LARSON REPORT

WEEKLY NEWSLETTER

 

 

March 15, 2012

     

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 

 


St. Patrick’s Day Parade
March 16 at 3:30 p.m.
Join the Historic Third Ward Association at Catalano Square (intersection of Broadway & Menomonee) for the 6th Annual Shortest & Smallest St. Patrick’s Day Parade. There is no band, so bring a musical instrument to play in the parade and you will receive a green beer for just $1. A bagpiper and a leprechaun will lead the parade. The McMenamin Irish Dancers will also perform. Additionally, do not miss out on the live Irish music from one of Milwaukee’s finest Irish entertainers, Ian Gould.

CLICK HERE for additional information.

 

 

Wish I Had A Troubadour
March 16 at 7:30 p.m.
Enjoy this special event at Fixx Coffee House as David H.B. Drake presents a concert for St. Patrick’s Day. David has spent over thirty years presenting concerts at fine arts centers, festivals, schools, and community centers. He has preformed at Milwaukee’s Irish Fest for 25 years, playing a mix of contemporary and traditional Celtic songs.

Fixx Coffee House (MAP)
3558 E. Sivyer Avenue
St. Francis, WI 53235
(414) 482-0919

 

 

Miller Lite Free Rides
March 17 starting at 6 p.m.
In partnership with the Milwaukee County Transit System, Miller Lite is providing free bus service for all Milwaukee County Transit System routes on St. Patty's Day. Route and schedule information is available by calling 1-800-FREE-RIDES or texting "FREERIDE" to 90464. CLICK HERE to visit their Web site for more information.
 

 

Eighth Annual Bay View Wine Fest
March 24 from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m.

This annual Bay View event offers a sampling of superb wines and food from area establishments, live music, an aviation art auction, and more. Tickets are $25 and include all samples, reserved seating, and free parking. Proceeds from this event support The Milwaukee Air & Water Show and the Wisconsin Adopt-A-Golden Retriever Dog Rescue Group. CLICK HERE for more information or to purchase tickets. Tickets will also be available for purchase at the door based on availability. Please call (414) 482-2069 with any additional questions.
 

Marian Center for Non-Profits (MAP)

3195 S. Superior Street
Milwaukee, WI 53207

 


Art in Bloom: A Tribute to Art and Flowers
March 29 to April 1
Enjoy exquisite floral creations by Milwaukee’s top floral designers inspired by the Museum’s Collection masterworks.
Art in Bloom is a perfect way to welcome spring. You can also expand and enrich your own floral and gardening knowledge by taking part in lectures and presentations focused on landscaping. Museum admission (free for members) is required for all events. Exhibit hours vary. CLICK HERE for more information.

Milwaukee Art Museum (MAP)
700 N. Art Museum Drive
Milwaukee, WI 53202
(414) 224-3200
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Dear Friend,

 

The Legislature has closed its 2011-2012 Session, which failed to get our state moving forward with the rest of the country in job creation and economic development.

 

As usual, please feel free to contact me with any questions, concerns or opinions you may have about our community or our state.


Sincerely,

Chris Larson
State Senator, District 7

 

 

 

Job Creation Delayed in Wisconsin

The Wisconsin State Senate concluded the 2011-2012 Legislative Session today. At a great cost to family, friends, and neighbors, this botched Republican-run session will go down in our state history books as the most divisive and dishonest legislative session ever.

 

Although Governor Walker and Republican legislators promised to focus on jobs this session, they have utterly failed to follow through. The numbers do not lie. While the nation has added jobs every month for 17 straight months and neighboring states all posted job gains this past year, Wisconsin has fallen tragically behind under Governor Walker's leadership. A new nationwide report released by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics shows Wisconsin lost 12,500 jobs from January 2011 to January 2012, more than any other state over the past year. In fact, Wisconsin is one of only six states to lose jobs in the past year, and our job losses are more than three times higher than the next state on that unfortunate list.

 

Click here to view the report and a chart showing the state-by-state breakdown.
 

