LARSON REPORT

WEEKLY NEWSLETTER


 

 

 

March 21, 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

 

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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. 

 

 

Storytime Smiles at the St. Francis Library
Date: Now through Wed., May 1

Location: St. Francis

Description: Start your child on the road to reading. The St. Francis Library is offering free storytimes for children this spring. Families can register now, in the Children�s Room or over the phone by calling (414) 481-7323. Your child will enjoy a combination of stories, fingerplays, flannel board stories, puppets, art projects, and more. Each storytime matches your child�s developmental level, attention span, and interests, to promote a love of literature. They are also a great time to meet new and old friends, and a special time for all who join in. Pajamarama (for ages 2-6) is scheduled for Monday nights from 6 p.m. to 6:45 p.m. Or join Preschool Storytime (for ages 3-6) on Tuesdays at 10:15 a.m. to 11 a.m.
Two year-olds are invited to Toddler Time on Wednesdays from 10:15 a.m. to 10:45 a.m., with an optional playtime afterward. All young children can play with their friends at Tot Time, which is held on Fridays from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. with a brief storytime and playtime. CLICK HERE for more information, including a complete schedule of storytime events.

 

 

A Veterans Print Project
Date: Now through Fri., May 31

Location: Milwaukee

Description: A new exhibit is coming to the Milwaukee County Historical Society. Featuring the stories of Milwaukee County Latino veterans and the artwork of local printmakers, the Veterans Print Project sets itself apart by bringing veterans and artists together, with artists creating original works based on the veteran�s individual story. CLICK HERE or call (414) 273-8288.

Milwaukee County Historical Society (MAP)
910 N. Old World Third Street
Milwaukee, WI 53203

 

 

Breakfast with the Easter Bunny & Egg Hunt

Date: Sat., March 23

Location: South Milwaukee

Description: The Friends of Mill Pond & Oak Creek Watercourse (FOMP) and the South Milwaukee Lions will serve pancakes, sausage, applesauce, juice, and coffee in this event to benefit the FOMP and the South Milwaukee Lions. Neighbors over 13 pay $5. While children ages 5 to 13 pay $2 and children 4 and under are free. Breakfast with the Easter Bunny will begin at 8:30 a.m. and run until 11 a.m. The egg hunt will begin at 10:30 a.m. and will involve candy.

 

Grobschmidt Senior Center (MAP)

2424 15th Avenue

South Milwaukee, WI 53172

 


2nd Annual Doggy Easter Egg Hunt

Date: Sat., March 23 from 9 a.m. to Noon
Location: Bay View

Description: Bring your pooch and join for this fun event featuring thousands of eggs with delicious doggy treats inside. Dogs must be on leash at all times. There is no open play at this event, however, there will be fun agility and training opportunities. Proceeds from the event will benefit Milwaukee Pets Alive. Registration begins at 9 a.m. and lasts until 10 a.m. Proof of current rabies and distemper vaccines is required. Space is limited to the first 200 dogs to sign up. Cost is $10 for the first dog and $5 for 2nd or 3rd dog from the same family. CLICK HERE or call (414) 763-1304 for more information. 

 

Bay View BARK (MAP)

2209 S. 1st Street

Milwaukee, WI 53207



Natural Egg Dying
Date: Sat., March 23 from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Location: Milwaukee
Description: Dyed eggs are a springtime tradition. Come decorate eggs with all natural egg dye and spring into this holiday season. Any and all ages are welcome. 3 eggs are allotted per person. Call (414) 223-1500 for more information.

Whole Foods Market (MAP)
2305 N. Prospect Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53211

 

 

Milwaukee Ballet II: Superhero Dancers
Date: Wed., March 27 at 10 a.m.  

Location: South Milwaukee

Description: This event is for students in grades K-5. The Milwaukee Ballet's Community Outreach Programs promote confidence, a healthy lifestyle, and creativity through performances and accessible, hands-on workshops. By introducing ballet to audiences of all ages, these programs bring the power of movement and dance to life and inspire the lives of the people they reach. CLICK HERE or call (414)766-5049 for more information.

 

South Milwaukee Performing Arts Center (MAP)

901 15th Avenue

South Milwaukee, WI 53172

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Friend,

 

This week's report not only offers an update on the Joint Finance Committee hearings on the budget, but it also examines recently announced unemployment numbers, increasing student debt for those attending higher education institutions, and much more.


