LARSON REPORT

NEWSLETTER


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August 13, 2015

     

 

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

 

Website:

SenatorChrisLarson.com

 

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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. 


Chill on the Hill 2015
Date: Tuesdays, June through August, 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.
Location: Milwaukee
Description: The Bay View Neighborhood Association, in partnership with the Milwaukee County Parks, has brought the Humboldt Park Band Chalet to life on Tuesday nights with live music and a gathering of neighbors on the hill under the open sky. The concerts are set in a family friendly atmosphere with ample street and inexpensive lot parking, hillside seating, picnic baskets and blankets, with a focus of bringing the neighbors out to Humboldt Park not just for one night, but for all nights.

 

Humboldt Park

(MAP)
3000 S Howell Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53207

 

 

Friday Fish Fry in the Parks
Date: Every Friday through Labor Day Weekend from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m.
Description: Enjoy your Friday evening with a fish fry at one of Milwaukee's beautiful county parks. This summer you can play 9 holes and eat delicious baked or fried Cod for $30. There are kid's portions available. For location and reservation information, CLICK HERE.



Irish Fest
Date: Thursday, August 13 to Sunday, August 16
Location: Milwaukee

Description: For four days every August, Milwaukee's lakefront comes brilliantly alive with the sounds and sights of Ireland during Milwaukee Irish Fest. The family-friendly festival was named "the mother of all Irish festivals" by writer Larry Kirwan and is the largest celebration of its kind anywhere in the world. On 16 stages at Henry W. Maier Festival Park, they showcase an array of traditional and contemporary Celtic entertainers. From fiddlers and harpists, pipers and folk singers, to full throttle Celtic rock, there's music for everyone to enjoy. Along with an amazing music lineup, the festival features Irish food and drinks, theater presentations, dancers, sporting events, unique Celtic crafts and gifts and so much more. The Cultural Village is a fun, interactive space for kids and adults. Meet authors, learn to speak Irish, explore Celtic exhibits or listen to traditional music. Milwaukee Irish Fest is so much more than just a music festival! CLICK HERE for more information.
 

Henry W. Maier Festival Park

(MAP)
200 North Harbor Drive
Milwaukee, WI 53202

Annual School Supply Give-away
Date: The weeks of Monday, August 17 and  Monday, August 24 during normal business hours
Location: South Milwaukee
Description: To help school age children of South Milwaukee get off to a good start to the 2015-16 academic year, South Milwaukee Human Concerns (SMHC) will distribute school supplies the weeks of August 17 and 24 during normal SMHC open hours. Parents must bring the official school supply list that is provided by the school. SMHC cannot fulfill school supply requests without the official school list.
Through the school supply list, SMHC will provide kindergarten through high school students with pencils, pens, notebooks, folders, rulers, glue sticks and other needed items. No appointment is needed for school supply distribution; clients are helped first come, first served. CLICK HERE for more information.

 

South Milwaukee Human Concerns

(MAP)
1029 Milwaukee Ave.
South Milwaukee, WI 53172

Taste of Egypt Festival
Date: Friday, August 21
Location: Oak Creek
Description: St. Mary & St. Antonious are organizing a great festival to give a sense of Egypt, from the unique ethnic food and drink to the unique Coptic music and the sophisticated Coptic history and the wonders of the camel rides and the beautifulness of the Egyptian antiquities and souvenirs. The Egyptian ethnic food is made fresh and served fresh daily. The cookies are all from natural ingredients and homemade, they are mouth-watering and they melt in your mouth. The souvenirs are all Egyptian and attractive and unique. The festival, tour, and parking are free, the merchandise prices are very reasonable. Come and join us in this one of a kind experience and you will enjoy it. CLICK HERE for more information.

 

St. Mary & St. Antonious Coptic Orthodox Church
(MAP)

1521 W Drexel Ave
Oak Creek, WI 53154


Wine & Vine
Date: Saturday, August 22 3:30 p.m. to 7 p.m.
Location: St. Francis

Description: Celebrate the Grape arbor's 100+ years by drinking wine, beer, tea and coffee, and sample food from participating restaurants and vendors in the area. All proceeds will go to refurbishing the 1912 Grape arbor and developing the surrounding green space. CLICK HERE for more information.
 

