As I See It

As I See It (364)

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

Successful politicians have a plan. A plan A and a plan B. But when it comes to the fight over Obamacare, it appears Wisconsin has no Plan B. The United States Supreme Court is expected to issue its ruling soon, perhaps this week, in a case that could determine the future of the Affordable Care Act. The case King V. Burwell questions whether states that use the federal health insurance marketplace are eligible for federal subsidies to purchase health insurance, or whether that financial assistance can only go to people in states who run their own health insurance exchanges. If the court rules that states such as Wisconsin which do not operate their own health insurance exchanges are not eligible for federal subsidies, 184,000 people in the state could lose their subsidies. If Wisconsin had created its own health insurance marketplace, there would be no threat to health coverage. Those currently enrolled in the Affordable Care Act would see their insurance premiums increase by as much as 300% if the court rules against the federal subsidies for states like Wisconsin. If that happens, many are likely to drop their health insurance coverage, which would send insurance premiums higher for everyone, and destabilize the entire Affordable Care Act. Our lawmakers so far have been unwilling to come up with a plan should the court rule against Wisconsin. Governor Walker's only answer has been that the states didn't create this problem, the federal government did, and they should be the one to fix it. Maybe so. But our lawmakers have a responsibility to protect our citizens from a foreseeable disaster such as this, and so far they refuse to take responsibility.

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Friday - June 19, 2015 12:00 am

Audit could solve road funding debate

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What are we getting for our money? We don't even know. We do know that we spend a lot on transportation in Wisconsin. Transportation spending totals about $6 billion in Wisconsin, but that hasn't been enough to fix all our roads. Governor Walker has proposed borrowing an additional $1.3 billion to pay for new roads, but lawmakers, even those in his own party, aren't ready to take on that much debt and that is holding up passage of a new state budget. But maybe we don't need to spend more money to get good roads. We won't know unless the legislature orders a complete audit of the Department of Transportation, last done way back in 1997. We do know that part of what is driving up transportation costs is the increased reliance on private firms to do the engineering work. In 1987, only 8% of engineering costs was outsourced to private firms. Now that is up to about 75%. That's despite the fact that the most recent state budget increased DOT staffing by more than 150 positions. And those private engineers are more expensive than having DOT employees do the work. It is estimated costs per project rise by up to 68% when the state hires private consultants. Legislators should order the Legislative Audit Bureau to conduct a complete audit of the DOT. We just may find we have the money we need to pay for roads, if we just spend that money more wisely.

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Thursday - June 18, 2015 12:00 am

Strip transportation, Bucks arena from budget

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It appears work on a new Wisconsin state budget has slowed to a crawl. Members of the Joint Finance Committee charged with creating the new budget haven't met in two weeks. Instead, Republican members of the committee have been meeting behind closed doors to try to unify their party on the still contentious issues. The sticking points continue to be how to pay for transportation in the state, and a proposal to publicly finance a new Milwaukee Bucks arena. It is rarely good that these meetings be held behind closed doors. That gives lawmakers little time to digest the proposal that is served to them, and often contains deals benefiting special interests. The transportation budget and a deal for the Bucks are both big ticket items. The Bucks arena could cost taxpayers $250 million, and the transportation budget could include $500 worth of borrowing to pay for new roads. Both issues deserve a fair and timely hearing. If those are the only things preventing lawmakers from passing a new state budget, then they should be removed from the budget and voted on separately. That would allow the new budget to be in place by the July 1 deadline, and would allow for more thorough discussion of roads and the arena. Lawmakers should vote on both issues separately, rather than try to create a last-minute deal then demand a vote with the clock ticking.

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Wednesday - June 17, 2015 12:00 am

More reform needed at Tomah VA

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We were shocked to learn what was happening at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Tomah. Patients there being given high powered drugs like they were candy, earning the facility the nickname “Candyland” among patients. Tragically, some patients at the Tomah VA died, including Jason Simcakoski, who died of acute drug toxicity. This finally got the attention of the national VA, and the Under Secretary for Health, Dr. Carolyn Clancy has made repeated visits to Tomah. A new interim director has been put in place, but many of the changes thus far have to do with improving communication and morale among employees there. Now, U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin is working to address the issue of overprescription which brought these issues to light in the first place. Baldwin has authored the Jason Simcakoski Memorial Opioid Act to help prevent this tragedy. This legislation would do some of the things Secretary Clancy has already talked about, including exploring forms of pain relief other than powerful drugs. It would also increase oversight for the quality of care our veterans receive at VA hospitals across the country. It is good that Congress is now getting involved in approving patient care at the Tomah VA and elsewhere, because so far the reforms enacted have yet to get to the real root of the problem.

