LARSON REPORT

NEWSLETTER


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July 16, 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
 


Festa Italiana
Date: July 17-19 (Fri-Sun) 11:30 a.m. to Midnight (11 p.m. Sunday)
Location: Milwaukee
Description: America's largest Italian cultural event. Nine stages of international and local entertainment, Sicilian brass marching band, cultural exhibits, and the colorful procession following Sunday Mass. Nightly fireworks. Click here for more information.

Henry W. Maier Festival Park (MAP)
200 N Harbor Dr
Milwaukee, WI 53202

South Milwaukee Heritage Days
Date: July 20-25
Location: South Milwaukee
Description: Events will include a Monday golf outing, a Tuesday ice cream social, a Wednesday night firehouse spaghetti dinner, Thursday Evening on the Avenue, the 2015 Lionsfest on Friday, and the Heritage Days Parade and Great Duck Race on Saturday. Click here for more information.

Gallery Night and Day
Date: Friday, July 24 from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Saturday, July 25 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Location: Milwaukee
Description: Premier art event in Milwaukee for gallery hopping and art viewing. Admission is free to all participating venues during event hours. Click here for more information.

Downtown & Historic Third Ward (Map of participants)

German Fest
Date: Friday July 24 through Sunday July 26
Location: Milwaukee
Description: Enjoy authentic German food and music, sheepshead, dachshund races, cultural village, battle of the bands, live Glockenspiel, fireworks, Capuchins� 5k run or two-mile walk for the hungry, Marktplatz, and much more. Click here for more information.

Henry Maier Festival Park, (MAP)

200 N Harbor Dr. Milwaukee, WI 53202

Brady Street Festival
Date: Saturday, July 25 11 a.m. to Midnight
Location: Milwaukee
Description: Brady Street will be rockin' the night and day away with 4 stages packed with live entertainment, including some of your favorite local bands. Besides the awesome entertainment, the Division BMX Stunt Team, the Casablanca Rumble V Pro Wrestling Ring, and the CFSC Bounce House will be present. A variety of vendors, local cheese makers at the Glorioso cheese tent, jewelry and pottery crafters, a vast array of food, and of course, ice cold beer to keep our crowds from getting too thirsty. Click here for more information.

Farwell to Van Buren Streets

Milwaukee Air and Water Show
Date: July 25 and 26 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Location: Milwaukee
Description: The Milwaukee Air & Water Show will take place along Milwaukee's beautiful lakefront. Back for its 7th consecutive year, the 2015 show will feature a variety of world-class performers, including the U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds, the Breitling Precision Jet Team, the U.S. Army Golden Knights Parachute Demonstration Team, the U.S. Navy Parachute Demonstration Team, "The Leap Frogs," the Aerostars Formation Aerobatic Team and many more! Click here for more information.

Bradford-McKinley Beaches (Map)

Patrick Cudahy Race for the Bacon
Date: July 30, 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Location: Cudahy
Description: Is there a better combination than running and bacon? We don't think so. Join us for the 4th annual Patrick Cudahy Race for the Bacon 5k and 0k Run/Walk at Sheridan Park in Cudahy. The course is flat and scenic, and the post-race Bacon Bash party is full of bacon-y delights. Your race entry includes a ticket to the Bacon Bash and one free drink. New this year: a 0k option. Get the bacon and the cool shirt, but without the 5k. We will even have a start/finish for all 0k participants. Click here for more information.

Sheridan Park
4800 S. Lake Drive Cudahy, WI 53110 (Course map)


 


 

 

Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,

 

Last week, the full Legislature took up the 2015-17 state budget bill. Despite the most bipartisan opposition of any budget proposed by the current governor, the bill passed and was signed into law on Sunday, July 12.

 

This week, the Senate took up legislation concerning the Bucks arena proposal. Read on for a summary of the final state budget as well as the result of the arena deal in the Senate.


Sincerely,

Chris Larson
State Senator, District 7

 

 

Republican Budget Sells Out Wisconsinites to Special Interests

The Legislature took up the unpopular 2015-2017 state budget last week, with the Senate passing it on Tuesday, July 7. The Assembly met the next day and approved the budget as amended by the Senate. Despite having the most bipartisan opposition than any other Walker budget, the governor signed it into law on July 12. 

