Bill Kaplan: Bipartisan infrastructure plan gains momentum

Bill Kaplan: Bipartisan infrastructure plan gains momentum

Senator Ron Johnson refuses to support bi-partisan plan.

The bipartisan infrastructure plan has gained momentum: The House Democratic-GOP Problem Solvers Caucus, which includes Wisconsin GOP Representatives Mike Gallagher and Bryan Steil, “strongly supports the Senate infrastructure framework … .” The group also touted a business-labor coalition that endorsed the $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan: “A broad coalition of organizations across the political spectrum have come together to support this framework to grow our small businesses, create American jobs, advance economic growth and improve the quality of life for every American.”

The business-labor coalition implored: “We urge Congress to turn this framework into legislation that will be signed into law, and … are committed to helping see this cross the finish line. … Don’t let partisan differences get in the way of action – pass significant, meaningful infrastructure legislation now.” Its members include the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Business Roundtable, National Association of Manufacturers, National Retail Federation, American Society of Civil Engineers, AFL-CIO and Building Trades Unions. A huge deal.

Photo by: Gage Skidmore (cc-by-sa-2.0)
Photo by: Gage Skidmore (cc-by-sa-2.0)

Moreover, Ohio GOP Senator Rob Portman, an architect of the infrastructure plan, said: “I think it’s a compelling framework … . People want to see our infrastructure improved. They’re tired of waiting in traffic during their rush hour commute. They’re tired of the bridges … well beyond their usefulness … . People are tired of worrying about lead pipes.” However, Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson will not follow Portman’s lead. Johnson is an adamant obstructionist who has absolutely no interest in working with GOP moderates, let alone Democrats.

In sharp contrast, Wisconsin Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin has wholeheartedly endorsed the “blue-collar blueprint” for infrastructure. In an op-ed for the Wisconsin State Journal, Baldwin wrote: “More than 1,949 miles of Wisconsin highways and 979 bridges are in poor condition and in need of rebuilding. … Over 100 cities, towns and villages in the state still have lead laterals that need to be replaced. From Bloomer to Baraboo, and from Ripon to Racine, … their work at the local level needs federal funding and support. (Moreover), too many families, small businesses and farmers across rural Wisconsin do not have affordable access to reliable, high-speed broadband service.”

Baldwin is all in on getting the bipartisan infrastructure plan passed this year. She will push for “buy America” requirements. That means jobs for Wisconsin workers and support for Wisconsin manufacturers. And, Baldwin strongly supports a “more climate resilient infrastructure.” Finally, the White House said: “In addition to being the largest long-term investment in nearly a century … (it) is a generational investment in rural America.”

It is long past time to end the rural-suburban-urban divide in Wisconsin. The bipartisan infrastructure plan will help all of Wisconsin. Rural areas and inner-cities will get high-speed Internet. Everyone will have access to clean, safe drinking water. Repair of crumbling roads and bridges will help urban commuters get to work and farmers to sell their products. And, expansion of rail will facilitate travel for all.

We are all Americans. We can do this. Time to put America before political party.

– Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009

Bill Kaplan: U.S. veterans support Biden’s ending Afghan War.

Bill Kaplan: U.S. veterans support Biden’s ending Afghan War.

Photo by: Rylan Albright (CC BY 2.0)

America’s longest war is finally ending. President Biden said: “Our military mission in Afghanistan will conclude on August 31st. The drawdown is proceeding in a secure and orderly way, prioritizing the safety of our troops as they depart. Our military commanders advised me that once I made the decision to end the war, we needed to move swiftly to conduct the main elements of the drawdown. … Nearly 20 years of experience has shown us that the current security situation only confirms that ‘just one more year’ of fighting in Afghanistan is not a solution but a recipe for being there indefinitely.”

Although polls show most Americans back the U.S. pullout, it may surprise many that nearly a dozen U.S. veterans groups support Biden’s ending the Afghan War. The conservative American Legion earlier said: “Our servicemembers accomplished their original objectives in Afghanistan long ago at great cost … . We understand the value of alliances and certainly favor the elimination of imminent threats. But imminent is not the same as permanent.” Moreover, Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America wholeheartedly support Biden, as does the conservative Concerned Veterans for America (founded by the Koch brothers). Why?

