Larson Report 

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A Capitol Update from State Senator Chris Larson 

Dear Neighbor,

As you know, the Senate took up a radically different budget than was initially proposed by the Governor. Now that it has passed both houses, I believe the Governor should veto the whole thing in order to more fully fight for our shared priorities as a state.

From even before the introduction of the People's Budget, there were attempts by Republicans to pull the most impactful changes out of consideration. The expansion of BadgerCare as well as fully funding education across the state are cornerstones that Wisconsin needs. Both of these were pulled out of the budget along with dozens of other important priorities the public needs. The viewpoint expounded by Republicans is a minority viewpoint and holds Wisconsin back. The only reason it is given credence is because gerrymandered districts and big money in politics has tilted the playing field against majority rule. That system is in drastic need of reform and in the meantime, Governor Evers needs to continue to stand up for the people of Wisconsin.

What has passed both houses of the legislature is not sustainable for our state and we need to go back to the negotiating table. The only way to do that is for Governor Evers to reject the half-measure budget and force Republicans back to the table.

Something else I wanted to bring your attention to is that there was the possibility of a real debate on a truly progressive policy agenda that was shut down before it even began. Unfortunately, leaders in both the Senate Republican and Democratic caucuses colluded to use procedural maneuvering to shut down any discussion on a list of amendments that I had prepared. To say that is disappointing is an understatement.

While some can find debating these issues uncomfortable, I still believe it's essential we debate big ideas now to show the public what we stand for. I had prepared ten amendments to the budget that represented progressive values, policy positions, and principles. This was paired down from a larger list. Read on for details. As always, I'm interested in your thoughts on how best to move forward. Let me know what you think.

In Service, 

Senator Chris Larson

The Amendments I Was Not Allowed to Talk About 
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1) The Campaign Sunshine Act: This amendment was literally the least we could do to bring some sanity back to campaign finance and bring the contributions out of the shadows. It would have simply required any campaign committee to report the name, place of work, and occupation of an individual that gives more than $100. We have seen year after year the money in campaigns increase — outside money alone went from $12 million to $28 million between 2010 and 2014.

2) Voucher school accountability: This amendment would have banned corporal punishment at private schools, set criteria for awarding a diploma at a private school (there is no clear standard now), and set clear suspension and expulsion policy. In 2017-2018 alone, Wisconsin taxpayers paid $269.7 million for private voucher schools. It’s beyond time to talk about accountability.

3) Allowing local governments to ban or tax containers: This was a simple but important amendment. When Scott Walker was Governor, Republicans passed a law that banned local governments from banning single-use plastic containers like plastic bags. This amendment would give the control back to the locals to make those decisions. 91% of plastic in the world is not recycled; it ends up in our lakes, on our streets, and in our landfills. About 22 million pounds of plastic end up in the Great Lakes annually. We should allow local governments to regulate the use of plastic bags again. Right now, they are barred from even adding a fee to discourage their use.

4) Getting lead out of our schools: This amendment would have allowed school districts to raise their levy limits when they have additional costs due to lead contamination. One hundred eighty-five bubblers in Milwaukee alone have been found to contain lead levels above federal action standards. By allowing schools to increase their levy limits they will do the right thing and address this issue. We are simply allowing them to tackle the problem the state is largely ignoring.

5) Securing the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund for 10 years: This was another simple but necessary amendment. The budget that was proposed only reauthorized the fund for two years. This is woefully inadequate. Bipartisan nature conservation has been a huge part of what defines us as a state and the Knowles-Nelson Fund has been a foundation of Wisconsin conservation.

6) Recreational marijuana: This amendment would have allowed for local recreational marijuana businesses to start up and thrive in Wisconsin. Over 60% of Wisconsinites believe marijuana should be legal and taxed like alcohol. Prohibition costs our state an estimated $44.3 million in drug enforcement costs every year. In contrast, it’s estimated that Wisconsin would take in an additional $138 million in state taxes if we legalized marijuana. This is going to happen nationally in the next decade. If we aren't ahead of it, all we'll see is multi-national conglomerates swoop in and Wisconsin will miss out on millions in agriculture, local business start-ups, and tax revenue.

