LARSON REPORT

WEEKLY NEWSLETTER



 

 

December 12, 2013

     

 










 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


CONTACT ME


Please feel free to contact me with any concerns or opinions you might have.

Office Phone: (608) 266-7505
Toll-free Phone: (800) 361-5487

Email:
Sen.Larson@legis.wi.gov

 

Mailing Address:

State Capitol
P.O. Box 7882
Madison, WI 53707

 

Web Site:

SenatorChrisLarson.com

 

Find Me on Facebook and Twitter:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

COMMUNITY EVENTS
 

Supporting our neighbors and being involved in our community is of the utmost importance. Some community events that might be of interest to you and your family are listed below. 
 

 

A Christmas Carol
Date: Now through Tues., December 24

Location: Milwaukee

Description: Nineteenth century London comes to life when you and your family join Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, and, of course, Ebenezer Scrooge on a fantastical journey through Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Enjoy the music, dancing, and timeless message of hope, peace, and love, as the Dickens' classic masterpiece celebrates its 38th year at the Milwaukee Rep. CLICK HERE or call (414) 224-9490 for more information.

Milwaukee Repertory Theater (MAP)
108 E. Wells Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202

 

 

Milwaukee Holiday Lights Festival
Date:
Now through Sun., December 29
Location:
Milwaukee
Description: This six-week festival will spread holiday spirit with animated light displays in Cathedral Square Park, Pere Marquette Park, and Zeidler Union Square, as well as hundreds of events. Marvel at the spectacular sights aboard the convenient Jingle Bus, a Coach U.S.A. bus that takes visitors on a 40-minute tour. For $1 per person, visitors can relish in the holiday spirit while admiring a festive panorama. The tour is narrated by Milwaukee Downtown's Public Service Ambassadors who will acquaint riders with key attractions and landmarks. Tours operate Thursdays through Sundays from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. from the Shops of Grand Avenue. CLICK HERE for more information.

 

 

Les Miserables

Date: Now through Sun., December 29

Location: Milwaukee

Description: Centerpiece to their season, Les Miserables is the show that inspired Skylight to focus on freedom and revolution as a conversation through the entire year. Set in 19th century France in the midst of revolution, this timeless musical follows Jean Valjean on his quest for redemption after being jailed for stealing a loaf of bread, inspector Javert who relentlessly pursues parole violator Valjean, and an abundance of other compelling and entertaining characters. Skylight looks forward to producing this legendary, Tony Award-winning musical in the intimate Cabot Theatre. This epic tale of passion and sacrifice will be a phenomenal way to share live theatre with the family during this holiday season. CLICK HERE or call (414) 291-7811 for more information.

Skylight Music Theatre (MAP)
158 N. Broadway Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202

 

 

Sheridan Park Centennial Raffle

Date: Now through Fri., February 14

Location: Cudahy

Description: Enter the Sheridan Park Centennial Raffle for your chance to win a grand prize that includes a trip to New York, a tour of Central Park, and tickets to a Broadway play. This is a fundraising effort to help improve the park. Raffle tickets will be available beginning Friday, November 8 through Friday, February 14 at Joe's "K" Ranch, the Cudahy Library, City Hall, Cudahy Historical Society, Pulaski Inn, and through members of the Chamber of Commerce and Friends of Sheridan Park. The raffle drawing will take place during a Valentine's Day dinner on February 14 at Pulaski Inn. Tickets for the dinner will be available at Pulaski Inn. Raffle ticket holders do not need to be present in order to win. Support a great cause to improve Sheridan Park and buy your raffle tickets today.

 

Pulaski Inn (MAP)

3900 E. Pulaski Avenue Cudahy, WI 53110

 

 

The Nutcracker

Date: Sat., December 14 through Sun., December 22
Location: Milwaukee

Description: Milwaukee's magical holiday performance "The Nutcracker" is back for another year. Enjoy this childhood wonder as toys come to life and snowflakes begin to dance. Create memories of your own with this performance that you cannot miss. CLICK HERE or call (414) 273-7206 for more information or to purchase tickets.

