Senator Kathleen Vinehout's blog

I agree Governor! Let’s Make Public Schools “Whole”

Kathleen Vinehout
May 27, 2015
 
I agree Governor! Let’s Make Public Schools “Whole”
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“Our number one priority gotta to be make (sic) sure that we make K-12 schools, public education in the state, a priority to make sure they’re held whole,” said Governor Walker on April 23rd, as quoted by Wisconsin Radio Network.
 
I agree, Governor! Let’s make public schools “whole.”
 
In a recent late night session, the state’s budget writing committee took up public school funding. Many advocates expected a turnaround in the governor’s proposed funding for local schools. Instead folks got a big surprise: lots of changes asked for by private school lobbyists. Not so for public schools.
 

Audit Affirms Complaints but also Satisfaction with Non-Emergency Medical Transportation Program

Kathleen Vinehout
May 20, 2015
 
Audit Affirms Complaints but also Satisfaction with Non-Emergency Medical Transportation Program
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
Last April I wrote about many complaints I received concerning rides to medical appointments for folks in BadgerCare and other Medicaid programs.
 
People complained drivers didn’t show up, rides were late, drivers didn’t arrive for the return trip home and – at least in one case – the heater did not work in a van taking an elderly woman for her dialysis appointment.
 
Often patients were told no drivers were available. But local transportation companies told me they were not getting enough business. Local drivers thought the St. Louis-based contractor, Medical Transportation Management, Inc. (MTM) favored a few large companies over small local ones.  MTM is the statewide Non-Emergency Medical Transportation ‘broker’ the state hired to arrange rides for eligible patients.

Time to Return to a State Department of Commerce

Kathleen Vinehout
May 13, 2015
 
Time to Return to a State Department of Commerce
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“When do we return the economic development initiative and the checkbook to the control of a state agency” John Dunn of Mauston asked in a letter to Legislators. “The WEDC has again failed to follow state law and its own policies in awarding taxpayer-funded incentives to state companies. We need accountability to taxpayers.”
 
Not following the law, and not acting in a transparent and accountable way is a frequent criticism of the state’s economic development operations.
 
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), created in 2011 as an independent authority, fell under criticism again with the recent release of another audit showing that WEDC failed to follow state laws and its own policies when awarding grants, loans and tax credits to businesses and failed to independently verify whether or not promised jobs were actually created.

Citizen Input Provides Important Details of Conservation Budget Cuts

Kathleen Vinehout
May 6, 2015
Citizen Input Provides Important Details of Conservation Budget Cuts
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“Why is it I keep hearing more about what’s in the governor’s budget?” the woman asked me. “Don’t you see it all at once and then decide what to do?”
 
It can be difficult for legislators to know the full effect of cuts without the critical input of citizens.
 
For example, news of cuts to the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) made its way to western Wisconsin. Constituents communicated back to me the effect of these cuts. Through emails, phone calls and office visits I was able to piece together the real effect of a few lines of DNR budget cuts.

A Business Owes Nothing in Taxes & Gets a State Check?

Kathleen Vinehout
April 29, 2015
A Business Owes Nothing in Taxes & Gets a State Check?
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“Why doesn’t the press cover what’s happening with refundable tax credits?” I asked the journalist. We were chatting about what I found in the state budget.
 
“Because the press doesn’t understand them,” she told me.
 
“Doesn’t understand them?” I thought. “There has to be an easy way to describe what’s happening...”
 
Imagine if you had no state tax taken out of your paycheck. You filed your tax return but you owed nothing. Now imagine the state sent you a refund check. Wow!
 
This is like a refundable tax credit. A company owes little to nothing in taxes but gets a check back from the state - cash from the taxpayers of Wisconsin.

Let’s Debunk a Few Budget Myths

Kathleen Vinehout
April 22, 2015
 
Let’s Debunk a Few Budget Myths
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“I’m okay with the cuts,” the man wrote me. “It’s shameful to pass debt on to our children.” In the man’s message, he implies a common misconception about Wisconsin – there is no state debt.
 
