Tag Archives: funding

Creatives band together to benefit art programs in Milwaukee schools

By Joey Grihalva

Milwaukee’s largest locally-focused music and arts festival Arte Para Todos (“Art For Everyone”) returns this weekend.

In its third year, the festival hosts nearly 100 Wisconsin musicians who perform at 26 venues from Thursday, April 27, to Sunday, April 30.  

The festival was founded in 2015 as a response to the underfunding of art and music programs in Milwaukee schools. APT has raised nearly $40,000 in its first two years, which has been donated directly to local art programs.

In addition, the festival has brought musicians into schools for exclusive performances and talkbacks, featured live art, backdrops, a poster series, and student art.

Each day the festival takes place in a different neighborhood and puts an emphasis on mixed-genre lineups, encouraging musical discovery and a vibrant, diverse atmosphere.

Arte Para Todos is an all-volunteer endeavor, with bands, artists, organizers, and venues donating their time and energy. (Full disclosure, I am on the organizing team.)

In anticipation of Arte Para Todos, I spoke with several organizers and musicians about what makes APT a unique festival and the importance of exposing youth to art and music programs in school.

(More information and festival passes are available by clicking here.  Listen to the 2017 festival compilation here.)

Why did you start Arte Para Todos?

The Fatty Acids at APT 2016 (Photo by Andrew Feller)

JOSH EVERT (co-founder and musician, The Fatty Acids): A lot of schools are facing this really difficult decision, which is do they cut arts when they have budget shortfalls or do they cut from elsewhere? And a lot of the time, unfortunately, the choice is to cut arts. But what we keep hearing from teachers is that the arts are not expendable.

There are students that have a tough time with math, science, and reading, but they excel in the arts, and once you take that away, that’s cutting them off from any potential for success in a lot of cases. So it’s not fair for the kids and it’s not fair for the teachers that rely on that to keep some of their kids engaged.

What makes APT a special festival?

Tigernite at APT 2016 (Photo by Andrew Feller)

AMELINDA BURICH (organizer and musician, Rose of the West, Winter Bear): It’s been amazing that there’s organization happening, but it’s mostly just thanking and saying ‘Yes’ to a whole bunch of people that are really supportive and want to be a part of something. There are all these bands that are willing to play for free and there are all kinds of genres and all different ages and backgrounds. The venues involved are all different people and they all donated their time and space. I think it’s just an entire community coming together to help another part of the community that’s underserved.

What are some reasons kids should be exposed to music and art?

JOSH EVERT: I think that the arts are essential for learning empathy. If you can relate to someone else’s music, if you can relate to someone else’s paintings, if you can relate to someone else’s screenplay, then you’ll be able to understand their culture and experience a little better, you’ll be able to understand where they’re coming from, and ideally, you’ll be able to empathize with them.

Lex Allen at APT 2016 (Photo by Andrew Feller)

KIRAN VEDULA (musician, New Age Narcissism): There are a lot of reasons why kids should have access to the arts. It’s funny to me that we have to keep reminding ourselves why the arts are important. To me, it’s just so much a part of life, like the overall process of life; human emotion and everything. What’s so exciting about it, is it gives you an opportunity to actually express yourself. It gives you a voice, it gives you an outlet for all types of energy that’s inside of you that would have no other way of coming out.

CHRISTOPHER PORTERFIELD (musician, Field Report): The arts are the way we discover the world. That’s how we make sense of where we are and what the rest of the world is like. The arts enrich our lives and our experiences. They provide context and make you feel stuff and allow you to do stuff that feels good and meet new people. All those things are so, so important and it goes so far beyond what you can learn in a regular classroom.

Bo Triplex and Queen Tut at APT 2016 (Photo by Andrew Feller)

RORY FERREIRA (musician, Ruby Yacht): For me, before discovering theater in high school, I really felt like I didn’t have purpose or worth. I’m not a physical person, so sports were really never a big thing for me. And while I’m smart, I’m not really intellectual. I didn’t want to study. For a kid, especially in our society, which is really just preparing you to exploit yourself as labor for money, I just felt lost before getting involved in theater. There I discovered I could speak like other people and adopt a whole new persona. It definitely gave me confidence to go into the world and make a mark on it.

You were involved in the first APT festival. What was that experience like for you?

