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Baldwin introduced

Democratic Party Field Organizer Yo Kinsman, left, introduces Sen. Tammy Baldwin, right, to Columbia County Democrats at its headquarters Wednesday night in downtown Portage. In the middle is Ann Groves Lloyd, the Democratic candidate in the state's 42nd Assembly District.

“Group” isn’t a strong enough word for U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin when she considers the number of lobbyists in Washington.

In downtown Portage on Wednesday, she warned against an “army” of them influencing American policy.

“They influence our elections too,” Baldwin said at the headquarters of Columbia County Democrats. Baldwin — who faces Republican Leah Vukmir in the election Nov. 6 — visited Portage for the kickoff of local phone bank efforts, and spoke alongside Wisconsin Assembly District 42 candidate Ann Groves Lloyd of Lodi.

“They draft the legislation, they agitate and they push. These same folks also have Super PACs,” Baldwin said of special interests in Washington. “I had the distinct experience of being the No. 1 target of a Super PAC, and it spent $14 million in nasty attack ads before I even had an opponent.”

“These people want someone to do their bidding in Washington. That’s deeply disturbing.”

Washington is a “mess,” Baldwin said, claiming a tax measure passed by Republicans late last year provides 83 percent of its tax breaks to the “richest 1 percent of individuals and to large multinational corporations and domestic corporations.” ExxonMobil Corp., for example, would in the first year of the tax law receive $1 billion more in tax breaks than every Wisconsin individual and family combined, she said.

“That to me is just shocking, and anyone who said they would support such a measure is basically transitioning our tax code into one that really rewards wealth rather than hard work.”

Baldwin said any idea that big tax breaks for large corporations would eventually “trickle down” to working individuals is false. Instead of employees seeing increases to their wages or seeing their companies invest in manufacturing plants or training, “the vast majority of tax breaks go to stock dividend payouts and stock buybacks,” she said.

Baldwin then singled out a tax break of more than $1 billion for Kimberly-Clark Corp., saying the company proceeded to purchase $911 million in stock buybacks and closed two of its plants in the Fox Valley. “Why not purchase only $811 million in stock buybacks?” she said, implying the corporation could have used the money to keep its plants open.

Rural issues

Baldwin told the Daily Register after her speech that two issues important to rural communities include helping struggling dairy farms and improving access to broadband services.

“Though we’re losing many of our dairy farms, we’re still a state defined by dairy,” Baldwin said. Baldwin is currently working on a farm bill that would provide “robust risk management tools to help dairy farmers” and she’s telling her colleagues in Washington to “pay attention to the export markets and don’t alienate (dairy farmers) with tariffs.”

Baldwin said 700,000 Wisconsin residents lack access to high-speed internet, and when she hosts roundtable discussions on the subject, the stories she hears from rural residents might shock some people.

“I’ve heard from parents who drive their students to the high school parking lot just so they can do their homework, using the Wi-Fi of the school,” Baldwin said. “Small businesses aren’t going to locate in rural communities if they can’t market their products to the world. It’s holding us back.”

Baldwin serves on the Senate Commerce Committee that holds oversight over telecommunications, and she’s also talking to members of the agriculture committee oversees USDA programs concerning broadband access, “pressing them” to address the issue.

“I don’t want this to take a couple more decades before we do something,” Baldwin said. “This is the difference between rural Wisconsin getting ahead or not.”

Education

In March, Baldwin introduced a bill called America’s College Promise Act that would allow students to receive tuition-free education for their first two years of community or technical college. The bill intends to address the skilled worker shortage in rural communities like Portage, but so far Republicans on the local and federal level have not been receptive to the idea, she said.

“We’re not going to correct the skills gap anywhere if people feel think their only choices are to take a lower-wage job or go to college and fall into heaps of debt,” Baldwin said.

What’s stopping the bill?

“My plan for paying for it is cutting tax giveaways and loopholes,” she said. “Maybe that’s the reason (the opposition) won’t pass it. I don’t know.”

Baldwin said she wants to see more special education funding for public school districts like Portage. Recent changes to the state’s Special Needs Scholarship Program require taxpayers to cover 90 percent of special education funding for private school students, and so Portage and others in the Wisconsin Rural Schools Alliance are asking the state to do the same for public schools. The federal government by law is supposed to cover 40 percent of a district’s special education costs and pays only 15 percent, while the state is supposed to pay 60 percent, but pays less than 27 percent, according to the Rural Schools Alliance.

“It’s shameful,” Baldwin said. “I’m pressing to increase that (amount).”

Follow Noah Vernau on Twitter @NoahVernau or contact him at 608-695-4956.

Portage Daily Register reporter