Scott Walker has Failed Wisconsin…Part 2

Two readers of Scott Walker has Failed Wisconsin…Part1 (“CG in WI”, and “Melissa”) suggested two topics with tremendous potential impact on this and future generations – and can be connected in one blog…The Environment, and Privatization of State Power Plants.  Unbelievably, from the land of Aldo Leopold, Gaylord Nelson, and a little bit of John Muir, comes the story of Scott Walker and the Charter Street Power Plant. A tale of environmental apathy, corporatic politics, and political greed. Scott Walker has failed Wisconsin in environmental stewardship and responsible resource management.

On November 21, 2007 The Western District Federal Court issued summary judgement in Sierra Club v. Michael Morgan and Jay Ehrfurth. In brief, the judgement found the state in violation of the EPA Clean Air Act at the Charter Street Power Plant on the UW-Madison campus. The State of Wisconsin was ordered to submit and execute a plan to reduce emissions by15% at the coal-fired power plant. Under a settlement reached by the Doyle Administration, the state received approval for a plan submitted in 2009, and subsequently funded in the 2009-2011 biennial budget to the tune of over $200 million. This plan design would put Wisconsin at the leading edge of using native biomass resources to generate power at the Charter Street Power Plant, bring emissions in line with Clean Air Act standards, and create hundreds of green jobs.

One of Scott Walker’s earliest decisions as Governor was to announce his abandonment of the 2009 design to utilize native biomass, and instead pursue a cheaper plan to convert to natural gas. This plan does not comply with the judgement and subsequent settlement in Sierra Club v. Morgan and Ehrfurth, and potentially exposes the state to new action in Federal Court. In addition, and more dubiously, opens the door for privatization of state power plants through Administrative Rule already in place. Scott Walker has willfully ignored environmental standards, and a court order to further his political career and line the coffers of his supporters – in this case, most likely Koch Industries.

An email obtained by Badger Democracy from Scott Walker’s office indicates the early concern and colluding going on in mid-January. The Walker Administration had been approached by the law firm of Foley and Lardner (who has significant ties to the Walker people – Legal Counsel Brian Hagedorn is an alumnus of F&L) with an offer of 30 free minutes of consulting time to “pick their brains” regarding strategy in the Charter Street Plant case.  Some important points of note here – acceptance of this offer could be considered an ethics violation. Also, the individual making the request from Foley and Lardner is Ray Carey  – a prolific lobbyist in Madison, most notably for Koch Industries. The very same Koch Industries positioning themselves with Scott Walker (as one of his primary donors) to receive no-bid contracts for control of state power plants. Badger Democracy has been unable to confirm whether this meeting “officially” took place. In a phone interview today (August 30), Ray Carey stated that he has “no knowledge of this meeting taking place.” He also stated that the inquiry was made “to see if any opportunity existed to do business with the state.” An interesting comment considering Koch Industries would benefit greatly from the abandonment of biomass, and conversion to natural gas (should the state choose to privatize with Koch). Neither DOA or DOJ have any record of any such consultation taking place. It is unlikely any official comment or record of any meeting such as this would be credible, as it is an ethically and politically charged situation.

A little over 6 months later, on July 27, 2011, The Sierra Club has filed a Notice of Termination of Non-Consent Decree in United States District Court in “Sierra Club v. Mike Huebsch et al.” For now, the Department of Justice is representing the Department of Administration. It could be determined the DOJ has a legal conflict in so much as it must enforce the law, and the DOA is in violation of Federal Law (Clean Air Act). If this is the case, and DOJ withdraws, would Foley and Lardner be awarded the lucrative state legal contract?  No doubt, Scott Walker knew what his actions would bring in Court. He is likely counting on what his actions will bring politically and financially – more control and Koch money. Never mind the State of Wisconsin’s people and environment. Never mind the green jobs. Never mind the Koch Corporate profiteers circling like vultures around Wisconsin’s resources. Never mind the hundreds of thousands of dollars to be spent defending this irresponsible decision. And never mind over a century of responsible environmental stewardship and leadership.