Click here or on the video player above to watch the Senate budget debate on WisconsinEye.

Under Walker's policies and Republican legislative control, Wisconsin is still lagging the nation in job growth, and our middle class is shrinking faster than any other state. Equally concerning is that Wisconsin is also dead last in the country for new business start-ups. Small businesses and access to the middle class are paramount to ensuring prosperity for our neighbors and building a strong economy. Because of the misplaced priorities and dangerous provisions included in the budget, I voted against its passage.

The budget bill that passed the Legislature caters to special interest groups at the expense of hard-working Wisconsin families in an effort to support the governors political ambitions. State budgets are a reflection of the state's collective values and priorities. The governor and legislative Republicans have shown that their priorities are dangerously misplaced.

Some of the most alarming provisions in this budget, which are discussed in more detail later, include:

  • Placing nearly 140 nonfiscal policy items in the budget. Policy items should not be buried in the budget, they should be discussed in broad daylight with the input of stakeholders and affected community members.
  • Failing to invest in our future workers and leaders. Not only did the budget fail to provide more resources for our kids' classrooms, while at the same time pumping more into for-profit voucher schools, but also cut $250 million from our world-renowned university system.
  • Removing the cap on the taxpayer-funded voucher program, even though there is evidence to suggest that these schools perform worse than traditional neighborhood schools. At the same time, the budget allows for the takeover of targeted Milwaukee Public Schools, which could then be handed over to a voucher school.
  • Ignoring the needs and requests of our neighbors with disabilities. Despite thousands of individuals speaking out against handing our long-term care programs over to large, profit-motivated insurance companies, the Republican budget dismantles Wisconsin's long-term care programs as we know them.
  • Rejecting an opportunity to save Wisconsin $360 million over the next two years. Legislative Republicans opted to throw away money to make a political point. This is money that could have been put back into our kids' classrooms as well as allowing more of our neighbors to have access to affordable health care coverage,.
  • Disregarding a need to have clean water, land, and air. The state budget fires scientists who are crucial to land conservation and pollution control efforts.
  • Continuing to put transportation projects on our state's credit card, which means continuing on our road of unstable and unsustainable transportation funding through borrowing.

Failing to Invest in Our Future Generations

Democrats believe that we should invest in families and communities, which would help the middle class grow and prosper. Doing so would strengthen Wisconsin's economy by creating more spending power, innovation, and jobs in the state. Because of this deeply held belief, Democrats introduced nearly 50 amendments to the state budget, all of which were rejected by the Republicans currently in control.

This budget significantly under-invests in K-12 education and disinvests in education at the university level. For instance: 

  • It fails to adequately invest 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.
  • It diverts 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.
  • It removes 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.
  • It allows 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 additional neighborhood schools.

In order to give our traditional schools the tools they need, and have been asking for, I introduced an amendment to the budget that sought to increase per pupil funding to a reasonable rate that meets the needs of our students and matches the rate of inflation. This amendment was rejected by Senate Republicans.

Educators and parents are worried about how schools are supposed to function with less money, while the needs of students and costs of educating have increased. Districts are already feeling the negative impacts of these cuts. Parents, grandparents, and retirees in districts from Stoughton to South Milwaukee are working hard to fundraise for the essential needs of the students, such as school supplies, equipment for classrooms, and even school lunches. Faced with increasing school poverty, one concerned Stoughton community member describes, "We never thought we would see the day when we are holding golf outings to raise money for food." In our own community, 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."

It is stories like these recommit me to continue 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 has put their districts into this position. Wisconsin has a responsibility to ensure that education is adequately invested in.

This session, I introduced a piece of legislation called the Invest in Our Children Act. This bill would allow local school districts more freedom and flexibility to decide how to invest in their schools in a way that at least keeps up with inflation. I will continue to call on Republicans to support this bill, which our parents, schools, and teachers are asking for.

At the expense of our traditional neighborhood schools, Republicans continue to siphon money into the unaccountable voucher program. These schools are not held to the same standards and rules of public schools. Additionally, studies have shown that these schools are typically outperformed by public schools. Republicans also eliminated the enrollment cap on the number of students in a district that private voucher schools can take away from neighborhood schools.