Despite hearing from people across Wisconsin who are in desperate need of jobs, Governor Walker and Republican legislators put partisanship above progress by leaving many Democratic employee training and jobs proposals untouched. Below is a list of just some of these proposals that Republicans refused to act on to get Wisconsin moving on job creation:

  • Expand the Workforce Advancement Training Program and create grants to assist local businesses with expanding and diversifying (SB 316/AB 431)

  • Create grants for technical colleges to provide additional training in advanced manufacturing skills (SB 40/AB 97)

  • Direct the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to develop, implement, and fund a program to link businesses that need more qualified workers with Wisconsin's technical colleges so they can provide the necessary training for those businesses to grow (AB 575)

  • Give the Wisconsin Economic Development the authority to award grants to Wisconsinites trying to qualify for income and franchise tax credits to improve or expand their business (AB 90)

  • Increase the amount of tax credits available for dairies to continue modernizing facilities and employ workers for these projects (SB 120/AB 186)

Unfortunately, this session has also been about picking winners and losers. In order to help the big corporations and special interests further their backwards agenda, Governor Walker and Republican legislators have sacrificed Wisconsin’s jobless, children, and women. To provide big corporations with $2.3 billion in tax giveaways, Governor Walker cut $1.6 billion from neighborhood schools that educate our children. Governor Walker also chose to create a $196 million slush fund with little oversight, while making over $1 billion in cuts to our health safety net being used by children, displaced workers, and the elderly. Then, to make up for increasing spending by over $1 billion in his budget compared to the previous one, Governor Walker cut funding for basic women's health care, shared revenue for local governments, public transit, and recycling and stewardship programs.

 

We need to get Wisconsin moving in the right direction with the rest of the nation. Unfortunately, the job-killing policies implemented by Governor Walker and Republican legislators this legislative session will do nothing to help our state out of this crisis.

 

 

 

Republicans Prevent Compromise Mine Proposal

I want to thank the hundreds of neighbors who have contacted me about changes to Wisconsin’s ferrous mining permit process. I appreciated hearing these various thoughts, hopes, and concerns. There has been a tremendous amount of misinformation regarding this incredibly complex and fluid issue and I appreciate having the opportunity to update you on the status and facts of the mining proposals before the State Senate.

This past Tuesday, moments before session started, Senate Republicans scheduled a committee hearing on the three ferrous mining bills (Assembly Bill 426, Senate Bill 488, and Senate Bill 542). This hearing is scheduled for Monday, March 19, 2012. This is four days after the end of session and the public is not invited to participate. While appearing to keep these bills “alive,” the actual affect of this procedural maneuver was to block passage of any mining proposals during the final days of session. This is another example that, despite the rhetoric, the fact is that Governor Walker and Senate Republican leadership have delayed and sabotaged efforts to pass a balanced mining bill.

On Tuesday, March 6, 2012, a majority of Senators voted to reject a partisan amendment to Assembly Bill 426. Following this, the State Senate voted unanimously (33-0) to continue working on a responsible mining proposal by sending the bill back to committee. Gogebic Taconite, the company pushing for new mining legislation, unexpectedly announced that based on these votes, they would no longer pursue a Wisconsin mining project. This declaration was made despite a majority of Senators, including myself, clearly supporting responsible mining and passage of a compromise proposal.

It is important to keep in mind that iron ore mining is a legal activity in Wisconsin and there is no regulation that prohibits Gogebic Taconite from proceeding with the mining project. In fact, the company received permits early last year to conduct core borings that would allow them to evaluate the mineral contents of the deposit. The Department of Natural Resources worked proactively with the company and they received their permits within a couple of weeks of applying for them. The company initially indicated they would go forward with the borings, but never invested in following through.

While we assume that streamlining our mining laws will bring more mining and jobs, it is important to look at rhetorical promises versus the hard facts. Although not widely reported, by law the federal mine permit process takes an average of 3.5 years. Even if Gogebic Taconite had followed through with their 2011 sampling proposal, mining jobs would still be years away. Executives from local Milwaukee manufacturing companies have even said that it is impossible to link any of the mining proposals with sustaining or creating manufacturing jobs. We want to create Wisconsin jobs now and into the future, but the fact is that the urgency of this proposal is political, not practical.

