Madison DMV Move: An Update

Back in October, I wrote about how the Madison DMV’s move to 8417 Excelsior Blvd could impact voting rights. Since then, others have been raising the issue as well.

At the October 26 meeting of the Dane County Board of Supervisors, they considered a resolution to call for suspension of the voter ID law, in light of surveys, by the Dane County Clerk and UW Madison, showing that voters had been disenfranchised by the voter ID law — whether by not having viable ID, or by thinking they didn’t have viable ID.

At the meeting, members of Indivisible Madison and the League of Women Voters spoke in favor of the resolution, and mentioned the DMV move. Al Matano, one of the county supervisors (coincidentally my own), mentioned that the issue would be brought up at the next meeting of the Transportation Planning Board, which he also chairs.

On November 15, the TPB sent a letter of complaint to the DOT, questioning the need for the move and the planned location. Rebecca Kemble, a city alder, is also working on a federal civil rights complaint about the issue.

Meanwhile, I had filed an Open Records Request, for any information the DOT had about how they selected the new location. After some initial miscommunication, on November 1, they sent me a DVD with about 200 emails and scanned documents. With some help from a member of LWV Dane County, we’ve been sorting through them, looking for what the process was, and where public transit access got lost.

Are you ready for the intricacies of state bureaucracy?

Act I: Writing the Request For Proposal

In August 2016, DOT employees put together a Request For Proposal document. It’s something that says what you’re shopping for, and how you’re going to decide what to buy. Once you publish it, it’s up to vendors to come to you, with offers that meet your criteria.

The RFP, eventually published on November 7, did list public transit accessibility as one of it’s criteria…somewhat. One of the strict criteria was “access to public modes of transportation, preferably a city or regional bus line, with stops several times a day.” Locations were also going to be given a score, in which public transit service would account for 3% of the total points. Three percent isn’t a lot, and it’s less than similar RFPs had allotted for that category.

In terms of location, the RFP requested the “West/Southwest side of City of Madison”, and included a map with a polygon roughly encompassing that area.

The draft RFP then went to Department of Administration for review. According to emails from the DOA point-person, DOT staff were resistant to the idea of including a map, and wanted to phrase the geographical requirement vaguely, so as to include areas like Fitchburg or Middleton.

DOA pressed them to include a perimeter. As of October 4, TPB provided a map showing areas with frequent bus service. The map ultimately included in the RFP mirrors the outer edges of that bus service map, but doesn’t take into account the fact that there as gaps in bus service within that perimeter.

Nevertheless, bus service was a consideration written into the Request For Proposal. In theory, if the process described in the RFP had been followed, bus service would have been a requirement for any potential location, and frequency of bus service would have been a differentiator.

Act II: The Request For Proposal Fails

According to the RFP, proposals were due on December 21, 2016. At that time, they had only received one proposal. It was from a developer offering to build a brand new building on Novation Way, at a cost that DOT didn’t consider serious.

They thought the lack of proposals was because they had been looking for a building to rent as of April 2018 (18 months out at that point). On March 14, 2017, they published a revised RFP with a move-in date of this December (9 months out). They expected responses by early May.

In May, they had gotten exactly one response, from the same developer as before.

DOA had also told them that they could skip the whole RFP process if they were looking for a space smaller than 10,000 square feet. The initial request had been for more than that, but the DOT started making compromises to figure out how they could fit into a smaller space.

On May 4, the DOT requested a waiver, and included a list of 11 properties found on a site called Loopnet, claiming that those met all DMV requirements. From a public transit perspective, some of them might have, but many did not.

DOA approved the waiver on June 1, based on the reduced square footage required. But DOA said they were also allowed to look at properties larger than 10,000 square feet. Their DOA point of contact would assemble a list of candidates using “on-line resources and personal contacts in commercial real estate.” And DOA described the RFP criteria as a “wish list” that DOT could negotiate down from.

Act III: Narrowing the Field

DOT started with that list of 11 properties and another list off Loopnet, and started narrowing it down. Somehow those 20 or so became 8, without explanation in the records provided. That excluded some buildings that have frequent bus service, like offices on Science Drive, and retail spaces on Beltline Frontage Road and on Verona Road.

The “elite eight” became the “final four,” and on June 14, a team from DOT toured those properties:

  • The Globe University building on Deming Way
  • The Excelsior Drive building
  • A building on the Zor Shrine property
  • Two strip mall units along Whitney Way (probably the former Copps and Guitar Center)

After the tour, Deming was the first choice, and Whitney and Zor were a distant third and fourth, which made Excelsior second by default.

“For most customers in these counties [western Dane, Iowa, Sauk, Columbia, Lafayette, Green], the Globe University location is closer than the current office and would be equal to or closer than the Whitney location.”

Deming Way was seen as convenient from the Beltline, and close to a bus terminus at Greenway Station. There were questions about putting the Madison West DMV in Middleton, and whether there would be enough parking once the entire Globe building was rented out. But as of June 20, DOT leadership wanted to go forward with Deming Way, and only resort to Excelsior Drive if it fell through.

A junior DOT employee did point out that the Whitney Way location was closer to the locations being replaced, and more convenient for public transportation, but was overruled, for these reasons:

  • There might not be enough parking when it’s shared with other businesses (yes, that’s the same concern they had about the Globe building).
  • The parking lot was not in great shape.
  • DOT had rented from the owner of the Whitney Way property before, and had a negative experience.
  • The area around Whitney Way was not seen as conducive to driver testing.

A side by side comparison chart of the top three options was put together, and it did reflect that Excelsior Drive had insufficient bus service. But that was not considered a disqualifier compared to these concerns about Whitney Way, nor a reason to dip back into the well.

Act IV: The Surprise Twist

Something must have fell through with the Deming Way property, sometime between June 21 and July 10. Whatever it was, it didn’t appear in the records I received. Maybe it was the Middleton address. Maybe it was the parking concerns. All I know is that by July 10, they were negotiating the lease with the owner of the Excelsior Drive property, and didn’t consider evaluating other options.

On July 14, there is record of a DOT employee proposing a publicity campaign to promote the move, since “it’s not visible from main road, it’s an area not well known.” I don’t know if that ever came together. The move was communicated to staff on August 11, and the memo included a link to a news story about it, meaning that the press knew first.


