Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Clean up our government? Clean up our elections!

In this video, I talk about a bill that I just released that calls for the most sweeping campaign finance reform in Wisconsin's history. The bill would create a Clean Elections Fund and would provide grants to qualified candidates in an effort to put the focus of campaigns back on ideas, rather than fundraising. To get a copy of the bill, simply visit, choose press releases and select the 2012 link.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Walker’s Sham Waste, Fraud and Abuse Commission

I spent the last year serving on Governor Walker’s Waste, Fraud and Abuse Commission and I can honestly say it was a giant waste, fraud and abuse of government resources.

I agreed to serve on the commission because I took Governor Walker at his word that the commission would help us find savings that would help us out of our state’s perennial fiscal mess.

That was my first mistake.

Unfortunately, while the commission’s goal was laudable, the commission lost its way quickly. I caution readers that the Republican report takes credit for work already accomplished by our state agencies or items over which the decision-making process rests in the hands of the federal or local units of government.

And if that’s not enough to give you pause, Governor Walker’s numbers weren’t ever independently corroborated, yet the media keeps reporting them as if they were.

But what gives me the most heartburn over my experience on Governor Walker’s commission is that we were denied a vote on the commission. Before you turn this into a more partisan thing than the commission’s findings (if that’s even possible), take a breath. It was just the Democrats that didn’t get to vote on the commission’s report, NOBODY VOTED ON IT! How can you call this the commission’s “recommendation” when the commission didn’t even vote on the end product?

There were a lot of problems with the process and the report. Without further ado, I offer you the Top 5 Problems with Governor Walker’s Waste, Fraud and Abuse Commission report:

1.      The report takes credit for passing federal legislation – In its court debt collection section, the report recommend passage of H.R. 1416, which they say would save $5.4 - $27 million. How can this commission, with a straight face, take credit for passage of a bill that hasn’t even passed the United Congress? Either this is the most powerful non-democratic commission in the world, or one giant sham. Take your pick.

2.      The report makes suggestions that could deny FoodShare to poor people – The Walker report suggests requiring photo ID’s to be added to the Quest FoodShare card, yet readily admits that federal policies require the state to “permit all members of a household to use that card, reducing the effectiveness of any enforcement efforts.” Requiring a photo to the Quest card won’t be free, yet the commission doesn’t address this hidden cost. Furthermore, it will likely result in confusion at checkout aisles in grocery stores across the state, resulting in families in need being denied the very food they need to survive. While I recognize the need to crack down on fraud in the FoodShare program, the GOP has lost focus of their task in their haste to require a photo ID on almost everything these days.

3.      Governor Walker already busted the unions, but he wants to take credit for it again – The section on overtime rules for public workers takes credit for changes already set in motion by the Republican anti-collective bargaining 2011 Act 10. In fact, the commission’s report takes credit for savings that it even admits are already under way.

4.      Governor Walker’s inconsistency on tax cheaters – I was glad to see the commission report recommend spending an additional $10 million each year to hire more revenue agents to crack down on tax cheats. When Governor Walker said publicly he supports passing all the recommendations in the report, I thought that meant he’d support investing more money to crack down on tax cheats to bring in even more revenue to the state. But that doesn’t seem to be the case since the Walker administration is attempting to cut $2 million that is supposed to go towards hiring more revenue agents. So, how can the Governor pledge to spend more money to crack down on tax cheats while cutting the current budget for the same purpose? Is Governor Walker’s administration going to get tough on tax evaders or not?

5.      Everyone loves a budget gimmick – We were led to believe this commission was going to find new savings through clamping down on waste, fraud and abuse in state government. Yet, $50 million of the report relies upon a suggestion that the state require agencies to lapse funds each year, something that both Democratic and Republican legislatures and Governors have required in various amounts for the last several biennial budgets. While this has been used to balance the budget, I would hardly call this waste, fraud or abuse of government. 
Wisconsinites are getting tired of the double-speak from our Governor. Scott Walker made a campaign promise and in my opinion, he hasn’t lived up to it.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Medical marijuana calls for compassion, understanding

If you had the power to make a decision that would help someone who is sick and suffering, you’d do it, wouldn’t you?

Today, Senator Erpenbach and I reintroduced a bill that would provide compassion to the sick and suffering. Our bill would legalize medical marijuana in Wisconsin.

 Ten years ago, when I first introduced this legislation, 8 states had laws on the books regarding medical marijuana. Today, 16 states and the District of Columbia have laws that have laws that allow the cultivation of medical marijuana and protect patients from criminal penalties.

This is an issue where the public has been ahead of the policy makers. A November 18th CBS News poll showed that 77% of Americans believe that medical marijuana should be allowed. The most recent statewide public referendum from the Midwest, which happened in Michigan in 2008, won support from every single county in the state with an overall tally of 63% in support.

Clearly, there’s momentum to support this issue, and I’m proud to be the lead author in the Assembly on this bill yet again.

Our bill covers conditions such as cancer, glaucoma, AIDS and HIV and other diseases as could be determined by administrative rule. The bill also creates a maximum amount of marijuana a patient may have, establishing clear limits for both the patient and law enforcement. Finally, the bill gives the Department of Health Services the ability to create rules for a registry of people allowed to use medical marijuana and for the licensing and regulation of a non-profit corporation to distribute marijuana.

Wisconsin is sadly amongst the 34 states still don’t provide compassion to the sick and suffering. Each and every one of my colleagues has a chance to help someone who is sick and suffering and I hope they take the time to research this important issue and talk to patients.

I think once they take the time to understand this topic, they will be unable to turn away people in need.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Department of Revenue Validates Income Equity Act

My record has been clear my entire career with regards to taxes. I believe in fairness.

