Conservative poll affirms Wisconsin’s Progressive tradition, GOP wrong on key issues

The October Wisconsin Policy Research Institute WPRI poll, released by the conservative “think-tank” recently, has shown a significant decline in the approval of Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin. The poll results not reported in the mainstream media show why – GOP lawmakers and Scott Walker are promoting policies and passing legislation that counter the progressive traditions of Wisconsin. Public Employee Unions, Environmental Regulation, Prisons and Prisoner management, and Public Education are all under attack by the GOP as they move to privatize everything. In doing so, they are furthering the rift between the GOP and the people of the state. A GOP which was founded in Wisconsin with Socialist and Progressive roots, now the antithesis of its original philosophy (Lincoln would be considered a radical Marxist by today’s Republicans). In doing so, the GOP is solidifying the resistance, and giving recall supporters a map to success.

Unions – The attack on Public Employee Unions began the massive pushback against Scott Walker and the GOP. Republicans to this day continue the verbal and propaganda assault, attempting to portray public opinion as being sympathetic to their pro-corporate ideology. The WPRI poll shows otherwise. Fully 50% of Wisconsinites polled (MoE +/- 4%) have a favorable opinion of Public Employee Unions (more that approve of Scott Walker or GOP lawmakers). Only 38% have an unfavorable opinion – this in spite of months of GOP propaganda. More Wisconsinites have a favorable opinion of Teachers Unions effect on Public Education by a margin of 46% to 36%, with 16% being neutral.

Prisons – One of the top agendas for Walker and the GOP has been to both fill and privatize prisons – a nationwide Republican movement. Some of the most significant cuts in the Walker budget are to community-based outreach aimed at intervention and monitoring of those convicted of lesser crimes; both meant to ease costs and strain on the system, and provide alternatives to prison for those who qualify. It would appear based on the poll, the people believe community-based services are good government. In a split question, opinion was asked of the following general statement:  “Wisconsin needs to reduce the cost of prisons by incarcerating fewer prisoners and, instead, make use of locally managed, community based services to deal with some people who have been convicted of crimes.” 49% agreed with this statement, with 14% being neutral. Only 34% disagreed. When the costs preceded the question in part B – “…the state corrections budget has increased 70% between 1999 and 2009 and now costs the state $1.2 billion annually.”  With the same question asked regarding community based services following the costs, the percentage agreeing jumped to 56%, with only 29% disagreeing. Wisconsinites recognize the value of responsible community and government involvement in managing prisons.

Environment – Wisconsin has had a long history of Environmental Stewardship. Walker and the GOP have been committed to deregulation and weakening of DNR authority to create a “business friendly regulatory climate.” Never mind the actual environmental climate. This is particularly true in fast tracking  legislation to support mining in Northern Wisconsin. The poll shows Wisconsin doesn’t agree with their efforts. When asked, “Some people have suggested that Wisconsin should streamline its environmental regulations in order to create more mining jobs in Northern Wisconsin. Other people argue that existing environment regulations should not be weakened. Which comes closer to your point of view?”, in spite of tying deregulation to jobs – 51% of those polled believe regulations should not be weakened. 11% are neutral, while 37% believe they should be streamlined. Wisconsin continues to value its environmental heritage – even if the GOP does not.

Public Education – Wisconsin has long been committed to a top-tier Public Education system – until the Walker budget cut nearly $1 billion in funding to public schools statewide. The poll clearly shows the people of Wisconsin believe this is the wrong direction for public schools. First, when asked what grade respondents would give their own community public schools, 56% graded at an A or B, 22% a C. Only 4% gave a failing grade. Wisconsin has a higher opinion of its public schools (deservedly so) that the rest of the nation, where only 46% get an A or B – this according to a wpri power point  (page 33) based on the October poll. 

