Thursday, May 28, 2015

Wiscoinsin Democrats and Progressive Act NOW!!

The following is a letter written last week from
 Phil Neuenfeldt
President of the Wisconsin AFL-CIO

Dear Dems and Friends,

Gov. Walker’s proposed budget is full of bad things for working people and the state of Wisconsin. From slashing funding for public schools, parks and recycling programs to even decreasing the number of on duty prison guards that keep communities safe – Walker’s outrageous budget leaves Wisconsin’s public services and infrastructure wholly underfunded.

Let’s be clear Wisconsin’s budget crisis is a direct result of Walker’s bad decisions. First, his irresponsible 2011 tax cut for millionaires ended up costing the state twice as much as projected. Then, in one of the worst decisions any Governor has ever made for Wisconsin, he refused to accept BadgerCare funds to the tune of $345 million over the next two years.

The Republican-controlled Joint Finance Committee (JFC) is responsible for reviewing and voting on all aspects of the Governor’s proposed budget. This week the JFC held two sessions and has discussed further meetings for the following week.

Here are just some of the harmful budget items that have been adopted during this week’s JFC executive sessions:

Attacks on Public Education: In the dead of the night, with no public notice or oversight, the Republicans on the JFC introduced and adopted a 29-page education plan that dismantles Wisconsin’s strong tradition of great public education. The JFC's plan expands the reach of failed voucher schools by using public dollars to increase the number of vouchers to be used at unaccountable private schools. The JFC changed the licensing system for teachers so that a bachelor’s degree or coursework in education is no longer necessary. In another affront to local democracy, the JFC voted to dismantle the way Racine elects their local School Board.

Public School Takeover: The Republican-controlled JFC secretly developed a plan for private special interests to take over public schools in Milwaukee, and potentially Madison and Racine, without receiving public input or giving notice to parents or taxpayers. Under the new scheme the Milwaukee County Executive will appoint a Commissioner to takeover 3 to 5 so-called failing schools and turn them over to unaccountable private voucher schools. These new rules will require the Commissioner to fire all the current staff and hire new staff. The employees would not even be considered school district employees under Act 10 and would not be subject to civil service rules and protections. In another move to reward special interests, private voucher schools will be allowed to purchase MPS schools and buildings.

Elimination of Night Guards at Prisons: The JFC approved Gov. Walker’s proposed budget to cut night tower Correctional Officer positions, leaving night towers vacant at a time when prisoners are most likely to escape. At the request of one of the members of the JFC, the night tower positions will continue only at the Waupun maximum security prison. All other prison towers will be empty at night.

Doubling Health Care Costs for State Workers: The JFC, in concert with the State’s Group Insurance Board, approved the Governor’s plan to increase health care costs for state workers. The changes will result in the doubling out-of-pocket and deductible costs and the quadrupling of prescription drug costs. The changes will go into effect on January 1, 2016.

Cuts to Public Broadcasting: While the JFC voted to scale back cuts to public media proposed in Gov. Walker’s budget, the budget committee approved $2.3 million in cuts to public broadcasting (Wisconsin Public Radio and Wisconsin Public Television) that provide independent news coverage to all corners of the state.

Cuts to Recycling Programs: JFC adopted a 20% cut for local recycling programs, which may lead to higher service fees and/or a reduction of services at the local level.

Elimination of Funding for State Parks: JFC voted to accept the Governor’s proposal to delete all state tax revenue for our beautiful state park system while at the same time increasing entrance fees for individual users.

What happens next?
Over the next two weeks the JFC will take up other important components of the state budget such as the UW System, the structure of our Workers Compensation system, and Transportation.

After the JFC settles on its recommended budget, it sends the recommended budget to the Assembly and Senate for a vote. At this stage, legislators can introduce amendments to revise the budget. After the Legislature votes on all its introduced amendments and the budget as a whole, it goes to the Governor’s Desk for line-item vetoes and/or signage. It is anticipated that the Governor will sign the budget sometime in June.

What you can do?
It is important that working families hold legislators accountable for their votes on the budget. If you want to see changes to the 2015-2017 budget, contact your legislator and voice your concerns 
The legislative hotline is 1-800-362-9472.

Reliable public services and infrastructure lead to good job creation. If we don’t invest in Wisconsin today, it is our children who will suffer. Contact your legislator today and tell them Wisconsin deserves a better budget.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Public Educaiton in our State is delt a devistating blow

The legislature's Joint Finance Committee decided to increase spending on the school voucher program over the next two years and expand the cap on the number of students in each of the states school districts, allowing this number to increase over the next 10 years after which the cap will go away.

This is our tax dollar being siphoned off of public education and given to private and religious schools.  The committee did include a program to pay for voucher for special needs children.  One of the major problems with this is that private schools don't have to comply with federal disability laws.

