The snow blows over the frozen fields. But in the farmer’s mind, the plants already appear in straight rows and the blossoms are in bud. It takes an optimist to be a farmer – one who sees the potential bounty of the land. But it also takes a realist to plan for the possibility of drought, hail and pests.
It’s with that balance of optimism and realism I look forward to 2014.
I wish you all a prosperous New Year with jobs that pay a living wage for every family, a great school for every child and affordable health care for everyone. But in this wish is the acknowledgement of the real struggle Wisconsin faces to wrestle the public good away from mismanagement and private interests seeking to influence policy.
The Holiday season is upon us. With it comes the time for reflection on the past year. I always like to take time to look back on the work accomplished. One of my most important duties as State Senator is responding to concerns of the people I am honored to represent.
As I look back at the issues people expressed as their concern it is no surprise state spending was at the top of the list. In odd-numbered years, the Legislature debates the two-year state budget. State spending related to education and health care tied with concerns related to mining, including sand mining and opposition to gun control.
People are worried state money for local schools has been cut too deep. They overwhelmingly oppose the use of public dollars for expansion of private voucher schools. Many people agree the school funding formula needs to be changed and special resources must be given to rural schools and those with high numbers of students in poverty. This is why I wrote an alternative budget that fully funded public education, changing the formula and eliminated the new money for private school vouchers and tax breaks.
“What are you going to do for health insurance?” I asked. “I don’t know.” Sam told me.
It was a conversation I’ve had a thousand times since I became a Senator almost seven years ago. What was unique was the setting: I met Sam in an ambulance.
Sam and I had much in common, besides spending part of Sunday morning in an ambulance. Sam was a farmer, raised a lot of food for the family, loved farming and had a medical condition that made it hard to get health insurance.
“What is Wisconsin going to do about the minimum wage?” the woman asked at a recent town hall meeting. Increasing the minimum wage has been on the minds of many Wisconsinites.
As I travel, I hear many stories from working families who are struggling to make ends meet. Low wage workers fall further and further behind and are more dependent on the state’s cash strapped social safety net programs.
There is a step the state can take that would make an immediate impact: we could raise the minimum wage.
Committees are the doers of the Legislature. The process is designed to be slow, deliberative and encourage public input.
However, speed and secrecy are increasingly being used to limit public involvement and careful legislative deliberation.
Public hearings are one place people can make an impact on a developing new law. By testifying at a hearing, a person can directly provide input. Those who cannot travel to the Capitol can send emails or letters to members of a committee and request changes in legislation.
Thanksgiving and gun-deer hunting are finally here. All fall I heard from folks who live for the 9-day deer hunt. I visited local businesses and saw deer photos posted in work cubicles. I spoke to high school classes or at town hall meetings and the conversation eventually turned to the great outdoors and hunting.
As the Senator from Buffalo County- the Deer Hunting Capital of the Midwest- many visitors to my Capitol office look for that trophy buck on the wall. A few of my Buffalo County visitors kid me saying my little buck must have come from some other county.
Many of us live to hunt and fish and enjoy the great outdoors. And we all have a role in preserving what we love.
A focus on solutions could make a special legislative session on health insurance a success.
Governor Walker recently told the Associated Press “We want to make sure nobody falls through the cracks.” If this is the goal, the best solution would be to continue providing public insurance until eligible folks have gotten signed up for the new Marketplace.
The governor has called on Legislators to extend his deadline to drop BadgerCare coverage for tens of thousands of low-income Wisconsinites because of difficulties folks experienced in getting signed up for the federal health insurance Marketplace.
“Why is Minnesota paying less for health insurance than Wisconsin?” the doctor asked me.
He was one of many to say lawmakers better get to work to lower insurance costs. Many people who buy insurance on their own have complained to me about high insurance costs.
Folks near Minnesota told stories about how much easier it was for those in the Gopher State to get low cost insurance. A study released by Citizen Action of Wisconsin corroborates these stories.
“I just don’t understand vouchers, choice, and charter schools,” the man told me. “Could you explain?”
Public education is undergoing a radical change. What was predominately a local school governed by a locally elected school board is poised to become a plethora of choices: private religious schools, independent privately operated charter schools, voucher schools, for-profit schools, virtual schools, and public schools.
All paid for with tax dollars.
“Our aim when drafting the ordinance was not to stop mining in the Town of Cooks Valley but to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of our town,” said Town Clerk Victoria Trinko.
She recently testified at a public hearing about Senate Bill 349, a bill to roll back locals’ ability to protect citizens.
The bill, introduced by Senator Tiffany, would overturn a unanimous 2012 Supreme Court decision supporting a local ordinance to protect the health and safety of residents residing in the Town of Cooks Valley in Chippewa County.