“I strongly supported the bipartisan Wisconsin Stewardship Fund,” a self-described Republican man from Eau Claire wrote to me.
“Conservation issues are near and dear to my heart. I will oppose any politician who does not listen to all Wisconsin constituents and give these issues due process.”
The letter came the week the state budget writing committee took up the Knowles-Nelson Stewardship Fund.
Named for Wisconsin conservation minded Republican Governor Warren Knowles and Democratic Governor Gaylord Nelson the bipartisan program usually gathers broad support. Created in 1989, the Stewardship Program provides money for purchase of lands for recreation and preservation.
According to the state’s Blue Book, over the two decades of its existence, the program spent over $500 million to acquire over 500,000 acres. State officials often work with land conservation groups who acquire the land with grants from the state and donations from individuals and use volunteer labor to maintain the land.
Just a year ago the Nature Conservancy purchased the “Twin Bluffs”, 161 acres of bluff land overlooking the Mississippi River village of Nelson. The land acquisition was made possible with a $300,000 grant from the Stewardship Program. Landowners sold land to the Nature Conservancy to protect the land including protection from sand mine development.
The state uses bonding authority – the sale of bonds is how the state takes on debt- to finance the Stewardship Program. Increasing debt was the justification for members of the budget writing committee to vote to cut the Stewardship Program.
In a partisan vote, the committee trimmed funds by a little more than 20% in the first year of the coming budget and another 9% going forward. Land conservation groups were justifiably unhappy with the cuts.
But what they found more disturbing was the Finance Committee’s vote to require the state sell over 10,000 acres of Stewardship land in the next four years and require the sale of at least 250 acres more of farmland every year for the next seven years.
The Finance committee action will have conservation officials draw a line around the boundaries of projects established by May 1, 2013 and sell all land not within those boundaries and acquire no new land that is not within these boundaries.
In this rather cryptic description I was left to wonder what exactly the budget committee had in mind for land sales over the next few years.
Using increasing debt as the justification for the seeming shutdown of future projects may be the way Republicans obtain citizen support for the changes to the Stewardship program.
The gentleman who wrote to me about the Stewardship Fund shared his thoughts on spending:
“I voted Republican in the last election largely because I thought it was imperative to bring our state spending under control by making tough decisions. I still support that objective and the way it was done”.
That debt is climbing is indisputable. But conservation groups, like Gathering Waters Conservancy, argue the cause is not the Stewardship Fund. While state debt has increased, the program’s contribution to the debt remained relatively stable.
Cynics in the Capitol suggest there is another intent among leaders that has nothing to do with reining in state debt. Some allege there is a connection between the Governor’s request in the budget to sell off state assets in possible “no bid” contracts and the sale of thousands of acres of Stewardship land.
Clean Wisconsin, an environmental leader in the state, in a prepared statement, asked “What will they sell? The 400 acres of Stewardship land at Devil’s Lake? Protected parts of the Ice Age Trail? It’s disheartening and frustrating that the Legislature put stewardship back on the chopping block and now wants to sell off these precious resources to the highest bidder.”
I would argue that if the sale of state assets passes as written, there may be a sale – but it doesn’t have to be the highest bidder.
No conservation-minded Democrat or Republican should support a no-bid sale of state Stewardship land.
Asking the wealthy to pay their fair share and investing in our future aren't just cliches-- they actually work. We need only look to our neighbors to the West to see that that this is true.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's banner story today was about Gov. Scott Walker's breathtaking effort to gain unilateral power to sell state buildings and other public property. You can read this well-reported story yourself at the link below. Walker wants the power to sell state-owned power plants, unused lands -- even University of Wisconsin campus buildings that were paid for with dedicated private donations or student fees. Bye-bye, Kohl Center, maybe, or perhaps UW-Madison's student union. They'd fetch a fine price, dontcha know.
The story documents how some state property sales might make bad economic policy. Sure, the sales would bring in some quick cash to help the governor balance his budget. But in the long run, operating costs to the state might very well increase. Worse, the governor wants power to arrange sole-buyer deals without first seeking public bids.
We've heard this story before when, in his first budget proposal, Walker proposed selling off state-owned power plants, many of them situated on University of Wisconsin campuses. That deal was set aside by lawmakers but now it's back, and expanded to a general principle that the governor can hold a state garage sale anytime he likes. And he'd actually might be selling the garage itself.
The rumor the first time Walker's proposal came up was that the notorious Koch brothers wanted the power plants. Now, according to the Journal Sentinel, state power utilities are salviating over them. Whatever that case, it's obvious Walker still wants to shrink state government holdings for short-term (i.e., his political) gain. And he's kicking things up a notch. Again he hides his attempted power grab in the state budget, widening his own power in ways that are quickly turning the governorship of this state into a one-man autocracy.
So kudos to the Journal Sentinel for today reporting much of this in detail and with great prominence. Then again, it appears the paper's editors haven't quite fully grasped the issue. Nor, yet, has the public. Because in the very same issue of the newspaper that features this new Walker power grab, another story trumpets the apparently good news that the Department of Natural Resources is close to buying 140 acres of pristine private land along the Oconomowoc River near the Kettle Moraine State Forest in the Town of Erin.
The private owners told the newspaper they want to preserve the forest and wetlands on the property. They think selling it to the DNR will ensure that. Whoops! Back on the front page, the governor is revealed as seeking blanket power to sell state-owned properties including "unused" lands.
