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Conservatively Speaking

State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.

Gangsters, Wisconsin Style

News you can use

The long-awaited movie, “Public Enemies” that was filmed in several Wisconsin locations last year opens in theaters July 1, 2009. An adaptation of notorious gangsters from the era of the great depression and Prohibition, the movie features the popular Johnny Depp as John Dillinger, America’s first Public Enemy Number One, and Christian Bale as the government agent in hot pursuit, Melvin Purvis.

To mark the occasion of the movie’s opening, the Wisconsin Department of Tourism is encouraging visits to the many locations used to film action scenes. You are invited to take it on the lam and go on a Wisconsin gangster tour.

Wisconsin was a favored getaway destination for Chicago criminals in the 1920’s and 1930’s like Dillinger and Al Capone, thanks to our wooded and rural landscapes. The Department of Tourism suggests a Northern and Southern tour of Wisconsin sites that served as gangster hideouts and were used to film, “Public Enemies.”

The Southern tour includes Milwaukee, Racine, Madison, Darlington, Columbus, Beaver Dam, Wisconsin Dells, Lake Delton, Oshkosh, and Lake Geneva.

Numerous scenes were shot at the Milwaukee County Historical Society Building. One of them was, appropriately, a bank robbery sequence. The downtown building was a bank before it became the Historical Society took it over.

Read more

It's June...oh, deer!

News you can use


October and November are deadly months for deer crashes. The deer are quite active due to their mating season. However, we are now at a point in our calendar that also poses a challenge for motorists.

The state Department of Transportation reports, “
In four of the last five years, June ranked as the worst or second worst month for motorists’ injuries from deer crashes, according to Dennis Hughes, chief of safety programs for the Wisconsin Department of Transportation Bureau of Transportation Safety.”

Be careful out there.

Newspaper calls JFC budget process an "insult to public"

State budget


The Appleton Post-Crescent lashes out in an editorial at the process used by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee during state budget negotiations:

“The Joint Finance Committee of the state Legislature just finished its work on the state budget bill. Thank goodness it stopped when it did. Who knows how much more damage it could have done to the notion of responsible government? It's hard to know where to start.”

You can read the entire editorial
here.

State Budget Watch: How the JFC budget affects you

State budget


The state budget approved by the Democrat-controlled Joint Finance Committee (JFC) along party lines that was crafted behind closed doors and without minority Republican input would have tremendous negative effects on you.

Here are some of the direct impacts the budget would have:

You will pay higher property taxes because the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO) will be eliminated.

You will pay higher property taxes because state aid to local municipalities and school districts is being cut.

You will pay higher income taxes because a new income tax bracket is being created.

You will pay higher capital gains taxes.

You will pay higher hospital care costs because a new hospital tax is being imposed in addition to the original hospital tax approved earlier this year by the Democrat-controlled state Legislature.

You will pay higher gasoline costs because a new oil company tax will merely be passed onto consumers.

You will pay higher phone costs because of a new phone tax.

You will pay higher car insurance premiums.

You will be less safe because many felons will be given early release.

Your children will be less safe because GPS monitoring of sex offenders is being cut.

Your local police department will have longer response times because of a new requirement to collect racial data at every traffic stop.

State budget deliberations are still in progress. However, I lack confidence the Democrat-controlled state Assembly, Democrat-controlled state Senate, and Governor Doyle with his veto pen will make any improvements to what will more than likely be the worst state budget in Wisconsin history.

Business leaders spoke, we listened: Policies to create jobs in Wisconsin

Business, Taxes, State budget


The Wisconsin Jobs Now Task Force that I serve on along with other Republican legislators has been holding roundtable discussions around the state, 
listening to the expertise and concerns of businesspeople about Wisconsin’s woeful business climate.

As promised, the input from the roundtables has been incorporated into a final report of recommendations to the Legislature to create jobs and stimulate our economy.

