Looking Forward to the Challenges of 2017
The turn of the calendar to 2017 brings us hope for better prospects in our public affairs. I am particularly inspired this season for the many who wrote with solutions to problems facing our state.
Looking Back on 2016
We settled into a deep freeze this past weekend. After a long glorious autumn, the third week of December brought frigid temperatures not usually felt until mid-January.
Christmas Eve Music and Fun from Our Valley to Your Radio
Looking for a homegrown Holiday treat for Christmas Eve? Look no further than your radio for a special holiday performance from Wisconsin’s beautiful west coast.
New Transportation Ideas Needed to Handle More Intense Storms
Winter came to Buffalo County. The weather turned to snow and then to ice.
The Best Idea for a Bill Comes from You!
December begins a brief time of calm in the Capitol. But behind the scenes, lawmakers are working on new legislation. In the next few weeks I will be drafting bills to introduce in January. I am looking for your ideas!
School Budget Proposal Brings Needed Relief
“Over the past four years, we have seen an increased reliance on referenda to keep the lights on,” State Superintendent Tony Evers announced as he released his school budget proposal.
Back to the Woods
“See that scrape?” Lisa pointed to a large area of bare dirt. “That’s not made by a tractor tire.”
Joining Hands and Respecting Differences
“We try very hard to not have political discussions at our family gatherings,” my friend told me over dinner.
Local Referenda Replace the Lack of State Education Funds
From Arrowhead to West Salem, voters across the state are considering the future of their school districts when they go to the polls. Citizens in 46 districts will be asked to approve referenda.
Go Vote…Even on Saturday
On a beautiful October Saturday afternoon, my college-student son and I went to vote. Afterwards, I breathed a huge sigh of relief.
Private School Subsidy for Special Education Raises Concerns About Quality and Cost
“When you write about tax money going to private schools, please tell people about special education vouchers,” a rural school board member told me. “Because of a change in state law, our school district is paying for special education students to sit at home in front of a computer.”
Residents Question Public School Money Going to Private Schools
“I am paying for private schools with my taxes?” the women from Pepin asked following my presentation at a recent Town Hall meeting. “Yes, you are,” I told her.
Taking Credit for the Sun Coming Up
I explained to the reporter that economic growth depended on many factors. Business needs a skilled workforce. Companies need a functioning infrastructure, including broadband, an efficient transportation system, good schools, a university system on the edge of tomorrow, safe streets, and vibrant communities where people want to live, work, start a business and raise a family.
Audit to Investigate King Veterans Home
“There used to be a real nice coffee shop. But they turned it into vending machines,” David Wedde told the Joint Committee on Audit. To many it might seem like an insignificant thing but it was not just a coffee shop. It was a symbol of comradery at the Veterans Home in King. Everyday veterans gathered in the shop to trade stories. Now impersonal machines have replaced the shop – a victim of budget cuts.
How to Fund Roads: A Balancing Act
Funding roads is an important job for state leaders. Nine cents of every state budget dollar goes towards transportation. In the vagaries of Wisconsin state budgeting, this includes dollars the feds send Wisconsin (about forty cents of every road dollar comes from Uncle Sam).
Legislative Audit Bureau Celebrates 50 Years of Service
“Happy Birthday!” I told eighty auditors and other legislative leaders at a recent Capitol gathering. The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) recently celebrated 50 years of service to the people of the State of Wisconsin.
Looking for Answers
What’s going on with Medicaid spending? Where is the money going? Is health care really costing that much more?
Who Will Be My Teacher?
“Who will be my teacher?” my son asked me years ago. For a brief point in time, the teacher was the most important person in his young life.
Finding Help for Flooded Families and Farms
“It gets overwhelming,” my neighbor told me. We were walking through her flooded barnyard. Floodwaters left silt everywhere: in the house, the garden, the barn, and the farmyard.
Where Did All that Money Go? Business Tax Credit Costs Pile Up
Dennis is one of many constituents who ask where the money for schools and roads is as our state recovers from the recession. Economic recovery means more money and more money should equal more resources for the public. Instead, state funds are very tight. For example, state aid to local public schools is less now than in 2006.
Have an Opinion about Your Internet Connection? Let Your Voice be Heard!
Do you have a great Internet connection? Less than what you’d prefer? Makes it impossible for you to do your work or your children’s homework? No service at all? Make your opinion known!
Concerns about Rising Property Taxes? Support More State Aid for Schools
“Is the strategy in the state to move all funding for schools to the local level?” a local school official asked me.
Our County Fair is a Celebration of How We All Work Together
“The Demolition Derby is ON!” a fair organizer told folks in the commercial building. “We have a three or four hour window in the weather and we are going to run the show.” Cars and trucks lined up for two miles waiting to get to the show.
Saying “Good Bye” to Benjamin
“I make the promises and my staff keeps them,” said former state Senator Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center). I don’t know if Senator Schultz was the first to say this but his statement certainly describes the important role of Capitol staff.
UWEC and Local Business: A flourishing relationship worthy of investment
... The entire Chippewa Valley benefits from “the amazing culture of service in our Eau Claire businesses,” said University of Wisconsin Eau Claire Chancellor Jim Schmidt. “This is our culture at UWEC.”
Government Accountability Died the End of June
“It’s a great step backwards for the state,” Judge Barland said… the undoing the legislative majority’s changes to the GAB would be difficult and would need “the electorate as a whole to come to an understanding that what was done was wrong.”