Sincerely,

Chris Larson
State Senator, District 7

 

 

 

Joint Finance Hearings Begin

Over the course of the week, the Joint Committee on Finance invited various state agencies to testify at the Capitol regarding the individual budgets they submitted to the governor and the Legislature. While a great deal was discussed in these hearings, there are a few areas which should be highlighted as neighbors have expressed increased interest regarding issues such as job creation, education, health care, public transit, and accountability and transparency. Continue reading for more on these issues contained in the 2013-2015 Biennial Budget.

 

 

Click here or on the video above to watch Joint Finance Committee hearings courtesy of WisconsinEye.

 

Impeding Job Growth and Hurting the Unemployed

There are several provisions in the budget that will not only impede job growth in Wisconsin, but will also have a negative impact on businesses, current Wisconsin employees, and neighbors searching for work. Some of these provisions are detailed below.

  • Eliminate Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin: This popular program, run by the Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP), helps to increase local sales of agricultural food products and create additional markets for these products. An initial investment of $200,000 into this grant program resulted in $2.7 million in new local food sales and $600,000 in new investments in Wisconsin. Additionally, over 1,200 Wisconsin producers have benefited from the grants provided through this program and dozens of other jobs have been created and retained across the state. Eliminating this program will cost Wisconsin jobs for our family, friends, and neighbors.

  • Requiring Public Transit to Compete for Funds: The budget once again requires public transit, a program vital to job creation and retention in our community, to compete with other programs for funding by pulling these dollars out of the General Purpose Revenue rather than the transportation fund. According to the Milwaukee County Transit Systems, on average 140,000 rides are provided daily. Of these, 39% are commuters traveling to and from work, another 5% are heading to job interviews, and 11% are students making their way to classes to learn valuable skills for their future careers.

  • Ignoring Problems at WEDC: The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a hastily-created public-private agency, has recently come under fire as audits, reports, and news articles have confirmed that insufficient accountability and transparency measures led to fraud, waste, and abuse within the agency. Issues with WEDC include circumventing Wisconsin�s fair and competitive bidding process and ignoring federal and state laws when giving out grants. The final straw was losing track of over $50 million in loans, including about $12 million overdue. Despite the fact that this agency has been unable to track their allocated taxpayer dollars, Governor Walker decided to expand their budget by giving them $75 million in additional economic development tax credits without any increased accountability and transparency measures.

Siphoning Funds from Neighborhood Schools

As you may know, the 2011-2013 Biennial Budget passed by Republicans and signed by Governor Walker gutted $1.6 billion overall in funding for our local public schools while also funneling money into private voucher schools. With the introduction of Governor Walker's second budget, it appears the trend to devalue our children's need for a quality education is continuing. Not only does the newly introduced budget provide a 0% increase in revenue limit growth, but it also continues to divert money to an unaccountable, unproven voucher experiment and creates a voucher 2.0 program by altering the existing format of our charter schools.

 

Under the governor's budget, private voucher schools will not only be allowed to expand across the state, but they will also see a $73 million increase in funding and spending authority. This means up to a $1,400 per-pupil funding increase for the 25,000 students in voucher schools. In this very same budget, 870,000 Wisconsin children were ignored when a $0 revenue growth limit was instituted in their public neighborhood schools.

 

The issue of poor accountability and lack of transparency measures in voucher schools has been discussed since I was nine years old. Despite Governor Walker's repeated promises to finally bring accountability and transparency to all schools receiving taxpayer dollars--we have yet to hear about any changes.

In addition to widespread concerns over the lack of accountability and transparency in Wisconsin's voucher schools, this program also comes at a substantial cost to taxpayers. In 2010, state law compelled Milwaukee Public Schools to levy over $50 million in taxes to subsidize the private schools making up the voucher program, which amounts to 17% of the total Milwaukee Public Schools tax levy. This financial burden increased the financial responsibility of taxpayers in 2012 to 22.6% of the total Milwaukee Public Schools tax levy. In truth, Milwaukee taxpayers are now being billed for both the largest school district in the state, Milwaukee Public Schools, AND the fourth largest, which is what the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program has grown to be with 22,400 students in the last school year.

