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Wednesday, Sept. 21, 2011

Issue of the Week: Following the Rules

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Doesn't Gov. Scott Walker know how to follow his own rules?

Or is he so hell-bent on punishing the poor that he feels he can make up the rules as he goes along just so he can make them suffer?

Or is he just afraid of public scrutiny?

Earlier this year, Walker pushed for greater involvement over the writing of administrative rules—that nit-picking process that agencies go through to flesh out bills that have been passed by the state Legislature. In the past, agencies would submit their proposed rules to the Legislature, allow the public and experts to weigh in, and then implement the approved rules.

Walker changed all that with the help of a compliant Republican-led Legislature. Now, agencies must submit their proposed rules—along with a detailed economic impact analysis—to him for approval before they go to the state Legislature. And if Walker doesn't like the rule, he can let it die.

So this leads to the state Department of Children and Families (DCF) recently changing how it would reimburse child-care providers in the Wisconsin Shares program. The providers in this program were unfairly maligned by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel when the paper sensationalized alleged fraud cases in a poorly administered program. Since then, these providers—including honest, hardworking child-care providers who have done nothing wrong—have become convenient scapegoats for the Journal Sentinel writers.

So the Republican-passed state budget included a provision that would allow DCF to adjust Wisconsin Shares providers' pay. Not surprisingly, DCF decided to reduce providers' pay, even though pay for these workers has been frozen since 2005. What's more, noted the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, private child care providers, Head Start providers, and public and choice schools are not reimbursed in the way proposed by DCF—just some Wisconsin Shares providers.

For DCF to implement this new reimbursement policy, it should have gone through the new rule-making process.

But DCF didn't. It merely released an “operations memo,” a sort of heads-up about the new policy—no review by the governor, no public input, no economic analysis, nothing. Even the nonpartisan state Legislative Council found that the new policy is, in reality, a rule, and needed to go through the rule-making process.

State Rep. Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee) blasted DCF's changes in a press release, saying, “Just because the Walker administration might not respect the law does not mean it can ignore the law.”

Grigsby noted that Walker's Department of Health Services was also found to be out of compliance with federal law.

This behavior continues a pattern established throughout the year. Walker's allowed his appointed head of the Department of Health Services to cut almost $500 million from Medicaid programs; developed the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which won't be as open to the public as the former Commerce Department; tried to prevent the press from accurately reporting a study on the benefits of health care reform; and tried to strong-arm his collective bargaining bill through the state Legislature without debate. What's more, he consistently avoids meeting the public in free and open settings.

When it comes to DCF's rule change, we've got to ask: Why can't Walker and his political appointees follow their own rules?