That’s why several sessions ago I successfully passed the Sales Tax Fairness Act, which ensures your sales tax dollars actually make it back to the state, rather than the big box stores keeping your tax dollars as pure profit.

And that’s why I’ve reintroduced the Income Equity Act, the very first bill I ever introduced as a State Representative in 1999. The bill, based on federal legislation (HR 382), would limit government tax deductions to corporations with inflated CEO pay if that company doesn't also fairly compensate the little guy too.

To read a previous blog I wrote describing the Income Equity Act, click here.

I’m happy to announce the Income Equity Act (AB356/SB-250) recently got some good news from the Department of Revenue. Anytime a bill in the legislature will have a fiscal impact, relevant state agencies create a “fiscal estimate.” While these numbers are often guesswork, they are based on the best available information.

According to the Department of Revenue’s speculation based on the best available federal tax returns, the bill will generate more than $13 million each year for the state.

Ironically, the projected revenue this bill would generate would actually fully fund another of my bills, which would restore Walker’s cuts to the state’s recycling fund.

But will Republicans actually take a vote in favor of tax fairness? One can only hope!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

We need real jobs legislation

We’ve all heard the Republican mantra: Businesses are the “job creators.”

Well, I’ve been a small business owner for 23 years and I’ve got to tell you, there’s nothing more insulting for a business owner, or job creator if you will, to hear than the lip service Republicans constantly give us.

Ever notice how much the Republicans salivate when they talk about us “job creators?” Yet, when they get the keys to the Capitol, all they seem to do is figure out new ways to...  Read my complete guest blog for The Progressive here.

Thanks for reading!

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Pay gap drives 99% movement & the Wisconsin Income Equity Act

In our struggling economy, the poor and the middle class are hit disproportionally worse than the wealthy.

Don't take my word for it. Just look at several prominent studies.

The Institute for Wisconsin's Future recently released an interesting report that articulated the very wage gap that has people protesting all over the country.

The study, which tracked CEO pay from four prominent Wisconsin companies, compared their CEO Pay to that of the average Wisconsin worker. The study found that the average CEO pay amongst the four companies studied jumped from $2.3 million to $6.9 million over the past decade. Not bad. Meanwhile, the average Wisconsin worker saw their wages, adjusted for inflation, increase by just $1,000 per year. Not good.

Not only did the study show that the rich are getting richer while the corporations aren't proportionately increasing the pay of their workforce, it showed these companies spend a lot of time trying to exploit every single tax loophole the legislature has created for them. In fact, almost none of the companies paid any state income tax. I guess this goes to show you that investing in a good accountant trumps investing in the middle-class.

And nationally it isn't any better - it's even worse. According to BusinessWeek Magazine, in 1980, CEO pay equaled 42 times the average blue collar workers' salary. According to, CEO's now make 343 times more than the average worker, giving America one of the largest wage gaps in the world. I believe we must learn from our nation's mistakes. Yes, American history includes worker exploitation. However, I believe we must move beyond that dark shadow and strive to achieve the American Dream for everyone.

If we are going to create a level playing field where everyone can achieve the American Dream, we must change the way we do business in America. Recently, the Congressional Budget Office articulated the wage gap. Since 1979, according to the CBO, income for the richest one percent has risen 275 percent, compared to 18 percent for the remaining 99 percent of Americans.

That isn't right. And I didn't think this was right in 1999, when I was a freshman in the State Assembly. That's when I first introduced the Wisconsin Income Equity Act, a bill based on federal legislation. My bill, which is also a bill before Congress (HR 382), would limit government tax deductions to corporations with inflated CEO pay if that company doesn't also fairly compensate the little guy too.

Currently, corporations can deduct up to $1 million of a CEO's pay from their income tax. Meanwhile, the janitor at most of these companies pays more in taxes than the company does. My bill would cap the corporate tax deduction for CEO pay at 25-times the salary of the lowest full-time employee at the company.

If you pay the lowest paid employee $20,000, you can still deduct $500,000 of salary - 25 times the lower amount. This is fair and just, and provides a real incentive to pay workers better.

I'm not saying corporations can't pay an executive what they want. I just don't think the 99% of us should have to subsidize excessive executive pay.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Anything But...

When Governor Walker branded his second Special Session on job creation, he left out two important words; “anything but.”

Because in reality, we are embarking on our second “Special Session on Anything But Job Creation.”

While their special session started with a bang with lots of talk about jobs, so far, it has been a bust… or a bang, depending on if you consider that the GOP seems more focused on guns than job creation.

You’d think Governor Walker would have learned his lesson after his first failed special session. In fact, our unemployment rate has grown faster than the national average since Walker’s first unsuccessful special session on job creation.

Yet, here we are repeating Walker’s mistakes…again.

Since Walker announced the “Special Session on Anything But Job Creation” in September, the Wisconsin State Assembly has taken up 85 bills and 12 resolutions, yet very few of these bills will improve our economy.

Walker claimed he’d “focus like a laser” on job creation. Instead, Walker’s focus is more like a disco ball.

Instead of asking how we can help create jobs, the State Assembly is deeply embroiled in other important philosophical questions such as:

·         Should we be able to serve butter AND margarine in restaurants?

·         Is it okay to ban video cameras in the Assembly Gallery, yet allow our guests to have concealed weapons?

·         How many hours of advance notice should landlords give to their tenants if they wish to enter an apartment for a non-emergency?

·         What time of day should liquor stores be able to open?

·         Should you be able to drink wine at a county fair?

·         Should you be able to transport a gun on a boat? If so, how?

 Today, Republicans tell us the Assembly is going to take up its first bills from Walker’s special session, but I’m not holding my breath that they will actually help the economy or create jobs. I’ve seen this movie and I know how it ends.