Among the report’s recommendations:

Reduce the Personal Income Tax
The Task Force recommends an overall reduction in individual and employer taxes to keep businesses here and attract new businesses and job-creation opportunities to Wisconsin.

Repeal 11% Employer Tax Hike Passed in February
The Task Force recommends repealing the new combined-reporting tax and the new tax on custom software.

Freeze property taxes
The Task Force recommends maintaining a strong property tax freeze to reduce the ever-increasing burden placed on businesses looking to expand or trying to attract new employees.

Simplify and Streamline Tax Code
The Task Force recommends streamlining, consolidating, and cutting fees on employers.

Stop the increase in the Capital Gains Tax
The Task Force recommends opposing an increase in the capital gains tax that is in Governor Doyle’s proposed state budget and the budget recently adopted by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee.

Reduce the Tax Burden on Expansion/Retooling
To help Wisconsin employers stay competitive, and to create jobs for equipment suppliers, the Task Force recommends providing tax relief on new equipment purchases.

Stop the “Brain Drain”
The Task Force recommends creating a business-recruiting team to bring high-tech and cutting-edge industries and startups to Wisconsin.

Freeze on new regulations
The Task Force recommends a freeze on all new regulations until the economy
improves.

Expediting the permitting process
The Task Force recommends guaranteeing agency permitting responses within a reasonable amount of time.

Help small businesses afford health insurance
The Task Force recommends allowing small businesses to pool together to achieve significant health insurance cost savings.

Guarantee reasonable caps on non-economic damages for medical malpractice cases
The Task Force recommends establishing low long-term caps on non-economic damages.

Stop raids on Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund
The Task Force recommends prohibiting future government raids on the fund to attract and retain high quality health care providers.

Move Toward Patient-Centered Care
The Task Force recommends that Wisconsin implement a system that patients have access to the information they need to make informed decisions and have control over their health care dollars.

Don’t repeal the 1995 reforms in Joint-Several Liability statutes
The proposed changes could make an employer who is as little as 1% at fault, 100% liable for damages. 

Don’t increase auto insurance costs
Proposed changes will increase auto insurance rates by more than 33% and bring Wisconsin rates from the 3rd lowest in the country to one of the highest, increasing costs on employers, and killing jobs.

Don’t increase the state minimum wage above the federal minimum wage

Don’t adopt proposed changes to Prevailing Wage Law

You can read the final report of the Wisconsin Jobs Now Task Force here.

Audit: Local Government Property Insurance Fund

Audits


The Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) has completed a statutorily-required review of the Local Government Property Insurance Fund. The fund provides property insurance to counties, towns, villages, school districts, and other local units of government and is operated by the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI).

During June 2008, the Property Fund insured 1,124 local units of government with insured property valued at $45.5 billion. The total number of governmental units insured has dropped from 1160 during 2005 to 1124 during 2008. Even so, the value of insurance continues to increase due to inflationary increases in the property base and of new construction.

As of March 31, 2009, OCI reports a surplus balance of $40.0 million. There have been steady surplus increases since fiscal year 2003-04 due to premium rate increases. Factor in fewer claims than had been anticipated and the Property Fund started to reduce rates July 1, 2005. However, during the next three years, the fund had its highest claims because of numerous weather-related episodes. Total claims were $18.4 million in fiscal year 2005-06, $23.3 million in fiscal year 2006-07, and $24.0 million in fiscal year 2007-08.

The LAB asserts that monitoring the status of the surplus is critical:

“The larger the surplus, the greater the assurance that sufficient funds will be available to pay claims. The surplus may also help to keep premium rates stable and to ensure
that reinsurance is available and affordable. However, too large a surplus balance may indicate the premium rates are too high, and the Property Fund must balance its need for an adequate surplus with local governments’ needs for reasonable premium rates, especially as their financial resources are shrinking.”

The LAB recommends that OCI continue monitoring the surplus balance so that it remains proper, especially considering the tough economic times local units of government currently face.