Marcus Center for the Performing Arts (MAP)
929 N. Water Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202

 

A Kick in the Dickens 2: More Stuff in the Stocking!

Date: Now through Sat., December 28
Location: Milwaukee

Description: The popular holiday comedy show returns to The Alchemist Theatre. This time your evening will be packed with even more goodies, original songs, hilarious comedy routines, and improvised silliness. Some of Milwaukee's top improvisers, comedic actors, playwrights, and songwriters have come together to create this fun- filled evening of holiday mayhem. CLICK HERE or call (414) 426-4169 for more information or to purchase tickets.

The Alchemist Theatre & Lounge (MAP)
2569 S. Kinnickinnic Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53207

 

 

Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,

 

My Democratic colleagues and I continued our efforts this week to provide real financial relief by hosting a town hall on the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill. This bill offers Wisconsin graduates the opportunity to refinance their student loans and deduct loan payments from their income tax for significant savings. Continue reading for more on this and other important issues including another Wisconsin and Minnesota comparison and an update on discriminatory legislation.


Sincerely,

Chris Larson
State Senator, District 7

 

 

Study Shows Higher Ed, Lower Debt Bill Needed

Yesterday, I joined United Council of Students, One Wisconsin Institute, Wisconsin Jobs Now, and Wisconsin Voices at a Milwaukee town hall to discuss improving Wisconsin's student debt crisis. Senator Dave Hansen and Representative Cory Mason--authors of the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill--also participated in the panel discussion by showing how their legislative proposal could help address many of the problems Wisconsin's student loan borrowers face after graduation.

 

Wisconsin Ranks 8th for Percentage of New Grads with Debt in Recent Study

The student debt crisis is very real here in Wisconsin.

According to the U.S. Federal Reserve System, there are 753,000 Wisconsin residents with federal student loan debt (this does not include those with private student loan debt). Further, college tuition costs have doubled over the last 12 years. It is estimated that Wisconsin residents paying student loans from obtaining a bachelor's degree are currently paying an average of $388 per month for about 18.7 years.
 

The Institute for College Access and Success released their latest annual state-by-state analysis, which found that 68% of the Class of 2012 graduated from Wisconsin colleges and university with student loan debt. This ranked Wisconsin No. 8 nationally for the percentage of new grads with debt. Wisconsin also ranked No. 14 for the average amount of loan debt: $28,102. This report is based on data estimates collected every four years by the federal government, while also taking into account information voluntarily reported by four-year public and private nonprofit colleges.

Student debt is the only kind of household debt that continued to rise through the Great Recession, and is now the second largest consumer debt in our country, more than credit cards or auto loans. Having this money tied up in debt is a huge drain on our already struggling Wisconsin economy as the money spent on student loans could instead be spent on cars, new homes, and at local businesses in our communities.

Addressing the Student Debt Crisis in Wisconsin
Some issues related to student loans can only be dealt with at the federal level. Unfortunately, Congress' current partisan gridlock leaves little hope for real relief for student loan borrowers in the near future. We cannot wait for Congress to act. It is time for innovative, common sense solutions that will provide real relief for Wisconsin's student loan borrowers.

Therefore, my Democratic colleagues and I are asking that the Wisconsin State Legislature passes the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill, authored by Senator Dave Hansen and Representative Cory Mason, which would do the following:

  • Allow Wisconsin's student loan borrowers to deduct their student loan payments from their income tax, resulting in annual tax savings of approximately $172 for the typical borrower or as much as $392.

  • Enable Wisconsin's student loan borrowers to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates, putting potentially hundreds of dollars back in their pockets and into Wisconsin's economy annually. For example, a borrower with an interest rate of 6.8% and the average University of Wisconsin graduate's loan debt of $27,000 who could lower their interest rate to 4% could save over $40 per month. That would put nearly $500 back in their family's pocket over the course of a year.

  • Provide students and parents with detailed information about student loans, the best and worst private lenders, and ensure that students receive loan counseling so that Wisconsin's student loan borrowers can make informed financial decisions about student loans.

