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Seven Billion Dollars!

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 08 March 2023
in Wisconsin

door-county-peopleSenator Smith writes about how Wisconsin can use our projected $7 billion budget surplus to fix past shortfalls in state funding and improve services and infrastructure for all Wisconsinites.


MADISON - Seven billion dollars!

To anyone, that is a huge number, difficult to visualize or comprehend. But that’s the amount of Wisconsin’s projected surplus over our next budget period. Often people joke that such a surplus will be met with 133 different spending proposals – one each from the 99 members of the State Assembly, 33 State Senators, and one for the governor.

This, of course, is an exaggeration. There are many paths to agreement between legislators and the governor, but finding a solution will be a long and perhaps contentious process.

We need to approach this budget with a keen eye for what our most important needs are. A surplus is temporary, and we can’t go wild with ideas that cannot be sustained once the money is spent. The surplus must be treated as an investment. Tax breaks for the rich or subsidizing private school tuition for wealthy families is foolish. We must invest in tax breaks for the middle class and in much-needed infrastructure projects that better the everyday lives of Wisconsinites.

internet-appsGovernor Evers’ plan to invest $750 million for broadband expansion makes a huge stride in connecting all of Wisconsin access to high-speed internet. Connecting those households that are hardest to reach in unserved areas of the state will be a terrific boost to our economy, making it easier for folks to access healthcare, education or create home-based business startups. We only need to make this one-time investment for the improvements to be evident decades from now.

road-repair-wiIncreasing road aids to local towns, villages and counties is another example of one-time investments that will reap long-term benefits. Many of our roads and bridges are in disrepair or need replacement. Making investments in our physical infrastructure will increase the safety of our roads and bridges and reduce damage to vehicles from aging infrastructure, sparing families and businesses costly repairs.

In areas like local government, inadequate funding has led to local referenda just so communities can continue to fund essential services like law enforcement and fire protection, or pay assistant district attorneys. With Governor Evers’ one-time injection of funds for local revenue, we can begin to fix that formula to be fair and to meet the needs and expectations of communities instead of yearly property tax increases.

teaching-studentsAnother example of a failed funding formula is the one that supports our Pre K-12 public education system. This problem dates all the way back to 1993, when a “temporary” revenue freeze was made permanent. Districts that happened to spend a lot in 1993 were able to continue collecting that higher level of revenue, leaving districts that were relatively more frugal behind.

Over thirty years, the gap between wealthier districts and poorer districts has only grown with every referendum that passes. Because there is such a disparity between the two, policymakers have struggled to fix the funding formula, thinking the only way would be to cut funding for high-revenue districts to shore up the low-revenue districts. Now, a one-time injection of funds could allow low-revenue districts to catch up to their high-revenue sister communities.

jeff-smithThroughout the entire state, the lack of affordable childcare has caused problems for working families. We aren’t alone – this is a national problem, and has been exacerbated by closures stemming from the pandemic. Most brain development happens in the first six years of life, and support for young children yields dividends years down the road as they attend school and venture into the working world. It’s only right that we do what we can to ensure safe and reliable child care so Wisconsin can become a national leader in early-childhood learning.

This budget presents us with an amazing opportunity to make a very real difference in the lives of Wisconsin’s families. We must set aside political sideshows and make sure we do not waste this opportunity to do good things with our $7 billion surplus. Governor Evers introduced a budget that, along with the biggest middle-class tax cut in state history, will keep us moving forward as a state. The Republican leaders of the Legislature have an opportunity to be partners instead of obstructionists. In the coming weeks and months, we’ll see how it all plays out.

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Be True To Your School

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 01 March 2023
in Wisconsin

school-kidsThe week of February 27th to March 3rd is Public Schools Week, and Senator Smith discusses how successful public schools make for thriving families and communities.


MADISON - School pride dies hard. Even now, many years after my high school graduation, when I hear of an Eau Claire North Husky that has been awarded for their success, I get a twinge of pride. At face value, that may seem irrational, but as I’ve traveled around western Wisconsin, I’ve found pride in one’s school and one’s community to be universal.

