Wednesday November 29, 2023

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Making the Best of a Bad Hand

Posted by Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, State Senator District 31
Jeff Smith, Senator District 31 (D - Eau Claire)
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on Wednesday, 12 July 2023
in Wisconsin

assembly-wi-robin-vosGov. Evers signed the budget last week, exercising his partial veto to modify the most harmful provisions added by Republican legislators. Our lack of political compromise is driven by gerrymandering and the resulting lack of electoral accountability.

MADISON - The big news in Madison last week was the Governor signing the budget. The even bigger news was how he did it. The Governor put his veto pen to work on 51 areas of the budget. Most notable was his veto of the tax cuts for the wealthy that Republicans crammed in at the very end of the process. Governor Evers’ veto prevents Wisconsin from wasting a surplus, but many opportunities remain unaddressed and crises continue to loom.

evers-budget-signThe Governor plays two roles in the budget process; 1) he introduces a budget to the Legislature, 2) he signs the budget into law, vetoes it completely or tries to improve it through line-item vetoes. The line-item veto can’t fix something as fundamentally flawed as this budget, but it can remove terrible policies and add more funding if done creatively.

Governor Evers (D-Wisconsin) has introduced three budgets to the Republican-controlled Legislature. All three times, Republicans unilaterally rejected his budget, deciding to do it on their own. It’s not the smartest or most collaborative way to start a process in which the Governor gets the final say.

wisconsin-senateIf Republicans invested half the effort into working with the Governor as they do working around him, they’d save themselves a lot of work, the taxpayers a lot of money and newspapers a lot of ink. It’s common practice now for Republicans to pass bills that split funding from policies for big-ticket items (as we saw in the shared revenue bill.) Republicans have also incorporated a process to retain funding through supplemental appropriations (a fancy way of saying hold back funding) so they can dole the money out as they choose. Through the last 4 ½ years, Republicans have consistently done everything possible to forego bipartisanship.

This year, Republicans plowed ahead once again and dropped a pile of garbage on the Governor’s desk. It was so bad even Republicans voted against it. I, like many others, hoped the Governor would veto the entire budget to impel Republicans to govern like adults instead of grudgingly undermining the Governor like children.

Politics can be petty, ugly and downright bizarre at times. But the opportunity to stand face to face with a person who is worlds apart from you philosophically and find solutions to a problem can spark something great. Our nation and state have accomplished great things when we’ve worked together.

Intense political pressure is usually the catalyst for legislators across the political spectrum to work together. It doesn’t happen often, but it can have a beautiful effect.

We’ve seen overwhelming public pressure for over a decade now, but nothing changes. What gives? Republicans took a year-long vacation during the pandemic. Meanwhile, worker shortages were and continue to be exacerbated by lack of child care options, and schools have been starved for funding so badly that their fates hinge on voters’ willingness to raise their own property taxes.

The core issue in our lack of political compromise is electoral accountability. I’ve no doubt Republicans safe in 70% and 80% Republican districts have no desire to work with a Democratic Governor. In last fall’s election, though, the majority of Wisconsinites overwhelmingly supported the Governor as well.

Republicans control 2/3 of the Senate districts and nearly 2/3 of the Assembly districts, mostly through a process we call “gerrymandering.” When district lines are changed to make very Democratic or very Republican districts, we all lose.

jeff-smithIn this political tug-of-war between Legislative Republicans and our Democratic Governor, remember who cowers behind gerrymandered maps and who represents the will of the voters across the state. The truth about this budget is that Republicans made their bed. Governor Evers merely tucked them in.

There’s good news on the horizon. Starting this August, Republicans won’t have a majority of conservative Supreme Court Justices to serve as a backstop for their gerrymandered majorities in the Senate and Assembly. We should be encouraged that fair maps for our state could be one of the first things the new court takes up this fall.

New fair district maps would bring accountability back to government and help people sleep at night knowing compromise can happen no matter what political party controls the levers of power in Wisconsin.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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How to Turn a Surplus into a Deficit

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, 05 July 2023
in Wisconsin

wisconsin-senateLast week, Republican members of the Wisconsin Legislature passed a budget that blows a massive hole in our state’s future budgets while including a tax giveaway for the wealthy.