  • Ensure data is collected and tracked about student loan debt in Wisconsin to help policymakers and the public better understand the depth and breadth of the debt crisis in our state.

As you can see, this legislation offers common sense solutions for real savings on behalf of Wisconsinites managing student loan debt. We hope legislative Republicans will see the economic value of moving forward with such a proposal as Wisconsinites cannot afford to wait any longer for more affordable college education and decreasing their debt burden.
 

Sign the Higher Ed, Lower Debt Petition Today
If you were unable to attend Higher Ed, Lower Debt Town Hall, but would like to show your support for the bill, I encourage you to sign onto the Higher Ed, Lower Debt petition at www.HigherEdLowerDebtWI.com. The more Wisconsinites that advocate for the bill, the more likely it is to pass. The petition states the following:

I support the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill authored by Sen. Hansen and Rep. Mason. It is a positive step forward in making higher education more affordable in Wisconsin and frees up money for Wisconsinites to spend in local communities and our state.

Click here if you would like join me in supporting the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill by signing on to the petition to encourage the Wisconsin State Legislature to pass the bill.

 

Fast Facts on WI Student Debt Crisis

Here are some fast facts on why the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill is needed in Wisconsin and how it would help student loan borrowers upon graduation:

  • There are 753,000 Wisconsin residents with federal student loan debt, not including those with private student loan debt

  • The cost of college tuition has doubled over the last 12 years

  • Wisconsin bachelor's degree graduates with student loan debt pay an average of $388 per month for about 18.7 years

  • Wisconsin's Class of 2012 ranked 8th nationally for percentage of college and university students that graduated with student loan debt (68%) and 14th for the average amount of student loan debt ($28,102)

  • The Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill would allow Wisconsin's student loan borrowers to deduct their student loan payments from their income tax, resulting in annual tax savings of approximately $172 for the typical borrower or as much as $392

  • The Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill would enable Wisconsin's student loan borrowers to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates, putting potentially hundreds of dollars back in their pockets and into Wisconsin's economy annually
     

 

A Tale of Two States

As neighboring states, Wisconsin and Minnesota have a lot in common. The people have similar Midwestern accents, the weather can be quite snowy, and the landscape is bountiful with farmland and lakes. Despite these similarities, Minnesota and Wisconsin have recently taken starkly different paths on a number of important issues.

 

Minnesota Hits Pre-Recession Employment Level

In September, it was reported that nearly four years after losing 150,00 jobs Minnesota has surpassed the employment level it had prior to the Great Recession. For Minnesota, slow and steady growth helped them recover. As of July 2013, there were eight states exceeding their pre-recession peak in jobs, including: Colorado, Iowa, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia. Seven other states had cleared the hurdle but have subsequently fallen backward. Wisconsin is the only state neighboring Minnesota that has not erased its Great Recession jobs deficit of 170,000 nonfarm, seasonally adjusted jobs, according to analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data.

 

Wisconsin Takes Wrong Turn with Health Care Coverage

Wisconsin was bested by its neighbor yet again when Minnesota opted to create their own exchange and take federal dollars to provide health care coverage to 35,000 more people at no additional cost. In contrast, Wisconsin rejected the federal health care dollars it was offered and decided to move forward with the federally-run exchange. It defies logic that extreme legislative Republicans would choose to reject the opportunity to expand health care coverage to nearly 85,000 more Wisconsinites, save the state $120 million over the biennium, and create approximately 10,500 new jobs.
 

The path our Republican leaders chose has had a negative impact on the premium costs in Wisconsin compared to those in Minnesota. In Minnesota, the average monthly premium across all age groups will be $192. The next lowest average is in Tennessee at $245, and the national average is $328. Unfortunately for Wisconsinites, we will see average monthly premiums of $361. That is 88% higher than the average premium in Minnesota. It is important to mention that the average premium rates cited do not include possible premium discounts, which could further lower premiums for lower- and middle-income individuals.