Biden explained – “We went (to Afghanistan) for two reasons: one, to bring Osama bin Laden to the gates of hell, as I said at the time. The second reason was to eliminate al-Qaeda’s capacity to deal with more attacks on the United States from that territory. We accomplished both of those objectives – period.” Biden emphasized: “We did not go to Afghanistan to nation-build. … no nation has ever unified Afghanistan. No nation. Empires (British and Soviets) have gone there and not done it.”

Former Wisconsin Democrats Representative Dave Obey and Senator Russ Feingold presciently made the same points. They both spoke truth to power – Presidents Bush and Obama. Moreover, Obey and Feingold courageously wanted the war “paid for.” And, Wisconsin Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin long ago raised similar concerns. Baldwin recently said: “I honor the service and sacrifice of the troops who served in Afghanistan, and I support President Biden’s plan to bring our service members home to their families in a safe and responsible manner. I also believe we need to recommit ourselves to doing more for our post 9-11 war veterans and their families.”

Although Trump and many Republicans support U.S. troop withdrawal and ending the Afghan War, others like Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell have issued partisan potshots. The conservative Washington Examiner said: “Republicans gear up to hammer Biden as Taliban advances … .” Moreover, Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson will have more loaded questions: “Are we going to sit back and just watch? Wring our hands and mourn the fact that we had made so much progress?”

However, Wisconsinite Chris Kolenda, U.S. Army Colonel Ret., Afghan War veteran, said he agreed with ending the Afghan War: “I think our presence … was doing very little good … . A war that goes on inconclusively for 20 years is not acceptable.”

– Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: Johnson’s comments on Biden’s Tulsa speech ignorant, racist

Bill Kaplan: Johnson’s comments on Biden’s Tulsa speech ignorant, racist

Photo by: Gage Skidmore; CC-BY-SA-2.0

On June 1, President Biden went to Tulsa, Oklahoma to commemorate the 100th anniversary of a White massacre of Black residents in the city: “(In) less than 24 hours, 1,100 Black homes and businesses were lost. Insurance companies … rejected claims of damage. Ten thousand people were left destitute and homeless, placed in internment camps. … Yet … no arrests of the mob were made. … No proper accounting of the dead. The death toll … by local officials said there were 36 people. … But based on studies, records and accounts, … the likely number is much more, in the multiple of hundreds. Untold bodies dumped into mass graves.”

Preeminent Black historian John Hope Franklin grew up in Tulsa. His father, an attorney, was there during the pogrom. He fought the racist complicity of the insurance companies and sued the city successfully for attempting to forbid Blacks from rebuilding. Franklin said: “Throughout my years in Tulsa, the legacy of the race riot remained a constant presence … . Here was damning evidence of just how far White America would go to quarantine the United States from the ‘virus’ of racial equality, all the while mouthing platitudes about saving the world for democracy.”

However, Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson denounced Biden’s Tulsa speech as “awful and so incredibly divisive.” Johnson, ignoring landmark civil rights laws passed during the 1960s, said: “The federal government is incapable of solving these problems and this administration is doing the exact opposite of what President Biden promised, which is to heal this nation.” Johnson’s accusations were ahistorical, ignorant and racist.

Biden’s remarks completely rebut Johnson: “We can’t just choose to learn what we want to know and not what we should know. We should know the good, the bad, everything. That’s what great nations do. They come to terms with their dark sides. And we’re a great nation. The only way to build a common ground is to truly repair and to rebuild. I come here to help fill the silence, because in silence, wounds deepen. And only – as painful as it is, only in remembrance do wounds heal.”

Johnson’s ignorance and racism is tragically not new. In 2017, when Trump defended White Nazis in Charlottesville, Virginia as including “some very fine people”, Johnson said: “It’d be nice to move that issue behind us.” Compare to then Wisconsin GOP Representative Jim Sensenbrenner: “What happened in Charlottesville goes against the principles of this nation and everything I’ve worked for … . The freedoms given in this country should never be abused to incite violence or spread hate and prejudice.”