RORY FERREIRA: To me, it had the trappings of a pretty essential Milwaukee event. It was very loving. It was a community of musicians gathering to achieve an important end. To be real with you, I had just moved back, so I was kind of overwhelmed. It was a good experience. It was something I was honored to be a part of.

Student art.

 

Trump administration cutting off U.S. funding to UN agency for reproductive health

The Trump administration is cutting off U.S. funding to the United Nations agency for reproductive health under an abortion-related provision in a law that Democratic and Republican administrations have used as a cudgel in the global culture wars.

The U.N. Population Fund will lose $32.5 million in funding from the 2017 budget, the State Department said, with funds shifted to similar programs at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

The administration accused the agency, through its work with China’s government, of supporting population control programs in China that include coercive abortion.

It wasn’t immediately clear whether the U.N. fund would also lose out on tens of millions of additional dollars it has typically received from the U.S. in “non-core” funds.

By halting assistance to the U.N. Population Fund, the Trump administration is following through on promises to let socially conservative policies that Donald Trump embraced in his campaign determine the way the U.S. government operates and conducts itself in the world. Though focused on forced abortion — a concept opposed by liberals and conservatives alike — the move to invoke the “Kemp-Kasten amendment” is sure to be perceived as a gesture to anti-abortion advocates and other conservative interests.

The policy change came as Trump was to host Chinese President Xi Jinping for a highly anticipated meeting at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

In a shift from President Barack Obama’s approach, Trump has avoided elevating human rights concerns in diplomacy, with White House officials saying those issues are most effectively advanced by raising them with foreign leaders in private.

Rep. Eliot Engel, the top Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee, called it a “grave error” that sent a dangerous message about the administration’s policies toward women. He predicted women and girls “will suffer.”

“Donald Trump should put the health and dignity of women ahead of political points and reverse this decision immediately,” said Engel, D-N.Y.

Under a three-decade-old law, the U.S. is barred from funding organizations that aid or participate in forced abortion of involuntary sterilization. It’s up to each administration to determine which organizations meet that condition. The U.N. Population Fund has typically been cut off by Republican presidents and restored when Democrats control the White House.

In a lengthy memorandum obtained by The Associated Press, the State Department said the U.N. fund partners with China’s National Health and Family Planning Commission, responsible for overseeing China’s “two-child policy.” It said the U.N. collaborates with the Chinese agency on family planning. Still, the memo acknowledged there was no evidence of U.N. support for forced abortions or sterilization in China.

The U.N. Population Fund, known as UNFPA, said it regretted the U.S. move and argued it was “erroneous” to suggest it was complicit in China’s policies.

“UNFPA refutes this claim, as all of its work promotes the human rights of individuals and couples to make their own decisions, free of coercion or discrimination,” the agency said in a statement.

Starting in 1979, China had a “one-child policy” enforced in many cases with state-mandated abortions. But the policy was eased over the years, and now allows married couples to have two children, in a nod to the aging population in the world’s most populous country.

The designation was the latest move by the Trump administration to prioritize traditionally conservative issues in the federal budget. The Trump administration has vowed to cut all dollars for climate change programming, and also restored the so-called global gag rule, which prohibits funding to non-governmental groups that support even voluntary abortions.

The Trump administration has also signaled that it no longer sees a need for the U.S. to so generously fund U.N. and other international organizations.

The White House has proposed cutting roughly one-third from the State Department’s budget, with much of it expected to come from foreign aid and global organization dollars, although Congress is expected to restore at least some of that funding

The U.N. agency’s mission involves promoting universal access to family planning and reproductive health, with a goal of reducing maternal deaths and practices like female genital mutilation. The cut-off funds will be “reprogrammed” to USAID’s Global Health Programs account to focus on similar issues, said a State Department official, who wasn’t authorized to comment by name and requested anonymity.

The Kemp-Kasten amendment, enacted in 1985, led to some of the U.N. agency’s funding being initially cut off, then restored by Democratic President Bill Clinton in 1993, USAID said in a report. Republican George W. Bush’s administration reversed the decision in 2002, but President Barack Obama  gave the funding back after taking office.

Wisconsin voucher payments for private schools exceed per-student state aid payments

22In Wisconsin, taxpayer-funded payments to children choosing to attend private schools using a voucher will increase an estimated $217 in each of the next two years.

