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Our Political Future: Behind Door Number Four

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 Monday, 22 September 2014
in Wisconsin

republicanThe biggest swath of the electorate – by far – is not the Republican loyalists or the Democratic faithful. Nor is it centrist or moderate. It is politically homeless. The two parties must either adapt or perish.


MADISON - Americans clearly are sour on politics. According the latest Gallup public opinion polling, the number one problem in the U.S. is “dissatisfaction with government, Congress and politicians” along with “poor leadership, corruption and abuse of power.”

New Associated Press polling shows slightly more than a quarter of Americans say they trust Republicans to manage the government, while just under a quarter trust the Democrats. The biggest bloc of citizens say they don’t trust either major party. And the AP survey showed that public confidence in the government’s ability to make progress on the important problems and issues facing the country continues to slip, with 74% now saying they have little or no confidence, down from 70% who said the same last December.

Both parties are failing our country, leaving most Americans feeling betrayed and politically homeless. But the citizenry’s response to these circumstances leaves the most to be desired.

We’ve all been conditioned to believe we have only three options. Behind door number one is whatever the two major parties offer up. A few partisans on either side are more or less satisfied with what’s behind this door, but most Americans aren’t. Most feel they are forced to hold their noses and choose between the lesser of evils. Most look for another door.

Behind door number two is an occasional third-party or independent candidate. But whether it’s Ross Perot one time or Ralph Nader another, this door leads to a dead end. The U.S. is not a parliamentary democracy. Ours is a two-party system. Supporting a third party invariably ends in disappointment.

That leaves door number three. Behind it is resignation. Sadly, a great many of us are choosing this route, throwing up our hands in disgust and hightailing it for the sidelines. This withdrawal from civic life is now endemic to American politics.

Three doors. No happy ending to be found behind any of them.

That’s the bad news. The good news is that there is a fourth door. We’ve been trained not to recognize it or even acknowledge its existence, much less open it. But it is there all the same. It hasn’t been opened in our lifetimes, but when it was found and opened by past generations, what it led to was transformational and landscape altering.

Door number four is what I call a first-party movement. Third-party movements operate on the political fringes, to the left of the Democrats and to the right of the Republicans. Put another way, they seek to clip the wings of the major parties. First-party insurgencies go for the heart. They compete for the affections of the entire electorate.

The goal of third-party movements is to have three or more parties. The goal of first-party organizing is to have at least one that is worth a damn. At least one that truly owes its allegiance to the people.

Conditions are growing ripe for an extensive renovation of the nation’s political landscape. The telltale signs of an impending political implosion are visible. The percentage of Americans who refuse to identify with either major parties is at its highest level in three-quarters of a century. The biggest swath of the electorate – by far – is not the Republican loyalists or the Democratic faithful. Nor is it centrist or moderate. It is politically homeless.

If door number four is opened, the two parties will either adapt or perish. The odds that at least one of the parties will cease to exist in its current form are getting shorter by the day.

We have it in our power to put citizens back in the driver’s seat of our government. The two major parties are repellent. We have it in our power to build a political household that people actually want to live in. It can be done. Our great-grandparents and great-great-grandparents did it. On more than one occasion they opened door number four and freed themselves from the same kinds of traps that ensnare us again today.

We don’t have to make history. We only have to repeat it.

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Expanding Statewide Vouchers would Cost Taxpayers and Local 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, 22 September 2014
in Wisconsin

middle-school-studentsA statewide expansion of the voucher program as touted by the Governor and majority party legislators could cost over $600 million in state tax dollars.  Money from the same pot as funding for public schools which already have experienced a cut of $1.8 billion over the past four years.


MADISON - “Your information is always thorough, concise and very readable,” Carol wrote to me. “Today I heard that [Governor] Walker said he would lift the cap for vouchers if he wins re-election. What would that do to our public schools? The state budget? I hope you will research this and publicize your opinion.”

