Every week, State Senator Larson e mails an update from Madison. The one I received today needs to be shared by everyone in Wisconsin who is concerned about the lack of transparency in our state government since Walker was elected just over a year ago and why the recall is about much more than the collective bargain issue.
I wrote to Senator Larson and asked permission to disseminate the excellent information he provides and he was glad to grant me that permission, so here goes:
Lifting the Veil of Secrecy
Under Governor Walker we have seen an ever-growing culture of secrecy and misdirection. Fortunately, as we enter the new year these efforts to keep the people of Wisconsin in the dark are starting to come to light. Just this week we saw indictments handed out to top Walker aides, verified that Governor Walker unjustly created a cap on FamilyCare and tried to take credit for its repeal, and saw Republican leaders harshly criticized for the backroom tactics used to draw the new legislative district maps. We will look at these events in more detail, in addition to others that occurred over the past year that steered Wisconsin off the path of transparency.
Removing the Unjust Cap on FamilyCare
During debate on Governor Walker's budget, my Democratic colleagues and I expressed our concerns about how people across Wisconsin would suffer because of the proposed cap on Medicaid programs, including FamilyCare. Since then, I have been contacted by hundreds of neighbors voicing their opposition to the cap and sharing how this change affected them personally or a family member.
It was hard for many of us to accept that cutting our safety net by imposing this devastating cap was even a possibility that could be considered by the Walker administration. As it turns out, it was not. Late last week we were made aware that caps placed on Wisconsin's Medicaid programs was not legal and as a result, the federal government ordered Governor Walker to lift the cap he placed on FamilyCare. Once session resumes, the Legislature will need to pass a bill to officially remove the current cap on Wisconsin's health safety net programs.
Courts Condemn Secret Process for Drawing Maps
After legislators, advocates and neighbors voiced concerns over the new legislative district maps drawn and hurriedly passed by Republicans earlier this year, two former legislators and 13 others filed a legal challenge. The group raised concerns that the partisan boundaries violate the federal Voting Rights Act and the equal-protection clause of the U.S. Constitution because of the way they treat minority communities and shift voters from one district to another.
In September a federal three-judge panel was assembled to hear the challenge. The panel, two of whom are Republican appointees, includes J.P. Stadtmueller of the Eastern District of Wisconsin, Diane P. Wood of the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals and Robert M. Dow Jr. of the Northern District of Illinois.
Republicans introduced several motions attempting to keep the process used to craft the maps secret. Not only did the three-judge panel rule against these attempts, but they issued a scathing opinion saying the following:
"Quite frankly, the Legislature and the actions of its counsel give every appearance of flailing wildly in a desperate attempt to hide from both the court and the public the true nature of exactly what transpired in the redistricting process."
The court went on to say that the taxpayers should not have to pay for the sanctions it issued and instead ordered the Legislature's attorneys to cover the costs because they are “those ultimately responsible for the sandbagging, hide-the-ball trial tactics that continue to be employed.”.
Pattern of Decreased Transparency
Governor Walker and his rubberstamp Legislature began their attack on our common sense open government protections with a special session, which allows them to fast-track bills. The following are just some of the bills authored and passed by Republican legislators during that session, reversing Wisconsin's progress in ensuring open government:
Special Session Senate Bill 1--Prevents victims and their families from obtaining justice against negligent corporations and manufacturers. Republicans rejected Senate Amendment 2, a Democratic amendment to ensure reports relating to health care violations are not kept secret.
Special Session Senate Bill 3--Creates tax incentives for corporations that relocate to Wisconsin. Republicans rejected Assembly Amendment 2, which would have required tracking the number of jobs created by these incentives to ensure tax dollars are being spent wisely.
Special Session Senate Bill 4--Gives $25 million more to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation for corporate tax credits. Amendments were rejected by Republicans, which would have required the Audit Bureau to conduct an annual audit of the program and recoup credits if a business submits false information or fails to fulfill promises.
Special Session Senate Bill 6--Replaces the Department of Commerce with the public-private Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. To protect against the potential for corruption, an amendment was introduced to require all WEDC employees to be subject to the open records law. It was rejected by Republican legislators.
Special Session Senate Bill 8--Requires approval by the Governor on all administrative rules. This is an unprecedented power grab that decreases the power of the Legislature and makes Wisconsin's executive branch one of the most powerful in the country. I introduced Senate Amendment 8 that would have prohibited a Wisconsin governor from accepting campaign donations from those that would benefit financially from rule changes. Republicans ultimately rejected this amendment that would have eliminated the potential for conflicts of interest and maintained integrity in the rule process.
Following these bills, Governor Walker and Republican legislators continued to send Wisconsin in the wrong direction by pushing through the Republican budget, which was brimming with special interest giveaways, sneaking nearly 80 non-fiscal policy items into what was promised to be a purely fiscal document. The following provisions are some of the most egregious:
Approved a $162 million corporate slush fund for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, but provided no details on how the agency would use these funds.
Eliminated the clean election initiatives in Wisconsin, taking power from voters and giving more control of our elections to wealthy, out-of-state corporations.
Seized powers from the constitutional offices of the Secretary of State and State Treasurer.
Granted unprecedented dictatorial authority to Secretary Smith at the Department of Health Services who will be able to make unilateral, unspecified changes to Wisconsin's medical Assistance programs, which could include dramatic service cuts to our most vulnerable.
Ripped authority from the Department of Public Instruction regarding its educational authority and stunted DPI’s power to develop important education improvement initiatives.
Allows the Walker Administration to sell state assets without bidding for the best deal for taxpayers.
My Democratic colleagues and I introduced amendments to remove such backwards provisions from the budget in order to ensure Wisconsin maintains its tradition of clean, open and transparent government. Unfortunately, Republicans voted down these amendments with little consideration for Wisconsin’s traditions.
In addition to placing the wish lists of special interests ahead of working families when pushing his legislative agenda, Governor Walker and Republican legislators have also tried a variety of methods to keep the doors of the Capitol locked to the public, by doing the following:
Abruptly halting public hearings on controversial legislation before citizens were able to speak
Violating Wisconsin's Open Meetings Law
Physically locking the public and legislators out of the Capitol
Implementing guidelines that makes it nearly impossible for individuals or groups that are not wealthy to utilize their constitutional right to free speech and assembly
No matter which party is in control, we need more accountability and transparency, not less. I will continue doing what I can to promote good government policies, not follow in Governor Walker's footsteps by forwarding legislation and policies aimed at keeping government actions under lock and key. I will also continue to keep you updated on the most recent events and any future events that indicate a threat to our tradition of open government as they develop.
I would suggest that you e mail Senator Larson and ask to be on his mailing list!