Sen. Kathleen Vinehout: Growing state debt is unsustainable

From my email inbox:

“I was wondering how Wisconsin’s state debt has been trending over the last several years,” Dave from Durand wrote me. “I’m also curious to know why there has been no talk of paying off the state’s debt.”

The state’s debt is important. Before any other bill gets paid, or any other service delivered, the state must make payments on debt. When money goes to pay off bonds – the way the state incurs debt – that money is not available for roads, schools, health care or public safety.
Too much debt can lead to less money available for everyday operations – as more general revenue is used to pay off debt. Think of the credit card or mortgage payment taking up more of your take home pay.

Over the past twenty years the state’s debt has tripled.

In a paper I recently received from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), the state’s total indebtedness went from $4.4 billion in 1996 to a projected $14.6 billion in 2015.

For comparison, in the fiscal year 2014-15, the state is projected to take in a total of $14.7 in tax revenue.

From 2007 through 2010, during recession years, total indebtedness increased by 23%. In 2011 through 2015, projections show an increase of a little less than ten percent.

Part of the reason debt grew at a slower rate in the past four years is that two funds- one to clean up petroleum spills and another to finance clean water projects- are winding down. These bonds will eventually be paid off, lowering the total indebtedness of the state.

But other types of debt are increasing – potentially at an unsustainable rate.

The two main types of bonds, General Obligation and Transportation Revenue, grew by 15% during the recession and 18% since 2011. One reason debt grew at such a high rate in the past 8 years? Both Governors Doyle and Walker restructured debt to avoid making a payment – using the cash saved to cover state operations. This led to extraordinarily high debt payments.

Perhaps the most serious financial problem going forward is that the state cannot support the current level of borrowing for transportation. Borrowing for roads and bridges was nearly $1 billion in the last state budget. Debt payments on this loan is projected to be 20% of all the money coming into the Transportation Fund by the first year of the next state budget according to another paper I recently received from LFB.

Some state officials imply the current problems with money for roads are because of borrowing from this fund for state operations ten years ago. This is utter nonsense.

For the last two state budgets, money was moved from the General Fund (85% of which goes to pay for schools and universities, health care, local government and public safety) to the Transportation Fund. Much of this money was “one time” meaning the gap between spending and revenue only got higher in the next budget.

Instead of cutting spending, the governor and legislative majority increased borrowing for transportation.

This is why interest on the transportation debt has jumped from 11% of the fund in 2009-10 to a projected 20% in 2015-16.

Too much debt can affect the state’s credit rating leading to increased interest costs on future bonds. States are rated based on risk by several bond-rating agencies.

When bond-rating agencies look at the credit worthiness of a state, they look at the state’s overall financial performance compared to other states. With the exception of Illinois, Wisconsin already has the lowest Moody’s bond rating of seven states in the Midwest.

In January, Moody’s mentioned Wisconsin’s “below average balance sheet position” and “sizable negative GAAP balances” in assigning a credit rating. Looking towards the future, Moody’s said, “The state’s ability to make progress toward structural budget balance and improve its liquidity and fund balances will be important to future credit analysis.”

There is no free lunch in state budgeting. Spending too much and collecting too little in taxes leads to a budget imbalance and more borrowing.

Dave, you’re asking the right questions. We need to talk about the state debt.

Kathleen Vinehout: How a State Law Obstructed Reward for Teen’s Hard Work and Good Grades

From my email inbox.

Joel knew from the 8th grade he wanted to be valedictorian of his high school class. His cousin just graduated at the top of his class. Because of this achievement, the cousin received a scholarship.

Joel (not his real name) talked to his cousin and learned more about the scholarship. I’m going to uphold the family tradition, Joel told himself. I’m going to win this scholarship.

The Academic Excellence Higher Education Scholarship is Wisconsin’s way of saying, “Well done” to a graduating valedictorian. The scholarship amounts to $2,250 a year to be used for tuition at a Wisconsin college or university. Depending on the total number of students enrolled in a high school, additional scholarships may be awarded to the top graduating seniors.

Joel got to work. He took every class seriously- even physical education and cooking. He studied hard and got nearly perfect grades. He was nominated to the National Honor Society since his sophomore year.

Joel competed against other students who might have been smarter, might have had better test scores and might have had some other advantage. But Joel worked harder. And not just in the classroom.

