May 9, 2013
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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.
Milwaukee's most exuberant and anticipated exhibition of emerging talent
returns in all MIAD galleries. Meet the artists and designers who
innovate for the economy and community, and discuss their capstone
projects from all of MIAD's 11 majors and 16 minors.
CLICK HERE or call (414) 291-8070 for more information.
Grant Park Weed-outs
Date: Sat., May 11 & 18 from 9 a.m. to Noon
Location: South Milwaukee
Description: Help neighbors pull invasive garlic mustard to protect plant diversity in Grant Park. Meet at the tennis court parking lot (Area 1). CLICK HERE or call (414) 764-0612 for more information.
Grant Park (MAP)
100 E. Hawthorne Avenue
South Milwaukee, WI
Date: Sat., May 11 from 9 a.m. to Noon
Location: South Milwaukee
Description: Support South Milwaukee Middle School's Environmental Club by purchasing native, hardy perennials and garden vegetable plants. Prices start as low as $1 for 2.5-inch pots. Plants also make a great Mother's Day gift. This event will take place in front of South Milwaukee Middle School.
South Milwaukee Middle School (MAP)
1001 15th Avenue
South Milwaukee, WI 53172
"Farm to Fork: The
Good Food Revolution"
Description: Growing Power's, Will Allen, will be the featured speaker at the Friends of the Golda Meir Library Annual Program, in the Library's fourth floor Conference Center. Also speaking will be Michael Lovell, UWM Chancellor; Gretchen Mead, Victory Garden Initiative Executive Director; and Stan Stojkovic, UWM School of Social Welfare Dean & Chair of the Institute for Urban Agriculture and Nutrition. CLICK HERE for more information.
UWM Golda Meir Library (MAP)
2311 E. Hartford Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53211
Date: Thurs., May 16 through Sun., May 19
There is a reason Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake is the most popular ballet of
all time. It is one of ballet's most powerful stories of love and
deception. Milwaukee Ballet's dramatic production promises to showcase
the company's strong classical dancers, while the Milwaukee Ballet
Orchestra performs this timeless classic with passion and grace.
CLICK HERE or call (414) 273-7206 for more information or to
City of Cudahy Bike Auction & Rummage Sale
Date: Sat., May 18 from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Description: Partake in the auction of bicycles and rummage hosted by the Cudahy Historical Society and Cudahy Police Department. Paddle sales begin at 9 a.m. with the auction starting at 11 a.m. A city rummage sale will occur simultaneously in the Historical Society Annex. CLICK HERE for more information.
Cudahy Historical Society (MAP)
4647 S. Kinnickinnic Avenue
Cudahy, WI 53110
Bay View Historical
Society Yard Sale
Location: Bay View
Description: Stop by this annual yard sale to benefit the Society. Refreshments are available for purchase on the grounds of the historic Beulah Brinton House. The yard sale itself will be held on the grounds and inside the house. CLICK HERE for more information.
Beulah Brinton House (MAP)
2590 S. Superior Street
Milwaukee, WI 53207
This Larson Report revisits the problems at WEDC and in our voucher programs more in-depth. Continue reading for more information about these and other important issues including the budget's progress, mental health awareness, and legislative internships.
Outrage Over WEDC Failure Grows
Outrage over Governor Walker's Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation's (WEDC) repeated missteps continues to grow as more and more information comes to light through audits, press conferences, and public hearings. Last week, the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau released its findings on WEDC's performance thus far, which were then taken up this week in the Joint Legislative Audit Committee and the Joint Committee on Finance. The audit confirms what legislative Democrats and concerned citizens have been saying from the beginning. Although it has been given great authority over our tax dollars, WEDC lacks the necessary accountability and transparency measures that should accompany such obligation.
Failing to Track Job Creation
WEDC's inability to set goals, monitor programs and participants, and follow state statutes have made it nearly impossible for the Legislative Audit Bureau, or anyone else, to gauge the extent of its failure to create jobs and spur economic development. It is no wonder why Wisconsin currently ranks 44th in the nation in job growth, 45th in wage growth, and dead last in short-term job growth, given that its job creation agency is failing in just about every measurable way possible.