Republicans would have us believe Wisconsinites think the state is spending too much money per pupil in Public Schools, part of the argument in support of private charter schools - they can do it cheaper.  In another split question, the first asks, “According to the most recent information available, roughly $12,800 is being spent each year per child attending PUBLIC SCHOOLS (emphasis mine) in Wisconsin. Do you think that government funding for public schools in Wisconsin should increase, decrease. or stay the same?” Even with knowledge of the amount spent per pupil, 86% believe funding should increase or at least stay the same. Only 9% said decrease. When the question was asked without the dollar amount, there was no measurable difference in responses (MoE +/- 4%), with 89% responding increase or stay the same, with only 7% saying decrease. These numbers have Republicans scrambling to find ways to spin them, and the responses on charter schools give a clue as to how that will happen.

When respondents were asked if they support or oppose the creation of charter schools, which would be “…exempt from many state regulations” - a hot topic recently in Wisconsin, 42% reported support, while 32% opposed, and 22% were neutral, indicating a definitive lack of accurate information about the consequences of private charter schools – and a large segment undecided for one side or the other yet to win over. This outcome coupled with the willingness of Wisconsin to spend more on education (omitting the critical “public education” qualifier in the question), makes it feasible that conservatives could twist the responses to support a position that “the people favor charter schools, and spending more on education, so we must fund charter school formation at a greater pace.” Progressives must fight this with facts about the true costs of charters – being lack of public accountability and low achievement. It is possible to sway the middle 22% with the facts. As more information is known about charters (as is the case in Wisconsin versus the nation as a whole), more people oppose them. Page 39 of the power point indicates Wisconsin opposes charters more than the rest of the nation, 32% to 18%.

The lack of media responsibility in reporting the results of this survey, taken by a conservative leaning WPRI, allows the GOP to spin the results to their agenda. It is up to the readers of alternate media, such as Badger Democracy, to spread the word. The GOP is framing this survey to benefit its political agenda, saying that “…fewer people believe the state is on the wrong track, dropping from 62% in March to 57% now.” While this may be true, and the change is just outside the 4% margin of error, the power point slides give a more long-term (and therefore more accurate) representation of that opinion. Page 8 of the power point shows that over a 16 month period of time (June 2010-October 2011), the numbers have not changed. In June, 2010, 58% felt the state was on the wrong track – today that number is 57%, within the margin of error of 4%. The same is true of “in the right direction” (34% to 38%) – within the 4% margin of error.

The GOP will spin this poll, as they always do – cherry picking data from a conservative-friendly WPRI. The facts, even in their own poll, say otherwise. On Education, unions, the environment, and the economy, Wisconsin shows its progressive heritage. And the resistance to Scott Walker and the current incarnation of the GOP is proof of where Wisconsin stands. It is up to us to spread the facts, as the media is asleep at the wheel of Democracy.

Wisconsin’s “Winter Soldiers” stand in Solidarity with Chicago Teachers as Rahm Emanuel takes a page from Walker’s playbook

In a Southeast Chicago neighborhood bearing the brunt of job migration overseas, Wisconsin Labor supporters rallied with hundreds of Chicago Teachers in a show of cross-state Solidarity. Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel has gone on a media attack against teachers in the nation’s third largest school district, shifting the blame to teachers for the districts financial and performance woes – a divide and conquer strategy reminiscent of Scott Walker’s tactics in Wisconsin. Emanuel and his appointed Board of Education (CPS Board is appointed by the mayor, not elected), and CPS “CEO” Jean-Claude Brizard have put teachers on the defensive this year, and public schools in Chicago may bear the burden of their ideological pursuits. Wisconsin Labor Leaders including John “Sly” Sylvester (WTDY), Joe Conway (Madison Firefighters),  Ed Sadlowski (AFSCME), Eric Cobb (WI Building Trades), Marv Vike (Rock County Hwy Workers) and others rallied with CTU President Karen Lewis and other Chicago Labor leaders in a show of support against Emanuel’s attack on teachers.