In order to address the growing concerns and documented failure within the publicly-subsidized voucher program, I introduced an amendment to the budget that would have removed voucher expansion from the budget entirely. For-profit voucher schools should be held accountable to those who pay for them and comply with the same standards as our public schools, therefore, it is unfortunate that this amendment was rejected.

Another controversial provision included in the 2015-17 state budget is the creation of a special needs voucher. Advocacy organizations that represent individuals with disabilities and their families have spoken out against these vouchers, expressing the real fear that schools will cherry-pick students with the less severe disabilities, meaning that under-funded public schools will be left with those students with the most complex needs. Furthermore, most people don't realize that private voucher schools, even though they may be 100% voucher-funded -- meaning publicly funded -- are not required to abide by Title II of the American Disabilities Act, or even have teachers on staff who are trained or licensed to teach children with special needs.

One of the education amendments I introduced addressed these concerns by eliminating the special needs vouchers. This amendment was rejected. Earlier this session, I introduced the Student Equal Opportunity Act that would protect children with special needs participating in a voucher school program by:

  • Requiring voucher schools to employ licensed special education teachers or therapists (if pupils needing such service attend the voucher school.)
  • Requiring voucher schools to comply with Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.
  • Allowing the Department of Public Instruction to prohibit a private school from participating in the taxpayer-funded program if the private school fails to satisfy these requirements.

Every student in Wisconsin deserves a top-notch education, regardless of ability. That is why the Student Equal Opportunity Act is so important. This bill is a first step in providing those protections to children with disabilities in Wisconsin's publicly funded voucher schools.

While Republicans were quick to create the special needs voucher, they failed at providing our traditional schools with the resources they need to educate students with specific needs. That's why I also introduced the Special Education Restoration Act a couple weeks ago, which would reverse the trend of cutting resources for our children with special needs. This bill increases reimbursement rates to school districts and restores them to a modest 33% -- in 1980, school districts were reimbursed at 66.1%, and at 34.3% for the 1999-2000 school year.

Diminishing the Quality of our Higher Education Institutions

In addition to the lack of investment for our K-12 schools, the budget made several changes that undercut our university system by devaluing education and making it more difficult for institutions to hold onto and attract quality professors, researchers, and students. 

For instance, the state budget:

  • Cut $250 million from the UW System
  • Eliminated tenure from state law and granted control over tenure to the politically-appointed members of the Board of Regents. This measure will make it easier to fire tenured faculty.
  • Weakened shared governance rules, meaning UW faculty and students will have less input in decisions affecting the university.

These actions will have negative consequences on the state for years to come. We owe our students a quality education. The policies enacted devalue public education by making it more difficult for our universities to hold onto and attract topnotch staff.

Putting Politics over People by Rejecting Federal Health Care Assistance

When it comes to our state's health care programs, Legislative Republicans and Governor Walker have made it clear, time and time again, they are not committed to our moral responsibility to ensure access to health care -- even if it means saving the state money. For instance, the final version of the state budget limits health care access and adds $360 million of additional costs to state taxpayers by rejecting federal funding for BadgerCare. Despite broad public support for taking advantage of the federal health care dollars, Senate Republicans again rejected a Democratic amendment to do so. By accepting this money, Wisconsin could have invested in other important priorities and traditional values, like adequately investing in our kids' classrooms, lessening the cut to our universities, and ensuring access to affordable health care.

Ignoring the Needs of our Neighbors with Disabilities and Frail Elderly

One of the most shocking provisions in the governor's initial budget proposal was the dismantling of Wisconsin's long-term care system as we know it, which leaves individuals and their families unsure about their future care options.

At the budget public hearings, individuals from all over the state united to affirm their opposition to the changes. Then, after month of uncertainty, they were met with more questions when the Joint Finance Committee ignored their concerns and made only slight modifications to the governor's plan. When the Senate took up the budget bill, Democrats introduced an amendment to eliminate the long-term care changes from the budget entirely, but the amendment was shot down.

