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Kind: Walker's plan divides people

February 22, 2011
In The News

Eau Claire Leader Telegram

By Pamela Powers

Upset with Gov. Scott Walker's proposed state budget repair bill, some Dunn County residents on Tuesday turned to U.S. Rep. Ron Kind for advice about how to have their concerns addressed.

Never mind that Kind is a federal representative and not a Wisconsin politician. Residents concerned about Walker's proposal were looking for answers anywhere they could get them.

Walker's controversial proposal that would require state employees to pay more for their health insurance and pensions while limiting their collective bargaining rights was a much-discussed topic at a listening session at the Dunn County Government Center in Menomonie.

Kind, a La Crosse Democrat, criticized the actions of Walker, a Republican, as an "unprecedented power grab in the state's history" and said making the impact of budget decisions personal attracts politicians' attention.

"The more you can personalize stories with policymakers, the more powerful it is to them," Kind said. "The more personal it is, the more they think through the consequences."

Walker's proposal would adversely affect Wisconsin's public-sector workers in a variety of ways, Kind said, and serves to divide people.

"It's a matter of treating people with respect and fairness and talking to each other and not dictating terms," Kind said of the proposal. "It is an unfortunate situation; hopefully calmer heads will prevail in Madison."

Residents attending the listening session also raised concerns about federal issues, particularly proposed federal budget cuts to the Head Start early education program, public radio and television, and the Environmental Protection Agency. About 100 people attended the session.

Jim Faust of Colfax told Kind that Wisconsin corporations need to start paying their fair share of taxes.

"We're talking about cutting programs for people who have the least ability to defend themselves," Faust said. "I view this as a historic place in time. We're seeing the last great battle for the middle class."

Jody Slocum of Downing is concerned about the cuts to public broadcasters and what impact that would have on the national dialogue.

Kind urged people to contact their U.S. senators and the White House.

He pointed out that one planned cut would eliminate 55,000 Head Start teachers across the nation.

"I think that would ultimately lead to economic disaster in our country if we start defunding education," Kind said.

Kind also was questioned about Medicare. Republicans have talked about privatizing the federal health insurance program for older adults and giving senior citizens a $5,500 voucher for private health insurance, he said.

"I don't think that will work," he noted. "Private health insurance companies do not want to insure seniors. It's not profitable."

Kind said reforming health care would help reduce budget deficits. To do so, high-quality care, not quantity of care, should be rewarded, he said.

Kind also favors reducing defense spending. In the last federal budget, he proposed eliminating two out-of-date defense mechanisms, a move that would have saved an estimated $15 billion. However, it failed.