The similarities to Wisconsin are striking – Rahm Emanuel has a history of supporting privatization and school choice. One of the primary authors and supporters of NAFTA, today he is participating in a bi-lateral, International study to open “free market, international access” to the tri- state region of Indiana, Illinois and Wisconsin.  At a time when the CPS Board approved salary hikes for Administration, the District withdrew a 4% raise for teachers, citing the poor financial status of the District. His District CEO, Jean-Claude Brizard, is well-known as a proponent and supporter of privatization of schools, expansion of charters, and shutting out teachers from the educational process. The system in Chicago is run absent of any Democratic recourse, as the positions of authority are all appointees of the Mayor. A position Scott Walker is placing himself in through unprecedented power grabs in Wisconsin.

Teachers and taxpayers are being asked to believe that a 30% longer school day for teachers (with only a 2% increase in salary) will solve CPS’ problems. There is no plan from the mayor to address the millions of dollars in corrupt administration, corrupt TIF districts, or real financial issues surrounding the district. There is no plan to address poverty, hunger, segregation, violence and joblessness – the proven most significant obstacles to academic achievement. All these issues have been raised by CTU leadership – and have been ignored. As in Wisconsin – this is not about the money! This is about turning over CPS to corporate money and power – leaving the poorest and most at-risk students behind. After all, in Rahm Emanuel, Mitch Daniels, and Scott Walker’s new “free – trade zone,” there will be tremendous need for low paying, undereducated, underqualified workers who will be happy to just have a job (or two) to make ends meet.

We are all in this together – Solidarity to the teachers in Chicago! Show your support by wearing red on Friday, as the CTU teachers will…

Pictures of the rally:

 

Dear Governor Walker – Here’s how to balance the budget without hurting children, families, seniors, and cities (hint – have a cup of coffee with Senator Vinehout)

With the Joint Finance Committee fast – tracking your budget proposals, it’s time to be completely honest about your budget, Governor. It’s difficult for you – but let’s pretend for a minute you actually care about the people of Wisconsin. Let’s say you set aside an ideology being executed at the national level by corporate interests with very deep pockets. Forget the fact that no matter what the political outcome for you today, your benefactors will most certainly take care of you – just like they took care of Tommy Thompson. Let’s say, hypothetically, that your very future relies on you doing the right thing for the people who live, work, and die in Wisconsin. Yes, this is a stretch – let’s say you actually reach across the aisle to a State Senator from a very rural district for advice on the budget. Your poll numbers are plummeting, recalls are threatening Senate control, and you need to show you can compromise (again, this is a stretch). You’ve heard that Senator Vinehout (D – Alma) drafted a budget in response to her constituents’ concerns. You sit down for a cup of coffee with her to hear her ideas.

State Senator Kathleen Vinehout represents a large portion of Western Wisconsin, primarily Monroe, Jackson, Buffalo, Trempealeau, and portions of other surrounding counties. It is a heavily rural area dotted with small cities and towns, bracing for a heavy impact from the Walker budget – primarily in schools and municipal services. After the budget hearings in her area were abruptly canceled, Senator Vinehout presented her own budget as a comparison to Governor Walker’s. Her constituents were able to have their concerns heard, at least by the legislators present at this “impromptu” hearing. What Vinehout proposes is (in her own words) not flashy, and won’t make any headlines. It tells the truth about Wisconsin’s fiscal situation, and protects the Wisconsin Idea – governing policy that benefits the greatest number of people, not an elite few. Here are the highlights of the issues addressed by her budget proposal. To begin, her plan presumes the acceptance of  public employee benefit contributions, already agreed to by unions.

Truth #1 – We are not broke. In a biennial revenue comparison by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Governor Walker has $2.2 Billion MORE in revenue to work with(2011-2013) than Jim Doyle had in his last biennium (2009-2011). This has to be the starting point for anyone seriously interested in an honest budget creation and negotiation. Any other assessment at this point is an outright lie.

Truth #2 – Governor Walker’s Budget Increases Spending. We have to be honest about this fact. In a Legislative Fiscal Bureau comparison of appropriations and revenue , Walker’s budget spends over $478 million more than Jim Doyle did over the biennium. That’s right, more. Admit it, Governor – we are not broke, and you have plenty of money to maintain state services and programs. So let’s continue this dialogue honestly – where did all that money go?