While this new DMV location may disenfranchise voters, there isn’t any indication that was anyone’s intent. But it does seem like it was never a primary concern in the first place. And when the relatively objective RFP process went out the window, it became a “wish list” item.

I wonder what would have happened if DOT had stuck to the RFP process. I wonder what would have happened if the proactively selected locations had been scored according to the RFP criteria, rather than subjectively ranked. The Excelsior Drive location was a distant second choice; I wonder how distant it would’ve had to have been, to prompt DOT to do another internet search when their first choice fell through. I wonder how often the RFP process actually works, and how often it gets waived.

Maybe there’s something our state legislators can do, to ensure that this process yields a better result next time, and make access to voting rights a primary criterion for its gatekeepers.

It sure was exciting to submit my first Open Records Request and actually get it filled! So next time you wonder about something like this, try it out. For example, who ordered and carried out the removal of climate change language from the WI DNR website? Any ordinary citizen can check how our government agencies are operating.

For members of the press or other folks interested in the full Open Records data, get in touch with me on Twitter: @IndivisibleMad

A Late Budget Ain’t a Polished Budget

The Wisconsin Assembly passed a budget over two months late, and the delay hasn’t made it any less of a rush job.

Fill in the Blanks

The budget restricts towns’ ability to regulate gravel mines, with stunningly sloppy language like this:

Create a provision … to prohibit a political subdivision .. from enforcing an ordinance if any of the following applies: (a) a statutory provision expressly prohibits the political subdivision from enforcing the ordinance; (b) the ordinance logically conflicts with a statutory provision; (c) the ordinance defeats the purpose of a statutory provision; or (d) the ordinance violates the spirit of a statutory provision.

Clearly, the Joint Finance Committee couldn’t be bothered to actually write out their legislation. Instead, they expect municipalities to imagine what the committee members would have written.

No Gas Tax, Just a No-Gas Tax

Rather than taxing fossil fuel consumption, which could have addressed the deficit and the environment with one stone, the committee approved a fee for hybrid and electric vehicles.

Don’t get me wrong, there will come a time when non-polluting vehicles need to support more road maintenance. Just like there will come a time when houses with solar panels will need to support the grid. But we aren’t there yet, and we need to incentivize ways that people can use less combustible fuel. Roads right now aren’t buckling under Priuses, they’re buckling under eighteen-wheelers.

Bike Paths Are Not Coming For Your Land

The budget also included prohibitions against towns seizing or condemning land to construct bike trails. Conservative groups touted this as a win for property owners.

But the property right this defends is the right to have your property depreciate. I haven’t been able to find any evidence of municipalities abusing their current options. If they did, the state could have a more direct, contiguous bike network.

For example, the trail that ought to connect Madison to Milwaukee ends abruptly a few miles short in Cottage Grove due to private property in the way. These issues sometimes get solved by routing a path the long way around, at greater expense and inconvenience to the community. Take the Oregon Rotary Trail for instance, which traces three sides of a rectangle around someone’s property.

And whatever your views are on whether cities should have the right to seize land for infrastructure projects, it’s not right to prohibit it when it comes to bike paths while still allowing it for roads. Bike paths can accommodate more people at less cost, with environmental and health benefits. And they take less of your land to build.

Tighten Your Seatbelts – September Legislative Update

If you think the ride has been bumpy so far, take a look at what’s coming up next!

Congress reconvened September 5th.and the State Legislature reconvened September 12th. The following pages detail some of the bills coming up during these floor sessions, and it’s a scary bunch. If you had to choose, what one or two issues are most important to you? What are you willing to do to work on them?


Tell Congress to table the Graham-Cassidy bill

We’ve saved the ACA from repeal and replace – or so we thought. Trump still insists on ACA repeal and replace, and this is the last proposal standing. It would take federal funds for the ACA, cut them by 15%, and hand them over to states as block grants to let state legislatures and governors decide how to use the money for healthcare. It sets an insufficient growth rate to meet future ACA costs, resulting in a 34% funding cut by 2026. It also would take current Medicaid expansion spending from the 30 states that participate in the program and divvy it up among all 50 states – a windfall for Wisconsin but at the expense of many low-income patients in other states. An actual bill for the proposal was not written until Sept. 11 and as of this writing (Sept. 13), it awaits a CBO score before the Senate can bring it to the floor for a vote. In order for the bill to qualify for budget resolution (only 50 votes in the Senate), it must pass both houses of Congress by Sept. 30. The House is scheduled for a home district work period from Sept. 15-27, leaving only three days for passage (including Friday and Saturday – days when the House almost never meets).

Tell Congress to put a stop to ACA sabotage

  •         Tell Congress to enact guaranteed CSR payments through 2018. CSRs are payments that the federal government makes to insurance companies which, in turn, are required to reduce co-pays and deductibles for low-income people. Every month since he was inaugurated, Trump has threatened to stop making these payments to force passage of ACA repeal and replace legislation. This uncertainty for insurance companies has made it extremely difficult to accurately set their prices, and has led to them either raising their prices or just leaving marketplaces altogether. Passage is required by Sept. 30 to allow insurance companies to set lower rates before ACA open enrollment in November.
  •         Tell Congress to tie the hands of HHS. Since Tom Price became Secretary of Health & Human Services he has used his administrative prerogative to create barriers to ACA enrollment. Tell Congress to tie HHS funding to its intended use.

o   Require that the ACA open enrollment period must be 92 days. Price cut it back to just 45 days.

o Require HHS to restore funding for the Navigators program which offered assistance to people trying to sign up for the ACA.

o   Tie HHS public outreach funding to supporting ACA enrollment. Price took the money intended to help people learn about and understand their ACA coverage options and used it instead to produce anti-ACA propaganda videos. Fortunately, very few people actually watched them, but Congress should forbid HHS from using them.

Tell Congress to pass bipartisan healthcare legislation through the normal legislative process

Tell Congress that any legislation which affects Americans’ healthcare must go through the regular legislative process: committee referrals, public hearings including expert witnesses, input from members of both parties, and opportunities to amend. Senate passage must require a filibuster-proof vote of 60 members. Any legislation must not result in anyone losing coverage, must not increase premiums, and must not cut Medicaid.

The Senate Health Committee held public hearings during the first two weeks of September to develop bipartisan legislation which will stabilize the Affordable Care Act (ACA) individual insurance market. If Congress can act by the end of September, it would help keep insurance available at a reasonable cost during 2018.