Unfortunately, by increasing the funding for Wisconsin's voucher schools, we are doubling down on a failed system. For those looking to get the most precise snapshot of just how voucher school students are performing compared to their public school counterparts, they should look at data recently collected by the Department of Public Instruction. This data analyzes how all voucher and public school students in 4th, 8th, and 10th grade performed in reading, math, and science during the 2010-2011 school year. According to the data, Milwaukee Public School students outperformed voucher students in eight out of nine categories.

 

Governor Walker's budget also seeks to further privatize education not only through voucher expansion, but also through charter school changes, such as creating a Charter School Oversight Board (CSOB). This Board would be attached to Wisconsin's Department of Public Instruction (DPI), but would ultimately act independently.

 

Not only will the Board creating these charter schools be controlled by a one-party majority, but it will also face little public scrutiny, can opt to ignore the local school board, and will have sole discretion over the charter school's budget, curriculum, and personnel policies and decisions (such as licensure requirements). Under this proposal, school boards could convert all of the public schools within the district to charter schools. Further, should the area school board opt to convert all schools into charter schools, all students in the district could be forced to attend them. Likewise, parents and teachers in the district would have no say about the state-imposed decision.

 

While it may seem that school districts statewide will have the choice to go charter or not, this local control option was also eliminated. According to the budget text, approval for new, independent charter schools will be needed from home districts, unless the district meets the criteria of having two schools within the district with bad report card grades. In that case, the creation of CSOB will automatically be triggered, despite any voiced objections from the school board.
 

Turning Down Federal Health Care Dollars

Another concerning provision discussed in the Joint Finance Committee briefings was the rejection of federal dollars to ensure more Wisconsinites have health care coverage. The Affordable Care Act offers states the option of extending coverage of our health safety net programs. The federal government picks up 100% of the cost for the first three years and no less than 90% every year thereafter. Governor Walker's decision to reject these funds seemingly defies logic. Even Republican Senator Luther Olsen objected to the Governor's decision while hearing the briefing from the Department of Health Services saying that it seems the state is "leaving money on the table." He suggested taking the smart, financial opportunity being offered now and instead make changes down the road if such changes are required. The governor's misguided choice will not only cost taxpayers more to cover fewer people, but it also turns away an estimated 10,500 new jobs. Additionally, as reported  this week in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, this decision could even cost Wisconsin businesses an additional $36 million compared to if Wisconsin had accepted these live-saving funds.

 

These are just some of the issues that were discussed in the agency budget briefings before the Joint Finance Committee this week. Such briefings will continue next week with the agencies that have yet to have their voices heard. I will be sure to keep you apprised of the important issues discussed next week, as well.

 

Click here to view a copy of the 2013-2015 Biennial Budget.

 

Click here to view publications by the nonpartisan fiscal bureau regarding the 2013-2015 Biennial Budget.

 

 

 

Wisconsin Jobs Fall Further Behind

Data was released this past week showing Wisconsin is lagging even further behind our Midwestern neighbors and the rest of the country in terms of job creation. As of the beginning of the year, Wisconsin ranked 42nd in the nation in job creation. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, our state has since dropped in the rankings to 44th nationally in job creation over the past two years and remains last among neighboring states.

 

These numbers, based on the most accurate data currently available, show that the Badger State only managed to increase jobs by 1.6% since Governor Walker took office. In stark contrast to Wisconsin, our neighboring states all experienced more rapid growth. Indiana was ranked 9th with a 3.8% job growth rate over the past two years. Not too far behind Indiana was Minnesota ranked 10th with 3.7% and Michigan  ranked 12th at 3.6%. Iowa and Illinois also surpassed Wisconsin in job growth ranking 24th at 2.9% and 30th at 2.3% respectively.

 

Not only does Wisconsin appear to be moving at a snail's pace compared to its neighbors when it comes to job creation, but it appears that Wisconsin's  progress when compared to itself is also stuck in reverse. Going back four years, Wisconsin ranked 30th in job growth only to fall to 44th after two years with Governor Walker at the helm. The rate of job growth is not the only job creation measure with which Wisconsin has been struggling. The Dairy State also saw unemployment jump from 6.7% to 7% from December to January.

