LARSON REPORT

WEEKLY NEWSLETTER



 

 

January 9, 2014

     

 










 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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

 

Find Me on Facebook and Twitter:

  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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. 
 

 

End of the Rainbow

Date: Now through Sun., February 9
Location: Milwaukee
Description: Explosive acting and classic songs bring down the house in this critically-acclaimed exploration of Judy Garland's infamous 1968 London comeback. Named in Time Magazine's "Top 10" List and called "electrifying" by The New York Times, this savagely funny and emotionally-searing play finds the once-glittering starlet sparring with her new fiance, her devoted accompanist, and her personal demons. Filled with Garland's legendary tenacity, razor-sharp wit, and once-in-a-generation voice, this is a piece of theater truly befitting the late, great songstress who took us "over the rainbow." CLICK HERE or call (414) 224-9490 for more information.

Milwaukee Repertory Theater (MAP)
108 E. Wells Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202

 

 

Milwaukee Children's Choir Auditions

Date: Now through Fri., March 28

Location: Milwaukee

Description: Milwaukee Children's Choir is a non-profit organization that offers programs for children ages four to 18, with convenient rehearsal sites throughout the Milwaukee metropolitan area. Choir students participate in numerous concerts and events every year. Auditions for the second semester are currently being held. To schedule an audition for a child, please call (414) 221-7040. CLICK HERE for more information.

 

A Midnight Cry

Date: Fri., January 10 through Sun., February 9,
Location: Milwaukee

Description: This moving, historical drama with live music is inspired by the true story of a young slave's journey to freedom through the Underground Railroad. Whisperings of a railroad helping slaves across to the free states seem too good to be true to young Lida Anderson. But with the help of other slaves and her family, Lida risks everything to be free. Leaving behind the only life she knows, she embarks on a dangerous journey out of slavery to freedom. "A Midnight Cry" brings to life a vital part of our nation's history. CLICK HERE for more information.

Marcus Center for the Performing Arts (MAP)

Todd Wehr Theater

929 N. Water Street Milwaukee, WI 53202



Gallery Night and Day

Date: Fri., January 17 and Sat., January 18

Location: Milwaukee

Description: Gallery Night and Day, presented by the Historic Third Ward, is the premier art event in Milwaukee for both the experienced art connoisseur and the beginning admirer. This quarterly event will showcase 40 venues throughout the downtown Milwaukee area. Admission is free to all participating venues during event hours. Gallery Night and Day will also host "Sculptures on Ice," Milwaukee's annual ice sculpting exhibition. Bundle up and bring your family and friends to witness these artistic cold weather creations. Watch local artists and sculptors form five-foot blocks of ice into creative pieces of art at Catalano Square off Broadway and East Menomonee Street on Friday, January 17 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. CLICK HERE for more information, including a list of participating venues.

 

 

30th Annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration
Date: Sun., January 19 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.

Location: Milwaukee

Description: The only U.S. cities that have celebrated Dr. King's birthday annually since 1984 are Atlanta, Georgia and Milwaukee. Always taking place in the month of January, this event focuses on keeping the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. alive. The Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Birthday Celebration programming highlights the youth in our community who every year interpret Dr. King's words through an art, speech, and writing contest. In addition, various cultural arts organizations take center stage in Uihlein Hall, truly demonstrating the excellence of our arts community. Some of the performing groups that recently celebrated at this event in the past include the Milwaukee Youth Symphony Orchestra Calypso Steel Drum Band, Ballet Folklorico Nacional, Signature Dance Company, and Aarabhi Indian School of Dance. The event concludes with the Paulette Y. Copeland Reception in the Bradley Pavilion. CLICK HERE or call (414)273-7206 for more information.

Marcus Center for the Performing Arts (MAP)
929 N. Water Street
Milwaukee, WI 53202
 

 

 

 

Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,

 

Happy New Year! This week, WEDC asked for a cash advance from the Joint Finance Committee despite their recent failures, such as losing track of $50 million in loans. The Joint Finance Committee was also tasked with taking up a bill to correct Republican-created errors regarding Wisconsin's health care safety net program--BadgerCare. Continue reading for more information on these timely and important issues.


Sincerely,

Chris Larson
State Senator, District 7

 

 

WEDC Asks for Cash Advance Despite Failures

The Joint Committee on Finance (JFC) met on Wednesday to decide whether or not to release more funds to Governor Walker's Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). This public-private agency Republicans hastily created two years ago to replace the Wisconsin Department of Commerce has had persistent problems since its inception. These include circumventing Wisconsin's fair and competitive bidding process and ignoring federal and state laws when giving out grants. The final straw was losing track of over $50 million in loans, including about $12 million that were overdue.