Whether to cut back or expand state-funded subsidies for students attending private schools is a hot topic of debate. Passage of the most recent state budget started a process many see as the beginning of a statewide, unlimited opportunity for students to attend private schools with state tax dollars – or an unlimited drain on public school funding – depending on one’s perspective.

With passage of the last state budget, children attending private schools could use tax dollars through the form of a ‘voucher’. This state-funded subsidy is $7,210 per year for a primary and middle school student attending a private school and $7,856 for a high school student attending a private school. (Many public schools receive far less per pupil state funding.)

The budget was written so state-funded vouchers were paid first and had an unlimited drawn down on public school funds. I likened this – in my farmer vernacular – to a bucket full of water with a garden hose attached to the bottom with a valve to slow the flow.

The valve, of course, is the limit on the number of vouchers.

The rules, established by the 2013-15 state budget, limited the program to 500 students in the last school year and 1,000 students statewide this school year. These numbers do not include the Milwaukee and Racine voucher students.

Removing the cap – as suggested by the Governor, the Speaker of the Assembly and many candidates – would get rid of the valve altogether.

The justification for this dramatic change in school funding is rhetoric implying the failure of public schools and the superiority of a private education. But after 24 years of experimentation in Milwaukee, research shows no significant achievement benefits for students attending tax-funded private schools over public education.

In western Wisconsin public schools have a stellar record of achievement – despite dwindling resources.

This spring the Eau Claire Leader-Telegram reported local public schools scored above the average on statewide testing in math and reading while most Eau Claire private voucher students “bow[ed] out of state tests.” Statewide “private school voucher pupils fared poorly compared to those in public schools,” the paper’s headline read.

So how much would unlimited statewide expansion of vouchers cost Wisconsin taxpayers? In the 2013-14 school year there were approximately 120,000 private school students. Of these students, 92,400 students pay privately for tuition. State taxpayers fund 27,400 private school voucher students.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimates an average per student voucher cost of $7,333. Subsidizing just the current private school students at this rate would cost taxpayers $677 million. This assumes no public school students go to private schools and no income limits are set for student’s families.

Statewide expansion could, presumably, affect all 900,000 students not currently in the state subsidized voucher program. But recent experience shows 75% of statewide voucher students already attended private school.

Public schools that lost students to private schools lost state aid. School districts that don’t have students attending state subsidized private schools also lose state aid. Often, districts must go to property taxpayers to make up lost aid.

There is no way to know how many private school parents would choose a voucher or how many public or charter school parents would send their children to state subsidized private school.

Public schools already suffered a cumulative $1.1 billion loss in general aid over the past four years. These cuts came at a time of increased overall state spending. In the last four years the budget grew by $4.5 billion. Revenue is dwindling now because of a series of tax cuts – putting public education at risk for a new round of cuts.

It’s foolishness to think Wisconsin can afford unlimited taxpayer subsidized vouchers, keep our high quality local schools and lower taxes. Actions have consequences. Cuts to local schools hurt students and raise property taxes.

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Walker Should Step Down from WEDC

Posted by Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Citizen Action of Wisconsin, Robert Kraig
Robert Kraig is Executive Director, Citizen Action of Wisconsin, 221 S. 2nd St.,
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on Friday, 19 September 2014
in Wisconsin

walkerGovernor Walker, through WEDC, is in a position to pick and choose who gets grants and subsidies to corporations that are headed by major political donors that support him. Good Government Advocates say, in light of conflicts of interest, emergency action needed to protect public job creation dollars from the legal bribery of campaign financing.


STATEWIDE -  Citizen Action of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign held a press conference at the Capitol earlier this week calling on Governor Scott Walker to step down as the Chair of the Board of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). A full audio recording of a media call held after the press conference is available.

Citizen Action and the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign believe that the flawed structure of WEDC creates an unacceptable risk of legalized bribery. The high stakes election this fall, and the massive amounts of money being raised and spent, elevate this risk dramatically. Governor Walker is expected to raise a record amount of money for his reelection, with substantial sums coming from CEOs and corporate executives with a direct financial interest in the decisions made by WEDC.