Therefore, not only will Wisconsin be paying more to insure fewer people, but Wisconsinites will also be paying more on average towards premiums than our neighbor state. All the facts indicate that our governor and Wisconsin's Legislative Republicans were so focused on opposing affordable health care at all costs, that they sacrificed our health care coverage and wallets in the process. Looking at the case study of Minnesota, we are reminded that things could have been so much better on our side of the border.

 

Minnesota Repays Education Fund With Surplus

The good news just keeps on coming for Minnesota. This month, Minnesota announced that their rebounding economy helped them to achieve a $1.08 billion surplus for the remainder of their biennial budget cycle. The state's budget office has already allocated a portion of that money with the first $246 million going to replace funding that was shifted away from K-12 schools. Another $15 million will be used to restore funds that were taken out of the state airport fund in 2008. After taking into account these budget obligations, Minnesota will be left with a surplus of $825 million. Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton has expressed interest in wanting to use this money to provide tax relief to businesses and the middle class. However, this plan is tentative based on subsequent economic forecasts at the beginning of 2014.

 

Wisconsin, on the other hand, treated their surplus dollars far differently. We have sacrificed many of our valued programs, under the guise of "job creation" and "economic relief." You do not need to look any farther than the example of our local public schools. After record cuts of $1.6 billion to K-12 education, legislative Republicans have done little to help restore these lost funds. In fact, 210 of Wisconsin's 424 school districts, or about 50%, have received less general aid in the current school year. Governor Walker and legislative Republicans were given a number of chances to repay these raided funds that educate Wisconsin's children, yet such requests from Democratic leaders and fellow Wisconsinites continue to go unanswered.
 

Minnesota proved that we do not have to create a values deficit in order to create jobs or provide tax relief. Having to choose between economic development and supporting our children's education is a false choice. With proper prioritizing and a trusted leader we can have both, and Minnesota is proof of that.

 

 

Ask Chris

I often have neighbors contact me looking for my perspective on various local and state issues. I very much appreciate our neighbors' questions and want to dedicate a portion of my newsletter to common questions that I hear to maintain an open dialogue. Please continue reading for this week's question.

Q: I saw the mascot bill passed in both the Senate and the Assembly, but has the governor signed it?
 

A: Last month, the Wisconsin State Senate and Assembly took up this legislation, Assembly Bill 297, sending Wisconsin backwards in the fight to end discrimination of all kinds, including towards Native Americans across the state. This bill eliminates the current process allowing people to file complaints with the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) over race-based mascots and team names, and giving DPI the authority needed to enforce mascot changes at these schools.

 

 

Click here or on the media player above to view the debate on this bill.

 

In order for a bill to become law, typically identical versions of the same bill must pass in both the Senate and Assembly. As stated previously, this has already occurred for the discriminatory mascot bill. After that, the bill is then sent to the governor for his signature by a certain deadline. In the case of Assembly Bill 297, the governor has until the end of the day on Thursday, December 19 to sign or veto the bill. Should the governor avoid taking either of these actions and simply ignore the bill, it will automatically be published thus becoming law. That would mean Assembly Bill 297 would go into effect on December 21, unless another effective date is specified in the bill.

Those who support this discrimination bill and the continuing use of race-based mascots argue that these mascots are used out of respect for the tribes. However, the reality is that these mascots and their continued use represents an incredible level of disrespect that reflects a disturbing lack of tolerance in our state. It was not until 1924 that Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act, which granted all Native Americans, on or off the reservation, citizenship and the possibility of suffrage. While the act gave Native Americans voting rights, states often passed laws that limited this right. In 1965, Congress passed the Voting Rights Act, which prohibited states from discriminatory voting practices and ensured all Native Americans had access to the polls. These mascots are the last remnants of this past racial discrimination.

This bill maintains discrimination and insensitivity in our state. The schools that still retain race-based mascots, as well as the schools that compete against them, tend to reinforce offensive stereotypes by turning this ethnic group into a cartoon, mocking cultural traditions, and shouting racial slurs or bigoted comments. We can no longer justify the continued use of such disrespectful terminology as "Redskin" and "Savages."