And they will continue to exceed per-student state aid payments for Wisconsin’s public schools.

New estimates were prepared by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau and released this week by Democrats opposed to the voucher program.

The Fiscal Bureau numbers show that the average voucher payment for a K-8 student next year will be $7,540 and $8,186 for a high school student. That compares with $6,703 in per-student state aid sent to public schools.

Democratic critics of the voucher program said they fear that increases in aid for public schools that Gov. Scott Walker proposed will be in jeopardy during Republican-controlled budget negotiations.

 

On Medicaid money, GOP has win-or-lose proposition for states

New England’s bucolic countryside looks much the same on either side of the Connecticut River separating Vermont from New Hampshire. But Medicaid beneficiaries are far better off in Vermont.

Vermont generously funds its Medicaid program. It provides better benefits, such as dental care, and pays doctors more than New Hampshire’s program does. That brings more doctors into the program, giving enrollees more access to care.

New Hampshire has twice Vermont’s population, but Vermont spends almost as much on Medicaid and covers more enrollees. Under the complicated formulas that set federal funding, Vermont’s substantial investment helps it capture nearly as much aid from the government as New Hampshire gets.

States’ policies differ about who or what to cover in Medicaid, and those decisions have led to historical variances in how much federal money they receive. House Republicans’ effort to shrink federal Medicaid spending would lock in the differences in a way that favors those already spending high amounts per enrollee.

“Republicans are finding out why changing Medicaid is so hard and why the easiest thing to do is to do nothing given the substantial variation in federal spending across states,” said John Holahan, a health policy expert with the nonpartisan Urban Institute.

Here’s why.

Medicaid, the national health program for low-income people that covers about 1 in 5 Americans, is 60 percent funded by the federal government and 40 percent by states. Total spending in 2015 was about $532 billion, according to the latest official data.

Federal funding is open-ended, which means the government guarantees states it will pay a fixed rate of their Medicaid expenses as spending rises.

Those matching rates are tied to average personal incomes and favor the lowest-income states. Mississippi has the highest Federal Matching Assistance Percentage — 76 — while 14 wealthy states, including New York and California, get the minimum 50 percent from the federal government.

But state Medicaid spending varies significantly, too, and that influences how much federal money each receives to fund its program. State policies about how generous benefits should be and how much to pay doctors and hospitals account for those differences.

GOP leaders want to give states a set amount of money each year based on the number of Medicaid enrollees they had in 2016, a formula known as per-capita caps.

A per-capita system would benefit high-spending states already receiving relatively rich allotments from the government, the Urban Institute said in a paper last September.

According to its estimates, if the system were in effect this year, Vermont would receive $6,067 per enrollee — one of the highest allotments in the country — while New Hampshire would get the least, just $3,084 per enrollee.

Per-capita caps would limit the government’s Medicaid spending because it would no longer be on the hook to help cover states’ rising costs. But caps also would shift costs and financial risks to the states and could force them to cut benefits or eligibility to manage their budgets.

“It would present a huge problem,” said Adam Fox, a spokesman for the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, an advocacy group.

Under the GOP bill, federal Medicaid funding to states would be adjusted annually based on a state’s enrollment and medical inflation. But that would not be enough to keep up with rising Medicaid spending per enrollee, which would force states to put up more of their money or scale back the program, the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said March 13.

Other analyses of the GOP plan have reached the same conclusion.

Since 1999, however, the average annual growth rate in Medicaid spending per enrollee has risen more slowly than medical inflation, according to MACPAC, the Medicaid and CHIP Payment and Access Commission, which advises Congress.

Republicans argue that overhauling federal Medicaid spending as they propose would hold down federal costs while giving states more leeway to run their programs as they see fit. “This incentive would help encourage efficiencies and accountability with taxpayer funds,” House Speaker Paul Ryan wrote last June in his white paper, A Better Way.”

Rep. Greg Walden (R-Ore.), chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, which has oversight of health care matters, sounded a similar note at a press conference in Washington, D.C., when the GOP plan was announced. “I think it’s really important to empower states and to put Medicaid on a budget,” he said.

But Fox argued the opposite would happen under a per-capita system — instead of gaining more control over their Medicaid programs, states would not be able to meet their needs because they’d have fewer dollars to decide how to spend, he said.

