Tuesday December 12, 2017

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Possible Failure for a Successful Program: Historic Tax Credits

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
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on Wednesday, 30 August 2017
in Wisconsin

cedarburgBudget announced by Senator Fitzgerald earlier this summer caps total spending on the Historic Tax Credit at $20 million and limits the funding a project can receive at $5 million.


MADISON - Drive through a quaint renovated small village or town in Wisconsin and you are likely seeing a downtown renovated with Historic Tax Credits. In my opinion the Historic Tax Credit is the most successful rural and small town economic development program administered by Governor Walker’s Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). As the Legislature considers venturing into the great unknown on high tech manufacturing with checks from our taxpayers for 15 years, that same Republican majority is planning to cap the Historic Tax Credit program.

This cap is defended as needed as an austerity measure. But clearly these budget cuts are not needed elsewhere. The Republican compromise budget announced by Senator Fitzgerald earlier this summer caps total spending on the Historic Tax Credit at $20 million and limits the funding a project can receive at $5 million. These limits will have a significant impact on the program’s success.

fond_du_lacIn 2014, 60 percent of the Historic Tax Credit projects renovated buildings that had been vacant for more than 20 years. The return on investment for taxpayer investments in the Historic Tax Credit has been proven to be 8 to 1. Capping the program will jeopardize projects that will revitalize our communities and provide a known payback to taxpayers. I have heard from local leaders from all over the state and the 27th Senate District asking to leave the program alone, so I know other Legislators have received contact as well.

I cannot figure out why Governor Walker has continually tried to kill this program and why Republican Legislators would consider allowing it to happen. 2016 brought 38 projects into the Historic Tax Credit. Projects all over Wisconsin including Plymouth, Superior, Fon du Lac, Evansville, Platteville, Darlington, Waupaca, Wausau, Prairie du Chien, La Crosse, Manitowoc, Watertown, De Pere, Oshkosh, Neenah and Kenosha. I know of projects in the works in the 27th District as well.

In the last three budgets the Historic Tax Credit destruction has been defeated, but it appears we are at the cusp of a “victory” for Governor Walker limiting the Historic Tax Credit for communities all over Wisconsin in planning phases for redevelopment. I truly hope that the final budget will save the Historic Tax Credit again and deter those that wish to punish communities that are working to redevelop their downtowns.

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Please contact members of the Legislature and ask them to support the Historic Tax Credit as current law in the state budget. The Legislative Hotline is (800) 362-9472 or you can email from the Legislative website: http://legis.wisconsin.gov/

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Public Hearings: Where Are the People?

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, 29 August 2017
in Wisconsin

capitol-night-wiscAt a recent public hearing, ideological groups push a de-licensing plan for state professionals in an all-to-common process of speed and secrecy. Notice was posted late Friday for a meeting the following Thursday to discuss public safety as well as erosion of wages and workers’ rights.


MADISON - “This bill does not allow for public debate...is the public even aware? You’re not allowing the public to have adequate input into this issue,” testified Stephanie Bloomingdale.

Ms. Bloomingdale is the Secretary-Treasurer of the Wisconsin State AFL-CIO. She represented many workers who, along with the rest of us, just found out about bills that set up a process to get rid of occupational licensing.

In Wisconsin, many professions are licensed, such as plumbers, electricians, doctors, lawyers, architects, and teachers. Those folks affected by the bill had little time to become aware of efforts to change their professional credentials. The rest of us, who may hire plumbers or use deaf interpreters, had little way of knowing what was happening.

public-hearing-emptyIn what has been an all-to-common process of speed and secrecy, a public hearing notice was posted late Friday for a joint Assembly and Senate committee hearing the following Thursday. Scheduling a joint hearing means there is only this one opportunity for public input.

The bills, Senate Bills 288 and 296, set up an “occupational license review council” and a “self-certification registry”. In short, SB 288 creates a politically appointed council that would review all professional licensure requirements and recommend repeal of certain licenses.