It is ethically impossible for a Governor to impartially preside over decisions to provide  millions of dollars in corporate subsidies and also receive hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from corporate executives,” said Robert Kraig, Executive Director of Citizen Action of Wisconsin. “This is a flawed structure. It would be an impossible situation for any governor, not just this Governor. The best way to safeguard the public’s precious job creation dollars, and prevent any appearance of legal bribery during this hotly contested election, is for Walker to step aside as the Board Chair of WEDC.”

"Governor Walker, through WEDC, is in a position to pick and choose in providing grants and subsidies to corporations that are headed by major political donors that support him,” said Mike McCabe, Executive Director of Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.. “This flagrant conflict of interest is intolerable."

“The gross conflicts of interest created by the unhappy combination of WEDC’s structure and the deregulation of our campaign finance system also creates difficult issues for ethical business leaders,” Kraig continued.  “Given Walker’s direct and personal role in handing out economic development subsidies, who could blame corporate leaders for believing it necessary to make campaign donations to the Governor if they want to receive grants, loans, and tax credits from WEDC? If this outrageous conflict of interest is allowed to continue, it will destroy what is left of the public’s faith in the integrity of Wisconsin government.”

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Wisconsin's Budget Deficit: Let’s Pay the Bills First

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, 15 September 2014
in Wisconsin

scott-walker-clapsSenator Kathleen Vinehout writes about the recent reports of a structural deficit going into the next biennial state budget, her conversations with the Legislative Fiscal Bureau and agency reports showing shortfalls in Medicaid and Transportation funds. These fund shortfalls are not included in the structural deficit reported by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.


MADISON - “I don’t want another cent from the state until you guys pay the bills,” the business-owner from Durand told me. “I am tired of hearing about tax cuts and deficits.”

“I want all the bills paid: schools, roads, Medicaid, the tech colleges, the debt, all of them paid. Then talk to me about giving me my money back.”

News of the rising structural deficit going into the next state budget has many people offering advice about budgets. People aren’t happy about talk of a new round of tax cuts in the face of an expected $1.8 billion budget shortfall.

Many are asking whether the projected ‘surplus’ that justified the last tax cuts was real. Most everyone is convinced ‘tax cuts’ really mean “vote for me and pay for it later.”

Why does the state give away money when local government hasn’t gotten its fair share in 20 years?” an Eau Claire woman recently asked. She read about local officials considering a registration fee on vehicles.

“They need money to plow the streets. We end up paying more when the state does these tax giveaways. Why doesn’t the state just give the city what it needs to keep up the roads?”

I recently met with Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) staff to get to the bottom of the state’s fiscal problems. The Bureau is the nonpartisan arm of the Legislature that advises lawmakers on budget matters. I learned revenue numbers – tax receipts collected by the state – are down. Corporate income tax receipts are particularly down – over 9% below budget estimates.

New tax cuts to certain business took a toll on money used to pay the state’s bills. For example, reduced taxes on manufacturing and ag businesses are estimated to cost over $50 million just in this past budget year.

The state has bills that are sum sufficient – must be paid in full regardless of whether or not they are over budget – such as the state’s fast growing Medicaid program. These bills are not figured into the recently released shortfall numbers. Earlier this summer the Department of Health Services (DHS) reported the Medicaid program was over $90 million in the red.

Part of the budget problems stem from an ideologically motivated decision to not take several billion in federal funds that would free up hundreds of millions in state cash that could be sent to schools, cities and counties.

Budget problems don’t end with the state’s general fund budget – the part of the budget that pays for health, education, the UW, prisons and local government. There is also a serious gap in the state’s Transportation Fund.

Not paying bills today has long-term impacts on services we take for granted, like schools. Many superintendents are forced to delay maintenance and capital improvements. One superintendent showed me a budget in which he had zero dollars put aside for capital improvements.

Governor Walker and legislators who voted for the past two budgets took over $1 billion cumulative out of public schools over the past four years- at a time when they spent more than $4 billion in new money over the last budget of Governor Doyle.