St. Francis of Assisi Convent

(MAP)
3221 S. Lake Drive.
St. Francis, WI 53235


Downtown Market
Date: Thursday, August 20 at 4:30 and Thursday, August 27 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.

Location: South Milwaukee

Description: Start off the afternoon by browsing the fresh produce and end with several options for dinner. Throughout the day enjoy local artisans and free live music. CLICK HERE for more information.
 

Downtown Market

(MAP)
1100 Milwaukee Ave.
South Milwaukee, WI 53172



 


 

 

Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,

 

I hope your summer is going well and that you were able to enjoy an Original Cream Puff at the Wisconsin State Fair! If not, there is still time to visit all of the unique attractions the State Fair has to offer as it will be going on through Sunday, August 16.

Click here for more information.
 

In Madison, at the Capitol, another new attempt to reduce accountability in state government has been unveiled. Additionally, the damaging effects of the recently enacted state budget continue to come to light. Recently, school principals from various neighborhoods sent a letter to the governor and legislators detailing concerns they have with where our state is heading.

 

Also discussed in this edition of the Larson Report are two landmark laws that recently celebrated their 50th anniversary: the Voting Rights Act and the Medicaid program. Read on for more about these important topics.

 

Sincerely,

Chris Larson
State Senator, District 7

 

 

More Attempts to Reduce Accountability and Transparency

You may remember in the last Larson Report I discussed a dangerous new threat to Wisconsin's democracy after the governor came out in favor of dismantling our state ethics board, the nonpartisan Government Accountability Board. Polarizing and politicizing state agencies seems to be a trend among Legislative Republicans as well as the governor. Recently, two GOP legislators circulated a bill calling for the removal of legislative oversight from our state's failed jobs agency, the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC).

If you are wondering if this is the same WEDC that has received widespread, negative attention -- largely because of its misuse of taxpayer dollars -- since it was created in 2011, the answer is "yes."
 

Many shocking details have been uncovered about the mishandling of our public resources by WEDC. Here are just a few examples:

  • WEDC provided awards to ineligible recipients, for ineligible projects, and for ineligible amounts

  • The agency also disregarded the law by not requiring grant and loan recipients to disclose their financial statements

  • They ignored requests to put policies in place for handling delinquent loans

  • WEDC failed to put policies in place or track use of agency credit cards resulting in purchases of iTunes gift cards, Badger football tickets, and alcohol with taxpayer dollars

  • They mismanaged record-keeping, preventing WEDC from assessing its effectiveness in creating jobs

  • The agency lacked transparency on staff compensation, staff fringe benefits, and gifts from businesses and other organizations with a financial interest in WEDC

Alarmingly, over 60% of the loans given by WEDC went to Walker and/or GOP donors. Earlier this summer, it came to light that there are hints of a pay-to-play aspect with a Walker campaign donor, who received $500,000 in tax subsidies. Walker -- who was Chairman of the Board of Directors of WEDC at the time the loan was approved -- said he didn't know about the loan to his donor. However, it was revealed that Walker was notified, and there is documentation and evidence disproving his lie.

The unsecured loan was given to the struggling Building Committee Inc. in 2011, after top Walker aides pushed for its approval. The loan has yet to be repaid. Shockingly, even as WEDC was authorizing to extend the loan due date to August 2013, Walker aides were pushing to give the unstable company even more money -- $4.5 million. In fact, aides continued to seek millions for the company even after finding out the public money would be used to pay off debts such as leases on luxury cars.

Also alarming is the evidence indicating agency staff did not conduct a full review of the company's loan application prior to its approval. For example, one question on the application asks if the company had been sued in the last five years. The owner answered "no", even though an investigation by the Wisconsin State Journal found circuit court documents showing three lawsuits filed in 2010. The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau also noted in a 2013 audit that this loan was one of two loans they found where WEDC staff failed to perform staff reviews to determine if a company was eligible for a grant or loan.

Democratic lawmakers who serve on the WEDC board have called for a federal investigation into the loan to investigate this misuse of taxpayer dollars.

Click here to read a Wisconsin State Journal article regarding the loan.