Scott Walker has failed to lead Wisconsin ethically and responsibly in environmental stewardship and energy resources – which will cost the people of Wisconsin millions of dollars in revenue, hundreds of jobs, and priceless natural resources for future generations. For this, he deserves to be recalled.

Glenn Grothman – State Senator or Walker Education Policy Puppet?

In a letter to constituents, and Wednesday on “Sly in the Morning”, Senator Glenn Grothman (R-West Bend) extolled the education-saving virtues of Act 10, saying it was “…the best thing we could do for our public schools.” Grothman went on to say that “Wisconsin Schools are just not that great right now,” citing recent test scores as signs of an education emergency that only eliminating collective bargaining could remedy. Specifically noting that the “…most recent test scores show that black kids have the worst scores in the country…” and “…white kids scored lower than the national average.” Grothman stated his belief that collective bargaining is a roadblock to student achievement that had to be removed – for the sake of the kids. According to Grothman, there are too many “bad teachers” protected by unions that are “too hard to get rid of,” and that “people shouldn’t need an Education degree to teach.”

After speaking with Senator Grothman today two things are very clear – first, he was not very familiar with the full data from the scores, admitting that Governor Walker seemed to have “cherry picked” the scores he cited. The Senator was merely repeating the information he was given by Scott Walker, trusting its accuracy – even out of context. The other issue that was perfectly clear is that he (and the other Republicans) are behaving as puppets to Scott Walker and the Corporatics pulling HIS strings – believing every bit of misinformation being fed to them to demonize teachers and their unions. The best thing for Wisconsin and our children is for this propaganda to be exposed and debunked, so that a real debate about education can take place. For the record, this information was shared with Senator Grothman today.

The NAEP test scores for 2009 were indeed “cherry picked” for political purposes. Grothman was only citing the reading scores from the 2009 NAEP tests. Here are all the composite scores from those tests. The math scores show a National average of 239 for all students, 248 for white students, 222 for African-American students. Wisconsin students on the whole scored 244, 250 for white students, 217 for African-American students. The science scores show a National average of 149 for all students, 162 for white students, 127 for African-Americans. Wisconsin students scored 157 on the whole, 164 for white students, 121 for African-Americans. Finally, the 2009 reading scores show a National average of 220, 229 for white students, 204 for African-American students. Wisconsin students scored 220 on the whole, 227 for white students, 192 for African-Americans. While it is true that Wisconsin students performed only at the National average in reading, with sub-groups by race performing below average (and yes, African-American scores in reading were the lowest in the nation),  the broader picture is clearer, and has NOTHING to do with collective bargaining.

Examination of test scores from prior years (1992 math scores, 1992 reading scores2003 math scores, 2003 reading scores, science n/a) show that while Wisconsin student’s performance on those tests were either increasing or stable, the African-American test scores began dipping below the National average in 2003. In 1992 and prior years, they were always above the National average. There are several factors that can explain this truly alarming outcome, and as stated before, Collective Bargaining has nothing to do with any of them. In fact, there is evidence that Collective Bargaining is beneficial to teaching poor and socio-economically challenged students. Senator, Governor, Republicans – this is where you need to really listen.

It has been well documented that Milwaukee Charter School students, most of which are economically challenged African-Americans, have been performing at a lower level on test scores than those in public schools. While this author does not believe in rating a student or teacher performance merely on test scores, this point is clear – the overwhelming contributor to low academic achievement is poverty. The education and personnel policies being pushed in Wisconsin over recent years (especially since 2000) have been to move underprivileged children into private charter schools, weaken (if not destroy) collective bargaining rights, and divert funds from public schools. These actions are what have weakened public education in Wisconsin. The economic policies being pushed in Wisconsin and nationwide over the last decade have widened the income gap, creating an even higher population of poor, at-risk children who desperately require a high quality public education which is being defunded by Scott Walker and the Corporatics.

Contrary to right-wing propaganda (at the hands of Scott Jensen’s special interests), there are numerous studies which prove (scientifically) that under these challenging conditions, teachers with union representation actually BENEFIT students and school districts. First, teachers are required to be certified, educated, and well-qualified to teach. There is a direct link to teacher quality and student achievement. There is also a direct link to teacher input into classroom and school curriculum and closing the achievement gap. Through collective bargaining, teachers have a voice in all those areas, as opposed to an authoritarian administration.

