December 19, 2013
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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.
through Sun., December 22
Milwaukee's magical holiday performance "The Nutcracker" is back for
another year. Enjoy this childhood wonder as toys come to life and
snowflakes begin to dance. Create memories of your own with this
performance that you cannot miss.
CLICK HERE or call (414) 273-7206 for more information or to
A Christmas Carol
Nineteenth century London comes to life when you and your family join
Tiny Tim, Bob Cratchit, and, of course, Ebenezer Scrooge on a
fantastical journey through Christmas Past, Present, and Future. Enjoy
the music, dancing, and timeless message of hope, peace, and love, as
the Dickens' classic masterpiece celebrates its 38th year at the
CLICK HERE or call (414) 224-9490 for more information.
A Kick in the Dickens 2: More Stuff in the Stocking!
Now through Sat.,
The popular holiday comedy show returns to The Alchemist Theatre. This
time your evening will be packed with even more goodies, original songs,
hilarious comedy routines, and improvised silliness. Some of Milwaukee's
top improvisers, comedic actors, playwrights, and songwriters have come
together to create this fun- filled evening of holiday mayhem.
CLICK HERE or call (414) 426-4169 for more information or to
Date: Now through Sun., December 29
Centerpiece to their season, Les Miserables is the show that inspired
Skylight to focus on freedom and revolution as a conversation through
the entire year. Set in 19th century France in the midst of revolution,
this timeless musical follows Jean Valjean on his quest for redemption
after being jailed for stealing a loaf of bread, inspector Javert who
relentlessly pursues parole violator Valjean, and an abundance of other
compelling and entertaining characters. Skylight looks forward to
producing this legendary, Tony Award-winning musical in the intimate
Cabot Theatre. This epic tale of passion and sacrifice will be a
phenomenal way to share live theatre with the family during this holiday
CLICK HERE or call (414) 291-7811 for more information.
Sheridan Park Centennial Raffle
Date: Now through Fri., February 14
Description: Enter the Sheridan Park Centennial Raffle for your chance to win a grand prize that includes a trip to New York, a tour of Central Park, and tickets to a Broadway play. This is a fundraising effort to help improve the park. Raffle tickets will be available beginning Friday, November 8 through Friday, February 14 at Joe's "K" Ranch, the Cudahy Library, City Hall, Cudahy Historical Society, Pulaski Inn, and through members of the Chamber of Commerce and Friends of Sheridan Park. The raffle drawing will take place during a Valentine's Day dinner on February 14 at Pulaski Inn. Tickets for the dinner will be available at Pulaski Inn. Raffle ticket holders do not need to be present in order to win. Support a great cause to improve Sheridan Park and buy your raffle tickets today.
Pulaski Inn (MAP)
3900 E. Pulaski Avenue
Cudahy, WI 53110
Dear Wisconsin Neighbor,
As the New Year approaches, let us reflect on the past year in Wisconsin and the challenges that lay before us in 2014. Continue reading for a year-end review on important issues such as job creation, education, and health care. This week's newsletter also provides an update on what happened when the Senate went in to special session this Thursday.
Challenges Abound for 2014
The Wisconsin State Legislature is in the midst of the 2013-2014 Legislative Session. As we approach the New Year, it is time to examine the challenges facing our state as we continue working to move Wisconsin forward for all.
Below we will take a look at where
Wisconsin stands in the following areas: Jobs & Economy, Education,
Health Care, Accountability & Transparency, Taxes & Spending,
Environment, and Public Transit. Continue reading for more on these
JOBS & ECONOMY
While many other states are seeing improvement in their overall economic health, Wisconsin continues to lag behind. Statistic after statistic shows Wisconsin among the bottom states for economic growth. In fact, statistics released just this month by the U.S. Department of Labor show that, unfortunately, Wisconsin is leading the nation in initial jobless claims. The Department reported 4,420 Wisconsinites filed initial unemployment claims during the last week of November, more than the next two highest states--Ohio with 2,597 claims and Kentucky with 1,538 claims--combined.
Our lack of economic success is in stark contrast with what the rest of the country is experiencing. While Wisconsin only saw a 1.0% increase in private sector job growth from June 2012 to June 2013, the United States averaged a 1.9% increase, nearly double Wisconsin's rate. As a result, Wisconsin currently ranks 37th among the 50 states in job creation during that time. Even more statistics summarizing where Wisconsin ranks with regard to job creation and economic development are provided below:
Given that legislative Republicans
have routinely chosen to prioritize tea party politics and tax breaks
for the wealthy and corporations over proven job creation efforts such
as education, job training, and public transit, it is no wonder we are
floundering. Unfortunately, the Republican budget simply expanded the
failed policies of last session, which we know are not the cure for
Wisconsin's lagging job creation, falling wages, and growing skills gap.
the past three years, our neighborhood schools have faced drastic
funding cuts, fewer educational opportunities, and reductions in
teachers and staff. Not only did schools statewide endure $1.6 billion
in cuts--one of the largest cuts to education in Wisconsin's
history--during the 2011-2012 Republican budget, but many schools are
faring even worse this budget. In fact, 210 of Wisconsin's 424 school
districts, or about 50%, have received less general aid in the current
school year than they did in the previous one. While general school aid
statewide increased slightly overall, much of the increase is being
diverted to private voucher schools as a result of Republicans expanding
the program statewide.
