Looking Forward to the Challenges of 2015
There’s something about the New Year that brings freshness and hope. Pain and loss are eased as the calendar turns to 2015. Opportunity and change await.
Looking Back on 2014
The close of the year is a good time to reflect on what passed and look forward to what lies ahead. This week I offer my annual review of the opinions and needs of the folks I’m honored to represent.
Don’t Let Government Accountability “Reform” Mean Return to Corruption
“I promise you that two years from now, when we are sitting here, the GAB will not be in the current format,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos told a crowd at a Madison luncheon as reported by the Wisconsin State Journal.
Serving Wisconsin: Retiring Senators Offer Wisdom
“There is a yearning outside the Capitol for common sense, cooperation and compromise,” Senator Tim Cullen told his fellow Senators. “You all know how to do this if you’ve been married for more than 15 days.”
Enjoy 100 Miles of Christmas
“It’s the holidays,” the Buffalo County man told me. “It’s time to enjoy all we have here.” This farmer will be joining many others who take time to travel the Great River Road during the Holiday Season.
Recent School Referenda Pass; Voters Show Strong Support for Local Schools
“I voted for the referendum,” the Mondovi woman told me. “I don’t have kids. I know it’s going to raise my property taxes. I don’t want to pay more, but I think we need to keep good schools.”
Audit Reminds Us: Retirement Funds Bear Careful Watching
More than one out of ten Wisconsinites participates in the Wisconsin’s Retirement System either as a current or former state or local government employee.
Deer Hunters Ask “What About that Private/Public Thing?”
“What happens if I have a public permit because I’m not rich enough to afford a private one?” the deer hunter asked me. “I shoot a deer and it runs across the road. There’s my deer. It’s not dead. But I don’t have a private permit to go get it.”
Voting? No Photo ID Required, Yet
“I haven’t voted in three years,” a Galesville fairgoer told me this summer. He leaned up against the pole barn at the Trempealeau County Fair and shoved his fingers in his pockets. “I don’t want to show up and be told I can’t vote.”
A Constitutional Amendment Will Not Solve Transportation Problems
“Tell us about the Transportation Constitutional Amendment,” the Eau Claire man asked.
Is Drug Testing Applicants for Public Programs a Wise Idea?
“If you require drug testing for unemployment insurance claims are you going to drug test farmers for crop insurance next?” the Colfax farmer asked the candidate.
New Studies: Sand Mines Place “Communities at Risk”
“What new information do we have about the mines?” the Eau Claire reporter asked me.
WEDC: New Audit Raises More Questions
The big question, did the agency successfully assist businesses in creating jobs, was not addressed in this audit. A companion audit last year reported there was no verification of claims of tens of thousands of jobs created.
Let’s Pay the Bills First
“I don’t want another cent from the state until you guys pay the bills,” the business-owner from Durand told me. “I am tired of hearing about tax cuts and deficits.”
Farmers ask ‘Where’s the train to ship my grain?’
“The farmers are coming to me saying ‘we need drivers to get the corn to market. We need barges and trains to get the harvest to market.’” Barb Gronemus recently told me. “Kathleen you need to pay attention to problems with shipping grain.”
School Bells Ring: Local Schools See Fewer State Dollars while Private “Voucher” Schools Win Big
“How is it possible that private voucher schools can receive almost four and a half times the state funding per student as our public school district receives in equalized aid,” Pepin School Superintendent Bruce Quinton wrote me.
Improve the Economy? Get Money in People’s Pockets
“If there is one thing you could do to help it would be to raise the minimum wage.” A worker told me. She worked the last 8 years for a company that barely paid her $8.00 an hour.
Use New Federal Money for BadgerCare
“My twin sister lives in La Crosse... I’d love to visit her but when I get all the bills paid, I don’t even have $20 for gas to get me there and back,” Mary said. “And, I don’t have any health insurance. What if something happened to one of us?”
Do Not Call!
Beginning this month, the state Do Not Call list was consolidated with the Federal Do Not Call List maintained by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The list also became permanent.
Fair-Goers Living with Health Insurance Changes, Asking for More
“The Affordable Care Act has been godsend for me,” the middle-aged, single man whispered to me at the Jackson County Fair. “I had paid $336 a month, now I pay $56 and its better insurance.”
County Fairs: Competition, Critters and Community
It’s county fair-time.
Identity Theft: New Scam Targets Unemployment Insurance
A woman was the victim of an unemployment insurance scam. “What are you going to do to help me?” she challenged legislators and candidates at a recent forum in Eau Claire. “What are you going to do to prevent this from happening again?”
“Art has the power to fill spaces in our souls that nothing else can,” said Alan Nugent, owner of Abode Art Gallery in Stockholm. I recently had an opportunity to learn about art and its impact on Wisconsin.
Wisconsin Leading the Way in State Cuts to Schools?
A recently released study of state budget cuts to local schools has Wisconsin ranked second only to Alabama in cuts per pupil.
Money in Politics: What Can a Person Do?