Finally, there are two sets of studies that demonstrate teachers involved in union collective bargaining actually help in the overall performance of students’ test scores, and there is no statistical detriment to students  or school districts whose teachers belong to unions (since Republicans are so fixated on test scores).

If the Corporatic Republicans can digest the facts and the truth, they would understand why they face recalls. Their actions have been contrary to the benefit of teachers, students, and the entire population of Wisconsin. We must assure the recalls serve as a wake-up call – that they will cut the strings of the corporate puppeteer and see what is truly in the best interest of Wisconsin’s future education program.

Kaukauna School Board and Scott Walker have something in common…budgeting is not about the money – it’s about union busting

The Kaukauna School District has been put on display by the Walker Administration recently as a shining example of how the passage of Act 10 (curbing collective bargaining rights for teachers) has saved Wisconsin Public Schools. The story has received national attention, being cited by right-wing talk show host Rush Limbaugh, and Byron York in the Washington Examiner. The near miraculous shift from a $400,000 deficit pre – Act 10, to a $1.5 million surplus post – Act 10 seems almost too good to be true. While the  numbers are true; the actual story of where the deficit came from, the actions of the School Board during “negotiations,” and the effect on the people involved have conveniently been ignored by Walker and the GOP, and unreported in the media – until now. Badger Democracy has received email communications from Teachers Union Representation to District Administration outlining concessions offered to assist the District in balancing its budget – which went virtually ignored. A School Board member, speaking on condition of anonymity, has also informed Badger Democracy that a small faction of the Board and Administration colluded to ignore the offer and wait for Act 10 to take effect – potentially violating State Open Meetings Law, and weakening the Union’s ability to bargain and represent its members. The District’s budget process also reveals a method of creating a non-existent deficit – giving the appearance of a fiscal emergency, where none exists.  

The forecast Kaukauna 2011-2012 budget (page 5) cites a revenue loss of nearly $2 million from state shared revenue  – a result of Governor Walker’s budget impact on public school revenue cuts. Conveniently, this impact has been ignored as a basis of the deficit “crisis” facing the District. The District also faced an $840,000 loss in Open Enrollment (page 10) from students enrolling outside of the district and subsequent shared revenue adjustments. The summary shows a nearly $3 million deficit in revenue to expenditures before any adjustments are made (page 12).  After the proposed cuts in spending, including layoffs of certified teachers, and closing an Elementary School, the District projects a $33,901 surplus. The budgeting process also ignores the transfer of a 2010-2011 $345,000 surplus to the current year, which would have alleviated some of the deficit. School Board President Todd Arnoldussen, in a phone interview, stated that had it not been for the passage of Act 10, the District would have faced “increased deficits” in coming years. He also stated that deficits have been an issue in previous years – so much so, the District could have potentially become insolvent had something  not changed. He specifically cited the strain from Teacher Salaries and Benefits, stating that Disrtict teachers are “among the highest paid in the state.” A comparison of the current and previous Budgets shows his statement to be misleading and patently untrue. The budget deficit, in fact, has been created by District Accounting practices.

In the 09-10 Budget, Kaukauna began the practice of “Level 2 Budgeting.” Simply stated, the District now includes future fixed costs in its CURRENT budgeting cycle. Arnoldussen cited the Districts’  post-retirement benefit liability at “around $22 million a year.” The problem with this number, is that it includes all present and FUTURE staff retirements. Normally, a District would express that number as a future expense, balancing it with future revenues – such a future obligation would have no negative fiscal impact on a School District. Unless it includes a portion of that obligation in its current year – which is exactly what Kaukauna has done. The annual expenditure for post-retirement benefits was $1.05 million per year (2009-2010). The District added an additional $500,000 per year as a “Level 2” expenditure – for the future. The District did the same accounting for Computer “Infrastructure” at $300,000 per year (in spite of already budgeted expenditure in this area), and building  “maintenance” at almost $1 million per year (again, in spite of current improvements already in the budget). $1.8 million in additional expenditures – not for current, but future spending. In the 2011-2012 budget, the district reduces some of this “Level 2” spending in Computer and Building Maintenance. The future consideration is still nearly $1 million, almost 50% of the lost state revenue. This practice creates the appearance of a “fiscal emergency,”  especially to citizens who look only at the bottom line. True accounting of the current year’s expenses would have cut the deficit nearly in half, but would have had much less impact on shaping opinion.