He was on Student Council for three years and now serves as an officer. He played in Jazz Band all four years of high school. He was nominated for and played in three regional honors bands. He took his alto saxophone to state solo ensemble competition for two years and hopes to compete at state again this spring.

Although Joel is not particularly outgoing, he polished his public speaking skills through forensics; making it to state competition all three years of high school. He hopes to again make it to the state forensics tournament this spring.

Joel’s talents and hard work continued in his community service. He volunteers at church. He loves Scouts and served as Senior Patrol Leader for two years. He cleans up a local park as part of his Eagle Scout community service project. Joel showed livestock, did wood-working and served two years as president of his 4H club. He helped at the county fair Lions Club food booth when he wasn’t keeping his 4H hogs well-behaved and clean.

If that isn’t enough Joel, who also served as FFA president for three years, helps his dad around the farm. He took tractor safety and hunter safety and worked on the summer maintenance crew in his hometown.

Joel’s already taken three college courses – which he aced – spent three years on the golf team and played a leading role in the school play – three years in a row.

To say Joel is well-deserving is an understatement.

So Joel – recently named valedictorian of his graduating class – and his parents were surprised to be informed the scholarship he so deserved was not forthcoming.

Last year’s senior class valedictorian was awarded the scholarship, and valedictorians going back several years, and maybe again next year, but not this year. Why?

Because the number of students in Joel’s high school dipped below 80 this year.

After hearing this story, I took a look at the law.

High schools with a total pupil count below 80 are not automatically awarded a scholarship. Instead the names of valedictorians from these high schools are put into a pool from which only ten scholarships are awarded. This year about 90 small schools fall into this category. Many of these schools are charter or private schools. But as enrollment drops in rural areas whole public school districts are being caught up in the 80-student rule – at least five more this year.

The superintendent of a local high school at 81 students wrote to me: a student should not be penalized for the size of the high school they attend. The current law would seem to be discriminatory to students who live in rural Wisconsin.

Seems to be? The superintendent was too kind. The law is discriminatory – and needs to be changed. I call on my colleagues to reward the hard work of all Wisconsin valedictorians – regardless of where they live.

Let’s change this law! And let’s get it done right now.

Kathleen Vinehout: Tennessee Guv: Absolutely Free 2-Year & Tech College Tuition

From my email inbox:

“So, what’s the best jobs plan?” The Governor asked his State of the State audience. “Easy answer: education. If we want to have jobs ready for Tennesseans, we have to make sure that Tennesseans are ready for jobs.”

With this introduction, Governor Bill Haslam announced a plan to bring absolutely free tech and community college education to every high school senior regardless of his or her grades or ability to pay.

“We just needed to change the culture of expectations in our state,” Governor Haslam told the New York Times. “College isn’t for everybody, but it has to be for a lot more people than it’s been in the past if we’re going to have a competitive work force…If we can go to people and say, ‘This is totally free,’ that gets their attention.”

It’s the season of bold plans for governors. As legislatures gather to hear State of the State speeches, state executives put their best plans forward. As bold plans go, Republican Governor Haslam’s is right at the top.

What if we could change the culture in Madison? Think outside the box and come up with a nonpartisan way to address state challenges using the budget surplus created by an improving economy?

Governor Walker proposed using the surplus to give owners of a median value home about $100 a year drop in property taxes over last year. He added other minor tax changes to his plan, including less than a dollar a week cut for 98% of all income tax filers.

Discussions of the Governor’s plan focused on the wisdom of adding to the state’s structural deficit and leaving a paltry amount in the state’s savings account. Both are important concerns.

What if we could avoid big fiscal pitfalls and also do something bold?

At a cost of about thirty cents a day per person, Wisconsinites could have the Governor’s lower tax plan. For less than seventeen cents a day per Wisconsinite the state could put in place a plan of free tuition and fees for every Wisconsin resident attending our 16 Technical Colleges and 13 UW 2-year Colleges.

If implemented in the 2014-15 school year, the plan would cost annually less than $350 million leaving over half a billion in this budget’s surplus going forward.

Putting state money into education is putting money where it works. Surveys of Wisconsin Technical College graduates reveal that nearly three out of four have jobs in their field within 6 months after graduation. Nearly 9 out of 10 graduates live and work in Wisconsin.

Putting money toward technical and 2-year UW colleges also makes sense. These schools are the gateway of opportunity for hundreds of thousands of families in Wisconsin. A college education helps raise the income of families and strengthen the state’s economy.

