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Vinehout rolls out 'alternative budget' for Wis.

Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, outlines provisions of her "alternative budget" during a town hall meeting June 5 in River Falls. Mike Longaecker / RiverTown Multimedia

RIVER FALLS — Sen. Kathleen Vinehout shared her vision for Wisconsin this week with members of the Pierce County community.

About 30 people showed up for a town hall meeting the Alma Democrat held Monday, June 5, at River Falls Public Library, where Vinehout contrasted her "alternative budget" against Gov. Scott Walker's proposal.

"Together, we can come up with choices that can help the common good," she said.

For reference, Vinehout totes with her a stuffed-to-the-gills three-ring binder that's organized by an assortment of sticky notes. She calls the binder her "state budget Cliff Notes" and places red notes for items she doesn't like, purple notes for measures she's researching and green ones for provisions where she can harvest money.

"I'm motivated to fix the state budget," Vinehout told the group.

Among the ideas Vinehout proposed was increased funding and standards for rural broadband, arguing that the bill that moved through the Legislature doesn't deliver the necessary results.

That efforts for expanded broadband funding have generated growing, bipartisan appeal is a relief for town of Clifton resident Cynthia Jahnke. She and other community members met with Vinehout in advance of the meeting to share connectivity concerns.

"It's huge for everybody," Jahnke said.

Expanded broadband in rural Wisconsin is but one of many proposals Vinehout, a possible 2018 gubernatorial candidate, is advancing.

She outlined different prongs of her budget, a large portion of which is dedicated to health care. Vinehout calls for increasing by 4 percent the wages for nursing home employees and personal care attendants, the latter of which she said hasn't seen a pay raise since getting a 1.5 percent bump in 2008. About 40 percent of those workers, she said, are poor enough to qualify for the state's BadgerCare program.

She proposed to fund those increases by expanding Medicaid to 133 percent of the poverty line. That, the senator said, opens up access to more federal Medical dollars. Vinehout said that would result in covering 79,000 more Wisconsinites while saving the state $286 million.

"To me, that's a very, very logical idea," she said.

Vinehout proposes to invest $74 million of those savings into mental health and $20 million into prison alternatives like drug courts. Those services are especially warranted in western Wisconsin, she said, where methamphetamine-related crimes and addiction needs put a strain on both the criminal justice system and public health departments.

"My feeling is every county needs this and every county needs to expand this," she said of drug courts, like the one in Pierce County.

But Hudson resident Sarah Yacoub pointed out at the meeting that counties like St. Croix don't open up drug court to juveniles. Vinehout agreed that facet needs to be addressed.

On education, Vinehout calls for backing State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers' proposals, which include changing the funding formula to bump minimum per-pupil aid to $3,000 and to boost funding for schools with children in poverty and low-spending districts.

Vinehout contends too much state money is going to private and independent charter schools that she says aren't held to the same level of accountability as public schools.

She proposes shifting more state dollars to public schools, noting that Minnesota's K-12 funding system places less of a burden on property taxpayers than does Wisconsin. About 41 percent of public school funding comes from local property taxes in the Badger state, while that figure is 25 percent in Minnesota.

Vinehout also proposes pouring more state funding into the University of Wisconsin System, arguing it will help decrease tuition costs and help buoy programs like UW-Extension.

Mike Longaecker

Mike Longaecker is the regional public safety reporter for RiverTown Multimedia. His coverage area spans St. Croix and Pierce counties. Longaecker served from 2011-2015 as editor of the Woodbury Bulletin. A University of Wisconsin-River Falls graduate, Longaecker previously reported for the Red Wing Republican Eagle and for the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau. You can follow him on Twitter at @Longaecker

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