As I See It

As I See It

Wisconsin's longest running daily commentary, a daily tradition since 1971.

Thursday - June 22, 2017 10:10 am

Don't rush Obamacare repeal vote

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My Dad taught me a long time ago, that if something is worth doing, it is worth taking the time to do it right. That should be the case with the effort to repeal Obamacare. Republican leaders in Washington have been working to find a health care plan that isn't just different from Obamacare, but better. The House passed its version of the bill, but it would drop some 23 million Americans from coverage. The leaders of the Senate, all white men, have been meeting secretly to come up with their own version of a replacement for Obamacare. We don't know what is in this proposed legislation, which will be available in draft form for comment today, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would like to schedule a vote on it by next week. That seems rather quick. The package hasn't even been finalized yet, but they are already talking about scheduling a vote. One Wisconsin U.S. Senator agrees more time is needed. Senator Ron Johnson has told his party's leaders that he won't vote for a new health care bill if he doesn't get more time to review the proposed legislation. Those who are charged with voting on this need time to at least read the bill. And there should be time for their constituents to learn of the proposed legislation, and offer their feedback. This does not need to be rushed. Because if something is worth doing, it is worth taking the time to make sure it is done right.

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Wednesday - June 21, 2017 9:15 am

So much for local control on school referendums?

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Voters across Wisconsin have been approving school referendums at a rapid rate. More and more school districts in the state have turned to voters in the form of a referendum to get the money they need to operate their schools in the wake of declining support from the state. But some lawmakers in Madison want to put an end to that. In fact, they want to basically veto those referendums voters have already approved. Republican Rep. Janel Brandtjen has introduced legislation which would restrict how long school referendums could last, and would force many districts to roll back referendums voters approved dating back to 1996. She claims this would give voters a voice more often, rather than allowing them to approve referendums that last longer than that. But the fact is, local voters know their local school district, and its needs, better than the legislature. It should not be possible for the will of voters to be usurped by lawmakers, and it may be unconstitutional. If a majority of voters choose to approve more money for schools in La Crosse or any other district, the state shouldn't have a say in that. It is a local issue. Whatever happened to the “local control” our state lawmakers preach so much about?

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It is a historic decision, which could go a long way to putting power back in the hands of the people. The U.S. Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case from Wisconsin which could change the way political boundaries are drawn, for the better. Under current law, whatever political party is in charge at the time of the census is charged with drawing new political boundaries. Those maps, now in use, have been declared to be unconstitutional by a federal panel of judges. They were drawn to give one political party a better chance of winning elections because the districts they created were stacked with voters in their favor. The numbers prove that is true. While more people voted for democratic legislative candidates, republicans still captured 60 of the Assembly's 99 seats. Clearly the maps were created to favor one political party. That goes beyond being unfair, it also may be unconstitutional, so the nation's highest court has agreed to take the case. We don't know how the court will rule, but this case has the potential to return fairness to the voting process. Lawmakers shouldn't be able to bend the rules to give themselves an unfair political advantage, which undermines the integrity of our elections and our democracy. We should be able to choose who represents us, rather than having the politicians choose who gets to vote for them.

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It is an epidemic, but progress is being made in the fight against opiod addiction. We have seen the dangers, and the overdose deaths. It is a problem across the country, including in La Crosse. Much work has been done to prevent the problem. The Wisconsin Legislature has passed a number of bills in recent years designed to curb the addiction epidemic. We now better track who is buying these powerful drugs, and we have armed our first responders with anti-overdose drugs. Unfortunately, those anti-overdose drugs are being used with increased frequency. Locally, the heroin and opiod addiction task force has been working to solve the problem. But federal budget cuts threaten to stop that progress. Legislation passed by the House would cut Medicaid, which now funds one quarter of drug treatment spending in the U.S. And this legislation would end mandatory coverage for substance use disorder as an essential health benefit. That makes it harder for individuals, and communities to address this drug crisis. Taking away coverage and increasing costs for those struggling with opiod addiction is not the answer. We have made too much progress to turn back now.

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Thursday - June 15, 2017 9:13 am

Media, Hollywood, not to blame for shooting

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We are still waiting for answers following yesterday's shooting of a member of Congress. But some think they already have all the answers they need. It is the media's fault. That is the feeling of one Wisconsin state lawmaker. Rep. Jesse Kremer, the lawmaker pushing to allow guns on the grounds of our public schools and who wants to allow concealed carry on university campuses, issued a statement on Facebook in the wake of the shooting. His post predictably blame the media, and Hollywood, for the shooting. He even suggested the tragedy could have been predicted, given comedian Kathy Griffin's holding of a severed head and Madonna's comments about blowing up the White House. That is quite a reach. We have no idea what may have motivated this shooting, and there is no evidence that the media or Hollywood played any role. The shooting simply provides another opportunity for Kremer and others to bash the media because it fits their narrative. Such comments only serve to distract from the real issue of gun violence. We need to let police do their jobs, and figure out what led to this shooting, while refraining from offering our own theories, especially those which make no sense, from those only seeking to advance their own agenda.

