Saturday April 29, 2017

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Blue Jean Nation - 'More scaffold than platform'

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, 17 February 2017
in Wisconsin

dems-v-repubThe platforms created by both the Republican and Democratic Parties last year are excessively wordy campaign advertisements with nothing enduring or permanent to say. Neither is likely to satisfy the strong yearning Americans have for a government that serves them for the benefit of all.

ALTOONA, WI - For one week a year, party platforms are relevant . . . to a few thousand people who are delegates to their party’s convention. More than 300 million other Americans pay them no mind that week or any other. The Sunday morning TV news programs don’t examine them. The radio talk show hosts don’t discuss them. After all the balloons and confetti have dropped and the conventions have broken up, even party insiders stop paying any attention to their own platforms. Candidates don’t follow them. Neither do elected office holders as they conduct the public’s business. Anyone willing to actually read the major party platforms can see why.

Reading the platforms is a painful exercise. They are dreadfully long. Page after page induces the gag reflex. They are excessively wordy campaign advertisements aimed at influencing who knows who. What becomes clear as you plow through them is that there is nothing enduring or permanent about them. They really are scaffolds, not platforms.

The Republican scaffold drones on for nearly 60 pages and in it the party declares itself the “Great Opportunity Party.” It takes repeated swipes at President Obama, insisting that for “the past 8 years America has been led in the wrong direction” but making no acknowledgement that Republicans held a majority of seats in Congress and controlled most of the nation’s statehouses for nearly that entire time.

The authors boast the document “lays out — in clear language — the path to making America great and united again.” It goes on to call for everything from “protection against an electromagnetic pulse” to “confronting Internet tyranny.” There’s a section on Africa that touts “AIDS relief under PEPFAR” without explanation. There is a reference to the “Dodd-Frank law, the Democrats’ legislative Godzilla” with no description of what the law is or does or fails to do. In another whack at Obama, it refers to the “Solyndra debacle” and assumes readers remember what that was.

The Democratic scaffold runs 45 pages and contains a whole section on the Postal Service and addresses everything from reforming the criminal justice system to promoting arts and culture. It is chock full of platitudes, proclaiming for example that “bridges are better than walls” and offering a “simple but powerful idea: we are stronger together.”

As the Republicans repeatedly took shots at the man who was president, Democrats directed their gaze at the man who would replace him in the Oval Office, with declarations such as “Donald Trump may talk tough, but he has consistently outsourced his own products.”

Considering how little attention politicians pay to American territories such as Guam, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico, it seems odd that both party scaffolds discuss them at length.  Neither actually says much, but both spill a lot of ink saying it. The Republicans call for “Puerto Rico’s future admission as the 51st state of the Union” but reject the idea of statehood for the District of Columbia. The Democrats stop short of promising statehood to Puerto Rico or any other U.S. territory while supporting statehood for D.C.

Reading the two documents, one thing that becomes clear is that the Democratic establishment was very comfortable and satisfied with its 2016 presidential nominee, the Republican establishment not so much. In the GOP scaffold, a disclaimer is very prominently displayed saying the document was “Not Authorized By Any Candidate Or Candidate’s Committee.” The Democrats saw no need to include such a disclaimer.

What Democrats spent more than 26,000 words to say and what took Republicans over 35,000 words to express is not likely to satisfy the strong yearning Americans have for a party that could plausibly stand on a platform that can be summed up in one sentence: The will of the people is the law of the land, and what government does is done for the benefit of the whole of society.

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Governor Walker Sends Irresponsible Budget to Legislature

Posted by Lena Taylor, State Senator, 4th District
Lena Taylor, State Senator, 4th District
Lena Taylor, State Senator, 4th District has not set their biography yet
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on Wednesday, 15 February 2017
in Wisconsin

scott-walker-budget-talkSince his Milwaukee County days, Scott Walker has used the budget process to make political promises and then let the legislators find the money, or not, to fulfill them.

MILWAUKEE - Last Wednesday, Governor Walker announced his 2017-2019 budget.

Now, I've had a front seat to Walker's budgets since he was Milwaukee County Executive. This fiscal irresponsibility is nothing new. His budgets have always been about campaigning, not governing. He’s so focused on campaigning that he produces irresponsible budgets and leaves the real work for others.

This budget is based on fake math, and it’s so bad that even Republicans aren’t rushing to defend it. I look forward to working with my fellow Democrats in the Joint Finance Committee to find solutions to the crises Governor Walker ignored, like juvenile corrections, transportation infrastructure, student loan debt, and redirecting the pipeline from prison to college.

Walker's tuition cut: unreal money

uw-mdsn-bascomAs part of his budget, Walker has proposed adding more than half a billion dollars in new spending for K-12 schools and to cut tuition 5 percent for students attending University of Wisconsin System campuses while also adding funding for the System.