Whether you grew up in a city like Eau Claire and graduated a Husky or an Old Abe, or if you went to school in a smaller community like Elmwood, Trempealeau, Prescott or Arcadia, it’s a source of pride when a young person from your school does well. (And speaking of school pride –you’re already bristling if your school wasn’t mentioned in those examples, right?) Whether you currently have school-aged children or not, we are all influenced by our public schools by what they produce: our next generation of leaders.

The week of February 27th to March 3rd is Public Schools Week, a time to reflect on and celebrate the educational institutions that play a central role in our lives. It’s at school we all first learn to be a good citizen, and school that gives us a first exposure to life outside our families. Our public schools have an enormous impact on the future of our communities, and it is important that we do all we can to strengthen them.

You may see signs out there that say “Public Schools Unite Us.” When public schooling took shape in this country, its goal was to create an even footing by which Americans could succeed regardless of the circumstances of their upbringing. Through generations of students, those goals have not changed.

So what makes a great public school? It starts with teachers and staff who dedicate their professional lives to guiding the next generation. I’m sure many of you can immediately recall a teacher you had who opened up new worlds to you, or provided you with an example of the kind of adult you would like to be.

But if we are not properly funding our schools, we are impairing our school staff and school administrators in their efforts. As a legislator, I have heard from many public school teachers and administrators that they are simply not getting the funding they need to do their jobs. Wisconsin’s school funding formula is broken, resulting in radically different amounts of per-student aid depending on which school district they attend.

When the state does not supply districts with adequate funding, it falls to school boards to make up the shortfall. This leaves districts in a bind, forced to introduce community referenda to raise property taxes. This is where an already-unequal situation can become worse. School districts in wealthy areas can afford these referenda to raise their school’s budget, while those in poorer areas cannot.

These band-aid fixes are unsustainable. A child’s quality of education should not depend on what district they attend. We can live up to the promise of a great education by providing adequate funding to every school districts so they can help students excel.

jeff-smithAnother concerning development I have heard from many teachers is the prevalence of testing in our schools. Treating all children as though they are all the same is not the best way to evaluate outcomes for students who have different talents and capacities.

Not all children learn in the same way, and not all do well in a standard testing situation. Where there is a place for tests to evaluate student success, it’s important to stay realistic about what these tests can reliably measure, and not overload our kids with endless testing in place of learning. They should be places of personal growth where students can learn to be their best selves.

Every kid deserves an equal opportunity, no matter where they live. When our public schools are successful, the result is thriving families and communities. So this week, dust off your spirit wear – your school needs your support.

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Popular Policies Make for Wise Budgets

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 22 February 2023
in Wisconsin

high-voltage-lines-farmsLast week, Governor Evers released his biennial budget proposal, which invests our $7 billion surplus in local communities and the people. It’s vital that we work together as we continue to develop the budget.


MADISON - It’s that time when the rubber meets the road. You might even say this is when your state leaders better “put up or shut up.”

Every odd year the state of Wisconsin begins another budget biennium. During that two-year period, we measure our state’s estimated needs and priorities and balance that with the revenue to be collected during that same two years.

As the biennial budget season kicks off, it’s the perfect time to remind your elected officials of what they promised or preached during the campaign the previous year. Did your representative promise to provide more resources for your school? How often did you hear that the state should send more revenue back to cities, villages and towns? Maybe candidates in your area said they were going to fight to bring back more shared revenue to fix roads and provide fire, EMS and law enforcement services.

wisconsin-senateWhatever you heard or read from your legislators and elected leaders, now is the time to put their feet to the fire. This is an exciting time to think of all the possibilities. A new budget offers a fresh start. It’s a chance to prove that we can set political grudges aside and do the people’s work. It’s a chance for politicians to prove they can behave like adults and work to solve problems.

That may sound optimistic to some who read this. But if we expect a stalemate, that’s exactly what we’ll get.

At last week’s budget address, Governor Evers delivered a budget encompassing all the priorities he touted during his reelection bid last fall. Now the Joint Committee on Finance, made up of legislators from both the Assembly and the Senate, will meet and dive into the policies that make up the state’s budget.

jfcphotoThe membership of the Finance Committee is determined by the party holding the majority. Thus there are 12 Republican members and 4 Democratic members. Despite overwhelming support for the Governor, Republicans have already rejected the Governor’s budget outright.