Then there’s the January 6 Capitol assault. The U.S. military Joint Chiefs of Staff called it a “violent riot … a direct assault on the U.S. Congress, the Capitol building and our Constitutional process.” Not Johnson. He said he “might have been a little concerned” if instead of Trump supporters who “love this country” there had been Black Lives Matter protesters. GOP silence deafening. Textbook racism.

Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009

Bill Kaplan: Boss Vos dictates rejecting critical federal funding

Bill Kaplan: Boss Vos dictates rejecting critical federal funding

Photo by: Ec13328 (CC-BY-SA-4.0)
Photo by: Ec13328 (CC-BY-SA-4.0)

The Wisconsin State Journal editorialized: “Wisconsin ranks near the bottom of states – 45th out of 50 – in harnessing money from Uncle Sam, according to the Pew Charitable Trusts. So why is the Republican-run legislature – again – risking if not snubbing federal dollars from Washington that taxpayers here deserve, given all the money Wisconsin citizens pay the IRS? It doesn’t make fiscal or common sense.” Nor is it conservative. It’s simply idiotic and imprudent.

However, Wisconsin GOP leaders have a long history of rejecting federal funding. Former Governor Scott Walker blew off $810 million to upgrade a passenger rail line from Chicago through Milwaukee to Madison. Moreover, Wisconsin paid a hefty settlement ($millions) for abrogating a contract with Talgo, a Spanish train manufacturer. GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos clamored for rejecting the trains built for Wisconsin. Finally, state funding instead of federal funding was used to upgrade the Milwaukee train station.

It was the same with Walker’s rejecting $37 million in federal funding for an Affordable Care Act (ACA) state exchange to sell private insurance. “State (healthcare) policymakers say they can run their own exchanges more cheaply and efficiently, and can better respond to residents’ and insurers’ needs” (than the federal exchange) according to Kaiser Health News. Worse was Walker’s rejection of 100 percent federal funding for three years, declining to a permanent 90 percent, for ACA Medicaid expansion.

However, Walker and Vos were happy to throw away state taxpayers’ money – more than $4 billion – on the ever shrinking Foxconn deal. Former Indiana GOP Governor Mitch Daniels said: “Nothing in public life is more dangerous … than politicians chasing ‘jobs’ with the people’s checkbook. They can buy their way into the ribbon-cutting photos knowing that if they grossly overbid, they won’t be around when the bills come due.” Thankfully, Democratic Governor Tony Evers renegotiated the Foxconn deal, “saving taxpayers $2.77 billion”. But Vos keeps blaming others for the end of his mirage.

However, a remarkable press release from Democratic legislators on the Joint Finance Committee makes clear that Vos and other GOP legislators are repeating history – “In the past year, Republicans have ‘missed opportunities’ for Wisconsin working families in the following ways:

• May 2020, Republicans lost out on $25 million in federal funding (for) unemployment benefits because they were too slow to act … .

• Wisconsin almost lost $70 million per month in federal FoodShare money because of a Republican lawsuit to strike down (Governor Evers’) health emergency order, only saved by quick action and negotiations by Governor Evers (with the Biden administration).

• Republicans have rejected $1.6 billion in additional federal funding by refusing to expand BadgerCare (ACA Medicaid) 2021-2023 (by comparison GOP-led Wyoming, the most Republican state in 2020 elections, is still considering expanding Medicaid).

• Wisconsin has lost a separate $1.6 billion since 2013 by not expanding BadgerCare.
• Last week, Republicans underfunded the education budget so severely, Wisconsin may lose out on $1.5 billion in federal aid for schools.”

This is sheer GOP incompetence and mendacity. Boss Vos must go.

–Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: Speaker Vos is disingenuous in opposing Medicaid expansion

Bill Kaplan: Speaker Vos is disingenuous in opposing Medicaid expansion

Within nanoseconds, Wisconsin GOP legislative leaders terminated a special legislative session convened to pass Medicaid expansion. Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers had called for the session to “expand BadgerCare (Medicaid) and invest the $1 billion in cost savings realized under the American Rescue Plan Act into Wisconsin’s economic recovery and more than 50 projects and economic development initiatives across the state.”