The fact of the matter is we need a fully-funded UW. Maybe Walker should instead focus on reversing the $250 million in cuts he made two years ago. We all know that the new education spending is just a way for Walker to improve his approval rating as he seeks a third term.

Governor Walker talks a really good talk, but I want him to walk the walk. I want him to replace the deep cuts that he has made to the UW system.

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A Few Budget Details that Didn't Make Headlines

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, 14 February 2017
in Wisconsin

walker_tells_big_oneThis budget is $2.8 billion more than the last budget and is the largest in state history. While Gov. Walker has touted providing needed money for schools, roads, and the UW, some details didn’t make the headlines. The Legislature now begins reviewing the budget and people to need to make their priorities known.

MADISON - “Governors are a bit like salesmen,” I recently told a reporter. “They put good news in the headlines and bury bad news in the small print.”

Governor Walker recently released his two-year state budget. Amid much fanfare, he touted providing much needed money for schools, roads, and the UW. I went digging through budget documents released by the Governor. I knew there was more to the story.

First, I must say Wisconsin has one of the most opaque budgeting processes I have ever seen. For example, there is no clear table comparing actual spending in each fiscal year to budgeted spending.

We are still waiting for some details the Governor has not yet released. For example, his capital budget, which includes total proposed borrowing, is not yet available.

In the next month, the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) will compile an independent analysis of the budget proposal. The LFB will provide details on where money comes from and how it is spent.

Until then, we have documents prepared by the Governor’s staff and those who write our bills – the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB). The small print I refer to came from the LRB, the Governor’s office, and state agencies’ requests.

How much will Wisconsin spend over two years? The total budget without borrowing is $76,097,880,600. (The final budget will likely be closer to $77 billion, as road fund borrowing and other building projects are added.)

This budget (without new debt) is $2.8 billion more than the last budget and is the largest in state history. Of course, EVERY new budget is larger than the previous budget.

Governor Walker made a special point of reminding people his school and road spending is the “highest ever.” Maybe someone should remind him, total spending is also the “highest ever.”

The budget includes money from state taxes and fees including gas taxes, as well as tuition and money from the federal government. The Governor’s structures his budget around the budget requests from each agency in state government. Governor Walker proposes spending $68 million more than the agencies themselves requested.

Almost one-third of the budget goes to Health, of which ninety-percent is the Medicaid program. This is the largest and fastest growing part of spending. We often think of Medicaid as care for poorer families (BadgerCare). But, roughly two-thirds of the Medicaid budget is spent on long-term care for the elderly and disabled.

Over the next few months, we will learn much more about the budget details. In the meantime, here are a few items of small print that didn’t make it in the Governor’s Budget Address.

The Department of Natural Resources lost 43 positions while Circus World gained ten new positions.

The new budget added almost 500 positions to the Department of Administration (DOA). All but one of these jobs listed were “Supervisory and Management.” This staff increase is almost half (47%) of the DOA workforce. Some positions are transfers to DOA from other agencies. Overall, the Governor increases net staff (some lost, some gained) by a little more than 400 full-time equivalents.

Buried in the small print is the elimination of the stray voltage program. This service helps farmers deal with stray electricity that has dire effects on animals and humans. The governor claimed the problems are mostly resolved. However, constituents tell me, in western Wisconsin, many problems remain.

The budget proposes eliminating the Wisconsin Natural Resources Magazine. The last issue of this ever-popular magazine is set for winter of next year.

The budget eliminates the Educational Approval Board. This agency oversees for-profit colleges. Eliminating state oversight of for-profit colleges is foolish when some colleges closed, fraud investigations of others are continuing, and students question the value of the education.

Budgets are plans to spend resources based on our priorities. The process must be an opportunity for us to discuss our ideas and concerns for our state and invest money in solutions.

Debate on our priorities for state spending will occur over the next four or five months. Please add your voice to the decision-making process. The state budget is the most important bill lawmakers will take up and it deserves the input of all Wisconsinites!

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Seasonal Unemployment Changes Hurting Businesses and Communities

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 Monday, 13 February 2017
in Wisconsin

construction-workersFor years, people in occupations like the construction trades could get up to 12 weeks of UC wages when laid off seasonally. The rule helped local contractors keep their workforce intact until projects could resume and they were glad to pay for it, but in 2015 the Walker administration ended the practice for what it called cost savings. Sen. Erpenbach is introducing a bill to put it back.

MADISON - One thing you can always count on in Wisconsin is winter. Winter will come and with it for some businesses and employees a time when work simply cannot be done because of the weather. Recognizing that seasonal unemployment is different than getting fired from a job, Wisconsin law has allowed businesses to place a “winter hold” on their employees when the weather makes working impossible.