We know from experience the budget will likely look quite different after they put it through the grinder. It’s like a sausage factory, and it isn’t always pretty. But there will be opportunities for public input when the committee holds hearings throughout the state. Hopefully we’ll get a chance to have a hearing in western Wisconsin this spring. I would encourage everyone to attend, listen and speak in favor of the Governor’s popular budget initiatives.

Every budget cycle brings with it new challenges and opportunities. Oftentimes challenges become opportunities to remedy shortcomings of previous budget choices.

school-bus-kidsA prime example of this is K-12 education. We’ve become too reliant on passing property tax referenda because the school funding formula doesn’t work for every part of the state. Another place we see this is in shared revenue for local governments, where we’ve failed to keep pace with inflation. Roads and bridges have long been a point of contention as counties and municipalities have struggled to maintain them.

Turning challenges into opportunities is much easier when we have $7 billion to use. But we must be wise with our decisions to limit future challenges and invest our resources back to the middle class who deserve tax relief.

jeff-smith-2022In addition to providing a middle class tax cut that will benefit those who need it the most, we must invest in our state’s future. We have the opportunity to use part of the surplus to repair our roads, address our school funding formula, accelerate broadband expansion, educate more nurses, solve the childcare crisis we are experiencing and so many other important issues we face.

Let’s be wise as we develop the state’s budget. Let’s work together and keep the best interests of the people of Wisconsin in mind. Let’s get it done right.

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Our Watchdogs Are Hard at Work

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 15 February 2023
in Wisconsin

datcp-price-protectWisconsin’s Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) safeguards consumers from deceptive practices and services. This week, Senator Smith discusses 2022’s top ten list of most common consumer complaints, which describe many of the ways DATCP can help consumers protect themselves from fraud.


MADISON - The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) may be the most diverse agency in our state. It’s often referred to simply as the “Department of Ag,” which is understandable since agriculture is such an important industry to Wisconsin. “Trade” covers all of our industries and how we transport goods across the globe. But we often forget the immense responsibility the state and DATCP have for protecting consumers.

In 2022, DATCP worked to resolve over 11,000 consumer complaints, reaching settlements that returned millions of dollars to Wisconsin consumers like you. The top ten complaints they received may resonate with many of us, who experience similar frustrations in our day-to-day lives.

In the style of David Letterman, here’s what they reported:

10. There were 184 complaints around new and used auto sales last year, including reports of inadequate disclosures and misleading representations in advertisements.

9. New to the top ten list was home furnishings. The Department received 189 complaints, including failure to provide services or deliver goods, along with misleading practices.

8. Also new to the top ten this year were health and medical products. 217 of the complaints involved billing disputes, failure to deliver and refund policy concerns, among other issues.

7. 224 complaints had to do with travel, which includes vehicle rentals, airline service, hotel complaints and travel company bundling. Billing disputes, refund policy and just plain unsatisfactory service were among the complaints.

6. Medical services are a category separate from medical products. There was a 60% increase in medical services complaints, with 440 complaints filed. Billing disputes and deceptive practices topped the list. A practice known as “surprise billing,” when a patient receives an unexpected bill from an out-of-network provider or facility, was among the most common complaints. A federal law went into effect in 2022 to protect patients from surprise billing, but it’s still very important for consumers to report any failures complying with this new law.

5. Identity theft was the fifth most common complaint. DATCP handled 513 complaints in this category last year. The Department can help recover and secure your identity from further fraud, and spends time with consumers educating them on how they can avoid having their identity stolen in the future.

4. A common frustration all of us can relate to are telecommunications issues. Cell phone and internet providers might misrepresent the service they provide, or sometimes unfairly terminate service. DATCP handled 655 telecommunications complaints last year.

3. Whenever disaster hits, DATCP issues warnings about fly-by-night roofing, siding or other construction contractors. Last year the agency received 1,216 complaints about home improvement services, more than double last year’s number. Complaints included failure to honor warranties, failure to properly disclose lien waivers, poor workmanship and sometimes just failing to provide services or materials as promised.