Simply put, the governor's policies and his creation of WEDC has failed Wisconsin. After losing 100,000 promised jobs in his first term as governor, Wisconsin is in economic trouble. According to the latest economic data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Wisconsin continues to trail the nation when it comes to job creation. Under this data:

  • Wisconsin ranks 38th in private-sector job growth (8th out of 10 in the Midwest) over the past year.

  • Wisconsin's job growth rate over the past year is 1.51%, compared to 2.57% nationally.

  • Our state is 35th in private-sector job growth (dead last in the Midwest) over Governor Walker's first four years.

  • Wisconsin's job growth rate over Governor Walker's first four years is 5.7%, compared to 9.3% nationally.

Additionally, Wisconsin's middle class is shrinking faster than any other state. What's more, Wisconsin ranks dead last in terms of new business start-ups. Small businesses are the backbone of our local economy. Supporting them is imperative in ensuring Wisconsinites are prosperous and have access to the American Dream. If we are not investing in our small businesses, we are not investing in prosperity for our neighbors. Unfortunately, ensuring our local businesses can thrive has not been a priority for this administration. Instead of helping out our neighbors who want to grow or start a business, the failed jobs agency threw money at a campaign donor who had plans to use the money to pay-off leases for luxury vehicles. At the same time our tax dollars are being pickpocketed by an agency supposedly meant to create jobs to instead support special interests, Legislative Republicans stripped millions from the actual largest economic driver in our state: the UW System.

In light of this most-recent WEDC scandal that follows a pattern of corruption within the agency, it is clear as day that there should be an increase of transparency and accountability at WEDC. Unfortunately, instead of owning up to their failed experiment, Republicans are proposing to get rid of what little oversight remains at WEDC by removing legislative oversight. Scandal after scandal, betrayal after betrayal, and Republican's idea of reform at the troubled agency is to remove the only board members who are directly responsible to taxpayers. Governor Walker has already washed his hands of WEDC by essentially asking to be fired from his self-appointed position as the chairman of the Board of Directors. Now, GOP legislative board members want to walk away too.

Over its brief four-year history, WEDC has been shaken by mismanagement, massive employee turnover, failure to follow the law, the loss of millions in taxpayer dollars in improperly vetted deals, and the withholding of information from its board of directors.

Why would anyone think the Legislature should have less oversight at this agency? Just as with their attempt to destroy our open records law and their attacks on the Government Accountability Board, this is just another attempt by the Republicans to draw a veil of secrecy over state government.

For more details about WEDC's failure, click here to link to a past Larson Report.

For a timeline of the problems at WEDC, click here.
 
 

 

Countryside Schools in Trouble 
Just over a week ago, 35 school principals from southern Wisconsin shared their professional experiences and observations with the governor and the Legislature and expressed their opposition to the direction they have taken public education.

You can read the letter they sent, here.


Public school principals from around the state directly experience the impacts of the decisions we make in the Capitol and in the state budget and see the negative effects those decisions have on our children. Since the beginning of the budget cycle in January of 2015, there has been a steady, strong, and consistent message coming from school superintendents, principals, teachers, parents, and students that Wisconsin needs to start reinvesting in our children, their education, and our schools. The letter from these 35 principals firmly rejects the disinvestment in our traditional schools and the misplaced priority of privatization that has been pursued over the last several budgets. Instead, they respectfully ask lawmakers in Madison to listen to -- and partner with -- them when making decisions that impact the schools and children they are responsible for.

To quote the letter: "The reduced power of local school boards as it relates to curriculum, policy, funding, testing, calendar, and other issues concerns us. The people in local communities have far less voice today than they did only a few decades ago. Governor Walker, you speak of the need to reduce 'Big Government,' and we see that you are doing so as it relates to eliminating positions in government, but the 'power of the people, by the people, for the people' is less in people's hands than it once was. Our school board members are locally elected officials. These same people work, live, and die in our communities. Citizens trust these locally elected officials to set policy and support education in our communities. These respected school board members have far less control over local decisions than they did in the past...

"We ask you to partner with us to address the significant challenges our schools are facing. We do not support recent budgets and the underfunding of public education. We believe budgets need to be adjusted to meet the needs of today's learners. Since the onset of revenue limits in 1992, our school districts have been reducing and eliminating programs and resources. We are burdened by the cumulative effects of budget cuts resulting in increased class sizes, cut programs, and deferred maintenance plans. Additionally, we must keep pace with technology demands and provide necessary support services for students. Our districts are struggling to maintain our current educational and co-curricular programs, while recognizing we need to expand educational opportunities and choices for students and families to prepare students for 21st century skills in a globally competitive climate."

