Poverty is a silent killer that is eating away at the fabric of our state. A recent survey has found that 80% of middle class families are teetering on the brink of poverty. We must take strong and decisive action to change this situation. There are several steps we can take.
(1) MINIMUM WAGE
Implementing a $15/hour minimum wage will create a firewall against poverty creep. Anyone who works a 40 hour work week deserves a living wage. Additionally, benefits like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Medicaid (Badgercare) are based on income and household size. In order to qualify for benefits, a family must have one person in a family of 3 working and earning less than $12.55/hour. Employers that pay less than $12.55/hour make taxpayers supplement their employees’ compensation though welfare programs. One way to solve this would be to offer lower income tax rates to companies that raise the wages of their lowest paid employees to $15/hour. For companies, higher wages would be offset by lower taxes. For the state, lost tax revenue would be offset by less payout of welfare.
(2) PUBLIC EDUCATION (K-12)
Education is an important pathway out of poverty. Unfortunately, poverty itself makes it harder to learn. The stress of living in poverty, along with poor nutrition, affects brain development. At a time when the state should be putting more money into education, it is putting in less. State funding for K-12 public education has dropped from 66% to just over 50%. School districts have been forced to go to referendum to make up the difference. This had had the effect of shifting funding from a progressive income tax to property taxes. For retired people living on a fixed income, this has created an unnecessary hardship. Tax fairness has always been founded on the idea that wealthy individuals and corporations pay a higher percentage of their income.
Vouchers take money away from public schools to indirectly fund private schools. The state has no obligation to support private schools and shouldn’t. Today, many school districts are one failed referendum away from disaster. The state must recommit to the historic 66% level of support for public schools.
(3) PUBLIC EDUCATION (UW)
Decreased funding for UW system schools has mirrored what has happened at the K-12 level. State support for UW system schools has dropped from almost 60% to just above 15% and continues to drop. Today an undergraduate of a UW university can expect to graduate with $26,000 of debt, and some as high as $57,000. This debt load at the start of their careers already puts students at risk for poverty. Students don’t need more loan programs; they need the state to shoulder its responsibility to fund our public universities at the 66% level. Students are doing their part putting in time and treasure. The state must do its part too.
It is a fundamental right for people to form associations to protect and promote their interests. It has been a long and bloody battle including the Oshkosh wood workers strike of 1898. Wisconsin was one of the first states to allow collective bargaining for public employees in 1959. Today Wisconsin’s proud tradition of labor rights is under attack. Act 10 gutted the bargaining rights of Wisconsin’s public sector employees. One effect of Act 10 has been a drastic drop in the number of college freshman choosing education as a major. Wisconsin school districts are dealing with a serious teacher shortage.
Wisconsin’s private sector employees face similar challenges. Ever since the Taft-Hartley Act of 1947, workers have been vulnerable to “right to work” laws. Wisconsin’s “right to work” law is a strategic move to let unions wither on the vine and die. We must not let the hard work and sacrifices of our predecessors in the fight for union rights be lost. Restoration of union rights is the right thing to do. Strong unions are another way to fight poverty creep in Wisconsin.
SMALL BUSINESSES AND FAMILY FARMS
The monetization of food has been a disaster. Current agricultural practices are not sustainable and produce food contaminated with chemicals and devoid of nutritional value. The National Family Farms Coalition has proposed policies that would support a sustainable farm and food system. Although agriculture is greatly affected by federal policies, Wisconsin must do whatever it can to support a sustainable family farm and food system.
Small businesses are important to communities because they are deeply rooted in the community and are unlikely to move off shore. Unfortunately, many local Main Street businesses have been driven out of business by large corporations paying low wages. This has exacerbated poverty creep.
The state can support the creation of local small businesses by creating an agency to provide local entrepreneurs with technical support, resources, and expertise. The current Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) is little more than a money laundering operation for insiders and political cronies that donate to Republican PACs. This sort of corruption is hurting Wisconsin and must be reformed.
Wisconsin legislators no longer pay any attention to the desires of the vast majority of the people they represent. Studies of Wisconsin legislators by Sheila Plotkin (http://we-the- irrelevant.org/) show that on issue after issue, Wisconsin legislators will vote against the wishes of 95% of the people who contact them. It’sno secret why; money talks. If we are to become relevant and make our government work for us again, we must get money out of politics. I would support legislation like Assembly Bill 585 that sets objective standards for the disqualification of judges who have accepted political donations from parties involved in cases that come before them. I believe these same standards can and should be set for members of the State Assembly and Senate. Ultimately, publically funded elections would be the best solution.
Wisconsin’s public lands and waterways are where many of us go to renew ourselves. Some of us go to fish; some to hunt. Others go “Up North” to enjoy the bike and snowmobile trails, walk through the forests, or paddle around on the lakes. “Up North” is a place that no other state has. For many of us, it is priceless. But for the current crop of Republicans, it is a commodity to be sold for political gain. Privatized public lands will result in restricted hunting opportunities. Public land containing sensitive areas for brook trout habitat are for sale to water bottling companies, and pristine, public lakeshore is being sold to Republican PAC donors. A government working for the people of Wisconsin must protect our state’s environment and way of life. Clean air, clean water, and safe and healthy food are a basic right that must be protected. Likewise, our public water utilities are in danger of being sold to private interests like those that created the water disaster in flint, Michigan. Our health, wellbeing, and public recreational areas are not commodities to be sold to the highest bidder!
HUNTING AND FISHING
Protecting the environment is critical to protecting our hunting and fishing rights. I grew up in a small business called Wildlife Nurseries, started by my father in Oshkosh, and now operated by my brother. This business is dedicated to developing habitat for waterfowl and other game animals. My father was an avid hunter and a charter member of the local Ducks Unlimited chapter. As kids my brother and I were taught to have a healthy respect for guns. Before we were allowed to hunt we were required to take a gun safety course. Some of my best memories growing up were sitting in a duck blind soaking up the sites and smells of the marsh. I am certain that my concern for the environment springs from my hunting and fishing experiences.
I understand that guns can be misused, and that we need safe guards to prevent criminals and mentally unstable people from acquiring guns. I do not support arming teachers. I do not support allowing guns on school grounds, including colleges and universities. Law enforcement is best left to the professionals who have been properly trained in how to act in “hot” situations. That said, we must be judicious in how we craft legislation to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and mentally unstable people. The rights of hunters to engage in a sport they love should not be sacrificed. I am dedicated to finding a way to ensure our safety, while also ensuring responsible gun owners the right to enjoy the sport they love.
Republicans today are fundamentally different from those of yesterday. Their long-range goal is to privatize all public resources and services, especially public education. Privatization has been proven to lead to higher costs, lower wages, and poorer quality goods and services delivered to the people. The neoliberal strategy is to incrementally defund public institutions until they can no longer deliver quality services. When the public becomes frustrated with poor service, Republivans will push to privatize the public institution, claiming that the private sector can deliver better service. Public education is target #1!