Yet another study was recently released factually proving that voucher students fare no better and often worse than their public school counterparts. The study, released by the American Educational Research Journal and the Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis, has conclusions that are nothing short of shocking. Below are the findings:
In addition to this study, data collected by DPI shows a snapshot of just how voucher school students are performing compared to their public school counterparts. This data analyzes how all voucher and public school students in 4th, 8th, and 10th grade performed in reading, math, and science during the 2010-2011 school year. According to the data, Milwaukee Public School students outperformed voucher students in eight out of nine categories.
Much of the failings of schools participating in the voucher program can likely be attributed to the lack of accountability and transparency measures in place. Below are a few of the following standards that are in place in our public schools but are not required by schools in the voucher program:
Voucher Schools Raise Property Taxes
In 2013, state law compelled Milwaukee
Public Schools to levy $51.9 million in taxes to subsidize the private
schools making up the unaccountable voucher program, which amounts to
22.6% of the total Milwaukee Public Schools tax levy--an increase from
the previous year. Due to policy changes in the last Republican budget,
the total cost of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP) rose
significantly this past year to more than $161 million when taking the
local taxes and the state's share into account. With the expansion of
vouchers statewide and the increased numbers of independently-run, but
taxpayer-funded charter schools, taxpayers around the state are spending
$519 million annually on schools that have little accountability and
transparency to the public.
Addressing These Challenges in 2014
The future success of our education program also requires us to adequately invest in our children. Providing proper funding to local schools is simply a matter of priorities. Our neighbors to the West illustrated this perfectly. By prioritizing properly, Minnesota was able to surpass its pre-recession job level, achieve a $1.08 billion surplus, and repay funding that was shifted away from their K-12 schools. They were able to do all of this and avoid the record cuts that Wisconsin's schools sustained. While it is not possible to go back in time and correct the mistakes that were made to education in 2011, 2012, and 2013, there is still time to provide a better tomorrow for our children by supporting education in 2014.
Health care was one of my top priorities in 2013 and this will continue into 2014. Wisconsin will face a number of health care related challenges coming into the New Year. Many Wisconsinites will be affected by adopting policies that include paying more to cover fewer Wisconsinites and the recent implementation of regressive anti-women's health legislation.
Wisconsin Pays More for Less in 2013 and Beyond
During 2013, residents across the state asked Governor Walker to accept federal dollars to strengthen BadgerCare and implement a state-run exchange. This funding--from a pot of money that Wisconsin families already paid into with their federal tax dollars--was a win-win for Wisconsin's working families and taxpayers, and would have insured nearly 85,000 more Wisconsinites and saved Wisconsin taxpayers $109 million in this biennium. Further, saying yes to strengthening BadgerCare was estimated to create over 10,000 Wisconsin jobs. At a time when our economy remains sluggish compared to our Midwestern neighbors, an additional 10,000 jobs would be more than welcome. Instead, the Legislature adopted the governor's plan, which entails spending even more Wisconsin tax dollars to cover the cost of the gap he created, and breaks a promise made to 83,000 childless adults who will be delayed health care coverage until April 1.
Wisconsin can do better. While big mistakes have already been made costing Wisconsin families hard-earned money and coverage, the New Year provides an opportunity for Wisconsin to right the ship, better insure our people, and move Wisconsin forward.
Silencing Women by Passing Extreme Bill
Recently, the Senate took up bills threatening reproductive health care access for women. Senate Bill (SB) 206 is one such bill that improperly interferes with the very private relationship between a woman and her physician. This proposal aims to increase barriers on all women, including rape victims, through mandates related to politically motivated and medically unnecessary ultrasounds. SB 206, which mandates invasive ultrasounds, is a step backwards for women's reproductive health for the following reasons:
Not only did Republicans make this debate personal, but they also used their majority power to end debate, barring Wisconsin senators from arguing against mandating this highly invasive procedure. The bill's author suggested that this bill was necessary because "[abortion] became popular in the '60s. It became the thing to do. You know, you almost had to get one to be a woman." This outrageous claim, in addition to her suggestion that one senator's personal sexual assault story was "theatrics," insults the experiences of women who face these devastating circumstances. Although others and I stood to speak, the presiding senator refused to recognize us and broke his gavel while trying to silence those speaking out against the bill.
