Expect more of the same from Scott Walker on Health Insurance Exchange Plan

If there was ever a time for Scott Walker to prove he is willing to work with “both sides of the aisle,” tomorrow is the day. Friday, November 16 is the deadline for states to announce their plan to implement state-run exchanges, or face implementation of a Federal Exchange. Walker and other GOP Governors went all-in on a Romney win, and subsequent repeal of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).  

Romney lost. “Obamacare” was declared constitutional. Don’t expect anything from Scott Walker – except business as usual.

Once again, Scott Walker and the extreme far-right GOP Legislators are choosing ideology over good governing, and it is the majority of Wisconsin taxpayers who will pay. Sadly, it didn’t have to be this way. The structure of an exchange has been in existence for over one year.

On November 1, 2011 State Senator Kathleen Vinehout (D-Alma) introduced 2011 SB 273 “Badger Health Benefit Authority.”  From the Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis:

This bill creates the Badger Health Benefit Authority (authority) that is a public body corporate and politic that is created by state law but that is not a state agency.

Under the bill, the authority must establish and operate a Wisconsin Health Benefit Exchange in this state, must make qualified health plans, with effective dates on or before January 1, 2014, available to qualified individuals and qualified employers, and must seek federal grants and other funding for the purpose of the exchange. A qualified health plan is defined in the bill, generally, as a health benefit plan that covers the costs of health care services and that meets the certification criteria described in the federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA).

In the past, Legislators from both side of the aisle would have spent the year hammering out an Exchange unique to, and to the benefit of Wisconsin. This is how Badger Care came into existence. Not today.

Enter the ideological crusaders. So extreme are these ideologues, nine of them have gone on public record as promoting legislation authorizing the arrest of any Federal Employee who would attempt to enact ACA in Wisconsin – including a Health Exchange.

Rep. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), Sen. Mary Lazich of New Berlin; Reps. Don Pridemore of Hartford; Erik Severson of Star Prairie; Tom Larson of Colfax; Scott Krug of Wisconsin Rapids; and three Republicans elected for the first time last week who will be sworn in early next year – Rob Hutton of Brookfield, Mark Born of Beaver Dam and Dave Murphy of Greenville. (MJS)

These are not responsible legislators. They are hacks.

Citizen Action of Wisconsin recently released an email from DHS to Walker Administration officials containing a Power Point presentation – the closest thing we have seen to a blueprint from the Governor’s office.

We can be certain of one thing. The Walker plan for a Health Exchange will be consistent with his previous governing record. The WEDC Block Grant fiasco, the current Talgo breach of contract lawsuit, cronyism in Administration appointments and State Agencies, and corporate patronage at the expense of fiscal responsibility are now the hallmarks of the Walker Administration.

The Walker plan for a Health Exchange will be nothing more than a sub-contracted, privately operated online market “clearinghouse” serving existing for-profit insurance companies – and doing nothing to reduce costs or increase access to the nearly 500,000 uninsured Wisconsinites.

The result will be the same as well – a giant boondoggle which will set up a significant battle with the Federal Government over whether the Wisconsin Exchange conforms to the ACA. And we all will lose.

Scott Walker will again live up to our expectations of him, which are continually decreasing.

Scott Walker’s budget lie (yes, LIE) he receives a “pass” from the media on again and again…

The lie has been told repeatedly by Scott Walker – in debate, in campaign ads, and more specifically, on his campaign website:

“Governor Walker Promised To Control State Spending And Eliminate The Historic $3.6 Billion Deficit Without Raising Taxes. The 2011-13 state budget signed by Governor Walker Eliminating the $3.6 billion deficit without raising taxes. (2011 Wisconsin Act 32)”

In addition – Walker has continually claimed to have achieved this without the use of “accounting gimmicks.” In reality, Scott Walker created this fiscal crisis – and he is using it to further his political ambitions.