Bill Hammond, director of health policy for the nonpartisan Empire Center for Public Policy in New York, said House leaders’ decision to tie future Medicaid funding to medical inflation could help mute concerns that funding wouldn’t keep up with rising costs, but would not address the fairness issue of giving some states higher per-capita amounts than others.

“If a low-spending state decides it wants to spend more money on paying hospitals and doctors or adding more benefits, they would have a harder time doing that without breaking the federal cap,” he said.

Medicaid advocates in New Hampshire are worried because their state has few alternatives to make up for a loss in federal funding. New Hampshire lacks an income or sales tax.

“There is a tremendous amount of fear among families here as Republicans try to dismantle the ACA,” said Martha-Jean Madison, co-director of New Hampshire Family Voices.

Published under a Creative Commons license. Kaiser Health News, a nonprofit health newsroom whose stories appear in news outlets nationwide, is an editorially independent part of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Progressive coalition urges senators to oppose DeVos for education secretary

Nearly 250 civil rights and education groups signed a letter opposing the nomination of Michigan millionaire Betsy DeVos to be the U.S. secretary of education and urging the U.S. Senate to reject her nomination.

“Betsy DeVos’ deference to state flexibility, even with regard to compliance with federal civil rights laws such as the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, her claim that demonstrating support for Title IX enforcement guidance would be ‘premature’ and her lack of support for accountability for all schools receiving federal funds only serve to reinforce our conclusion that her inadequate previous experience and missing record of support for students’ civil rights make her unfit to serve as Secretary of Education,” the letter states.

The groups’ opposition is rooted in concern about DeVos’ failure to demonstrate a commitment to the enforcement of the nation’s federal civil rights and education laws.

The U.S. Department of Education’s critical role as the primary federal agency protecting students’ civil rights is particularly important as it continues to implement the new Every Student Succeeds Act, a law intended to ensure equal educational opportunity for all students.

“The Secretary of Education should be committed to policies and practices that make schools safe and welcoming for all children who spend most of every day there. Betsy DeVos has failed to demonstrate that she is qualified to do that job or that she understands what the job requires,” said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which spearheaded the letter. “America’s students deserve better.”

A vote on the Senate education committee is expected Tuesday.

If Republicans repeal health law, how will they pay for replacement?

Leading Republicans have vowed that even if they repeal most of the Affordable Care Act early in 2017, a replacement will not hurt those currently receiving benefits.

Republicans will seek to ensure that “no one is worse off,” said House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., in an interview with a Wisconsin newspaper earlier this month. “The purpose here is to bring relief to people who are suffering from Obamacare so that they can get something better.”

But that may be difficult for one big reason — Republicans have also pledged to repeal the taxes that Democrats used to pay for their health law. Without that funding, Republicans will have far less money to spend on whatever they opt for as a replacement.

“It will be hard to have comparable coverage if they start with less money,” Gail Wilensky, a health economist who ran the Medicare and Medicaid programs under President George H.W. Bush, said in an interview.

“Repealing all the ACA’s taxes as part of repeal and delay only makes a true replacement harder,” wrote Loren Adler and Paul Ginsburg of the Brookings Institution in a white paper out this week. It “would make it much more difficult to achieve a sustainable replacement plan that provides meaningful coverage without increasing deficits.”

The health law’s subsidies to individuals buying insurance and the Medicaid expansion are funded by two big pots of money.

The first is a series of taxes, including levies on individuals with incomes greater than $200,000, health insurers, makers of medical devices, brand-name drugmakers, people who use tanning salons, and employer plans that are so generous they trigger the much-maligned “Cadillac Tax.” Some of those measures have not yet taken effect.

However, the Congressional Budget Office estimated in early 2016 that repealing those provisions would reduce taxes by an estimated $1 trillion over the decade from 2016-2025.

The other big pot of money that funds the benefits in the health law comes from reductions in federal spending for Medicare (and to a lesser extent, Medicaid). Those include trims in the scheduled payments to hospitals, insurance companies and other health care providers, as well as increased premiums for higher-income Medicare beneficiaries.

CBO estimated in 2015 that cancelling the cuts would boost federal spending by $879 billion from 2016 to 2025.