“What can I do to stop corporate money from taking over our country?” Betty from Buffalo County asked me. She joined about 20 local people in viewing the film Koch Exposed that focused on the power of a few to manipulate elections.
Investing in Wisconsin…For our Children, for our Future
I climbed aboard the tractor-driven wagon at the Pierce County Dairy Breakfast and nodded to two smiling girls clutching brightly colored balloons. Two families down was a little boy with tears in his eyes. His mother comforted him.
Enjoy Wisconsin's Dairy Breakfasts
June is dairy month. Wisconsin celebrates dairy in a special way: the dairy breakfast. Folks come early for the fresh pancakes, sausage, cheese curds and country air.
When Good People Disagree:
“We want to protect our religious convictions against modern technology and preserve the Heritage our Forefathers handed down on us and our children,” the man from Springfield Township recently wrote me.
The Fraud and Mismanagement Hotline
“Workers and inmates were required to remove asbestos with no protection,” the woman told me.
Discover Wineries on Wisconsin’s Beautiful West Coast
Yes, Wisconsin has wineries – over 70 – and growing.
The Coming Storm: Crisis in Funding Rural Schools
“It is well recognized by many, including our legislators, that our equalized aid formula which uses property values as the ‘equalizing factor’…is broken,” testified Alma Superintendent Steve Sedlmayr during a Pepin public hearing.
Growing State Debt is Unsustainable
“I was wondering how Wisconsin's state debt has been trending over the last several years,” Dave from Durand wrote me. “I'm also curious to know why there has been no talk of paying off the state's debt.”
Complaints Spur Investigation of Unemployment Claims Process
“I called the hotline several hundred times. Each time I called I got a message about ‘being busy at this time’,” a Pierce county man I’ll call Ken told me.
Where’s My Ride?
“We waited and the ride never came,” said one disabled man. “I was so cold” another woman said. “They said the heater in the van didn’t work.”
Health Advocates Inform and Challenge Lawmakers
"YOU are the reason why we were so successful…” Eric Borgerding of the Wisconsin Hospital Association told the health advocates. "You are extremely effective in communicating with and educating your legislators on local health care issues."
Our Children’s Future
I spent the morning sharing my life as state Senator with many intelligent, interested young adults. They were as eager to learn about public service as I was to share. Many of them never thought about a career as an elected official.
Legislative Committees play Key Oversight Role, Regardless of Season
“Will you be in Madison? I heard the Legislature went home,” the Buffalo County man asked. “I hope you are still watching over what’s happening down there.”
Do you Feel Safe at Home?
“Do you feel safe at home?” the nurse asked the woman. The nurse was helping to identify and protect those who may be at risk for domestic violence.
Window Closing for Health Insurance: Sign Up Now!
March 31st is the last day to sign up for Marketplace insurance coverage in 2014. If you don’t sign up now, you won’t be able to buy private health insurance for 2014 – even if you need insurance.
Lobbyists and Corporations 2; Voters 0
Should it be easier for lobbyists to contribute to campaigns? Should corporations spend more money to ask employees to make campaign contributions? Should Wisconsin limit early voting? Is there a lawmaker who has citizens clamoring for any of the above?
How a State Law Obstructed Reward for Teen’s Hard Work and Good Grades
Joel knew from the 8th grade he wanted to be valedictorian of his high school class. His cousin just graduated at the top of his class. Because of this achievement, the cousin received a scholarship.
Sand Mine Bill Strips Local Powers, Community’s Ability to Say “No”
Should communities be able to prevent development of sand mines? Can communities set rules if sand mine operations are inadequate to protect nearby residents?
State Should Heed Lessons from UW Computer Problems
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend four sharpening the axe,” said Abe Lincoln. He knew the importance of planning.
Legislative Spat Signals Slow Down for Privatized Public Schools
“There’s ‘no appetite’ for passing a bill this year that imposes sanctions against poorly performing public or private voucher schools” reported the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in an Associate Press story.
Free 2-Year and Tech College Tuition
“So, what’s the best jobs plan?” The Governor asked his State of the State audience. “Easy answer: education. If we want to have jobs ready for Tennesseans, we have to make sure that Tennesseans are ready for jobs.”
Plan Unveiled to Gradually Privatize Public Schools
“If I was going to write a bill to privatize public schools,” the Senate staffer told our small group, “this is what it would look like.”
Some Cry Foul Over Rapidly Rising Propane Prices
“I’ve been in business for 36 years,” the propane man told me. “I believe this is simply price gouging.” The propane retailer’s wholesale price went from $3.19 to $5.29 a gallon in just a few days. I wanted to know why.
Governor: Let’s First Pay the Bills
Lawmakers are falling over themselves to come up with the best tax give-away. But maybe they should check the pile of past due bills first.
Let the People Speak on Nonpartisan Redistricting
“Look at this map,” the man directed. “There are lots of squiggly lines in Wisconsin and Illinois but Iowa has real neat boxes.” The maps he showed me were the lines of Congressional Districts in the three states.
Independent Charter Schools: Siphoning off Public Money to Private Interests
“Will the Legislature allow statewide expansion of charter schools and how will that affect my local public school?”