KATHLEEN VINEHOUT
PEOPLE FIRST

‘I’ll pay you back when I get my tax money’

“You’ve heard someone say, I’ll pay you back when I get my tax money,” Judy told me.  “People rely on this money to live.” Judy is an 80-year-old widow still living on the family dairy farm.

Judy came to a town hall meeting I held in Eau Claire County. She testified against the Governor’s plan to change two tax plans that benefit those of modest income.

The first is the Earned Income Tax Credit or EITC.  It is a credit on taxes paid.

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Caring for Our Most Vulnerable Citizens

Staying as independent as possible is a goal for Mark. He lives in an adult home with other developmentally disabled residents.

Recently Mark’s mother contacted me very concerned for her adult son. She was afraid budget cuts would jeopardize her son’s living arrangement.

Mark receives care through a state program called Family Care. Established in 1998, the program provides care for the frail elderly and those with physical or developmental disabilities; people like Mark who has Down’s syndrome, Janet who has cerebral palsy and Andrew who was paralyzed from a fall.

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A Better way to Balance the Budget with the Same Dollars

Our economy is beginning to recover. Tax receipts have improved. As lawmakers grapple with the state’s two year budget, forecasts show nearly two billion dollars more in tax revenue.

Tax money goes to pay for schools, health care, prisons and courts, colleges and universities and local government. These ‘big five’ make up almost eighty percent of what the state buys with the ‘general fund’ checkbook. This checkbook shows a notable improvement in financial health.

Despite the “we’re broke” line, Governor Walker proposed a two year budget with slightly more spending than former Governor Doyle’s last budget.

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Mr. Walker: Join Me in a Neighborhood Walk

Budgets are about priorities. The Governor laid out his in the proposal he sent to lawmakers. The people responded. From conversations with constituents I composed the following narrative.

Governor, you said our check book is slim: too many bills and not enough to go around. Governor, let’s take a look at where your budget cuts fall.

Meet Ralph who served our country overseas. He has severe PTSD. He is homeless and needs a job. He needs a loan to pay for the apartment security deposit. But Governor, your budget cuts help to homeless veterans and loans for veterans in need.

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What Are People Saying?

Usually I begin this column with a local person’s question or comment. Today’s column is entirely quotes of people testifying on the Governor’s budget last Saturday.

“Wisconsin has a proud tradition of allowing its people to care for people -services to children, disabled, seniors and education to people of all ages... The Governor wants to be ‘open for business’ but he is not looking at the big picture... Wisconsin is quite unique in the quality of life it offers citizens,” -- Accountant who moved from Texas to Wisconsin.

“Our education system is outstanding. Wisconsin is a wonderful place to live. I have lived in many other states and it is not like this.” -- Local Grocer.

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Taking Care of our Veterans

I took a call from a woman from Tomah. She was concerned about the Union Grove Veterans Home. She heard the state was closing Assisted Living at Union Grove and called me in opposition. Her relatives lived at the facility.

Last week I learned about plans to close one Assisted Living wing at the Union Grove Home. The state operates two homes for veterans in need of nursing services - Union Grove in Racine County and the Veterans Home at King in Waupaca County. Construction is now underway for a third home in Chippewa County.

The existing homes have been under scrutiny by the Legislative Audit Bureau. Last Wednesday the Joint Committee on Audit, of which I am the Ranking Minority Member, held a hearing on the audit findings.

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What is a Charter School

And what does it have to do with you?

“I’ve heard of charter schools,” the woman told me. “But I really don’t know understand them.” People are not familiar with schools often run by a private group but using taxpayer dollars.

Imagine a school created with a business-like contract or “charter”.  This charter sets it own rules for the school and exempts it from the usual rules about classes, staff, budgeting and administration.

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Privatizing - What does this mean?

“Do you know the Governor’s budget is privatizing services at the courthouse?” the man from Buffalo County asked me. “Seniors are going to be very unhappy when they know what is happening.”

The man was talking about services now offered by people who work for us - for the county - instead being offered by a private company.

Another man voiced a similar concern. “Do you know that Hewlett Packard is going to get the contract to take care of the income maintenance jobs now done by the county?” This man not only knew about the jobs moving from public to private - he heard of the company getting the contract.

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What the People Want

"Governor Walker says the silent majority of people want this bill and their voices should not be drowned out by the protestors. You represent Western Wisconsin. What do the people there want?'

I was on a stage with two of my Senate Democratic colleagues in front of the bright camera lights. About 60 reporters were asking me questions.

My answer was simple: "The people, in very large numbers, overwhelmingly do not support this bill.' Over twenty-five thousand people contacted me in the past three weeks. Four out of five people who contacted me from our Senate District do not support the Governor's "budget repair' bill.

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Killing the Goose that Lays the Golden Egg

Each day the woman waited for the goose to lay an egg. Each day the goose delivered a golden egg. But she wanted more. She killed the goose and found nothing. One of Aesop's most famous fables reminds us of the folly of being overly greedy to the destruction of our future.

This past week, in a letter to school board members, the School Board Association described the recently released state budget with these words: [The budget] is balanced largely by deep cuts to or the elimination of existing programs... including public K-12 education. The Governor's budget dramatically reduces state funding for schools and local governments over the next two years.

Local school boards rush to do the math on what cuts mean to our schools; cuts much deeper than the state has ever faced resulting in big changes. Funding cuts in education are not limited to local schools.

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