of the trucking industry and the big business lobby:

GOP leader tells special interests to cough up road funding plan

Then, in a story that we broke here at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, we reported on Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s scorching response to the Court’s written justification for not tightening its conflict-of-interest rules:

Wisconsin Supreme Court buries recusal in “feeble” move

And, as we do every month, we anointed another special interest group with our not-so-highly-coveted Influence Peddler of the Month Award. Here’s who won it this month:

Influence peddler of the month - Wisconsin Hospital Association

On the gerrymandering issue, I have to say it’s really getting hot. About a dozen counties, just this year, have passed resolutions urging the State Legislature to draw district maps in a nonpartisan manner. Contact us if you do not see your county on the list.

And we got a record number of signatures on our petition for fair voting maps when we were tabling at the Farmers’ Market in Madison for a couple hours on July 1. And attendance at #FairMaps events all over the state are high. We encourage you to share and attend an upcoming Fair Maps Town Hall convenient to you. A complete list can be found here.

  • Wednesday, July 12, at 7:00 PM, at the Germantown Library, N112W16957 Mequon Road, Germantown. Paul Geenen, OFA_WI State Lead, is the speaker. Facebook event page here.
  • Sunday, July 16, at at 4:30pm - 6pm, North Shore Presbyterian Church, 4048 N Bartlett Ave, Shorewood. The Democracy Campaign is a co-sponsor. Share Facebook event page here.
  • Wednesday, July 26, at 6:00 PM, at the Brewer Public Library, 325 N. Central Avenue, Richland Center. Former Senators Dale Schultz and Tim Cullen are the speakers.
  • Thursday, July 27, at 6:30 PM, at the Orbiletti Center Lincoln Park, 6900 18th Avenue, Kenosha. Sachin Chheda, Fair Elections Project, is the speaker. Facebook event page here.

And there is legislation introduced by Sen. Dave Hansen and Rep. Don Vruwink (SB13/AB44) to enact nonpartisan legislative and congressional map-drawing here in Wisconsin. So please call your legislators at 1-800-362-9472 and urge them to pass this bill.

Thanks for your interest and your activism, as always.

Best,

Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

P.S. If you like what we’re doing, please support our urgent work with a tax-deductible gift to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. It’s simple: Just click here. Thanks!

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Violating Privacy in Search of Fraud is Misplaced Justice

Posted by Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
Jon Erpenbach. State Senator 27th District
State Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Madison) - A former radio personality and legisla
User is currently offline
on Friday, 14 July 2017
in Wisconsin

trumpPresident Trump's new witch hunt for illegal voters is a waste of time. Voters are not committing fraud in elections. Politicians who pass laws rigging the maps and suppressing voter turnout are the real problem.


MADISON - Regardless of what happens in court or the with the “call back” from President Trump, the Wisconsin Elections Commission will follow Wisconsin law and grant a request to release limited information about our voters as they must under our open records law. Information like name and address of voters as well and when and where they voted will be given to President Trump’s commission if they pay for the records. But the secret ballot, party preference, social security number and date of birth is rightly protected by our laws. There is no other choice because our law on open records is clear.

voter-idHowever violating our voter’s rights in search of fraud is a waste of time and a violation of privacy because the Republican claim of voter fraud has been proven false more than once. This national ploy will show nothing different.

Voters are not the ones committing fraud in elections. Politicians who pass laws rigging the maps so only they can win is the true voter fraud. This fraud is so great a panel of three Federal judges overturned it and demanded new maps be drawn. This fraud is so valid that the US Supreme Court now will hear how fraudulent our maps are, how dirty Wisconsin elections have become under this one party rule.

This should make no one proud. The voter fraud of rigged maps is what needs attention. Taking away the right to one person one vote, without political interference, is the crime.

Voters in this state work hard to access the ballot and that is not something that has been made easier with the elimination of special registration deputies and additional identification at every single election, not just when you register to vote. But these barriers and intimidation will not break the Wisconsin voter spirit. We have fortitude, we have strength, we are stubborn and we won’t let Republican voter intimidation take away our right to vote.

Coming off an election where the party I belong did not perform well this optimism and faith in voters may seem misplaced. But the reality is I believe in the value of the right to vote. Even if people don’t vote for me. The process of clean elections and the value of the right to vote is bigger than any politician, bigger than any party.

***

If you would like additional information on voter’s rights and the violation of those rights with the current one party rule in Wisconsin, contact my office at 608-266-6670 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

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Seeking Solutions for State 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, 11 July 2017
in Wisconsin

road-closedSenator Vinehout discusses the importance of acting soon on the budget, and to coming up with solutions to fix Wisconsin’s transportation funding shortfall.


MADISON - A tall man stopped me in the hall of the Capitol. “Can’t you just increase the gas tax?” he asked me. “I’m here to ask my Republican Senator to increase the gas tax. We need to fix the roads.”

He smiled. Then said, “Hi, my name is Steve. I’m a Republican. I just don’t think it’s conservative to keep borrowing to maintain the roads. We’ve got to pay for what we spend.”

Steve was earnest in his desire to find a solution to the road budget. I’ve heard similar concerns from folks attending my recent town hall meetings.

