Tuesday, December 22, 2009


Exhibit A: Republican legislators ask for a review of Medicaid costs at the Joint Finance Committee, which took place last Thursday.

Exhibit B: One day after the meeting, the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance puts out what I’ll generously call a “report” (less than two pages) about the soaring costs of Medicaid.

Now I am certain it was not at all coordinated. The self-proclaimed “independent” Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance just happened to release its own report a day later. On the same topic. Within 24 hours. What an amazing coincidence.

It’s no surprise that Republicans and the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance are on the same message. Too bad it’s the wrong one.

The sloppy, partisan Taxpayer Alliance report, less-than-two-pages long, fails to account for basic questions an average high-school term paper would not miss. With one passing sentence it glosses over the elephant in the room: soaring health care costs. Wouldn’t you want to know how much health care costs in general have increased over the same period? I know it would have been expected as part of a paper written at East High School.

Instead it focuses on enrollment in the plans having increased – including “the increased emphasis placed on covering children and families.” Ah ha – it is those insidious poor children that are driving up state and federal costs. And, of course, all the people who have lost their jobs during this national economic crisis are to blame as well.

The poor and unemployed are the villains -- not the skyrocketing cost of health care. Never mind that during the time period covered in this report, the state’s cost per person served – the part Wisconsin taxpayers cover – was cut in half.

And, to make matters worse the corporate-leaning Taxpayer’s Alliance decided that providing health care comes at the expense of a Democratic priority – education. No analysis on the subject, just GOP rhetoric. Forget all those corporate tax loopholes we filled this year…

Finally, nowhere did the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance conclude that our country desperately needs national health care and health insurance reform.

But of course that’s not a Republican approved talking point.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Joint hearing

It’s no surprise that Sen. Jon Erpenbach and I have heard a few wisecracks about scheduling a “joint public hearing” on our bill to allow suffering patients the option of medicinal marijuana.

But when the state Senate and Assembly team up for a hearing – it’s called a joint hearing, no escaping it. And that is what the health committees of the two bodies are doing on the Jacki Rickert Medical Marijuana bill on Dec. 15 at the Capitol in room 412 E at 10 am.

We expect to hear from folks representing some of the nonprofit groups that back our bill, such as the Epilepsy Foundation, HOPE the hospice and palliative experts association, Wisconsin Nurses Association and the ACLU.

Some national groups will fly to Wisconsin, including the Marijuana Policy Project. The Drug Policy Alliance will be represented by Daniel Abrahamson, and if his last name is familiar, that’s no coincidence. He happens to be Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson’s son.

Pot jokes aside, this joint hearing is a positive sign that this bill is being seriously considered and debated in the Capitol. And that's no joking matter for patients who are suffering.

I’m haunted by stories I’ve heard of a suffering mother who had to send her teen to the street to illegally purchase marijuana so she can keep down food or ease her pain.

I expect we’ll hear from quite a few patients suffering the devastating impact of such debilitating and painful diseases as cancer, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy, HIV/AIDS and post traumatic stress disorder.

They highlight two reasons for this bill: common sense health care and compassion.

Many of Wisconsin’s newspapers, including the Wisconsin State Journal, the Appleton Post Crescent, the Wausau Daily Herald, have editorialized in favor of our bill and we appreciate their support.

I was particularly struck by today’s column from Capital Times editor emeritus Dave Zwiefel: “The time for Wisconsin to become the 15th state to allow patients to use pot to make their lives a bit more comfortable is long past due. My own father, who was suffering mightily from the pains of pancreatic cancer, found some relief from marijuana I was able to illegally purchase for him in the last weeks of his life.”

That’s why we need to pass this bill.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

If a job is created in Wisconsin ...

What if you created 53,000 jobs and nobody noticed?

I’m a bit stunned. I know it’s more fun to talk about what is bad about government than good. Heck, I’ve done more than my share of that in the day.

But in the last week, two private industry reports were released that show a cumulative effect of roughly 53,000 jobs being created or retained in Wisconsin thanks to federal recovery dollars, the Wisconsin stimulus bill (Act 2) and the state budget. And no media outlet seems to have noticed or cared.

Yes, the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association (road building firms) and several unions released a report Tuesday that shows 28,500 jobs. And the Associated General Contractors of Wisconsin, Inc. (construction firms) released a report last Thursday showing the creation of more than 25,000 jobs. Both reports credited government with helping create private jobs.

The business community understands what got done this year.

However, others apparently don’t. If a job is created in a state and no one is around to talk about it, does it actually count? Heck yah! Just ask the worker who is now bringing home a paycheck.

It’s easier to criticize mistakes on federal reports about recovery dollars with wrong zip codes and the like than to talk about real jobs created in Wisconsin.

