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Sand Mine Bill Strips Local Powers - Community's Ability to Say No

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, 04 March 2014
in Wisconsin

mill-bluffsThis week Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about a bill that would take away local control as it relates to sand mining. The bill, SB 632, appears to be fast-tracked through the legislative process. It will impact existing local ordinances and take away the ability of local communities to say “no”.


MADISON - Should communities be able to prevent development of sand mines? Can communities set rules if sand mine operations are inadequate to protect nearby residents?

A new “communities cannot say no to sand mines” bill is making its way through the Legislature. The bill introduced by Senator Tiffany, chair of the Senate Mining committee, appears on the fast track. It could be up for final passage in both houses less than two weeks after it was unveiled.

The bill freezes in place the public health, safety and welfare protections for a community as they relate to existing sand mines. If this bill becomes law, the locals wouldn’t be able to write and enforce a new ordinance on any permitted mine during the life of that permit – as long as 25 years.

Much can happen in 25 years.

Local people who have written ordinances say it appears nearly all local ordinances would be invalid under this bill. That’s because the bill also requires ordinances relating to approval of sand mines be split apart from ordinances relating to the trucking of sand from the mine and processing of sand.

Most existing ordinances address the regulation of the actual mine as well as sand processing and transportation.

The combination of freezing in place rules affecting existing sand mines and invalidating most local ordinances will throw sand mine regulation into legal chaos. The bill creates a huge legal gray area on exactly which ordinance the sand mines would have to follow – the one made invalid by the bill or the new one rewritten to comply with the bill, or none at all.

Finally, this bill sets up a back-door process by which mine owners can avoid new restrictions and open a mine anywhere as long as they register the mineral deposit with local officials.

Changing a little known part of the statute written when comprehensive planning was put in place, this bill would stop a local community from saying ‘no’ to a mine owner who registered his mineral deposit.

Owners or those leasing property where a mine might be developed would be able to register that property with the town or county and have the existing rules for sand mines “locked in” at the time of registration for a period of up to 20 years. In addition locals could do nothing to prevent the mines’ operation.

Many residents from the Town of Dover in Buffalo County wrote me saying the bill seeks to get around recent actions. One landowner explained (and I paraphrase) in the last 10 months Dover officials held more than a dozen public meetings including a community forum attended by a quarter of the town’s population. Last July, in a unanimous vote, town officials recommended the county deny a permit for a 400-acre mine. In October, town officials adopted Village Powers. In January 2014, town officials adopted a Comprehensive Land Use Plan. In February, they adopted a sand mine ordinance resembling that of the Town of Cooks Valley.

While the Town of Dover was doing this work, the four owners of the mine quietly registered their mineral deposits with the county Register of Deeds. A Dover resident wrote: If Senator Tiffany’s bill is passed, it would make all of the work that our town did to protect itself of no avail. Thousands of dollars have been spent by the town, as well as by landowners, so the voice of the town’s people may be heard. Where do you find democracy speaking and being respected in this bill?

If this bill passes, Dover and other local communities can never say ‘No’.

Just because an underground mineral deposit exists does not mean humans should extract it – at the expense of all of the wealth that exists above ground.

This bill is far more dangerous than its earlier cousin. It will set precedence for every other mineral deposit in Wisconsin. Do we want sand mining next to Lake Delton?

Industrial mining has its place. But it is a place that must be determined by the people who live in that neighborhood. Taking away the community’s ability to say ‘no’ is taking away local control.

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State Should Heed Lessons from UW Computer Problems

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 Monday, 24 February 2014
in Wisconsin

uw-madisonThis week Senator Vinehout writes about the problems uncovered by a recent audit of the UW System’s Human Resources computer system. Planning could have avoided the mistakes auditors found with the system. As the state begins work on new computer systems it is important to heed the lessons and for the Legislature to take an active role in oversight.


MADISON - “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend four sharpening the axe,” said Abe Lincoln. He knew the importance of planning.

Recent audits detail troubles with a University of Wisconsin payroll computer system. More time should have been spent in planning.