We already knew that to the governor and his team, wetlands and forests are mostly just economic development opportunities. Wisconsin is Open for Business, ya know. After all, the governor and legislature right now are also busy gutting the state's previously bipartisan Stewardship Program, which sets aside public dollars to buy and set aside precious, pristine lands for the benefit of all. And recall Walker's move in his first budget to allow a specific big-box discount store to build on wetlands in the Green Bay area. The measure passed, but the retailer was spooked by widespread public criticism and pulled out of the deal.
And if you think any deed restrictions would stop this sort of opportunism in the case of the Oconomowoc River Valley land the DNR is looking to scoop up, think again. Here in Milwaukee, we're still shaking our heads at how the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and Milwaukee County are busy trampling historic buildings and butterfly habitat to erect an "innovation" center on county grounds in Wauwatosa. Walker's fingerprints are all over that, too, both as governor and when he served (I use the verb advisedly) as Milwaukee County executive. Clearly, this is a man who knows the price of everything and the value of nothing.
Years before that fiasco, despite seemingly solid deed restrictions, UWM cut deeply into the Downer Woods on its main campus to expand an athletic facility, even though the private land donor had stipulated -- and the university had agreed -- never to touch the woods. Apparently clear-cut contract language meant UWM could clear-cut the woods as needed. Lawyers seemingly can find all sorts of ways around what is supposed to be iron-clad. Restoration of the woods is UWM's official policy today, but restoring developed acreage doesn't seem within those plans. It wanted some of that space for other purposes, and took it.
Which is why I'd counsel that caring couple in the Town of Erin to think twice about selling their beautiful property to the state. Instead consider giving it to the Nature Conservancy or some other private environmental organization that is more likely to honor the land than rip it up for cash and political profit the moment our backs are turned.
Meanwhile, just think of Walker as the governor who paved paradise and put up a parking lot. The guy seems to care a lot all about concrete and highways and the huge sums of money associated with them. But little else.Related Links
Are Texas-based tea party groups being unfairly singled out for persecution by crazed IRS agents? Or, rather, are they in fact actually violating federal election laws and thus deserving of careful scrutiny? If you read Milwaukee's daily newpaper, you might think the former; but if you read Houston's daily paper, you might think the latter.
The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel jumped into the continuing fray over the Internal Revenue Service's handling of tea party requests for tax-free status last week by localizing the story. The paper's prominently placed headline fairly shouted: "IRS asked about Wisconsin recall, Texas tea party group says". The story went on:
The Northeast Tarrant Tea Party posted on its website that IRS officials asked for extensive information about the group's activities, including copies of all the tweets, Facebook posts and fliers that the group had sent out.
Julie McCarty, president of the Fort Worth, Texas, area tea party group, said the IRS also asked it to "explain our relationship with Verify the Recall," an effort to confirm the signatures that had been turned in last year as part of the petition to recall Gov. Scott Walker.
McCarty said she thought it was clear that group had been unfairly targeted and was still waiting for a decision on its tax-exempt status. Her group had minimal involvement with the recall fight in Wisconsin or Verify the Recall, she said.
The group's application for 501(c)4 status, which would enable it to operate tax-free and accept anonymous donations, is still pending. But while that case is unresolved, check out what has happened with respect to another Texas-based tea party group. This headline just ran in the Houston Chronicle: "Judge rules tea party group a PAC, not a nonprofit". The story begins:
A Travis County district court judge ruled this week that a Houston-based tea party group is not a nonprofit corporation as it claims, but an unregistered political action committee that illegally aided the Republican Party through its poll-watching efforts during the 2010 elections.
The summary judgment by Judge John Dietz upheld several Texas campaign finance laws that had been challenged on constitutional grounds by King Street Patriots, a tea party organization known for its "True the Vote" effort to uncover voter fraud.
The ruling grew out of a 2010 lawsuit filed by the Texas Democratic Party against the King Street Patriots. The Democrats charged that the organization made unlawful political contributions to the Texas Republican Party and various Republican candidates by training poll watchers in cooperation with the party and its candidates and by holding candidate forums only for GOP candidates.
Unlike the Journal Sentinel, the Chronicle story noted that as a nonprofit, King Street Patriots does not have to list its funders but by law then must not participate in partisan activity. To support a party or a candidate, a nonprofit must create a political action committee. PACs can be involved in partisan politics, but must list their donors.
Which is why tea party groups and massive outfits like Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS want to be simultaneously treated as both political and not political. Because then they get to accept anonymous donations, they aren't taxable and they can be partisan, all just by asserting it. The IRS strained to figure out that intestinally designed argument. No wonder it took many months for a small band of low level IRS staffers to finally approve every single tea party application to date. The only real outrage is that they approved very single tea party application to date.
We'll wait with high expectations for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to catch up with this story and balance its early report with word of the Houston case. Yes, it's true: Important legal people looking at the goals and aims of the tea party [the name alone sounds kinda political, huh?!] are skeptical that those supposedly betrodden, intimidated groups should in great numbers so far have been approved for non-profit status by the IRS. Although, realistically speaking, we'll probably be waiting a long time to read about it in the Journal Sentinel.Related Links
In case you missed it - the chocolate-minty Ms. Moore keeps up (and then some) with Stephen Colbert . 2 Parts. If you missed it watch it. If you didn't miss it, watch it again.