However, once again GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos defied common sense and math. From the beginning, even before Evers was sworn in, Vos and other GOP legislative leaders have engaged in scorched-earth tactics against Evers. Moreover, even they must be embarrassed that their opposition to Medicaid expansion is disingenuous and illogical. Vos and other GOP leaders have put themselves in an ideological corner. Rather than accepting that circumstances have changed they continue to hold Wisconsin hostage and spout phony explanations.

Cost: Republicans keep shouting that Medicaid expansion will break the bank. Poppycock. By refusing to expand Medicaid the Wisconsin GOP-led legislature will have forfeited $3.2 billion in federal funds 2014-2023. And, while Wisconsin Medicaid covers childless adults up to 100 percent poverty, not 138 percent as required by Medicaid expansion, it only gets a (temporary) pandemic 66 percent in federal funding through 2021. “By shifting to a Medicaid expansion under the ACA (Affordable Care Act), Wisconsin could increase to the 90 percent (federal) matching rate for about 213,000 childless adults, thereby cutting state costs” (Commonwealth Fund). Wisconsin would save on fiscal aid to hospitals (uncompensated care) and use federal funding for behavioral and mental health.

Welfare: Vos falsely disparages Medicaid expansion as “massive welfare expansion.” Nonsense. Medicaid is healthcare program covering about 70 million nationally and over 1 million in Wisconsin. This includes middle-working class disabled and elderly in nursing homes and low-income enrollees, most of them working. “When Ohio and Michigan expanded their Medicaid programs to broaden coverage, residents who became eligible found it easier to look for work, according to studies by the Ohio Department of Medicaid and the University of Michigan. That’s because having Medicaid gave them access to primary care doctors and prescription medicine that helped them live normal lives and get jobs” (NYT).

Socialism: Vos engages in ahistorical foolishness – “We won’t let government grow out of control and we won’t let socialism to take root in our state.” Does Vos think the leaders of 18 GOP-led Medicaid expansion states are socialists? Moreover, Medicaid enrollees are seen by private-sector doctors and hospitals. Finally, America’s Health Insurance Plans, the American Hospital and Medical Associations and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce support (fiscal) “incentives for states that have not yet expanded Medicaid … .”

Only 12 states, including Wisconsin, have not expanded Medicaid. The Marquette Poll shows 70 percent support Medicaid expansion for Wisconsin. It’s long past time for a bipartisan coalition of healthcare and political leaders to come forward to push for Medicaid expansion. There are state Republicans who support Medicaid expansion, mostly privately. Silence is not an option. Real action is needed now.

– Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: PRO Act will help restore the American Dream

Bill Kaplan: PRO Act will help restore the American Dream

The 1935 National Labor Relations Act (NLRA) states: “It is declared to be the policy of the United States to eliminate the causes of certain substantial obstructions to the free flow of commerce … by encouraging … collective bargaining and by protecting the exercise by workers of full freedom of association, self-organization, and designation of representatives of their own choosing, for the purpose of negotiating the terms and conditions of their employment or other mutual aid or protection.”

However, the NLRA only covered private-sector workers. President Kennedy gave federal workers the right to collective bargaining. And, in Wisconsin Democratic Governor Gaylord Nelson and GOP Governor Warren Knowles extended collective bargaining rights respectively to local government employees, including teachers and state employees. It was widely understood that labor unions were essential to extending the American Dream to all. President Eisenhower said: “Only a handful of unreconstructed reactionaries harbor the ugly thought of breaking unions.” Even Nixon supported pro-labor legislation, including the Occupational Safety and Health Act.

But President Reagan broke with that bipartisan tradition and fired striking air traffic controllers. It has gotten much worse. Big business, including the Koch brothers, collaborated with Republicans to destroy labor unions. Former Wisconsin GOP Governor Scott Walker falsely said: “Collective bargaining is not a right … .” in 2011, he rammed Act 10 through the GOP-led legislature, eviscerating public-sector unions. Later, after vowing not to, Walker and GOP state Assembly Speaker Robin Vos fast-tracked passage of a so-called right-to-work law (unions must represent free-riders who refuse to pay their share of the cost of collective bargaining). 26 other states have the same law.

The results have been devastating. Nationally, union membership has fallen to 10.8 percent, Wisconsin down to 8.7 percent. Over 100,000 Wisconsin workers are no longer union members. The Washington Post headline said: “Wisconsin unions crippled by clash with governor” (Walker). The economic consequences are worse: the near-death of unions has held down wages, while widening income inequality, with no say in benefits or working conditions.