As if the utter disregard of public input by the GOP-led Legislature wasn't enough, the governor used his veto authority to revert some of the changes closer to what he had initially proposed. The governor vetoed elements that would have dictated the process used to make sure rates paid to integrated health agencies were sound, specified the state had to have at least five regions for the programs, and put limits on when open enrollment periods could be held for the programs.

According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the changes clear the way for Walker to establish one statewide program, instead of having it carved into regions. That would make it difficult for existing regional nonprofit entities to continue participating in the program and make it more likely that a national, for-profit corporations would.

The fact that the governor cemented his intent to hand over our long-term care programs to profit-motivated companies after strong pushback from disability advocates and program participants is appalling. It shows a complete disregard for some of our most vulnerable community members and serves no other purpose than to appease the governor's special interest friends.

One neighbor, a Vietnam veteran, shared their story about how his care was affected when it was temporarily taken over by a for-profit managed care company. While receiving care from the company after miraculously surviving a heart attack, he noticed a steady decline in the quality of his service. Eventually this led to a discontinuation of his service entirely when the company went out of business. He was redirected to the IRIS (Include, Respect, I Self-Direct) program, which he describes as a blessing. Under the IRIS program, he is able to self-direct his care by choosing who he hires and fires. He concluded with, "giving a person the freedom to choose is one of the greatest gifts you can give them." The ability to pick someone you trust to assist you with daily tasks and personal cares is one of the crucial aspects of the IRIS program. The elimination of this program will be detrimental to the 12,000 people who depend on its successful and unique system. 

Several disability advocacy groups, collectively called the Survival Coalition, released a statement noting they continue to have program participants from all over the state ask basic questions about what these changes mean for them and their loved ones. These questions remain unanswered and include:

  • Will my service plan remain the same?
  • Will my services levels remain the same?
  • Will I still be able to make my own decisions about how my budget is spent and who I can hire?
  • Will I be able to hire family members?
  • Will everyone who is eligible for long-term care still be able to choose the self-directed
    equivalent?
  • Will I still be able to self-direct, regardless of my level of disability, in the new system?
  • Will a for profit insurance company have an incentive to only serve low cost individuals in the
    community? Will I be told I can't be supported in the community and have to go into an
    institution?
  • With no cap on profits or administrative costs, am I more valuable to the company if I receive
    fewer services? Will I get the services I need or the least amount acceptable?
  • Will I have a say in how my life looks like in five years under a new system?
  • Will I be able to keep my current Family Care MCO and my doctors?
  • Will I be required to use the Family Care professional team for decisions and choices that I am allowed to make?

It is unacceptable to pass a piece of legislation that serves special interests while leaving some of our most vulnerable citizens in the dark about what their daily lives will be like under these changes. I am continuing to work with disability groups to determine how to get these questions answered. If you or a loved one is a participant in one of Wisconsin's long-term care programs, it is important to remember that no changes will happen to your care immediately. Under the budget, program changes aren't slated to go into effect until 2017. I will keep you updated via the Larson Report and social media as questions like those above get answered.

In the meantime, the Survival Coalition released a Frequently Asked Questions document that summarizes what is currently known.

Failing to Create Opportunities or Protect Hardworking Wisconsin Families

As stated, Wisconsin's middle class is shrinking at a faster rate than any other state. Even though quality of life is not improving for the average Wisconsinite, Legislative Republicans seemingly have no problem chipping away at even more workers' rights. For instance, for the last century, Wisconsin has made a commitment to treating workers fairly with its living wage law. This law affirms that individuals should be paid a wage that provides "minimum comfort, decency, physical and moral well-being." This law gives employees an avenue to ask Wisconsin's Department of Workforce Development (DWD) to determine if they are being paid a living wage. With this budget, Legislative Republicans have striped workers of these rights by taking away DWD's power to investigate complaints using this standard by replacing "living wage" with "minimum wage."

Wisconsin once led the nation in protecting workers and ensuring they are not exploited. Over the last several years, Walker and Republicans have chipped away at these rights. Now, they are even forcing into law that the bare minimum is enough for Wisconsinites.