U.S. Bureau of Econ Analysis: Before Walker's Deep Cuts, WI's Gov Size Was Already Under 40 Year Avg
The United States Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) is a division of the Department of Commerce that tracks each states Gross Domestic Product (GDP), including subcategories of each economic sector. According to the BEA, in 2010--the year prior to Governor Scott Walker taking office and making "necessary" draconian cuts to control Wisconsin's "out of control spending"-- Wisconsin was actually spending just 9.2% of its GDP on state and local government spending, which is beneath the 40 year average of 9.37%.
In fact, through the last 40 years Wisconsin's state and local government spending has held steady between 8.8 and 9.8 percent of Wisconsin's GDP-- contradicting another claim that collective bargaining has led to an explosion of government spending. See chart below:
So --- we continue to experiment with things. Those of you who are Flipboard users can read Uppity Wisconsin and other content in a couple of different ways if you so choose. You can search on Flipboard for Uppity Wisconsin - and you'll find two entries. One of them is the feed off of this blog, which you can put into your Flipboard reading. I'm also starting a Flipboard magazine called Wisconsin Progressive (which shows up in the same Uppity Wisconsin search). This includes some content from here and various other pieces of information that I thought might be interesting to people of a progressive bent (note arch conservatives -- you can read things there as well to know what to be inflamed about this week). Let us know if you find these useful or interesting - I can't promise that Wisconsin Progressive will remain, but it's been fun and interesting to curate it.
For Immediate Release Contact: Laura Kendellen
May 16, 2013 414-289-3027
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin Closes Chippewa Falls Health Center
Loss of Cancer Screens, Birth Control Supported by Governor Walker,
Senator Moulton, and Representative Bernier
MADISON- Today, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin closed its health center in Chippewa Falls after 28 years of caring for thousands of patients. This center closure and those in three other communities comes as a direct result of budget cuts directed at Planned Parenthood’s patients supported by Governor Walker, Senator Moulton and Representative Bernier in the last budget cycle. Despite the cost-effective health benefits and need for continued access to preventive, essential health care, Governor Walker, Senator Moulton and Representative Bernier voted to end care for their constituents at the only health care provider offering affordable, essential reproductive health care in Chippewa Falls. Patients seeking cancer screens, wellness exams, birth control, and STD testing and treatment will now need to travel to the Planned Parenthood health center in Eau Claire. The governor’s current budget proposal threatens the availability of existing affordable patient care at providers like Planned Parenthood unless the public responds.
“For 78 years, Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin has been providing high quality health care for up to 70,000 women and families and we will continue to put the needs of our patients first,” said Tanya Atkinson Executive Director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin. “Ensuring every patient continues to receive affordable, quality health care, without interruption, remains our top priority. Senator Moulton and Representative Bernier’s previous votes to block health care access, their implicit support of the governor’s health care proposals, and misunderstanding of their own community’s health care needs and provider options challenges the future availability of affordable health care. Voting to eliminate the only source of affordable, preventive, lifesaving health care in their own community underscores just how out of touch Senator Moulton and Representative Bernier are with the needs of their constituents.”
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin remains committed to maintaining access for patients in its 23 remaining health centers, but cannot do it alone. Governor Walker’s decision to turn away federal resources that would fill health coverage gaps in Wisconsin, coupled with his budget proposal to end BadgerCare coverage for women making over $11,490 a year is a challenge to the future of women’s health.
“We call on those who value continued access to affordable, lifesaving health care to call on Senator Moulton and Representative Bernier to reconsider their stance on shutting down patient care at Planned Parenthood,” continued Atkinson. “Hard-working families who are struggling in this economy need the security of quality health coverage so they can receive health care when they need it, without facing huge medical bills.”
As a leading provider and advocate for women’s health care across the state, Planned Parenthood knows firsthand that continued access to BadgerCare so often makes the difference between access to cancer screenings and birth control, or going without. According to a recent article in the Chippewa Herald the only other health center in Chippewa County that provides care to people without health insurance does not provide any reproductive health care, does not take appointments, and is seeing an increase in need. They used to refer to Planned Parenthood in their community and are now referring to the Planned Parenthood in Eau Claire.
One in five women in America has been to a Planned Parenthood at some point in her life. For many women, Planned Parenthood is their only source of health care. Planned Parenthood is their health care provider, community resource, and advocate. Without the continued availability of BadgerCare, many women will have no other affordable health care options.
Chippewa Falls Closure Quotes
According to Chippewa Falls County Public Health Director Jean Durch:
Durch said it is disappointing to see the center close. "Anytime there are decreased options for people to receive health care, it is a loss for the community," she said.
Eau Claire Leader Telegram February 19, 2013: http://www.leadertelegram.com/news/front_page/article_a03e4428-7a56-11e2-8d06-0019bb2963f4.html
According to a Planned Parenthood patient:
“I’m tired of politicians who have access to health care working to take away important health resources that people like me trust and rely on,” she said. “I implore the governor and our elected leaders to stop the attack on women’s health and instead work to protect and improve access to essential health care providers.”
Governor Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature eliminated funding for patients accessing reproductive health care at Planned Parenthood in the 2011-2013 Biennial State Budget. The services provided by Planned Parenthood include birth control counseling and options, lifesaving cervical and breast cancer screenings, annual exams, STD testing and treatment, Well Women Exams, pregnancy testing, HIV testing, and colposcopies (advanced cervical cancer tests).
Investing in women’s health is a non-partisan issue as it contributes to healthy women, men, and families for Wisconsin while saving tax payers money. For every $1 spent on family planning, taxpayers save $4 (The Guttmacher Institute).