Following is a link to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign's article regarding this school voucher expansion.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Plans to push agency mergers through in 2015-17 budget are dropped

The Governor's budget included language that would form two mergers of four existing agencies.

1.) WEDC (Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation) and WHEDA (Wisconsin Housing & Economic Development Authority)

2.) Department of Financial Institutions and Department of Safety & Professional Services

The plan was to make it even easier for businesses to expand.  Based on past history, it is more likely a way to bypass multiple agencies and speed up development with very little oversight.

The decision to eliminate the language from the budget bill, and the plan to implement the mergers through a stand alone bill, was dropped after an audit of WEDC had shown that the agency hasn't monitored job creation and retention promises from the business that received tax dollars. 

After taking office in 2011, Walker established WEDC as a partnership between public and private sectors to replace the state's Commerce Department.  He is chairman of the board of directors to an agency that has been in trouble since it's inception.

Read more on this in the following May 9th La Crosse Tribune online article.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

6 Degrees of Separation Between Bernie Sanders and Hiliary Clinton

The following is taken from an article in The Nation written by John Nichols.

Here are six degrees of separation between Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton:

1. Fast Track and TPP

Clinton has not taken a stand on granting President Obama so-called “fast track” authority to negotiate a sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership. Nor has she taken a clear stand with regard to the TPP itself. As secretary of state, however, she referred to the TPP as the “gold standard in trade agreements.” Now, her campaign says, she is “watching closely” as the TPP fight evolves.
Sander is a leading opponent of NAFTA-style “free trade” deals. He says, “All Americans, regardless of political ideology, should be opposed to the ‘fast track’ process which would deny Congress the right to amend the treaty and represent their constituents’ interests.” He has rallied workers and environmentalists against the deal, saying, “Let’s be clear: the TPP is much more than a “free trade” agreement. It is part of a global race to the bottom to boost the profits of large corporations and Wall Street by outsourcing jobs; undercutting worker rights; dismantling labor, environmental, health, food safety and financial laws; and allowing corporations to challenge our laws in international tribunals rather than our own court system.”
2. “Medicare for All”
No one is more identified with healthcare reform than Hillary Clinton. Yet, during the presidency of Bill Clinton, she rejected proposals that the United States follow the lead of other developed countries and create what is often referred to as a “Medicare for All” system. She knows healthcare issues well but continues to be an incremental reformer. Clinton says, “I never seriously considered a single payer system.”
Sanders has for many years sponsored an American Health Security Act, which would “guarantee healthcare as a human right and provide every U.S. citizen and permanent resident with healthcare coverage and services through a state-administered, single-payer program.”
3. Amending the Constitution to Get Corporate Money Out of Politics
Clinton earned a lot of notice, and justifiably so, when she said in Iowa, “We need to fix our dysfunctional political system and get unaccountable money out of it once and for all—even if it takes a constitutional amendment.”
Sanders is already there. He says it will take a constitutional amendment, and he has sponsored one that declares: “Nothing in this Constitution shall be construed to restrict the power of Congress and the States to protect the integrity and fairness of the electoral process, limit the corrupting influence of private wealth in public elections, and guarantee the dependence of elected officials on the people alone by taking actions which may include the establishment of systems of public financing for elections, the imposition of requirements to ensure the disclosure of contributions and expenditures made to influence the outcome of a public election by candidates, individuals, and associations of individuals, and the imposition of content neutral limitations on all such contributions and expenditures.”
4. Patriot Act
As the US senator from New York, Hillary Clinton voted for the Patriot Act in 2001. Later, to her credit, Clinton backed calls for an investigation of whether President Bush signed an executive order in 2002 that approved of domestic spying without oversight from the courts. “The balance between the urgent goal of combating terrorism and the safeguarding of our most fundamental constitutional freedoms is not always an easy one to draw,” she said. “However, they are not incompatible, and unbridled and unchecked executive power is not the answer.” Still later, however, she voted for reauthorization of the act.
Along with Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold, Sanders (then a member of the House) voted against the Patriot Act in 2001. He also opposed its reauthorization in 2006 and 2011. “As one of the few members of Congress who consistently voted against the Patriot Act, I expressed concern at the time of passage that it gave the government far too much power to spy on innocent United State citizens and provided for very little oversight or disclosure,” says Sanders. “Unfortunately, what I said turned out to be exactly true.”
5. Iraq War
As the US Senator from New York, Hillary Clinton voted in 2002 to authorize President Bush to prepare for military action against Iraq.
Sanders voted against the authorization of the use of military force. (Notably, another Democratic prospect, Chafee, voted “no” as a liberal Republican senator from Rhode Island.)
6. Democratic Socialism
No matter what her right-wing critics might claim, Hillary Clinton is not a socialist. (Her thoughtful college thesis on organizer Saul Alinsky mentioned five-time Socialist Party presidential candidate Eugene Debs, but only in the company of Walt Whitman and Martin Luther King as an American who “embraced the most radical of political faiths—democracy.”)