Tell Congress to pass Tammy Baldwin’s Medicare at 55 Act

This bill provides an option for people between the ages of 55 and 64 to buy into Medicare. People in this age group often have more health problems and face higher health care costs but aren’t yet eligible for Medicare. Not only will these individuals enjoy lower premiums and out-of-pocket costs but by removing some of the sickest people from the ACA insurance pool, it may result in lower rates for those remaining.

Tell Wisconsin state legislators to pass the BadgerCare public option

Under AB 449, Wisconsin residents and small businesses could purchase BadgerCare, the state’s Medicaid plan, at full price as a “public option.” The bill is backed by Citizen Action of Wisconsin which cited a Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimate that in Dane County, a BadgerCare “buy-in” would cost adults $7,224 per year, while the lowest-cost Silver plan on would cost a 40-year-old applicant $8,350 per year in premiums and deductibles.

Fiscal Year 2018 budget and tax cuts

Tell Congress to oppose any budget resolution which allows cuts to critical programs that help families afford the basics in order to pay for tax cuts.

Once Congress passes the 2018 budget, they can use reconciliation to pass massive tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations through the Senate with only 51 votes. Reconciliation requires that any legislation must not increase the deficit over the next ten years, so Congress is likely to cut critical programs like Medicaid, Medicare, and food assistance — either now or in the future – to balance the ledger. The details are appalling:

  • $1 trillion cut from Medicaid over ten years (that’s 20% of Medicaid’s budget)
  • Over $150 billion cut from SNAP (that’s 22% of SNAP’s budget)
  • Nearly $500 billion cut from Medicare—and it’s turned into a voucher system
  • $3.3 billion cut from Pell grants—and they’d be harder for students to use
  • Billions in cuts to education, the environment, housing, and worker training

The budget resolution doesn’t mean that all of these cuts would happen immediately, but it sets them up for action in another reconciliation bill that requires only 50 Senate votes. If Republican tax cuts for the wealthy are allowed to increase deficits, those deficits would give Republicans an excuse to keep cutting these critical programs in the future.

Tell Congress to oppose these tax cut proposals which benefit corporations and the rich.

  •         Reduce the corporate tax rate from 35 to 15%. More than half the benefits from this cut would flow to the top 1 % of households.
  •         Eliminate taxes on the foreign profits of U.S. corporations, giving them a major incentive to move more jobs and profits offshore.
  •         Eliminate the alternative minimum tax, which is intended to ensure that the wealthy pay at least some taxes, no matter how many loopholes they exploit.
  •         Eliminate the estate tax which only applies to estates worth over $5.5 million. Already 99.8% of estates are exempt from the estate tax, so the Republican tax plan would only help the remaining wealthiest 0.2% of estates.
  •         Restrict itemized deductions outside of the charitable and mortgage interest deductions.
  •         Cut the top individual tax rate. Under Trump’s tax plan, the middle class would see a 1.5% tax cut—but the wealthy would get a 14.1% tax cut. The benefits would flow almost entirely to the top 1%, delivering them average annual tax cuts of more than $50,000 apiece.

Tell Congress to refuse action on any tax plan until President Trump releases his tax returns.

The American people want to fully understand how his proposed tax plan will personally benefit him and his businesses.

Hurricane relief, National Flood Insurance, and climate change

Tell Congress to provide an inclusive aid package with adequate funding to help individuals recover and to make sure that the public services communities rely on every day are rebuilt fully and promptly.

Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma have devastated parts of the southern United States. Congress approved $15 billion in aid, but it really is just a downpayment to meet short term needs like food, water, and shelter, as well as longer-term needs like rebuilding homes and public infrastructure that was destroyed during the storms. Disaster relief must also take into account that communities of color have been the hardest hit.

Tell Congress to reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program by September 30.

Privatization would make flood insurance unaffordable to many. Members of Congress must oppose privatization of the National Flood Insurance Program.

Tell Congress to act on climate change

Hurricanes like these should convince doubters that oceans and the atmosphere are warming and that heat is propelling storms into superstorms. Yet EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt says it’s insensitive to discuss climate change in the midst of recovery efforts.

Tell Congress to demand EPA enforcement of current laws to preserve the environment.

When the president withdrew the U.S. from the Paris climate accord, he said he wanted to negotiate a better deal, but it’s clear that countries which support the accord will never agree to U.S. terms. It’s up to the American people to elect a different president in 2020. Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats must demand that the EPA enforce current laws until those laws are changed. Lacking 60 votes in the Senate, it would be difficult for the GOP to change those laws anytime soon.


Tell Congress to save DACA

On Sept. 6, the president sent Jeff Sessions to announce the rescission of DACA – the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program – in six months (March 6, 2018). DACA beneficiaries were brought to the U.S. illegally by their parents when they were age 6 or younger. The United States is the only country they have ever known. Tell your MoCs to co-sponsor the “DREAM Act” (S.1615 / H.R.3440), including Tammy Baldwin who has not signed on. It would give DACA recipients and others who arrived in the United States as children a path to permanent lawful status and eventual citizenship. The national Indivisible Project insists that the provisions of this bill be attached to any must-pass legislation. However, Congress missed the opportunity to tie it to lifting the debt ceiling. No matter how it is passed, it must not be tied to building a border wall.

Tell Congress to oppose the Muslim ban

The fate of the Muslim ban will be decided by the Supreme Court sometime this fall. Meanwhile, H.R.1503 – called the Statue of Liberty Values Act (SOLVE) – would nullify the president’s most recent (second) executive order barring refugees and people from six Muslim-majority countries and would prevent US tax dollars from funding implementation of the executive order. Mark Pocan is one of 176 cosponsors.

In the Senate, S.608 would rescind the Muslim ban, and S.549 would declare that the Muslim ban is illegal under the Immigration & Nationality Act (INA) and unconstitutional for violating Establishment Clause. Like H.R.1503, it would withhold funding for implementation of the president’s order. Tammy Baldwin is a cosponsor of both bills.


Tell Congress to unite and fight privatization of infrastructure

Rather than invest directly in updating the bridges, roads, airports, water, and school systems that we all depend on, Trump’s plan would sell off America’s infrastructure to Wall Street billionaires, political cronies, and even foreign governments—allowing them to double tolls, create new fees, and put billions of our dollars in their pockets even if they don’t make a single improvement.