 

While my colleagues and I predicted this would be the result should Wisconsin fail to follow a new path, our calls for change continue to be ignored by Governor Walker and Republican legislators. I will continue to urge my colleagues across the aisle to heed common sense solutions, no matter what party provides them, when trying to create jobs to move Wisconsin forward for all and get us in-line with the rest of the country.


 

 

Budget Fails to Combat Student Debt

Passed in June 2011, Governor Walker's maiden budget cut approximately $315 million from higher education, shifting even more of the financial burden to students and their parents. Drastic cuts can also increase class sizes and limit class offerings, making it take longer for students to obtain a degree while paying more in the process. Unfortunately, Governor Walker's most recent 2013-2015 Biennial Budget does little to ease financial debt incurred by students and their parents or make higher education more affordable to future students looking to increase their employment opportunities by attending a technical college or university.

 

Over the years, exponential increases in tuition and fees coupled with challenging economic times has made it nearly impossible for students to work their way through school. While 45% of 1992-93 bachelor's degree graduates borrowed money from either the government, private loan providers, or family, according to Department of Education survey, approximately two-thirds of 2007-08 bachelor's degree graduates borrowed money from the government or private lenders (family loans were not considered in this figure). In fact, the U.S. recently surpassed $1 trillion in outstanding student loans, with the average debt in 2011 totaling $23,300.

 

Unfortunately, the increasingly devastating cuts to institutions of higher learning across Wisconsin has only exacerbated the problem. With fewer state funds, universities and technical colleges have been forced to shift the burden onto students and their parents. Just this past year, following a University of Wisconsin Board of Regents meeting in Milwaukee, it was decided that students at state colleges will once again see their tuition increased. With a vote of 17-1, the Regents approved UW System President Kevin Reilly�s recommended 5.5% tuition hike for the 2012-2013 school year. This tuition hike will affect all of the systems 13 4-year universities and 13 2-year colleges. As a result, students will see their annual tuition increased by $250 for 2-year colleges, $328-422 for 4-year universities, and nearly $700 at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For the first time in Wisconsin's history, tuition and fees for in-state students will exceed $10,000. Continuing to ignore the growing financial plight of Wisconsin's high school graduates seeking higher learning may deter prospective students from attending such institutions all together.

Obtaining some form of higher education is becoming more expected of Wisconsin's workers. Therefore, it is important that Wisconsin is able to provide its future workers with affordable education. Regrettably, at 26%, Wisconsin is below the national average of 28% for the number of college degree holders. If we are unable to build and preserve an educated, skilled workforce, it could have devastating long-term consequences on the overall economic health of our state.

I will continue working hard to help make sure that our universities and technical colleges remain renowned, world-class institutions. It is essential that our state continues to support its first-rate universities and technical colleges in order to attract the brightest students to Wisconsin, as this will help encourage businesses to relocate to our state to create jobs. We also need to stop looking at funding education as a frivolous expense, and instead view it for what it really is--an important investment that will undeniably create a stronger, more prosperous future for all of Wisconsin.
 

 

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: Why is the unemployment rate for veterans higher than the nation average rate of unemployment?

 

A: This past week, unemployment numbers were released. This also included data about the unemployment rate for returning veterans compared to other neighbors. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the jobless rate in January for veterans ages 18 to 24 was about 30%. By comparison, the jobless rate for the entire 18-to-24 age group, including veterans, was 17%. This shows that while many of our young adults freshly entering the workforce are continuing to struggle with our country's current economic situation, our veterans make up a disproportionately large part of this group.

 

In a recent Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, James Duff, acting director of the Veterans Service Office in Milwaukee County, offered several reasons that Wisconsin's veterans may find it more difficult to find a job in today's market. First, the military may have been the first job that now returning soldier ever had. As a result, they may not have the desired work experience in the field in which they are attempting to transition. Second, it is not uncommon for soldiers to remain in the National Guard or the reserves after returning home. This continued commitment may cause employers pause as they may fear their employee will be taken away for long periods of time, which could impact their business. Finally, realizing the difficulty of obtaining a job in the current market, returning soldiers may be opting to go back to school first to make themselves a more viable candidate to future employers.

 

While employers may have concerns about hiring a veteran, these brave men and women have a lot to offer Wisconsin's local businesses and may even boast traits and skills that are unmatched by their civilian counterparts, like being able to handle just about any difficult situation. Further, many younger adults that served in the military have technology skills that are quite adept.

