On the 50th anniversary of President Lyndon Baines Johnson's declaration of war on poverty, Republicans on the Wisconsin State Budget Committee made it their mission to hammer the poor as hard as possible.

First, they refused to spend any of the state's available federal funds on income-support programs. Then they passed a bill that will prevent an estimated 2,500 more people from enrolling in BadgerCare, the state's Medicaid-funded program for lower-income people. With those concerns dismissed, they agreed to spend millions more on an agency that Governor Scott Walker created specifically to give taxpayer money away to corporations.

Walker's refusal to accept an estimated $4 billion in Medicaid funds over the next several years has created massive technical and administrative problems for the state's Department of Health Services. These complicated issues required the legislature to meet in special session last month to pass laws that "fix" the issues created by Walker's obstinance. Turning down these funds means that 85,000 people will lose coverage through Badger Care and will have to purchase their own insurance.

A 15 percent increase in people receiving income support benefits in 2013 has led to an estimated shortfall of $25 million for the program through June 2015. But instead of fully funding the program, the Republican-dominated Joint Finance Committee voted to cover a little over a third of the shortfall, returning $1.3 million to the state's general fund.

At the same time, the committee decided to release $44 million to the troubled Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), an agency created by the Walker Administration to grow the 250,000 jobs he promised to create. However, WEDC has been sharply criticized for gross mismanagement and legal violations. The agency also has a poor track record, with 16 of its 26 programs failing to meet their goals (PDF) in the last fiscal year.

The WEDC also ran into difficulties in 2013 when it failed to increase business loans, accumulating a large surplus. WEDC CEO Reed Hall claims that tax credits are much more attractive to companies wanting to do business in the state than the agency's loans, which he believes are a more difficult sell due to competition from commercial banks.

Hall also said that WEDC was focused on attracting "global international companies," and that he wished we had "the large multinational companies in Milwaukee like they have in Minneapolis." He announced the roll-out of a TV ad campaign in neighboring states, saying that "the friendly political and regulatory climate" in Wisconsin is a strong selling point to corporations. "If taxes were lower, that would be another thing we could sell," he added.

Of course, Republicans voted to fully fund the agency's request, including an additional $3.7 million for advertising. Democrats on the committee objected and urged their colleagues to wait to release the funds until the Legislative Audit Bureau completes it's work later this year, pointing out that the money would be better spent supporting local economic development agencies that have a proven track record of success. Their concerns fell on deaf ears.

Wisconsin led the nation in new unemployment claims last November. As the ranks of the jobless and people living in or near poverty swell, casualties in the political and economic war against them will also increase. Unfortunately, Wisconsin Republicans are actively shredding the fabric of our already threadbare social safety net, ensuring that our fellow citizens' pain will persist.

Just how long this trend can continue before an organized resistance is mounted is anyone's guess.

Photo: "Homeless and sad little girl," via Shutterstock.


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The new head of the Environmental Protection has a history of suing the agency for trying to do its job.

The reach of this story extends from the lowliest working stiff to the highest court in the land.

By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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