Last week the Governor announced projected budget deficits could be as high as $3 billion when lawmakers return to consider the state’s two year budget.
“What hit this country in September is now cutting deeply in Wisconsin,” said Governor Doyle at a Capitol news conference. “There’s no doubt it is going to be very, very severe in the state.”
The hard news came at a time when mid-year state sales tax revenues are down almost ten percent. The numbers will likely be lower when September and October sales tax revenues are reported.
“What can you do if you are being discriminated against at work?” a constituent asked me early one morning. Within a month I had three similar questions. Different situations but they all led me back to Wisconsin’s law on fair employment.
A while back I used to work in Human Resources – it was our job to pay attention to how the company treated its workers and make sure everyone followed the laws protecting workers.
Most employers work hard at complying with the fair employment law. Part of my job was to train new managers and make sure they knew and followed the law. I reviewed with them all details of the law including the questions a manager can never ask during a job interview (Are you married? How old are you?). People didn’t always realize certain questions are simply off limits in a job interview or work situation.
This week I was contacted by a gentleman whose health insurance costs are eating up nearly a quarter of his take home income. He writes, “I believe I will have to drop my $468 premium per month health insurance starting in November.”
While problems in the financial market and the presidential campaign take center stage in the press, the problems in the lives of real people continue to focus on health care – especially rising costs.
Concerns make their way to my office in many forms: work injuries not covered by employers, businesses looking at double digit inflation in premiums every year, employees with dependents not covered, people without insurance delaying care who later discover serious illness.
Recently I received an official looking notice in the mail asking me to renew the warranty on my vehicle. “That’s odd,” I thought. “My car is so old the warranty is long expired.”
Later in the week I ran into a constituent who told me a story about a prize offered over the internet luring someone into paying “sales tax” for the “prize”.
Other stories picked up in my travels led me to learn more about scams and what people can do to protect themselves. I discovered both the car warranty and prize offer are scams being investigated by the Wisconsin Office of Consumer Protection.
“We have a hearing scheduled for this week,” I shared with a friend. She replied that she thought the Legislature was not in session and all the bills died. “This is not a hearing about a bill,” I said. “It is a hearing on an administrative rule.”
“A hearing on an administrative rule? What’s a rule?” she asked me.
Just like a hearing on a bill, an administrative rule hearing is an opportunity for the public to provide input into the making of policy. Last Thursday, the Senate Committee on Health, Human Services, Insurance and Job Creation convened to consider an administrative rule.
“While I am very conservative regarding government spending, I do believe in spending for education,” the CEO of an Eau Claire company wrote me. He continues “I also believe more should be spent for technical college programs.”
He runs a “very successful and sizeable” business and contributing to his success is the educated employees coming from the Chippewa Valley Technical College, UW Eau Claire and UW Stout.
“Our success is in a large part due to the people we employ and the job skills they bring to each of our companies,” the CEO of another Eau Claire-based manufacturer wrote. His locally owned family of companies generates products and services for the global market. He continues, “The shortage of skilled workers…poses a significant challenge for us.”
In the entire nation, only Indiana has more of its workforce employed in manufacturing according to a study released last week by Center on Wisconsin Strategy. With 14.5 percent of jobs in manufacturing, folks in Wisconsin are more likely to work in a factory than in any other industry.
To learn about what makes a company strong and able to weather the economic storms of changing times, I have been visiting factories in our Senate District. Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Cardinal Glass in Tomah.
Next time you gaze out your window, if it was replaced lately, chances are good the glass was made in Tomah.
“We have $47 million in inventory here today,” the plant manager told me. “We have twenty acres under one roof.”
Goods are stacked high up on racks. Workers move quickly on carts; gathering up loads delivered by over 2,500 semis a week and sending groceries on to stores all across the upper Midwest.
Last Friday I visited the Wal-Mart grocery distribution center – right in our Senate District. I learned Wal-Mart is the largest grocery retailer in the United States.
“We pay $2,600 a month for health insurance for the three of us,” the woman at the church festival told me. “I have a $ 2,500 deductible. My husband and daughter have a $5,000 deductible”.
My friend is a dairy farmer. She and her husband both have health problems. She considers changing insurance companies to find a more affordable plan. But with her pre-existing conditions, getting insurance to cover everything is nearly impossible.
On the same week-end there was a fundraiser for a gal with breast cancer. While the festival will raise enough money to cover church expenses for the next several months, the fundraiser for the gal with breast cancer probably won’t come close to covering her expenses.
“We have got to figure out how to fix health care. I think we need to look at what we are doing other places.” The man called my office to share ideas on how to reform health care. “Yes,” I agreed.
What have we done in other places? My constituent was thinking about ideas like workers compensation, unemployment compensation and the state employees’ health plan. Wisconsin has several examples of initiatives taken to solve insurance problems. But so have other states and Wisconsin is actually lagging behind many of those states.
I recently returned from a national gathering of state officials working on health care reform. I spoke with officials from New Jersey, Alabama and Rhode Island and learned first hand how far we are behind these states. (Yes, even Alabama.) This past week I met with government officials and business people to share what I learned and encourage their commitment to reform.