Delight in the Sun!
“Don’t you want to sit in the shade?” my sister-in-law asked. “No” I replied. I love the sun. I understand why ancient civilizations worshiped the sun.
Don’t Click on that Email from the IRS!
Even though tax season is over, scammers are still using official looking emails to lure unsuspecting, honest taxpayers into their evil web.
Birth, Life and Death of a Bad Idea
“No one had any inkling this was happening,” Michael Blumenfeld told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We are just scratching our heads. Why would you do this?” Mr. Blumenfeld spoke for the Wisconsin Family Care Association in early spring of 2015.
Audit Raises Questions About Clean Water Protection
We all drink water. We expect the water to be clean when it comes out of the facet. We also expect that someone is looking over the safety of our water.
How to Make Heads or Tails of Wisconsin's Finances
People want to know about the health of Wisconsin’s finances. As I began my research, I spoke with the State Auditor and the chief financial analyst, both of whom work for nonpartisan legislative support agencies.
School Funding Hits Home
What’s wrong with school funding? Explaining this to voters is difficult. Try explaining it to a ninth grader who is losing a favorite teacher. The teacher is not retiring. At 53 and after teaching for 29 years, he lost his job.
Playing Nice in the Sandbox and the River
Friends of the Black River gathered to talk with boat owners about river use. Some felt big boats had taken over the river.
Recovery Court Celebrates Ten Years of Changing Lives
Addiction may begin in a very private way. But, healing from addiction can take a village and can be very public.
Mississippi River is One of America’s Greatest Treasures
“A single drop of water falling into the headwaters of the Mississippi in Minnesota would travel the river for 90 days to reach the Gulf of Mexico.” Gayle Harper, author/photographer, read this detail on the National Park Service website.
Will Broadband Show Up in Rural Neighborhoods?
“I don’t want to promise you fiber where fiber is not going to come,” Kent Disch, AT&T Wisconsin External Affairs Director, told Ellsworth community leaders.
Referenda Sustain Schools During Time of Decreasing State Support
“School districts these days more or less live and die by these referendums in terms of their ability to sustain programs and staff,” Dan Rossmiller of the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) recently said.
Like the County Fair? Love 4H? Big Changes Coming to UW Extension
“We can’t do more with less,” UW Extension Regional Director Julie Keown-Bomar told people gathered at a recent Menomonie meeting. “We have to do less with less. We cannot be the same cooperative extension service that we used to be.”
Spending the Weekend Watching Game Film
Watching the film – or in this case reading the audit – I learned about computer problems so great that the details, according to the LAB, “were too sensitive to communicate publicly.”
The Voting Window is Quickly Closing
Spring elections are April 5th. Voters will choose, among others, all county board supervisors, a Supreme Court judge and their preference for President.
The Next Well that Goes Bad May be Yours
“I feel like the state failed to protect the people,” Stacy told me. “Nobody really cares because it’s not affecting them.”
Locals Raise Questions about Railroad Police
It was no wonder the Legislative committee chairperson did not want to hold a public hearing on Senate Bill 734, a bill that would return railroad trespassing law to pre-2006, which allowed crossing.
Speed and Secrecy versus Deliberative Democracy
“All your work has made a real difference,” Linda, my staffer, told Mrs. Gifford. She and her husband traveled to Madison to personally deliver letters to every Senator.
Budget Cuts to Education Cost All of Us
Mike told me his department used to have 15 professors. They now have 11 – soon to be 10. They plan to replace the person leaving but it’s getting harder to recruit and retain faculty.
The Latest Attempt to Privatize Our Waters
... Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and their legislative allies continue to threaten that resource, pitting one user against another, undermining Wisconsin’s constitution and threatening economic stability.
People Make a Difference Despite Haste at Capitol
“What can we, as ordinary citizens, do to keep the legislature and the governor from passing/signing house bill 554? It scares the heck out of me,” wrote Claudia from Eau Claire.
“This Land is Our Land” Or it used to be…
One of the best spots to ice fish is south of Alma just down the dugway from Carrol Iberg’s rural home.
Keep Private Water Companies OUT of Wisconsin
Assembly Bill 554 would do away with the mandatory citizen referendum prior to the sale of public water and sewer utilities. It would also eliminate the ban on selling to out-of-state companies.
Farmers Seek Action and Answers at the Capitol
“Just get it done!” The farmer was referring to a bill to change rules on high capacity wells. I listened. The chances of passing the bill are dim. Solving groundwater problems in Wisconsin is complex.
Dismantling Civil Service Passes Senate Despite Disturbing Debate
One by one Senators… told of secret meetings held with state workers. Supervisors had forbid employees to talk with their elected representatives. Employees felt intimidated. They wanted to improve state services but were afraid of losing their jobs…
The State of Two States
“… For the third straight year, Politico ranked Minnesota one of the two strongest states in the nation,” touted the Office of Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton. Wisconsin ranked 11th moving up from 17th last year in Politico’s ranking.
Speed and Secrecy Kill Democracy
“How can we digest all your work in this short amount of time?” Senator Bewley asked the Chair of the housing committee and author of the bill before her. An amendment replacing the bill was released just before the hearing on that bill.
Whose Property Rights Are Most Important?
“My neighbor likes to expand his lot,” Kelly told me. “First he put up a stone fence on our property and then he built a jungle gym for his kids on his other neighbor’s property.” The fence stayed but the jungle gym came down.