Walker cited the memo from DOA Secretary Mike Huebsch on May 10, 2012 as proof that his “reforms are working.” The report contends that due to his diligence as DOA Secretary, Huebsch and the Department of Revenue discovered over $278.2 million in revenue the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau missed in its February 2012 report. The added revenue will result in a $164.7 million surplus for FY 2012, and an $89.5 million surplus for FY 2013. The change is dramatic, as the LFB estimate put the state in the red over $53 million for FY 2012, and negative $208 million for FY 2013. The combined difference  is nearly $500 million – quite a miss for the LFB, and unprecedented. Or is there more to this…

Setting aside the fact that this estimate relies heavily on Walker’s disputed quarterly jobs data, based on the QCEW (Quarterly Census of Employees and Wages) not yet released by the Federal BLS (note:In an interview this morning with Richard Clayton at BLS, the analyst in charge of the state data verification, Mr. Clayton emphasized for Badger Democracy that he only verified with Wisconsin DWD that their verification study had been completed – he did not verify or attest to the numbers being cited by the Walker Administration), and showed a net gain in private sector jobs, not a loss for 2011. Let’s give Scott Walker that one to expedite this analysis. 23,000 jobs created when 200,000+ are needed just to return to 2007 employment levels is insignificant. The information obtained by State Senator Kathleen Vinehout from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau have much greater impact on this budget analysis – and expose the LIE Scott Walker is perpetuating.

In January  2011, before Scott Walker took office, the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) sent their annual letter to Joint Finance Chairs Alberta Darling and Robin Vos (2011_01_31Vos&Darling LFB Memo ). When Walker took office, the LFB forecast a $56.3 million SURPLUS – after accounting for the $65 million statutory “minimum balance.” That’s correct – Wisconsin was poised for a surplus on the day Scott Walker took office.

The same memo one year later shows the effects of the Walker budget, and GOP “business friendly” policies. In essence, Scott Walker created the crisis with his policies – as shown in the LFB memo to Darling and Vos dated  February 9, 2012 (2012_02_09_Darling_Vos_Revenue estimates). As cited above, the deficit in the biennial budget of a combined $261 million is attributed to Acts passed in 2011. Decreased income tax collections and personal revenue collections are attributed directly to the impact of Act 10 on working families (in essence, a tax increase):

“The revised estimates incorporate
the effects of a number of law changes estimated to reduce revenues by approximately $175
million in 2011-12 and $225 million in 2012-13. The most significant law changes are increased
deductions for medical insurance premiums, tax deferrals for capital gains that are reinvested in
Wisconsin-based businesses, and exclusions and deductions related to health savings accounts.
Income tax collections will also be reduced as a result of the additional state and local employee
retirement and health insurance contributions required under 2011 Act 10.”

The tax giveaways to corporations also have had an effect on state revenues, especially in the DOR’s ability to collect taxes due big, profitable corporations by opening up previously closed loopholes:

“The corporate income and franchise tax estimates have been adjusted to reflect the effect
of certain law changes, including requiring corporations that are members of a unitary group to
file combined returns, repealing the domestic production activities deduction, requiring
throwback sales to be included 100% in the apportionment formula, allowing combined groups
to use pre-2009 net business loss carry-forwards, and the phase-in of the state qualified
production activities tax credit”

The analysis shows that instead of CREATING jobs and increasing business activity, Walker policies are actually slowing output and production, as consumer demand and buying power stagnates – a function of the persistent long-term unemployment problem:

“…overall business activity is
projected to continue to expand, but at a slower pace than in 2010 and 2011. For example, real
investment in equipment and software, which increased by 14.6% in 2010, and by an estimated
10.3% in 2011, is projected to increase by 7.9% in 2012, and 7.6% in 2013. Real durable goods
purchases increased by 7.2% in 2010 and by an estimated 8.1% in 2011, but are forecast to
increase by 5.6% in 2012, and 4.5% in 2013. Manufacturing output growth is projected to be
4.3% in 2012 and 3.4% in 2013, after increasing 5.4% in 2010 and by an estimated 4.5% in
2011.”

So much for the “job creators.” How could Walker show a balanced budget, much less a surplus, in the face of this LFB analysis? Simple – as with the disputed job numbers, he made his own surplus – empowered by Acts 13 and 32 of the 2011 GOP-controlled Legislature – who are all complicit in this fiscal fraud.

Simply stated – Scott Walker pushed off paying state debt in the amount of over $500 million to 2030. The interest paid will total over $156 million. This is all debt that should have been by the end of 2011-2012. It is critical to understand that the deficit Scott Walker created in 2011, and decrease in revenue collections from his fiscal policies are the very reason this debt is being pushed off over two decades – placing a higher burden on future generations.  In a memo to Vinehout dated May 18, 2012, non-partisan State Fiscal Analyst Al Runde details the impact:

“Under each debt restructuring
transaction, the principal on the state’s existing GPR supported general obligation and commercial
paper debt would have been paid off from the general fund through sum sufficient debt service
appropriations, but is instead paid off with the proceeds from the issuance of additional debt. As a
result, that principal will now remain outstanding for a longer period of time and thus an estimated
$156.2 million in additional interest costs could be incurred by the state.”