Problems with payroll systems stretch back more than a decade. In 2001, the UW System contracted with a company to change its computer system. The project was to cost under $20 million and be finished in 2005. By July 2006, the UW cancelled the project after the estimated cost had more than tripled. The state was out over $28 million and no new system was in place.

The UW approved another new human resource system (HRS) in 2009. This system went “live” in April 2011. Mistakes happened.

By January 2013 the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) reported the UW overpaid more than $15 million in health insurance benefits for employees over a 16 month period. The UW System also overpaid more than $17 million in retirement benefits over the same period. These mistakes happened even though the UW received warnings from consultants nearly a year and a half earlier that HRS was at risk for these errors.

My colleagues and I on the Audit Committee wanted to know what went wrong and why.

At the conclusion of its nearly yearlong study, auditors questioned whether the UW System was adequately prepared for the roll-out of the new system. Auditors found two weeks before the computer system was to go “live” at least 12 “highly critical” objectives were not met during the planning of the system. Several of these objectives had to do with whether computer staff had enough preparation to help support people around the UW System using the new computer system.

The UW Service Center had exceeded its budget in all of the past three fiscal years. In part because workers had significant overtime and consultant costs – dealing with problems that might have been anticipated with better planning. Staff reported inadequate training. The UW’s own analysis showed staff was unprepared to complete adequate training.

Over half of the 1600 staff surveyed by LAB, reported being “dissatisfied” or “very dissatisfied” with the amount of training. Auditors cited ongoing problems with training as a third of employees continued to be dissatisfied with both the amount and quality of training.

In the weeks that followed the roll-out of the new system, computer consultants warned the system was not fully tested.

Consultants also warned of problems reconciling payments for retirement and health insurance long before auditors found millions had been overpaid.

The LAB documented security problems with payroll systems going back to the 1990s. Despite longstanding warnings, officials failed to adequately address the problems. Significant security issues still remain largely unresolved. Auditors continued to list computer security concerns in its most recent UW financial audit.

All who share responsibility for the oversight of large, expensive, state computer systems should heed the lessons learned from the experiences of the UW System. First and foremost, officials should pay attention to the results of audits and internal planning and progress reports.

Auditors’ work provides a list of cautions for future large state computer projects. Now two additional agencies have begun to tackle a large IT projects. The Department of Employee Trust Fund plans a new system to administer employee benefits.

The Department of Administration plans a complete overhaul of the computer systems used for buying and paying for nearly every part of state government including all accounting, budgeting, and human resource functions. This massive undertaking will cost over a hundred million dollars and take several years.

Despite all this activity, the Legislature’s IT watchdog has not met in four full years.

This is why I call upon my Legislative colleagues to convene the Joint Committee on Information Policy and Technology. This committee’s role is to provide legislative oversight of large information technology projects to assure taxpayer’s money is wisely spent.

After the scrutiny of the LAB began in early 2013, UW Service Center officials developed a planned improvement process. Oversight and public scrutiny works – it’s as effective as Abe Lincoln’s sharp axe!

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Walker Knew about “Secret” Email System at Milwaukee County

Posted by Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert, Green Bay Progressive
Bob Kiefert is the Publisher of the Northeast Wisconsin - Green Bay Progressive.
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 19 February 2014
in Wisconsin

courthouseGREEN BAY - According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report, included in more than 27,000 emails unsealed today is one that for the first time directly ties Gov. Scott Walker to a secret email system used in his office when he was Milwaukee County executive.

Court documents have previously showed Walker's aides set up a secret wireless router in the county executive's office and traded emails that mixed county and campaign business on Gmail and Yahoo accounts.

I can report that Walker knew about this system as far back as 2002. How do I know? I helped Tim Russell set it up.

Back in 2002, I was called to the newly elected Walker’s office to meet with Tim Russell, who was being promoted at the time as the “technology expert” for the new County Executive . Russell wanted to know how he could set up a private computer network within that office which would have its own link to the internet.

Former County Executive Dave Schultz had such an office system with Apple Computers back in 1988-92, but F. Thomas Ament had dumped it when he became Executive because too many of Schultz’s emails had found their way to the pages of the Journal Sentinel. Ament and his top Administrators tended to distrust the new technology and were more secretive than the Schultz people.

