Senator Kathleen Vinehout's blog

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.

Farmers say Budget Damages Farm Research, Schools and Conservation Input

Kathleen Vinehout
March 18, 2015
 
 
Farmers say Budget Damages Farm Research, Schools and Conservation Input
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“It’s very important that we are here today,” the farmer from Independence told me. “In fact, it’s more important that we be here than anywhere else.” Here was in my Capitol office. Local farmers were visiting as part of Ag Day at the Capitol.
 
The weather that day was dry and warm. It was perfect for getting early spring chores done. Instead, these farmers drove hundreds of miles to meet with their legislators.
 
They were on a mission to change parts of the state budget that hurt rural communities. The first thing on their mind – in every group that visited – was rural schools.

Legislative Season Brings Many Capitol Visitors

Kathleen Vinehout
March 11, 2015
Legislative Season Brings Many Capitol Visitors
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“I’ve never done this before,” the young woman told me.  She came to my Capitol office for the first time to talk about issues important to her and her profession. She was one of about two-dozen groups that recently visited.
 
People imagine a legislator’s job as debating on the Senate floor. But much of my time is spent listening and learning. Here’s a sample of visits from a single day.
 
My day started working with my staff to distill the important decisions of the state budget into a PowerPoint for use at Town Hall meetings. Budget choices include what happens to local schools, the UW, health care, local government, public safety, state parks, our environment, agriculture, roads and bridges.
 
Soon into my budget work, my staff interrupted saying, “There’s a group waiting for you.”

Economic Development $$$ Grow ~ Public Oversight Shrinks

Economic Development $$$ Grow ~ Public Oversight Shrinks
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“I’ve heard about the cuts,” the Buffalo County man said. “But this budget spends more. Who’s getting more money?”
 
Folks are concerned about big cuts to the UW; cuts to local schools; scaling back of health programs for the disabled; public radio and TV losing state support.
 
But the new budget spends $3 billion more than the last. Where is that money going?
 
One place to look is the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). Despite its name, WEDC is a part of state government; in fiscal year 2012-13 it received over $62 million from the budget (including about $4 million in federal funds) and the agency can authorize potentially millions more in tax credits.

“You have got to be kidding!”

“You have got to be kidding!”
Advocates Respond to Privatizing Family Care & IRIS
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“You have got to be kidding!” a Chippewa Valley advocate responded when I told her about a plan to potentially turn Family Care over to a for-profit insurance company.
 
Family Care and its fee-for-service sister, IRIS, provide thousands of Medicaid-eligible frail elderly and disabled people the help they need to remain in their homes. Services could include help getting places; keeping a job; managing money; preparing meals; keeping healthy; bathing and dressing.
 
People who benefit from Family Care or IRIS might easily end up in an expensive institution. Personal care and other workers help them stay in their own home – and many times – stay gainfully employed.
 
If the current version of the governor’s budget becomes law, it will mean big changes to care for frail elderly and disabled people of modest means. For the rest of us, it could mean many more of our neighbors and family members end up in expensive institutions. Worse yet, folks could be stranded at home without the services they need to independently live and work.

Save SeniorCare, Again!

Save SeniorCare, Again!
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“Please do what you can to keep SeniorCare as is. It is critical to those of us on it.” wrote a rural Buffalo County woman.
 
“I will be 70 years old in a couple of months and not on any prescription medicines. SeniorCare is perfect for me as I very seldom require a prescription for illness or injury, usually going for a year or more without needing one. I should not have to pay the outrageous high cost of Medicare Part D which I would very seldom use and it would cause a terrible financial burden for me that I could not handle on my fixed income.”
 
The rural woman I’ll call ‘Dawn’ signed her letter, “Thank you from a very satisfied SeniorCare participant.”
 
Slipped into the Governor’s state budget is a requirement that seniors sign up for Medicare Part D before they sign up for SeniorCare. The program is a substitute for Part D.
 
To justify his action, the Governor told the Wisconsin State Journal “It’s not about changing benefits; it’s ultimately about changing who pays for it.”

State Budget: Take Time to Learn and Express Yourself

“What people need to understand is that we are seeing this budget for the first time,” the Republican staff member told me. “There are a lot of things that need to change.”
 
Recently the Governor made public his proposal for the state’s two-year budget. The day following his speech a Senate page brought around a hand-truck load of budget documents.
 
When I visited my Republican Senate colleague, the staff had budget papers spread out over a desk and were trying to make sense of it – even as phone calls and emails from constituents were coming in.
 
As we scramble to find buried details, some constituents already were expressing themselves to lawmakers. The back-and-forth between constituents and legislators is a vital aspect of the political process, and input from citizens is never more important than during the two-year budget process.
 
We all know the headlines: $300 million cut to the UW; cutting the UW  loose from state government; lower funding for K-12 schools; statewide subsidy for private schools; state money to make a small dent in rising property taxes.
 
But it will take months to identify all the specifics.
 
That’s where you come in. It’s one thing to see a number on a page. It is quite another to understand the effect of a budget action across the state.

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