Looking Back, Looking Forward: Part Two

Next week the legislature will reconvene. Members will be sworn into office. Many bills will be introduced. Work on the budget will commence in earnest. A New Year will begin.

People of the 31st Senate District will see new faces as we welcome newly-elected Representatives Mark Radcliffe and Chris Danou and bid a fond farewell to the Honorable Terry Musser and Barbara Gronemus.

A big “Thank You!” to Representatives Gronemus and Musser; you both threw your heart and soul into serving the people for many years and we appreciate all you accomplished.

Representative Musser led the state as champion for our veterans and active duty military for many years as Chair of the Assembly Committee on Veterans and Military Affairs. He is a strong advocate for our tribal members and our farmers. It has been a pleasure to serve with him and I will miss him.

Affectionately known as “Bobby”, my representative from the 91st will also be sorely missed. Bobby is a passionate voice for the people and a strong advocate for Wisconsin’s farmers. Her legacy of exceptional service to our constituents is one to which I greatly aspire.

Congratulations on your retirement, Bobby and Terry! And do come to the Alma Fishing Float to do some fishing. You’ve earned some R’ and R’ time!

When the Legislature reconvenes, top of the ‘to do’ list is the state’s two year budget. Although ‘behind the scenes’ work has been going on for some time, the public work begins in earnest following the Governor’s submission of the budget to the Legislature.

There is much speculation on the Governor’s plans to address the state’s estimated $5.4 billion deficit. At this point, details are just speculation. Everyone has an idea, but the real work won’t begin until the Governor ‘lays his cards on the table’ sometime mid -February.

Efforts in Washington will affect actions in Wisconsin. There is talk of an economic stimulus package coming from Washington. The federal Department of Commerce has directed the Regional Planning Commissions to send details to Washington of any ‘shovel ready” projects.

Any business or local government with infrastructure projects should contact my office and I will relay information to the appropriate authorities. Word is priorities will be given to projects providing jobs and stimulating the economy. There are no guarantees of funding, but compiling a list is the first step. For so many years, much needed maintenance has been delayed or only partially completed.

Meanwhile Legislators are working on many different policy issues. Renewable energy, campaign finance reform, stricter penalties on drinking and driving, streamlining state services and tax fairness are all topics of interest.

Health care reform is also on the top of the list. Comprehensive change can bring needed relief to business and local government.  We cannot afford to have even one person without access to affordable health care. We also cannot afford the inefficiencies, waste, duplication and errors in our current system.

Correcting inefficiencies and waste in government is something we often hear but details are rare. To flesh out the details, I sought and was given the responsibility of Co-Chair of the Joint Committee on Audit. The Audit Committee oversees the state Audit Bureau – a nonpartisan office that works like an independent auditing firm – with the state and all its programs as the firm being audited.

We know we need to figure out what programs work; spend money on the programs that work and get rid of the programs that don’t work. The Audit Bureau provides the information the Audit Committee and full Legislature needs to make these decisions. It is tedious and methodical work – but critical to answering the questions on what works and what doest.

Our State Auditor, Jan Mueller, explained it best by saying “the Audit Committee is the steward of the people’s money.”

I am honored to be chosen to help lead efforts through the Audit Committee to find ways to cut costs and improve services.

There is much work to be done and important decisions to be made. I look forward to the opportunity to be a part of the coming Legislative session and to serving the people of the 31st Senate District. You are a critical part of our team. If you have ideas on what needs to be done, do let me know!

State Senator Kathleen Vinehout serves the 31st Senate District. She can be contacted at  Senator Kathleen Vinehout State Capitol P.O. Box 7882 Madison, Wisconsin 53707-7882 or 877-763-6636 (toll free) or email at Sen.Vinehout@legis.wisconsin.gov