The New Year “To Do” List The New Year "To Do" List

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Jan 4, 2012 No Comments ›› admin

January 4, 2012

It’s that time of year when many people begin work on their New Year’s resolutions.  Those resolutions are basically a ‘To Do’ list; the things we resolve to accomplish in the coming months.  For the Legislature, the ‘To Do’ list includes taking action on issues left unfinished in 2011.

Early January, the full Senate and Assembly will be back in the Capitol preparing for the upcoming legislative session. Some issues left unfinished that will at least be debated include iron ore mining, venture capital and health care.

A federal deadline looms for the state to begin work on an exchange to bring affordable health insurance to individuals and small businesses. Last fall I introduced a bill to create an exchange to bring affordable health insurance options to small businesses and folks who buy insurance on their own. The bill follows federal guidelines but is a uniquely Wisconsin approach to the crisis of rising health insurance costs.

I expected to see bipartisan support for this ‘middle of the road’ plan but, instead, the Governor recently stated he is stopping all efforts to create a state-wide affordable insurance exchange. This is a real mistake. Over and again I hear from business people that finding affordable health insurance is a real obstacle to creating jobs in Wisconsin.

The bill I introduced last year to create such an exchange lies in the bottom drawer of the Committee Chair’s filing cabinet. I hold out hope she will schedule a public hearing on the bill very soon

My exchange would provide a private sector alternative to the fast-growing Medicaid program. Right now state and federal officials are working on an agreement related to Medicaid. State leaders need to look carefully at operations of the state agency that oversees Medicaid – the Department of Health (DHS). The agency funnels more money to programs than any other part of state government. DHS was the subject of a recent audit that showed serious issues of a lack of accountability and transparency. DHS could not assign $2 billion spent to a specific health program. Taxpayers spent $7 billion in state and federal money on the Medicaid program.

Also looming on the legislative ‘To Do’ list is the funding of schools. Recently I met with Superintendent of Schools, Tony Evers and discussed details of his Fair Funding for Schools proposal. The historic cuts to education in this year’s budget did nothing to fix the inequities in the funding formula. Mr. Evers sees a nearly $400 million hole in funds needed just to return schools to a minimal level of funds. Providing every child with a quality education is a priority for the future of Wisconsin’s economy.

Always on the mind of lawmakers these days is the economy and jobs. While unemployment numbers placed a damper on expectations for new state revenue, November revenue collections actually showed an up-tick. Perhaps Wisconsin is moving out of its financial doldrums.

Early January will bring a new economic forecast. To keep growing our state’s economy the Legislature will continue work on bills that free up money for investment and loan guarantees for farms and small businesses. I expect such legislation will continue to gain bipartisan support.

Moving Wisconsin’s economy forward also requires careful review of the end-of-the-year reports on the state’s current financial picture. Bond agencies will review these reports to assign ratings to our state. These bond ratings will affect the cost of borrowing money. If the state spends more in interest, less money is available for education, job creation, health programs and environmental protection – all the other things the state buys.

In the coming weeks, I will be meeting with staff from the legislative agencies tasked with watching and analyzing the state’s financial health. Audits released right before Christmas show disturbing trends in state fiscal matters.

To accomplish this legislative ‘To Do’ list, leaders must focus on the real challenges our state faces this coming year: growing our economy, finding solutions to run-away health costs; achieving efficient operations of government; supporting our local communities and adequately funding our schools.

Voters for Vinehout

P.O. Box 1274
Eau Claire, WI 54702