He’s also proposing tax breaks to further entice investors – as much as 82 cents of reimbursement for every dollar they spend on infrastructure. However, there’s no requirement that it be spent on new projects.

The package includes rollbacks of environmental protections, prioritizing pipelines over clean energy jobs; repeal of worker safety and wage protections; and failure to direct funds to disenfranchised communities—like Flint—that need it most.

Trump also refuses to invest in 21st century projects like clean-energy jobs, expanding broadband Internet, and high-speed rail.

Trump will need Democratic support to pass an infrastructure bill, especially in the Senate, where Trump needs enough Dem votes to break a filibuster, so Democrats have leverage here. Like they did to fight TrumpCare, Democrats must stay united to hold fast against this bad bill and demand real public investment to rebuild and expand our infrastructure. Few Democrats have staked out a position yet, so our first task is to ask them to endorse the principles that divide a good bill from a bad one.

Wisconsin’s call for Constitutional Convention

Tell state senators to oppose the call for a Constitutional Convention.

On June 14th, the Assembly passed a set of three resolutions which together call for a Constitutional Convention (“Article V Convention of the States”). They say it’s to add a balanced budget amendment to the U.S. Constitution, but there’s nothing to limit a convention to the balanced budget. There is the potential to take up amendments to alter or eliminate Constitutional protections for citizen rights: voting rights, civil rights, women’s rights. They could even limit or eliminate free speech, freedom of assembly, or freedom of the press. A convention like this has never been called and assembled before in our nation’s history. It could be a very destructive and dangerous event.

It takes two-thirds of state legislatures (34) to call a Constitutional convention. Wisconsin could become number 30. The resolution now awaits scheduling for a vote in the State Senate. We must tell our State Senators to vote NO.

State abortion restrictions

Tell state legislators to oppose these restrictions on access to abortions.

Assembly Bill (AB) 206/Senate Bill (SB) 154 would block University of Wisconsin OB-GYN residents from learning to perform abortions. Passage could jeopardize accreditation of the OB/GYN residency program at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health, ultimately reducing the number of practicing OB/GYNs in Wisconsin.

AB 128/SB 81 would prevent the state from providing insurance plans that cover abortion, except in cases of rape, incest or to preserve the life of the mother. Democrats argue that the measure is unnecessary because as it stands now, state health plans will pay for an abortion only if a doctor has determined it is medically necessary. The bill’s author said he had written the legislation because he believed that policy needs a tighter definition.

Madison State Representative Chris Taylor said the legislation would make it harder for public workers who are victims of sexual assault to get abortions. They could get their abortions covered under their health plans only if they reported their assaults to police — something many victims choose not to do.

If 3 Billion Dollars Didn’t Scare You…

By now, anyone following Wisconsin politics probably has some opinion about whether the state should be handing out $3,000,000,000 to a Taiwanese corporation for the promise of some jobs. If you support the plan, you’ll probably say “It’s going to be 13,000 jobs!” If you’re not a supporter, you might point out that the number Foxconn promised is closer to 3000.

My take on the hand-out, in brief, is that putting $3 billion on one horse is irresponsible. We could more effectively grow our economy by investing in the university system to draw talent to the state; people who will start businesses or bolster the companies that might create jobs.

As Steven Verburg points out, once the $3 billion has been paid out and thousands are working there, the state will have that much less leverage when it comes to enforcing air and water quality standards for the 25 years it will take for the state to see a net return on that money.

That’s assuming that we’ll have a DNR inclined to enforce environmental standards. Cathy Stepp recently left her position at the DNR (with a lax record of allowing manure from CAFOs into the water supply) to join the EPA, with the likely goal of making that agency less effective. In the short term, Scott Walker will get to appoint someone even less qualified.

Yet, there’s more to the Foxconn package that makes it even worse.

Before we get to the bizarre things that have been tacked on, we need to be familiar with Wisconsin’s judiciary hierarchy:

Wisconsin State Judiciary
Circuit Court: 249 judges, with jurisdiction by county (mostly)
Court of Appeals: 16 judges, with jurisdiction by district (1/4 of the state)
Supreme Court: 7 justices, with statewide jurisdiction
All publicly elected.

The Right to “Super-Appeal”

A prevision was just added to the Foxconn incentive bill to allow Foxconn to appeal any lawsuit directly to Wisconsin’s Supreme Court, skipping the Court of Appeals.
This exclusive right to “super-appeal” also puts a stay on the lower court’s ruling. That means even if the Circuit Court decided against Foxconn, they don’t have to comply unless the Supreme Court takes the case and rules against them. This puts the burden on the Supreme Court to reinforce any Circuit Court rulings against Foxconn.

A specific corporation will be explicitly named in law as having rights above and beyond any other Wisconsin companies or any of Wisconsin’s human beings. This is not normal.

We don’t know yet what the Wisconsin Supreme Court thinks of having their docket be determined by Foxconn. But we do know the Wisconsin Supreme Court no longer make their deliberations public. Nor to the the publicly-elected justices recuse themselves when a case involves a campaign donor.

In other words, the highest court in the state is up for bid. Foxconn has a free pass to skip the lower courts, giving them extraordinary power. If a citizen, another company, or perhaps even the state of Wisconsin itself ends up in court against Foxconn, they’ve probably already lost.

Here’s how it plays out: let’s say Foxconn takes billions of gallons of water from Lake Michigan and dumps it back in with all sorts of chemicals added. Maybe the DNR sues. A circuit court judge tells Foxconn to stop. Foxconn appeals, and gets to keep doing what they want while waiting for the Supreme Court to take the case.

And, maybe this isn’t Foxconn’s first appeal. Maybe they’ve filled up the Supreme Court’s docket for the next several years. Or maybe the justices handle the extra caseload by changing their rules, so that they don’t need to have in-person hearings and deliberation, they can just submit their verdict and move on.
Yup. That’s a broken system.

That’s why we need to make it clear to our representatives and state senators, our neighbors, and our media that this provision threatens the independence of each branch of government.That’s not a partisan concern.

And this underlines the importance of the Supreme Court elections. Tim Burns and Rebecca Dallet have already announced their candidacy for the next election.
We need to pay attention to lower court elections as well — in the Court of Appeals, Dane County is grouped with everything west of Dodge and south of Clark County. And Dane County alone has 17 elected circuit court justices. If you search news for Dane County Circuit Court, you can get a sense of the issues they rule on and how consequential their decisions are.