An absolutely free first two years of college helps families of modest means afford a four year college education and helps those one in five Wisconsinites who have some college education but lack a degree think about going back to school.

Education raises wages and the likelihood of employment. According to a recent New York Times report, “More educated workers continue to enjoy much better employment options than those with a high school diploma or less.” The problem we face is only a third of our workforce has a college degree or more. “With many less educated workers chasing a limited number of new jobs, employers have little reason to increase wages.”

Wisconsin’s economy is lagging. Wages have stagnated. Wisconsin will continue to lag the nation in personal income as long as we remain a less educated state than the national average.

Improving the education of Wisconsin’s workforce prepares Wisconsin for work and improves the economic health of the state. Families are better off which in turn benefits the state. Those who earn more, spend more, and pay more in taxes.

What would you prefer? A hundred dollars less in property taxes for a $150,000 median value home or absolutely free tuition for every Wisconsin resident at our local tech and UW 2-year campuses. Think about it. And let me know!

Sen. Kathleen Vinehout: Plan Unveiled to Gradually Privatize Public Schools

From my email inbox comes the latest from Democratic Sen. Kathleen Vinehout.

“If I was going to write a bill to privatize public schools,” the Senate staffer told our small group, “this is what it would look like.”

We were reviewing a new version of a bill to test students attending private schools using state tax dollars. By this sixth version, the bill morphed into something entirely different.

The latest version of the bill was crafted behind closed doors; unlike three years ago when a wide-ranging group developed a system to test and report the progress of all students attending school with public money. Private school advocates publically agreed to the same public school accountability standards but privately lobbied for something different.

The bill reversed current law requiring all students be tested using the same type of exam. This bill allowed private schools to choose their own type of assessment and even choose the students who took the test – allowing them to game the system.

Concealed in the bill was a way to gradually close more and more public schools or turn them over to independent private charter operators.

For the next several years, 5% of public schools must be named as failing – even if those schools weren’t failing by current standards. With few exceptions, schools that failed for three years would be required to close or be operated by an independent private charter management company with a minimum five-year contract. Local school boards would have little authority over this company for five years. For Milwaukee, this change would apply to schools that failed for just one year.

It’s important to remember the strong relationship between poverty and low school performance. More resources are needed to lift scores of low performing pupils. Students from poor families need small class sizes and personal attention of highly skilled educators. Private schools can succeed when they provide the resources – but it is the resources, not the private setting, that helps poor children match performance of their better-off peers.

There is little evidence that closing a poor performing school or giving privately run charter companies control results in better performance than the locally controlled public school.

Yet this new bill required DPI to name a steady 5% of “F” schools. As more schools were closed or reopened as privately operated charter schools, the score for “F” got higher and higher for the remaining public schools – giving the private charter management organizations steady pickings of where to head next.

The bill was a dream for out-of-state charter management companies.

I remembered testimony given by local school superintendents at a recent public hearing in Pepin. Superintendents spoke of dwindling state funds and local people unable to pay higher property taxes. Teachers taught multiple subjects, schools reduced or shared staff, administrators served as teachers, districts combined sports, and maintenance was deferred – even as poverty skyrocketed and special needs students increased.

In Independence, primarily Spanish speaking students doubled in three years; three out of five students attending school live in poverty. Fifteen years ago Arcadia taught no English Language Learners. Now every third student primarily speaks Spanish. Poverty is over 50%.

I wondered what another influx of poor, Spanish speaking students would do to test scores. Many of these students had no opportunity to attend good schools in their home country. Yet the students are tested and their scores contribute to the report card. Some Arcadia schools currently hover a few points above failing. With a big influx of students in need, a school could become ‘failing’ through no fault of its own.

Under the bill, failure to turn this school around during the next two years could result in closure or reopening operated by a private charter management company – unanswerable to the locally-elected school board. I couldn’t imagine people in Arcadia or Independence wanting a company from California running their local schools.

People want schools accountable. However, this process is rapidly turning into a backdoor for private companies to take over local schools. With different standards for public and charter schools, no locally-elected control and even no consequences for poor performing privately operated charter schools for several years, the accountability legislation has become anything but accountability to those footing the bill.

With Vinehout Out, What Happens To Mary Burke?