Even better, Rep. Robin Vos, a Republican from Racine County, put out his own press release admitting the federal recovery dollars worked in creating jobs. A GOP first: Obama does good!

But he failed to mention the $300 million the state legislature approved in Act 2 for road construction. Also not mentioned was the additional $250 million spent on roads that was added to the state budget to spur jobs. Maybe he leaves that out because the Republicans voted against both times. And let’s not forget the building projects approved in the capitol budget that - say it with me - the Republicans voted against.

So while the private employers of 53,000 people in Wisconsin are thankful at this time of year for the jobs created by the Democrats at the federal and state levels, it appears no one else seems to want to also notice the mammoth undertaking.

If only they had listed a wrong zip code on their press release…maybe it would have made headlines.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Happy Anniversary

Happy Anniversary?

You probably didn’t celebrate it. At least I hope you didn’t.

Yesterday, October 26th, was the second anniversary of passing the previous state budget. On October 26th, 2007, Wisconsin Act 20 was passed, making it the last-in-the-nation state budget to be completed.

This year, you should remember, we got the budget done on time – by July 1st – for the first time since 1977.

With the Democrats in control, somehow we got our job done on time. And we did it protecting state taxpayers during the worst financial conditions of most of our lifetimes.

Now that’s something to celebrate!

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Enough to make you a vegetarian

One of the reasons I was glad to get my blog going again was to share "the rest of the story" on issues facing Wisconsin.

Case in point from last week….

You’ve heard the adage: “Laws are like sausages — it is best not to see them being made.” The roll out of job creation numbers by the Governor's office last week was pretty mangled, even for sausage.

According to the Obama administration, an estimated 22,100 jobs have been created and retained in Wisconsin thanks to the recovery dollars.

Some jobs were created directly by recovery dollars, some jobs were saved thanks to the cash and a good number of jobs would be retained or created due to the ripple effect through the economy.

Well, the initial numbers in Wisconsin got rolled out with all the finesse of an elephant doing ballet. Within an hour of being told at the Joint Committee on Finance meeting on Tuesday that we would be briefed on any job creation numbers that were to be reported, the Co-Chairs sat down for what I assumed was an initial briefing.

As we began raising questions on the incomplete way the report was being presented, someone passed around an iPhone. The screen revealed the clunky report had already been made public and was posted on WisPolitics.

But the real problem wasn't bad timing. The problem was the meat of the report. It was a partial report of a limited segment of recovery dollars. The media were given part of the story: the creation of 8284 jobs due to some of the recovery dollars – but what wasn’t included were such things as jobs from grant dollars, jobs from money directed to universities and local governments, jobs from tax credits and the impact of money being spent in the local economy . So legislative leaders scrambled to fill in the gaps: 22,100 jobs created. Context explained. Workers counted.

At a time of the Democrats making job creation our number one priority, it is hard to have a partner inadvertently downplaying the solid work of recovery dollars.

Republicans are doing that all on their own. Instead of trying to help us put Wisconsinites back to work, they waste their time throwing tea parties, raging at rallies and dodging the real work.

People care about the fact that, in the face of dire economic circumstances, we have made job creation and retention our number one priority. They care that the unemployment rate just went down. The real story here is that the economy is beginning to recover and the Republicans don't like it because they aren’t the ones making the sausage anymore.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Hi, I'm REALLY Mark

Well, I’m back.

It has been just over two years since my former blog was taken over by a German bot, which now appears to have me hawking “psytrance chillout musik.” Seriously. Check out my alleged Astores (whatever that is).

But I have to admit, I miss my hijacked blog.

I know a lot of Republicans twitter these days. Maybe I’m being old fashioned when I say I want to go back to blogging. (Yes, I said old fashioned in the same sentence as blogging….yikes.)

But it is really hard to talk about substantive policy or issues in the amount of words that fit on a bumper sticker, which is what twitter usually is. Consider these words of wisdom:

“Honk for Inhofe in Tulsa!” – US Senator Jim Inhofe, Oklahoma
“the debate is over” – Gov. Bobby Jindahl, Louisiana
“@suzy_rice @Ridgeliner7 @NRSC Thank you for including me in your #followfriday recommendations” – US Senator John Ensign, Nevada

What the…???

So go ahead and call me old fashioned because I would like to express a few thoughts in a blog -- something more meaningful than honking or declaring an unknown debate to be over, even if @suzy_rice likes it short and sweet (if that is her real name).

So I will try to make sure that what is really going on behind the scenes in the State Capitol gets out, warts and all. So check back. I plan on offering my insight on all sorts of issues facing Wisconsin, from job creation to proposed legislation to federal recovery dollars and more. And some fun stuff too….

Here’s my promise. I will try to be as candid as possible about my observations, even if they aren’t popular with everyone. Because I think that is what is expected of me.

Thanks for stopping by. See you soon with some “meat.”