The recently passed budget fails to invest in our future generations. While experts, like the ones authoring the letter, understand that Wisconsin students have a right to obtain the skills they need to be successful in their higher education or career goals, the Republican budget does nothing to to equip our schools with the tools to do so. The current budget fails Wisconsin children by: 
  • Not adequately investing in our schools. The education budget passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor does not keep up with inflation, and does not even begin to alleviate the historic funding cuts to Wisconsin schools over the past several years.
  • Diverting over $48 million in state funding from our traditional neighborhood schools to expand the unaccountable, for-profit school voucher program, even though there is evidence to suggest that these schools perform worse than their public school counterparts.
  • Removing the cap on private voucher enrollment, opening up the program to more families who can already afford private school tuition, which will also divert more money directly from our traditional neighborhood schools.
  • Allowing for a takeover of targeted Milwaukee Public Schools and turns them over to an un-elected "commissioner" who has the ability to turn over our schools to less accountable and potentially for-profit charter school authorizers, or unaccountable private voucher schools.

Our neighborhood schools are already reeling from the negative impacts of the Republican budget. A parent of three students in the School District of South Milwaukee mentions that despite hardworking, dedicated volunteers, "Our PTOs cannot fill the holes that this budget will leave." In Wauwatosa, a father shared his experiences and the worries he and other parents face as a result of the district's strained budget. He described seeing devastated mothers at public meetings, waiting to learn if their child's speech therapist will be cut. At the same time, another parent might be anxiously waiting to know if their kid's AP class will still be offered. It's a destructive game of drawing straws -- a gamble to see which kid gets a chance at a future and which one doesn't. It's a gamble that ultimately we all lose.

It is stories like these that recommit me to fighting to make our schools whole again. The responsibility of funding our schools should not rest solely on the shoulders of parents, volunteers, and teachers. While it is moving to see the dedication of community members in supporting our students, it is distressing to know that it is the damaging policies of the last several years that put our community members in this position. Wisconsin has a responsibility to ensure that education is adequately invested in.

I am proud to stand with the principals who wrote the previously mentioned letter, as they are actual education experts with the best interest of our students in mind, not politicians. I have been vocal about the negative impacts the draconian cuts to our neighborhood schools and expansion of the separate -- but not equal -- for-profit voucher system would have on education in Wisconsin, and this letter affirms these negative implications to be true. I trust them when they collectively say we aren't making the right decisions at the state level to support our childrens' future. Therefore, I will continue to push for adequate investment in our shared values so that the 98% of students in our state that attend traditional Wisconsin schools have access to a quality education.
 

 

Ask Chris

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: The anniversary of the Voting Rights Act was recently celebrated. Could you provide an update with voting access in Wisconsin?


A: Last week, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. The landmark law, enacted in 1965, was signed by President Lyndon Johnson and ensured access to the voting booth for minority voters in the United States.

 

Unfortunately, over the last several years we have seen relentless attempts by Republicans in Wisconsin and across the country to restrict access to the polls and undermine the Voting Rights Act.

 

The most frequently discussed attempt to disenfranchise voters here in Wisconsin is 2011 Assembly Bill 7, Wisconsin's Voter Suppression Law, which requires a photo ID be presented in order for an individual to cast their vote. The law disproportionately impacts students, the elderly, minority voters, people with disabilities, and the homeless, by increasing the requirements on what people would need to do in order to obtain a photo ID for voting.

Many lawsuits were filed after the bill's passage, so the implementation of the law was put on hold until September 2014, when the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals failed on a split vote to take up the case. In March 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court also chose not to hear the case on the voter suppression law, therefore, it is now being enforced in Wisconsin.

Click here to read a previous Larson Report with a more detailed history of the Voter ID law.

While Republicans in Wisconsin have continued to enact policies that are counter to what the Voting Rights Act sought to accomplish 50 years ago, we must continue to advocate for expanded access to the voting booth. Forward-thinking states in the union are doing the exact opposite of what we are doing in Wisconsin. They are looking to increase access to voting by implementing online voter registration and allowing for more early voting options. In the case of Oregon, they recently passed legislation that automatically registers everyone over the age of 18 to vote. These are the types of good government policies we should be pursuing in Wisconsin.

