Letter from Sen. Vinehout: Looking forward to the challenges of 2014
The snow blows over the frozen fields. But in the farmer’s mind, the plants already appear in straight rows and the blossoms are in bud. It takes an optimist to be a farmer – one who sees the potential bounty of the land. But it also takes a realist to plan for the possibility of drought, hail and pests.
It’s with that balance of optimism and realism I look forward to 2014. I wish you all a prosperous New Year with jobs that pay a living wage for every family, a great school for every child and affordable health care for everyone. But in this wish is the acknowledgement of the real struggle Wisconsin faces to wrestle the public good away from mismanagement and private interests seeking to influence policy. Take jobs and economic development: in the coming year the Legislative Audit Bureau will release another audit of the Governor’s keystone jobs policy – the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. The first audit showed an agency without clear policies giving limited state cash to companies without verifying a single company had created a single job. Despite tremendous public relations efforts to cover the problems I fear the 2014 audit will show similar problems with a lack of adequate financial management and misuse of state resources. Getting our state economic development efforts in order should be job number one if Wisconsin is going to close 2014 with a better job outlook than we see now. Life without health is a poor life indeed. My office phones are ringing as reality hits with the recent legislative decision to not cover tens of thousands of people with health care. These people make less than $11,000 a year. Many are artists, farmers, café or other small business owners. They work hard to make important contributions to our communities. The New Year was supposed to bring the promise of health care through BadgerCare. But, the Governor and majority Republicans broke that promise. Others call with complaints of exorbitant rates for health insurance through the federal Marketplace. Some call relatives in Minnesota and find similar families paying thousands less in the Gopher State. When neighbors in western Wisconsin see the success of Minnesota’s state-based exchange they do not understand why Wisconsin does not create a Badger Marketplace. My bill to create a Wisconsin-based exchange still languishes in committee. Job number two for the Legislature is to take a real step forward in 2014 and create our own health care Marketplace. A strong public education system has been a cornerstone of Wisconsin’s history. How things have changed. Now, the cuts to public education funding are historic as is the expansion of private voucher and charter schools at the expense of public schools. Taxpayers are paying more for private school vouchers than ever before with no accountability for that investment. I expect to see more evidence of the politically powerful private school interests. But we should all agree any school receiving public funding must be accountable to taxpayers. Job number three for 2014 is to bring transparency and accountability to all schools receiving state money and make sure every child has access to a great school. Wisconsin has always been a land of bountiful resources. As we look into the New Year, we see protections of that bounty are eroding. Historically Wisconsin protected its waters under the “Public Trust Doctrine”, which holds the navigable waters in trust for the public. Now the Wisconsin Law Journal reported, “After years of expanding the public trust doctrine, the Wisconsin Supreme Court and the Legislature are reversing course.” Local officials call me worrying about the cost of new municipal wells and rural residents call concerned about damage to aquifers. Changes to state laws, political pressure and short staffing tie the hands of our Natural Resources professionals to consider all the threats to Wisconsin water. Job number four is to make 2014 the Year of Water. Let us make real changes to our water rules with an eye to the next several generations. Let us make 2014 a landmark year. Together let’s embrace decisions based on the public good and work together to find real Wisconsin solutions to these challenges.