Potential Political Payback, Conflicts of Interest
The audit also revealed that some WEDC policies give the appearance of favoritism. One example of this is found in the administration of Wisconsin's tax credit programs. Some of the tax credits require the creation of Enterprise Zones based on an area's level of economic distress, which takes such factors as unemployment rate and percentage of families with incomes below the poverty line into account. The goal is then to provide loans to attract businesses to these distressed Enterprise Zones. However, rather than creating these zones based on demographics and economic distress factors, WEDC simply designated zones based on the locations of businesses that applied for tax credits. Such irresponsibility has likely impeded job growth in the areas that need it most, keeping those Wisconsinites in an unrelenting state of hardship.
Instances of conflicts of interests were also found within the audit. Unlike other state agencies, WEDC is not required to solicit bids before contracting. As a result, WEDC was able to hire the firms Baker Tilly and Schenck to help the agency with its IT systems and in conducting an internal audit respectively. However, it was since discovered that while Baker Tilly was under contract, WEDC offered a $750,000 loan to a to a firm represented by Baker Tilly. When they rejected the initial offer, WEDC then increased its offer to a $1 million forgivable loan that would not need to be repaid if the firm fulfilled its contractual obligations. A similar situation was found to have occurred with Schenck as well. During WEDC's contract with Schenck for an independent audit of the agency, Schenk was also representing a firm and negotiating a financial award with WEDC, which offered the firm $900,000 in tax credits and a $237,000 grant. After a request for additional assistance, WEDC allocated the firm $1.1 million in tax credits and a $300,000 grant.
Additionally, unlike other state agency employees and elected officials, all WEDC employees are not currently required to follow state ethics laws, and are therefore allowed to accept gifts. However, the amount of gifts they have received is staggering. In a report to the Government Accountability Board, WEDC reported receiving 40 gifts totaling $55,100 from July 2011 to December 2011.
Such practices leave WEDC susceptible to becoming more beholden to businesses than the taxpayers they were hired to serve. As a result, the audit recommended that WEDC develop policies outlining in which situations multiple vendors should be solicited, evaluated, and conflicts of interest addressed.
Poor Staff Vetting and High Turnover
Since its creation, WEDC has demonstrated a failure to properly vet job candidates and retain staff once they are hired. WEDC's first chief financial officer departed the agency in July 2012. That individual's replacement, the former chief operating officer, then left in October 2012. In September 2012, Secretary Paul Jadin announced his resignation following the governor's appointment of Ryan Murray, a Republican political operative with no private-sector or economic development experience, as chief operating officer.
The drama continued this year when WEDC's third chief financial officer resigned in April after only one day on the job. Trouble continued this month when the agency's spokesman, John Gillespie, resigned after it was discovered that he had unpaid back taxes totaling over $36,000, among other outstanding debts.
The staggering number of turnovers and level of embarrassment resulting from poor hiring choices has made it difficult for the agency to effectively implement and manage job creation and economic development programs. Additionally, WEDC's floundering reputation and repeated failures likely make it difficult for the agency to hire and retain quality executive staff with experience in both the private-sector and economic development.
Questionable Use of Taxpayer Dollars
WEDC's economic development programs are not the only thing that lacks set policies and procedures in the agency. WEDC has also failed to set policies for its staff to ensure that taxpayer dollars are not being misused.
Most of the staffing problems revolved around agency purchasing credit cards. According to the audit, in September 2012, 77 purchasing cards had been issued to 76 of WEDC's 90 staffers. This number later increased to 83 cards, some of which had a credit limit of $20,000. After delving into the purchases further, some seem like an inappropriate way to use taxpayer dollars. These include spending our tax dollars on Badger tickets, alcohol, and iTunes gift cards. Further, taxpayer dollars were also spent on purchasing train tickets in China and meal expenses in India for two family members of the former chief executive officer. These funds were only reimbursed by the former employee in question after the Legislative Audit Bureau inquired about the charges and whether or not WEDC had been reimbursed.
The purchasing cards were also used to buy such things as gasoline, gifts, and meals. Such card purchases were banned under the former Department of Commerce because it could allow cardholders to commit fraud by double dipping as they could use their purchasing cards for the expenses and also request reimbursement for the same expenses, which is often difficult for agencies to detect. Yet WEDC still allowed staff to purchase such items on their cards, including $10,300 worth of gasoline.