Editor’s Note: What follows is a repost of an entry originally posted by Eric Brant and then deleted. Deletion of posts should only be done under the most extreme of circumstances, and this wasn’t one of those circumstances, so I’ve restored the original post. -ZW

After months of speculation Kathleen Vinehout has announced that she will not run against Mary Burke in a primary for the Democratic nomination for governor of Wisconsin. Citing her recent car accident, Vinehout declared that the injuries she sustained have made it impossible for her to run a statewide grassroots campaign. Vinehout would have had an up-hill climb ahead of her as Mary Burke has raised nearly $2 million ($400,000 from her own wallet) and she has been traveling the state for months. Vinehout’s campaign would have been a grassroots effort that involved a lot of door knocking and handshaking which would prove challenging since her arm was fractured in eight places. Scott Walker is one of the highest funded gubernatorial candidates in the country, not to mention that he has the luxury of incumbency. In order to beat him, Democrats will need to fight fire with fire. Burke has already locked up several key endorsements such as Russ Feingold’s Progressives United and Emily’s List.

A run by Vinehout was something that the progressive left was hoping for as an alternative to Trek executive, Mary Burke. Many of them, most of whom you can find singing songs every day at lunch in the Capital Rotunda, feel that Burke is unqualified because she is a millionaire who has been riding the center line all the way to the nomination. Burke has been somewhat vague in her policy proposals, barely supporting a raise in the state’s minimum wage to $7.60/hour. (a proposal that failed in the legislature recently) She won’t endorse legalizing marijuana for medicinal or recreational purposes, and she has stated that she supports collective bargaining, but agrees with Scott Walker about employee contributions.

Burke may not be a progressive icon, but she is mounting a credible challenge to Scott Walker. Unfortunately, to many of us, she appears to be running an “anti-Walker” campaign rather than a “pro-worker” campaign. Over the next several months she will be vetted more closely, but perhaps not as concisely as a primary would have allowed. This will preserve her funding for the general election, but will she be ready for the onslaught of right-wing negativity?

Burke is playing it safe right now, but it will be interesting to see if she stays on this course. Does she start to make bold proposals in an effort to fire up the base? Does she court Vinehout or Peter Barca as a Lt. Governor? Or does she stay in the middle of the road and bank on the fact that progressive voters will not miss an opportunity to vote against Walker?

Progressives also have a choice to make: Do they continue condemning the candidate or do they get behind her and push her towards their point of view?

Mary Burke may not represent everything that Russ Feingold represents, but she is clearly more progressive than Scott Walker. With the gerrymandered Assembly districts, the next governor will only be as effective as the lower chamber is willing to allow them to be. There is zero chance that they are willing to roll back any of Walker’s agenda, but there is also zero chance that Mary Burke will advance it. The only way to stop the right-wing seepage into our state and derail Scott Walker’s presidential ambitions is to get behind Mary Burke and put her in the state’s highest office.

You can hear our full thoughts on this subject and much more on Civil Discourse Radio!

Report: Kathleen Vinehout will not run for governor

According to a report in The Progressive, Democratic state Senator Kathleen Vinehout will announce later today that she will not be seeking the Democratic gubernatorial nomination this year.

Several sources close to Wisconsin State Senator Kathleen Vinehout told The Progressive on Thursday that she has decided against making a run for governor.

Vinehout, who has been recovering from a car accident and resulting surgery on a fractured arm, will hold a press conference on Friday to announce her decision.

If the report is accurate, Vinehout’s decision to stay out of the gubernatorial race will leave Mary Burke with a relatively easy path to the Democratic gubernatorial nomination. As there are other fringe Democratic candidates, there is still likely to be a Democratic primary, but without a challenge from Sen. Vinehout Mary Burke will be able to focus more of her time during the Democratic primary preparing for her challenge to Gov. Scott Walker.

Senator Vinehout Won’t Run for Governor??

The Life in Wisconsin blog by Mike Kahlow at the Daily Kos is reporting that Senator Kathleen Vinehout will announce that she is not going to run for governor:

Several sources close to Wisconsin State Senator Kathleen Vinehout told The Progressive on Thursday that she has decided against making a run for governor.

Vinehout, who has been recovering from a car accident and resulting surgery on a fractured arm, will hold a press conference on Friday to announce her decision.

Just like Mr. Kahlow, I am extremely disappointed if this turns out to be true. I have a lot of respect and admiration for Senator Vinehout and think she is one of the most intelligent and dedicated public servants we have had in Madison in my adult lifetime.

But now we have to make sure she returns to the State Senate in 2015.

