The Wisconsin legislature is entering a new phase in the budget debates; one seldom seen in recent years. With the Assembly and Senate miles apart on state priorities, the budget now lies in the hands of eight members who make up the Conference Committee.
The two visions of what our state should be contained in the Senate and Assembly budgets are quite different. The results for our schools, the environment, and our local governments will be dramatically different.
We all have expectations for our state and public services. We expect the police and fire department to come on time; we expect schools and universities to prepare students for the future; we expect our neighborhoods to be free of pollution and our water to be clean; we expect programs that work to serve those less fortunate and we expect taxes to be fair.
The budget battles in Madison continue as the Assembly rejected the work of the governor, the Joint Finance Committee and the Senate, and passed a very different version of the state budget. On July 17, the state Senate acted to send the entire budget to Conference Committee. This phase of the budget war is expected to last at least through the end of the summer.
Two important agricultural initiatives were among items the Assembly removed from the state budget. Local foods and grazing are programs with strong public support.
Removed from the Assembly budget was the popular “Buy Local, Buy Wisconsin” program. “Buy Local” encourages citizens to learn of and buy locally-produced foods and helps to develop the distribution and marketing systems so needed by farmers who produce food for local consumption.
“Can you really get Healthy Wisconsin passed? We need the plan now.” At summer parades and picnics, in the cafes and through call-in radio shows, the message to me is the same “Can you really get this job done? We need it now.”
Healthy Wisconsin: Your Choice, Your Plan is comprehensive health care reform that provides the same benefits that I have as a state legislator to every man, woman and child not covered by a public program (like Medicare). The plan was recently passed by the state Senate and now awaits action by the state Assembly.
The plan’s passage has created a groundswell of support among average citizens but is not without its detractors. Separating fact from fiction has become a full time job for this rookie state senator.
After five months of hard work, after public hearings around the state and weeks of wrangling in a bipartisan budget committee, after late night caucuses and bleary-eyed, cranky senators, the Senate passed its version of the state budget.
The budget affects everything from parks to payments for nursing homes. It provides money for roads and schools. The projects in the budget move us forward in renewable energy, and reduced property taxes by increasing the state’s share of funding for local government and by expanding the Homestead Tax Credit.
Tipping the scales at nearly 2,000 pages with the Senate changes, the budget is a massive document that is the work of many people. In the budget are 58 pages that have my fingerprints all over them. These are the 58 pages that describe the new health care reform plan “Healthy Wisconsin: Your Choice, Your Plan.”
When I was first elected Senator I did not have health insurance. Since I took office, I have been working hard to bring the same health insurance benefits I now have to all the people back home that need affordable health care.
I have spent hundreds of hours working with a few of my colleagues to write a plan that would bring health care reform to Wisconsin. This week the work that has taken up so much of my life for the past six months was finally made public.
The plan, known as “Healthy Wisconsin, Your Choice Your Plan” covers people who are residents of Wisconsin but not eligible for public plans like Medicaid, Medicare or BadgerCare. Every man, woman and child who is a resident of Wisconsin would have access to affordable health care.
“They call is a ‘Gross Receipts Tax’ on oil companies. We all know it’s really going to be a tax on you and me.”
“This is so frustrating - sitting in traffic on dangerous roads…state transportation funding is just not keeping up…”
Our ears have been bombarded with competing ads. Interest groups are paying to get their message to us. Groups are opposed to a new tax on oil companies. They are, no surprise, the oil companies themselves, and the large state business group Wisconsin Manufactures and Commerce. On the other side are the road builders, who, no surprise, want transportation money to build roads.
“Can you do anything to save SeniorCare?” The older woman surprised me as I was on my way to the pick up truck with an armload of groceries. SeniorCare has been through quite a few troubles lately. But the answer is “Yes.” We can save SeniorCare.
SeniorCare is a prescription drug program for people who are of moderate means and over 65. It is a great alternative to the complexity of Medicare Part D – the drug program everyone loves to hate.
SeniorCare is truly a Wisconsin invention that has been around since 2002. It is the only state-based alternative to the complicated maze of plans that is Medicare Part D – the drug benefit for seniors.
Farmers from across the state gathered in Madison this week to bring their voices together in planning for the future of agriculture and rural life in Wisconsin. The occasion was a statewide gathering of the Future of Farming and Rural Life Project.
Two years ago, I was invited to attend a retreat that served as the beginning of this project. The idea was to acknowledge the challenges we face in agriculture and steer the state towards goals that we all support to strengthen our farms and our communities. The project was spearheaded by the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters.
Six regional forums were held across the state on a variety of topics. Input from many people drove the project’s 90 or so recommendations. Individuals from many walks of life joined together to discuss plans for the future.
I was a candidate for the first time in my life when I ran for the state Senate in 2006. I had no money and no experience as an elected official. During the campaign I struggled with political people for control of both the campaign’s message and its resources. Even though I maintained control of what our campaign did, there was a great deal of activity that I could not control.
What I learned later was that there are “issue ad” groups that are virtually immune from state law, can say darn near anything, can take money that is illegal for the rest of us and candidates, like me, are forbidden from talking with or influencing these groups in any way.
Campaign laws ban corporate contributions in an effort to keep campaigns clean. But these issue groups have figured out a way to bring money into our state, run advertising and attack candidates with virtually no rules regarding what is said or who pays.
"AT&T has us in their crosshairs!" my staff member stated as he got off the phone.
The phones started ringing in my office at 9:15 p.m. and quit about 10:30 p.m. AT&T is running commercials in Eau Claire asking people to call their legislators.
In addition, people from Arcadia to Tomah have signed letters written by AT&T that read like this: Everyday that Wisconsin families are denied a real choice to cable TV, they are forced to pay an extra 28% to 42% for cable. Please work to bring real choice to WI. Please oppose any efforts that would make us wait longer for relief from skyrocketing bills.