Finally, WEDC ignored its own personnel policy related to iPhone purchases, which indicates that WEDC provides cellular phones to staff and owns the phones, which must be returned to WEDC upon termination. Yet documents that turned-up in the audit show a different story. Ignoring this policy resulted in WEDC paying for the following for each employee that requested an iPhone from WEDC:
Additionally, iPhones were never returned after employment termination and were allowed by WEDC to be used for personal use. As a result, taxpayers are sinking thousands into each participating employee to provide them with a personally owned iPhone, rather than one belonging to WEDC.
Minor Changes, More Money?
Today, in a stunning move during a JFC budget hearing, Republican JFC members rewarded WEDC with more money than even Governor Walker asked for in his budget, despite their bad behavior. Republican members did grudgingly introduce a few minor changes in a small step towards greater accountability, but fell well short of the reforms needed to salvage the governor's floundering flagship agency.
The scathing audit was the last straw for my colleagues and I regarding the failing WEDC. Apparently, we were not the only ones bothered by it as even a Republican Senator was quoted saying "I hope they can get their act together, but this is pretty darn bad. I'd say the jury is out whether this was a good idea to create this whole entity . . . I don't think there can be any more excuses. They've got to fix this thing."
Therefore, we hope Republicans will
join us in our request to stop giving any new taxpayer dollars
to this money pit until they have adequately addressed the concerns in
the audit, and bring about greater accountability and transparency to
this PUBLIC-private agency. We deserve better. Losing track of taxpayer
dollars during difficult economic times is unacceptable. We cannot allow WEDC to continue this fraud, waste, and abuse at a time when
neighborhood schools are not able to spend a single new dollar in the
classrooms and 90,000 Wisconsinites are being cut from BadgerCare. Until
accountability and transparency measures are enacted, no new taxpayer
dollars should be wasted at WEDC.
Feds to Track Disability Discrimination in Voucher Program
In a letter released last week, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) told Wisconsin that the state must ensure students with disabilities attending or seeking to attend taxpayer funded voucher schools "do not encounter discrimination on the basis of their disabilities."
Under Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, the state is obligated to ensure that students with disabilities seeking to attend voucher schools through the Milwaukee Parent Choice Program (MPCP) do not encounter discrimination on the basis of their disability status. For years, my colleagues and I have heard story after story from parents, neighbors, and advocacy groups illustrating this federal law is being widely ignored by Milwaukee's voucher schools. These experiences detail students with disabilities being deterred from attending an MPCP school, denied admission to a voucher school when they do apply, and expelled or forced to leave a voucher school as a result of the school choosing not to accommodate the needs of students with disabilities. In fact, while at least 19% of students in Milwaukee Public Schools are considered to have special needs, the same can only be said for about 2% of students participating in the MPCP program.
In the aforementioned letter, it seems that the federal government is also under the impression that students with disabilities are not being treated equally by MPCP schools receiving voucher funds. Therefore, they have given the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction (DPI) the ability to better track voucher schools to ensure they are compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Such efforts were nearly impossible in the past as MPCP schools are exempt from the accountability and transparency measures required at our neighborhood public schools.
In order for DPI to comply with the federal government's aim to ensure the civil rights of students with disabilities are not violated in the MPCP program, and all other communities with such a program, they will implement the following reforms during the 2013-2014 school year and have their progress reviewed by the federal government:
Discrimination Not Only Problem with Vouchers
Department of Public Instruction recently released a report confirming
what has been a familiar notion to many in Milwaukee County: voucher
schools do not provide a superior education to our neighborhood public
schools. Statewide test assessments taken by students in the Milwaukee
Parental Choice Program (MPCP) and Racine's Parental Private School
Choice Program (PPSCP) revealed that voucher students underperformed in
mathematics and reading as compared to their local public school
districts. The test scores reflect the reading and mathematics scores
for students of all grades during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 school years.
Make Your Voice Heard
Despite recent failures, the Republican budget allows for no new
spending--$0 dollars--for our traditional public schools but increases
spending for voucher schools by up to $1,414 per pupil. It is time for
all of us to do something about this misguided, nonsensical education
budget. Let the governor and Republican Legislature know that you oppose their misplaced education priorities. Tell them to support
public education and stop spending public dollars on unaccountable
private voucher schools by signing this petition being circulated on SignOn.org. The petition states the following:
In 2011, Governor Walker and the Republican Legislature passed a budget
that contained the largest cuts to public education in Wisconsin
history--$1.6 billion gone from our kids' schools. Class sizes went up
drastically. Quality after-school programs were eliminated. Good
teachers were laid off.