During the 1990s, I was responsible for technology in the Department of Human Resources (DHR) and had set up a departmental network with email and a web site with it’s own ISDN line link to the internet. We were one of several county departments who had moved in this direction in the 90s in advance of a countywide system later developed by the central Information Management Services Division (IMSD).

DHR was only one floor below the County Executive’s Office in the Courthouse, and Tim Russell wanted to know how I did it. During our meeting in 2002, I told him.

As I remember, Russell told me that Scott Walker was very appreciative of my help and wanted to thank me personally. Russell took me over to Walker’s office for the meet and greet, but he turned out to be busy and only smiled and waved from his desk as we stood outside his office door.

I have no doubt that Walker knew what he was smiling and waving about. Russell had certainly made it clear that we were doing this at Walker’s bidding.

I have not really talked much about that day over the years and was not contacted about this information during the recent John Doe inquiry. That I assisted other departments within the county on technology issues during this period was certainly no secret at the time.

But I can tell you one thing, if Walker continues to deny knowledge of this email system and its usage, he is giving you a line of baloney.

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Wisconsin Legislative Spat Signals Slow Down for Privatized Public 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 Monday, 17 February 2014
in Wisconsin

assembly-bitter-debateThis week Senator Kathleen Vinehout writes about the bills related to school accountability pending before the Senate and Assembly Education Committees. The Senate just acted on a watered down version of a bill because Senators did not “have the appetite” to pass a more comprehensive change. The Assembly continued to advance their version calling for closure or takeover of public schools designated as “failing”.


MADISON - “There’s ‘no appetite’ for passing a bill this year that imposes sanctions against poorly performing public or private voucher schools” reported the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in an Associate Press story.

“No appetite” was code for “we don’t have the votes”.

The “sanctions” for public schools included forcing the closure of a school or forcing its takeover by a privately operated charter company – both options took away local school district control.

Meanwhile the Senate Education Committee met for the third time in as many weeks to take up a much-watered down version of “school accountability”.

As we read through the seventh version of the bill, lawmakers quizzed the nonpartisan Legislative Council attorney. She confirmed the primary change the bill now made was to move up the date by which private schools receiving public money are required to send their publically funded students’ information to the state.

This was a far cry away from the previous versions that required the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to label a group of failing public schools every year that could be converted to charter schools operated by a “private charter management company” – completely taking away local control through the democratically elected local school board.

As we were briefed by the attorney on what the seventh version of the bill did, the Assembly Education Committee was meeting on their version of the bill that did take away local control and allow private companies to take over the public school – albeit without the required 5% of schools assigned to the “failing” category every year.

Confused? So were we.

It seemed the only clear explanation was that a majority of Senators had “no appetite” for the steady drumbeat of privatizing public schools.

The consequence was the current law on school accountability would stay pretty much the way it was – with the reporting of student information for voucher students a few years sooner than now required.

“You can’t call this an accountability bill, it only changes a date,” Senator Lehman told the Republican members of the Senate Education Committee. “Oh, yes we can”, shot back one of the members.

Finding common ground among Republicans and creating enough policy change to go home and take credit for change seemed two impossible goals to reconcile among Senate members.

So a bill to change the date private schools must send to DPI the information about their voucher –publically paid for – students seemed like the best compromise. It appeared any other version of the bill didn’t have the votes to pass in the Senate. But that didn’t stop the Assembly from rushing a public hearing on their version of the bill.

The tension between the two houses of the Legislature has been growing as the two-year Legislative session draws to a close. The friction appeared as members were told when they would finish up Legislative business. Assembly members tell me they expect the Legislature to adjourn by the end of February, while Senators were told to stay available for floor periods as late as April.

Tensions between the Assembly and Senate boiled over in a recent public meeting reported on by the Wisconsin State Journal. The public argument between the leaders of the Senate and the Assembly focused on whether the two leaders were meeting regularly enough – but the real issue was a lack of agreement on several major initiatives including whether the Senate had the appetite to move forward the school accountability bill and the governor’s spending plan for the estimated surplus at the end of this budget.

