KATHLEEN VINEHOUT
PEOPLE FIRST

What is a “fair” tax?

“I’m opposed to the cigarette tax. It’s not a fair tax.” The gentleman from Eleva called me early one morning. He is opposed to using a tax on cigarettes to balance the budget.

“I like the cigarette tax. I don’t smoke and I won’t have to pay anything,” Another gentleman told me during conversation.

What is a fair tax? Is the smoking tax a fair tax? Is there such a thing as a fair tax?

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Let’s Start Thinking of Solutions

“I have so many good ideas I don’t know where to start,” my new friend said. He and I were working to find solutions to high-priced health insurance. My friend came from the world of small business, I from the Senate.

The occasion was a gathering in Chicago last week of people from 14 states that were all considering serious health care changes. My friend and I are part of ‘Team Wisconsin’ that included eight people representing state agencies, the Governor, the legislature, private business and advocacy groups. We spent three intensive days working, learning and sharing ideas.

The event, called the “State Coverage Initiative,” was paid through a grant from Robert Wood Johnson, a foundation that was formed years ago by Johnson and Johnson - the baby powder people. For many decades this foundation has been supporting changes in health care.

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Writing a Bad Check

The budget battles in Madison took a new turn last week when Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch offered a proposal to fund education and local government. Unfortunately, he didn’t offer the proposal at the Conference Committee table; he offered it on the floor of the Assembly.

This is a bit like showing up for work in Menomonie when this week’s job is in Melrose. The work needs to be done at the conference committee not the floor of the Assembly.

At issue are two different versions of the state budget. The work is being done in a conference committee of which Speaker Huebsch is the leading member of the Assembly Republican side.

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Look at the Bottom Line

“What can I do to help pass Healthy Wisconsin?” The farmer had no insurance and a large family. Everyday was a new worry about keeping his family healthy. And now he was discouraged. He had just heard an ad from those opposed to health care reform.

“Let people know how you feel,” came the answer. We live in a democracy. People can freely express their opinions. But some voices are louder than others. And money does talk.

There are strong interests opposed to health care for all. Some are vested in the current system and have much to lose. Others are opposed to the plan ideologically and simply do not believe in universal health care.

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Epilepsy Patients: Cutting Costs in Medication Can Hurt

“I would hope that anyone who changes my meds for any reason would let me and let my doctor know.” Katie testified before the Senate Health Committee last Thursday. She held her mom’s hand and filled her mom with tears of pride.

Katie has epilepsy – a disease of seizures. The drugs helped control the seizures. But just a little too much medication and she could have bad side effects, too little and she could have seizures.

Doctors and patients drove to Madison to tell of a problem with insurance companies substituting cheaper drugs for those that actually works for patients.

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Visit to Women’s Prison Opens Eyes

“I take full responsibility for what I have done,” the older woman said with remorse. ‘Sally’ was serving a 65-year sentence for possessing drugs with intent to deliver them. She will likely die in prison.

The Senate Committee on Judiciary and Corrections visited the state’s prison for women – known as Taycheeduh Correctional Institution near Fond du Lac. Nearly all incarcerated women in the state are in this prison.

Senators went to learn. And that we did.

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A Week in the Life of a Senator

“Just what do you do in your job?” The farm woman had invited me in for tea when I dropped off some material on Healthy Wisconsin.

It’s been a busy time and I was grateful for the chance to consider what I have been doing. I am in the middle of many town hall meetings we are scheduling on our health care reform plan. I had just returned from Osseo. Earlier in the week, I visited Durand and La Crosse. We have had a very good response from people who attended the meetings and want to see real health care reform happen.

I also talk or write to many people who contact the office with questions about Healthy Wisconsin. Sometimes this means tracking down answers about how the plan affects people in different situations.

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We Know the Problems of Our Society… But Can We Change Our Ways?

From falling bridges to mud slides, washed out roads and floating houses there has been plenty happening in our communities along the Mississippi River. We’ve gone from drought to floods in short order and wonder when it is going to stop.

While many folks are drying out their basements, people to our south are finding life much more difficult. Reminders of the failures of New Orleans bring home the lesson of how we rely on local government and local media when a crisis hits. Both resources are stretched thin these days.

So much we take for granted. And so much we fail to see.

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Taking a Step towards Fair Taxes

“What are you going to do about taxes?” The older man was not happy with his property tax bill.

Most of the complaints I hear about taxes center on property tax. Wisconsin does have high property taxes. But you may be surprised by who isn’t paying them.

Did you know that 35 years ago residential property accounted for half of all property taxes collected and by 2005, this number had risen to 70 percent? That means that business property taxes, (including agriculture) have dropped.

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The “Inconvenience” of Going to War

Should a mother be given time off from work to travel to her daughter’s naval base and say ‘good bye’ before the daughter leaves for Iraq?

That question was at the heart of a public hearing on SB 173 the Family Military Leave Act. This bill I authored at the request of local parents and their daughter, Megan, who is on her third deployment to Iraq as part of a mobile security detachment.

The bill was written to relieve some of the chaos and stress that military families feel preparing for deployment – a time many local families have lived though. Megan’s mother was not given time off to visit her daughter. Megan later discovered a law from another state that would have helped her mother which she forwarded to her father who gave it to me.

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