Legislative Process 101—Budget Reconciliation

Reprinted from and edited/updated by Linda Kessel

Normally, the Senate requires a 60-vote majority to pass any legislation—a high bar that makes it hard for the Senate to quickly pass major pieces of legislation.Sixty is the number of votes required to stop a filibuster – when one or a group of senators take control of debate on a bill by talking endlessly for hours. Senate rules require 60 votes to end the filibuster. These days, just the threat of a filibuster is enough to stop a bill. If the Majority Leader knows he doesn’t have 60 votes to overcome a filibuster, he won’t bring the bill to the Senate floor for a vote. This is intentional. It’s supposed to prevent the majority party from jamming legislation through the Senate.

Budget Reconciliation, often referred to as just reconciliation, is a legislative maneuver that allows the majority to get around this 60-vote safeguard. Reconciliation lets the Senate majority bypass the filibuster process, allowing them to pass legislation with 50 votes, instead of the normal 60. This document reviews how Republicans are using reconciliation to attempt to “repeal and replace” significant elements of the Affordable Care Act.



Congress can use reconciliation only once in the two-year session of Congress and only for legislation which would affect the federal budget. The fiscal year (FY)17 reconciliation bill is being used to repeal the ACA. First, Congress passes a budget resolution, which specifies how much money each Congressional committee is expected to save—Congress did this in late January with instructions to repeal the ACA. Then, each of the specified committees act, and each chamber’s Budget Committee puts it all together and votes on it—that’s why the House Budget Committee held its own vote on the American Health Care Act in March. Then, the full House votes on the bill and it’s passed by a simple majority. In the case of AHCA, their first attempt at this phase of the process failed but prevailed by a razor-thin majority a month later. Note: Because the Constitution prohibits the Senate from originating legislation dealing with revenues, reconciliation measures must start in the House.



The Senate can take up a House-passed bill straight away or work its own bill through the Senate committee process. Reconciliation bills cannot be blocked through a filibuster (thus, why there is no 60-vote threshold) and have limited debate time. However, an unlimited number of amendments (as long as they don’t cost money) can be offered during that debate. That’s why Indivisible stressed to Democratic senators to prepare tons of amendments they could use to control and drag out debate. When time’s up, the Senate takes a vote which requires a simple majority for passage. If changes are made to the bill, it will then go back to the House for a final vote before being sent to the President for his signature or veto.



Because reconciliation is a budget procedure, originally intended to reduce the deficit, only policy changes directly impacting government spending or taxes may be included. This restriction, known as the Byrd rule, means the entire Affordable Care Act cannot be repealed through reconciliation—only the pieces of it that directly impact government finances. Before a reconciliation bill is voted on, it goes through a “Byrd bath” (Congress can be silly) to ensure that the bill does not contain any unrelated provisions, beyond those impacting taxes or spending.



Reconciliation is why GOP proposals to repeal and replace Obamacare contained provisions to lower taxes for the rich and cut federal health aid. At the same time, reconciliation kept the GOP from ending consumer protections, like the ban on insurance companies denying people with pre-existing conditions or mandating that health insurance covers birth control. If they want to do so, they will have to pass a separate piece of legislation which is subject to the filibuster in the Senate. But would they have the votes?

Healthcare’s Done, Right?

The unexpected defeat of the repeal/replace bill on July 27th was a relief. But many have unresolved issues with the ACA: some real, some purely partisan. I’m afraid we’ve only won a few months’ reprieve before our healthcare is at stake again.

What many take issue with is the individual mandate and the penalty associated with it. The mandate is an important part of the current system, and I support its goal: making sure everyone has health coverage. The decision to go without coverage, when made willingly, is shortsighted and puts an unfair burden on the rest of society. But I agree that the individual mandate isn’t the best way to achieve that end.

So let’s look at what we can do to improve the healthcare system.


Tell Governor Walker to expand Medicaid!

Wisconsin has willingly kept the “Medicaid gap” in place, leaving childless adults above, but near, the poverty line to face hard decisions and unaffordable options. We can pressure our governor to fix it by accepting federal funds. Most states already have, and I haven’t found any stories of regret.


BadgerCare Public Option

Citizen Action of Wisconsin has been pushing for a one-line change to state law that would allow the general public to enroll in BadgerCare and pay premiums into it. This would directly address the problem of dwindling choices on the marketplace. A revenue stream from a healthy subscriber base could also stabilize BadgerCare for those who need it most.


FAIR Drug Pricing Act

This bill was co-written by Tammy Baldwin and John McCain (“man of the hour”), and makes drug manufacturers accountable for rising prices.

One of the problems with the repeal/replace proposals were that, unlike the ACA, they included nothing to directly address rising healthcare costs themselves; they merely shifted the burden of those costs from one group to another. This legislation is one bipartisan step towards controlling costs themselves.


Baldwin-Price Plan

Before Tom Price moved to DHHS, he and Tammy Baldwin had proposed another bipartisan healthcare reform that would allow states to submit proposals to Congress to explore better ways to cover their populations. This bill even won praise from the conservative-leaning Heritage Foundation.


Federal Reinsurance

In June, a group of senators sponsored the Individual Health Insurance Marketplace Improvement Act (needs a snappier name!). Reinsurance is basically insurance for insurers: they pay a premium, and when they have a high-dollar claim to pay, the reinsurance fund helps pay it.

There is an existing fund for this, but the threshold at which this “kicks in” has been too high in recent years; this has been cited as a contributing factor in rising premiums.

We’ve still got work to do!

For the bipartisan senate bills, we deserve to know whether both our senators support them, and why. And we can encourage Senator Baldwin to get out and talk about her bills, get in front of cameras, and raise the profile of these ideas.

A lot of people were shocked when, after years of the minority party advocating repeal and replace, it became apparent that there were no viable ideas for how to do that. Even if senators who listen to constituents over campaign donors are in the minority now, making these ideas long shots, we need to make it clear that there are viable policies out there, waiting to be put into law.


Courtesy of  Nicholas Davies is a local member of, and regular contributor to, Indivisible Madison.

The TrumpCare Timeline


March 6th: Republicans in the House introduce the American Health Care Act (AHCA).