The LAB also discovered during its review that OCI was charging appropriations based on the purchase and implementation of a new computer system to manage the Property Fund during 2004. OCI was not charging costs based on a consistent methodology. The LAB recommends the OCI establish and keep records of a methodology for charging costs to its administration and operations appropriations and obtain the proper authorization from the Legislature if large, one-time purchases are made, to ensure appropriate allocation of costs.

Once again, I commend the LAB for an outstanding review. You can see the full audit report here. 

State Budget Watch: Saturday specials from the JFC

State budget


During the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) was jamming controversial social policies into the budget with little notice and while very few in Wisconsin were paying attention.

My former legislative aide, Christian Schneider, now with the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI) writes about “coverage“ the JFC approved, and “coverage“ is the operative word.

The JFC endorsed a provision in Governor Doyle’s propsoed 2009-11 state budget that extends the Medicaid Family Planning Waiver program to men. Increased funding of $355,000 will help to pay for free condoms for the program’s new recipients. Schneider writes the governor’s and the Democrat-controlled JFC’s flawed logic goes like this: more condoms, fewer births that would be funded by the tate’s medical assistance (MA) program.

“Ah, you see - the program pays for itself.  If taxpayers just bought more condoms for people, we’d have fewer pregnancies, and therefore fewer taxpayer subsidized births. Because condoms are just so difficult to come by these days.  Certainly, once government starts handing them out, everyone will be using them, right?  Well, no. Eight other states allow men to take part in the Family Planning Waiver program, and zero have seen any cost reductions as a result of ’fewer births.’“

You can read Schneider’s entire piece with more details about what happened the Memorial Day weekend here. 

Pro-Life Wisconsin also sheds some light on two controversial measures adopted by the JFC along party lines the same Saturday.

One requires
all Wisconsin pharmacies to dispense prescribed contraceptive drugs or devices.

“This budget motion is a bold attack on the lawful conscience rights of pro-life pharmacy professionals,” said Peggy Hamill, Pro-Life Wisconsin’s state director.

The other measure requires commercial health insurance plans and self-insured governmental health plans to include contraceptive drugs and devices.

“Pregnancy is not a disease,” said Hamill. “Why should the government force health insurance companies – and the policy holders who will pay for this expansion through increased premiums – to cover drugs and devices that are purely elective?”

You can read more from Pro-Life Wisconsin here.

Given the nature of these policy items, it is clear why the JFC chose to conduct its business when no one was looking and with little, if any, advance notice to the general public and news media.

The government's benefit cup runneth over


Despite the recession, government spending is the highest it has ever been…on benefits.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis reports one out of every six dollars earned by Americans today is the result of government assistance. Other details:

Government aid accounted for 16.2 percent of personal income during the first quarter of this year, an all-time high.

Spending on benefits will surpass $2 trillion this year, about $17,000 per American household.

Half the benefit spending is attributed to the recession, the other half to increased spending on prescription drugs, health care for children and food stamps after the 2001 recession.

The struggling economy has more people retiring early, causing an increase in Social Security costs.

Unemployment insurance and food stamp costs have also increased.

Read more in the USA TODAY. 


In a related story, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) confirms what I have blogged about in the past, that the huge federal stimulus package will only make matters worse. The WSJ writes that states desperately hurting will only see their budget problems get worse:

The drop in tax revenue is set to be deeper and last longer as collections have become more sensitive to business cycles in recent years. At the same time, states face growing health-care costs and the need to replenish pension programs funded by decimated investments. And some of the stimulus funds expand programs that will require state money to sustain them after the federal largesse runs out.”

That last sentence is critical. What happens when the stimulus money runs out? States are left holding the bag with unfunded programs.

Do the math. The stimulus hasn’t come close to helping states and their vast budget dilemmas. The WSJ writes:

“Altogether, states face aggregate budget shortfalls of at least $230 billion from fiscal 2009 through fiscal 2011, said Mr. (Scott) Pattison (executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers). For most states, that covers the period from July 1, 2008, to June 30, 2011.