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'm finding it difficult to stay up-to-date on what is happening with the current budget. I know it's in the Joint Finance Committee, but how to I stay apprised of what they are doing when they meet?
A: I understand where you are coming from. The budget is a long, time-consuming, and confusing process for legislators and the public alike. As you know, the budget is currently in the Joint Finance Committee (JFC). They have been meeting regularly to take up various budget provisions to amend or address. In fact, JFC met this Thursday to take up such issues as funding for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation; residency ordinances for teachers, police, and firefighters; staff positions to implement ID restrictions on Wisconsin voters; and provisions related to Wisconsin's technical colleges.
However, there are some resources available to help Wisconsinites, like you, remain informed. I have listed of number of these below.
Committee Calendar--To see when the Joint Finance Committee is meeting and what budget provisions they are taking up that day, you can visit the Legislature's Web site, which offers a committee calendar complete with agenda items for each committee.
Joint Finance Committee Home Page--The Joint Finance Committee also has its own Web page, which even provides the opportunity for Wisconsinites to sign-up to receive meeting notices by email.
WisconsinEye--You can even watch the executive sessions currently being held by the Joint Finance Committee online. WisconsinEye provides the public with unfettered access to committee meetings, public hearings, session days, and other government activities, which allows the public to view legislative debate and policy-making without editing, commentary, or analysis. They also offer a daily schedule highlighting what videos will be played that day.
Click here to visit WisconsinEye's Web site.
Twitter and Facebook--My Democratic colleagues on JFC are also trying their best to keep Wisconsinites up-to-date on the latest budget happenings. Feel free to like them on Facebook and follow them on Twitter to stay informed.
Hopefully you found these resources helpful. Using them in combination should help you stay better informed during the budget debate.
Did You Know...?
You may know that Wisconsin is known as the Dairy State and world renowned for its quality milk and cheese products. But did you know that Wisconsin is also the birthplace of malted milk?
In 1887 Racine food manufacturer
William Horlick invented malted milk. The Horlick Malted Milk Company,
started in 1875, was a pioneer in dried milk production. Malted milk
originated as a health food for infants. Eventually, it became a
standard offering of soda fountains across the country and found even
greater popularity when mixed with ice cream into a "malted." The fondly
remembered "malt shops" of communities large and small owe their very
name to the Horlick brothers of Racine.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month
Every May, we observe Mental Health
Awareness Month, which is dedicated to educating about the prevalence of
mental illness in the United States. The goal is to not only increase
awareness about mental health disorders, but also provide resources and
support for our neighbors in need.
Mental health conditions are
pervasive, affecting one in four members of our community and accounting
for four of the 10 leading causes of disability in the United States.
Unfortunately, less than one-third of adults and one-half of children
living with a diagnosable mental disorder, such as depression, anxiety,
post-traumatic stress, and bipolar disorder, receive mental health
This organization works to improve the lives of individuals living with mental illnesses and their families through advocacy, support, and education.
Milwaukee, WI 53208
Mental Health America of Wisconsin (MAP)
600 W. Virginia Street, Suite 502
The Milwaukee area has a central assistance hotline, where a Community Resource Specialist can be reached 24 hours each day by dialing 2-1-1. If calling from a cell or pay phone, please dial 1-866-211-3380 (toll free) instead. The 2-1-1 service can help with locating mental health services to meet your needs.
Legislative Internships Available
A legislative internship at the Capitol is an excellent way to gain valuable real life experience about everyday operations of the Wisconsin State Legislature and the state's legislative process. This internship is a wonderful opportunity open to both students and recent graduates. In addition to internships at the Capitol in Madison, there are also opportunities available at my new Milwaukee office, which is shared with Sen. Nikiya Harris.
Intern responsibilities vary, but include policy research, summarizing proposed legislation, and responding to constituent inquires. All interns also assist with general office operations, including answering the phone. In addition, there may be opportunities for interns to attend session days, sit in on committee meetings, and participate in in-district events.
Applicants must be able to work during
normal business hours, and dedicate a minimum of 10 hours each week to the
internship. All intern positions are unpaid.
To apply for an internship, please submit the internship application, a cover letter, and a resume electronically to Sen.Larson@legis.wi.gov or mail them to Wisconsin State Capitol, P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707. Please specify which office you are interested in working at when you submit your application materials. Do not hesitate to contact my office if you have any questions about this internship opportunity.
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
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