President Biden wants to restore the American Dream for workers. He strongly supports congressional passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act. Biden said: “Nearly 60 million Americans would join a union if they get a chance, but too many employers and states prevent them from doing so through anti-union attacks. They know that without unions, they can run the table on workers – union and non-union alike.”

The PRO Act passed in the House. Wisconsin Democratic representatives voted yes, with (voting) Wisconsin GOP representatives opposed. The NYT reported: “The bill … would … shield workers seeking to form a union from retribution or firing, strengthen the government’s power to punish employers who violate workers’ rights and outlaw mandatory meetings that employers often use to try to quash an organizing drive.”

The Senate GOP minority is blocking consideration of the PRO Act. Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson outrageously refuses to meet with PRO Act supporters, sharply contrasting with Wisconsin Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin.

– Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s betrayal

Bill Kaplan: U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson’s betrayal

Photo by: Gage Skidmore; CC-BY-SA-2.0

Article VI of the Constitution specifies that members of Congress (and state legislators) “shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution … .” Moreover, Wisconsin GOP Senator Ron Johnson took the following oath of office: “I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will … faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”

Senator Johnson has betrayed his oath by undermining the 2020 presidential election. Despite more than 60 state and federal courts rejecting election challenges, Johnson persists in alleging “irregularities.” Worse, despite 5 deaths, including 1 police officer, more than 100 police injured and over 400 of the January 6 Capitol assault mob indicted, Johnson said: “I know those are people that love this country, that truly respect law enforcement, would never do anything to break the law … .” Missouri GOP Senator Roy Blunt denounced Johnson’s delusion: “We all saw what happened.”

Johnson’s betrayal extends to Wisconsin voters on issue after issue. He neither represents the entire state nor acts for the common good. Narcissistic self-interest rules. His signature accomplishment was to tilt the 2017 tax cuts more to the top 1 percent (including himself), adding about $2 trillion to the debt.

Recent news headlines clarify the 2017 tax cuts’ impact: “No Federal Taxes for Dozens of Big, Profitable Companies” (NYT) and “Top earners skirt taxes on 20% of income” (Washington Post). Johnson, 8th richest senator, insisted on adding a 20 percent deduction for pass-through businesses such as his now former plastics company. 61 percent of the tax break goes to the top 1 percent. Only 4 percent goes to the bottom 67 percent. Worse, pass-through companies use their complexity to game the tax system and avoid paying taxes (President Biden wants to crack down on these tax cheats).

In 2020, Senate Republicans used COVID relief legislation to obscure making the pass-through tax break even more generous. What was Johnson’s role in expanding a tax break for the wealthy during a pandemic? In contrast, Johnson voted against Biden’s American Rescue Plan (help for all Americans), and he opposed provisions to extend healthcare coverage and consumer protections under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Millionaire Johnson is fanatically opposed to ACA taxes on the wealthy to expand healthcare coverage to the uninsured. Much of conservative opposition to the ACA centers on a Medicare tax only on the wealthy – earnings over $250,000 for couples and $200,000 for single filers — and the same for a Medicare tax on capital gains, dividends and other investment income. These payroll taxes ensured the wealthy paid their fair share. More than 20 million Americans, including well-over 200,000 Wisconsinites, got healthcare coverage. And, many more gained consumer protections.

Senator Johnson does not hear ordinary Wisconsinites, the ultimate betrayal.

Bill Kaplan: Many Republicans support Medicaid expansion

Bill Kaplan: Many Republicans support Medicaid expansion

Wisconsin GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has led the Assembly since 2013, and is the outgoing president of the National Conference of State Legislators. He is at the apex of power, but at a crossroad. Does Vos want to continue to play to part of Wisconsin or leave a broader legacy?

Healthcare used to be a bipartisan issue in Wisconsin. In 1966, GOP Governor Warren Knowles implemented Medicaid. It was later expanded by GOP Governor Tommy Thompson. Democratic legislators strongly supported both policies. Thompson, a conservative, is beloved by most Wisconsinites because he has a heart. No other state Republican has had his level of bipartisan support.