MADISON - There are many ways to view the budget approved by the Republican majority last week: lost possibilities, squandered opportunities, tax breaks for the rich … take your pick.

Going into this spring I was genuinely excited by the possibilities before us. With a projected surplus totaling nearly $7 billion, we could have tackled challenges we weren’t financially able to in the past.

Democrats and Republicans agreed on raising shared revenue for all municipalities in a separate bill the week before, funded in the budget. Unfortunately there’s not much else to celebrate.

Republicans dominate the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) with 12 members compared to 4 Democratic members. The JFC controls what’s in the budget they send to the full Legislature for a vote. (A big thanks to those 4 members who valiantly argued for common-sense measures for working families.)

Knowing we had a record surplus to start with there were so many opportunities.

executive-moneyWe could have invested in the Child Care Counts program, which buoyed the child care centers that parents depend on to nurture their children’s development and allow parents to work. Governor Evers proposed $340 million to keep funding Child Care Counts, but Republicans zeroed it out, telling working parents and child care providers alike that they would rather give tax breaks to the rich than invest in our kids and keep parents working.

Those fortunate enough to live near our western border can escape to Minnesota via the $400 million bridge funded in this budget. Let’s just hope those people come back.

hemp-farmer-wiscThere are plenty of reasons to cross that bridge. Minnesota recently repealed marijuana prohibition (another measure Republicans struck from Governor Evers’ budget). In the past year Minnesota also joined 15 other states with a paid family leave program like the one Governor Evers included in his budget.

We could have started a Paid Family Leave using a portion of the surplus. Future funding would come from a payroll deduction and become self-sustaining in just a couple years. Similar to Workers’ Compensation, it would have been insurance available in case of an unexpected illness or while caring for a family member. But JFC Republicans removed this provision as well.

school-kidsFor twenty-plus years we’ve heard the excuse that we couldn’t make public school funding equitable because we didn’t have the funds to lift the low-revenue districts to match high-revenue districts. We have the funds now, but instead of fixing the formula that has drained our public schools for 30 years, Republicans are celebrating funneling more funding into private voucher schools.

The biggest tax cut in state history will go toward padding the bank accounts of the very wealthiest Wisconsinites. If their plan survives the veto pen, Republicans get significantly closer to the flat tax scheme their wealthy friends are drooling about.

jeff-smith-2022This tax cut reduced the number of tax brackets from four to three. The lowest rate (single workers earning less than $13,810) would be 3.50%, down from 3.54%. The middle two brackets (4.65% and 5.30%) will be combined ($13,810 to $304,170) and dropped to 4.40%, while anyone making over $304,170 will drop from 7.65% to 6.50%. Republicans call this a 15% drop for high-end earners and 17% for everyone else.

To put it another way, if you earn $30,000 to $40,000 a year you pay $32 less in taxes. If you earn $50,000 to $60,000 a year you pay $165 less. If you earn over $1,000,000 in a year you pay an average of $30,286 less.

This tax scheme blows a $2.471 billion hole in future budgets while failing to use that record $6.9 billion surplus for the benefit of all Badgers. Will you be able to use your $30 or even $200 to fix your road? Will that tax break they’re giving you change your life or even pay for one week of child care?

We could have done so much more if Republicans worked with the Governor. Republicans did the worst thing they could possibly do – they threw away opportunities and turned our hard-earned surplus into a deficit.


Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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Wis Democracy Campaign - Vouchers, tax breaks, and my farewell

Posted by Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Matt Rothschild
Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, Matt Rothschild
Matt Rothschild is the Executive Director of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a
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on Thursday, 29 June 2023
in Wisconsin

wdc-logo-2022Our friend Matt Rothschild does his last column of an illustrious career.

MADISON - If you want to know why private schools are getting such an influx of your tax dollars, just follow the money.

6281As Mike Buelow, our research director, reported here, three of the biggest backers of vouchers have spent $67 million in our elections since 2010 to buy the politicians they need:

School Voucher Backers Win Big with Evers, GOP Agreement

The wealthy and the powerful also got their servants in the Republican legislature to give them a big tax break, as I noted here:

GOP Budget Rewards the Rich

6282The flattening of our income tax code and the siphoning off of public money for private schools would appall our progressive forebearers in Wisconsin, who, 100 years ago, fought so hard for progressive taxation and public education.