Not surprisingly, this change in law comes just as some low-income workers are suing Governor Walker for refusing to consider their complaint that the current state minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is not a living wage. Earlier this session, I signed on as a cosponsor to legislation to increase the state's minimum wage to $15 an hour. Unfortunately, the state budget makes it clear that while Democrats in the Legislature want to maintain Wisconsin's reputation of protecting workers, Legislative Republicans want to change the rules to avoid requiring workers be compensated fairly.

Click here for more information on the lawsuit regarding Wisconsin's minimum wage.

Another provision, snuck in the JFC's 999 secrecy motion, repeals the weekend in Wisconsin. Under current law, factory and retail workers must receive "at least 24 consecutive hours of rest in every 7 consecutive days." Further, we have a system in place if an employer would like a worker to work seven days in a row for a limited period of time. The employer and the worker can simply petition the Department of Workforce Development for a waiver. All requested waivers were granted in 2013 and 2014.

The final budget nullified the "day of rest" law and created an exemption that allows employers to have workers to "voluntarily choose" to work seven days in a row without at least 24 hours of rest.

This provision is particularly troubling because it cuts abuse safeguards that protected workers. As Marquette University law professor Paul Secunda explained, the idea "completely ignores the power dynamic in the workplace, where workers often have a proverbial gun to the head." Looking at Wisconsin's history affirms this statement as we passed a "day of rest" law in the first place because employees were being pressured by their employers to work day after day without a break. The weekend is as American as apple pie, crucial to the health of our people and economy, which is why I introduced an amendment to keep it.Unfortunately, the GOP rejected the amendment.

A third major setback in ensuring prosperity for Wisconsin workers is the federalization of our prevailing wage law. This change will cause our workers to lose jobs to less-skilled workers from out-of-state. What's more, savings to the state as a result of the change are unlikely.

Real lives around the Wisconsin will be affected by changes to our prevailing wage laws. Amanda from Appleton, WI stated, "I work in education and my husband in the private sector for construction. Both of our jobs have been attacked since Walker got in office. This prevailing wage issue will seriously affect my husband's job and our livelihood."

Destroying Wisconsin's Conservation Ethic

"Environmental Disaster" was what Governor Walker's budget proposal was aptly titled after its introduction. It sent a shockwave across Wisconsin. Hunters, anglers, environmentalists, and outdoor enthusiasts of every political inclination were united in their rejection of Walker's betrayal of our rich history and tradition of a strong land and water conservation ethic.

Walker's budget betrayal of Wisconsin's commitment to our shared lands and waters ignited a firestorm of calls, letters, and emails from every corner of our state. That anger was heard in every office in the State Capitol and was a powerful reminder that we value access to healthy public lands, as well as water that is safe for fishing, swimming, and drinking.

Given the public's overwhelming reaction, it should have been crystal clear to Republicans that violating our traditional conservation values is simply not acceptable. But rather than reverse Walker's betrayal, the Tea Party legislators pushed pro-pollution policies of their own and quietly flooded the budget with more dirty water and bad air politics just days before rushing the budget to passage.

My Democratic colleagues in the Senate and Assembly championed a number of conservation budget amendments that would have restored our shared value of conservation. We believe that a child growing up near the lake in Racine should have the opportunity to swim in clean water and that a grandfather should be able to hike with his children and grandchildren in a state park free of pollution and litter.

Tea Party GOP legislators passed the budget after rejecting all efforts to safeguard the environment. As bad as the budget was, Governor Walker used his veto pen to make it even worse. He selectively vetoed portions that would have helped our stewardship fund, would have assisted nonprofit conservation organizations that do important work to protect our shared, public lands and waters, and would have incentivized energy efficient building designs.