The elimination of state funding to Planned Parenthood in 2012 resulted in the loss of funding in nine of Planned Parenthood’s 24 family planning health centers in Kenosha, Winnebago, Eau Claire, Shawano, Wood, Chippewa Falls, Dodge, Fond du lac, and Jefferson Counties. These health centers serve 12,000 women each year and in eight of the nine counties, Planned Parenthood is the ONLY family planning provider.
According to the latest data, there are 282,000 women in Wisconsin in need of publicly funded reproductive health care services. Current provider networks and funding sources provide care for only 95,000 patients. The vast majority of these patients do not have access to affordable health insurance and receive assistance from various public funding sources to access this basic care.
In 2008, the network of family planning providers in Wisconsin averted 24,300 unintended pregnancies, 12,100 abortions, and saved taxpayers $94 million in averted health care costs.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin is closing four health centers in Beaver Dam, Shawano, Johnson Creek, and Chippewa Falls. Health center staff at the four affected health centers have been serving the communities for decades: Beaver Dam since 1977, Chippewa Falls since 1984, Shawano since 1979, and Johnson Creek since 1999.
Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin health centers will close on the following dates: Shawano April 19; Chippewa Falls May 16; Beaver Dam June 14; Johnson Creek July 19.
These four health centers provide birth control counseling and options, lifesaving cervical and breast cancer screenings, annual exams, STD testing and treatment, Well Women Exams, pregnancy testing, HIV testing, and referrals to a network of community resources.
In just the last 10 years, these four health centers have provided services to 26,951 patients.
Congressman Sean Duffy's wife, Rachel Campos-Duffy, recently told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that she decided to stay home with her six kids because God wanted her to do it, saying, "I was actually doing what God wanted me to do in being with my kids."
This is also the same Campos-Duffy that recently wrote a book urging women to be a stay-at-home parent called, "Stay Home, Stay Happy" and believes it is God's will not to use limit the size of one's family via birth control-- even defending reality-TV's Dugger family for having 20 kids.
Campos-Duffy may have been a reality TV star, but she is clearly out of touch with the Real World. Here is what the Real World in the Seventh CD really looks like, according to the most recent census data:
*87% of the district does not have a 4-year degree.
*The district is the second poorest, with a median family income of $58,187 and 75.2% of families with pre-school age children have both parents working. (Considering that the vast majority of parents with pre-school chilren are younger and therefore lower-income earners, the median income for the faimilies is lower than the median, but the exact number is not provided by the census.)
*14 percent of households in the district do not have two parent households, so the issue is mute to thousands of parents in the district.
The average number of children families decide to have in the 7th CD is 2.01. If the families in the 7th emulated the Duffy family and had six children and mom staying at home, let's do the math and see what that would look like with the median male, full-time income of $41,000 a year. With six kids that would put the household size at eight and put the family right around the poverty level.
Of course, for the Duffy family and other families that bring in over $174,000 a year, having six kids is a viable option-- despite Duffy's whining about having "trouble making ends-meet." For the vast majority families in the seventh district, however, it is simply not financially viable to have a lot of children and have one parent stay home with them-- even if it is God's will.
The mortgage interest tax deduction is an indirect government payment or a tax expenditure that millions of Americans receive and is intended to make housing more affordable and encourage home ownership. Food stamps are a direct payment that millions of Americans receive that make food more affordable. 100 billion was spent last year on the home mortgage interest deduction, while we spent 74.6 billion on food stamps.
The money spent on the home mortgage interest deduction is part of the more than 1.1 trillion that is spent annually in the tax code for social welfare. It's also one of the reasons nearly half of Americans don't pay any net taxes -- a point that Mitt Romney famously made in the recent election.
Anyway, even though we spend more on the home mortgage interest deduction and many that use the home mortgage interest deduction are wealthy and using it on their vacation home, we consider food stamps a "hand-out" and the mortgage interest deduction just a number most of us fill in on Turbo Tax. Food stamps are for them and home mortgage deduction is something normal Americans use.
In that vein, the Wisconsin legislature recently passed a bill that would further regulate what types of foods could be purchased with these hand-outs, err, food stamps. For example, a disabled Vietnam veteran that is on food stamps and likes to drink a Coke and some potato chips with his ham & cheese sandwich lunch will now have to cut-out the Coke, potato chips and cheese because they are now defined as "junk foods" and forbidden. The logic of the Republican backers: If the government is paying for it, then the government should decide what kind of foods can be bought and taxpayer dollars shouldn't be wasted on "junk foods."
What if we applied this logic to the mortgage tax deduction that Wisconsinites enjoy on both their Federal and Wisconsin tax return? Should the government really be paying for people to have those tacky pink flamingos in their yard? What about that guy that painted his house in the Packers' colors-- good use of government money? Garden gnomes? Sorry fellas, but its just an inappropriate use of government dollars.
But, but, but that's different because its in the tax code: People that get the tax deduction work! Ah, but so do most on food stamps that aren't disabled, children or elderly.
If you don't like the mortgage interest deduction example, here's another: The MILC checks that dairy farmers in Wisconsin receive when dairy prices get to low. This money is intended to help the farmer out with their living and operating expenses. Shouldn't we dictate that while they're receiving government assistance that they not buy junk food with their MILC checks?
Or, better yet, shouldn't we dictate to the billionaire hedge fund managers (that pay a lower tax rate on their income than their secretaries and costs the taxpayers tens of billions annually) that they not spend their government subsidy on hair mousse and those cheesy suspenders?