Senate Bill 296 would create a registry for people to use the term “state certified”. This registry would allow individuals to work in a field even if they were unlicensed. The bill singled out certain professions for potential self-certification including dieticians, landscape architects, private detectives and sign language interpreters.

Two very different types of people came to testify during the all-day joint hearing.

On one side were conservative “think-tanks” who came from out-of-state to testify. Groups with names like the “Mercatus Center” and the “Institute for Justice.” According to Wikipedia, the Mercatus Center was founded with a $30 million-dollar Koch Industries donation and the founding CEO was a former Koch Industries lobbyist. Both the former lobbyist and Charles Koch serve as board members, according to the Center’s website. The “Institute for Justice” employs 39 attorneys and was co-founded in 1991 with seed money from Mr. Koch.

Two Milwaukee-based groups also joined in the push for the de-licensing process. According to press reports, the “Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty” and the “Wisconsin Policy Research Institute” are entities funded, in part, by the Bradley Foundation. The Koch-funded group “Americans for Prosperity” submitted written testimony and registered in favor of the bill.

On the other side were folks from all over Wisconsin who took the day off work to come to Madison and tell lawmakers about their profession. In every case, these people opposed the two bills before our committees.

Dozens of professionals explained what they did and how the public would not be well served by taking away the professional licensing process. Not only did licensing assure that a person was properly educated and skilled in their profession, but also the state’s involvement in overseeing professions protects consumers. When a licensed professional is guilty of a misdeed the state removes that professional’s license.

I asked the co-sponsors of SB 288 and 296 what type of protections consumers would have under the new regime if their bills became law. The answer was some version of “you can’t legislate everything so no one gets hurt”.

I’ve never seen a hearing that more clearly illustrated the power conservative “think tanks” have gained in the Capitol. A review of my notes shows only one ordinary Wisconsinite who testified in favor of the bills compared to the dozens who spoke in opposition.

The process laid out by the bills eerily reflected a process outlined in an August 2017 report by the Mercatis Center. This process included a commitment by elected officials that they would accept the Council’s recommendation “in their entirety or not at all.” Parts of one bill contained wording identical to 2013 model legislation set out by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Where are the people in this process?

I wondered, where are the people in this process and why do these groups want to remake Wisconsin in their own image.

“What, do you suppose, is the real purpose of these bills?” I asked.

“We’ve seen a pattern to drive down wages and workers’ rights,” Ms. Bloomingdale replied.

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Sen. Hansen on U.S. AG Sessions Green Bay Visit

Posted by Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30
Dave Hansen, State Senator Dist 30 has not set their biography yet
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on Tuesday, 29 August 2017
in Wisconsin

opioid-young-startState Senator Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay) is calling on the Wisconsin and U.S. Attorneys General to stand up for taxpayers by holding big drug companies accountable for their role in the opioid crisis.


GREEN BAY - When the media has a chance to talk with both the state And United States Attorneys General a good question to ask is whether or not they will stand up for taxpayers by holding big drug companies like Purdue Pharma accountable for their role in the opioid crisis.

Twenty years ago Purdue Pharmaceuticals introduced OxyContin with the promise that it relieved pain for 12 hours—longer than any other similar medication. Purdue promoted the drug as a way to reduce addiction: One pill in the morning and one at night and a person would be pain free without having to take multiple pills during the day and at night.

As a result Purdue made billions and OxyContin became the leading painkiller in America.

But, for all kinds of people the drug didn’t last 12 hours and many found themselves in excruciating pain as the drug wore off. According to a Los Angeles Times investigation, Purdue has known about this for decades—even before OxyContin went on the market.

Since 1996 even more evidence came to light from doctors, independent research and from reports of Purdue’s own sales reps. Despite increasing evidence that OxyContin is extremely addictive their response was to recommend prescribing more OxyContin.