The GOP, in the partial repeal bill that passed in January and was vetoed by President Barack Obama, proposed to cancel the tax increases in the health law, as well as the health premium subsidies and Medicaid expansion. But it would have kept the Medicare and Medicaid payment reductions. Because the benefits that would be repealed cost more than the revenue being lost through the repeal of the taxes, the result would have been net savings to the federal government — to the tune of about $317.5 billion over 10 years, said CBO.

But those savings — even if Republicans could find a way to apply them to a new bill — would not be enough to fund the broad expansion of coverage offered under the ACA.

If Republicans follow that playbook again, their plans for replacement could be hampered because they will still lose access to tax revenues. That means they cannot fund equivalent benefits unless they find some other source of revenue.

Some analysts fear those dollars may come from still more cuts to Medicare and Medicaid.

“Medicare and Medicaid face fundamental threats, perhaps the most since they were established in the 1960s,” said Edwin Park of the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, in a webinar last week.

Republicans in the House, however, have identified one other potential source of funding. “Our plan caps the open-ended tax break on employer-based premiums,” said their proposal, called “A Better Way.”

House Republicans say that would be preferable to the Cadillac Tax in the ACA, which is scheduled to go into effect in 2020 and taxes only the most generous plans.

But health policy analysts say ending the employer tax break could be even more controversial.

Capping the amount of health benefits that workers can accept tax-free “would reduce incentives for employers to continue to offer coverage,” said Georgetown University’s Sabrina Corlette.

James Klein, president of the American Benefits Council, which represents large employers, said they would look on such a proposal as potentially more damaging to the future of employer-provided insurance than the Cadillac Tax, which his group has lobbied hard against.

“This is not a time one wants to disrupt the employer marketplace,” said Klein in an interview. “It seems perplexing to think that if the ACA is going to be repealed, either in large part or altogether, it would be succeeded by a proposal imposing a tax on people who get health coverage from their employer.”

Wilensky said that as an economist, getting rid of the tax exclusion for employer-provided health insurance would put her “and all the other economists in seventh heaven.” Economists have argued for years that having the tax code favor benefits over cash wages encourages overly generous insurance and overuse of health services.

But at the same time, she added, “I am painfully aware of how unpopular my most favored change would be.”

Republicans will have one other option if and when they try to replace the ACA’s benefits — not paying for them at all, thus adding to the federal deficit.

While that sounds unlikely for a party dedicated to fiscal responsibility, it wouldn’t be unprecedented. In 2003 the huge Medicare prescription drug law was passed by a Republican Congress — with no specified funding to pay for the benefits.

Republished under a creative commons license via Kaiser Health News.

Republicans hold Zika funding hostage in Planned Parenthood fight

As the Zika virus escalates into a public health crisis, members of Congress remain entrenched politically, with Republicans and Democrats pointing fingers over the failure to act as the number of mosquito-transmitted cases in the U.S. grows.

Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell warned lawmakers this week that her budget for fighting Zika is running out quickly.

Without more money fast, she said, the “nation’s ability to effectively respond to Zika will be impaired.”

Yet lawmakers left Washington in mid-July for a seven-week recess without approving any of the $1.9 billion President Barack Obama requested in February to develop a vaccine and control the mosquitoes that carry the virus.

Abortion politics played a key role in the gridlock over the anti-Zika bill.

Republicans angered Democrats by adding a provision to a $1.1 billion take-it-or-leave-it measure that would have blocked Planned Parenthood clinics in Puerto Rico from receiving money.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, the Democratic candidate for vice president, has called for Congress to reconvene to immediately address the threat posed by Zika.

But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has signaled he is in no rush to return.

In an op-ed published recently in the Lexington Herald-Leader, the Kentucky Republican criticized Democrats for balking at passing the bill.

He said they’ll get another chance after Labor Day when Congress is back in session.

Here are key points to know about the anti-Zika legislation.

 

ZIKA MONEY BEING SPENT ‘AGGRESSIVELY, PRUDENTLY’

Burwell’s Aug. 3 letter seeks to counter Republicans who’ve criticized the Obama administration for not using several hundred million dollars already in the federal budget for Zika prevention.

The money was initially allotted for fighting Ebola but was redirected to address Zika.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said there’s no excuse for not spending money that Congress already has provided.

