The man called my office to complain about BadgerCare. “I used to go to the county and get things fixed,” the farmer said. “Now I have to call somewhere in La Crosse. It takes many calls and things still aren’t fixed.”
The farmer needs BadgerCare. But getting help seems much harder.
In the last budget the governor proposed ‘privatizing’ or sending the enrollment of BadgerCare to for-profit contractors. Counties who administer the program complained services would be poorer and errors would increase. In a compromise, regional enrollment centers were set up
Details are emerging of financial transactions the Walker administration made last year to balance the budget by not paying debt bills coming due.
Recently I received memos from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau that describe actions of state officials to refinance debt payments coming due. The debt was in the form of commercial paper and general obligation bonds.
The state took three separate actions to avoid making debt payments and push that debt off into future years.
“I just don’t understand these job numbers” the woman told me. “Are we losing jobs or are we getting more?”
It’s no surprise folks are confused. Every month there is a new number. Then the numbers are revised and revised again. It’s not easy to sort through what’s real and what’s not.
The unemployment rate and the number of jobs created are two often reported numbers. Sometimes these numbers seem to conflict. But these two different numbers measure something different.
“Please tell me what’s really happening with the state budget,” the man asked me. “It’s so hard to know what’s going on.”
Welcome to the murky world of state finances. Digging deep into state finances is not for the faint of heart. The numbers are big and the problems even bigger.
The past several budget years started in the red. State law requires every Governor to submit a balanced budget. If things stray too far into the red, the Governor and Legislature must then craft a ‘budget repair’ bill. February estimates necessitate the state take action on repairing the budget.
Last year Wisconsin had nearly the largest per capita cut to education in the nation and we lost more jobs than any other state. There is a connection.
Millions were cut from our technical colleges and now companies can’t find workers with the needed skills to fill available jobs. There is a connection.
Like the rest of the country, Wisconsin is facing a “mini-wave” in the return of jobs in manufacturing. Companies are hiring, but finding qualified workers is hampering our state’s job growth.
People I meet ask me “Do we have a deficit?” “Did the state really pay off all its debt?”
To understand the numbers, I recently spent time with the Legislature’s financial and auditing experts. I asked them to help explain the financial state of the state.
I learned ‘debt’ and ‘deficit’ are frequently confused.
Citizens across western Wisconsin contact me concerned about the siting of sand mines in their neighborhoods. Frac sand mining has become Wisconsin’s “gold rush.”
Wisconsin’s hills and bluffs are filled with a very special type of sand. It has the exact hardness, shape, and purity the oil and natural gas exploration industry needs; plus it is easy to extract.
Sand mines have co-existed with their neighbors in western Wisconsin for thirty years. But the dramatic increase in demand for Wisconsin sand has caused existing mines to ramp up production and caused a growing number of new mines.
“Why do we have a recall law?” the man asked me. Many citizens have asked about the history of Wisconsin’s recall laws and the process of a recall.
In the early twentieth century, it was the beliefs of the Progressive movement that drove the recall law. The people believed voters should have “a direct voice in the affairs of government.” As a 1954 state publication wrote, “The best cure for the ills of democracy, it was said, is more democracy.”
Citizens ask why officials can be recalled for the dissatisfaction of voters. This is part of the tradition around our recall laws. As explained in a 1980 publication of the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB):
Past wheeling and dealing using state pension fund money came to light recently in a Senate Financial Institutions and Rural Affairs committee hearing. I am a member of this committee.
Governor Walker asked the Senate to confirm his three nominations to the State of Wisconsin Investment Board (SWIB). Two of the Governor’s nominees appeared to have stellar credentials. The other nominee, John Petersen III, is a Madison real estate developer who served on the board for a decade during the Thompson administration.
Mr. Petersen presided over the board during a time when conflict of interest questions arose about risky international investments and less than arms-length-transactions occurred.