Just ten years ago the company pleaded guilty to misleading the public about OxyContin’s risk of addiction and paid out $600 million---one of the largest pharmaceutical settlements in U.S. history. And three of Purdue’s top executives, including its President, pleaded guilty misbranding charges, a criminal violation and agreed to pay a total of $34.5 million in fines.

There is no question that people need to be responsible for the decisions they make. But there is also no question that when billion dollar corporations make decisions that they know are causing harm they should be responsible too.

The vast majority of taxpayers in Wisconsin have played no role in the opioid crisis except to be left with picking up the tab to try to stop it.

Will Attorney General Sessions bring the full weight of the federal government to bear on behalf of taxpayers by making the makers of these dangerously addictive drugs pay their fair share for the programs we need to end this crisis? Will our own attorney general follow the lead of other states and file suit on behalf of Wisconsin taxpayers? Those are questions that should be asked.

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Legislative writer Jay Wadd contributed this story.

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Blue Jean Nation 'Blowing off the Founders'

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 Friday, 25 August 2017
in Wisconsin

founding-fathersOur founders saw public education as basic to cultivating the moral and civic virtues needed for people to exercise their rights and duties as citizens. But over the years, this mission has been lost, putting democracy itself at risk.


ALTOONA, WI - If you take the long view of history, our school system has strayed far from its roots. What today are called public schools originally were known as common schools. Central to the mission of common schools was making democracy possible.

In 1779 Thomas Jefferson proposed providing basic education to the masses. Civic literacy was at the heart of Jefferson’s plan. He emphasized the study of history as a means of cultivating moral and civic virtues and enabling the masses to know and exercise their rights and duties. To Jefferson, schooling’s purpose was basic education for citizenship, a public investment in the capacity for self-government. He famously observed, “If a nation expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be.”

Noah Webster, whose spelling book and dictionary of the English language immeasurably aided the fragile new republic by helping to expand the lettered population, considered education to be the most important business of civil society.

The common school movement really took off in the 1830s, led by reformers like Massachusetts lawyer and legislator Horace Mann who called on government to guarantee the schooling of all children and with evangelical zeal pitched free universal education as “the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance wheel of the social machinery.”

The idea of schools as first and foremost laboratories of democracy and builders of social capital continued gaining momentum as the next century dawned. In 1911 Wisconsin identified schools as “social centers” where not just students but anyone in the community could gather to discuss the issues of the day and develop solutions to the challenges facing society.

Somewhere along the line, this mission has been lost. Today’s schools focus on serving the needs of our economy but not our democracy. Responding to intense public pressure to place ever greater emphasis on vocational preparation, they concern themselves more with producing skilled workers than good citizens. Civic instruction has been pushed aside as more hours of math and science and the addition of technology classes and vocational training were ordered while neither the school day nor school year has been lengthened.

Today, civics is hardly taught at all. Even at the college level, occasional lip service is paid to the idea that the highest office in a democracy is that of citizen, but what it takes to be an active and constructive citizen is researched less and taught less by political scientists than any other dimension of their discipline. Look at the political science course offerings of just about any higher education institution and you find courses on the American presidency and on Congress and the court system, but not Organizing 101. There are many courses in public administration examining how the bureaucracy works, but almost none on how social movements get built.

How strange that in a country that boasts of being the world’s greatest democracy, we really don’t teach democracy. We teach government, reluctantly and half-heartedly, and we teach it in a way that puts elected officials, appointed bureaucrats, career civil servants and judges in the spotlight. Jefferson’s call to invest in the capacity for self-government is no longer heeded. Horace Mann’s balance wheel of the social machinery has come off the vehicle. Webster’s dictionary surely can be found in today’s school libraries, but his dedication to the school’s role in promoting civil society is conspicuously missing.

A nation that claims to be a democracy but neglects to make citizenship education a priority is one that is very much at risk.