According to the U.S. Supreme Court, women have been granted a constitutional right to privacy, as well as the authority to make decisions related to their own body. This legislative war on women's health is an insult to women across Wisconsin. An unplanned pregnancy is a difficult and emotional situation for any woman to manage. And while there are many legal options available to her, including raising her baby, adoption, or abortion, it up to each woman to choose her path based on her personal circumstances without undue barriers. That is why I firmly support a woman's right to choose and will continue to stand up for the reproductive health rights of Wisconsin's women as we enter into 2014.
ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY
Another challenge Wisconsin has had to grasp is how to stretch what little money we have during these tough economic times. One of the best ways to ensure our tax dollars are being used wisely and as intended by the people of Wisconsin is to increase accountability and transparency measures so we can all track where the money is going to determine if the investments we are making are sound. In 2013, we saw what can happen when accountability and transparency are sacrificed in Wisconsin.
Job creation is imperative as
Wisconsin continues to lag behind its neighbors and the nation. Yet
Governor Walker's Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) has
made our economic development efforts a running joke across the country.
The people of Wisconsin are at their breaking point with this agency
Republicans hastily-created--to replace the Wisconsin Department of
Commerce--as it has had persistent problems since its inception in 2011.
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 failure, which was
detailed in a past Larson Report.
Change needs to happen, and the New Year is the perfect time to pursue greater accountability and transparency measures at WEDC. Losing track of taxpayer dollars, especially during difficult economic times, is unacceptable. Therefore, my colleagues and I will continue to push for this good government legislation in 2014.
Wisconsin in Need of Nonpartisan Redistricting
currently uses a legislative redistricting process, where the maps are
drawn up by the majority parties in the Legislature, are voted on by the
Senate and Assembly, and are then signed by the governor. For the
past 50 years, Wisconsin's elected officials have had to work together
with bipartisan cooperation or leave the task of redistricting up to the
courts. The most recent redistricting was the first time in 60 years
that one political party had complete control over the process, causing
Wisconsinites to seriously consider if the current process is best for
TAXES & SPENDING
The last few months of 2013 were spent trying to fill a hole that Governor Walker and legislative Republicans dug in the most recent budget. As a result, Republicans legislators rushed through legislation recently in an attempt to lessen the property tax increase their budget creates over the next two years.
Under this recent property tax bill, the average homeowner is expected to save about $33 over the next two years. However, property taxes are still expected to increase overall thanks to Governor Walker's regressive policies, meaning some homeowners will be harder hit when Governor Walker's tax increase goes into effect.
In addition to altering Wisconsin's tax code, Republicans also exempted themselves from having to balance the budget. Wisconsin state statutes currently require the Legislature to balance each biennial budget. That means, spending cannot exceed projected revenue. This law was implemented in 2001 to protect the taxpayers of Wisconsin and has been followed until now. With the passage of this budget, Republicans again told Wisconsinites that they are above the law by including a provision exempting them from this common sense statute. As a result, Republicans were able to spend, spend, spend at the expense of Wisconsin taxpayers, which created a $500 million projected deficit in the most recent budget.
While Democrats introduced a number of proposals aimed at providing real tax relief to Wisconsin's middle-class, working families, all of these recommendations were rejected by those in the majority. These common sense proposals included:
My colleagues and I have also introduced the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill, legislation aimed at providing real financial relief to Wisconsinites that graduate with debt after attending a higher education institution. The student debt crisis is very real here in Wisconsin. According to the U.S. Federal Reserve System, there are 753,000 Wisconsin residents with federal student loan debt. 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. Passing the Higher Ed, Lower Debt bill, authored by Senator Dave Hansen and Representative Cory Mason, would do the following for Wisconsinites:
I certainly hope that with the arrival of a New Year, legislative Republicans will come to their senses and consider adopting these economic proposals put forth by those across the aisle. A good idea is a good idea, no matter where it comes from.
Wisconsin is also expected to face a
number of environmental complications in the upcoming year, given the
environmental rollbacks approved during 2013. One regressive policy
included in the most recent budget prevents citizens from challenging
the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources' (DNR) approval of
high-capacity wells based on the cumulative negative environmental
impact the high volume water withdrawal would have on neighboring
drinking water wells and area lakes and streams.
Stewardship funds have been used to protect natural or recreational lands in 71 of Wisconsin's 72 counties. The Stewardship program also benefits the state's economy, including the $11 billion tourism business, $22 billion forestry industry, and $4 billion in hunting and fishing recreation. Wisconsinites recognize the importance of preserving Wisconsin's wildlife and public lands. In a nonpartisan poll conducted by the Nature Conservancy, nearly 90% of Wisconsin voters agreed that even in tight fiscal times this program should be a priority.