That aggregate figure is nearly double the roughly $130 billion in federal stimulus funds that states can use flexibly over three years. When today's federal assistance peters out, a number of state budget officers don't expect new tax revenue to replace it.”

One expert tells the WSJ state tax collections may not recover until the end of 2012 or later.

You can read the WSJ article
here.

State Budget Watch: Is the state budget in trouble?

State budget



With the state Assembly scheduled to take up the state budget next week, there are signs that approval in the lower house will be anything but a slam dunk because of disgruntled Democrats.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) has issued a memo to Assembly Democrats comparing Governor Doyle’s budget to the budget just adopted by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC). The memo shows that the JFC budget increased the state's net balance by $1.375 billion. 

The Wisconsin Associated Press reports Democrats that control the Assembly have raised concerns about the budget.

A Green Bay radio talk show host, Jerry Bader has counted noses and found only 35 votes in the Assembly in support.

Assembly Democrats will need plenty of Republicans to join them in voting for the budget.  I don’t see that happening.

State Budget Watch: The JFC's assault on school choice

State budget

Last week, during the final stages of its budget deliberations, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) that is controlled by Democrats took punitive action against Milwaukee’s popular and effective school choice program. The aim wasn’t to kill but to severely injure, and the JFC’s moves got noticed nationally.

The National Review noted the significance of the Milwaukee program:

Milwaukee
is home to America’s most vibrant school-choice program: More than 20,000 students participate, almost all of them minorities. They have made academic gains and boast higher graduation rates than their peers in public schools. They even save money for taxpayers.”

And that’s why the JFC approved numerous provisions in a large omnibus motion to gut school choice. The Wall Street Journal writes:

Because the 20-year-old program polls above 60% with voters, and even higher among minorities, killing it outright would be unpopular. Instead, Democratic Governor Jim Doyle wants to reduce funding and pass ‘reforms’ designed to regulate the program to death. The goal is to discourage private schools from enrolling voucher students and thus force kids to return to unionized public schools.”

In the final hours of their budget discussions, the JFC embarked on a carefully orchestrated assault on school choice with the following provisions:


  • Choice schools could be required to administer the 4th, 8th, and 10th grade knowledge and concepts examination approved by the state Superintendent.
  • Credentials would be required for choice school staff.
     
  • Teacher’s aides at choice schools must have graduated from high school, been granted a declaration of equivalency of high school graduation, or been issued a general education development certificate of high school equivalency.
     
  • Choice schools that have already been accredited would have to meet additional accreditation requirements.
     
  • Choice schools with enrollments of more than 10% limited-English proficient pupils would be required to have a bilingual-bicultural education program.
     
  • A priority list would be created that would take precedence over the current law provision that choice schools accept pupils on a random basis.
     
  • Funding would be cut from choice schools under a reestimate of program participation.
     
  • The per pupil amount of funding would be cut for choice students by $165.
     
  • High poverty aid would be increased, allowing MPS to receive an additional $9.9 million annually.
     
  • The MPS aid reduction related the choice program would be cut from the current law 45 per cent to 41.6 per cent during 2009-2010 and 38.4 per cent during 2010-11 and thereafter.
     
  • When choice pupils transfer to MPS in mid-year after a school closing, MPS would receive the state’s share of any choice payments for that school year that have not been paid to the choice school on behalf of that pupil.
     
  • An additional count date for MPS on the first Friday in May will be used to calculate state aid.
     
  • There are also provisions pertaining to transfer of records and required meetings.


 

Read more

Sunday is Friedman Day

Taxes


You probably have heard of Tax Freedom Day. 

Did you know this Sunday, June 7, 2009 is Friedman Day? Named after the late Nobel-laureate economist Dr. Milton Friedman, it’s the day the American Institute for Economic Research calculates Americans start earning money for themselves rather than paying the government.

Friedman Day comes later than Tax Freedom Day because Friedman Day includes money borrowed by the government to fund spending that isn't covered by tax revenue.