Wisconsin owes a lot of money. The state budget proposes that we borrow even more money. The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) reported in January that the state owed about $13.8 billion. This is slightly less than the previous year, but almost $600 million more than when Governor Doyle left office.
 
The conservative Tax Foundation reported in 2011 Wisconsin ranked 18th of 50 states in terms of the worst state debt per person ($4,013). In 2013, Wisconsin ranked 16th of 50 states ($4,044 per person). Wisconsin is headed the wrong direction in paying off the debt.
 
The Governor is proposing a great deal more borrowing in the new budget. Of greatest concern is the borrowing to pay for roads and bridges. The LFB estimates by the end of the coming budget almost a quarter of every dollar in transportation will be spent on debt payments.

People Speak Out About Consequences of Budget Decisions

Kathleen Vinehout

April 15, 2015

People Speak Out About Consequences of Budget Decisions

By Senator Kathleen Vinehout

 

“This is not my cup of tea,” the farmer said quietly as he moved up to the microphone at the Eau Claire budget hearing.

 

“I’m a UW grad. I’m a farmer. I’m a tech college grad. My kids went to public school. There’s a lot I could talk about today. But I’m here today for Craig, my son. He loves where he lives.”

 

“I don’t want to lose that,” said Craig sitting between his parents. Craig had surgery to remove brain tumors at 3 years old. His mind is quick and his words are heartfelt.

Uber vs. Taxi Cabs: Is a Statewide Preemption of Local Laws a Good Idea?

Kathleen Vinehout
Could a ride-sharing company known as Uber be in your future? Testimony from company lobbyists suggests we may soon see the San Francisco based app-driven ride-sharing company in rural Wisconsin.
 
That is if state lawmakers pass new legislation to stop/preempt locals from regulating the ride-share drivers.
 
Uber is a multinational computer app-driven company that matches riders with drivers.  The website Business Insider calculated late in 2014 that Uber experienced staggering growth of 369% for the year December 2012 to 2013 and the company could generate upwards of $10 billion annually.
 
In a recent public hearing my colleagues and I heard testimony on a bill to create statewide standards for the new computer app-driven ride-share “transportation network companies” (TNCs).

Details Buried Deep in Budget Affect Students and Voters

Kathleen Vinehout
April 1, 2015
 
Details Buried Deep in Budget Affect Students and Voters
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“I didn’t know that was a part of the state budget,” the parent told me.
 
That was the reciprocity agreement between Wisconsin and Minnesota to allow students from across state lines to attend public universities at in-state tuition costs. This arrangement saves students and parents out-of-state tuition costs.
 
The governor’s budget removes state funds to pay for the tuition reciprocity program and tells University officials the program is optional.
 
Tuition costs vary at universities. Non-residents can pay as much as triple the tuition of in-state students. Generally the UW system is less expensive for in-state tuition so the program does cost Wisconsin.
 
Without funds in the state budget to pay for the program and in the face of $300 million in state cuts, it is unlikely officials will continue the agreement between the two states.

Advocacy Gives Voice to the Voiceless - Families Support Family Care and IRIS

Kathleen Vinehout
March 25, 2015
 
Advocacy Gives Voice to the Voiceless - Families Support Family Care and IRIS
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
I remember when I first met a man I’ll call ‘Ron’. He came to my office with his caregiver. He couldn’t speak but used a speech synthesizer and an iPad to introduce himself. He was joined by several friends – all in wheelchairs – who told me their inspiring stories of independence.
 
Ron passionately detailed how his caregiver assisted him with everyday activities we take for granted. He wanted me to work for funding so he could pay his caregiver a living wage. Wages for care workers are very low and have been for years.
 
Fast-forward a few years. Ron and his friends joined hundreds of citizens in the Capitol to advocate for critical long-term care programs. Many of the visitors had never been the Capitol and never met with a legislator. These citizen lobbyists were advocating for programs that provide them or their family member with health and independence.

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