Senator Kathleen Vinehout's blog

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.

Let’s Not Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water

Let’s Not Throw the Baby Out with the Bath Water”

GAB Audit Hearing shows path to improved operation

By

Senator Kathleen Vinehout

“I’m not a clerk. I’m just a citizen who observed several recounts and recalls,” Bill Wasser of Reedsburg told the Audit Committee. “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Let’s make some changes and make it work.”

Mr. Wasser responded to some lawmakers who threatened to dismantle the Government Accountability Board (GAB). The state agency oversees elections, campaign finance, lobbying and ethics.

One of the lawmakers intent on dismantling the nonpartisan agency is Assembly Speaker Robin Vos who told reporters the GAB “will not exist in its current form much longer.”

At the recent public hearing many local elected officials from across the state testified in support of the GAB. The work of the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) confirmed what clerks were saying: GAB staff members were consistent and inventive in training and supporting clerks during a tumultuous time in Wisconsin’s history.

“I Don’t Have A Clue” - School Play Mirrors Confusion in Assembly Education Committee

January 21, 2015
 
“I Don’t Have A Clue”
School Play Mirrors Confusion in Assembly Education Committee
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“Edgar: All right, everybody; back to the scene of the crime.
“Ella: New clues?
“Carol: What clues?
“Bob: What’s the next clue?
“Carol: I don’t have a clue.
“Norman: (At the window box, dramatically.) Guys, the body’s gone!”
 
So goes the hilarious comedy written by Craig Sodaro and performed by Alma students. The play begins as a murder mystery dinner invitation and ends wrapped up in an international smuggling ring.
 
Students spent the last three and a half months practicing lines and preparing costumes. Play Director Tom Brakke coordinated a cast of roughly a quarter of Alma’s Middle and High Schoolers with precious few resources. He even directed students to buy up half-priced dresses and police uniforms at After-Halloween-Sales.
 
The work shows. The fast-paced comedy pulled in record crowds at the rural high school. Teens of all ages delivered their lines flawlessly and kept everyone entertained.
 
I took in the show on a brief break. I couldn’t help but see parallels between the confusion of the dinner guests and the lines delivered at a recent Assembly Education Committee hearing.

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