March 13th: The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) releases its score for the bill; estimating that the bill would result in loss of insurance for 24 million Americans.

March 16th: Without any public hearings, House committees approve the bill. It is scheduled for a House vote on March 23rd.

March 20th: House drafts are reconciled into a single bill and scheduled for a vote on March 23rd.

March 23rd: House vote is delayed when Speaker realizes there are not enough GOP votes to pass the bill.

March 24th: After consulting with President, Speaker Paul Ryan pulls the bill rather than have it fail in a vote. Ryan’s statements afterward indicate that the House will be moving on from healthcare in general.



April 25th: The MacArthur amendment is introduced, reviving consideration of bill.



May 4th: Before the CBO score is available for the revised bill, the House narrowly passes the AHCA 217-213. However, upon the passage in the House, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell discards the House version and appoints a council of 13 men to write its own version of the healthcare bill.

May 6th: Only two days after the House passage, Indivisible Madison holds a Die-In protest at the Capitol to dramatize how the AHCA jeopardizes the lives of people who will lose health insurance under the bill.

May 16th: Resist Trump Tuesday makes a visit to Senator Tammy Baldwin’s office to ask that she vote no on the bill, to use unanimous consent to block the bill, and if all else fails, do what she can to introduce countless amendments to drag out debate and force the GOP to table the bill..

May 24th: The CBO releases its new score for the modified AHCA that passed the House. They predict the amount of Americans that will lose insurance would be roughly the same at 23 million.



June 6th: Resist Trump Tuesday makes another visit to Senator Baldwin’s office. Staffers assure those attending that engaging with your members of Congress works and that stories from constituents about healthcare killed the first draft of the AHCA.

June 7th: Tammy Baldwin, along with 5 other Democratic Senators, introduces S 1307, the Affordable Health Insurance for the Middle Class Act, to make more people eligible for healthcare tax credits.

June 13th: Contrary to his previous comments on the subject, Trump describes the House bill as “mean”

June 22nd: Senate introduces the council’s replacement amendment to the House AHCA, entitled Better Care Reconciliation Act of 2017 (BCRA).

June 26th: The CBO finds the Senate bill as damaging as the House bill, estimating the number of Americans expected to lose insurance at 22 million.

June 26th: The New York Times publishes an op-ed from Senator Ron Johnson that’s highly critical of the BHRA. He also claims that he would vote no on the motion to proceed, along with 3 other Republican senators: Rand Paul (Ky.), Susan Collins (Maine) and Dean Heller (Nev.).

June 27th: McConnell postpones the vote to after the July 4th recess.

June 28th: Adapt, a disability rights group, staged a sit in at Senator Ron Johnson’s Milwaukee office.



July 6th: Indivisible Madison holds the “Get Your Hands Off Our Healthcare Rally” at the State Capitol. Wisconsin Progressive Alliance, Indivisible Stoughton, and Oshkosh Tuesday Rally Group stage a sit in at Senator Ron Johnson’s Oshkosh office in protest of the Senate bill.

July 13th: Senate Republicans amend the BCRA so it will meet Senate reconciliation standards. That makes eligible for passage by a simple majority rather than the usual 60. Republican Senators Rand Paul and Susan Collins issue statements that they will vote no on the revised bill.

July 15th: Senator John McCain announces he must undergo surgery to remove a blood clot his left eye (later discovered to be the result of a malignant brain tumor), further delaying the vote.

July 15th: Madison Socialist Alternative (along with the Four Lakes Green Party, Democratic Socialists of America, AFSCME local 125, Progressive Dane, Immigrant Workers Union, Wisconsin Bailout the People Movement, Student Coalition for Progress, and Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom) holds a rally at the State Capitol in opposition to TrumpCare.

July 17th: Sens. Mike Lee and Jerry Moran add their names to those who would vote no on the revised plan. The bill appears to be dead.

July 18th: Indivisible Madison, Indivisible Tosa, Indivisible Milwaukee, and Bucking Badgers gather outside Johnson’s Milwaukee office in protest of the latest version of BCRA.

July 25th: Senator McCain returns to the senate after surgery and votes yes on a motion to proceed. Senator Johnson also votes yes, contrary to many of his indications. The vote passes 51-50 with Mike Pence breaking the tie and debate on the bill begins.

July 25th: Republicans develop a revised version of the Better Care Reconciliation Act that includes amendments which provide more funds to address the opioid crisis; lets people pay for premiums using pre-tax health savings accounts; restores $100 million for Medicaid funding; and adds the Cruz amendment which allows insurers to offer alternative cheaper bare-bones policies. Before the vote could begin, Senate Democrats use a procedural move requiring the Senate clerk to read the entire text of the amendment aloud in the Senate chamber. This is all part of the delaying tactics Democrats employ throughout debate of the BCRA to express their overall unhappiness with the bill. Then Democrats object to using reconciliation rules for the bill because it had not been officially scored by the CBO. Therefore, Republicans need 60 votes for passage. It fails miserably, 43-57.

July 26th: The Senate takes up the Obamacare Repeal Reconciliation Act which would repeal Obamacare but would not be effective for two years. This is supposed to give them two years to craft a replacement before the repeal is implemented. This bill is almost identical to one passed by the Senate in 2015 but vetoed by President Obama. The 2017 bill failed passage, 45-55.

July 26th: The Senate then goes on to consider a bill which calls for complete repeal of Obamacare with no replacement. Seven Republicans join the Democrats to reject the bill.

July 27th: The Senate considers what they call the “skinny plan.” It would repeal the individual and employer mandates and the medical device tax, and possibly include defunding Planned Parenthood and eliminating the Prevention and Public Health Fund. None of the Republicans actually want this to become public policy. Rather, they see it as a step to reach a conference committee with the House and come up with yet another proposal to repeal and replace. In addition to the Democrats, GOP Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski announce they will vote against the bill. In a surprising move on the Senate floor, they are joined by Senator John McCain to defeat the bill. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell addresses the press: It’s time to move on to tax reform.



August 2nd: Both the House and the Senate take a bipartisan approach to fixing Obamacare!!! Sen. Lamar Alexander announces that the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor & Pensions will hold bipartisan hearings on how to repair the ACA individual market. In the House, a group of 40 lawmakers from both parties endorses an outline of ideas aimed at making urgent fixes to the ACA. Bipartisanship – what a welcome surprise!

