Senator Kathleen Vinehout's blog

Art Mirrors our Environment

Kathleen Vinehout
Art Mirrors our Environment
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“If you came to Stockholm today, you came up or over a river,” musician Julie Patchouli told the folks gathered at the 42nd Annual Art Fair. The musical group, known by Julie’s last name, began a rousing river song as part of the celebration of art in the village of Stockholm, Wisconsin.
 
Stockholm is a picturesque Mississippi River town of 66 individuals (not counting the dogs and cats) that swells by many hundreds on art fair day. Most of the art fair is in the scenic village park on the riverbank of Lake Pepin – the widest spot in the Mississippi.

Governor Walker’s Vetoes Remove Legislative Oversight

Kathleen Vinehout
Governor Walker’s Vetoes Remove Legislative Oversight
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“I object to the infringement on gubernatorial power and duties,” wrote Governor Walker in his veto message. By his budget vetoes he made it clear he did not want legislative oversight.
 
The governor removed at least 15 portions of state law passed by the legislature that provided legislative authority or provided oversight of the executive branch.
 
Remember your 4th grade civics class lessons about the delicate balance of powers between the three branches of government – the governor (and executive agencies,), the legislature, and the judiciary. The power of the people lies in the power of their elected officials. The peoples’ representatives are their most direct line of power. When legislative power is undermined, so is the power of the people.
 
The governor began the budget process by taking away powers given to the people and the legislature. For example, the citizen board members of the Departments of Natural Resources and Agriculture lost all their policy-making powers in the governor’s budget. The legislature lost its oversight of state building projects in the governor’s changes to the Building Commission. The people lost budget restrictions in the governor’s gutting of the cost-benefit analysis requirements. These powers were all restored in action by the legislature.
 
However, through his vetoes, the governor again limited the power of the people through their legislature. For example, the legislature held onto funds the governor put in the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) budget. The very troubled jobs agency was to submit policy changes to the legislature. Presumably, those funds could be released funds if the budget writing committee members were satisfied progress was made. The governor took the funds set aside by the budget committee through his veto pen.
 
The budget writing committee made changes in the requirements for agencies writing budgets – requiring more information be sent to the legislature on budget options. Lawmakers also set executive restrictions on short-term debt. The use of this type of debt (known as ‘commercial paper’) has long been unrestricted by lawmakers and invisible to the public.
 
The governor vetoed both of these common sense budget oversight provisions.

A Flurry of New Policy Slipped in by Budget Committee

Kathleen Vinehout
A Flurry of New Policy Slipped in by Budget Committee
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
I didn’t expect to look up telephone laws reading the state budget.
 
Snuck in the end of the Joint Finance Committee’s work is a law change that could affect the safety of rural residents. It had me asking, “What if you picked up the phone to call 911 and heard no dial tone?”
 
Rural residents rely on small legal protections to keep a dial tone on their landline phones. Thousands of rural residents live in an area where cell phones do not work and cable services do not exist.
 
We rely on landlines for business, neighborliness, family communication, and emergencies and safety.

Four (Not so Easy) Ways to Balance the Transportation Budget

Kathleen Vinehout
 
Four (Not so Easy) Ways to Balance the Transportation Budget
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“If it was up to you,” the Chamber of Commerce moderator asked area legislators, “How would you solve the transportation problem?”
 
Budget talks are stalled. Legislators can’t seem to find a way through the labyrinth of interests stalking the Capitol halls. One main sticking point is how to balance the transportation budget.
 
Governor Walker left lawmakers with $1.3 billion in new debt to pay for roads over the next two years. Among many decisions the governor made was to increase spending in the Major Highway Development Program by $100 million or over 13%. He borrowed $109 million to pay for this spending.
 
One decision the governor did not make was to take any of the two-dozen suggestions of his Secretary of Transportation to make possible changes in revenue – new taxes or fees.
 
Of course, borrowing $1.3 billion to pay for spending means someone in the future would have to increase taxes and fees. This is true because, by the end of the budget nearly a quarter of the spending on transportation is on debt service –an unsustainable amount.
 

State Health Marketplace Needed to Protect Wisconsinites

Kathleen Vinehout
State Health Marketplace Needed to Protect Wisconsinites
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“Wisconsin has relied heavily on the exchange to expand health insurance coverage,” wrote President Eric Borgerding of the Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA). In a recent letter to Legislators, he warned a looming Supreme Court decision “could strike down premium assistance.”
 
Many Wisconsinites are waiting to hear if they will still be able to afford their health insurance bill.
 
The U.S. Supreme Court will soon rule on the legality of health insurance subsidies for those living in states that did not create a state-based health insurance marketplace.
 
The WHA estimates over 180,000 Wisconsinites receive tax credit assistance from the federal government for health insurance purchased through healthcare.gov, the federal marketplace. That is roughly like the population of Green Bay and Racine losing an average of almost $3,800 a year.

Transportation Spending: It’s time for a comprehensive audit

Kathleen Vinehout
Transportation Spending: It’s time for a comprehensive audit
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“Senate leader on budget deal: ‘I don’t know where we are at’” was the headline of a recent Associated Press story on the budget deal. The story went on to report there’s “no agreement yet on how to pay for transportation projects…”
 
While the Senate leader gathered up votes, I gathered up a few studies to understand if all this borrowing was necessary.
 
Here’s what I found:
 
Transportation spending is about $6 billion - 8.5% of our total state budget. About 40% of that comes from the federal government.
 
Last April, the budget committee received good news that low fuel costs meant residents were driving more and gas tax money is up – by about $13 million over 3 years.

Kicking Controls Out the Window - No UW oversight by LAB a Recipe for Corruption

Kathleen Vinehout
June 10, 2015
 
Kicking Controls Out the Window
No UW oversight by LAB a Recipe for Corruption
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“Suspend current law…requiring the Legislative Audit Bureau to conduct an annual financial audit of the UW System. Instead, require the UW System to contract with an independent accounting firm,” read the motion introduced by Senator Harsdorf and Representative Schraa.
 
Recent action by a majority of the state’s budget writing committee not only kicked the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) out of the UW System but also approved a process to get rid of state purchasing laws at the UW and waive the state’s bidding process for some UW building projects.

I'm Counting on You

Kathleen Vinehout
June 3, 2015
“I’m Counting on You”
Removal of Teaching Standards Fires Up Folks
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“I’m counting on you,” Tracy from Mondovi wrote me.
 
The architects of the Joint Finance Committee’s education budget package wrongly assumes that anyone can teach by allowing those with minimal qualifications and little more than a high school diploma to educate our children.  Their action will degrade the quality of teaching in Wisconsin and represents a race to the bottom.”
 
Tracy was one of many constituents who recently contacted me about a big change in the state’s teaching standards.
 
In late night budget action, after freezing the school revenue limit and allowing no increase in aid, the Republican majority voted to strip away teaching standards.

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.

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