The debt principal would have been paid off from the general fund – but is now being paid off by issuing further debt. An additional $156.2 million in interest will be paid by the state. To use an apt metaphor, Scott Walker placed the existing debt, which should have been paid this year, on a giant credit card – to be paid long after he is out of office.

Conservatives will say, “but Jim Doyle did it all the time…” This writer would be as critical of ANY Governor who practiced this economic fraud – and is no defender of Jim Doyle. If you are a true fiscal conservative, this practice should strike at the heart of your sense of fiscal accountability and responsibility. In a second memo, Runde details the history of debt restructuring since 2001 ( 2012_05_18-Vinehout-Debt-Restructuring-Since-2001). The amount “restructured” by Walker is the equivalent of ALL debt restructured from 2007-2011. Prior to that, only $127 million had been restructured.

To say that he has balanced the budget without raising taxes, in light of this information, is a lie. No coincidence that $500 million is the amount the DOA estimate “found” to increase revenue from the previous LFB estimate. Over $500 million, and more in interest, charged off to future generations two decades distant – while Scott Walker insists his “reforms are working.” Where is the media on this issue?

If this is not sufficient grounds to recall Scott Walker, then nothing is; and those that stand with him, stand with a fraud and a liar.

 For the record, both the Walker Administration and Campaign were given repeated opportunity to respond to this information since Friday, May 25. They have not.  Share this information and VOTE. Solidarity.

Primary Debate for Democratic Candidates must focus on Walker, recall passion

The only two candidates to file with the GAB, and show engagement in running for Governor against Scott Walker are two Kathleens – Falk and Vinehout. As the two formulate their campaigns and messaging, there are significant differences emerging between the two. Falk is being positioned as the establishment Dane County Democratic candidate; her staff and campaign media agencies are a clear demonstration of that effort (including the report in the Chicago Tribune that DPW Chair Mike Tate will be traveling to Chicago with Falk pollster Paul Maslin for recall-related “non-fundraiser” business meeting at a DNC media consultant this Thursday; and reports have Theresa Vilmain acting behind the scenes as a “consultant” to the Falk campaign). Vinehout would be relying (as she has in each of her Senatorial Campaigns) on a volunteer grassroots organization. Where the attack on Vinehout originated from late last week is unclear – the Falk campaign stood back and watched, as pro-choice groups began a series of assaults on one of the “Wisconsin 14.”

The assault began with social media posts of a 2008 Planned Parenthood Statement expressing grave concern over Vinehout’s position on SB232 relating to Pharmacists’ dispensing  of contraceptives. Vinehout had offered an amendment to the bill (SB 232 Amendment 2) which would allow Pharmacists to opt out of dispensing contraceptives on moral or religious grounds, provided the prescription could be fulfilled “elsewhere.” 

 Vinehout clarified her record with a press release explaining her position on choice, and the offered amendment. Her explanation, in brief, was to put the pharmacy itself in the obligatory position of filling a prescription, while respecting the right of the Pharmacist as an individual to “ethically” refuse.

NARAL contributed to the debate with its own press release on Friday, stating “Senator Vinehout Backpedals on Anti-Choice Women’s Health Position.” NARAL accused Vinehout of “…(misrepresenting) her record on women’s health.” It should be noted that the NARAL op-ed contained an inaccuracy, in that 2007 SB398 (which would have rescinded a century-old law making abortion a crime) never received a vote in committee. NARAL claimed Vinehout “cast the deciding vote in committee” to kill the bill.  An op-ed written by Lisa Subeck, Executive Director of NARAL, appeared in the Capitol Times on Tuesday, February 7  also brought into question Vinehout’s record along with that of Dave Obey. While recognizing neither is as extreme as Walker, “it’s not clear they could be counted on to protect women’s health when it comes time to veto bills limiting access to birth control or abortion care.”