Sanders is, arguably, America’s best-known democratic socialist. Like authors Gloria Steinen and Barbara Ehrenreich, scholar and voting-rights champion Frances Fox Piven, United Farm Workers leader Dolores Huerta, and many others, Sanders identifies with what Ehrenreich refers to as “the tradition carried on by Eugene Debs, Mother Jones, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and thousands more.” Sanders says, “[When] I talk about democratic socialism, what I’m saying is that I do not want to see the United States significantly dominated by a handful of billionaire families controlling the economic and political life of the country. That I do believe that in a democratic, civilized society, all people are entitled to health care as a right, all people are entitled to quality education as a right, all people are entitled to decent jobs and a decent income, and that we need a government which represents ordinary Americans and not just the wealthy and the powerful.”

Friday, May 1, 2015

A Business Owes Nothing in Taxes & Gets a State Check?

From State Senator Kathleen Vinehout


“Why doesn’t the press cover what’s happening with refundable tax credits?” I asked the journalist. We were chatting about what I found in the state budget.

“Because the press doesn’t understand them,” she told me.

“Doesn’t understand them?” I thought. “There has to be an easy way to describe what’s happening...”

Imagine if you had no state tax taken out of your paycheck. You filed your tax return but you owed nothing. Now imagine the state sent you a refund check. Wow!

This is like a refundable tax credit. A company owes little to nothing in taxes but gets a check back from the state - cash from the taxpayers of Wisconsin.

Tax credits are different than deductions on your income tax form. The credit is subtracted dollar for dollar from the tax you owe - simple subtraction. You owe $1,000. You have a $500 credit. You now owe $500.

But what if your credit was $10,300,000? Under a refundable tax credit you would end up with a check for $10,299,000.

According to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) Wisconsin has two business refundable tax credit programs administered by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC): “Enterprise Zone Tax Credits” and “Jobs Tax Credits.” The “Enterprise Zone” used to refer to a designated place in which eligible businesses received tax credits for economic activity.  In recent years it morphed into a credit to designated companies for jobs created and retained, training, capital expenditures and purchases from Wisconsin vendors.

A recent publication from the LFB details the 18 recent recipients of “Enterprise Zone Awards”. The table below is in millions of dollars:

Mercury Marine​ ​ $65.0
Kohl’s Corporation​ ​ $62.5
Quad/Graphics​  ​$46.0
Oshkosh Corporation​ ​ $35.0
W Solar Group​ ​ $28.0
Fincantieri Marine Group​ ​ $28.0
Bucyrus​ ​ $20.0
Uline​ ​ $18.6
Kestrel Aircraft Company​ ​ $18.0
Plexus​ ​ $15.0
Northstar Medical Radioisotopes​ ​ $14.0 LLC​ ​ $10.3
Weather Shield Manufacturing ​ ​  $8.0

The report also details five other designated “Enterprise Zones”: 1) Insinkerator; 2) Ashley Furniture; 3) Medline Industries, Inc.; 4) Trane; and 5) Exact Science. The LFB reported in January that WEDC had not yet entered into contracts with these five companies to finalize the amount awarded.

WEDC is authorized to designate up to 20 “Zones” and the Governor adds another 10 “Zones” in the budget. The Administration estimates this action would have a ten-year price tag of $192.9 million for Wisconsin taxpayers.

The Governor also wants to take a nonrefundable tax credit (economic development tax credits) and convert it into a refundable tax credit. WEDC is currently authorized to spend $164.2 million on the “economic development tax credits”.

Why rush to create NEW refundable tax credits? Perhaps the Manufacturing and Ag Tax Credit has something to do with the rush. A late budget amendment in 2011 created this credit targeted at manufacturing companies. The tax credit takes tax rates for manufacturing and ag corporations down to 0.4% by 2016.

What happens if you owe less than 1% on your profits? Pretty soon your tax obligation is so small another tax credit isn’t help much.  Step in the refundable tax credit. You owe nothing? You still get a check.

How much might these companies have paid if not for the tax credits slipped into the budget in 2011? The LFB estimated the fiscal impact of just the Manufacturing and Ag credit at $509 million in the coming budget.

So what’s lost to Wisconsin taxpayers when the companies owing little to nothing in taxes cash their refundable tax credit checks?

School funding reform for one – the manufacturing tax credit money would more than cover changes in the school funding formula and hold harmless the wealthier suburban schools. The University of Wisconsin System for another – the credits awarded in the table above would more than cover the Governor’s proposed university system cuts.

Fixing things like the state parks, Wisconsin Public TV and Radio, Family Care and IRIS could be done with the money given in credits to just Plexus. Dollars headed to Uline could instead fund SeniorCare and the School Violence Prevention Program.

Decisions made to give dollars away to profitable corporations have a big impact on future choices.