Kathleen Vinehout: Let the People Speak on Nonpartisan Redistricting

From my email inbox comes Democratic State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout’s thoughts on nonpartisan redistricting.

“Look at this map,” the man directed. “There are lots of squiggly lines in Wisconsin and Illinois but Iowa has real neat boxes.” The maps he showed me were the lines of Congressional Districts in the three states.

For many years Iowa has used a nonpartisan process to draw the district lines for state and US elected officials. Wisconsin, controlled by Republicans, and Illinois, controlled by Democrats, still uses the old partisan system of drawing lines.

What seems to be an archaic state activity comes up more and more in my discussions with voters. The word “gerrymandered” has found its way into the Wisconsin lexicon in a big way.

Some say the word has its origin in an 1812 election when a Massachusetts newspaper accused then Governor Elbridge Gerry of creating district lines to help his party dominate the state Senate. One district in the map resembled a salamander. Combining Gerry and (sala)mander became a popular expression to describe the drawing of legislative districts to gain a political advantage.

Two hundred years later the process dominates Wisconsin political discussions.

During 2011 a law firm was hired by Republican leaders to maximize Republican advantage. Some lawmakers signed secrecy agreements under threat to see their new districts before the proposal was made public. Subsequent elections demonstrated the effectiveness of the maps in maintaining a Republican majority.

Statewide editorial boards criticized the process and called for public hearings on a bill I cosponsored to implement a nonpartisan process – like that used to create the neat boxes on the Iowa map. Republicans are loath to hold public hearings to change the process. They feel they won the right to draw districts and correctly counter that Democrats did not change the process when they had control.

A group of freshmen representatives, led by Eau Claire Representative Dana Wachs and Wausau Representative Mandy Wright are traveling the state holding public hearings to bring attention to a proposal that would put the nonpartisan redistricting question on the November 2014 general election ballot.

Announcing their efforts, Representative Wachs stated, “Attempts to fix our flawed, partisan system of redistricting have been ignored in the Legislature, so we feel that now is the time to give Wisconsin voters the chance to speak up.” I support this approach and signed on as lead author of this bill in the Senate.

Government reform groups suggested partisan redistricting is one cause of the current hyper-partisan environment. Jay Heck of Common Cause recently told the Chippewa Herald, “The current process has produced too many uncompetitive general elections in which the winners are really determined in partisan primary elections. This has often allowed the most extreme partisans from their respective parties to be elected. Bipartisan compromise becomes virtually nonexistent. Instead, we have bitter partisanship, paralysis and polarization.”

Representative Wright recently told Wisconsin Radio Network, “I actually have an unusual district, where’s it’s basically 50-50, and I have to be very conscious of listening to both sides of the aisle, and really actively seeking out ways that we can work together, and I appreciate that, and I think it’s a good thing but it’s never going to be resolved if I don’t have more of my colleagues that feel that same sort of pressure.”

Judging by the letters I’ve received, citizens’ support for a nonpartisan process runs deep. Some of those letters are sharply worded and deeply critical of the current process. For example, an Eau Claire man recently wrote me saying, “How can one defend a process that was done in the dark, in secret (even to having legislators sign secrecy contracts) at a cost of millions to taxpayers of Wisconsin, divided the citizens of Wisconsin and more – all for one and only one purpose – to allow representatives to choose their voters rather than the other way around for obvious political gain!”

Wisconsin does not allow direct legislation by ballot initiative – meaning a vote by the public would be advisory to the Legislature. But a lopsided public vote in favor of nonpartisan redistricting would send a strong message to elected officials they’d do well to heed.

For what it’s worth, I’ve long advocated that Wisconsin move towards a redistricting process similar to Iowa’s, which uses computer software (not partisan hacks operating outside the normal state government) to generate a proposed redistricting map, disregarding all factors except population.

Kathleen Vinehout: Independent Charter Schools: Siphoning off Public Money to Private Interests

“Will the Legislature allow statewide expansion of charter schools and how will that affect my local public school?”

This question is one I hear so often particularly in communities where people are worried about the future of their small local schools.

Last fall, the Senate Education Committee debated Senate Bill 76, which takes away local control by requiring locally elected school boards to replicate charter schools when the charter performs 10% better then local district for 2 years in a row. It also allows certain charter schools to opt out of the state’s teacher evaluation system.

Private charter school companies lobbied hard for complete independence from state oversight but SB 76 did not go that far. School officials and citizens expressed serious concern about how expanding charter schools would impact public schools.