The truth is, every year we spend far, far more on the wealthy in this country that we do on the poor, but the poor are an easier target. It's easier to make the middle class mad at the poor for spending money on "junk food" that it is to go after the wealthy for not paying their fair share in taxes or not paying their employees a living wage so they aren't forced to go on food stamps to survive.
A newsroom memo informed Journal Sentinel staff Monday that David Paulsen will be joining the paper in a week to become breaking news editor. The memo added:
For the last five years David has run the evening and overnight operation at FoxNews.com in New York. At Fox he was in charge of a team very much like our Newshub, shaping its urgent response to national and international breaking news. He had responsibilities over story assigning and editing as well as production and news placement on the site.
Women journalists at the paper are not amused, especially since the paper continues its recent tradition of placing men in all the important editor jobs. The memo was leaked to blogging national media watchdog Jim Romenesko, a former Milwaukee Journal reporter now based in Evanston, Illinois. See link below for the full skinny.
You know, just because someone worked at Fox News doesn't mean that person is necessarily a right-wing ideologue, but it possibly does mean that they were comfortable taking orders from right-wing ideologues. Jury is out, but this may prove yet another reason for discriminating news consumers to consider getting their Wisconsin local, state and regional news from someplace other than Milwaukee's daily rag.Related Links
Jason Culotta, policy director for the Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) business lobby, as quoted in Madison's Isthmus newsweekly regarding a Republican bill in the state legislature to further limit corporate liability in civil lawsuits:
"One of the concerns we have is that a future governor may have an interest in punitively going after some businesses in what we would not think is a just case."
Re-coded into plain English for those who don't speak Republican:
Republican governors are not punitive, if only insofar as businesses are concerned. On the other hand, Democratic governors -- even imaginary ones -- can't be trusted, because they might actually seek to represent the wider public interest. Governors should defer, instead, to what WMC thinks is just. But in case we didn't buy every governor and judge fair and square with our huge campaign donations, the law itself should be changed to force lawmakers and the entire judiciary to defer to WMC's preferences.
Oh, and also: Democratic governors can be expected to usurp the constitutionally defined powers of the state Justice Department. Yeah, sure, it's true that Republican Tommy Thompson and other GOP governors have done that, but it was to do good stuff and only because the elected state attorney general was, at the time, a Democrat.
“There’s a heck of a lot of things they didn’t tell me when I signed on,” admitted the chief of the Governor’s lead jobs agency during a recent hearing before the Joint Committee on Audit.
Reed Hall, CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), spent several hours grilled by Audit Committee members. He agreed troubles existed but insisted WEDC was on a new track with plans to correct problems. Later in the hearing two lawmakers with experience as business executives provided solutions.
“I voted for WEDC and thought it was a good idea,” said Senator Tim Cullen, a former insurance executive. “Taking the best practices of the private sector and using them in WEDC was a good idea.”
But what was exposed in a recent audit of WEDC was the worst, not the best, of any business. The agency was run without basic managerial processes in place, without policies, without oversight of delinquent loans or consistency in loan or grants awards, without a clear budget or consistent accounting practices.
Accounting records couldn’t be reconciled to the point that the year-end financial report of the state of Wisconsin included only an estimate of the agency’s expenses.
And there was no evidence to support claims of tens of thousands of jobs created.
State law requires jobs be independently and annually verified through a sample of records. The public must know if jobs ‘promised’ by companies are actually created. Auditors determined this never happened. In more half of the company awards made, the business never even filed required reports.
State law also lays out a process to ensure dollars go to programs whose effectiveness can be measured. Because the agency failed to follow the law auditors were unable to determine if any program was effective in creating jobs.
For example, laws require WEDC to establish goals and expected results for each program. Reports should then be compared with expectations so lawmakers can make proper future funding decisions based on actual program outcomes.
WEDC failed to even identify expected results for a third of all programs it administers; let alone whether companies achieved expected results. Without expected results or company required reports detailing compliance it was impossible to determine if any program met its intended purpose.
WEDC awarded over $60 million in loans and grants and over $100 million in tax credits. They supervised local government in the sale of almost $350 million in bonds for projects.
But they kept members of the WEDC Board in the dark about inadequacies in oversight, internal processes and compliance with the law.
“The Board is toothless,” testified Board member and Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca. “The Governor loves to control everything.”
“The Board must make the hiring decisions,” said Barca. “I’ve never served on a Board that does not hold the CEO accountable. They [WEDC executives] are free to ignore anything the Board says.”
Lawmakers Barca and Cullen recommended the Board be restructured and empowered. Audit and Finance committees be established and meet bimonthly, committee chairs and a lead director be created; committee chairs should set their own agendas; board members should serve for fixed terms.
Barca concluded with an ominous observation, “Key staff people are still misleading this committee, even today…. To this day they go around obfuscating jobs created, what role did they play to retain them?”
The answer is unclear and not auditable. With no budget, no company reports in over half of cases reviewed and no program expectations for a third of programs, one might think lawmakers shouldn’t increase WEDC’s funding.
But that’s exactly what happened in the Joint Committee on Finance only hours after the conclusion of the Audit Committee hearing.
Law requires the co-chairs of Finance to serve on the Audit Committee to ensure audit findings are reflected in budget decisions. Neither co-chair attended the Audit hearing. None of the recommendations on board changes were included in the Finance Committee action.
Rather than rush to create the appearance of a problem solved, legislative leaders should heed the advice offered the Audit Committee and create a board that bulldogs WEDC management into complying with the law. It’s the board’s responsibility; it’s time they were given the authority.