In response to the Kaukauna Schools budget situation, and to preserve teacher’s jobs in the face of layoffs, the Teachers Union offered a concession to the District in early April. Here are the initial proposed concessions:

          2 Year Extension of the current contract

·         KEA Pays Share of the Pension (5.8% the same amount Act 10 would require)

·         KEA Pays 12.0% of Health Insurance Premium (the same amount Act 10  would require) if District chooses insurance carrier providing the same benefits as the WEA Trust 2010-2011 Plan

·         KEA Pays 12.0% of Health Insurance Premium if the District keeps WEA Trust, plus the difference in cost between what the District’s choice would have cost, and the actual cost of WEA Trust

·         KEA Accepts a Total Freeze of the Salary Schedule for 2 years (KEA Members stay at their 2010-2011 salary, step, and lane)

·         District controls start/end times, providing it includes a continuous 7.5 hour day plus a 30 minute duty free lunch

·         KEA would agree to be flexible on calendar, enabling district to consolidate half-days into full days.

The estimated savings to the district was estimated to be $1.6 – $1.8 million. These concessions, combined with the $345,000 surplus  from the previous year, and return to current year budgeting, would have created a surplus in the Districts Operating Budget. On April 13, the KEA leadership was led to believe their offer was close to being accepted. A meeting was planned that day with Mary Weber, District Administrator:

From: Geoffrey, Jim
Sent: Wednesday, April 13, 2011 10:17 AM
To: Meyer, Patrick; King, Tony
Cc: Weber, MaryKay
Subject: Meet with Mary

Patrick and Tony,

Mary will be meeting with the board leadership team (Todd and Giovanna) tom=rrow morning.  It would be very helpful to have the document we’ve been =orking on.  If you are availably, Mary can meet today at 11:45 or after sc=ool.

Please reply to this message (I’m copying Mary) to set up the appointment=if you can meet today.

-Jim

On April 14, the KEA was advised to reserve the school auditorium, in the event a vote on the concessions was needed. This request came from Mary Weber, District Administrator and was acted on by a KEA Teacher’s rep:

From: Geoffrey, Jim
Sent: Thursday, April 14, 2011 6:27 PM
To: King, Tony; Meyer, Patrick
Subject: KHS Auditorium Reserved

I have reserved the KHS Auditorium after school next Tuesday, April 19th an= next Wednesday, April 20th in case it would be necessary. We have no scho=l the 21st-25th.

-Jim

After submitting good faith concessions, which would have given the School District the “tools” it needed to balance the budget and keep good will with the teachers, the School Board outright rejected the offer on April 19. With no explanation or counter-offer, the School Board claimed to have voted “unanimously” to reject the offer (although no record of this vote exists), and wait for Act 10 to take effect:

From: Meyer, Patrick
Sent: Tuesday, April 19, 2011 8:44 AM
To: KEA Members
Subject: Negotiations Update

Fellow KEA Members:
Approximately two weeks ago, the KEA Negotiations Committee met to discuss =he concessions we would consider proposing to help close the district’s =rojected budget deficit of nearly $3.9 million.  We created the following =roposal and submitted it to the district leadership last week for consider=tion during closed session on Monday, April 19, 2011.
Proposal for Extending the 2009-2011 KEA Master Agreement
(see above listed concessions)
Early this morning, Tony King, Jim Geoffrey, and I met with the school boar= president, Todd Arnoldussen, Mary Weber, and Bob Schafer to discuss an ex=ension to the KEA Master Agreement.  Todd explained that the board careful=y considered our proposal, but in the end decided, via a unanimous vote, t= reject our proposal and continue their budget deliberations and changes u=der the assumption that the current collective bargaining law will remain =n place.
Please know that your negotiations committee and the KEA leadership will co=tinue to explore all options to enable us to maintain the rights that we h=ve struggled to achieve.  As more information becomes available, we will k=ep you informed.
Sincerely,
Patrick D. Meyer
KEA Negotiations Co-Chair