 

Click here to read more about WEDC's complete failures, which were detailed in a past Larson Report.

 

WEDC's repeated missteps led the Joint Finance Committee to put a hold on their remaining funds. Despite changing little about the agency, which still needs major reform with regards to accountability and transparency, WEDC is now asking for a cash advance but is unable to prove they will not waste these taxpayer dollars again. Below are just some examples of how WEDC has failed to do its job and meet its goals in 2013:

 

  • 16 of WEDC's 26 economic development programs, or about 62%, failed to meet their goals for the 2013 fiscal year.

  • WEDC rewrote history by changing their 2013 job creation goal from 50,000 to 20,825 after they fell short by 12,687.

  • WEDC had funding to provide $44.1 million in loans during the 2013 fiscal year, but only got $15 million in loans out the door

  • The ratio for WEDC's general administrative expenses compared to its economic development expenditure for the 2012 and 2013 fiscal years is currently 1:1.

 

WEDC's failings have likely had a negative impact on our state's overall job creation efforts. When Governor Walker and legislative Republicans took total control of our state, Wisconsin ranked 11th in job growth. In 2011, WEDC was created to take over job creation and economic development from the Department of Commerce, which was dissolved. Since Republicans and WEDC have taken charge, Wisconsin has dropped in the rankings to 37th nationally in job growth.

 

 

Click here or on the video above to watch the debate on WEDC in the Joint Committee on Finance.

 

As a result of WEDC's poor performance and untrustworthiness, local economic development professional across the state have also voiced their concerns about actions taken by WEDC. In a letter from Prosperity Southwest Wisconsin, economic development professionals called into question WEDC's spending. They also requested that WEDC utilize their already allocated resources to fund various programs that would:

 

  • Provide small businesses access to capital.

  • Create rural economic development programs for dairy and forestry production. 

  • Fund economic development organizations statewide to help small start-ups succeed and larger manufacturing firms expand.

 

The following Wisconsin counties also share the sentiments offered by Prosperity Southwest Wisconsin: Florence, Forest, Iowa, Langlade, Juneau, Marinette, Marquette, Oconto, Oneida, Price, Walworth, and Waushara.


WEDC's irresponsible actions have also resulted in numerous economic development programs being taken away from the agency. For example, the Department of Administration now administers the Community Development Block Grant, Venture Capital, and the state energy program. In addition, the Be Bold 2 initiative, a proposal that would have invested $100 million in workforce development in Wisconsin, which was slated to be administered by WEDC, has been dropped due to the recent WEDC scandals.

 

Click here to read more about proposals Senate Democrats offered to reform WEDC, which was detailed in a past Larson Report.
 

Losing track of taxpayer dollars, especially during difficult economic times, is unacceptable. We cannot allow WEDC to continue this fraud, waste, and abuse at a time when some neighborhood schools are not able to spend a single new dollar in the classrooms and 90,000 Wisconsinites are being cut from BadgerCare. Until accountability and transparency measures are enacted, no new taxpayer dollars should be wasted at WEDC. This is the least we owe taxpayers who have been paying the cost for WEDC's missteps from the beginning.

 

 

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: Why is the Legislature taking up more legislation regarding BadgerCare eligibility? Didn't they just take up a bill in December to address the same issue?

A: This highly complex issue has created a great deal of confusion. I appreciate the opportunity to explain what happened and what is expected to happen.

 

By January 1, 2013, under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), all states were required to align their Medicaid eligibility requirements with those at the national level. Unfortunately, the Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) failed to accomplish this required task despite having a year to do so.

 

As a result, the governor had to call a special session to fix the problem his administration created. The Assembly took up December 2013 Special Session Assembly Bill 1 on December 4, while the Senate took up the bill on December 19. Despite concerns and objections from legislative Democrats, the bill passed in both houses and was signed into law by the governor on December 20.