Walker’s Big Gamble

UPDATE: On June 15th the budget committee unanimously rejected this portion of Walker’s Budget described below!

Governor Scott Walker has released his two-year budget for review and has been touring the state touting his per-pupil increase in education included in this budget. Walker claims this budget is a “significant investment into K-12 education,” but his speeches never address what the budget is really about: shifting the burden of goods and services to the state’s working classYes, the per-pupil spending is receiving a $648.9 million increase, but this increase relies, in part, on the assumed millions in savings when changing the 250,000 state public workers insurance to self-insurance – which is a big gamble.

Wisconsin currently has one of the most competitive health markets in the country, which has resulted in the state’s ability to keep the premium increases below the national average. Currently, the state provides 17 health plans by paying for the state workers’ premiums. The state would like to change to self-insurance, which has the individualism rhetoric loved by Republicans, but it means the state will pay for medical procedures and costs directly instead of paying for premiums. There will still be four middle-man insurers because some providers will be merging, and some will not be able to compete with larger entities.

North Carolina shifted to self-insurance in 2014 and expected to save millions, but instead, the state found itself with a $200 million deficit. But we don’t have to look as far as North Carolina. Wisconsin’s first experiment with the self-insurance model resulted in dramatic cost increases of 22% and 30% in 1981 and 1983, respectively.  And industry analyst Deloitte Consulting found that if the switch to self-insurance were to happen today, it would cost the state of Wisconsin $100 million per year

Governor Walker’s decision to switch to self-insurance is not supported by the Wisconsin Association of Health Plans. Under his plan, the state will be reorganized into just four different regions with a local insurance provider, potentially stripping public workers’ freedom to keep their current physicians. So why is Walker aggressively pushing this self-insurance model? The switch to self-insurance will procure short-term benefits that he is hoping will boost his reelection bid in 2018. It will save money through skirting taxes and fees from the ACA, which will keep costs down temporarily while insurance claims build up and the state pays them out. Costs will be kicked down the road to gain political capital now.

Manitowoc Country is the only county in Wisconsin that has already made the shift to self-insurance for its public workers. The jury is still out on this policy because it was only instituted on January 1 of this year. Enjoy a reading of the liabilities the insurance does not cover. Some of the interesting ones include liabilities against pollution, acid rain, asbestos, mold, fungi, or lead.

Now that we have debunked the supposed savings the self-insurance model will create, let’s move onto the nuances of the actual education budget. The $60 million savings Walker is assuming will be garnered from this self-insurance model will then be funneled to an increase in per-pupil funding, but there are more strings attached. The increase in funding will only be made available to those districts that meet pension and healthcare savings requirements from Act 10, and whose teachers pay at least 12% of their healthcare costs out-of-pocket.  This greatly impacts Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), as they do not require employees to contribute towards their healthcare premium.  In order to receive the increase in per-pupil funding, MMSD would have to change this policy.

Not only is the budget bad for the public education system in Wisconsin, but Walker increases the per-pupil funding for voucher-school students more than public-school students. Walker is increasing public K-12 school per-pupil aid by $6,703, private K-8 voucher school per-pupil aid by $7,757, and private 9-12 voucher school per-pupil aid by $8,403. Voucher schools do not have the same accountability requirements that public schools have.

This budget does not seem in line with the most recent election in Wisconsin. This past Spring Election, Wisconsin voters, resoundingly, chose to keep incumbent Tony Evers as the State Superintendent over Holtz – the candidate known for favoring voucher schools. The Spring Election also showed that Wisconsinites DO prioritize public education:  all 12 school referendums passed, and the public approved increases in property taxes to fund public schools. This is something we have seen repeatedly during Walker’s tenure as governor. More school districts are forced to use referendums to raise the necessary funds to keep their schools running. In fact, there was a 10-year high of 150 school funding referendums in 2016. This budget is another example of Walker shifting the costs of public education onto the teachers, public state workers, and working middle class of Wisconsin.

Featured image by Gage Skidmore is licensed under CC BY 2.0

The Healthcare Cost Equation

A lot of the debate about healthcare reform is coming from the consumer side: who’s going to lose coverage, who’s paying more than they can afford, who’s going to be paying more than they can afford?

Consumer-side reforms are all destined to be trade-offs because consumers themselves don’t have enough capitalist leverage to drive down healthcare costs. Partly, because the demand for healthcare isn’t optional, and partly because insurance insulates consumers from the actual costs as much as possible.

To figure out how to stop rising premiums, we need to look at the full equation:

supplies + services + overhead

= patient payments + government payments + hospital losses


To oversimplify, you could view healthcare costs as these things:


This would include prescriptions, which is one area where costs continue to rise, even relative to the production cost of the drugs. There are also issues of drug waste and over-prescribing.


Medical treatment also requires personal attention and expertise. There are guidelines for how something like a physician visit should be billed to the insurance company based on how long the doctor spent with you, how many conditions you’re being treated for, and what preventative evaluations the doctor performed.

But there’s some wiggle room when it comes to self-reporting how thoroughly the doctor examined you, and what the doctor charges for their visits. It might depend on how valuable their expertise is, or what magnitude of debt they’re struggling to pay off.


Lastly, there is a portion of the money paid into the system that insurance companies simply pocket. In part to stay afloat and keep their cash reserves large enough to weather a storm (like a threatened marketplace), and in part because they can.

Funding Sources


That’s you! You pay into the system via premiums, deductibles, copays, and any other out-of-pocket expenses. Wages on average have not been growing very rapidly in recent years, at least not keeping pace with the average premium increases. So this source of funding is becoming less sustainable, and both parties seem to recognize that.


Medicare and Medicaid are the big ones, followed by the VA, but there are a ton of state and federal programs that fill particular niches. Plus there are the marketplace subsidies available nationwide under the ACA.

This funding also ultimately comes from you, but there are two important differences between government funding and direct patient funding.

  1. It doesn’t disproportionately hit the very people who are struggling with chronic conditions.
  2. These costs are growing at a consistent rate nationwide, not disproportionately affecting certain states and counties.

Hospitals Themselves

In the case of HMOs, this is hospitals paying themselves and investing in the success of their patient population. Hospitals also frequently foot the bill when the patient cannot — something that happened far more often when there were more people uninsured and lifetime caps on coverage.