There was no meeting scheduled for April 18 or 19, nor does any record exist of such vote, bringing into question the potential violation of State Open Meetings Law. Board President Arnoldussen has “no memory of that meeting.”  Additionally, a School Board Member (speaking on condition of anonymity) confirmed for Badger Democracy that a faction of Board Members (including President Arnoldussen) and the District Business Manager (Bob Schafer) intentionally set aside the concession offer – motivated by the imminent passage of Act 10 crippling the union, their ultimate ideological goal (Bob Schafer reportedly keeps a portrait of Rush Limaugh in his office). The source stated the motivation for speaking out being the negative impact of the budget on teachers, the divisive actions of the Board President, and concern that people in the community didn’t fully understand the nature of the Board’s actions.

As went Scott Walker’s Budget, so goes the Kaukauna School District Budget. The process was never about a fiscally responsible budget – but about breaking the union. The real impact will undoubtedly be felt in the community, as teachers facing an 8.4% pay cut spend less in the community, or leave for other communities. In the end, the children and families who rely on public education will suffer, as will the entire state – as happens when ideology trumps responsible governance. The mainstream media has again missed the real story. The human impact of this budget fiasco – which, upon further review in the Kaukauna case, is still a disaster.

The “Big Five” Lies in the Walker Budget – in his own words…

To all the hard-working, Democracy loving, fiscally responsible people of Wisconsin,

You have been misled. Governor Scott Walker has completely misrepresented his budget and Wisconsin’s fiscal state. Before, during, and after debate on this budget, Walker has lied to you. His statement released after the Legislature’s budget passage continues these lies:

“I am proud of the work done by the Legislature, which passed a budget today that isn’t built on accounting gimmicks, use of one time money for ongoing expenses, or tax increases.  The budget approved by the Legislature is an honest document that balancesWisconsin’s $3.6 billion budget deficit so that our children and grandchildren aren’t saddled with mountains of debt in the future.” 

Moving forward, I plan on taking time over the next two weeks to review the changes made by the Legislature prior to signing the bill before June 30th.” 

These lies were repeated so many times by Walker, GOP Legislators, and the media they have passed for conventional wisdom. As a service to the people of Wisconsin who may have fallen prey to Scott Walker’s budget hijinks, here are the lies in Scott Walker’s statement exposed:

Piece #1 – The “…budget today…isn’t built on…tax increases.” (see quote above)  In a January 13, 2011 memo from LFB Director Bob Lang, the LFB specifies two significant tax increases. These tax increases affect poor, lower-income residents who rely on the Earned Income Credit and Homestead Tax Credit to simply make ends meet. Through this budget, the state is increasing the tax burden on the lowest wage earners by nearly $70 million over two years. In addition, fees will increase by over $100 million,  targeted primarily at tuition increases for UW students, and vehicle title fees to segregated funds.  A tax is a tax – it is a lie to consider these anything but what they are.

Piece #2 – “The budget…isn’t built on accounting gimmicks”  Scott Walker promised, backed by GOP Legislators, to not raid segregated funds to balance the budget. This was a practice he slammed Jim Doyle over, and repeated this promise again and again. A June 14, 2011 memo, again from LFB Director Bob Lang, proves this to be a blatant lie. The memo itemized over $400 million in segregated fund “transfers”. Most of the raids transfer funds from General and Environmental Funds into Transportation Fund (to fund road construction boondoggles). The LFB memo confirms these funds are “used for purposes other than…the funds have traditionally been used.” The fund raids themselves are gimmicks used to give the appearance of a “balanced” budget.