Vos was appointed as a student representative to the UW Board of Regents in 1989 by Thompson. It behooves Vos to talk with Thompson about legacy. Vos should also reflect on our mutual hero, Arizona GOP Senator John McCain, whom Vos endorsed for president in 2008. Stricken with cancer, McCain voted against repealing the Affordable Care Act (2017). Medicaid expansion was saved.

Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers’ budget is before the GOP-led legislature. Predictably, Vos and other GOP leaders are again ruling out expanding Medicaid. They have put themselves in a self-imposed corner, making no fiscal sense. The American Rescue Act gives Wisconsin a 5 percent federal boost (for 2 years) for its traditional Medicaid program if it expands Medicaid; and keeps a permanent 90 percent federal match for Medicaid expansion enrollees. Expanding Medicaid would cover 90,000 Wisconsinites (hardworking and low-income). Finally, Wisconsin would get a $1.6 billion windfall over 2 years. The savings could be used for education and infrastructure.

Joan Alker, Georgetown University’s Center for Children and Families, said: “We have over 400 studies showing why Medicaid expansion is a good thing. It has not busted the budgets of the states that have done it, it’s supported their budgets, it’s reduced mortality, it’s improved health outcomes, it’s supported hospitals – the evidence is piling up. And, so saying ‘no’ is getting harder and harder.”

In 2018, Virginia GOP House Speaker Kirk Cox, “fiscally conservative, anti-abortion and pro-gun rights” (Washington Post), helped pass Medicaid expansion. He said: “I felt like we had to govern. You couldn’t just think of yourself. … You need to get things done.” And, in 2019, former Oklahoma GOP House Speaker Kris Steele said he now supported Medicaid expansion: “I totally acknowledge my evolution … . Healthcare in rural Oklahoma is in crisis. If there’s a way to bring some of our tax dollars back home to benefit the people who live in our state, I don’t know why we wouldn’t do that.”

More recently, Wyoming GOP Speaker Eric Barlow led the House in passing Medicaid expansion, but it was narrowly rejected by a GOP-led Senate committee. Barlow said: “I voted no multiple times on this issue. I’m going to vote yes this time, because I haven’t seen any other solution. No one has brought anything forward … .”

Vos should lead for all of Wisconsin. Circumstances have changed. Legacy.

— Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: Wisconsin’s infrastructure is falling apart

Bill Kaplan: Wisconsin’s infrastructure is falling apart

Wisconsin Democratic Governor Tony Evers inherited a polarized political environment. And, he shares power with a dysfunctional GOP-led legislature, disinterested in addressing long-term costly challenges. The Wisconsin Section of the American Society of Civil Engineers issued a 2020 Report Card for Wisconsin’s infrastructure. The overall GPA is only a C (“mediocre requires attention”). The specifics are damning.

Roads earned a D+: “More than one-third of these roads are in fair or below condition and deterioration is likely to continue over the next 10 years. …Deficient roads cost drivers $6 billion annually due to wear and tear on vehicles, wasted fuel due to congestion and the overall cost of crashes on roadways.”

Bridges earn a C+: Wisconsin has “more than 1,000 bridges … that are considered structurally deficient. … 1,955 bridges in Wisconsin that require repair, with an estimated price tag of $14 billion.”

Dams earn a C+: “Nearly 200 dams are considered ‘high hazard’ meaning loss of life would be probable should the dam fail. The annual (state) budget for dam safety is approximately $750,000 per year … . However, increased resources are needed to ensure public safety and minimize economic impact from future dam failures.”

Drinking water earns a C-: Wisconsin “must contend with aging water treatment and distribution systems … . Lead, bacteria, nitrates, (PFAS – toxic chemicals), arsenic and radium are some of the water quality concerns … . It is estimated that $8.6 billion will be needed to address infrastructure deficiencies over the next two decades… . Increased investment in drinking water infrastructure is needed (for) safe and reliable water supply for future generations.”

The Report Card also grades airports C+, energy B, hazardous waste B-, inland waterways C-, ports C+, solid waste B-, stormwater C, transit D+ and wastewater C-. Other infrastructure problems such as access to high-speed internet (broadband expansion), housing, public schools and universities need a spotlight too. Deficiencies are common in both rural and urban areas. Presidential leadership is needed to highlight and resolve these long-standing infrastructure needs.