The Vinehout Budget Amendments address fiscal priorities that affect children, families, seniors, and municipalities. These are the issues that will have most impact on the majority of Wisconsinites. If you want to have an honest budget debate with an eye on the future – look at how the Walker Budget addresses these groups. Page 1 of Senator Vinehout’s amendments would restore the cuts to General Fund Programs to the tune of $505 million. This would include:

Restore School Aid Cuts – $351 million

Restore Aid to Rural Schools – $2.98 million

Restore Alcohol and Drug Abuse Grants – $8.7 million

Restore Senior Care – $15 million

Restore Municipal Aid Funding – $37.4 million

Reverse Tax Increase to Earned Income Tax Credit – $41.3 million

Restore Reduction to Tech College Aid – $17 million

These cuts in the Walker budget (by any honest observation) target groups that are not only the most vulnerable, but have the greatest impact on the future of the state. Educating children in an outstanding public school system, services for senior health care and vulnerable populations, fiscal aid to keep cities strong and vibrant, all make sense in continuing an economic and social recovery in Wisconsin. Page 2 of the Vinehout Budget Amendments shows where state revenue is going in the Walker Budget, and the difference in priorities. Keep in mind Walker has chosen to make cuts to the above groups – schools, children, families, and municipalities. The Vinehout plan would revert the following funds back to General Revenue to support the programs cut in the Walker Budget.

 Charter Schools – While cutting funds to public education, the Walker budget spends over $40 million in combined funds to support expansion of charter schools. There is no unbiased evidence that charter schools work any better in educating children than public schools. In fact, there is less accountability and lower standards across the board for charters. It is easy to measure success against low standards. This charter expansion is an experiment at the expense of public schools and children. Let’s be clear – no one has advocated INCREASING money to public schools, merely keeping current expenditures in line.

Executive Salaries – In supposedly tight economic times, over $10 million dollars is going to salary and fringe benefit increases in the Department of Administration and Governor’s offices. Enough said.

Tax Cuts to Large Corporations – $52 million dollars in combined reporting losses. This is a boondoggle for giant, multi-segment corporations. It allows these companies to combine tax data to “report” a business  “loss” for a fiscal year, even from out-of-state segments of its business. Under the proposed law, the Department of Revenue could not even investigate a reported loss – the corporation’s word has to be accepted as genuine. This lack of oversight will certainly lead to abuse of this tax policy.

Tax Cuts to the Top 2% income bracket – Cuts in Capital Gains taxes will lead to a loss of $36.3 million in tax revenue. The wealthiest individuals benefit from this policy change – that is a fact from LFB analysis. Again, enough said.

“Economic Development Corporation” – $35 million in another corporate boondoggle. The mere existence of this state – sponsored agency propagates the myth that tax cuts create jobs. This is merely taxpayer money going to corporations that already avoid paying taxes, in an all out grab for state resources. It rewards corporations favored by the Governor’s office; who has authority to create agency policies.

Governor Walker, if you were actually willing to have that cup of coffee with Senator Vinehout and really listen, you would realize the Vinehout Budget proposal addresses issues critical to Wisconsin, and maintains collective bargaining rights while balancing the budget. If the numbers of Wisconsinites supporting you actually understood the truth about your budget (rather than relying on half-truth talking points), the demonstrations would be even larger. The truth is, you don’t care. Any hope anyone has of you actually doing what is right for Wisconsin is a false one. The tax cuts and spending in your budget will benefit a select few – and truth be told, create very few new jobs while creating a greater burden on the ever-shrinking middle class. That is what you have been paid to do (isn’t it?), and perhaps that’s how you sleep at night. Enjoy the remaining time you have in the Governor’s Mansion. The more people find out about the effects of your policies, the more likely your recall. Your ideological marriage to the new Robber Barons will be your demise – these are not Wisconsin values. 