The truth is that the use of race-based mascots promotes discriminatory actions against neighbors in our community and around the state. It is a fact that no other ethnic group has as many mascots parroting their identities in our state, and we must do something about that. This type of discrimination is not only unfair, but wrong. For this reason, I voted "no" to Assembly Bill 297 and have joined my Democratic colleagues in urging the governor to veto the bill.

 

Click here to view a letter from the Wisconsin Indian Education Association to the governor in opposition of this bill.

 

Click here to view a letter from the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council urging the governor to veto this bill.
 

 

Did You Know...?

You may know that after Thanksgiving each year the Capitol puts up a decorated tree. But did you know that this year's tree is a 25-foot Balsam fir donated by Jim Draeger of Antigo, Wisconsin?

 

The tree arrived the Monday after Thanksgiving. On that first day, it is simply erected and allowed to rest and take in water. The tree then takes two to three days to decorate. It boasts 2,000 energy-saving LED multicolored lights and ornaments crafted by school children across Wisconsin in the theme "Wisconsin Traditions." There is even a tiny train that chugs around the base of the tree.

 

The Capitol selects Balsam firs because their branches are more pliable, which allows for easy transport and ensures they can fit through the door once they reach the Capitol building. All labor and transport costs related to the tree were donated by fellow Wisconsinites.
 

 

Giving Back to Our Community

The holiday season provides many opportunities to give back to our community. This winter, try volunteering in one of our local food pantries, neighborhood shelters, area health care organizations, or regional nonprofits. If you have one in mind, they likely post such opportunities on their Web site. If you want to see what is available in your community there are various Web sites that try to centralize volunteer opportunities located in your desired field of interest and Wisconsin region. More information about such Web sites is provided below:

 

The Volunteer Center of Greater Milwaukee--A program of the Nonprofit Center of Milwaukee, Inc., with a mission to promote the interests and effectiveness of the nonprofit sector through strengthening organizational capacity, expanding volunteerism, and encouraging collaboration. They centralize volunteer opportunities offered by nonprofits in the Milwaukee area.

 

Click here to search volunteer opportunities courtesy of the Volunteer Center of Greater Milwaukee.

 

Idealist--Connects people, organizations, and resources to help build a world where all people can live free and dignified lives. Idealist is independent of any government, political ideology, or religious creed. This is a good starting place for learning more about volunteer opportunities--whether you are looking to get involved in your own neighborhood or thousands of miles away.

 

Click here to search volunteer opportunities courtesy of Idealist.
 

 

Attention High School Juniors and Seniors: Apply to Senate Scholars Today

The Senate Scholars Program is an intensive week-long education program offered by the Wisconsin State Senate. This is a wonderful opportunity for Wisconsin youth to view the role of the Legislature in democracy first hand and gain experience in the areas of policy development, constituent relations and processing legislation. Senate Scholars will also have the chance to work closely with senators, legislative staff, and University of Wisconsin faculty. Admission to the program is highly competitive and limited to 33 academically exceptional high school juniors and seniors from across the state. Applications are due on Friday, January 3, 2014. Applicants will then be notified of their acceptance on or shortly after January 17, 2014.

2014 Senate Scholar Sessions:
February 9-14
February 16-21

March 9-14

If you have additional questions about the program or the application process, I encourage you to call Cyrus Anderson or Erin Allers by phone at (608) 266-2610 or via email at senatescholar@legis.wi.gov.

 

Click here to visit the Senate Scholar Program's Web site for more information.

 

Take the 2013-2014 Neighborhood Survey

I created a survey for the 2013-2014 Legislative Session asking about various issues that are important to our community and our state. The input of neighbors is greatly appreciated. My staff and I will be working hard to deliver as many surveys door to door as possible before winter arrives. In addition, I have also made this survey available online.

Click here to download and print a copy of this survey, which you can return to my office via mail, email, or fax upon completion.

Click here to save a stamp and take the survey online.

I look forward to hearing your views on these important issues!

 

 

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