Help may be on the way. Wisconsin Democratic Senator Tammy Baldwin tweeted: “We need a bold economic plan and POTUS has put one forward that will create jobs, put people back to work and rebuild economic security for working families.” President Joe Biden is sending Congress the American Jobs Plan to address the problems outlined by the American Society of Civil Engineers and much more. He said: “It’s a once-in-a-generation investment in America (including Wisconsin), unlike anything we’ve seen or done since we built the Interstate Highway System and the Space Race decades ago.”

Millions of well-paying jobs will be created to rebuild our infrastructure, mitigate climate change impact and bring all Americans into the twenty-first century. Biden pays for his plan by increasing the corporate tax rate, closing tax loopholes and making certain all profitable corporations pay for their use of infrastructure. Biden said: “We can do this. We have to do this. We will do this. … This is the United States of America.”

— Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.

Bill Kaplan: Healthcare realities face Speaker Vos

Bill Kaplan: Healthcare realities face Speaker Vos

There is simultaneous hope and danger in ending the pandemic. Although Wisconsin is in the top tier of vaccinations, the crisis is not over. Cases are up significantly nationally and somewhat in Wisconsin. Moreover, more contagious variants are widespread. Masking remains critical. The American Hospital, Medical and Nurses Associations have said “wearing a face mask” is necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19. JAMA reported: “An evaluation of state policies showed greater declines in daily COVID-19 cases after issuing mask mandates compared with states that did not have mandates.” Over 30 states, including 9 GOP-led states, have mask mandates.

However, Wisconsin’s mask mandate has ceased. Know-nothing GOP legislators and their callous business supporters persuaded the state Supreme Court to overturn Democratic Governor Tony Evers’ effort to protect all Wisconsinites. Furthermore, the decision could cost Wisconsin $50 million per month in federal food assistance. Sherrie Tussler, Hunger Task Force, said: “That’s $50 million that would be spent on Wisconsin food at our grocery stores. It would help food producers. It would help farmers. It would help our struggling dairy industry.”

Instead of shooting himself and Wisconsin in the foot, GOP Assembly Speaker Robin Vos should reverse course. Introduce a bare-bones emergency order bill restoring a mask mandate to protect Wisconsinites, save lives and restore federal food aid. Governor Evers would happily sign. Enough political games, lives are at stake. There are also other healthcare realities from the pandemic to face.

Millions of Americans (thousands of Wisconsinites) lost healthcare coverage during the pandemic and subsequent recession. Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was able to help. President Joe Biden reopened enrollment for ACA subsidized private insurance. Well-over 200,000 Americans, including thousands of Wisconsinites, have gained coverage. And, the American Rescue Plan is now making ACA no-cost or affordable private insurance more available to millions of low-income and middle class Americans. The Biden administration is also funding an ad campaign and healthcare navigators to help enrollees. The Wisconsin Stop the COVID Spread coalition could reinforce by alerting Wisconsinites about their new options.

ACA Medicaid expansion also helped to enroll millions in 2020. Moreover, the American Rescue Plan provides a generous financial incentive for the 12 states, including Wisconsin, that never expanded Medicaid. These states are now eligible for a 5 percent boost for their regular Medicaid program for 2 years and a permanent 90 percent federal match for Medicaid expansion. States are listening.

GOP-led Wyoming passed Medicaid expansion in the House. GOP Representative Steve Harshman (former Speaker) after previously opposing 7 times, said: “I’ve had kind of a change of heart, frankly.” Current GOP Speaker Eric Barlow said: “I voted no multiple times on this issue. I’m going to vote yes this time, because I haven’t seen any other solution.” The bill’s narrow loss in a Senate committee vote can’t diminish the House vote’s historic importance. A harbinger for Wyoming and Wisconsin.

Wisconsin, under GOP Governor Warren Knowles, implemented regular Medicaid early on (1966). Will Vos make Wisconsin the last state to expand Medicaid?

– Kaplan wrote a guest column from Washington, D.C., for the Wisconsin State Journal from 1995 – 2009.