“Why are they holding that money back?” he asked.

Burwell said her agency is committed to using “scarce federal dollars aggressively and prudently.”

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control received the bulk of the $374 million “repurposed” for Zika domestic response efforts, she said, and it will exhaust the remainder of the money by Sept. 30.

Money for vaccine development will run out even sooner, she said.

The second phase of clinical trials would be delayed as a result, and Americans would have to wait longer for a vaccine, according to Burwell.

“Now that the United States is in the height of mosquito season and with the progress in developing a Zika vaccine, the need for additional resources is critical,” Burwell wrote.

 

DON’T EXPECT CONGRESS TO INTERUPT ITS RECESS

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat, said Congress doesn’t have to interrupt its lengthy summer break to pass the bill.

But Republicans immediately dismissed his proposal.

Nelson’s state has become the epicenter for Zika in the U.S. Fifteen people are reported to be infected with the virus in Miami’s Wynwood arts district.

These are believed to be the first mosquito-transmitted cases in the mainland United States, a situation that Nelson said heightens the urgency to respond.

In an Aug. 2 letter to McConnell, Nelson said an anti-Zika bill could be passed in the Senate through a parliamentary procedure known as a pro forma session that requires the presence of only a few senators.

But even Nelson isn’t optimistic that will happen. And he took a jab at McConnell, predicting the Senate would move hurriedly if a transmitted Zika case is reported in Kentucky, McConnell’s home state.

Don Stewart, McConnell’s spokesman, said Nelson’s proposal isn’t at all plausible unless Democrats are willing to end their filibuster of the anti-Zika bill that the House already has passed.

Otherwise, the Senate would be only approving an earlier version of the legislation that Obama could not sign into law, Stewart said.

 

ZIKA IS RISKY FOR BUSINESS TOO

Zika is a looming economic development problem too, according to Rubio.

Many Florida businesses depend heavily on tourism and the state’s economy could be hurt if potential visitors decide to stay away, he said.

“I can foresee now when people that are planning to come to Florida, to go fishing perhaps, will decide to cancel their trip because they’re worried about mosquitoes and they’re worried about Zika,” Rubio said.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said that it’s up to Congress to pass the legislation so that more can be done.

“They left on a seven-week recess a day early, at the height of mosquito season and basically told the American people, ‘good luck,”” Earnest said.

Federal budgeting to save lives

I write you today as House Speaker Paul Ryan, Sen. Ron Johnson, Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Reid Ribble and their colleagues in Congress craft the federal government’s budget for FY 2017.

As they do so, I encourage them to protect cost-effective, life-saving programs that fight diseases like HIV/AIDS, tackle hunger, and help the world’s poor pull themselves out of poverty for good, all for less than 1 percent of the federal budget.

I am fortunate that I, like many of us in Milwaukee, never have to worry about where my next meal is coming from, or if I can sufficient medical treatment when I am sick.

But millions around the world aren’t so fortunate.

Though this is a tough reality to face, there is hope. The facts show extreme poverty has already been cut in half and can be virtually eliminated by 2030. We’ve come too far in the fight against extreme poverty to turn back now.

So, Mr. Speaker and honorable members of Congress, please protect life-saving programs — like the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, TB and malaria and our nutrition aid — as the budget process moves forward.

letter, budget
We welcome your letters to the editor. Please email to lmneff@wisconsingazette.com.

Bradley footage winds up in an outside group’s political ad

AP reports

Outside groups have started pumping money into Wisconsin’s Supreme Court race.

The conservative Wisconsin Alliance for Reform has spent at least $234,660 on a statewide ad buy supporting Justice Rebecca Bradley, according to research released by Justice at Stake and the Brennan Center for Justice.

The group’s ad for Bradley raises questions about whether she broke her pledge not to coordinate with such groups, even though it’s legal. The ad used footage identical to that featured by Bradley on her YouTube channel on Jan. 21.

The ad makes no mention of her opponents, Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald and 4th District Court of Appeals Judge JoAnne Kloppenburg. It doesn’t press for viewers to vote for or against Bradley, instead calling her fair and measured. The upload, entitled “Rebecca Bradley: A Day in the Life,” has no dialogue.