Following the sudden elimination of the Special Senate Committee on Mining, I had hoped that we would have the opportunity to vote on the bipartisan amendment to AB 426 that was supported by a majority in the Senate. Passing it would have allowed the Senate and Assembly to work to reconcile their bills and develop a proposal to move us forward. Unfortunately, Senate Republican leadership did not allow this amendment to come up for a vote, nor were they willing to allow the Schultz/Jauch bipartisan proposal to be debated and passed.

The Schultz/Jauch bipartisan proposal is 15 pages and addressed all of the publicly stated demands and concerns of Gogebic Taconite, while maintaining all of our current environmental protections. It would also place Wisconsin on a level playing field with neighboring mining states. The facts about this bill:

  • Completely avoids floodplain insurance problems by maintaining current environmental regulations

  • Creates a timeline with a defined end date for the Department of Natural Resources and the company to complete a mining permit that is shorter than the average permit process of the federal government

  • Promotes collaboration between state and federal regulators

  • Provides the local community $5 million per year up front to help them deal with infrastructure needs resulting from the mine. This money is credited against the net proceeds tax they will owe in later years, so this billion dollar company will not have to pay more in taxes over the lifetime of the mine

  • Requires the mining permit applicant to pay the full cost of the Environmental Impact Statement and up to $2 million for Department of Natural Resources staff dedicated to the mining permit process

  • Streamlines, but still preserves, the contested case process giving the public a limited voice in the permit process

  • Preserves all current wetland mitigation laws and ensures that wetland mitigation occurs within ceded territory, as defined by treaty

Job creation, economic growth, and healthy communities are not mutually exclusive, rather they are interdependent. After studying the different mining proposals and what works well for mining companies in Michigan and Minnesota, I decided to co-author Senate Bill 542. This bill strikes an important balance in developing efficient processes and timely communication during the permit process while preserving environmental safeguards that protect public health, safety, property, and groundwater quality.

Unfortunately this issue has taken on a partisan tone, but the problems with the Assembly version, AB 426, are not partisan concerns, as it has also been opposed by Republicans. Recent statements from Governor Walker indicate he clings to an all-or-nothing position. He appears unwilling to court mining companies and jobs, if he does get a bill nearly identical to AB 426. That facts about this bill:

  • Prevents local governments from receiving financial assistance for roads and infrastructure in the crucial first few years of the mine

  • Changes current statutes and reduces the amount local governments receive from the net proceeds tax from 100% of the funds to 60% of the funds

  • Eliminates the public’s right to participate in the permitting process until after a permit is approved, putting the burden of proof on citizens instead of on the company

  • Swaps out statutory language that protects public health with new language that will lead to litigation

  • Forces the company to pay double the costs for developing an environmental impact statement (about $10-20 million) and causes delays rather than streamlining the process

  • Allows the company to drain lakes and fill in pristine trout streams, lakes, and rivers

  • Eliminates the requirement that a mine waste site provide for reclamation and minimize the risk of environmental pollution

  • Specifies that activities violating local floodplain or shoreland zoning ordinances are permitted

  • Specifies that if there is a conflict between the ferrous mining statute and another state environmental statute, the mining statute will win out, regardless of the nature of the conflicting provision

It is my hope that the Governor quits the blame game and shows a sincere interest in working with his own party as well as Democrats. This is an incredibly complex issue that will affect Wisconsin economic opportunity for decades to come. We should take the time needed to craft a thoughtful, responsible mining reform proposal that will safely allow productive mining in Wisconsin. I am committed to participating in the development of mining permitting reform that makes sense for our state and creates Wisconsin jobs.

I have consistently supported efforts to create jobs in Wisconsin through responsible mining permitting reform, expansion of venture capital, support for technical colleges, and efforts to realign the workforce to meet local business needs. During this past session I authored and co-authored bills that do just that. Please know that I remain committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to find solutions promoting job creation.
 

