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Racine Co. Exec. McReynolds: Calls for referendum on amending state constitution to protect transportation funding

Racine Co. Exec. McReynolds: Calls for referendum on amending state constitution to protect transportation funding6/22/2010 

CONTACT: Geoff Greiveldinger  (262) 636-3120 Geoff.Greiveldinger@goRacine.org 

Racine – Racine County Executive Bill McReynolds today announced that he is asking the County Board to place on the September 14, 2010 primary ballot an advisory referendum question whether the state constitution should be amended to prevent state transportation funds from being used for non-transportation purposes. The request appears in a letter addressed to County Board Chairman Peter Hansen and Vice Chairman Russell Clark.

The letter points out that the State of Wisconsin has routinely used transportation funds for non-transportation purposes, adversely impacting Racine County and its residents; and it further notes that the state’s financial situation is not expected to improve greatly in the near future. Therefore, the letter urges that county voters have an opportunity to express their views on a possible state constitutional amendment to prevent future diversions of transportation funds.

The County Board has already placed on the November 2, 2010 general election ballot an advisory referendum question concerning potential new taxes in Racine County to help fund mass transit. To avoid confusion between two advisory referendum questions that deal with different aspects of transportation funding, McReynolds suggests that the referendum on diversion of state transportation funding to non-transportation purposes be placed on the September 14, 2010 primary election ballot.

The text of the letter and the attached draft resolution appear below.

LETTER TO COUNTY BOARD CHAIRMAN AND VICE CHAIRMAN 

June 22, 2010 

Peter L. Hansen Chairman, Racine County Board 730 Wisconsin Ave Racine, WI 53403

Russell A. Clark Vice Chairman, Racine County Board 730 Wisconsin Ave Racine, WI 53403

Dear Chairman Hansen and Vice Chairman Clark:

As you know, reductions in State of Wisconsin funding for transportation, including reductions in funding for state highway maintenance, have had a serious impact on Racine County and its residents. Those reductions are largely attributable to the state’s use of transportation funds for non-transportation purposes.

With the state and national economic situations continuing to be difficult, there is little prospect of windfalls in transportation funding. We cannot afford to see more transportation funds diverted from the purposes for which they are collected and for which they are sorely needed.

Therefore, I request that the County Board adopt a resolution putting to the voters an advisory referendum question that asks whether they favor amending the state constitution to prohibit the use of state transportation funds for non-transportation purposes. A draft resolution is attached. 

Because the November 2010 ballot will contain an important advisory referendum on new taxes for transit in Racine County, it may be preferable for this advisory referendum concerning a constitutional amendment to be placed on the ballot for the September 2010 primary election.

Thank you for your consideration of this matter.

Sincerely,

William L. McReynolds County Executive

ATTACHMENT

RESOLUTION PLACING ADVISORY REFERENDUM QUESTION ON BALLOT

WHEREAS, since 2003, the State of Wisconsin has transferred more than $1.2 billion from its segregated transportation fund to the general fund and has only partially replaced that amount with funds from General Obligation (GO) bonds, thereby reducing the amount available for transportation purposes by more than $400 million; and

WHEREAS, Wisconsin’s practice of transferring money from the segregated transportation fund to the general fund has eroded the public’s confidence that the “user fees” paid through the state gasoline tax and vehicle registration fees will be used for their intended transportation purposes; and

WHEREAS, Wisconsin’s practice of replacing the dollars transferred from the state’s segregated transportation fund with GO bonds puts our state in the precarious position of bonding to fund ongoing operations; and

WHEREAS, a November 2009 report issued by the Pew Center on the States singled out Wisconsin as having one of the ten worst budget situations among the 50 states and specifically cited transferring money from the transportation fund to fund ongoing operations as one of the practices that have put Wisconsin in such a difficult position; and

WHEREAS, the debt service for these bonds will have to be paid for out of the state’s general fund, which will hinder its future ability to fund other programs, such as Shared Revenue, Youth Aids, Community Aids and courts; and

WHEREAS, although gasoline taxes and vehicle registration fees constitute over 90% of the state’s segregated transportation account, revenues from those two sources have been declining and are inadequate to meet the existing transportation needs in this state; and

WHEREAS, Wisconsin’s transportation infrastructure is a fundamental component in its ability to attract and retain business and produce jobs; and

WHEREAS, a number of states, including our neighbors in Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan and Ohio, already have provisions in their state constitutions to prevent diversion of transportation funds to non-transportation purposes; and

WHEREAS, the citizens of Racine County deserve the right to have their voices heard on this important issue.

NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the Racine County Board of Supervisors that the following question will be put to the voters of Racine County in an advisory referendum during the September 14, 2010 primary election:

Should the Wisconsin Constitution be amended to prohibit any further transfers or lapses from the segregated transportation fund? 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the County Clerk is directed to cause a copy of the Notice of Referendum to be published in the county’s official newspaper as required by law; and

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the County Clerk is directed to provide a copy of this resolution and a copy of the results of the advisory referendum to the Governor of Wisconsin, to Racine County’s state legislative delegation, and to the Wisconsin Counties Association.

Respectfully submitted,

Wisconsin Shares Commentary -- Mason is flat wrong

From the Racine JT's (here) Racine County Executive William McReynolds

Actions speak louder than words. Representative Cory Mason says he opposes child care fraud. Last week, he twice helped vote down fraud investigation funding for counties, including his own. For good measure, he refused to close loopholes in the program.

Representative Mason told fellow legislators not to give Racine County any funds to investigate child care fraud, saying, "Racine County, under the leadership of Bill McReynolds, has really failed to take full responsibility for the child care fraud that's been going on in Racine."

He's flat wrong about that; we've stepped up. But here's the real point: even if there were mistakes early on, blocking funds to Racine County only punishes county residents and hampers anti-fraud efforts. Why did he do it?

A recent Journal Times series showed that our welfare fraud investigative resources declined over time because state funding kept dwindling. In 2010, the state is giving us nothing, leaving county property taxpayers to pay the costs of investigating fraud in a state program. That's why Representative Mason's actions are as puzzling as they are troubling.

Equally troubling is his breathtaking ignorance, or disregard, of what Racine County and the Wisconsin Department of Children & Families are doing. In a Journal Times commentary last week, the sheriff, the district attorney and I announced a multi-agency county fraud task force with DCF. Our Human Services Department is hiring a seasoned investigator. Sheriff Carlson and the Racine and Mount Pleasant police departments promise investigative resources. DCF promises data and analysis, and the DA promises to prosecute provable cases.

But the commitments of the DA and three law enforcement agencies apparently aren't good enough. Representative Mason refused to give Racine County any fraud investigation funds without adequate "oversight and ... assurances that it won't just be more of the same and we'll get better fraud investigations from Journal Sentinel reporters than we will from Racine County."

But why punish Racine County taxpayers? If he thinks some part of county government won't investigate cases properly, why not direct funds elsewhere - to the Sheriff, the DA, or even DCF - where they can still help combat fraud? Don't we all want to end fraud?

And why not vote to change the child care program to close loopholes that look wrong and invite fraud? Although Representative Mason speaks of "child care fraud that's been going on in Racine," no case has been strong enough to be criminally charged. Most of what he calls fraud are practices that we all agree are unacceptable, but permitted under current rules; e.g., child care providers sending their own children to other providers, and child care provider employees caring for their own children. For months, we've told our legislators those loopholes must be closed. We've also urged a "card swipe" system to prove attendance and rules to permit quicker termination of benefits when provider infractions are discovered.

Each of those items was the subject of an amendment to the child care reform bill. They would have cost little or nothing and would have sent no extra funds to Racine County. But they would have weeded out "bad actors," strengthened the program, and helped restore public confidence. So why did Representative Mason vote against every one of them? Don't we all want to make the program accountable?

Some disputes in government seem like "inside baseball," but these facts are clear to everyone.

We're all outraged by child care fraud; but ending it requires closing loopholes and conducting sometimes expensive investigations. Representative Mason explicitly refused to help his county fund investigative resources, and he systematically voted against measures to close loopholes.

Actions speak louder than words.

