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Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Issue of the Week: The Unelected Bureaucrat in Charge

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Buried in the details of the $66 billion state budget—which state Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) has laughably called the “best” budget she's ever seen—is a sobering, sweeping, anti-democratic change that will affect the 1.1 million Wisconsinites on Medicaid programs.

Thanks to changes made in the Darling-headed Joint Finance Committee (JFC), an unelected bureaucrat now has the power to change Medicaid regulations without holding a public hearing or otherwise going through the usual rule-making process that involves the state Legislature.

That unelected bureaucrat—Dennis Smith, who Gov. Scott Walker appointed to be the secretary of the Department of Health Services—will only have to send the proposed Medicaid changes to the 16-member JFC for a passive review.

“How is the public even going to know what's happening?” questioned Jon Peacock, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families' research director who sorted through the budget's details.

Even worse, the JFC handed that same unelected bureaucrat a $466 million funding shortfall. So Smith can tinker with BadgerCare or Family Care eligibility and premiums, for example, to fill that deficit without having to notify the state Legislature or allowing the public to weigh in on the changes.

Peacock said there's nothing stopping Smith from cutting even more than $466 million from his budget.

Smith is a former senior fellow at the Heritage Foundation, an extreme right-wing free-market think tank, where he made repeated attacks on Medicaid programs.

Now Walker and Darling have given him unparalleled, virtually unchecked power over those programs.

The budget also requires Smith to apply for a waiver to get more “flexibility” under federal health care reform guidelines. Peacock said that would give Smith even more power to limit access to Medicaid.

“I find it amazing that we're stripping away from the Wisconsin electorate our ability to hold policy-makers accountable for the extremely important policy decisions they make,” Peacock said.

Heroes of the Week

Summerfest Charity Participants

Summerfest again is partnering with sponsors to offer free or discounted admission on select days to attendees who make contributions to local charities.

On Wednesday, June 29, patrons who arrive between noon and 3 p.m. and donate three nonperishable food items will receive a free admission ticket.

On Sunday, July 3, the first 1,500 people to donate three nonperishable food items for kids will receive free admission. In both cases, the food collected will be donated to the Hunger Task Force.

On Thursday, July 7, the first 1,500 patrons to donate a new (still in original packaging), indoor children's toy, art supplies or children's G- or PG-rated DVD movie with $5 minimum value will receive free admission. Items will be used throughout the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin system.

On Saturday, July 9, the first 1,500 patrons to contribute $10 or more to the Muscular Dystrophy Association will receive one free admission ticket.

Additionally, half of the net proceeds from this year's inaugural “Summerfest Rock 'n Sole Half Marathon and 10K Run” on Sunday, July 10, will go to Ronald McDonald House Charities of Eastern Wisconsin Inc. All runners will receive a wristband good for admission any time on July 10. For more information on the half-marathon, visit www.rocknsolerun.com.

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