Many people asked me to raise the gas tax. This tax is the largest part of the road fund, accounting for over half of the fund. The gas tax hasn’t been increased since April 2006.

Prior to 2006, the law required automatic indexing or changing the tax to follow inflation. If indexing wasn’t repealed, we’d be paying seven cents more for fuel according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB).

As Steve and I talked about road funding problems and possible solutions, he shared, “My Republican Senator said increasing the gas tax wouldn’t solve all the problems.”

Increasing the tax by five cents a gallon would generate about a third of the money needed to close the budget gap. This change is a good first step.

Increasing the gas tax by a nickel would cost the average driver of a vehicle that gets 30 miles per gallon (MPG) about $14 a year. For those of us with old farm pickup trucks getting 15 MPG and driving 16,000 miles a year, we’d pay about $53 more a year.

Most of us are actually paying less in gas tax than we did ten years ago because our vehicles are more fuel efficient. In 2006, the average fuel economy was 20 MPG. LFB reported this fuel economy average will increase to almost 23 MPG by the end of the next state budget. Analysts estimated the average Wisconsin driver will be paying almost $21 a year less in fuel tax by the end of the next budget than we did in 2006.

LFB analysts remind us that drivers paying less in fuel tax for the same miles driven means that “while the state’s roads receive the same impact [wear and tear], fuel tax revenues associated with those miles driven have fallen, making it more difficult for the state to maintain and reconstruct its roads.”

Increasing the gas tax is a change that would be easy for the state to administer. It would put money in the state’s coffers from the folks who are actually using the roads, including our many wonderful tourists from neighboring states.

Finding votes to increase the tax has been difficult and accounts, in part, for the delay in passing the budget. Unlike some states, Wisconsin continues to operate under the details of the old budget until the Legislature passes a new budget.

But a recent memo from LFB suggests there are some warning signs to lawmakers who think they have all summer and fall to answer the question, How to pay for roads?

A delay of three months would mean the Department of Transportation could not proceed with some projects as planned. A delay of four months would affect the ability of counties, cities and towns to plan for the coming year and set their property tax levies. A delay into August could affect how much federal money the state receives for roads.

Fiscal Bureau analysts explained to lawmakers in the memo that the feds redistribute road money not used by states as their fiscal year closes. To be eligible for new money, states must show they are ready to use the money. A delay in passing the state budget would likely limit the ability of the state to comply with the rules feds attach to the money.

Leaving federal money on the table makes no sense. We’ve got to find solutions and get the budget passed.

While raising the gas tax won’t solve all our problems, getting agreement on a modest fuel tax increase would be good first step.

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Blue Jean Nation 'Stuck in reverse'

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
User is currently offline
on Monday, 10 July 2017
in Wisconsin

REVERSEWisconsin needs to do an about-face and fundamentally change its approach to economic development, paying far less attention to WMC and its backward thinking.


ALTOONA, WI - Wisconsin continues to struggle economically. The state lags the rest of the country in job growth and wage growth, and has been slower to recoverfrom the last recession. Wisconsin is losing manufacturing jobs and is leading the nation in shrinkage of the middle class.

There are reasons for all of this. And one of the biggest reasons is that the lobbying group that passes itself off as the voice of Wisconsin business is backward. Wisconsin is home to some truly innovative, forward-thinking business leaders who are finding ways to successfully compete in the 21st Century economy. But they aren’t being heard in the State Capitol. The state chamber of commerce — known in these parts as Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce or WMC for short — is supposed to be their voice, but it’s not. WMC’s thinking is stuck in the 20th Century. In some ways, it’s still in the 19th.

WMC’s philosophy is that the key to economic development is lowering the cost of doing business. Lower wages. Lower taxes. Lower environmental standards. This recipe hasn’t been working for years.

If low costs are the secret to stimulating the economy, then why were nearly half of all new private sector jobs created last year in a part of the state where wages, taxes and the cost of land to build on are highest? Why did the number of private sector jobs in that area grow at four times the rate of the state as a whole?

If Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce knows how to make the economy better, why is Wisconsin losing manufacturing jobs? The answers WMC gives are to questions that aren’t even being asked anymore. The state chamber of commerce is inhibiting commerce. WMC’s outdated philosophy is holding Wisconsin back.

One of Wisconsin’s greatest business success stories in many a year has to be the electronic health records pioneer Epic Systems. The company is growing by leaps and bounds. Verona recently passed one of the largest school referendums in the history of the state for construction of a new high school and other costly upgrades, almost entirely paid for by the community’s largest private employer, namely Epic.

Epic’s success isn’t owed to WMC’s agenda of lower taxes, lower wages and lower environmental standards. Epic’s leadership is not at all on the same wavelength as WMC’s leadership. In fact, Epic wants nothing to do with WMC. Yet at the Capitol, WMC continues to be recognized as the voice of Wisconsin business. But it represents old business, not new business. That holds Wisconsin back.

To thrive in the 21st Century, Wisconsin needs to do an about-face and fundamentally change its approach to economic development. We need to watch and listen more to the Epics, and take to heart the formulas for success in the 21st Century they are coming up with. And we should pay far less attention to WMC and its backward thinking.

— Mike McCabe

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