7) BadgerCare Public Option: Everyone deserves access to affordable, quality healthcare. This amendment would have allowed individuals to buy into the BadgerCare system for their personal insurance. A public option would help provide competition to an uncompetitive insurance market where some Wisconsinites currently pay double for the same care they'd get in Minnesota.

8) Raising the minimum wage: Wisconsin’s minimum wage of $7.25 an hour is criminally low. Have you tried to survive on it while raising a family? Under the amendment that I proposed, the minimum wage would gradually step up to $15.00 an hour over the next five years. Everyone deserves a living wage for the time they sacrifice for work.

9) Automatic voter registration: Every eligible voter should be automatically registered to vote. It is that simple.

10) Restoring Local Control over quarries: The Joint Finance Committee introduced a provision to the budget that would prohibit local governments from writing local ordinances that limits a blasting quarry. Local governments should have the ability to regulate large-scale quarry operations within their jurisdiction.

The Fight Continues!

It is important to remember that many of these amendments began as Democratic bill proposals and that almost none of them have received so much as a public hearing. The debate during the budget is the only time these progressive priorities could be debated in public and on the record.

It is unfortunate that Democratic caucus leaders and Republicans refused to have that discussion. I will keep fighting for these and other progressive policies. I just hope, next time, I will be allowed to speak.

Thanks for hearing me out.

Amendments Democrats Did Offer

It is also important to recognize that Democrats rose time and again to speak on five packages of amendments that would have interjected sanity back into the budget. 

1) Medicaid expansion: The first package of amendments that the Democrats offered dealt with making real investments in our state's healthcare system. Democrats fought for an amendment that would have finally accepted the federal Medicaid expansion. This would have directly brought in $324 million federal funds and covered 82,000 more of our neighbors with healthcare.

Also, by accepting this money we would leverage an additional $1.6 billion for additional programs for all Wisconsinites. Programs like Healthy Women Healthy Babies, lead prevention and treatment, and improved mental health and substance abuse services.

2) Funding our public schools: The second amendment package Democrats offered would have made our public schools whole.  Under this amendment package, Democrats would have invested an additional $600 million for the general aid formula. We would have also increased special education funding for the first time in almost a decade, fulfilling our promise of 60% funding to special education.

3) Clean water: Democrats committed to tackling Wisconsin's lead problem by providing $40 million in bond-backed funding for lead service line replacement — something Milwaukee desperately needs. This package of amendments also increased funding for the Clean Water Fund and the Safe Drinking Water Program.

If this package of amendments was accepted by the Senate Republicans, Wisconsin would again be making real investments in clean water and stewardship of natural resources.     

4) Tax fairness: For far too long Wisconsin's tax code has favored the top earners. Democrats offered a commonsense amendment package that would have brought basic fairness back to our taxes. Our amendment would have created the Family and Individual Reinvestment (FAIR) credit. This credit would provide a 10% cut in individual income taxes for most middle-class filers.

In addition, Democrats sought to close the "Dark Store Loophole." This loophole allows giant, commercial big-box stores to shift their tax burden on to residential taxpayers by filling as if their store are abandoned instead of highly profitable businesses.

5) Ending the partisan gerrymander: For almost a decade, Wisconsin has been mired in one of the nations most blatant and egregious examples of gerrymandered legislative maps. We have very few competitive state-level races and this has led to entrenched hyper-partisan politicians comfortably legislating against the interests of their constituents. During the budget debate, Democrats offered an amendment that would have created a non-partisan redistricting system in Wisconsin. 

Politicians should be accountable to their constituents and for too long, in Wisconsin, they have not. It is unfortunate that legislative Republicans rejected this amendment and instead have chosen to continue to pretend like Wisconsin has legitimate districts. 

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