For Immediate Release: Contact:
May 13, 2013 Bruce Speight, (608) 658-3517
Survey Finds Astronomical Rent-to-Own Prices, Interest Rates
Predatory Industry Seeks Special Interest Exemption from Wisconsin Consumer Law
Madison – A report released today found that five rent-to-own stores in Rockford, IL on average charged an annual percentage rate of 221% and displayed outright cash purchase prices as much as two to seven times the cost of the same or similar products at other major retailers. The legislature is currently debating a controversial proposal in the executive budget proposal to provide a special exemption from the Wisconsin Consumer Act for the rent to own industry and which would eliminate the requirement to disclose an APR for Rent-to-Own products sold in Wisconsin.
“Rent-to-own is a rip-off,” said Bruce Speight, WISPIRG Director. “The industry preys on low-income and military families, deceptively markets its products, and seeks special treatment from state legislatures in order to make its business model work. State leaders should not be carving out a special interest exemption for a predatory industry that traps consumers in a cycle of high-cost, perpetual debt.”
“The Republican Party is the party of compassion and we cannot let our party at the pinnacle of our power make exceptions in Wisconsin’s consumer act to help the Rent-a-Center chain of Plano, TX, come in here and fleece our most vulnerable citizens,” said Glenn Grothman, State Senator.
The rent-to-own industry is seeking an exemption from Wisconsin’s consumer protection laws, including a requirement to disclose interest rates, through the budget process - a sneaky, backdoor way to advance policy with less scrutiny. Governor Walker has granted that exemption in his executive budget proposal that the legislature is currently debating. The industry argues that its products should not be regulated as a credit transaction, which would eliminate numerous consumer protections, including the disclosure of interest rates even though rent-to-own products have been held to be a credit transaction by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals.
“Rent-to-own walks like a credit transaction and talks like a credit transaction and has been deemed a credit transaction by the Wisconsin Court of Appeals, so it is a credit transaction and should be regulated as such,” continued Speight. “The Bears and the Vikings have to play by the same rules as the Packers when they come to Lambeau Field; likewise, out-of-state rent-to-own companies should have to play by the same rules as other credit businesses in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, Gov. Walker and some state lawmakers are proposing that we exempt rent-to-own from our state’s consumer protection laws and let them play by a different set of rules.”
The new WISPIRG report, The Rent-to-Own Ripoff, compares 11 common appliances found in March 2013 at five rent-to-own stores in Rockford, IL to the same or similar models, if the same model wasn’t available, at other major retailers. The report found that:
- The RTO stores that we surveyed charge an average effective APR of 221 percent, ranging from 138 percent to 370 percent for the appliances that we surveyed, which included televisions, refrigerators, laptops, oven ranges, and washers and dryers,
- Purchasing items via rent-to-own costs between 2 and 7 times as much as purchasing the same items at major appliance and electronics retailers,
- 100 percent of the RTO stores surveyed, and 100% of the products surveyed in those stores, charged effective APRs of over 100 percent – that’s over five times prevailing by Text-Enhance" href="http://www.pirg.org/consumer/rtotext.htm">credit card rates of less than 20%,
- "Cash prices" at RTO stores for outright purchase are in most cases 50%-100% above the price of these products at major appliance and electronics retailers such as Best Buy, Walmart, and Menards,
- Using a slightly above average cost 18% APR bank credit card, and financing their purchase over an equivalent period to a rent-to-own contract, or 18-24 months, consumers typically would pay only half and sometimes as little as a third of what they would pay by renting to own the same product.
“Rent-to-own promises consumers the American dream of ownership, but hides the fact that as many as 30% of RTO consumers never end up owning the product, and masks its inflated prices in weekly or monthly installment payments, hiding the true cost and effective interest rate of the product,” continued Speight.
On April 26, numerous faith leaders, including Catholic Archbishop Jerome Listecki, Lutheran Bishop Paul Barrow and Interfaith Conference of Greater Milwaukee Executive Director Tom Heinen joined with legislative and community leaders in calling on the state legislature to remove this special interest exemption for the Rent-to-own industry.
“There should be no misunderstanding about this rent-to-own provision in the budget bill – it is not designed to protect or help consumers, instead it is designed to help the predatory rent-to-own industry” concluded Speight. “Our state legislators should join with Senator Grothman and the other Republican and Democratic legislators who oppose this and reject special treatment for the rent-to-own industry.”
WISPIRG is a statewide non-profit, non-partisan consumer advocacy organization that stands up to powerful interest. www.wispirg.org.
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Since Ron Johnson came on the scene in the summer of 2010, his most significant moments have been as follows:
- Claiming that he started his business from the "ground-up," when in reality he joined a business that had been started and funded by his wealthy father-in-law and his only customer during the first several years was his father-in-law's large corporation that was literally across the street.
- He said that drilling for oil in the Great Lakes would be a good idea, global warming was caused by sun spots and that Wisconsin losing thousands of jobs to China was like the horse and buggy being replaced by the automobile.
- Getting elected to the U.S. Senate in one of the worst elections for Democrats in U.S. history.
- After running as a Herb Kohlesque "nobody's senators but yours," candidate that was self-funding his campaign, after he was was elected, he has paid himself back the loans he made to his campaign with a checks from special interests.
- Making national news for being such a belligerent know-it-all that he can't keep any staff and that a waiter tweeted that he was "kind of a jerk."
- Hiring a guy that two years before was an administrator at his kids' school to navigate Washington's tricky waters as his Chief of Staff.