Let’s send a message! Save the “Vinehout Budget Amendments” pdf file from the link, and email them to Governor Walker (govgeneral@wisconsin.gov) with a message that you want him to prioritize what is right for Wisconsin – not a select few favored corporations and wealthy. It may not change his mind, but he’ll know we are paying attention, and will hold him accountable.

Postscript: More specific budget information can be found in previous Badger Democracy blogs on Education , Families, and Municipalities.

“The Wisconsin Idea” in politics – RIP in the 2011 legislature

“The Wisconsin Idea” in politics was pioneered by Robert M. LaFollette Sr.,  leading the Progressive movement for Wisconsin and the nation. The basis of the philosophy is  “to ensure well-constructed legislation aimed at benefitting the greatest number of people.” (Myers, R. David – “The Wisconsin Idea, It’s National and International Significance,” Wisconsin Academy Review(Fall 1991). The ideas originating in Wisconsin included Worker’s Compensation, Primary Elections, State Regulation of Railroads, Direct Election of State Senators, Progressive Taxation, and Public Employee Unions. The Progressive, “Wisconsin Idea” even sparked passage of the Sixteenth (progressive income tax) and Seventeenth (Direct Senatorial Elections)Amendments to the US Constitution. These pieces of legislation were Wisconsin originals, have benefitted a great number of people, and Wisconsin led the way for the nation.

Today, there is not a single original idea in Scott Walker’s budget; nor is there any significant piece of legislation that contains an original Wisconsin idea. Contrary to Scott Walker’s claim to “leading” the nation; he and the Republican-controlled legislature are following the lead of corporate-controlled groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). And there is no evidence of these policies benefitting “the greatest number of people,” to the contrary, the fewest number will benefit. An examination of current Education Bills in committee make this point very well.

Special Needs Scholarship Bill AB 110 proposes state-paid scholarships to special needs students, with the ability to choose any school (public or private) participating in the program. At first glance, this would appear to be a very well-intended bill. The devil is in the details. In brief (read the bill), the bill would take shared revenue out of districts with students participating in the program, if they attend a non-home district school. The bill forces the home district to pay for transport to the choice school (within 5 miles), even to a private school; and beyond 5 miles if so specified in the student’s “Individual Education Plan.” The home district must pay for and administer required tests for students if their choice school does not. The standards of performance for these private “choice schools” are not as stringent as  public schools – even teacher certification requirements are less stringent. Most controversial is the paying of scholarship funds from the state “directly to the school on behalf of the family,” even to a religious private institution. The bill also creates additional opportunity for privatizing school services to agencies with less public accountability, while decreasing state committments to public schools. This bill is sponsored by Rep. Robin Vos, the state chair of ALEC. ALEC has been pushing this agenda of privatization and corporatization for a long time. In 2007, ALEC released a 50 state analysis of education policy, complete with “model legislaton” suggestions for each alec 50stateSCreport. Wisconsin is on page 96, with the following suggestions:

Model Legislation: Parental Choice Scholarship Program (Universal Eligibility), Parental Choice Scholarship Program (Means-Tested Eligibility), Special Needs Scholarship Program, Foster Child Scholarship Program, Autism Scholarship, Great Schools Tax Credit Program, Family Education Tax Credit Program

That’s right, 2007. In fact, the “Foster Child Scholarship” model legislation contains almost identical language and mechanisms as AB110 Foster_Child_Scholarship_Program_Act . In the September 2010 issue of ALEC’s magazine, the group sang the praises of such an initiative in Oklahoma ALEC 10-10 Education issue. Contrary to the cited “study,” the public schools in Oklahoma have seen fiscal harm from this program, as has the student’s performance. The group performing “studies” for ALEC is The Foundation for Educational Choice, founded by Milton Friedman - University of Chicago, “shock doctrine” Milton Friedman. This group knows how to format a study to get the results they want, not what is scientifically and statistically true.