Since the ad doesn’t specifically call for anyone’s election or defeat, it qualifies as issue advocacy. The state Supreme Court ruled last summer — weeks before Republican Gov. Scott Walker appointed Bradley to the court — that candidates can coordinate with outside groups on such communications. But Bradley pledged in October she wouldn’t coordinate with independent groups, although she added that she wouldn’t ask them to stay out of her race.

Luke Martz, Bradley’s campaign manager, said in an email that the footage the campaign uploaded to YouTube is in the public domain and the campaign has no problem with any independent group using it to “continue to showcase a positive message.”

Wisconsin Alliance for Reform spokesman Chris Martin said in a telephone interview that the group used publicly available footage. No one told the group the footage was out there, he added.

A supporter and donor of Walker, Bradley is a former president of the Milwaukee chapter of the Federalist Society, a far-right libertarian lawyers group. She’s also belonged to the Thomas Moore Society, a conservative Catholic legal group, and the Republican National Lawyers Association.

She began her legal career protecting corporations from liability lawsuits and doctors from malpractice suits.

The liberal group One Wisconsin Now said its research shows Wisconsin Alliance for Reform has spent closer to $400,000 on ads. OWN deputy director Mike Browne said the group queried every Wisconsin television station and cable system. He said OWN didn’t search for groups supporting Bradley’s opponents.

Justice at Stake spokeswoman Laurie Kinney said outside spending in state Supreme Court races sullies perceptions about justices’ impartiality and makes them seem beholden to groups that support them.

“If you have a justice who arrives on the bench courtesy of millions of dollars of spending by an outside interest group, what is the effect going to be on that person’s professional performance?” Kinney said. “It’s deleterious to the administration of justice.”

Wisconsin Alliance for Reform describes itself on its website as a “coalition of concerned citizens and community leaders committed to creating greater economic opportunities for Wisconsin families.”

Asked why the group had chosen to back Bradley, spokesman Martin said by email that she embodies the leadership and courage the group expects from justices.

Walker appointed Bradley, who has only about four years of experience on the bench, to every judicial position that she’s held.

Despite a lack of experience, Bradley was so certain Walker would appoint her to the high court that she registered a website as a justice before the applications were even due. That suggests a crony-style inside track on the job rather than anything resembling leadership and courage. 

“The Bradley campaign and the Republican Party are essentially one and the same,” said a statement from Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Joe Donald’s campaign manager, Andy Suchorski, at the time of Bradley’s appointment.

More outside spending looks to be on the way.

Scott Manley, a lobbyist for Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the state’s largest business group and a staunch Republican ally, told the Wisconsin State Journal in March that the group planned to get involved in the race. The group spent nearly $2 million on ads supporting conservatives David Prosser and Patience Roggensack, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. The group spent nothing to help Daley.

As many candidates have, Bradley has benefited from outside spending in the past. The conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth spent $167,000 in Bradley’s race to retain her appointed seat on the Milwaukee County Circuit Court in 2013. 

On the Web

Responses to questionnaires sent to the three candidates for Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice are online at the League of Women Voters’ national voter guide website — www.vote411.org. The candidates’ responses, along with local primary race information, also can be found on the League of Women Voters of Dane County site at lwvdanecounty.org.

Study identifies 12 most wasteful highway projects in U.S.

A new study by the United States Public Interest Research Group Education Fund and Frontier Group identifies the most wasteful highway projects across the country, slated to collectively cost at least $24 billion.

The study details how despite massive repair and maintenance backlog and in defiance of America’s changing transportation needs, state governments continue to spend billions each year on new and wider highways.

The study shows how some of the projects are “outright boondoggles.”

“Many state governments continue to prioritize wasteful highway projects that fail to effectively address congestion while leaving our roads and bridges to crumble,” said John Olivieri, national campaign director for 21st century transportation at the U.S. PIRG and co-author of the report.

“This in turn saddles future generations with massive repair and maintenance backlogs that only grow more painful and expensive to fix the longer we wait to do so,” he noted.

The report says these are examples of waste:

• I-95 Widening, Connecticut, $11.2 billion. Widening the highway across the entire state of Connecticut would do little to solve congestion along one of the nation’s most high-intensity travel corridors, while further investment in rail infrastructure has long been overdue.

