KATHLEEN VINEHOUT
PEOPLE FIRST

Is the Dairy State Ready for Tax Reform?

Get rid of tax credits for dairy farmers? No tax breaks for meat or food processing plants? Get rid of credits for ethanol? Cut beginning farmer credits?

You’ve got to give Representative Dale Kooyenga credit. The Brookfield Republican isn’t afraid to take on the dairy state’s sacred cows.

Just as the state’s budget writing committee is wrapping up their work and Legislative leaders are about to broker a deal on public education and health, Rep. Kooyenga announces a proposal to rewrite the income tax code.

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Help Wanted: Sand Mine Inspectors

“We really need concerned citizens to be our eyes and ears,” wrote DNR Storm Water Specialist Ruth King in response to citizen complaints about frac sand mines. “I am only a half-time employee and cannot be everywhere at all times.”

Ms. King’s appeal was reported in an article written by Kate Prengaman of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism who closely follows the growing sand mine industry.

“Nearly a fifth of Wisconsin’s 70 active frac sand mines and processing plants were cited for environmental violations last year,” wrote Prengaman. She quoted Air Management Specialist Marty Sellers who said he sent letters of noncompliance to “80 to 90 percent” of the sites he visited.

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Stewardship Fund Changes: State Land for Sale in No Bid Contracts?

“I strongly supported the bipartisan Wisconsin Stewardship Fund,” a self-described Republican man from Eau Claire wrote to me.

“Conservation issues are near and dear to my heart. I will oppose any politician who does not listen to all Wisconsin constituents and give these issues due process.”

The letter came the week the state budget writing committee took up the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund.

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Open the Pantry Door and Shine the Light on Economic Development Programs

“In Wisconsin, we don’t make excuses, we get results,” said Governor Walker as quoted by the Associated Press. The governor was unveiling his $75 million budget initiative earlier this year to economic development professionals across the state.
 
While the new dollars are still being debated, the spending of existing economic development dollars recently took center stage among Legislators.
 
The Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) released a stinging indictment of mismanagement and poor oversight at the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC). The audit reviewed 30 economic development programs during the 2011-12 fiscal year. WEDC awarded $41.3 million in grants, $20.5 million in loans, provided $110.8 million in tax credits to businesses and individuals, and authorized local government to issue $346.4 million in bonds.

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Surprising UW Cash Reserve Needs Audit

“What’s happening to the UW reserve money?” the woman asked. She was concerned about criticism of the University of Wisconsin. “It seems like they want to attack the UW,” she told attendees at the Mondovi Town Hall Meeting.

A recent memo from the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) and the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) revealed nearly a billion dollars in what appeared to be reserve funds carried over from the last budget year.

Legislative leaders reacted by calling for a freeze on UW tuition. Other lawmakers want to cancel the promised $181 million increase to the UW. University officials cautioned most of the money was obligated to student financial aid or support of high demand programs like business and engineering. They say unrestricted does not mean uncommitted.

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Rural Folks: Ag Budget Cuts Ill Advised

“Black River Falls is grappling with high phosphorus in the water,” the woman told me at the Town Hall Meeting. “The phosphorus is coming from farms up river. Why cut funding to conservation staff that help farmers keep manure out of the river?”

Buried in the 2013-15 state budget is removal of almost $5 million or over a quarter of cost-share funding to create structures to reduce run-off and preserve topsoil. The budget proposal also cuts nearly $2 million for local county conservation staff who assist farmers in creating and monitoring these structures.

It’s been a difficult spring for farmers. Many turned to spreading on frozen and snow covered ground. Now with the melting season underway, phosphorus from the manure finds its way into waterways.

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State Finances: Stuck in the Mud

“Pardon my tardiness,” I told the crowd gathered at a Town Hall Meeting. “I spent 20 minutes stuck in the mud.” Rural folks nodded in understanding. Spring has turned many unpaved roads into mud.

Stuck in the mud is an apt metaphor for Wisconsin state finances.

Debts and deficits; GAAP and gaps; bonding and borrowing; all these terms make it hard to follow what’s happening with the state’s fiscal health.

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The Wisconsin Budget has Lots of Missing Numbers

“Why don’t these numbers add up?” the school board member asked me. He was looking at the summary tables on dollars for schools in the new state budget. “Because numbers are missing,” I told him, realizing there are a lot of missing numbers.

The Legislature is given a 519 page “summary” of the budget to consider but nowhere can you find numbers to compare this year’s budget requests for particular programs to dollars actually spent under the previous budget.

There are no numbers clearly showing the increases or decreases in each individual program. There are no numbers showing what was accomplished by the spending.

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State Budget Decisions Affect You

Town Hall offers an opportunity to learn and speak out

Join me at a Town Hall Meeting to discuss the state budget. The two-year budget affects you in ways you may never have imagined.
 
There’s almost $70 billion in spending in this budget. The economy’s slowly improving; more money is coming in from taxes and fees. This budget spends about $3.2 billion more than the last budget.

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Sand Mines in Our Communities Your Right to Know

“Help me,” the Jackson County resident wrote. “My dream home is almost built.” He explained that as he finished his new home near Black River Falls he learned his neighbors all signed contracts to sell their land to a sand mining company.

The man was devastated.

“I bought this property for its views, fresh air, wildlife, peace and quiet,” he wrote. “Now I feel all this is threatened.”

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