 

During the 2011-2012 Legislative Session, I worked to reverse the unemployment disparity of our veterans. One bill I co-sponsored and voted for last session was legislation encouraging Wisconsin companies to hire unemployed, disabled veterans. Senate Bill 369 sought to provide employers tax credit incentives to hire our disabled veterans. Not only will such tax credits inspire employers to hire disabled veterans, it will also encourage long-term employment of these well-deserving neighbors. This is the least we can do for those who sacrificed to protect our freedoms. This legislation passed unanimously in both houses and was signed into law by the governor as 2011 Wisconsin Act 212 on April 4, 2012.

 

If you are a Wisconsin veteran looking for assistance, there are a number of state agencies and other organizations that are working diligently to help connect returning veterans to prospective employers, including the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs the Department of Workforce Development, and Dryhootch. The information for these groups is provided below.

 

Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs: Provides and connects veterans to a variety of services, including employment assistance services.

 

Click here or call 1-800-947-8387 for more information.
 

Department of Workforce Development: This department has an Office of Veterans Employment Services that provides information about how to find education and training assistance, current fee waivers for veterans seeking to obtain various professional and occupational licenses, upcoming job fairs, and much more.

 

Click here or call (920) 929-3652 for more information.

 

Dryhootch: Government is not alone in offering assistance to veterans. Nonprofits and businesses, like Dryhootch, are also trying to help out. Not only does this local coffee shop offer great coffee drinks, breakfast foods, and sandwiches, but they provide neighbors the opportunity to catch up with all the latest in veteran events, programs, and benefits.

 

Click here or call (414) 763-2785 for more information.

 

 

Did You Know...?

You may know that spring elections are coming up, but did you know that Wisconsin became the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment?

 

On June 10, 1919, Wisconsin ratified this historic proposal granting suffrage equality to all women of voting age across the nation. This is just one of the many ways Wisconsin has served as a progressive leader for the rest of the nation.

 

 

 

Remember to Vote on April 2

Wisconsin's spring elections are fast-approaching. Remember the polls are open on Tuesday, April 2 from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. If you cannot vote on Election Day, you can also vote absentee by mail or in-person at your clerk's office. Completed ballots delivered by the U.S. Postal Service must be postmarked no later than Election Day and be received by the municipal clerk no later than 4 p.m. the Friday after the election. If using FedEx, hand-delivery, or another method, the completed ballot must be delivered to the municipal clerk no later than 8 p.m. on Election Day. In-person absentee voting, on the other hand, takes place in your clerk's office and has already commenced. It will continue through March 29, 2013.

 

You will not need to present a valid photo ID since that requirement has been ruled unconstitutional by the Courts. This ruling is subject to appeal, but is not expected to change before the upcoming election, if at all. If you are first-time voter or have never voted at your current residence, please remember to bring proof of residence. You will also be asked to provide your driver's license or Wisconsin ID number, if you have such an ID.

 

Click here to visit the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board's Web site for more information about what you need to vote in Wisconsin.

 

A study done by George Mason University examining voter turnout for the 2010 general elections ranked Wisconsin among the top five states with the highest voter turnout. This trend continued in the general election in 2012, as well. According to the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board, Wisconsin saw a turnout rate of 70.1% in the most recent elections. Additionally, 3,071,434 votes were cast for president in the November 2012 elections. This was the highest number of votes cast for a single office in a statewide election in Wisconsin history. It is important that we continue our proud tradition of high voter turnout in elections by participating in the electoral process on Tuesday, April 2.


 

Take My Survey Online

I recently mailed out a newsletter district wide. This newsletter not only provided an update on a variety of important legislative issues, but it also featured a survey. The short survey provides me with a way to learn more about you and gives you the opportunity to share your thoughts on how to move Wisconsin forward together.

This survey was distributed by mail in my district wide newsletter titled Neighborhood News and has also been made available online.

Click here to save a stamp and take the Neighborhood News Survey online.

I look forward to tackling difficult but important issues with the governor and Republican legislators. However, such efforts will only succeed if as fellow badgers we dig deep and work together to create a brighter future for our family, friends, and neighbors. I look forward to hearing your feedback so I can represent you and our community as we endeavor to renew the Wisconsin spirit.

 

 

 

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