During September 2003, Friedman gave an interview to conservative columnist John Hawkins. 
Friedman told Hawkins the following:

“I am in favor of cutting taxes under any circumstances and for any excuse, for any reason, whenever it’s possible. I believe the big problem is not taxes. The big problem is spending. The question is, ‘How do you hold down government spending?’ Government spending now amounts to close to 40 percent of national income, not counting indirect spending through regulation and the like. If you include that, you get up to roughly half. The real danger we face is that number will creep up and up and up. The only effective way I think to hold it down, is to hold down the amount of income the government has. The way to do that is to cut taxes.”

Friedman would not be pleased to see the gap between Tax Freedom Day and Friedman Day now stretching almost two months. Investor’s Business Daily explains why in this editorial. 

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH update: June 8-15

News you can use


Here is an update from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) for the I-94 NORTH-SOUTH freeway project:

Construction update June 8 -June 15:
I-94 North-South Freeway Project update for Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties

MILWAUKEE COUNTY

All closures are weather-dependent and subject to change.
New long-term closures are BOLD. 


Monday, JUNE 8
Double lane closures I-94 EAST (SB) and WEST (NB) from Rawson to Edgerton from 9:30 p.m. – 5:30 a.m.
Double lane closures 27th St NB at I-894/I-43 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. 

Tuesday, JUNE 9
Double lane closures I-94 EAST (SB) and WEST (NB) from Rawson to Edgerton from 9:30 p.m. – 5:30 a.m.
Double lane closures 27th St NB at I-894/I-43 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. 

Wednesday, JUNE 10
Double lane closures I-94 EAST (SB) and WEST (NB) from Rawson to Edgerton from 9:30 p.m. – 5:30 a.m.
Double lane closures 27th St NB at I-894/I-43 7 a.m. – 4 p.m.
Full closure Airport Spur WB freeway ramps to I-94 EAST (SB) and WEST (NB) 9:30 p.m. – 5:30 a.m.
Full closure Airport Spur WB entrance ramps at Howell Ave 9:30 p.m. – 5:30 a.m. 

Thursday, JUNE 11
Double lane closures I-94 EAST (SB) and WEST (NB) from Rawson to Edgerton from 9:30 p.m. – 5:30 a.m.
Double lane closures 27th St NB at I-894/I-43 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. 

Friday, JUNE 12
Double lane closures 27th St NB at I-894/I-43 7 a.m. – 4 p.m. 

Saturday, JUNE 13
Only long term closures in effect. 

Sunday, JUNE 14
Only long term closures in effect.

LONG TERM CLOSURES IN MILWAUKEE COUNTY
- I-894/43/I-43 WB exit ramp to 27th Street Until Late August
- 27th St entrance ramp to I-894/43/I-43 EB Until Late August     
- 27th St NB entrance loop ramp to I-894/43 WB Until Late August
- I-894/43/I-43 WB right lane closure between Mitchell Interchange and 27th St Until Late August
- Single lane closures on NB and SB 27th St between Layton Ave. and Bottsford Ave; both directions of traffic will travel on the 27th St SB bridge over I-894/43 (two lanes in each direction) Until Late July

- Howell Ave. NB & SB single lane closures between Layton Ave. to Howard Ave Until June
- College Ave from 15th St. to 20th St Until November

-
I-94 EAST (SB) and WEST (NB) entrance and exit ramps at College Ave. closed until November.
- Southwest park and ride lot at College Ave. closed until November.
- Northeast park and ride lot at College Ave. closed until late August. (Temporary lot available at MATC-Oak Creek campus)
 

RACINE AND KENOSHA COUNTIES

Monday, JUNE 8 
Full closure I-94 EAST (SB) and WEST (NB) entrance and exit ramps at County E 10 a.m. until August
Full closure County E at I-94 and east and west of the frontage roads 10 a.m. 6/8 until August
One directional traffic with a flagger on County G between new frontage road locations (approx 1000' east and west of I-94)  7 a.m. – 5 p.m. 