And they’d also be appalled at all the outside money that’s still contaminating our politics today.

As Fighting Bob La Follette, one of my heroes, once wrote: “Democracy is a life, and involves continual struggle. It is only as those of every generation who love democracy resist with all their might the encroachments of its enemies that the ideals of representative government can even be nearly approximated.”

I know you’re a lover of democracy, as I am. And I know there are many people, one or two generations behind me, who are involved – creatively and energetically – in this struggle.

They give me hope.

And you give me hope.

And Law Forward gives me hope.

And Civic Media gives me hope.

And Justice-Elect Protasiewicz gives me hope.

Hope that we can make more real the ideals of representative democracy.

And so it is with optimism and gratitude – to you, to the amazing staff at the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, to our board of directors, and to all of our supporters and all of our coalition partners – that I bid you adieu.

I’m retiring at the end of this week.

The search is under way, in earnest, for my successor, and I know there are several excellent candidates in that pool.

I have no doubt, whatsoever, that the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign will flourish in the years ahead.

And I’ll be cheering it on – and you on -- from the sidelines.

Thank you for reading these emails from me.

Thank you for supporting the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

And most of all, thank you for doing your part in the struggle for our democracy.

Wishing you all the best in the years ahead!


Matt Rothschild
Executive Director
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Progress for Pride

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, 28 June 2023
in Wisconsin

lgbtq-pride-flagSenator Smith looks back on the history of the LGBTQ+ community’s fight for equality under the law.

BRUNSWICK, WI - We are all familiar with Thomas Jefferson’s famous words from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

These words, famous as they are, were aspirational when Jefferson wrote them. At that time, slavery was legal and accepted in America and women were not allowed to vote or participate in the economy as freely as men. Words mean nothing without the weight of law behind them.

Doing a little research into the difference between rights and law reminded me how fragile our way of life really is. So many fellow Americans have had to struggle to change laws so they could participate in society the way most of us take for granted. As we wrap up Pride Month, I want to take a look at the long history of the LGBTQ+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer+) rights movement in America and Wisconsin.

In 1924 activist Henry Gerber organized the Society for Human Rights in Chicago. Due to political pressures the society did not last long, but it is known as the oldest documented American gay rights organization on record in America. But early attempts to change perceptions and access the same rights as anyone else were thwarted by stigmas attached to sexual behaviors that seemed foreign to heterosexual adults.

The same “red scare” tactics used by Joe McCarthy in the 1950s were adapted to persecute the LGBT population. If anyone was outed as gay they could lose their job or their apartment. President Eisenhower even banned gay individuals from working for the federal government or its private contracting companies through executive order. It’s hard to believe that such discrimination could ever have been acceptable and legal in the United States.

Moving from the 1950s into the 1960s, the world remained an unwelcoming place for LGBTQ+ individuals. For years police harassed gay men and women because laws on the books criminalized their life choices. Engaging in “gay” behavior in public (kissing, dancing or even just holding hands with someone of the same sex) was still illegal.

To find refuge, LGBTQ+ individuals flocked to gay bars and clubs where they could express themselves openly and socialize without worry. However, authorities penalized and shut down establishments that served alcohol to known or even suspected LGBTQ+ individuals, arguing that the mere gathering of homosexuals was “disorderly.”

When police raided the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village the night of June 28, 1969 and began hauling patrons out to paddy wagons, it sparked an uprising. Police were caught off-guard; they had not met so much resistance in the past. But these decent citizens who were only able to be open about who they were in places like the Stonewall Inn had enough. Protests and violent clashes lasted for 6 days. It was this tipping point that sparked a groundswell of activism in the gay rights movement across the nation and the world.

jeff-smithWisconsin has its own proud history of LGBTQ+ activism. Eight years before Stonewall in 1961, a group of men was bent on harassing patrons of the Black Nite Bar in Milwaukee. They were met with resistance and successfully kicked out of the bar. This incident has since been dubbed the “Black Nite Brawl” and “Milwaukee’s Stonewall.” In 1982, Wisconsin became the first state to pass a nondiscrimination law based on sexual orientation (although it’s important to note that Wisconsin still does not have a law preventing discrimination based on sexual identity.)

