Wisconsin Coalition Finds Nearly $900 Million for New Investments in the State’s Families and Workers

A coalition of health, welfare and labor organizations is pushing back on the idea that the state can not afford to spend money to improve the lives of its middle-income and poor residents.

“For too long, we’ve all been told that there’s not enough money in the budget to help our communities thrive. That is not true,” a spokesperson claimed.

Where did they find the money? In two tax loopholes that benefit those in high-income tax brackets. Elimination of a tax break that greatly reduces the state income tax for certain manufacturers and agricultural producers would yield about $284 million annually. Nearly 80 percent of the credit goes to people earning over $1 million. Treating capital gains like ordinary income would yield about $164 million annually. The top 2 percent of earners receive almost half of the capital gains tax breaks. The analysis assumes a two-year legislative budget.

The savings could buy a lot. “A Wisconsin Budget for All” proponents offered a list that includes an increase in living wages for caregivers, an expansion of the earned income tax credit that would help low-income workers, free tuition at technical colleges for seniors and some older workers, a new funding stream to hire and retain teachers, and other programs that would improve the lives of Wisconsin residents.

The coalition includes 18 organizations. Its website is: http://www.facebook.com/WisconsinBudgetForAll.   Click here to access the full budget report.

UPDATE:  The Wisconsin Budget Project reported that 19 states increased the minimum wage this month.   Most states exceed the federal requirement for a minimum wage of $7.25/hour.  Wisconsin’s minimum wage remains at $7.25/hour.  Click  here to read the full report.

UPDATE:  The Wisconsin Budget Project updated its information on the cost to taxpayers of the tax break for agricultural producers and manufacturers.  Below is an excerpt from the report.

“The Manufacturing and Agriculture Credit (MAC) is on track to cost the state an estimated $299 million this year by cutting taxes for manufacturers and others – and more than $650 million in the two-year budget period that starts in July 2017.  The cost of this tax break is running more than double the amount that lawmakers originally anticipated when they approved the credit in 2011.”

Stepping Up Initiative is Catching On

The American Psychiatric Foundation, National Association of Counties, and Council of State Governments Justice Center joined forces in 2015 to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails and prisons.  Organizers aim to turn the Stepping up Initiative into a “long-term national movement, not a moment in time.”

They are on the way to fulfilling that promise.  More than 300 counties, including 7 in Wisconsin, have joined the initiative.  The Stepping Up website is filled with positive stories in publications from Scientific American and the New York Times to the Spartanburg Herald-Journal and the Bangor Daily News.

Dane County was one of 50 applicants selected to attend a two-day summit in Washington DC last April. Speakers from county boards, government agencies and programs throughout the country provided step-by-step guidance about how to build a coalition, collect data, develop a plan, and sell it to the community.  Federal and foundation representatives told of funding opportunities.  The sessions are available on the website.

Stepping Up has announced monthly webinars and technical assistance network calls in the coming year.  First up is a webinar on February 2, “Six Questions County Leaders Need to Ask.”   Click here for more information about technical assistance.


Next Steps for Criminal Justice Reform in Dane County

In late April, Dane County sent a five-person team to the Stepping Up Summit in Washington, D.C..  Our team consisted of representatives from the county board, police department, county department of social services, NAMI-Dane County, and the sheriff’s department.

The team spent two days learning how to design and implement a successful plan to move more people with mental illness from jails into treatment.  Members will share what they  learned and respond to questions and feedback from audience members.

Join them on June 29 from 5:30 to 7:00 at the United Way Building, 2059 Atwood Ave.

Funding Tips from the Stepping Up Summit

We are fortunate that Dane County was one of 50 counties–out of more than 200 applicants–selected to send a team to the Stepping Up Summit.  The rest of us, however, can follow the proceedings online.  Check them out here.

“Strategies for Financing your Plan” opened with the moderator’s comment that no advice is more frustrating or frequent for advocates in search of money than “leverage your existing resources.”  Existing resources are not enough to meet the need, he acknowledged, and introduced a panel who provided practical advice of how to expand those resources.

Tracy Plouck, Director of the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services, told the audience to set up an appointment with the state Medicaid director to explore options and suggested they enroll people in Medicaid who are leaving jail or in a diversion program because health and other entitlement programs might help them avoid future incarceration.  She said that a state’s substance abuse block grant is “more robust” than its mental health block grant.  Many people have a dual diagnosis, so advocates should first explore substance abuse money.

John Wetzel, Secretary for the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, said that his primary interest is “self-interest.”  He wants to see how expenditure of money from his department for programs ultimately will reduce future costs in housing inmates.  Either programs are feeders, producing more people in prison, or filters, reducing that number, he said.  Advocates must show that they are providing filters and, thus, reducing costs to his department.

Wetzel told the group to talk to the state’s corrections director.  He or she might be “your biggest advocate.”  He also reminded the group that “long-term thinking at the state level is the next election.”

Andrew Keller, CEO of the Meadows Foundation, told the group to regard foundation money as “transformational money,” which can be used to support activities such as planning that are not easily funded by traditional sources. A grant from a well-regarded foundation can lead to grants from other sources and to interest from individual philanthropists. Those individuals are often able to secure political support for the reform efforts.

Maury Thompson, Assistant County Manager of Johnson County, KS, spoke about the wariness of county officials to accept federal grants because of their time limitations.  His solution: establish benchmarks and collect data from the beginning that can be used to show the cost-effectiveness to the county of the grant.  He suggested approaching institutions such as hospitals that benefit financially from a reduction in admissions to emergency rooms due to better mental health services.   Similarly, the state benefits from a reduction in admissions to state psychiatric hospitals.








Dane County Reps Invited to DC Summit on Mental Health and Criminal Justice

Dane County is one of 50 applicants selected to attend the Stepping Up Summit in Washington, D.C. on April 18-19.  The summit is an important component of an ambitious effort by the National Association of Counties, the Council of State Governments, and the American Psychiatric Association Foundation to reduce the number of people with mental illness in jails and prisons.

On its  website, the Stepping Up Initiative offers a toolkit to help county governments identify obstacles to reform and learn from successful efforts throughout the country.  You will also find news accounts, research to support proposals, and stories about people involved in the reform efforts.

Applicants invited to the summit had to demonstrate prior commitment to the goals of the initiative and form an inter-disciplinary team that could work together to implement lessons learned.  Dane County’s team includes: Carousel Bayrd, Vice President of the Dane County Board of Supervisors; Kristin Ramon of the Madison Police Department; Mary Grabot of the Dane County Department of Human Services, Dane County Sheriff David Mahoney, and Lindsay Wallace, Executive Director of Dane County NAMI.