I have mentioned in previous newsletters that the state legislature is moving this fall to reform the Government Accountability Board (GAB), the state agency in charge of overseeing elections and campaigns. Now I want to share with you a few specific reasons why I support this effort.
The GAB that we have today is nonpartisan in name only. When the legislature created it in 2007, it was a well-intentioned experiment, but the experiment has proved to be a failure. Although its supporters call it a "national model," zero other states have adopted Wisconsin's system. Far from creating a nonpartisan environment, the GAB structure in place today merely allows partisan behavior to run rampant, unrecognized and unchecked.
In particular, the (genuinely) nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau recently turned up several major and specific issues. The law requires the GAB to audit voter rolls regularly to remove any felons, but the agency failed to conduct such a review between February 2010 and April 2014 (a span of 16 elections). It failed to conduct required audits of electronic voting machines for the 2008, 2010 and 2012 general elections and then failed to follow proper procedure when conducting audits in 2013. There has been no standard procedure for processing complaints and no consistency when assessing fines or promulgating rules. But perhaps worst of all has been GAB leaders' active participation in the unconstitutional, partisan abuse of Wisconsin's John Doe investigative process. Unfortunately, the time for a "hands-off" approach, or letting the GAB attempt to police itself, has passed.
The GAB reform bill that I support would divide the GAB into an Ethics Commission and an Elections Commission. Each of these would have six citizen members with equal and transparent representation of Republicans and Democrats; thus, partisan advocates on both sides will help ensure closer monitoring of activity. There will be no more secret investigations: if a complaint is filed against a person, he/she will be notified and have the opportunity to respond. And when opinions or guidance are provided by the GAB, such documents will be consistently made available online for the public to see. The new system would be implemented in Spring 2016, after the spring elections but in time for new leadership to oversee the Fall 2016 election season. It would return our state to the national standard of two separate and distinct commissions and, I hope, help restore your confidence in our government.
As always, I encourage you to follow my updates on social media or contact my office directly with your questions. And in case you missed my earlier advertisements, I hope to see you tomorrow morning (October 16th) at community listening sessions that I will attend with Senator Devin LeMahieu at 9:15 AM at the Sheboygan Falls Memorial Library or 10:45 AM at Sheboygan's Mead Public Library. Best wishes on your weekend!
Your Government Working for You
Low-income energy assistance now available. The Wisconsin Home Energy Assistance Program (WHEAP) provides customers of any electric/gas utility with financial assistance during the winter heating season. WHEAP helps approximately 230,000 Wisconsin families every year pay their energy bills, make emergency furnace repairs and receive energy budget counseling.
More families may qualify for assistance this year due to increases in income eligibility. You may qualify if you earn less than $25,600/year or your family of four earns less than $49,200/year, and you do NOT have to be behind on your energy bills to qualify. To apply, call 1-866-HEATWIS (866-432-8947) or visit the Sheboygan County Job Center at 3620 Wilgus Avenue, Sheboygan.
Wellness in the Workplace. Workplace Wellness Program grants of up to $15,000 are now available to Wisconsin businesses with 50 or fewer employees. Businesses that started an employee wellness program after March 15, 2014 are eligible for grants that pay for up to 30 percent of the costs incurred over a year. Employers who offer wellness programs often pay lower health care and disability costs and reduce the rates of employee injury and illness; in fact, the Center for Disease Control estimates that for every $1 invested in a wellness program, an employer saves between $3 and $7 in costs. Click here for more information and a link to the online grant application form.
Getting Results for the Middle Class
The nonpartisan state Legislative Fiscal Bureau recently mapped several examples of how typical middle-class families have benefitted from state income tax cuts since Republicans began reforms in 2011. I encourage you to click here to read the details of the study.
The study demonstrated that a married couple who makes $60,000/year, owns a home and has two children has saved almost $700 in income taxes alone during this period. And that doesn't count the cuts we have made to property tax rates, which were trending steeply upward every year but have now stabilized and even dropped below 2010 levels for most taxpayers. The same study revealed a 6.6 percent income tax savings for a single renter who earns $30,000/year and a 7.6 percent savings for a single renter who has a child.
As you can see, we have made some progress, but Wisconsin still has some of the highest taxes of any state in the country. I think you know better than the government knows how to spend your hard-earned money, and I will keep fighting to ensure that more dollars are returned to working families.