• Tampa Bay Express Lanes, Florida, $3.3 billion. State officials admit that a decades-old plan to construct toll lanes would not solve the region’s problems with congestion, while displacing critical community job-training and recreational facilities.

• U.S. 20 widening, Iowa, $286 million. Hundreds of millions of dollars that could pay for much-needed repairs to existing roads are being diverted to widen a road that does not need expansion to handle future traffic.

• Paseo del Volcan extension, New Mexico, $96 million. A major landholder is hoping to get taxpayer funding to build a road that would open thousands of acres of desert to sprawling development.

• State Highway 45 Southwest, Texas, $109 million. Building a new, four-mile, four-lane toll road would increase traffic on one of the most congested highways in Austin and increase water pollution in an environmentally sensitive area critical for recharging an aquifer that provides drinking water to 2 million Texans.

• San Gabriel Valley Route 710 tunnel, California, $3.2 billion to $5.6 billion. State officials are considering the most expensive, most polluting and least effective option for addressing the area’s transportation problems: a double bore tunnel.

• I-70 East widening, Colorado, $58 million. While replacing a crumbling viaduct that needs to be addressed, Colorado proposes wasting millions of dollars widening the road and increasing pollution in the surrounding community.

• I-77 Express Lanes, North Carolina, $647 million. A project that state criteria say does not merit funding is moving forward because a private company is willing to contribute; taxpayers will still be on the hook for hundreds of millions of dollars.

• Puget Sound Gateway, Washington, $2.8 billion to $3.1 billion. The state is proposing to spend billions of dollars on a highway to relieve congestion in an area where traffic has not grown for more than a decade, and where other pressing needs for transportation funding exist.

• State Highway 249 extension, Texas, $337 million to $389 million. The Texas Department of Transportation relies on outdated traffic projections to justify building a 30-mile six-lane highway through an area already suffering from air quality.

• Portsmouth bypass, Ohio, $429 million. Despite roads across Ohio being in dire need of repair, the state Department of Transportation is embarking upon its most expensive project ever: building a new road to bypass a 20,000-person city where driving is decreasing.

• Mon-Fayette Expressway extension, Pennsylvania, $1.7 billion. A new toll road long criticized because it would damage communities is moving forward in an area where residents are calling instead for repairs to existing roads and investment in transit improvements.

Recent federal data show that more than 61,000 bridges or roughly one in 10 are structurally deficient nationwide. While other data show that states are overwhelming investing scarce transportation dollars in expansion rather than repair — collectively spending 20.4 billion (55 percent) expanding 1 percent of the current system, while spending just 16.5 billion (45 percent) repairing and maintaining the other 99 percent.

At the same time, the research shows states are failing to account for changing transportation trends, especially among millennials.

“America’s long-term travel needs are changing, especially among Millennials, who are driving fewer miles, getting driver’s licenses in fewer numbers, and expressing greater preferences to live in areas where they do not need to use a car often,” said Tony Dutzik senior policy analyst at the Frontier Group.

“Despite the fact that millennials are the nation’s largest generation, and the unquestioned consumers of tomorrow’s transportation system, states are failing to adequately respond to these changing trends,” he added.

The study recommends states:

• Adopt fix-it-first policies that reorient transportation funding away from highway expansion and toward repair of existing roads and bridges;

• Invest in transportation solutions that reduce the need for costly and disruptive highway expansion projects by improving and expanding public transit, biking, and walking options;

• Give priority to funding transportation projects that reduce the number of vehicle-miles people travel each year, thereby also reducing air pollution, carbon-emissions, and future road repair and maintenance needs;

The report also looks back at the 11 highway “boondoggles” identified in 2014, including in Wisconsin.

Since that original report came out, several states revisited plans to expand and build new highways. The Trinity Parkway project in Dallas was revised from a six-lane road to a more limited four-lane road and the proposal to create a double-decker tunnel for I-94 in Milwaukee was postponed for the foreseeable future. Also, the Illiana Expressway, a proposed $1.3 billion to $2.8 billion toll-way intended to stretch from I-55 in Illinois to I-65 in Indiana was placed on indefinite hold.

“Investing so heavily in new and wider highways at a time when so much of our existing infrastructure is in terrible disrepair is akin to putting an extension on your house while the roof is leaking. It just doesn’t make any sense,” said Olivieri.