Please feel free to contact me with any concerns or opinions you might
Office Phone: (608) 266-7505
Toll-free Phone: (800) 361-5487
P.O. Box 7882
Madison, WI 53707
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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.
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.
3000 S Howell Ave
Milwaukee, WI 53207
Date: July 17-19 (Fri-Sun) 11:30 a.m. to Midnight (11 p.m.
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.
Description: Premier art event in Milwaukee for gallery hopping
and art viewing. Admission is free to all participating venues during
Click here for more information.
Downtown & Historic Third Ward
(Map of participants)
Date: Friday July 24 through Sunday July 26
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
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
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.
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.
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
Click here for more information.
4800 S. Lake Drive Cudahy, WI 53110
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
State Senator, District 7
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.
budget significantly under-invests in K-12 education and disinvests in education at the
- 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
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
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
- 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.
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
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
- Weakened shared
governance rules, meaning UW faculty and students will
have less input in decisions affecting the
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
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
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.
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
- 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?
everyone who is eligible for long-term care still be
able to choose the self-directed
- 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
- 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
- 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'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.
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
"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.
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
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
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
public funding for the state park system, increases visitor fees,
and allows the DNR to sell off the names of our parks to
It weakens local
control and rolls back community-specific shoreland zoning standards
It prohibits local
government from developing regional area water quality management
It cuts funding
for local county conservation staff and reduces pollution prevention
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."
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
Kicking Transportation Debt Down the Road, Again
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
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
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.
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.
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.