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The Wisconsin Legislature's Joint Finance Committee wields a lot of power. Perhaps too much power. This committee is responsible for tweaking the state budget Governor Walker proposed into a document that can win the support of the full legislature. There is a lot of wheeling and dealing going on in that committee, often times at the last minute. That leaves the public, and even other members of the legislature, in the dark as to just what the budget contains until it is time to cast a vote. That happened two years ago, when members of the Joint Finance Committee inserted language into the budget, late at night, heading into a holiday weekend, with no public notice, which called for gutting the state's open records laws. The public revolted, and some lawmakers were left to answer constituent complaints about something they knew nothing about. That could change. A group of lawmakers are proposing requiring more transparency during the budget process. Under their bill, at least 48 hours public notice would be required for any motions introduced to the budget-writing finance committee. They would have to be posted online for all to see. How could any lawmaker be against that? We should know just what is to be debated as part of the budget. We don't need any more last minute surprises.

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Tuesday - June 13, 2017 9:00 am

WI lawmakers need to step back into the light

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We reasonably expect our lawmakers to conduct the people's business in public. Typically that means committees schedule meetings, providing at least 24 hours notice, so that interested people can attend, and perhaps share their opinions. That is the way our democracy is supposed to be work. But in Wisconsin, our lawmakers are literally mailing it in. A disturbing trend has arisen in Madison, where some committees aren't even bothering to meet in person to decide the people's business. Instead, rather than holding public meetings, committees are using mail ballots to vote on proposed legislation. That is not the way government should function. If votes are conducted by mail ballots, there is no chance for the public to weigh in with their testimony. We don't know what they are voting on, and there is no way to know a vote is even scheduled. And it can be costly to taxpayers. Voting by mail means lawmakers can only cast an up or down vote. There can be no amendments offered, there is no room for debate. When lawmakers in 2013 voted to hire a law firm to defend the state's controversial redistricting, that vote came by mail ballot, so lawmakers couldn't even negotiate the firm's billing rate. Our lawmakers need to stop this secret process and do their work in the light of day.

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The Wisconsin Legislature remains far apart on a new state budget. We are just weeks away from when that budget is supposed to be complete, but key budget committees haven’t even been meeting because they are so far apart on key issues. There are some thorny issues, including a new transportation budget, and how much to spend on schools and other things. But it seems even what seem the simples of issues can get rather slippery. Governor Walker proposed a sales tax holiday for back to school shopping. It would help moms and dads save a few bucks in taxes when they have to buy their kids school clothes, computers and supplies. Modest savings, but every little bit helps. Now it appears the sales tax holiday idea is dead in the Legislature, which instead would prefer to eliminate the personal property tax for businesses. It is estimated a sales tax holiday would cost the state $17 million, while eliminating the personal property tax would cost $260 million. Apparently we can’t afford both. If we lose $260 million in tax revenue, that threatens to cut funding for schools and municipalities. Let’s do what we can afford. Wisconsin should join 17 other states and adopt a sales tax holiday.

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Thursday - June 8, 2017 9:02 am

Bakery Freedom Act not needed

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Why is it politicians seem to prefer the extremes, rather than compromise? Lawmakers in Madison are trying to decide how many cupcakes a person can sell without requiring them to obtain a commercial license. For decades, it has been illegal in Wisconsin for home bakers to sell their tasty treats unless they had a commercial license. That would require them to have a commercial kitchen, something out of reach for most grandmothers and their strawberry pies or zucchini bread. A group of Wisconsin home bakers filed a lawsuit, and found a sympathetic judge who agreed that the law requiring them to be licensed is unnecessarily restrictive. So some of our politicians are considering easing the rules, allowing those who bake in their home kitchen to sell up to $7500 of their product a year without first having to get licensed. That seems reasonable. But one key lawmaker wants to go much farther. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos is unveiling a plan to end licensing for all baking operations in Wisconsin. Even the biggest commercial bakeries. He calls it the Bakery Freedom Act, saying it would level the playing field for all bakeries in Wisconsin. That is unnecessary, and potentially dangerous. There is a reason we force operations like Bimbo Bakery in La Crosse to be licensed and undergo inspections. We shouldn't treat Aunt Betty and her occasional batch of chocolate chip cookies the same as those who make tons of twinkies.

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It is about time. A tax reciprocity agreement could be resurrected between Wisconsin and Minnesota. For decades, the two states had an understanding that if you lived in one state but worked in the other, you would only have to file tax returns in the state in which you reside. That came to a screeching halt 8 years ago, when Minnesota's Governor called off the deal. At that time, Wisconsin was late making its payments to Minnesota to make the reciprocity agreement fair for both states. Ever since, people who live in one state but work in other have been having to file returns in both states. Some 80,000 people travel between the two states to go to work, 56,000 of them Wisconsinites working in Minnesota. Due to our border location, a number of those people are from our area, and all have been inconvenienced by having to fill out two sets of state tax returns. Now, the state of Minnesota has passed legislation making all Minnesotans working in Wisconsin eligible for an income reciprocity tax credit. And the bill directs the state to resume negotiations with the state of Wisconsin in search of a permanent reciprocity agreement. The two states should get to work hammering out an agreement, so that can be in place before the next tax season.

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