Piece #3 – “…our children and grandchildren aren’t saddled with mountains of debt…”  In the biennial budget, Scott Walker has given huge tax breaks to corporations and the wealthiest individuals to make Wisconsin more “business friendly.” Regardless of the fact that tax breaks don’t create jobs (see item #3 of the link – includes charts!); there will be a significant price for our children to pay – long after Walker is out of office.  The June 9, 2011 LFB memo from Rob Reinhardt itemized the long-term consequences of these tax cuts for large corporations and the wealthy. The total LFB projection in lost revenue over ten years – over $2.3 Billion. Yes – BILLION. Most of the revenue loss is due to the changes in Capital Gains and Combined Reporting, benefitting the highest income earners and largest corporations in Wisconsin. Scott Walker will be out of office long before this revenue loss impacts Wisconsin’s children.

Piece #4 – “…our children and grandchildren aren’t saddled with mountains of debt…” (part 2) The June 14, 2011 LFB memo from Fiscal Analyst Al Runde unveils the most disturbing lie about the Walker budget. Walker’s debt restructuring plan provides for longer term debt service, incurring greater interest costs for the state. The plan simply allows the Governor to delay debt service payments beginning in 2013. Scott Walker will delay debt payments, accruing higher interest, and literally “kicking the can down the road.”   The impact? The state standard for debt-to-revenue ratio is no greater than 4%, with a target debt ratio of 3-3.5% of General Program Revenue. Table 2 in the linked memo shows the debt-to-revenue ratio projections.  THIS IS CRITICAL – Debt ratio grows from 2.28% this year, to almost 5% next year. In 2013-2014, it grows to OVER 5%, even with a generous 4% growth in revenue. A debt-to-revenue ratio of over 5% is higher than ANY budget under Jim Doyle. This literally saddles Wisconsin with increased debt AFTER Walker’s term is over.  

Point #5 – This budget “…balances Wisconsin’s $3.6 billion budget deficit.” No, it doesn’t. The June 15, 2011 LFB memo specifies the fiscal condition of the Transportation Fund. The fund will operate in a deficit after this fiscal year. Through the raiding of the General Fund (see above), which is a one-time transfer, the Transportation Fund will be in a $244 million deficit for the 2013-2015 bienium.  In addition, because of Walker’s method for debt restructuring (see above), the Transportation Fund will require higher levels of bonding to maintain equal levels. The total deficit, over the 2013-2015 bienium – $319 million. A deficit which will come due AFTER Walker is out of office, and after the Road Construction lobby has been paid – with money raided from the General Fund, and debt sold to our children.

Simply stated, Scott Walker has lied. He has raised taxes, raided funds, created a critical future revenue shortfall, sold debt to future generations, and created a budget deficit. Spread the word, share the facts, and make sure Wisconsin knows the truth about this fiscally (and socially) disastrous budget – which doesn’t work for anyone!

Thanks to all contributing legislators in sharing their research, time, and efforts in this unprecedented time. On Wisconsin!

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.

Walker Budget effect on Rural Wisconsin – ask Jackson County about municipal governance…

All over the state, municipalities are struggling to cover the gap left in essential service funding left by the Walker Budget proposals. As reported in the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel on April 7 http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/119428294.html , large municipalities in the state face a huge shortfall in cash due to cuts in shared revenues. The Governor’s budget adjustments only cover 61% of the shortfall, leaving a gap of almost $20 million – just in the state’s largest cities. This leaves cities and counties in a very difficult position of cutting services in a difficult economic climate. To make the situation worse, the Walker budget would eliminate the ability of municipal governments to levy property tax increases – one of their few means of generating revenue. The effects in these larger population centers has been given a great deal of publicity – what about areas of smaller population in rural Wisconsin?

Jackson County in Northwest Wisconsin http://quickfacts.census.gov/qfd/states/55/55053.html is home to just under 20,000 people. The county is 87.5% non- Hispanic White, 6.3% Native American. 79% of adults over 25 have high school diplomas, while only 11.3% hold a Bachelor’s degree. While almost 75% are homeowners (68% statewide), the median home value is $76,800, while median personal income is $17,604 ($21,271 state). Over 12% live below the poverty level, 2% over the state median. Most of the land East of I94 is bog, resulting in a population density of only 19.4 persons per square mile (98.8 state). The county relies heavily on state shared revenue for services, having a low property tax base. Based on GovernorWalker’s proposed 2011-2013 budget, the county stands to lose $278,000 in shared revenue. State budget cuts do not come close to filling the gap (as in larger municipalities). In a less populated rural area with less existing infrastructure and population base, even more people in need of current services are put at risk.

