Senator Kathleen Vinehout's blog

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.

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.

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