Educators speak out against voucher expansion - As public school officials speak out about a plan to pump public money into private schools, Democrats are calling on moderate Republicans to make state budget changes. (Baraboo News Republic 6/17/2013)
State budget still faces hurdles - Voucher schools would expand statewide, income taxes would be cut by more than $500 million and Wisconsin would reject a federal Medicaid expansion even though it would save the state money under a broad agreement being worked out between Gov. Scott Walker and Republican legislative leaders. (Baraboo News Republic 6/3/2013)
Rap with your Reps: Lawmakers visit with constitutents - Several dozen community members gathered to speak their minds to state lawmakers Monday night at Pineview Elementary School. (Baraboo News Republic 5/20/2013)
Lawmakers seek to boost public school funding - Public school spending will be allowed to increase over the next two years, despite Gov. Scott Walker's initial plan to keep it frozen, one of the Republican co-chairs of the Legislature's budget-writing committee said Wednesday. (Baraboo News Republic 5/8/2013)
Legislators reject circus plan - The Wisconsin Historical Society will not takeover operations at Baraboo's Circus World Museum. Nor will the historic site get state funding to ease its tight finances, the Legislature's budget-writing committee decided Tuesday. (Baraboo News Republic 5/1/2013)
UW officials defend reserves as lawmakers call for tuition freeze - Reaction to last week's revelation that the University of Wisconsin System has built a $648 million reserve fund has run the gamut, from hyper-critical to shrugs of indifference. (Baraboo News Republic 4/25/2013)
New venture capital bill generates bipartisan support - After failure during the last session, venture capital legislation is getting bipartisan backing. (Baraboo News Republic 4/25/2013)
The Wisconsin State Assembly begins debate today on the 2013-2015 state budget. Unless changes are made, the Legislature could complete work on the budget by the end of the week and send it to Governor Walker for his signature. Unfortunately, this budget is in need of changes, and unless that happens I won't be voting for it.
Of course people might expect a Democrat and member of the minority party to be opposed to the majority party's budget. That's how partisan politics works, right? So, one of the questions I try to ask before taking any vote is, if I was neither a Democrat nor Republican but an independent, would I think this was bad or good for the people at home?
Asking that question makes my choice on the state budget vote easy. While there are some positive aspects of this budget, they are hugely outweighed by policies that will be bad for our school kids, bad for our health, and bad for our communities.
Any rural legislator who's paying attention understands that the back-room budget deal on the expansion of private voucher schools reached in the middle of the night in the Joint Finance Committee is no compromise - the expansion of vouchers to every school district in Wisconsin (with temporary limits) is a giveaway to the billionaire backers of school privatization. I'm encouraged that opposition to this issue has until now been bipartisan, and a number of my colleagues, including Rep. Brooks, R-Reedsburg, and Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, have been on the record opposing voucher expansion. I sincerely hope they show the leadership to act on their convictions by either opposing the budget or offering alternatives to modify these provisions.
With this budget, Wisconsin is only a few strokes of a pen away from having an unrestricted statewide private school system - paid for by taxpayers but unaccountable to voters or local control. This is the proverbial camel's nose in the tent. Make no mistake, vouchers are one very big camel. If the proposed limits on the number of students in voucher schools were removed, this program could eventually cost Wisconsin taxpayers as much as $1.9 billion a year, money that won't be available for public schools in our community.
I'm also opposed to the proposed state budget because it rejects federal Medicaid funding that would have allowed us to expand our successful BadgerCare program. By accepting federal funds for Medicaid we could have extended health care to 175,000 people and saved state taxpayers $66 million over the next three years.
Instead, this budget sends over $100 million of our own federal taxes to other states, while forcing 87,000 Wisconsin parents off of BadgerCare and forcing them to obtain coverage in newly created federal exchanges. These are the same federal exchanges that Governor Walker has spent the last two years opposing and threatening to refuse to implement.
The refusal to accept Medicaid funding is downright bad policy - which is why every major group representing medical professionals, including the Wisconsin Hospital Association, has strongly urged the governor and Legislature to reverse course and accept federal funding, which would also help stimulate the creation of over 10,000 new jobs in the health care industry.
It looks now, however, that because a few top political leaders couldn't resist the temptation to score cheap political points by bashing President Obama, this Legislature may be too dumb to do what's best for all of us and enact policies that would save us money and potentially save lives.
Finally, I'm opposed to the budget because of the many last-minute provisions, like the one that will allow private bail bondsmen to once again operate in Wisconsin. Our current bail bond system works well and helps fund victim compensation costs and courts costs. The new proposal would divert those funds to private bail bond operators. Court clerks and judges are almost universally opposed to this provision, which also has never received a public hearing. And yet it appeared, late at night, in the final budget motion voted up by our Joint Finance Committee on their last day in session.
I'm all for bipartisanship, which is why I've been willing to work with members of any party to pass legislation on job creation or work together on local issues. This budget, however, represents much of what is wrong with politics today, and in my opinion it would be a big step back for Wisconsin. I'm hoping we can do better.
As always, it's an honor to serve as your representative.
81st Assembly District
June 17, 2013