Here are a few of the environmental low points in the anti-conservation Republican budget:

  • It hobbles the Stewardship Fund that is the heart of our land conservation efforts

  • It shifts away from research-based conservation policies by eliminating almost 30 science and education positions at the Department of Natural Resources (DNR), and allows the DNR Secretary to dissolve the Bureau of Science Services

  • It eliminates public funding for the state park system, increases visitor fees, and allows the DNR to sell off the names of our parks to corporations

  • It weakens local control and rolls back community-specific shoreland zoning standards

  • It prohibits local government from developing regional area water quality management plans

  • It cuts funding for local county conservation staff and reduces pollution prevention efforts

One of the major changes is the cuts to the state park system. Take for example Lakeshore State Park. The 22-acre state park is surrounded by Lake Michigan and boasts wildlife viewing areas, a multi-purpose trail along the lake, fishing areas, boat slips, and a stunning view of downtown Milwaukee. Right now, Lakeshore Park is open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. every day of the year. This allows thousands of our neighbors and their guests the ability to access the park by foot, bicycle, roller blades, kayak, canoes, and paddleboards free of fees and additional costs. With Walker's budget, fees to access this park could be instituted and the park hours and use restricted. This limits access to the park for everyone. Even scarier is the notion of corporate naming rights. The beloved Lakeshore State Park could be renamed "Walmart Park."

This budget is the governors pay-off to polluters. It is clear that he chose corporate polluters and personal political ambition over investing in a healthy environment and our shared value of land and water conservation.

Kicking Transportation Debt Down the Road, Again

This budget continued down the same path as the previous Walker budgets, by increasing spending on highways, while providing very little investment in alternative transportation. The budget passed last week puts Wisconsin's transportation needs on the state's credit card, by funding projects through borrowing, specifically $850 million in bonding. Despite the fact that Americans are driving less, our state continues to pump more money into expanding highways, while at the same time dismantling more efficient transportation alternatives.

One of the publicly unpopular provisions signed into law by this budget is the provision that makes changes to our successful Complete Streets law. The Complete Streets Law requires bicyclists and pedestrians be taken into account whenever a road is built or reconstructed with state or federal funds. The law helps ensure pedestrian and bicyclist safety; without it, our neighbors will have fewer safe places to bike.

The governor chose to repeal this requirement in his budget and the GOP-controlled Joint Finance Committee (JFC) rejected a Democratic motion on transportation, which would have maintained Complete Streets. The final budget made changes to bike and pedestrian consideration, which create additional hoops for the Department of Transportation (DOT) to jump through in order to include bike and pedestrian plans in a project. This major step back in our laws is, in some ways, even worse than a full repeal of Complete Streets, according to the Wisconsin Bike Fed.

Another devastating budget item is a $2 million cut to the Transportation Alternative Program (TAP). Investments in transportation improvement projects are made possible through TAP with the help of federal funds. TAP is smart investment, as it expands travel choice, strengthens our local economy, improves quality of life, and protects our shared, public lands. Cutting this investment will result in fewer pro-bike projects, some of which seek to create more safe ways for children to get to their schools.

Caught in the Act, GOP Forced to Retreat from Secrecy Provisions

The entire budget process can be summed up in three words: wait, wait, hurry. After a five week hiatus, the JFC quickly rammed through their secret backroom deals, which was made while the budget process was stalled. Their 999 secrecy motion was passed during the late night hours before the July 4 holiday. In this motion, a laundry list of unpopular and nonfiscal policy items were slipped into the budget. While the extremely partisan, Tea Party provisions enclosed in motion 999 enraged many hardworking citizens of Wisconsin. Two in particular received so much backlash that GOP leaders had no choice but to remove them from the budget. These included an attempt to destroy Wisconsin's open records law and an attempt to completely restructure the Wisconsin Retirement System (WRS) oversight committee, which would have given the Republican-run Legislature an unprecedented amount of control over the retirees assets.

The open records overhaul attempt would have concealed legislative records and communications currently available to the public. These changes would have diluted government transparency and allowed the Republicans to legally operate in the dark while withholding important information and records from the citizens. While Walker initially attempted to divert the blame for the corrupt provision, Senate Republican leadership confirmed that Walker and his office were proponents for the removal of open records protections. This attack on our open records standards make it clear that Republicans have little interest in upholding the democratic values that our state and country hold so dear. Transparency is the key to a functional and trustworthy government. The people of Wisconsin have the fundamental right to know whether their elected officials are really serving their needs or the needs of special interest groups.