A number of other anti-conservation bills passed in 2013, including:
Further, the Legislature has to do what it can to move past the recent United Sportsmen scandal. Stories about the $500,000 sweetheart deal for a group with ties to Republican legislators, campaigns, and organizations flooded Wisconsin newspapers in 2013. Below are some of the shocking facts that came to light regarding the sporting grant:
Although after closer examination, it appears that even the sole qualifying sporting group, may not have qualified after all. In fact, here are some of the problems with the group awarded the grant that have since become public:
Moving backwards in conservation policies threatens to do long-term damage to the environment that we have fought to maintain with Wisconsin's future generations facing the consequences for years to come. For that reason, I will continue to fight for the reversal of these ill-conceived policies in 2014.
A 2012 report titled Transportation and the New Generation released by the Wisconsin Public Interest Research Group revealed that for the first time since World War II, Americans are driving less. Despite the fact that public transit use is increasing while people are driving less, highway expansion projects continue to be highly prioritized in Wisconsin.
Currently, our state has stalled when it comes to providing support for our public transit infrastructure, which can have a negative impact on our economic health. Having a well-supported public transit system is vital to maintaining and creating jobs in our community. According to the Milwaukee County Transit System's 2011 ridership counts, on average 151,000 rides are provided daily. Of these, 42% are commuters traveling to and from work or heading to job interviews, 12% are students making their way to classes to learn valuable skills for their future careers, 15% are taking the bus to their medical appointments, 11% of riders are shoppers frequenting area businesses, and 6% use the bus for other reasons. Therefore, my colleagues and I will continue to do what we can to encourage the bipartisan passage of key public transportation initiatives as we move into 2014.
Here are some fast facts about what happened in Wisconsin during 2013 and what challenges we face in the upcoming year:
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.
A: During 2013, residents across the state asked Governor Walker to accept federal dollars to strengthen BadgerCare and implement a state-run exchange. This funding--from a pot of money that Wisconsin families already paid into with their federal tax dollars--was a win-win for Wisconsin's working families and taxpayers, and 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.
However, rather than do what is best for Wisconsinites by taking advantage of this opportunity to expand affordable health care coverage, Governor Walker and legislative Republicans chose to move forward with their own plan. This plan will not only cost Wisconsinites more money, but it also creates a coverage gap that has ended up pitting two impoverished groups of Wisconsinites against each other.
If the Legislature passes the governor's plan, it will result 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, if the Legislature votes "no" on the governor's plan, it 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 current scenario, Wisconsinites lose either way.
The governor's plan breaks a promise made to 83,000 childless adults. However, there is a third option that would ensure that all of these individuals could receive BadgerCare. If Wisconsin were to accept federal funding to strengthen BadgerCare, then these neighbors would have access to health care coverage through BadgerCare for at least three years at no additional cost to taxpayers. Unfortunately, Governor Walker and legislative Republicans have thus far chosen to play politics with people's health by refusing to go against the Tea Party's demands to reject the federal funding.
My colleagues and I offered amendments to allow Wisconsin to take the federal funding to cover all of these Wisconsinites for three years for less money than under the governor's plan and to fulfill the promise made to the 83,000 childless adults who need medical care. Unfortunately, all of these common sense and compassionate amendments were rejected by Senate Republicans. Therefore, my colleagues and I were forced to vote in a way that ensures the most people get coverage. Therefore, I voted against the special session bill to try to ensure that 83,000 childless adults would begin receiving coverage on January 1, 2014. However, the bill--which has already passed the Assembly--passed the Senate and will now be sent to the governor for his signature into law. I am sorry to those that will be needlessly delaying their coverage and encourage those that fall into this group to contact me if you reside in the 7th Senate District and require assistance in finding health care alternatives for the time being.
I am saddened that the governor and
legislative Republicans would rather force this immoral vote than accept
the federal funding. Wisconsin is now an island, surrounded by
states--run by both Democratic and Republican governors--that accepted
federal funding to cover more residents and are reaping the benefits of
their investment. Clearly we have chosen to forgo the common sense path
for the path of extremism.
Did You Know...?
You may be aware that the Golden Globe awards will be presented in the New Year on January 12, 2014. But did you know that some of these nominations have ties to both our state and our local community?
John Ridley Jr., a Milwaukee-area native, received a Golden Globe nomination for his screenplay "12 Years a Slave." While Homestead High School alum John Ridley Jr. got his start in show business doing standup comedy, he eventually changed course to pursue being a writer. He has proven successful at his career, which has included writing novels, TV shows, screenplays, internet series, stage plays, and graphic novels in a wide range of genres.
The HBO drama "Behind the Candelabra" about Milwaukee native Liberace was also nominated. The show received four nominations, including best miniseries or motion picture for television. Liberace was a child music prodigy who went on to win two Emmy awards, six gold albums, and two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.
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.
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