Senator Kathleen Vinehout's blog

AUDIT: WEDC Cannot Be Certain of Any Jobs Created or Retained

Kathleen Vinehout
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
Our state spends a great deal of money on economic development. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) is responsible for overseeing much of the taxpayer money that goes to job creation.
 
A recently released audit by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) found that “WEDC cannot be certain about the number of jobs actually created or retained as a result of any awards that ended.”
 
By law, WEDC is required to report jobs created or retained. The agency meets the requirement through reports posted on its website. However, auditors found these data inaccurate.
 
“We found that the on-line data in January of 2017 included 183 jobs created and 1,082 jobs retained by recipients that had sold their operations in Wisconsin, ceased their operations in Wisconsin, or had withdrawn from their contracts before the contractually specified completion dates.

“REINS Act” – New Power for Leaders to Stop Public Protections

Kathleen Vinehout

By

Senator Kathleen Vinehout

 

“This is the broadest, most dangerous bill you’ve never heard of.” I told my colleagues during a recent Senate debate. “It’s an obscure way to shut down government from doing something that the Legislature intended to do.”

 

Senate Bill 15, known by the initials REINS, would allow leaders of the Legislature to shut down the implementation of new laws if the leader found the new law too costly to implement. A version of the bill is moving toward passage at both the state and federal levels of government. I expect the state Assembly will soon take up the bill.

 

A little background; after a bill becomes law, agencies work on writing the details of how to implement the law. These details, known as Administrative Rules, are vetted by the Legislature through a committee and vetted by the public through hearings.

 

“Administrative Rules are the fine details of laws written by policy experts at state agencies.” said long-time Capitol reporter Shawn Johnson in an NPR story on the Senate passage of the REINS Act.

Sen. Vinehout ~ Youth in Government Day Engages Teens

Kathleen Vinehout
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“Imagine you could make the laws. What would you change about how things are run?” My question to the students spurred a long discussion about change in our world.
 
Almost 100 high school students recently participated in Trempealeau County Youth in Government Day. The daylong session was designed to encourage youth to become engaged in government. Students visited with county officials and staff about their work running county services.
 
During lunch, I spoke with the students about being a Senator and lawmaking. I encouraged them to think about laws as something they could someday change.
 
Teens told me they often think of the law as permanent. The day at the courthouse taught them things can change. They can be a part of change. The teens offered ideas that reflected their interests and experiences. Some focused on immediate concerns, “Get rid of the school dress code,” said Isabelle. Some had a larger vision.
 
“I want to save the horses sent across the Mexican border for meat,” said Raquel. We talked about the work of horse rescue groups who give time and money to help abandoned horses.

Sen. Vinehout - State Budget: Start with What's Real

Kathleen Vinehout

State Budget: Start with What’s Real

By

Senator Kathleen Vinehout

 

When it comes to paying the bills you’ve got to deal with what’s real. You can’t spend rhetoric.

 

Lawmakers are doubling down to deal with the state budget. Public hearings and town hall meetings are scheduled across the state. Many civic groups are hosting legislators in a discussion of the state budget. Many are burning the midnight oil to get to the bottom of the state’s financial matters.

 

Meth Addiction: the Growing Epidemic in our Neighborhood

Kathleen Vinehout
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“We are up to our gills in meth,” the county worker told me. “Four years ago one quarter of our child-protection cases were related to meth. Now, 92% of these cases are related to meth.”
 
“Our system just isn’t equipped to deal with the meth problem,” said another social worker.
 

Health Care - What's Next?

Kathleen Vinehout
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“Obamacare is the law of the land,” House Speaker Paul Ryan told the nation. “We’re going to be living with Obamacare for the foreseeable future.”
 
The much-maligned Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed in 2010 will stay in place.
 
Self-employed older Americans and state budget directors breathed a sigh of relief. The Republican plan would have raised rates for older people on Healthcare.gov, shifted taxes away from the well-off, and shifted to states more costs for low-income, disabled and elderly (through Medicaid).
 
But the problems of the ACA – rising premiums, customers left with little choice and insurance companies leaving the marketplace in some states – still remain.
 

Are Waters in Wisconsin Meeting Water Quality Standards?

Kathleen Vinehout
By
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“The bottom line is: Are waters meeting water quality standards?” George Meyer told the Audit Committee at a recent hearing.
 
“[Wisconsin is] adding hundreds of impaired waters every year,” Mr. Meyer added. “It’s because of discharged nitrates and phosphorus.”
 
“Regulations and laws are only as good as enforcement.” Mr. Meyer said. “In the last few years [there has been] a substantial reduction in enforcement actions both in the wildlife area and the environmental area.”
 
Mr. Meyer knows about enforcing laws to protect our natural resources. For eight years, he served as the DNR Secretary under Governor Thompson. His 30-year DNR career also included ten years as head of the department’s enforcement efforts. He now runs Wisconsin Wildlife Federation, a nonpartisan coalition of nearly 200 conservation groups.
 
The Audit Committee was examining the findings of the Legislative Audit Bureau’s review of ten years of permitting, monitoring and enforcement of wastewater discharge. DNR is responsible for monitoring water discharged from about 350 industrial permittees and 650 municipal permittees and about 250 large farms (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations or CAFOs) – mostly dairies.

Broadband Expansion: Rural Wisconsin Needs the Real Deal

Kathleen Vinehout
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“All we seek is help to get the basic broadband services that you all take for granted,” Justin Fortney from Clifton Township in Pierce County wrote to me.  “It has been frustrating for us families to watch the digital revolution pass us by…We often…pack the family into the car and drive to a relative’s house or commercial business to use their Internet.”
 
According to the federal government’s most recent information, Wisconsin ranks last in the Midwest in both rural and urban broadband access with only 44% of rural folks accessing download speeds of 25 Mbps.
 
Both federal and state governments responded with grant programs to expand broadband but there are problems with assuring that residents actually receive the promised services.
 
With much fanfare, Governor Walker recently announced his plan to add money for broadband to schools and rural areas. Later, Senator Marklein released a different bill. The Senator’s bill was voted out of his rural affairs committee and is headed for final passage soon.

Audit Hearing Highlights Problems and Way Forward with Transportation

Kathleen Vinehout
by
Senator Kathleen Vinehout
 
“Deputies are trying to figure out what caused a bridge on a rural road west of Arcadia to collapse.” The WEAU-TV story broke the same morning as a recent Legislative Audit Committee hearing on the State Highways Program.
 
As horrifying as the bridge collapse was, the story highlighted problems locals, others and I warned about for some time. Summer storms and floodwaters weakened older roads and bridges. State funds for local construction and maintenance did not kept pace with costs.
 
The recent audit, conducted by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB), shined a light on long-standing problems with the Department of Transportation (DOT). Many lawmakers, including myself, advocated for this audit because an analysis of DOT programs has not been conducted for many years.

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