There was also an immediate, strong pushback against changes to the make-up of the committee that oversees the WRS. This forced Republicans to retreat from this reckless proposal and they pulled the changes from the budget when the Senate took it up on July 7. In contrast to wanting to politicize and potentially privatize this successful system, Senate Democrats recognize the success of the WRS program and offered an amendment to the budget to create a similar system for workers in the private sector. Studies show that poverty rates are nine times greater in households without defined benefit pension incomes, and since 1979, the number of private sector employees receiving income from one of these plans has dropped from 38% to just 15%. This is often because many employers and self-employed workers simply do not have the means to manage a pension fund, and 401(k)s can be costly, complicated, and insecure. This amendment would have protected our retirees by providing the framework to make low-cost, secure pension plans accessible to all of our workers.

Both of these provisions were a clear attempt by the Republicans to consolidate and expand their power, reduce transparency, and eliminate oversight and other checks and balances crucial to a democracy. While they tried to keep the public in the dark with these changes, they failed. As a result of the hard work and pushback from our Wisconsin neighbors, these two items were removed from the budget.
 

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 Milwaukee community has a lot at stake with the Bucks arena proposal. What was the result of this proposal in the Senate?


A: This week, the Senate was able to pass a truly bipartisan bill by a vote of 21-10. The bill we passed will help build a new arena in Milwaukee, which will allow our state to keep an NBA franchise, and keep a key economic engine and catalyst for growth in our state. Keeping the Bucks in Milwaukee is a priority for me, and I am proud to have voted in support of the bill.

The arena deal had been worked on for many months, behind closed doors with the Republicans, Bucks owners, and local elected officials. Democrats didn't get to write the deal and were only invited to the table late in the 4th quarter of the game. As such, the deal isn't perfect. However, once we were called into the game, Democrats offered many suggestions on how we could improve the deal so that it would decrease the amount of debt taken on by the city, county, and state in the long-term, while still providing the Bucks the timing they needed to meet the NBA deadline of having a new arena by 2017 in order to stay in Milwaukee. While many of our suggestions were rejected by the majority party, some important ideas were incorporated into the bill.

In general, I am pleased with the outcome and believe that stakeholders were able to work together to pass a deal that builds a new arena in Milwaukee, keeps the Bucks in our state, will provide the state with good paying jobs, and will be a catalyst for growth in our community.

As a Senator who represents a good portion of the city of Milwaukee and it's downtown area, I believe within five year we will see a clear and positive impact to the city of Milwaukee once the arena is built and development sprouts up around the arena. The Park East corridor, which has been vacant for decades, will not only see a new stadium, but new restaurants, hotels, apartments, and other development which will be a net benefit to our community, improve our tax base, and create jobs.

In addition to providing our neighbors with the opportunity to enjoy the great experiences that professional sports and our downtown area have to offer, the Bucks generate a great source of revenue for our state and county. The Bucks bring in at least $6.5 million in income taxes to the state of Wisconsin annually and the Bucks add $130 million to Wisconsin's economy each year. This revenue will be something that we can use to invest in our shared values like education, the university system, or expanding access to quality health care.

I also supported the deal because of the leadership shown by the Bucks organization in working to create labor agreements that will help ensure workers are being paid fair, family sustaining wages. This is not currently the case at the Bradley Center. I believe this new Bucks organization will not only be better stewards of our city and state, but of the workers they employ.

Finally, this stadium is not just a home for the Bucks. The arena will be a cultural hub to host events ranging from Sesame Street Live, to huge Broadway productions like the Lion King, along with concerts from some of world�s most talented musicians. If the Bucks were to leave, the Bradley Center simply would not have been sustainable to maintain, and we would lose all of these other cultural opportunities for our city, along with the tax revenue generated by tourists spending money locally. This deal allows Milwaukee to stay on the map.

While some will argue that this is not the best use of public money, I would like to remind them that there is a false choice between building the arena and addressing education cuts, gun violence, or other important issues. We can�t fall into Walker's divide and conquer mindset where one priority is pitted against all others. At a time when Wisconsin is losing business after business, has stagnant wage growth, along with the fastest shrinking middle class in the country, this deal must get done. When I look at this bill, improved by collaboration from Milwaukee Senators and Representatives, I believe it is ultimately good for the long-term vision of our city and our state.
 

 

 

 

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