KATHLEEN VINEHOUT
PEOPLE FIRST

Fixing health care? Learning from other states

“We passed a new law two years ago. We set rules for insurance companies and protection for consumers. For the most part it’s been working well,” the gentleman from Rhode Island shared. 

Last week officials from 34 states gathered to compare notes on health care reform. They told stories and shared details from many different health plans. The lessons I learned will help my colleagues and I grapple with one of our most difficult issues. 

 People agree on the problem. We spend twice what other counties do on health care and yet we are not as healthy. In fact, we are a sicker nation than most of the developed world.

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State Legislators Gather to Solve Problems

Last week six thousand state legislators and staff gathered to study, share and debate major issues facing statehouses across the country. Taxes, budgets, roads, education and economics were on the menu.

For the first time, I participated in the National Conference of State Legislature’s (NCSL) Annual Summit.  The NCSL is the bipartisan organization that serves legislators and staff of all states. It provides research, professional assistance and opportunities to exchange ideas on the most pressing state issues.

The Summit covered critical issues facing State Legislatures such as education, health care, climate change and energy as well as state budget challenges and the current economy.

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Will Low Taxes on Business Make the State’s Economy Grow?

“Won’t lower taxes on business make our state’s economy grow?”

The question came from a gentleman who had just read through my column last week on closing the loopholes large companies use to avoid paying taxes.

The short answer is, “No”.

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Curbing Drunk Drivers

Wisconsin leads the nation in the number of people who admit to drunk driving according to a new study. Twenty-six percent of those surveyed or 2,696 Wisconsin adults told researchers they had driven under the influence. This is 70% above the national average of fifteen percent who admit to driving under the influence.

I suppose one could argue that Wisconsin is just more honest about drinking and driving. But when you look at the numbers related to alcohol and deaths on our roads, they are equally sobering.

Half of all traffic-related deaths in Wisconsin are linked to alcohol. Wisconsin ranks 4th in the percent of alcohol related traffic fatalities according to recent statistics compiled by the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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Angels in Disguise

This past Saturday night I met a room full of angels disguised as ordinary people. They looked and acted like ordinary people. They led ordinary lives. They came from Eau Claire and Augusta; from Winona and Tomah. Some came in wheel chairs and some carrying canes. Some were young but most had seen many summers. All of them had sacrificed to be there.

I met these angels in prison.

The occasion was the annual celebration of National Volunteer Week. I was privileged to be the keynote speaker for the evening. We were recognizing the contributions of 180 people who give their time and talent to the inmates at the Jackson Correctional Institute.

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Tough Times Require Tough Decisions

“I haven’t seen it this bad in many years,” my pastor recently told me. The troubles he’s seen are the financial struggles of families coping with increasing costs for everything and wages that just don’t keep up. More people are seeking help wherever they can find it.

Many people attending recent town hall meetings shared with me just how difficult life is – jobs loss; high health insurance premiums; rising property taxes and the price of gas. Times are tough.

Families are cutting back, working harder, taking extra jobs and finding ways to stretch the dollars. Families are not alone in their struggles.

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Helping Main Street Businesses Thrive

A Main Street business owner told me, “If there is one thing you could do to help it would be to make sure internet businesses have to pay the same sales tax as us. It’s not fair that they can sell their goods cheaper and not pay tax. It hurts my business”

Have you ever bought something on the internet and wondered why you didn’t pay sales tax?

If the internet business you bought from is not Wisconsin-based, it likely did not collect sales tax. When this happens, the out-of-state business actually has an advantage over the Wisconsin business. This hurts the sales of our state businesses and makes it more difficult for stores on our Main Streets to compete.

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Divided We Fail

“We believe all of us share a responsibility for making our society work,” the AARP literature said. We must “work together to find solutions.”

The Association for Retired Persons has a new campaign.  Just in time for the campaign season.  But this campaign is unlike one you might see from a candidate. It is a campaign calling all of us to work together.

AARP is asking legislators to sign a pledge to work together across party lines to solve the problems we face – especially health care.  This is one pledge I don’t mind signing; I could not agree more.

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Preparing the Next Generation

“There just aren’t enough kids going into agriculture. We have full FFA classes but the barns are empty.” The farmer was concerned about the future of agriculture. “How do we get young people to choose farming as a career?” he asked me.

“I need an agronomist who can write nutrient management plans,” the co-op manager told me. “Where do I find these people?”

Last week I had the opportunity to speak informally with the board of one of our state-wide farm organizations. The topic turned to a key question in agriculture: How do we help more young people chose agriculture as a career?

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Fixing School Funding

Voters in forty eight school districts went to the polls this past Tuesday to vote on raising property taxes to pay for schools. Many of these referenda were asking voters to approve spending for routine school operations and maintenance.

About half of the school districts saw referenda fail – many rural school districts, locally and across the state faced a negative vote from the public. Of those referenda permanently adding money to the school budget, ninety percent failed. Many of these failed referenda have failed in the past.

Why would a school district go to the voters and ask over and over again for money to fund school operations?

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