Additionally, we all must take steps to ensure that every citizen is informed about the voting restrictions now in place under the 2011 law. To help, I have put together a "Know Your Voting Rights" resource guide. I hope you find it helpful and will share it with friends, family, and neighbors.

Click here to view the "Know Your Voting Rights" guide.


 

Medicaid Turns 50!
Another landmark law turned 50 recently -- on July 30, 2015, Medicaid celebrated their 50th anniversary. For the last five decades Medicaid has been critically important in providing health care access and financial security for low-income families and individuals, including children, parents, pregnant mothers, seniors, and people with disabilities.

In Wisconsin, Medicaid helps fund our BadgerCare program and provides basic health insurance coverage for roughly 1.2 million people, including about 500,000 children.

Medicaid has been crucial to the health and well-being of children and families in Wisconsin. For example, the Center for Children and Families at Georgetown University recently published a report that notes the benefits of investing in the Medicaid program, particularly as it relates to the long-term success of children in various capacities. According to the report, children with Medicaid access were less likely to have high blood pressure or be hospitalized as adults. They also show greater academic success. Children who benefited from Medicaid eligibility as a result of program expansion were less likely to drop out of high school and more likely to graduate from college. Finally, the report also states that children who had access to Medicaid achieved greater economic security and success later in life.

To view the report, click here.

According to the Wisconsin Council on Children an Families, "These findings illustrate Medicaid's value not only as a key source of health coverage for children, but also an investment in their future. As we celebrate Medicaid's 50th anniversary, it's clearer than ever why we need to preserve and strengthen it for future generations of children."

I couldn't agree more with this sentiment. Wisconsin was once a leader in the health care arena, until recent years. We have traditionally valued the well-being and health of our neighbors, understanding that expanding preventive, basic health care was not only just but also the moral thing to do.

During the recent state budget debate, Democrats called on Republicans to do the responsible thing and accept federal dollars to invest in our Medicaid program. Approving this plan would save the state around $360 million, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau. These savings could have been invested in our neighborhood public schools or our renowned UW System. Unfortunately, the Republican's rejected this proposal and missed an opportunity to strengthen our economy, create jobs, and provide Wisconsin families with greater access to affordable health care coverage. Unbelievably, Republican members also voted to increase the costs and create extra barriers for people to receive health care coverage.

The refusal to accept federal funding to improve our BadgerCare program has significant consequences. Not only does our state lose out on the millions in savings, but our neighbors who are barely over the income limits -- which were reduced by the governor last session -- find themselves unable to afford coverage through the Marketplace as it was not designed for their income level. One Wisconsin neighbor, Barbara, found out her husband's Social Security payment would be increasing by $22. This increase put them $20 over the BadgerCare income limit. She looked into her options through the health care Marketplace and discovered her and her husband cannot afford the insurance offered there. For instance, for a silver plan -- that would cover her ongoing care and medicine as BadgerCare did -- would cost their entire monthly income of $1350 (premiums plus the increased copays and deductible). Expanding BadgerCare would help families like Barbara's live healthy lives without having to worry about going bankrupt.

Wisconsin can choose to expand Medicaid in the state at any time. While the GOP currently in control opted to reject the investment in Wisconsin health care, looking forward I will continue to push for taking advantage of this incredible opportunity that will provide greater prosperity and opportunity in our state.

 

Share your Thoughts on State and Community Issues!
With the 2015-2017 state budget process now concluded, the Legislature will be taking a brief break until Fall. The damaging effects of the state budget will be long-lasting, and I will continue to update you throughout the summer on the implications of the budget.

In the meantime, I want to hear from you! Therefore, I created a 2015-2016 Neighborhood Survey asking about various issues that are important to our community and our state. Your input is greatly appreciated and will help me prepare for session to resume in the coming months.

My staff and I will be working hard to deliver as many surveys door-to-door as possible during the next couple months. Additionally, I have also made this survey available online.

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 take the survey online.

I look forward to hearing your views on these important issues! As always, please do not hesitate to contact me about any state or community matters important to you

 

 

 

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