The effect of spending cuts to our communities might not be seen right away. There’s a lag between passing the state’s two-year budget and witnessing the effect of a lack of state funds on local services. At first these cuts may show up in small ways: new towel fees for sports, higher prices for school lunch, reduced city pool maintenance, fewer snowplows on the road, and higher fees for city water.

But over time, the effect of fewer state dollars and the resulting delays in maintenance turns into higher property tax bills when, for example, schools go to referendum to pay for maintenance or to simply cover the costs of operations.

Over the years, a community can become a less desirable place to live. Local elementary schools close. Class sizes are bigger. Roads crumble. Pools close.

The Durand businessman ended his recent advice by saying, “If you give away money you need to pay bills, it’s going to cost all of us more in the long run”

I couldn’t agree more.

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Senators Demand Answers to Walker’s $1.8 Billion Budget Deficit

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 Tuesday, 09 September 2014
in Wisconsin

walker_tells_big_oneThe Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) on Monday estimated the budget for state government will face a nearly $1.8 billion shortfall for the next two-year budget.


MADISON - The expected shortfall for the next two-year state budget starting in July has risen to nearly $1.8 billion, the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau reported Monday. The report paints a dire picture of Wisconsin's finances under the leadership of Governor Scott Walker.

These new budget numbers prove that Gov. Walker has not been honest with us.

Despite having had budget surplus that came at great expense to our public schools and local communities in the form of reductions to shared revenue and local road aids, and the thousands of Wisconsin residents who find themselves without health care, Walker’s Administration has squandered that surplus leaving us with both an actual and structural deficit.

As noted in the LFB Memo, the $115 million shortfall exceeds the 0.5% statutory trigger requiring action by the Secretary of the Department of the Administration and possibly the Governor and the Legislature. Unless corrective action is taken the structural deficit is likely to reach or exceed $1 billion.

Because this budget deficit will have short-term and long-term implications on the residence of Wisconsin, on Monday four Wisconsin Senators, including our Dave Hansen (D-Green Bay), demanded in writing that Gov. Walker address this crisis and outline all the decisions he might make that will impact Wisconsin families and communities.

The memo asks Walker: "Will our neighborhood schools take another funding hit? Will our streets be plowed so people can go to work? Will more students be denied financial aid to attend the UW or State technical College? These questions need to be answered sooner rather than later."

The Senator’s memo went on to request “that you provide us with the specific actions you intend to take to resolve this fiscal crisis including but not limited to which programs you intend to cut, by how much, how your cuts will impact the services they receive from their government and when you intend to act?”

The memo concludes “There is no positive way to spin our state’s perilous financial position. Despite the claims made by the Walker Administration and others a deficit that exceeds the trigger for emergency action and sets the stage for a billion plus structural deficit is not good news.”

The Walker campaign continues to run glossy ads trumpeting the "success" of the Walker Administration and Walker himself continues to dodge responsibility for the crisis, saying that "increased revenue" could erase the deficit.

dave_hansenAccording to Senator Dave Hansen of Green Bay:

“With what seems like each passing day the economic news for Wisconsin under Governor Walker and the Republicans seems to get only worse:

  • 37th in the nation for job creation.
  • Last in the Midwest for job growth.
  • $281 million revenue shortfall.
  • $115 million budget deficit.

"And now this:

  • A nearly $1.8 billion structural deficit.

"When Governor Walker ran for Governor he promised to get rid of the structural deficit, balance the budget and create 250,000 jobs.

"Instead we got some of the biggest cuts to public schools in the entire country, deep cuts to our UW campuses and state technical colleges and cuts to local communities to help fund police and fire protection and repair local roads.

"In return Wisconsin’s economy is failing and we’re facing a nearly $1.8 billion structural deficit that will cost the average family $1,200 over the next two years.   With this latest news from the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau the results are in: Governor Walker and the Republicans have not only broken their promises, they have failed Wisconsin.”

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