The Senate leader cut to the heart of the matter in the State Journal story: “We’ve got a real tight majority in the Senate and with him [Assembly Speaker Vos] having a 10-seat majority, it’s much easier to develop compromise over there. It’s really that simple.”

It was the moderate members of the tight Senate that delayed the increase in the state’s structural deficit by delaying a vote on the governor’s plan, and it was those moderate members who forced a compromise on the plan to steadily turn “failing” public schools into schools operated by private charter management companies.

Kudos goes to those moderate members.

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Vinehout Endorses Free 2-Year & Tech College Tuition in Wisconsin

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 Monday, 10 February 2014
in Wisconsin

wtcsAfter reading about the proposal offered by Tennessee Governor Haslam, Senator Kathleen Vinehout suggests that Wisconsin use the state’s projected surplus to provide free tuition and fees for Wisconsinites attending technical or UW 2-Year Colleges. The cost of providing this free education would still allow for half a billion dollars to remain in the state’s coffers, and the investment in education is one that pays dividends to individuals and families as well as the state‘s economy.


MADISON - “So, what’s the best jobs plan?” The Governor asked his State of the State audience. “Easy answer: education. If we want to have jobs ready for Tennesseans, we have to make sure that Tennesseans are ready for jobs.”

With this introduction, Governor Bill Haslam announced a plan to bring absolutely free tech and community college education to every high school senior regardless of his or her grades or ability to pay.

“We just needed to change the culture of expectations in our state,” Governor Haslam told the New York Times. “College isn’t for everybody, but it has to be for a lot more people than it’s been in the past if we’re going to have a competitive work force…If we can go to people and say, ‘This is totally free,’ that gets their attention.”

It’s the season of bold plans for governors. As legislatures gather to hear State of the State speeches, state executives put their best plans forward. As bold plans go, Republican Governor Haslam’s is right at the top.

What if we could change the culture in Madison? Think outside the box and come up with a nonpartisan way to address state challenges using the budget surplus created by an improving economy?

Governor Walker proposed using the surplus to give owners of a median value home about $100 a year drop in property taxes over last year. He added other minor tax changes to his plan, including less than a dollar a week cut for 98% of all income tax filers.

Discussions of the Governor’s plan focused on the wisdom of adding to the state’s structural deficit and leaving a paltry amount in the state’s savings account. Both are important concerns.

What if we could avoid big fiscal pitfalls and also do something bold?

At a cost of about thirty cents a day per person, Wisconsinites could have the Governor’s lower tax plan. For less than seventeen cents a day per Wisconsinite the state could put in place a plan of free tuition and fees for every Wisconsin resident attending our 16 Technical Colleges and 13 UW 2-year Colleges.

If implemented in the 2014-15 school year, the plan would cost annually less than $350 million leaving over half a billion in this budget’s surplus going forward.

Putting state money into education is putting money where it works. Surveys of Wisconsin Technical College graduates reveal that nearly three out of four have jobs in their field within 6 months after graduation. Nearly 9 out of 10 graduates live and work in Wisconsin.

Putting money toward technical and 2-year UW colleges also makes sense. These schools are the gateway of opportunity for hundreds of thousands of families in Wisconsin. A college education helps raise the income of families and strengthen the state’s economy.

An absolutely free first two years of college helps families of modest means afford a four year college education and helps those one in five Wisconsinites who have some college education but lack a degree think about going back to school.

Education raises wages and the likelihood of employment. According to a recent New York Times report, “More educated workers continue to enjoy much better employment options than those with a high school diploma or less.” The problem we face is only a third of our workforce has a college degree or more. “With many less educated workers chasing a limited number of new jobs, employers have little reason to increase wages.”

Wisconsin’s economy is lagging. Wages have stagnated. Wisconsin will continue to lag the nation in personal income as long as we remain a less educated state than the national average.

Improving the education of Wisconsin’s workforce prepares Wisconsin for work and improves the economic health of the state. Families are better off which in turn benefits the state. Those who earn more, spend more, and pay more in taxes.

What would you prefer? A hundred dollars less in property taxes for a $150,000 median value home or absolutely free tuition for every Wisconsin resident at our local tech and UW 2-year campuses. Think about it. And let me know!

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