Senator Kathleen Vinehout's blog

Finding Help for Flooded Families and Farms

Kathleen Vinehout
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“It gets overwhelming,” my neighbor told me. We were walking through her flooded barnyard. Floodwaters left silt everywhere: in the house, the garden, the barn, and the farmyard.
 
Family members were working hard to clean up. But they were filled with unanswered questions: where to go and what to do?
 
Western Wisconsin was hit with several severe rainstorms in the past few weeks. Early morning on August 11 parts of Buffalo County received 5 ½ to 11 ½ inches of rain in just 45 minutes. The beautiful rolling hills intensified the power of the water as it raced towards the lowest point.
 
Huge gullies opened up. Roads washed out. Crops were damaged. Fence lines washed away. Pastures became lakes. Cattle and pigs were lost. Concrete buckled. Trees were uprooted. Small sheds floated away. Farm machinery flooded. Flower and vegetable gardens were covered with black muck.

Where Did All that Money Go? Business Tax Credit Costs Pile Up

Kathleen Vinehout
Where Did All that Money Go? Business Tax Credit Costs Pile Up
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“Where did all that money go?” Dennis asked me during a recent visit to the Jackson County Fair.
 
Dennis is one of many constituents who ask where the money for schools and roads is as our state recovers from the recession. Economic recovery means more money and more money should equal more resources for the public. Instead, state funds are very tight. For example, state aid to local public schools is less now than in 2006.
 
One reason is that the state is not collecting tax money from some large, and in several cases, very profitable companies. Recently I received a memo from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau detailing the awards given out for one large tax credit known as the Enterprise Zone Tax Credit. This credit – originally conceived to help rural communities – has morphed into large credits for single companies.
 
The memo contained a list of the total awards made and the companies that received them:
 
Amazon.com                                      $10.3 million
Bucyrus International, Inc.                     $20.0 million
Direct Supply                                   $22.5 million
Dollar General Corporation                      $ 5.5 million
Exact Sciences Corporation                      $ 9.0 million
Fincantieri Marine Group, LLC                   $28.0 million
InSinkErator                                    $15.5 million
Kestrel Aircraft Company, Inc.                  $18.0 million
Kohl’s Corporation                              $62.5 million
Mercury Marine                                  $65.0 million
MKE Electric Tool Corporation                   $18.0 million
Northstar Med. Radioisotopes, LLC               $14.0 million
Oshkosh Corporation                             $47.0 million
Plexus Corporation                              $15.0 million
Quad/Graphics, Inc.                             $61.7 million
Trane US Incorporated                           $ 5.5 million
Uline, Incorporated                             $18.6 million
W Solar Group, Incorporated                     $28.0 million
Weather Shield Mfg, Incorporated                $ 8.0 million
 
TOTAL (through Aug. 1, 2016)                $472.1 million
 

Have an Opinion about Your Internet Connection? Let Your Voice be Heard!

Kathleen Vinehout
Editor's Note - I am one of the people in the state who is blessed with a great Internet connection by virtue of belonging to a phone co-op that has invested in infrastructure. My rural farm house has fiber connection for phone, tv, and internet. Most are not so blessed. Let your voice be heard, and fill us in in the comment section about your own internet experience.
Have an Opinion about Your Internet Connection? Let Your Voice be Heard!
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
Do you have a great Internet connection? Less than what you’d prefer? Makes it impossible for you to do your work or your children’s homework? No service at all?
 
Make your opinion known!
 
The state is taking a survey of how Wisconsinites connect to the Internet. The survey is free – and ironically – available online. Those without Internet – or such a slow connection they cannot fill out a survey – can let their voice be heard by calling the following toll-free phone number - (877) 360-2973.
 
Home connections and businesses are measured in separate surveys. You can reach the residential survey here: https://www.research.net/r/WI_PSC_broadband_survey
Businesses can voice their opinion here: https://www.research.net/r/WI_PSC_business_broadband_survey
 

UWEC and Local Business: A Flourishing Relationship Worthy of Investment

Kathleen Vinehout

UWEC and Local Business: A Flourishing Relationship Worthy of Investment

By

Senator Kathleen Vinehout

“One hundred years ago the Chamber rented a rail car to go down to Madison,” President Bob McCoy of the Eau Claire Chamber of Commerce told the gathering of business leaders. A century ago, Chamber members traveled to Madison to advocate for a new UW campus in Eau Claire.

Government Accountability Died the End of June

Kathleen Vinehout
Government Accountability Died the End of June
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
Government Accountability passed in a quiet death the last day of June.
 