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Chicago on Foxconn "Thank you, Wisconsin, for the Beautiful Gift"

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, 22 August 2017
in Wisconsin

WalkerA recent Chicago Sun Times editorial thanked Wisconsin for taking all the risks of the Foxconn deal while Illinois reaps the benefits. How will the deal help Illinois? What risks do Wisconsin citizens face? Read on.


CHICAGO - “Friends in the Wisconsin Legislature, we beg you: Sign that bad deal with Foxconn,” recently wrote the Chicago Sun Times editorial board. “It’s the neighborly thing to do.”

The Wisconsin Assembly obliged the Chicago newspaper and recently voted 50-39 to approve the Governor’s deal with the Taiwanese company, Foxconn.

But lawmakers were not voting on the deal itself. Contract negotiations are presumably underway. Legislators who voted on the deal did not see the contract, they do not know the details under negotiation, nor will they approve the final negotiated contract.

In essence, they gave the Governor a blank check. For his part, the Governor assigned his troubled economic development agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), the task of negotiating a good deal for the state.

For the most part, the bill passed by the Assembly reflected the Governor’s original request. Some job training money was added. Language clarified that locals could use a sales tax to pay for needed infrastructure. Furthermore, the state could in essence “co-sign” part of the loan locals took out to pay for infrastructure.

Answering the big question – how do we ensure the state gets promised jobs – was left murky.

In its analysis of the Assembly version of the Foxconn bill, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau noted the bill “would require WEDC, to the extent possible, attempt to include terms in any agreement negotiated between it and [Foxconn to] encourage the business’s hiring of Wisconsin residents.”

As the Chicago Sun Times editorial writers gleefully reviewed the benefits to Illinois, they also summarized the risk taken by Wisconsin Assembly members who voted in favor of the bill.

“Best we can tell, it’s a crap shoot as to whether luring the giant electronics company to Wisconsin would work out well for you, given the billions of dollars in tax breaks your governor has promised, but it would be terrific for Illinois. It would cost our state nothing, yet up to half of the new jobs could go to our residents, while O’Hare Airport would get the new international travel business.

“The best thing that ever happened to Illinois might be losing Foxconn to you, Wisconsin. Much appreciated.

“…Walker downplayed the $3 billion worth of tax incentives that the Wisconsin Legislature still must approve, and an independent analysis says it would take at least 25 years for Wisconsin taxpayers to break even on the deal. The break-even point would come even later, according to the analysis by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, if Foxconn employed closer to only 3,000 — which could happen — and 40 percent or more of those jobs went to people who live out of state. In Illinois, that is.”

“Under that scenario, an analyst for the Bureau told Reuters, the break-even point would be so far in the future that it’s “silly to talk about.”

I heard much discussion among local residents about the “break-even point” of the plan – the point at which the state would recoup its “return on investment”. These numbers are fuzzy at best.

A break-even number makes many assumptions, including the number of jobs created. The administration claims 13,000 jobs although Foxconn publically said 3,000 jobs. The administration uses average wages of $53,874 but the bill voted out of the Assembly cites $30,000. Most investment analyses discount future dollars while the administration’s analysis, reviewed by the LFB, uses all amounts in current dollars.

The Bureau reminds lawmakers “any cash-flow analysis that covers a period of nearly 30 years” is “highly speculative”. The Bureau also mentions other provisions hidden in the Governor’s bill. A Brookfield financial services company is given an award, and other enterprise zones are created. These new commitments, passed by the Assembly, would cost the state another estimated $100 million.

Sun Times editorial writers summarized the deal, “Wisconsin would be taking all the risks, even as Illinois enjoyed a nice share of the benefits. The Foxconn plant likely would be located right across the border in Kenosha County or Racine County. The commute from Waukegan to Kenosha is just 16.5 miles. The commute from Zion is ten.”

I could not agree more with the conclusion of the editorial, “Border wars are stupid. Interstate job-poaching is nothing but a race to the bottom. And the best way to tap global markets would be to create a regional economic development strategy.”

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