- Making a fool out of himself in a well-publicized tiff with Hillary Clinton over Benghazi. (And despite Johnson's claims that he has since been vindicated for his line of questioning, when one reads the context of Clinton's "what difference does it make" remark, Johnson's point--that Clinton should have interfered with the investigation of what happened and personally made phone calls immediately after the attack to figure out what happened in the run-up to the attack-- is as stupid now as it was then.
- Saying that our education system is so bad that kids in the 1800s were a lot smarter than they are today.
- Voting against background checks, becasue he thinks background checks, in and of themselves, are too burdensome for non-criminals to endure.
- Comparing Social Security to giving people "more and more candy" that will eventually rot their teeth out.
- Having one of the lowest approval ratings (28 percent!) of any U.S. Senator.
This is the same Ron Johnson that Mark Pocan decided to collaborate-with in multiple events last week. As if that wasn't bad enough, in one event, Pocan shared the stage with another nut, David Walker -- a puppet of rightwing billionaire Pete Peterson.
Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with bipartisanship with serious players on the other side of the aisle. (Think Kennedy-Hatch or McCain-Feingold.) Johnson, however, is not a serious player -- even his own party thinks he is a doofus somewhere between Michelle Bachmann and Steve King. The only thing Pocan gets out of collaborating with someone like Johnson is the stink of Johnson's innane unseriousness.
This is not the same Mark Pocan that exposed ALEC and was a progressive hero in the Wisconsin legislature. Let's hope Pocan was put into some kind of deep trance, that he has since snapped-out of it, and that he never, ever does anything with Ron Johnson again.
Republicans just can't help themselves. They love meddling in Milwaukee's affairs. That's why they:
* Take away the city's residency rule for its public employees (but take them away for all local governments in the state to mask the party's real focus for the state's largest city).
* Take away money from public schools in the city, then complain when they only perform slightly better than the private voucher schools that have received tens of millions of taxpayer dollars.
* Swipe tens of millions of dollars intended to help the city deal with thousands of boarded up residential homes, whose owners were thrown out thanks to the Great Recession's mortgage meltdown.
* Seize most power from the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors and invest it in a strongman county executive who will answer to almost no one. What could possibly go wrong?
* And now, of course, the city's streetcar project. The project that is all that's left of what was once a bipartisan effort to improve mass transit in southeastern Wisconsin, including commuter rail, high-speed intercity rail, light rail and more. Milwaukee managed to hang on to about $55 million in federal mass transit aid to construct a modern downtown electric streetcar loop. Milwaukee, if you didn't notice, is the last major city in the nation without some kind of local rail transit.
And if Republican legislators have their way, it'll stay that way.
Now that Milwaukee is on the verge of approving final plans and scheduling construction, the Republican majority in the state legislature is prepared to interfere once again, this time passing a law aimed expressly at the one city that has suffered more under their control than all others combined.
The first thing you need to know is that the Milwaukee streetcar project uses not a dime of state tax dollars, instead bringing tens of millions of development dollars in from the federal government.
The GOP is making its case instead on this previously non-controversial matter: The GOP says the streetcar project should not be able to charge power utilities and communications companies for moving their underground cables when city streets along the route need to be reconfigured. Never mind that other cities and local governments across the state regularly make street repairs and improvements that require utilities to move their equipment, which after all is only in the public right of way at the sufferance of local governments.
All those projects in other places will be allowed to continue without state government interference. Only the Milwaukee project will be forced to reimburse cash-rich, private, for-profit utility companies like AT&T and Wisconsin Energy Corp. for any relocation costs that arise. But if something goes wrong with their proposed state law that only applies to Milwaukee (a regular occurrence, these days), Republicans also have also petitioned the state Public Service Commission -- run by Scott Walker appointees -- to rule likewise. Just to be sure things go the GOP way, dontcha know.
Of course, the naked reason why Republicans want to force Milwaukee to spend this extra money isn't because it will burden utility companies or their stockholders or customers, but because the Republican Party hopes that burdening the city financially will kill the streetcar altogether.
The Republican hatred for mass transit in recent years is a head-scratcher. Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson, conservative as he was, liked passenger rail and worked hard with Democrats to get federal aid for it after years of patient toil. But the new breed of Republicans have been busy blowing up all that hard work. When Milwaukee and the state got some of the prized mass transit funds, Scott Walker -- first as Milwaukee County executive and now as governor -- did everything in his power to turn down such funding or otherwise kill such projects. Why?
Arguably, it's envy, jealously and political gamesmanship. Republicans no longer like passenger mass transit because, in their minds, trains and buses and streetcars simply aren't needed. In their wrongheaded view, everyone can afford a car to drive around on all the bumpy streets the state refuses to pay to maintain. But that's just a thin veneer covering a more important reason for GOP opposition.
Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), who co-chairs the Joint Finance Committee, made it clear this isn't about public policy, but instead about punishing the city by denigrating its well-thought-out and hard-fought campaign to build the streetcar:
"There's no way in heck that the ratepayers should pay for a choo-choo that only goes two miles."
Of course, Darling and others pretend the city never had plans for rail loops that were much longer. The city's two-mile loop is all that remains after years of GOP and Walker efforts to undermine and trim rail transit. Now it seems to them like the project might finally be small enough "to drown in a bathtub," as Grover Norquist once famously said of government in general. But every thoughtful study shows that even the vastly scaled-down streetcar project remains quite vital and viable, which is why Darling's insipid "choo-choo" comment is a complete insult to Milwaukee residents.