RACINE COUNTY OFFICIALS DEMAND STATE REPRESENTATIVE EXPLAIN VOTE AGAINST FRAUD INVESTIGATION FUNDS

William L. McReynolds, Racine County Executive

Peter L. Hansen, Chairman, Racine County Board

730 Wisconsin Ave

Racine, WI 53403

MEDIA RELEASE

November 6, 2009

RACINE COUNTY OFFICIALS DEMAND STATE REPRESENTATIVE

EXPLAIN VOTE AGAINST FRAUD INVESTIGATION FUNDS

Racine-Six Racine County elected officials today demanded that State Representative Cory Mason (D-Racine) explain why he voted against additional state funds to help Racine County investigate welfare fraud. Expressing serious concern about Mason’s actions were three County Board Supervisors--Chairman Peter Hansen, Vice Chairman Bob Miller, and Health & Human Development Committee Chair Mike Miklasevich--as well as County Executive Bill McReynolds, District Attorney Mike Nieskes and Sheriff Bob Carlson.

On November 3rd, the Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance, of which Representative Mason is a member, considered legislation to address problems in Wisconsin Shares, the state’s child care assistance program.  Representative Mason voted against an amendment to the bill that would have appropriated $500,000 in each of two years, to be distributed to counties to help them investigate welfare program fraud.

During committee deliberations on the amendment, Representative Mason went out of his way to criticize Racine County government, saying:

I have real concerns about allocating additional monies to Racine County when they clearly have some problems with their human services on enforcement, whether it’s on the Shares program or even being out of compliance with the Child Long-Term Care waivers.  Clearly, there is [sic] some real problems with the way that Racine County implements these programs and without more oversight and more assurances that it won’t just be more of the same and we’ll get better fraud investigations from Journal Sentinel reporters than we will from Racine County, I’m not inclined to release this money today.

After Representative Mason’s diatribe against Racine County government, the amendment was defeated by a vote of 10-5.  Voting for the funding in committee were Senator John Lehman and Representative Robin Vos, Racine County’s other Joint Committee on Finance members.

On Thursday, Representative Mason repeated his opposition to fraud prevention funding for counties on the Assembly floor, where a similar amendment also failed to be adopted, 49-44.  In explaining his vote, he said:

These amendments coming from the Racine County Board are hard, very hard to take in good faith, because Racine County, under the leadership of Bill McReynolds, has really failed to take full responsibility for the child care fraud that’s been going on in Racine.

County Board Chairman Peter Hansen reacted to Representative Mason’s statements by saying: “We expect our state legislators to advocate for Racine County, not to criticize it in front of people from around the state.  But Representative Mason has made serious charges, and the County Board is not ignoring them.  On the contrary, the board is inviting him to appear before it to explain in detail what problems he perceives. We look forward to a frank discussion of these matters and his views on them.”

“Racine County is committed to weeding out child care fraud, but we need help in Madison,” affirmed Vice Chairman Bob Miller.  “Senator Lehman and Representative Vos understand that county taxpayers shouldn’t have to cover the costs of investigating fraud in a state welfare program.  Representative Mason’s votes are disappointing, and his attacks on county government are inexplicable.”

Sheriff Bob Carlson pointed out that, only two weeks ago, he stood with the County Executive, the DA, RCHSD Director Debbie Jossart, Wisconsin Department of Children & Families (DCF) Secretary Reggie Bicha, and local law enforcement officials to announce a child care fraud task force.  Noting that Racine County HSD will hire at least one retired officer to do “front end” investigations, he stated that, to build prosecutable cases, the Sheriff’s Department and the Racine and Mount Pleasant police departments will contribute investigators’ time.  Carlson added: “We’d hoped there might be some extra funding from Madison, but we’ll do the job with or without more money.  It’s just very disappointing that a Racine County state legislator has stopped that funding.”

To that, District Attorney Mike Nieskes added: “I’ve said that my office will prosecute any public assistance fraud case that can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, and I mean that.  I’d have told Representative Mason the same thing, but he’s never spoken to me on this issue—nor, to my knowledge, has he spoken to HSD or the Sheriff’s Department on the efforts that have been and are being undertaken.”

County Executive Bill McReynolds observed: “If this story weren’t such bad news for county taxpayers, it would be funny.  We had to tighten our belts on fraud investigations because the state reduced our funding.  Despite that, we put together an anti-fraud task force, with no additional funds.”

McReynolds continued: “But Representative Mason isn’t satisfied.  He seems to think that he knows better than our County Board, our Sheriff, our DA, and our HSD director.  Maybe he’s entitled to his opinion.  But he’s not entitled to stick it to Racine County taxpayers by blocking state money to help cover the county’s costs of investigating fraud in a state program.”

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