First reported in the LaCrosse Tribune: http://lacrossetribune.com/jacksoncochronicle/news/local/article_543c1186-6617-11e0-8a48-001cc4c002e0.html on April 13. Circuit Court Judge Thomas Lister and District Attorney Gerald Fox have presented a plan to the County Executive and Finance Committee which would help fill that revenue gap – and it would be unprecedented in Wisconsin. Under their plan, Jackson County would administer and prosecute most citations and forfeitures under county statutes – keeping the citation revenue in the county. When I spoke to District Attorney Gerald Fox on April 19, he indicated the county sends about $1 million per year in fines and court costs to the state. Only a small percentage of the total stays in the county, in fact, if a state fine or forfeiture is involved (as in a State Patrol citation) all revenue from that fine reverts to the state. A very lopsided transaction, when you consider the only state – paid costs are the salaries of the DA and Asst. DA, half salary of a victim witness coordinator, one Circuit Court Judge, one Court Reporter, and a computer work station. The county pays all other staff salaries and expenses out of its own coffers. The Lister/Fox plan would have the DA prosecute as many offenses under county statutes as possible in Judge Lister’s court with the fines paid remaining in Jackson county to help fill the state funding gap. Early estimates net the county a little over $100,000 in highway citations alone – a significant piece of the deficit.

In Black River Falls, the county seat, Mayor Ron Danielson struggles with potential cuts to Emergency Services. The already limited city payroll has little room for cuts already, and the largest portion of city payroll is dedicated to Emergency Services. Wisconsin Statute prohibits cities from cutting Emergency Services below 2009 levels; but under AB14, currently in committee http://madison.mygov365.com/legislation/view/id/4d4d14c949e51bae70a20900/tab/versions/ , that statute would be rescinded. If this bill passes, municipalities would be allowed to make cuts in Emergency Services to help make up their budget shortfalls. In small cities all over Wisconsin like Black River Falls with very limited revenue sources, there may be little choice – even with the creative solution of Judge Lister and DA Fox.

In light of recent news disclosing pending introduction of Municipal Governance reform legislation (see previous blogs), there could be serious and very intended consequences for rural municipalities like Jackson County. Even DA Fox expressed concern that under the current legislative climate, the county may see significant push back on such self-governing decisions. Should a Municipal Governance Reform bill pass as reported, what would the “stress tests” and “transparent fiscal management” language of those bills mean to the people of Jackson County? I submit a scenario that is not a great leap under the current climate of corporate – sponsored legislation. The state could deem Jackson County to be unsound, citing “questionable” methods in balancing their budget (like the Fox/Lister plan) – not to mention Walker not liking county money staying in the county. Municipalities would cut Emergency Services and Social Services as their shared revenue dwindles, creating more at-risk people overwhelming an already taxed system. It is not a stretch to see the state taking authority to “save” the county by systemically privatizing all non-emergency services. Streets, parks, sanitation, even administration could be privatized under appropriate legislation using a fiscal “stress test” as justification. The city/county function would revert to basic public safety, with other services being sold to the highest bidder (or no bidder); creating a service base with no local or legislative accountability. As Mayor Danielson pointed out, there is a lot of money in privatizing those “non-essential” services like parks and sanitation. The state could rationalize all municipal funds going to shore up “public safety”, with the rest being privatized under a new state agency answering only to the Governor (just like the new charter school bill). I challenge anyone from the GOP to disprove such a scenario – or deny the possibility on record.

This is the alarm sounding. The confirmed existence of lobbyist draft legislation “reforming” municipal government needs to be closely monitored, debated, and challenged. The potential looting of resources and money in areas similar to Jackson County, to be given away to corporate interests – with no public/legislative oversight cannot be allowed in Wisconsin. In a progressive state with open elections, honest government, and participative democracy, there is no need for such draconian measures. We need to take that back from Scott Walker and every corporate interest involved in this consolidation of power and influence (not to mention money). Take my word for it, this is just the beginning. Stay vigilant, stay strong, and keep on, Wisconsin.