 

This plan created a coverage gap that ended up pitting two impoverished groups of Wisconsinites against each other. Passage of the governor's plan, results in 83,000 childless adults who would have received health care coverage on January 1, 2014, being denied coverage until after March 31, 2014. However, the plan also delays kicking off 74,000 parents and caretakers above 133% of the federal poverty level who currently have BadgerCare, ensuring they have health care coverage until March 31, 2014. On the other hand, a "no" vote on the governor's plan would mean that 83,000 childless adults would begin receiving coverage on January 1, 2014, but would also kick off those 74,000 parents and caretakers who currently have BadgerCare three months earlier than expected. Under the scenario, Wisconsinites were set to lose either way. However, while this bill succeeded in creating a moral dilemma for legislators casting their vote, it did not resolve the problem DHS failed to address: aligning the eligibility standards of Wisconsin's health safety net programs with those required by the federal government.

 

Therefore, the Legislature once again needs to revisit this issue by taking up another bill, Senate Bill 475, to alter the eligibility requirements for Wisconsinites that rely on BadgerCare for their health care needs so that low-wage workers do not have to pay for the mistakes of Governor Walker's administration. This bill will not affect any of the changes that were made in the special session legislation relating to childless adults. These Wisconsinites will still be facing delayed coverage until April 1, 2014. However, DHS plans to allow these individuals to use the Web site in order to gauge if they will be eligible for coverage once April 1 is here.

 

However, Senate Bill 475 will change eligibility for parents and caretakers participating in BadgerCare. Those that currently have BadgerCare coverage will still have their coverage extended through March 31, 2014. The same goes for parents and caretakers that apply for BadgerCare coverage before February 1, 2014. However, parents and caretakers that apply for BadgerCare coverage after February 1, 2014 will have their eligibility calculated according to the federal standards. This means that parents and caretakers who fall between 100% and 200% of the federal poverty level and apply for BadgerCare coverage after February 1 will be redirected to the federal Web site to enroll in the Affordable Care Act rather than BadgerCare.

 

Many of these Republican-created problems could have been prevented had Wisconsin simply opted to accept federal funding to strengthen BadgerCare and implement a state-run exchange. A key component of the ACA is the opportunity to receive additional funding from the federal government to strengthen our safety net program, BadgerCare, by filling the gaps in coverage. In fact, the federal government offered 100% of the funding needed to fill the coverage gap for the first three years and at least 90% in subsequent years. This funding would come from a pot of money that Wisconsin families already paid into with their federal tax dollars. Choosing this option over the governor's plan would have insured nearly 85,000 more Wisconsinites and saved Wisconsin taxpayers $109 million. Further, saying yes to strengthening BadgerCare was estimated to create over 10,000 Wisconsin jobs. Therefore, my Democratic colleagues and I are united in calling for the Legislature to strengthen BadgerCare now by accepting federal funding so that we are not forced to put a Band-aid on future problems created by Republican-crafted legislation.
 

 

Did You Know...?

As a Wisconsinite, you likely experienced the level of cold associated with the Polar Vortex during the past week. For example, on Monday, January 6, Milwaukee endured extreme temperatures with a high of -4F, a low of -13F, and a wind chill low of -41F with an average wind speed of 17.4 miles per hour. But did you know that these temperatures were the coldest Wisconsin has seen since 1996?

 

In fact, these temperatures were so cold that over three dozen flights were cancelled at Mitchell International Airport on January 6 and almost 1,000 electricity customers throughout Wisconsin were left without power.
 

 

Free Fishing Weekend

Ice fishing is just one of the many outdoor recreation traditions valued by Wisconsinites. An estimated 590,700 Wisconsinites age 16 and over reported ice fishing, up from 479,900 in 2000, according to the most recent National Survey on Recreation and the Environment. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) believes this growth may in part reflect that ice fishing is a low-cost way to try fishing or serves as a way to extend the fishing season for veteran open water anglers.

 

This year, the DNR is offering neighbors statewide the opportunity to participate in this beloved activity free of charge. Winter Free Fishing Weekend will take place on January 18 and January 19. No fishing license or Great Lakes salmon stamp is needed to fish any Wisconsin water during this event weekend. This includes all inland waters and Wisconsin's side of the Great Lakes and Mississippi River and other boundary waters. However other fishing rules, such as limits on the number and size of fish anglers can keep and any seasons when anglers must release certain fish species, still apply. 

 

Click here for more information from the DNR about the free fishing weekend.
 

 

Thank You, Packers!

A big thank you to our Green Bay Packers for a great season! While our team had some major barriers to overcome this year with the various injuries to key players--Aaron Rodgers was out for several weeks with a collarbone injury; Clay Matthews fractured his thumb early on in the season; James Jones played the last three games with broken ribs; Randall Cobb fractured his leg; and Eddie Lacy played on a sprained ankle--the Packers ended the season as National Football Conference North champs with a record of 8-7-1.

