It’s with that balance of optimism and realism I look forward to 2014.
I wish you all a prosperous New Year with jobs that pay a living wage for every family, a great school for every child and affordable health care for everyone. But in this wish is the acknowledgement of the real struggle Wisconsin faces to wrestle the public good away from mismanagement and private interests seeking to influence policy.
As I look back at the issues people expressed as their concern it is no surprise state spending was at the top of the list. In odd-numbered years, the Legislature debates the two-year state budget. State spending related to education and health care tied with concerns related to mining, including sand mining and opposition to gun control.
People are worried state money for local schools has been cut too deep. They overwhelmingly oppose the use of public dollars for expansion of private voucher schools. Many people agree the school funding formula needs to be changed and special resources must be given to rural schools and those with high numbers of students in poverty. This is why I wrote an alternative budget that fully funded public education, changing the formula and eliminated the new money for private school vouchers and tax breaks.
It was a conversation I’ve had a thousand times since I became a Senator almost seven years ago. What was unique was the setting: I met Sam in an ambulance.
Sam and I had much in common, besides spending part of Sunday morning in an ambulance. Sam was a farmer, raised a lot of food for the family, loved farming and had a medical condition that made it hard to get health insurance.
As I travel, I hear many stories from working families who are struggling to make ends meet. Low wage workers fall further and further behind and are more dependent on the state’s cash strapped social safety net programs.
There is a step the state can take that would make an immediate impact: we could raise the minimum wage.
However, speed and secrecy are increasingly being used to limit public involvement and careful legislative deliberation.
Public hearings are one place people can make an impact on a developing new law. By testifying at a hearing, a person can directly provide input. Those who cannot travel to the Capitol can send emails or letters to members of a committee and request changes in legislation.
Thanksgiving and gun-deer hunting are finally here. All fall I heard from folks who live for the 9-day deer hunt. I visited local businesses and saw deer photos posted in work cubicles. I spoke to high school classes or at town hall meetings and the conversation eventually turned to the great outdoors and hunting.
As the Senator from Buffalo County- the Deer Hunting Capital of the Midwest- many visitors to my Capitol office look for that trophy buck on the wall. A few of my Buffalo County visitors kid me saying my little buck must have come from some other county.
Many of us live to hunt and fish and enjoy the great outdoors. And we all have a role in preserving what we love.
Governor Walker recently told the Associated Press “We want to make sure nobody falls through the cracks.” If this is the goal, the best solution would be to continue providing public insurance until eligible folks have gotten signed up for the new Marketplace.
The governor has called on Legislators to extend his deadline to drop BadgerCare coverage for tens of thousands of low-income Wisconsinites because of difficulties folks experienced in getting signed up for the federal health insurance Marketplace.
He was one of many to say lawmakers better get to work to lower insurance costs. Many people who buy insurance on their own have complained to me about high insurance costs.
Folks near Minnesota told stories about how much easier it was for those in the Gopher State to get low cost insurance. A study released by Citizen Action of Wisconsin corroborates these stories.
Public education is undergoing a radical change. What was predominately a local school governed by a locally elected school board is poised to become a plethora of choices: private religious schools, independent privately operated charter schools, voucher schools, for-profit schools, virtual schools, and public schools.
All paid for with tax dollars.