There was no fanfare, no long speeches – just hard working employees packing up personal items.
 
I imagined the nonpartisan judges of the Government Accountability Board (GAB) breathed a deep sigh as they left their service on the GAB and ended the rough and tumble ordeal as broad members.
 
All the fanfare, public speeches and hyper-partisan rhetoric happened last winter in what GAB board member, Judge Thomas Barland, called a “public lynching”.
 
Judge Barland is a former Circuit Court Judge for Eau Claire and Trempealeau counties. As a GAB board member, he oversaw government accountability in Wisconsin. Earlier this year he retired from the GAB.
 
For over thirty years, he served as a nonpartisan judge. Ironically, given the partisan focus of destroying the GAB, Judge Barland served as a Republican State Representative from 1961 to 1967.
 
Following an interview with Judge Barland, Chippewa Valley Herald Associate Editor David Gordon wrote, Barland said his ‘public lynching’ comment referred both to the recurrent attacks on the GAB by members of the Republican majority in the Legislature, and to the actual destruction of the Board.”

Delight in the Sun!

Kathleen Vinehout
Delight in the Sun!
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“Don’t you want to sit in the shade?” my sister-in-law asked. “No” I replied. I love the sun. I understand why ancient civilizations worshiped the sun.
 
Somehow, I think my in-laws, Cindy and Norm, love the sun too.
 
They just returned from the Midwest Energy Fair in Custer, Wisconsin. The Energy Fair, sponsored by the nonprofit Midwest Renewable Energy Association celebrated its 27th anniversary in June.
 
With over 200 workshops and roughly 15,000 folks attending, the fair serves as a catalyst for clean energy projects all over Wisconsin.

Birth, Life and Death of a Bad Idea

Kathleen Vinehout
15, 2016
Birth, Life and Death of a Bad Idea
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“No one had any inkling this was happening,” Michael Blumenfeld told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We are just scratching our heads. Why would you do this?” Mr. Blumenfeld spoke for the Wisconsin Family Care Association in early spring of 2015.
 
The frail elderly, disabled, and their families learned the governor sought to privatize the successful Family Care and IRIS programs, handing them over to a few large insurance companies.
 
The birth of this idea happened in secret.
 
The Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary – charged with shepherding the plan through the legislative process – acknowledged to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that “she learned of the proposal only when the governor’s budget was released.” Evidently her staff also knew nothing of the plan.
 
“None of them knew anything about this,” said Barbara Beckert of Disability Rights Wisconsin. “They are in a state of shock.”
 
In December 2014, the governor’s office invited advocacy groups to a meeting to discuss what they would like to see happen with the programs. Jason Endres and his spouse Julie of Eau Claire attended that meeting.
 
“We were never listened to,” Jason said. “The governor did a complete 180 when the budget came out.”

Audit Raises Questions About Clean Water Protection

Kathleen Vinehout
 
Audit Raises Questions About Clean Water Protection
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
We all drink water. We expect the water to be clean when it comes out of the facet. We also expect that someone is looking over the safety of our water.
 
Residents in Kewaunee County wonder more than most if the water they drink is really safe. Well water tested in a random sample last November found a third of Kewaunee wells were contaminated with bacteria or unsafe levels of nitrates.
 
The likely culprits of well contamination are large livestock farms known as concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs). Kewaunee County has more CAFOs permitted by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) than any other county except Brown.
 
The nonpartisan Legislative Audit Committee (LAB) recently reviewed the DNR’s work related to our state’s pollution discharge elimination system. The DNR staff is charged with watching over about 1,250 industrial and municipality-owned wastewater treatment plants and the discharge of over 250 large farms – mostly large dairies.

How to make heads or tails out of Wisconsin's finances

Kathleen Vinehout
How to Make Heads or Tails of Wisconsin’s Finances
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“Is there any news on how the state is positioned for revenue growth?” Mr. Olsen inquired in his letter.
 
“How do our finances compare to other states?” Mrs. Adams asked.
 
People want to know about the health of Wisconsin’s finances. As I began my research, I spoke with the State Auditor and the chief financial analyst, both of whom work for nonpartisan legislative support agencies.
 
Wisconsin is midway through its two-year budget. The state’s fiscal year ends June 30th. By mid-August we should know how closely actual spending and revenue tracked with budgeted numbers.
 
Preparations are underway for the 2017-19 state budget. State agencies are putting together their budget requests. In November, Wisconsin’s Department of Revenue (DOR) is required to release estimates on money coming into the state to help inform decisions about the budget.

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