In 2006, Vinehout issued a policy statement on abortion, which she claims has remained consistent. Vinehout summarizes her position as abortion should be legal and safe. A woman should not be a criminal for having an abortion.” In 2008, she outlined her position in an op-ed, “It is easier to Attack Than Agree on a Workable Solution.” In it she addresses the concern over Pharmacists’ not filling prescriptions and how current state law would handle that situation:

“The last time a complaint was made against an individual pharmacist was six years ago and that pharmacist was severely disciplined.  There is a procedure in place for pharmacists with conscience concerns to inform their employer and for the employer to make alternative plans to fill the prescription. We know the system works – it was upheld by the courts in a decision just last week.

The Wisconsin constitution offers greater protection for the right of conscience than the US constitution.  Article 1, Section 18 of the state constitution requires that NO “control of or interference with, the rights of conscience be permitted.” As a State Senator, I swore to uphold our constitution.

 In supporting the right of women to have their contraceptive prescriptions filled without hassle, I also recognize the role of conscience. A balance can be reached. The reasons for the attack on me are political rather than substantive.

Those who have attacked, claim that women will have to “endure a shameful and public rejection at a local pharmacy, and then somehow find a less ideological pharmacist somewhere else.” This claim is imaginary and false; designed to inflame emotions, not to inform with facts. Under the amendment I proposed, such an action would have resulted in discipline of the pharmacist.

As a recent Wisconsin court decision stated, the pharmacist “is allowed to work as a pharmacist and to exercise his beliefs about contraception; he is merely prevented from doing so in a manner where he deprives patients of their legal health care rights. … The imposition of the proposed discipline, training and practice guidelines strike the appropriate balance between the interests of an objecting pharmacist and the need for protection of the public in this action.”

The record on Senator Vinehout is public, for all to decide on the merits; as well as the issues raised by pro-choice groups. Project Votesmart lists Vinehout’s Planned Parenthood rating  on reproductive rights at 75%; while not perfect, it is higher than any Republican, and higher than a few of her Democratic colleagues. The danger here, with all due respect to the pro-choice community (this writer being a staunch advocate for reproductive rights and education), is not a hypothetical Vinehout veto of pro-choice legislation. The danger is in turning this primary into a referendum on choice issues – and by default, making it a single-player primary, as Falk would have the endorsement of both Planned Parenthood and NARAL over any other candidate still expressing interest in running against Scott Walker.

The direct debate between the candidates must begin soon, as the clock is ticking. As polls show, statewide voters know little about any of the candidates, and debating the issues that caused this recall effort to begin is paramount to our success. Labor and Collective Bargaining Rights must be at the fore, along with the issue which polling shows has overwhelming support of most Wisconsin voters – Public Education, and the Walker cuts to said programs. The precious little time and money candidates will have need to be spent in very visible, open, and honest debates about each other’s records and plans in regard to these issues, along with the broader issues of saving Badger/Senior Care from funding cuts.

Rest assured, if any future Democratic Governor would position themselves to veto any pro-choice or reproductive rights legislation, this writer would be the first to pick up the phone, keyboard, and a sign. The Choice community has made its concerns known, and voters have access to the information through this and other writings by advocates and candidates. If this primary devolves into a single issue – we  all lose an opportunity to present broader, statewide messages against Scott Walker and his policies during the campaign. And, the risk of scaring away other potential candidates is greatest when issues become so narrowly focused – that is not what Democracy looks like.

Update – State Senator Kathleen Vinehout to announce Gubernatorial bid soon, source says

A source close to the office of Wisconsin State Senator Kathleen Vinehout  has informed Badger Democracy that the Senator from the 31st District in Western Wisconsin will soon be announcing her candidacy for Governor – to run in the impending recall election against Scott Walker.

The two-term Democrat serves a largely rural District, and has won two highly competitive elections to win and retain her seat – beating an incumbent Republican in 2006, and defeating the late Ed Thompson to retain her seat in 2010. Vinehout was one of the few democrats to survive the Republican wave in 2010, and is considered to be an expert in grassroots campaigning. She was outspent by Ed Thompson nearly 2 to 1 in the 2010 Campaign . She also survived an onslaught of outside special interest spending against her in 2010 by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce and The Republican State Leadership Committee.

The source indicates a formal media statement will be made within the week. When the formal announcement is made, Vinehout would join Kathleen Falk as having declared candidacy for Governor. 

 

 

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