While Stonewall has been celebrated since 1969 as a turning point, there is still so much more to do. It is often said that it is our differences that make us a great nation. Accepting that we are all individuals, with our own individual backgrounds and desires, we can embrace that variety and build a vibrant and welcoming society.

Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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Republicans Prove Nothing Good Happens After Midnight

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, 21 June 2023
in Wisconsin

childcareRepublicans on the Joint Finance Committee have chosen to cut continued childcare funding from the 2023-25 state budget, a shortsighted move that will lessen productivity and hurt working families statewide.

BRUNSWICK, WI - As a father of two adult children, I remember the 2:00 AM feedings when my kids were babies. I wanted nothing more than to just sleep, but I’d stumble out of bed and do what it took to care for the crying baby.

On Sunday we celebrated Fathers’ Day, but around 1:00 AM on Thursday last week parents of young kids were probably too groggy to watch Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee gut the Child Care Counts program in the budget. That was the Father’s Day gift to Wisconsin families from Republicans.

Child Care Counts was the last lifeline for child care providers to stay open. This one terrible and senseless vote will make a really bad situation for kids go to worse.

The Child Care Counts program was born from a serious problem highlighted by the pandemic. Before COVID-19 hit Wisconsin, child care deserts were already forming. The Wisconsin Department of Children and Families classifies a child care desert as an area where there is no licensed child care provider or there are more than three children under the age of five for each licensed child care slot.

According to the Center for American Progress, 54% of Wisconsinites live in a child care desert. The problem is most prominent in rural communities. There are 1.3 million people in rural communities that coincide with a child care desert versus only 403,000 people in an urban child care desert.

Like many other things we saw as vulnerabilities, the pandemic turned the child care shortage into a full-blown crisis during the pandemic. Fortunately, our pre-existing child care desert problem was alleviated by the Child Care Counts program during the pandemic. It buoyed our crisis and kept our child care centers afloat. The program ran out of money in April of this year. Now child care providers are trying to make ends meet without the funding or the workers to make it happen.

wisconsin_senateMany people may think, “Well, I don’t have kids in daycare. Why should it matter to me?” Children’s success and our society’s success hinge on children ages 1-5 getting the care and education they need to thrive later in life. We all do better if our kids do better.

restaurant-emptyIt’s not just about early childhood development. The worker shortage is directly related to the lack of affordable and accessible child care. You’ve probably noticed your favorite restaurants closing, or how long it takes to schedule a doctor appointment or other delays and shortages in our current economy. Lack of affordable and accessible child care has forced parents to drop out of the workforce in droves. In fact, according to Raising Wisconsin, a multi-partner coalition of child care advocates, the child care crisis before the pandemic forced Wisconsin to lose $1.9 billion in lost productivity, earnings and revenue.

Republicans throughout Wisconsin have been griping about the workforce shortage. Despite our lowest recorded unemployment rate of 2.4%, Republicans continue to beat up on people struggling to find work. At the same time, they’ve decided to axe the one program designed to keep parents in the workforce. Next time you hear Republicans complain about worker shortages, ask them why they are contributing to the problem instead of fixing it.

jeff-smithIt’s well known that child care providers have been historically underpaid and the worker shortage has taken its toll on child care facilities. Most child care providers are paid less than convenience store clerks or fast food workers. Child care workers have moved on to better paying jobs. Without qualified child care workers there has been a corresponding decrease in child care openings. Less openings for kids means more parents need to drop out of the workforce to take care of the kids.

Our economy is very complex and rarely are there ever simple fixes. The Child Care Counts program was a very simple solution that would’ve made serious progress for our economy and society as a whole. It’s been said that nothing good happens after midnight. Cutting Child Care Counts in the early morning on Thursday last week was no exception to that rule.

Senator Smith represents District 31 in the Wisconsin State Senate. The 31st Senate District includes all of Buffalo, Pepin and Trempealeau counties and portions of Pierce, Dunn, Eau Claire, Jackson and St. Croix counties.

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