 

 

Victory for Quality Education

Students, parents, and teachers in Wisconsin have had little to cheer about over the course of the past year. Our neighborhood schools have faced staggering budget cuts and staff losses after Governor Walker chopped their funds by $1.6 billion in his budget. Therefore, I am happy to update you on two positive education developments that happened this week during the legislative session wrap-up.

 

Bill to Close the Voucher Loophole Passes

This week, the Assembly reluctantly answered calls to make good on their promise and passed Senate Bill 174, legislation to close the voucher loophole. The voucher loophole was created over eight months ago when Republicans inserted an overly broad provision in the budget. This established criteria for school districts that, if met, would allow private and religious schools to siphon off up to $6,500 in taxpayer dollars per student from our neighborhood schools. Republican legislators indicated that their intention with this budget provision was to expand the voucher program only to Racine. However, hasty action on the budget created a loophole that would apply this provision to communities across Wisconsin.

 

Had the Legislature not passed Senate Bill 174, the voucher loophole would have forced other schools that meet the criteria established to implement their own voucher program without allowing for debate in the affected community. Fortunately for our state, this loophole has now been closed thanks to continued efforts by education advocates, local communities, Wisconsinites, and Democratic legislators.

 

Click here to view a copy of Senate Bill 174.

 

Voucher Expansion Bill is Dead
Senate Bill 486, legislation that would create a Special Needs Voucher Program lacking accountability and transparency is officially dead. This controversial bill left many with more questions than answers about how children with special needs would be educated, our neighborhood schools affected, and local taxpayers burdened under this bill. Below is a list of just some of the horrible provisions contained in this bill for participating private and religious schools:

  • Does not require periodic evaluation of individualized education programs for children with special needs--something required of public schools by state and federal laws

  • Does not require certified special education or related services personnel on staff

  • Does not require special education teachers to hold a college degree

  • Does not place a cap on the number of students who could enroll as special needs

  • Has no oversight for verifying that a student qualifies as special needs since the school makes its own determination

  • Allows a current voucher student to re-enroll in an attempt to qualify as special needs so schools receive twice what they do now to educate the same student

  • Reduces general aid to public schools districts by the amount of each special needs voucher provided, which means that some districts could be left with fewer resources for services needed by students with disabilities that continue attending our neighborhood schools

  • Is silent on whether a school district's general aid would continue to be reduced if a participating special needs student moves out of that district and into another Wisconsin school district

  • Provides no reimbursement to the state or taxpayers if participating private or religious schools accept the special needs voucher, but does not provide the necessary services

  • The overly high funding reimbursement rate for participating schools would likely force public schools to raid other funds to fulfill their obligations

Fortunately, this bill was not passed before the legislative session ended on Thursday. This bill would have not only endangered children in our community with special needs, but it also would have been a huge financial burden to local taxpayers as it would have cost Wisconsin an additional $80 million annually, which would have ballooned as more children with special needs participated in the program.

Click here to view a copy of Senate Bill 486.


 

Bill to Reverse Walker's FamilyCare Cap Passes

After receiving pressure from Democratic lawmakers, advocacy groups, and neighbors across Wisconsin that depend on vital health safety net programs, Assembly Republicans finally passed legislation to remove the cap on FamilyCare and other such programs.

 

Senate Bill 380, legislation to remove the cap placed on FamilyCare, of which I am a co-sponsor, received unanimous approval in the Senate on February 14, 2012. Assembly Republicans had been refusing to act on the bill until this past Tuesday. Unfortunately, an amendment was adopted in the Assembly and concurred in the Senate that will prevent expansion of FamilyCare and other health safety net programs without the approval of the Joint Finance Committee. While this will not have a direct impact on Milwaukee County, it will have serious consequences for our family and friends across Wisconsin that have been hoping to establish better safety net programs in their community.

 

History of the Cap on Familycare
As you may know, Governor Walker’s 2011-2013 Biennial Budget instituted a cap on the FamilyCare program. During the budget debate, my Democratic colleagues and I expressed our concerns about how family, friends and neighbors would suffer by being denied these life-saving services. Unfortunately, voices from across Wisconsin were once again ignored and the cap went into effect on July 1, 2011.