Some of the season's highlights are centered on the Packers' rising star, rookie running back Eddie Lacy. With 1,178 yards this season, Lacy broke the Packer's rookie rushing yards record of 1,105 yards set by John Brockington in 1971. He also set the Packers' rookie records for two additional categories--carries and touchdowns--with 284 carries and 11 touchdowns. In addition to setting three franchise records, Lacy led all NFL rookies in rushing yards and touchdowns. Lacy is currently one of the media's top picks for Offensive Rookie of the Year and is in the running for the NFL's Rookie of the Year award. We wish the Packers a good off-season and cannot wait to cheer them on later this year!

 

 

Sign the Higher Ed, Lower Debt Petition

Exponential increases in tuition and fees coupled with challenging economic times over the years have made it nearly impossible for students to work their way through school, as was commonplace in the past. In fact, nearly 40 million Americans now hold over $1.2 trillion in student loan debt nationally.
 

Wisconsin's Student Debt Crisis
Unfortunately, Wisconsin currently ranks 10th in the nation for number of college students with debt, with 67% of graduates from four-year schools having loans to repay. According to the U.S. Federal Reserve System there are 753,000 Wisconsin residents with federal student loan debt (this does not include those with private student loan debt). Further, college tuition costs have doubled over the last 12 years and Wisconsin's student loan borrowers have an average debt of $22,400. It is estimated that Wisconsin residents paying student loans from obtaining a bachelor's degree are currently paying an average of $388 per month for about 18.7 years.

Student debt is the only kind of household debt that continued to rise through the Great Recession, and is now the second largest consumer debt in our country, more than credit cards or auto loans. Having this money tied up in debt is a huge drain on our already struggling Wisconsin economy as the money spent on student loans could instead be spent on cars, new homes, and at local businesses in our communities.

 

Some issues related to student loans can only be dealt with at the federal level. Unfortunately, Congress' current partisan gridlock leaves little hope for real relief for student loan borrowers in the near future. We cannot wait for Congress to act. It is time for innovative, common sense solutions that will provide real relief for Wisconsin's student loan borrowers.

Therefore, I am asking that the Wisconsin State Legislature passes the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill, authored by Senator Dave Hansen and Representative Cory Mason, which would do the following:

 

  • Allow Wisconsin's student loan borrowers to deduct their student loan payments from their income tax, resulting in annual tax savings of approximately $172 for the typical borrower or as much as $392.

  • Enable Wisconsin's student loan borrowers to refinance their student loans at lower interest rates, putting potentially hundreds of dollars back in their pockets and into Wisconsin's economy annually. For example, a borrower with an interest rate of 6.8% and the average University of Wisconsin graduate's loan debt of $27,000 who could lower their interest rate to 4% could save over $40 per month. That would put nearly $500 back in their family's pocket over the course of a year.

  • Provide students and parents with detailed information about student loans, the best and worst private lenders, and ensure that students receive loan counseling so that Wisconsin's student loan borrowers can make informed financial decisions about student loans.

  • Ensure data is collected and tracked about student loan debt in Wisconsin to help policymakers and the public better understand the depth and breadth of the debt crisis in our state.

 

As you can see, this legislation offers common sense solutions for real savings on behalf of Wisconsinites managing student loan debt. I hope legislative Republicans will see the economic value of moving forward with such a proposal. Therefore, I encourage them to join me in supporting the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill. Wisconsinites cannot afford to wait any longer for more affordable college education and decreasing their debt burden.

 

Sign the Higher Ed, Lower Debt Petition

If you would like to see the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill become law, I encourage you to sign onto the Higher Ed, Lower Debt petition. The petition states the following:

I support the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill authored by Sen. Hansen and Rep. Mason. It is a positive step forward in making higher education more affordable in Wisconsin and frees up money for Wisconsinites to spend in local communities and our state.
 

Click here if you would like join me in supporting the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill by signing on to the petition to encourage the Wisconsin State Legislature to pass the bill.


I also encourage you to tell your family, friends, and neighbors to join you in taking action. The more Wisconsinites that advocate for the bill, the more likely it is to pass.

 

 

Take the 2013-2014 Neighborhood Survey

I created a survey for the 2013-2014 Legislative Session asking about various issues that are important to our community and our state. The input of neighbors is greatly appreciated. My staff and I will be working hard to deliver as many surveys door to door as possible before winter arrives. In addition, 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 save a stamp and take the survey online.

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

 

 

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