Money to run independent charter schools comes from school aid set aside for all public schools. The more money going to independent charter schools means less money for all public schools. For small cash-strapped districts, the expansion of independent charter could be devastating.

Sixty percent of Wisconsin’s public school districts are rural. As the amount of state school aid shrinks, small schools are particularly hard hit. Many rural districts are forced to pass referendum just to survive. Local property tax payers pick up more and more of the cost of their local schools.

Siphoning off even more state dollars for private independent charter schools will mean less educational opportunities for our children attending our local schools.

The public outcry against statewide expansion of charter schools made a difference.

Last month when the Senate Education committee took final action on SB 76 it was a scaled back version of the original bill. The amendment passed by the committee made the bill provisions apply only to the Milwaukee area.

But the committee did nothing to address the funding problem so public schools will still take a financial hit as independent charter schools expand.

Just as local schools celebrated this small victory, another charter school expansion bill reared its head in the State Assembly.

The bill was introduced in December by a group of suburban Milwaukee Assembly Republicans who are focused on passing a statewide charter school expansion bill before the Legislative Session ends. The bill contains many provisions of the Next Generation Charter Schools Act created and promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The bill is already scheduled for a quick public hearing.

Assembly Bill 549 expands who can authorize an independent charter school and stops local school districts from operating a charter school. Instead school boards must convert any charter school to a magnet school. This bill brings the law closer to the lobbying goals of the private charter management companies: eliminate any local control over charter schools.

Couple this with a requirement that any student from any district could go to any independent charter school and you end up with a world much closer to the goals of the private charter management companies: a privately operated school system that can siphon both money and students from any local public school.

When local schools are not well-funded and the best students are siphoned off, their future is in peril.

The next step in this privatization scheme is closing public schools. This happens because private charter schools drain not only taxpayer dollars but also the best students from local schools – leaving high cost disabled, impoverished and non-English speaking students in poorly funded public schools. With fewer resources and students, many public schools in other states have been forced to close.

Expanding independent privately run charter schools is unnecessary and unwise. Not considering how to pay for the statewide expansion of privately run charter schools is like talking about the color of a new car but not how to pay the car payments. In the end children in our communities are robbed of their greatest educational opportunities.

In the words of Garrison Keillor, “When you wage war on the public schools, you’re attacking the mortar that holds the community together. You’re not a conservative, you’re a vandal.”

Mary Burke, Scott Walker, and Kathleen Vinehout seem to agree on one thing

As reported by Jack Craver in the CapTimes, there’s one thing Democrats Mary Burke & Kathleen Vinehout and Republican Scott Walker seem to agree on: public employees should continue to pay increased health insurance and pension contributions.

Although Mary Burke, the only declared Democratic candidate for governor, has said she supports the right of public employees to collectively bargain, she has also said she believes the increased health care and pension contributions were appropriate.

“I do believe [state employees] paying a fair share of health care and pension costs is something we needed in order to be able to balance the budget,” she told Isthmus last month.

Predictably, the comment upset Marty Beil, executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, who suggested in a radio interview that Burke was unaware of the sacrifices that state employees had made in wages over the past 30 years in order to get good benefits.

“Unfortunately she makes these statements and I would hope that someone who is close to her will tell her that before she spouts off like this she needs to understand what the history is here,” he told radio host John “Sly” Sylvester last month. “For her just to say they should have paid more is a stupid thing to say.”

Craver’s piece goes on to note that Democratic State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, likely to jump into the Democratic gubernatorial primary, voiced support for the increased benefit contributions in 2011.

While I appreciate what polling has said on the issue of public employee benefits, I also think the polling is reflective of an attitude among many Wisconsinites that has been fostered by Scott Walker and Republicans in the legislature successfully spreading misinformation about public employee pay and benefits. After all, who can forget when Gov. Walker described public employees as “haves” and taxpayers as “have nots” in a speech he gave while running in 2010 for the office he currently holds.

As Marty Beil rightly noted, for years public employees in Wisconsin have sacrificed pay increases in favor of better benefits, and as a result of Act 10 public employees are being asked to pay ever-increasing health insurance and pension contributions, contributions that exceed the 1% raises that state employees have been given presumably to provide Gov. Walker with the ability to say he “cares” about public employees.

The fact is, far too many public employees have seen their take-home pay continue to shrink while the cost of living continues to climb, and it’s sad that Democrats and Republicans alike seem to feel that’s okay.