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Tuesday - June 16, 2015 12:00 am

Imagine less mudslinging in campaign

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We can at least imagine. Imagine what it would be like if we could be spared all those nasty attack ads in the next election. That is possible, although probably unlikely, in the race for one of Wisconsin's U.S. Senate seats. The race between incumbent Ron Johnson and former Senator Russ Feingold is likely to be one of the most watched Senate races in the country. A victory by Feingold could change the balance of power in the U.S. Senate. That means the Super Pacs and other special interest groups are licking their chops ready to write those big checks to attack the candidates. These are the ads typically the worst of the worst, often bending the truth and featuring ominous music and chilling warnings. Feingold is now calling on Senator Johnson to agree to keep all this third party money out of their Senate race. You might think Feingold would be eager to accept Pac money, since he refused to do so in the 2010 election when he lost to Johnson. Under Feingold's plan, both sides would agree to disavow money from political action groups. If a group did spend money to help either campaign, half of the cost of the ad would have to go to charity. That would finally be campaign money well spent. It is not clear if Johnson will agree to turning his back on those millions of dollars in campaign cash, but if there was no special interest money in this campaign, that would be something to imagine.

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Friday - June 12, 2015 12:00 am

Patience please during construction

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A little patience, please. Getting around in La Crosse has gotten more difficult of late with all of the construction going on. We're getting a handful of new hotels, new private developments, and lots and lots of road construction. All of these projects happening at the same time is making navigating our city a little more of an adventure. Just ask anyone who was in town for the state track meet last weekend. Or ask the Fed Ex driver who stopped here to drop off a package, and to ask for directions to the Grandstay Hotel, just blocks away from this radio station. But getting there requires a series of turns and zig-zags, stretching what should be a four block ride into one lasting more than a mile. Friends have bemoaned how difficult it is to get around, especially during afternoon drive. But remember, we are all in this together. This is not a time for road rage. Just realize that when you jump in your car, getting where you are going will likely take a little extra time, and perhaps a lot more turns. But all of this gridlock, while frustrating, will be worth it in the end. New buildings, better roads, increased employment and an expanded tax base. It may be a long summer with all these roadblocks, but seeing all these improvements is much better than no new construction.

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There are plenty of people who believe our climate is changing. And there are plenty of people who believe global warming is a myth. Both sides can cite plenty of science to bolster their claims. But the fact is, we don't know whether our climate is changing, much less if it is caused by human behavior. So some in the Wisconsin legislature think that is reason enough to try to shut down anyone who espouses the idea that the earth's climate is getting warmer. That seems to be what is behind a provision in the state budget that eliminates more than 17 full time positions from the Department of Natural Resource's Science Services Bureau. That is the portion of the agency that two years ago released a plan calling for study of how climate change has affected Wisconsin's rivers, lakes and forests. Worrying about climate change is only a small part of the agency's research, but it seems even suggesting we study the possibility of climate change is too much for some lawmakers. This certainly seems like political payback for those who even dare suggest our climate may be changing. Especially since the agency's work was already approved by DNR Secretary Kathy Stepp, a Walker appointee. Given that we don't know for certain whether our climate is changing, or whether humans have something to do with it, it seems at least worthy of study, instead of sticking our heads in the sand.

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Thursday - May 28, 2015 12:00 am

Managing parking ramps shouldn't be so difficult

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They mean well, they simply don't know what they are doing. That is the synopsis of the city of La Crosse's Parking Utility Board.

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Wednesday - May 27, 2015 7:00 pm

Blaze pink idea demeaning to women

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When deer hunters take to Wisconsin's fields, they adorn themselves in blaze orange. They do so to ensure their safety. They are to be as visible as possible to other hunters. But soon, some hunters could take to the fields wearing blaze pink. That is the premise of a bill being introduced today in Madison. If passed, this legislation would allow hunters to wear either blaze orange or blaze pink. I don't really have a problem with the idea, just the premise behind it. The theory, according to lawmaker Terry Moulton, is that allowing hunters to wear blaze pink would encourage more women to try hunting. Really? Allowing women to wear pink hunting gear would encourage more women to take up the sport? That seems doubtful. Women are aware that hunting exists. They know when hunting season begins, because that is when a lot of men fragrance themselves with deer urine, grab their guns and head to their favorite spot. Women can do that too. They simply choose not to in greater numbers. Having to wear blaze orange is not what keeps women out of the field. Hunting is not designed to be a fashion statement. There is more women don't like about hunting than the color of their duds. Let's leave the pink on Barbie cars, and out of Wisconsin's woods.

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Wednesday - May 27, 2015 7:00 pm

WI should crack down on unemployment fraud

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It makes sense for the state to crack down on those claiming fraudulent benefits. It is a serious problem in Wisconsin. But so far, lawmakers have chosen to pursue punitive measures, like trying to restrict whether people on food stamps should be able to eat crab, or be forced to shop from a list of healthy items. But a new measure being considered in Madison would focus the state's attention not on what they eat, but whether they deserve the benefits in the first place. The Legislature's Finance Committee is considering adopting stiffer penalties for those committing unemployment benefit fraud. Right now, the fines for illegally claiming unemployment benefits in Wisconsin is a slap on the wrist. $500 in fines and up to 90 days in jail. This legislation, if approved, would create criminal penalties of up to $25,000 in fines and up to five years in prison. This type of fraud is rampant in Wisconsin. Fraudulent overpayments totaled more than $20 million last year. And most of those committing fraud already have a job, but claim they don't. When people cheat the system, they are not only stealing from us taxpayers, but also from those who are not acting fraudulently. It is good to see the state considering cracking down on those who cheat the system, rather than everyone who is poor and in need of a helping hand.

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