 SB-22 is the expansion of Charter Schools Bill. This is the Senate version of AB51 authored by Robin Vos (ALEC, remember). SB22 is authored by Alberta Darling. Senator Darling is rumored to be an ALEC Legislative Member, but her staff would not confirm this – they did not deny, however. Both Darling and Vos spokespersons confirmed the two worked on the bills simultaeneously, and as one reads AB51, they are virtually identical. The ALEC model legislation from 2005, Great_Schools_Tax_Credit_Act, contains very similar language and mechanisms. Obviously, Robin Vos was paying attention at ALEC Conferences. This bill is no more a Wisconsin idea than any other piece of legislation with ALEC corporate fingerprints. The charter schools bill is merely the legalized privatization of Wisconsin schools at the expense of our great public school system. It continues the financial assualt on public school districts, lowers accountability for charters, while allowing wealthy families to gain access to thousands of dollars in state school aid, once set aside for the neediest families.

At issue is the outpouring of multi-national money and corporate anarchist philosophy into our state’s legislation. The group ALEC  is largely funded by both the Koch Industries, and the Bradley Foundation http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=American_Legislative_Exchange_Council (also see bdgrdemocracy previous blogs re Greater Milwaukee Committee, Smart Government, Inc, and Foley and Lardner). Both these ultra- conservative groups have taken a vested interest in undoing nearly a century of Progressive politics -not for the benefit of the “greatest number” of people, but for the fewest elite. With the dismantling of the Wisconsin Public school model, legislators like Alberta Darling and Robin Vos have continued the systematic assualt on “The Wisconsin Idea.” If you think the need for mass protests are over – think again. They may just be starting. Don’t let the Wisconsin Idea die – it has to live in all of us, to lead the nation out of this second coming of the “Robber Baron” era.

Charter School Bill attacks Public Schools, with no public oversight

49524583-SB-22-Official-Version-Wisconsin-State-Legislature-via-MyGov365-com

The official version of SB22, seen in this link, creates a “corporate-style”(my words) oversight board that reports only to the Governor – with virtually no Legislative, Public, or Educational oversight. The bill vastly alters the licensing process for charter teachers, and these schools would be run by “non-profit” corporations – not municipal districts accountable to taxpaying voters. The bill also eliminates accountability for school performance by altering the effects of testing to track student performance. It is important to note that Senator Kapanke withdrew his co-authorship of the bill recently – hopefully a sign that reason may yet prevail – don’t hold your breath.

The importance of this cannot be understated. Through the Governor’s version of the budget, a charter school could be created to compete directly with Public Schools, teaching curriculum NOT approved or structured by any educational entity, with teachers not licensed through DPI, and not accountable to any public oversight – only the Governor’s. These schools have no limit on money available to them, at the same time as Wisconsin Public Schools are having their budgets decimated in this biennial budget. Let’s be clear – public schools with less money from the state, being held to higher standards by that state limiting their financial ability to do their job; would now have charters opening in an unlimited capacity to attract any student, with virtually unlimited resources and no public accountability. Under authority from the Governor, lest we forget, the newly appointed powerful DPI Secretary could take “any steps necessary” to fiscally manage the Department – including closing “failing” (even financially) schools.

This policy, coupled with the other Education cuts (see previous blog “Sacrificing Children and Families, part 1″) would give Governor Walker’s Administration the authority to close public schools with no public accountability, to be replaced by newly opened Charters, performing under criteria only set by the Secretary of DPI, under the auspices of the Governor. If you think this is far-fetched, read the bill and follow the money. As set forth by the A.L.E.C. “toolbox” (see previous blog with link to American Legislative Exchange Council pdf), this is very much about privatization, and ideological progression. This bill, and the scenario of decimating Wisconsin’s once great Public School System, follow that plan. Unless we make our voices heard. SB22 needs to be resisted and fought back as hard as the loss of Collective Bargaining Rights -lest there be no Public Schools left to work in, and educate our children.

Coming in the next few days – an analysis of the literal propaganda being proferred by the right wing “corporatists”, and the facts to confound them. One more day, Wisconsin.

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