Keeping Our Promise to the Most Vulnerable

“I don’t understand what is happening,” the woman wrote me. “Why is it necessary to
change all the services for vulnerable populations in our area?”

The woman was concerned about the closing of the Eau Claire based Community Health
Partnership (CHP) a non-profit managed care organization that provides care for over
3,000 people in western Wisconsin.

I shared her concern so I hit the road and started asking questions. Over the past several
weeks I’ve talked with many disabled individuals, advocates, guardians, parents, service
providers and state officials to understand what happened and why.

Read more

Hold WEDC Leadership Accountable

Recent actions suggest trouble at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). WEDC was created as a ‘nimble corporation’ that would streamline the process of investing public money in businesses for job creation.

It turns out federal officials say oversight was too loose; perhaps as much as $9.6 million in Community Block Grant Funds were given away without proper legal authority.

WEDC is responsible for coordinating all of the state’s economic development programs. As such, WEDC oversees hundreds of millions of dollars in grants, loans and tax credits given to companies for job creation.

Read more

Respect Teachers

“How do I attract and keep the best teachers?” the school administrator asked me.

“I’m losing my best teachers,” another said.

The state’s school superintendents recently gathered for their state convention. I spoke to their convention and listened to their concerns during a break in the action.

Read more

What is a "Fair Tax"?

“The Fair Tax will take care of all the tax questions that have been proposed,” my friend in Osseo wrote.  “Remember, I told you, this tax code is only 139 pages, compared to over 70,000 in the current one. You really should just take a look at what it is all about.”

So I followed his advice and checked out the plan.

The “Fair Tax” is a proposal to replace the current income, capital gains and payroll taxes with a 23% consumption tax on new goods and services: no exceptions.

Read more

Help for Drought Stressed Farmers

“All the hay we made so far this summer is sold,” I told the farmer. “But I can add your name to our list and let you know about our third crop hay.”

The man called from Wood County. He needed organic hay for cattle. In a normal year I would be glad to fill his order. But this summer has been anything but normal.

From Dane County to Hayward to Iowa, folks are calling our farm for hay. Many farmers are scrambling to line up winter feed. Crop farmers are checking fields, estimating yield and calling their insurance agents. Most livestock farmers don’t have crop insurance.

Everyone is praying for rain.

In western Wisconsin, we woke up to rain the other day. Most of the state received some rain. This should benefit the soybean crop. Most of the beans are blooming and crop reports say 40% have set their pods.

Corn is a different story. Forty three percent of the statewide corn crop is listed as poor or very poor. As far north as Trempealeau County, farmers decided to chop corn for silage. Further south conditions are much worse.

In Missouri, the St. Louis Post Dispatch reports 54% of the state’s corn crop is in very poor condition; 38% of the Illinois crop is similar. Forty six percent of Iowa’s corn crop was rated poor or very poor. Iowa and Illinois account for about a third of the corn production in the US.

Corn growers are looking to salvage what they can from drought stressed fields. It’s been a hard year to price forages. Our local extension agent was helpful in getting hay priced. I encourage folks to use the resources offered by UW Extension. For example, extension staff compiled a spreadsheet to assist farmers in pricing drought stressed corn as silage. You can find the worksheet here: http://corn.agronomy.wisc.edu/WCM/pdfs/W187_revised.pdf

The hard-working team at UW Extension created a useful website to deal with many issues related to the drought at http://fyi.uwex.edu/drought2012/

From free permits to haul over weight load limits of hay to resources for families financially stressed by the drought, the website is amazingly diverse. Be sure to check back as resources on the site change to respond to changing conditions.

Recently USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack announced emergency authorization for harvesting pasture land set-aside in the Conservation Reserve Program. Farmers can begin grazing or haying CRP land beginning August 2. Haying can continue through the end of this month; grazing until the end of September. Farmers must contact their local Farm Service Agency before getting started.

Emergency loans are also available from FSA to cover both farm and living expenses. Not all farmers are eligible, so it would be wise to check with FSA if you are considering a low-interest loan.

With corn prices at an all-time record high in the US, many are worried about rising costs of food. Yes, corn syrup is an ingredient in much of America’s diet. Certainly livestock owners need to worry about feed costs.

But farm groups remind us that the farmers’ share of the food dollar has been dropping for years. There is a box of corn flakes in my Capitol office to remind me how little farmers take out of the grocery store price you pay – ten cents out of a $3.89 box of corn flakes goes to the corn farmer.

While this year’s Midwest drought will have an effect on food prices, there are other matters that cause a rise in prices - even before the drought. Last year’s drought in the Southwest caused an estimated 47% drop in breeding cattle. Prices also headed up because of an increase in exports for both grain and meat according to market analyst Chris Lehner.

We live in a global food market and can expect prices in the grocery store to reflect conditions across the globe. But for farmers on the phone all day trying to find hay for their cattle - the effect of the drought is all too real.

Senator Vinehout: Sen.Wanggaard respect the will of 21st Senate District Voters

“The people of the 21st Senate District have spoken and we all must respect their decision," State Senator Kathleen Vinehout said. “With the recount finished, I call on Senator Wanggaard to concede the election and not pursue a lawsuit.”

A recount of the June 5, 2012 recall election concluded last Monday with former State Senator John Lehman up by 819 votes. In a press statement Sen. Wanggaard said he may file a lawsuit challenging the results because of election irregularities.

The Government Accountability Board reviewed complaints made by Sen. Wanggaard and determined that clerical errors cannot disenfranchise voters. More serious claims are yet unsubstantiated.

Read more

Fix Health Care, Grow Jobs

Joe runs a business making dentures. He hires highly skilled workers and pays them well. He also buys a good health insurance plan that costs him $3,000 a month per employee. If he could lower health insurance costs, he could hire more people.

Sam and his partner Bob run a small business in a tourist area. Their shop is doing well, but health insurance costs are eating up more and more of their profit.

Sally ran a café. She and her daughter needed health insurance but couldn’t find an affordable plan. The business was sold. Sally now works for a large company but still dreams of running her own business. The major barrier is the high cost of health insurance.

Read more

News from the Dairy Breakfast

“I come to the dairy breakfast to catch up on the gossip,” the Buffalo County man told me. It’s about a lot more than pancakes or cows.

June is dairy month. Dairy breakfasts are an opportunity for city people to visit the country. But the breakfasts are also a great social gathering where local people catch up on the news. Who died, who got married, who is doing what and how the crops are growing.

I spent the morning listening to what was on people’s minds.

Read more

Audit: Evidence Lacking on Job Creation Programs

People want jobs. Lawmakers respond with state programs to assist businesses in creating jobs. But do businesses that receive state money actually create the jobs?

A recent audit by the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau casts doubt on the state’s ability to actually deliver jobs using tax dollars invested in economic development programs.

The audit showed some agencies failed to comply with a law requiring they report on actual jobs created – or other program outcomes. Of files sampled, auditors found not all businesses submitted required reports and only half of those reporting achieved promised results.

Read more

Happy Birthday ‘Fighting Bob’ La Follette

Governor Bob La Follette was a brilliant orator, reformer and father of the Progressive Movement. June 14th we celebrate his birthday.

Over 150 years ago La Follette was born, the son of pioneers. He became a visionary who wrestled democracy from the hands of the robber barons. He passed reforms rooting out corruption and bribery. The changes he inspired gave Wisconsin its reputation for clean government and Progressive politics.

In the late nineteenth century Wisconsin was at a crossroads. Division, swift change and inequalities in wealth marked the society of that time.

Read more