This past December, the federal government stepped in, ordering Governor Walker and the Wisconsin Legislature to pass legislation immediately in order to lift the caps on FamilyCare. As a result, Senate Bill 380 was introduced. If the Legislature had failed to pass Senate Bill 380, Wisconsin would have had to forfeit the $1.75 billion it receives in matching federal funds for our Medicaid programs, including FamilyCare.

 

Click here to view a copy of Senate Bill 380, legislation to remove the cap.


The Importance of Our Health Safety Net
Currently, about one out of five Wisconsin residents rely on our state's health safety net programs for their health care needs. The number of individuals enrolled in Wisconsin's Medicaid programs has been steadily increasing in recent years due to our state's ailing economy, continued loss of family-supporting jobs, and increased health care costs. Given the hardships our neighbors our facing, it is one of the worst times to consider any additional cuts to our health safety net.

FamilyCare is a bipartisan community-based, long-term care program that plays a vital role in Wisconsin’s health safety net. The program serves our state’s most vulnerable neighbors, including the elderly and individuals with disabilities, to enhance their health and quality of life.


 

Fighting for Local Control

This past Tuesday, the Senate passed Senate Bill 275, legislation originally drafted to change the member composition of all technical college boards throughout Wisconsin. This bill was expected to die in committee, but gained legs after it was altered at the 11th hour to apply only to Milwaukee Area Technical College. I spoke out against these measures that attack local control and the very institution that is helping our neighbors gain employment. Despite my efforts and those of my colleagues, this legislation passed and was sent to the Assembly for concurrence.

 

 

Click on the video above to view the speech I delivered on Senate Bill 275 on the Senate floor.
 

 

 

Transparency for Taxpayers Act Introduced

I recently introduced legislation with Representative Sandy Pasch that takes a positive step towards ensuring our tax dollars are spent wisely. The Transparency for Taxpayers Act, LRB 4247, will track all state agency operation expenditures exceeding $100 on a public, searchable Internet Web site.

The current budget contained a provision that would require the Department of Administration to do just this. The provision set a deadline of July 1, 2012, for the Department of Administration to get the Web site up and running. Additionally, it established a time frame for when state agencies would be required to report expenditures, grants, and contracts to the Department so that they could be made available on the Web site. Unfortunately, Governor Walker once again chose secrecy over an open door policy by vetoing the deadline to have the Web site fully functional for public use. As a result, the Department of Administration has yet to implement this tracking system.

 

Wisconsin's failure to implement this reform led the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group to give our state a D-minus grade in its annual report on transparency of government spending. The study found Wisconsin is the 10th-worst state in the nation for providing information about where and how state money is spent. In contrast, many other states, including Texas, West Virginia, Kentucky and Indiana, provide checkbook-level data, so anyone can look at expenditures, tax credits and subsidies like a checkbook.

Recent events that have come to light also illustrate the necessity for a bill, like the Transparency for Taxpayers Act, that encourages a more open Wisconsin government. Earlier this session, all but one Republican senator signed a secrecy contract vowing to hide details of their redistricting plan from the public. This plot resulted in a raid of over $400,000 from Wisconsin taxpayers enabling Republicans to hire private attorneys to help them protect their jobs. In addition, the ongoing John Doe Investigation has resulted in the arrest of a number of Governor Walker's former aides who have been charged with embezzling from veterans groups and participating in campaign activities while on the clock for Milwaukee County.
 

We need more accountability and transparency, not less. Taxpayers deserve to know how the state is spending their money so that they can hold their elected officials accountable. It is time to put the sunshine provisions of the Transparency for Taxpayers Act into effect and get Wisconsin moving in the right direction.

 

Click here to view a copy of the Transparency for Taxpayers Act.

 

 

Neighborhood Survey Available

I created a survey asking about various issues that are important to our community and our state. The input of neighbors is greatly appreciated.

Click here to download and print a copy of this survey, which you can return to my office via mail, email, or fax upon completion.

 

Click here to save a stamp and take the survey online.

 

I look forward to hearing your views on these important issues!

 

 

 

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