Is Darling at all vocally concerned about thousands of miles of urban and rural streets and roads that require utility relocations whenever they are rebuilt? Nope, her ire is exclusively aimed at Milwaukee. Would she ever demand, for instance, that the City of Waukesha subsidize private utility costs the next time it choose to reconfigure its own streets? Doubtful, because Waukesha is part of a "red" county. Besides, complaining about Milwaukee is red meat to the GOP's wingnut base.
Then there's the other ludicrous aspect of Darling's outburst: Modern electric rail transit doesn't "choo-choo" at all. Its engines make almost no noise and no smoke whatsoever. The streetcar will carry numerous passengers through the city's densely packed downtown with energy efficiency and very low emissions.
So, nope, no "choo-choo." It's Darling and her GOP colleagues who are making all the strange noises in Wisconsin public policy making these days.
For his part in this little kabuki theater of a political fight, Walker has said the city should divert the federal grant instead to "job creation" efforts. That's amusing, coming from a governor who has taken this state straight to the bottom in job creation, compared to all but a handful of other states. Moreover, Walker knows that the federal grant can only be spent on mass transit. He also knows -- or should know -- that the project will create jobs and boost Milwaukee's downtown economy, just like the $900 million federal grant for intercity high-speed rail would have boosted jobs and economic development in much of southern Wisconsin -- before he single-handedly killed that long-sought deal.
He and other Republicans, in short, know that the streetcar, once built, will succeed, just as similar proujects have succeed in many other cities. But they can't allow Milwaukee or its Democratic mayor to succeed, because that up-ends their insistent meme that they're the only ones who know how to improve the state's sagging economy.
The national GOP is to President Obama as the Wisconsin GOP is to Milwaukee: Republicans try to deny both the president and the city any wins, lest the Republican's simplistic memes crumble.
The good news is that Milwaukee city government has been working hard to save its streetcar project. The latest GOP attempt to undermine the city's home rule and its efforts toward improvement may yet fail.
What's really disgusting, though, is how some of Milwaukee's leading business leaders have in this fight remained silent or taken the GOP position, when they surely know better. Like the Beatles sang it, these cynical business leaders are turning out to be the eggmen, waiting in their corporation T-shirts for the van to come. "Choo-choo"? No. Rather: Goo goo g' joob.Related Links
Now that statehouse Republicans have voted to end (not entirely, but effectively) local government residency requirements for hired public employees, what's next? Well, logically, why wouldn 't the GOP next decide to end the requirement that elected officials actually reside within the districts they represent? (Not that they all now do, all the time, by the way).
After all, the residency requirement for lawmakers was designed expressly to encourage our chosen representatives to be more responsive to and understand the issues of their constituencies. By effectively ending local residency rules for non-elected public workers, the GOP has now argued that police, firefighters and other public employees don't need to "live among 'em" in order to well understand the needs of the citizens they are hired to serve.
Indeed, if these local public employees were to persist in listening to their constituencies, they might in their day-in, day-out chores discover and share around practical reasons to disagree with the conservative political power base centered in Madison. And any such resulting disagreement would not sit well with the GOP High command, because these unflattering ideas could become infectious.
I know, it's a stretch. At first glance it might sound crazy to imagine Republican state lawmakers going after the residency law affecting them. But look at the logic of it from their perspective. Why do THEY need to live in some godforsaken district when they'd prefer to make home in, say, Door County?
It's not like their constituents get them elected, anyway. These days, after all, tens of thousands and even millions of dollars of campaign contributions from places like Kansas are mostly responsible for that. So why not make it possible for a state senator serving Milwaukee's far north shore to, for instance, live in Waukesha. Hell, why couldn't Wisconsin GOP legislators just live in Kansas, if they liked, and phone it in whenever necessary? Telecommuting is all the rage, isn't it?
Crazy to contemplate, you say. But just look at the the Wisconsin GOP record. Not only are Republicans gunning for local residency ordinances; before that measure affecting local public workers came to the Assembly floor, the state's Repubs undid the legal standard that said a lawsuit had to be filed in the district where the alleged offense occurred. This the GOP did because it didn't want to fight suits against its interests on turf it deemed too favorable to Democratic Party interests. The conservative-heavy, Madison-based State Supreme Court a huge exception, of course.
Nor did the GOP like it when state lawmakers charged with crimes in public office had their cases heard in the jurisdiction where the alleged crime was committed, namely Dane County, where the legislature meets and works. Prime example: former State Rep. Scott Jensen was able to beat serious charges of misconduct by stringing out the case for years until his pals made it possible for the case to be moved to the friendly GOP confines of Waukesha County -- his home county, where majorities had repeatedly elected him to office. No innate advantage there for him, of course.
[Hey, if I steal office supplies and money from a public employer in Madison and then I"m caught, could I insist on having my case heard in, oh, I dunno, Rice Lake? Nope. Only works for felonious legislators, apparently.]
This rather dramatic change in the way lawsuits involving government are filed also has allowed conservative groups in general to go judge shopping across the state and find courts that are, shall we say, more inclined to believe the GOP's often quaint, inane and even anti-democratic arguments. Mostly because, you see, many government-related cases (such as the suits against Scott Walker's union-busting Act 10) are heard in fairly liberal Dane County, where Republicans assume the legal philosophy of the general judgeship tends to the left of Vlad Lenin. In-Justices David Prosser, Miichael Gableman et. al. notwithstanding.
Level playing field? Rule of law? Home rule and local control? Justice? No thank you, we're Republicans.
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