Next week the legislature will reconvene. Members will be sworn into office. Many bills will be introduced. Work on the budget will commence in earnest. A New Year will begin.
People of the 31st Senate District will see new faces as we welcome newly-elected Representatives Mark Radcliffe and Chris Danou and bid a fond farewell to the Honorable Terry Musser and Barbara Gronemus.
A big “Thank You!” to Representatives Gronemus and Musser; you both threw your heart and soul into serving the people for many years and we appreciate all you accomplished.
The weather reports nearly whiteout conditions on the interstate and wind chills of negative twenty-one. I’m in Madison. Travel is not advised and I’m wondering when I’ll finally be able to head home.
The snow swirls outside the Capitol and I watch as a cross country skier heads down the middle of the street. The city is quiet.
The Capitol is decked in its holiday finest but I am longing for the hills of Western Wisconsin and the people who bless my life everyday.
“What’s happening with health care reform?” the small businessman asked me. What he really wanted to know was how soon he could get affordable coverage for his employees.
“I am worried about my daughter graduating from college” the mom shared. “She has great ideas on a job but I’m afraid nothing she wants to do is a job with health benefits”.
Health care problems haven’t gone away as the economy takes center stage. With rocky employment security, more people worry about affording and keeping health care coverage.
“Imagine a way to take cow manure and turn it into electricity. Imagine taking a something we need to get rid of on the farm and turning it into something that makes money. Imagine a way to create manufacturing jobs in Western Wisconsin and keep our environment clean.”
This is message I brought to several hundred dairy farmers gathering in Madison this past week. I know it sounds like science fiction, but it is a real world technology that has a lot of people excited. It’s called anaerobic digestion .
We have a lot of cows in Wisconsin- about 1.3 million of them and they generate a lot of manure. Managing that manure is often a challenge for farmers. Some dairy farmers have discovered installing anaerobic digesters on their farms is a whole new way to deal with their cow manure.
"This is going to be a difficult time for us,' said Governor Doyle at a Capitol press conference. The Governor announced an estimated $5.4 billion shortfall for the next budget cycle due to a faltering national economy and a downturn in tax revenue.
The Governor said he will do "everything possible' to protect schools, public safety, infrastructure (like bridges and roads), basic health care for children and help local government find a way to cope.
In addition, Secretary of Administration, Michael Morgan, announced the state faces a $346 million shortfall in this year's budget. Under Wisconsin law, the Governor must submit a plan to deal with the shortfall. Details of the plan will come when the Legislature returns in January, but Governor Doyle acted immediately to order reductions in state spending.
“We had a family drive all the way up from La Crosse. They lost their house and everything in it to a fire. We sent them home with a U-Haul and a trailer filled with everything they needed to start over again.”
The story came from Gary Stewart, the Executive Director of Hope Gospel RESCUE Mission. The emphasis is on the RESCUE.
Last week I spent time learning about the Mission – from the Bargain Store to Building Hope – a recycled building materials store on the north side of Eau Claire. Everything Gary does is about rescue – from the clothes and electronics the Mission sells at the largest bargain store in the Midwest, to the lives he, his dedicated staff and the Good Lord reaches out to save.
"We have come into a really serious and extraordinary set of economic circumstances in this country," said Governor Doyle as he told reporters the state’s budget deficit could be $ 5 billion.
Privately, he warned legislators the amount could be larger.
While contemplating the enormity of the task ahead, legislators took time to think about who to choose as our leaders.
“Northwest Wisconsin continues to be the highest cost [health insurance] region of the state,” the report reads. Eau Claire is the highest cost metro area.
The report, Wisconsin Health Insurance Cost Rankings 2009 , pointed out a 22% variation between the Eau Claire and Madison - the lowest cost metro area. Pierce, Dunn, Pepin and Eau Claire counties all made it into the top fifteen high cost counties. Buffalo County made the top ten of counties with the highest increases in costs over the past eight years.
Many of us feel the pinch of high health care costs. Families struggling to pay bills struggle to pay health care bills. According to a Families USA study, health insurance premiums have risen almost five times faster than wages since 2000.
The brochure headline read; “Government spends too much”. I think everyone is glad the election is over. Part of our fatigue is what we’ve seen in our mail box. We have all seen some version of ‘Government spends too much’.
Of course, the brochure never describes how to and what will be cut.
Every state elected official returning to our capital will face a very deep budget deficit. In fact, across our nation, elected officials are doing the math and learning the details of a very difficult budget year ahead. The downturn in the economy had caused financial problems in many states.
“Why should I vote?” the young woman asked me. “Does it really matter?”
The year was 1917. Woodrow Wilson was President. The United States had just entered in to World War One – in defense of liberty.
Women had been picketing the White House for the right to vote since the cold month of January. These women were the first protesters in American history to picket the White House.