This hold means not only that businesses can keep the people that they have trained, but is also keeps employees from having to take a job they don’t need just because they are required to accept a job or lose unemployment insurance. I am proposing a fix with colleagues that I hope will receive overwhelming support in the Legislature.

This issue came to my office through a listening session and played out in the real world a bit differently than I would have expected. A constituent from New Glarus works outside construction so every year he is seasonally unemployed. To keep busy and help his community, he volunteers significantly more in winter with the local fire and rescue which is an all-volunteer force. This gives a break to everyone else who puts their lives on hold to save the lives of their neighbors. Turns out he is not alone.

Finding people willing to get up in the middle of the night to pull a neighbor from a burning house, or a car accident, or suffering from a stroke is more and more difficult. The incentives for volunteer fire departments just are not there, and with an aging rural population this is truly an emergency care crisis. Last summer a Legislative Council Study committee worked to address this crisis and has proposed a set of bills to help rural Wisconsin. I will support each and every one of them and I hope my colleagues will too. Missing from that list unfortunately is this bill, which I believe should have been included.

This issue is not just about volunteer emergency crews in rural Wisconsin, it is also about each and every business in rural and urban Wisconsin that wants to keep their employees they have trained and invested in. The change to prohibit a “winter hold” on employees was not made by the Legislature; it was made by the Department of Workforce Development and the Governor Walker administration. In 2015 this rule changed and we have heard from businesses and employers ever since how bad it is for business in Wisconsin.

Despite our advocacy to have the rule changed and outrage at the unemployment advisory council, the administration has failed to change this rule. That means we will have to try a law change again this year. I am hopeful other Legislators that represent rural areas will step up and cross party lines to support their local businesses and communities and support this change. Contact your state Legislators and ask them to support allowing a “winter hold” on employees to help your community and the businesses that keep it working.


For more information on seasonal unemployment changes and what they have meant for businesses, employees and emergency medical services contact my office at 608-266-6670 or 888-549-0027 or This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it

This issue is being discussed by the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council (UIAC). For more information about it and it's work, go HERE.

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Wisconsin Has A Proud Legacy to Build On

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 Friday, 10 February 2017
in Wisconsin

wisc-dairy-farmGov. Walker talked this week about "working and winning", but his plan is to continue borrowing and raiding Peter to pay Paul. Our priority must be Wisconsin’s roads, schools and jobs. Wisconsinites never have, and never will stop putting in a hard day’s work.

MADISON - In the depths of the great depression, President Roosevelt warned against becoming cold-hearted, cautioned against indifference and reminded Americans that they were called to save something great and precious for the nation and its future. And they answered the call.

The nation came together. People didn’t look at their neighbors who were marginally better off than them with resentment. Instead of dragging people down, they worked to make the future better for not only their families, but for everyone who got up and went to work each day. And we inherited a better nation.

The men and women who grew up during the great depression and went on to serve in World War II are often referred to as the greatest generation. The spirit of the greatest generation is alive and well in Northern Wisconsin. Our friends and neighbors here will always pride themselves on delivering a job seen-through and well-done. I think they would agree, as I do, that we should be rewarding work.

During his budget address this week, the Governor kept using the phrase “we are working and winning for Wisconsin.” I think he said it 9 times. I know we’re working.

The Governor, after three budgets of spending our tax dollars elsewhere, wants to put a little more money in to our local schools, send a few more dollars to local units of government for roads and make some modest investments in Broadband and other infrastructure improvements.

Will that help us win? Without a solution to Wisconsin’s long-term transportation challenge, our roads will continue to deteriorate. Governor Walker offered no solution, his plan is to continue borrowing and raiding Peter to pay Paul. Soon, nearly 50% of our roads will be in disrepair and debt costs will eat up more than a quarter of our transportation spending.

One of the cornerstones of successful economies is an educated workforce. The Governor’s budget does nothing to fix the outdated and unfair funding formula for public schools. Instead of rewarding or even requiring work, his budget demands even less of voucher school operators who are taking resources directly out of our public schools.

Large tax breaks for the wealthy haven’t produced more jobs. The Republican Majority Leader of the Senate described one of the Governor’s proposals as “a meager income tax reduction, I think we've been down that path before and it's resulted in not enough bang for the buck.” I think that’s an apt description for the Governor’s whole approach. We need to do better. We can do better.

Our priority must be Wisconsin’s roads, schools and jobs. Wisconsinites never have, and never will stop putting in a hard day’s work. It’s time to put people who work for a living first. It’s time to reward work again.

The budget address was the first step in a months-long process. The legislature’s budget-writing Joint Finance Committee will begin public hearings after a non-partisan analysis of the bill is completed. I will be holding listening sessions in Northern Wisconsin. And I will follow up on this column with more detail in the weeks and months to come.

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