2. A pet peeve of many, and a complaint I hear time and again, is telemarketing. In fact, my office receives at least a call a day trying to sell us life insurance. Telemarketing resulted in 1,651 complaints, but I’m sure that represents only a tiny fraction of the number of calls that could be reported. Robocalls, phishing, imposter calls and harassment complaints top the list. Even the Wisconsin Do Not Call Registry cannot block all of these calls, as many disregard the list and call anyway. Keep reporting and be vigilant for scams and fraudulent claims.

1. The number one category of complaints involved landlord-tenant complaints. When disputes cannot be resolved between a landlord and a tenant, DATCP gets the call. That happened 1,912 times in 2022. Top complaints included failure to return a security deposit, eviction, unauthorized entry and structural issues.

jeff-smithIt’s always good to be wary of deceptive advertising, calls and promotions, but it sure is good to know we have a watchdog like DATCP. If any of the situations described above sound familiar to you, if you find yourself in a situation you feel is unfair or you are being cheated, call the Consumer Protection Hotline at (800) 422-7128 or email DATCP at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . It’s important for Wisconsinites to know resources are available to them and the experts at DATCP are working for us.

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Breaking Down Barriers and Celebrating Black Resistance

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
User is currently offline
on Wednesday, 08 February 2023
in Wisconsin

juneteenth-flag-buffalo-soldiersThe theme for Black History Month 2023 is Black Resistance. This month serves as a reminder that the fight for racial and social equity is nowhere near finished, and none of us should be on the sidelines.


MADISON - When the state of Wisconsin first tried for statehood in the 1840s, Wisconsin’s constitution allowed for referenda to expand suffrage to new groups. Activists wasted no time in getting Black suffrage on the ballot. Wisconsin’s first referendum for Black suffrage failed in 1847, but two years later in 1849 Black suffrage was approved by voters.

In reality, however, African-Americans would wait twenty years to exercise their franchise. In 1866, Ezekiel Gillespie, a prominent member of Milwaukee’s Black community, sued for the right to vote. The case went all the way to the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which affirmed that Black men had the right to vote since the 1849 referendum.

This illustrates one of the most enduring lessons Americans have learned from struggles for equality. Just as Black men in Wisconsin had to wait to exercise their franchise, equality under the law has not always translated to equality in practice. Commitment and courageous action of individuals defied the odds against an entire system of injustice.

From the early years of the Republic through the Civil Rights movement into the present, many courageous Black Americans have made their voices heard while facing physical violence or even death. Too often, narratives – written by white authors – focus on Black victimhood. That is not the story we need to tell.

The theme for Black History Month this year is Black Resistance. This is meant to reframe the conversation about Black history around a theme of empowerment. By celebrating Black Resistance, we honor Black people throughout Wisconsin’s history and rightly center their experiences and their accomplishments. While there are many important Black leaders that we celebrate by name, there are even more heroes whose names we’ve never heard. It takes the efforts of many to accomplish sweeping change.

jacob-blake-shooting-protestA quick glance at the news will show you many Americans who have a difficult time believing that racism still exists in our country. Since before America’s founding, both American leaders and the American populace have ignored so many brutal injustices, both individual and systemic. For decades, politicians have been aware of racial disparities in America. Yet it seems our country’s leaders either deny the disparities completely or only give lip service to how terrible they are, taking no meaningful action.

Meanwhile, the legacy of racism continues to impact Black communities and individuals, from income disparities impacting communities of color, to horrific acts of violence fueled by hatred, to stereotypes broadcast in the media. Any effort to eradicate racial injustice requires a comprehensive and multi-pronged approach. This injustice has impacted every aspect of our society, and there are no simple answers when it comes to untangling hundreds of years of bias and oppression.

Racial injustice cannot be fully addressed on an individual level. It is not enough to simply educate individuals; we must change the institutions that treat some citizens differently from others. Atoning for centuries of racism and discrimination is an effort that requires systemic and transformative social change.

jeff-smith-2022As I’ve discussed in previous columns, it is the job of legislators to evaluate state laws and change them when they are out-of-date. As state legislators and leaders, it’s our job to prioritize racial equality in our legislative work. We do this by introducing new legislation to tackle problems, but also by removing barriers to inequality that are currently ingrained in our laws.

As an ally and a public servant, I remain committed to working toward a more just and equitable future for all Wisconsinites. I am here to listen and learn. The fight for racial and social equity is nowhere near finished, and none of us should be on the sidelines.

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