Hospitals afford to add funding to the system via charitable foundations, or by increasing the prices of their services and supplies.

Stepping on the seesaw


The Affordable Care Act rebalanced this equation in a number of ways. For many people, it reduced the patient’s share by supplementing it with government funds. It also reduced hospitals’ net losses and reduced insurers’ potential take-home profits.

It also included reforms aimed at healthcare providers’ service costs. These reforms started by requiring doctors to report what they do for their patients more granularly. The ultimate goal was that once doctors across the country were in the practice of doing this, this reporting could be tied to payment and decrease costs. If the ACA is repealed at this point, it would be too soon to realize the savings of this reform.

AHCA (House Version)

This would rebalance a lot of the burden back to patients, both by increasing premiums, and by forcing millions of people off insurance entirely. Insurers would be free to take home a larger portion of the pie. The government would contribute less.

Dealing with a larger uninsured population, hospitals would end up footing more catastrophic hospital bills. Hospitals would have to raise prices to stay afloat. The AHCA would do nothing to curb the rising costs of prescriptions or physician services.

AHCA (Senate Version)

At the time of writing, there is no consistent information on what the Senate version of the bill will include, no bill text, or CBO score. But members of the group writing it have said that it will include about 80% of the bad ideas from the House version of the bill, which only 21% of the public approved of.


Bernie Sanders has a Medicare For All plan. That type of program would shift healthcare further towards reimbursement via the government. His plan includes restructuring of the tax code to ensure that no one is burdened disproportionately to their means. But as far as I can tell, there isn’t a submitted bill number or a CBO score, so we don’t have a full picture of this plan’s expected impact.

Claire McCaskill has a plan to allow people in areas underserved by the insurance market to buy from the DC exchange where federal employees buy their coverage. This wouldn’t radically rebalance the system, but it would alleviate a current problem under the ACA.

Lastly, Tammy Baldwin has cosponsored Al Franken’s bill S771, which aims to reduce prescription costs. Click through for Senator Baldwin’s summary of its provisions. Addressing the supply-side costs of the healthcare system is an important, necessary step to curb the rising costs of healthcare overall, including the burden that falls on American consumers.


Courtesy of  Nicholas Davies is a local member of, and regular contributor to, Indivisible Madison.

Phonebanking: It’s Not as Scary as You Think

There are some important special elections coming up to fill the seats of members of Congress who left to serve in the Trump administration. We need to support candidates who’ve taken positions in line with our initiatives. Besides sending donations, we can make a big impact by phone banking – calling voters in their districts. Phone banking provides an opportunity to communicate and reinforce the candidate’s message with a large group of voters in a short amount of time. And it’s something you can do remotely.

Whether it’s your first rodeo or you’re a seasoned pro, phone banking can be tough. The anxiety of talking to strangers (some of whom might not be thrilled to talk with you) and the feeling of responsibility to your campaign and candidate can leave you feeling a little apprehensive about sitting down and dialing that first number.

Knowledge is power. Let’s put those fears to rest.

Who am I calling?

Campaigns get lists of voters to call from the political party and/or public voting records. That means you’ll be calling likely supporters who tend to vote regularly.
Admittedly, the lists aren’t perfect. In the rare event you get a voter who supports the opponent, all you need to do is say thank you and hang up; you don’t need to get into a debate. Occasionally, the voter will just hang up in your face. Don’t take it personally; it wasn’t anything you did. Just move on to the next call.

What do I say?

The campaign provides a script for you to follow. There are three types of calls:

ONE: Voter identification – Find out who supports your candidate. The script is quick and straightforward: Do you intend to vote for my candidate? You record the voter’s response, selecting from the categories provided. If they’re a strong supporter, there may be a follow-up question asking if they want to volunteer.

TWO: Persuasion – This is a call to someone who is undecided. Unless you’re an experienced phone banker, it’s unlikely you would be asked to make this type of call.

THREE: GOTV – Get Out the Vote. This is the type of call you make within a few days of the election to make sure your supporters follow through and vote. The script will lead you through a series of questions to ask that are designed to help the voter make a plan to get to the polls. That may sound silly, but it’s easy to get caught up in your daily routine and forget that it’s an election day.
Make sure you read the script out loud a few times before you start making calls. You want to sound like you’re talking, not reading. If you’re with another phone banker, it helps to do some role-playing to get used to responding. The more comfortable you are with the script, the more comfortable you’ll be when you’re talking to real voters.

How do I make it fun?

Seriously? Yes, it can be fun.

Do it with friends. No, it’s not a conference call. But you can get together while you make individual calls. Gather in a coffee shop or restaurant with WiFi; make a sip of that latte’ your incentive. Or meet in someone’s home and reward yourselves with pizza and beer when you’re done.

Make a game out of it. Put candy (jelly beans?) in a bowl, and ration out one piece for every five calls.

If you’re calling with a group, pass around a hotel call bell. Ring it a few times when you get five positive responses and then pass it along.

My top ten tips:

1. Set a goal for how long you’ll make calls. I stick to about three hours at a time, though I take time-outs to visit the bathroom or refresh my beverage. This helps you make a commitment to the task, but it also sets a limit – I can make it until then.

2. Allow five rings before you hang up.

3. Smile and dial. People can hear smiles. That’s because your facial expression changes both the way you feel and the way you sound. If you’re smiling, you’re going to feel better and sound more enthusiastic on the phone, and that will have a big effect on the conversations you have. Set up a small mirror to check yourself. (No, you’re not being vain.)

4. Don’t give people easy outs when you start the conversation. The answer to “Can I ask you a few questions?” or “Do you have a few minutes?” is almost always “NO.”

5. The script is a baseline. Your goal is to figure out which way someone’s considering voting. Be friendly, make it a conversation, and get the necessary information.

6. Avoid getting into a debate. You’re not going to convince that voter to change, and they’re just wasting your time. Say thank you and hang up.

7. Don’t badmouth other candidates unless they do first.

8. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know. Refer them to the candidate’s website. There may be a spot to record a note, and someone else will return the call.

9. Don’t stress over a call you think went badly. The good news is that that person doesn’t know you and you’ll never have to talk to them again. Think about what went wrong and how to do it better next time, but don’t dwell on it or beat yourself up. There are always other voters.

10. Okay, I ran out. Send me yours!