Tuesday, JUNE 9 
Single lane closure (long-term) I-94 WEST (NB) Russell Rd. to Des Plaines River 9 a.m. until Late November
One directional traffic with a flagger on County G between new frontage road locations (approx 1000' east and west of I-94)  7 a.m. – 5 p.m. 

Wednesday, JUNE 10 

Open I-94 WEST (NB) entrance and exit ramps at WIS 158 at 3 p.m.
Open East Frontage Road north and south of WIS 158 at 3 p.m.
One directional traffic with a flagger on County G between new frontage road locations (approx 1000' east and west of I-94)  7 a.m. – 5 p.m. 

Thursday, JUNE 11
Full closure I-94 EAST (SB) entrance and exit ramps at WIS 158 4 p.m. until Fall ‘09
Full closure West frontage road north and south of WIS 158  4 p.m. until Fall ‘09
Double lane closure I-94 EAST (SB) WIS 142 to WIS 158 9:30 p.m. – 5:30 a.m. 

Friday, JUNE 12
Only long term closures in effect. 

Saturday, JUNE 13 
Double lane closure I-94 WEST (NB) Russell Rd. to Des Plaines River 11 p.m. – 7 a.m.

Sunday, JUNE 14
Only long term closures in effect. 

Monday, JUNE 15
Full closure I-94 EAST (SB) entrance and exit ramps at WIS 165  9:00 a.m. until late July 

LONG TERM CLOSURES IN KENOSHA COUNTY
- I-94 WEST (NB) exit ramp to WIS 158 until late June 10
- WIS 158 entrance ramp to I-94 WEST (NB) until late June 10
- East Frontage Rd at WIS 158 until June 10
- East Frontage Rd from County C to WIS 165 until August
- I-94 EAST (SB) entrance and exit ramps at WIS 158 6/11 until Fall ‘09
- West Frontage Rd north and south of WIS 158 6/11 until Fall ‘09
- County C east of the freeway ramps until August
- East Frontage Rd between County C and WIS 50 until August
- I-94 EAST (SB) and WEST (NB) entrance and exit ramps at County E 6/8 until August
- County E at I-94 and east and west of the frontage roads 6/8 until August
- Single lane closure I-94 WEST (NB) Russell Rd to Des Plaines River 6/9 until Late November
- I-94 EAST (SB) entrance and exit ramps at WIS 165 6/15 until late July

Congratulations, Robert LaFever!

Eagle Scouts


Robert LaFever’s Eagle Scout ceremony was held on Sunday, May 24, 2009.

My office prepared a state citation that I presented to Robert LaFever at the special ceremony. It reads:

Whereas, Robert LaFever is a member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 530, and through dedication and commitment, attained the rank of Eagle Scout; and

 

Read more

Congratulations, David Montgomery!

Eagle Scouts


David Montgomery’s Eagle Scout ceremony was held on Sunday, May 24, 2009.

My office prepared a state citation that I presented to David Montgomery at the special ceremony. It reads:

Whereas, David Christopher Montgomery is a member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 531, and through dedication and commitment, attained the rank of Eagle Scout; and

 

Read more

Congratulations, Ryan Victory!

Eagle Scouts


Ryan Victory’s Eagle Scout ceremony was held on Sunday, May 24, 2009.

My office prepared a state citation that I presented to Ryan Victory at the special ceremony. It reads:


Whereas, Ryan Matthew Victory is a member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 505, and through dedication and commitment, attained the rank of Eagle Scout; and

Read more

A Thousand Cranes in Muskego

Good news from Senate District 28


Recently, I had the privilege of being invited to watch an outstanding performance of A Thousand Cranes by the First Stage Children's Theater at the Lake Denoon Middle School in Muskego.

A Thousand Cranes tells the story of Sadako Sasaki, a young girl living in Japan.

She was born just two years before the end of World War II. Now she lives with her parents and two brothers not far from where the atom bomb was dropped in 1945.

Sadako sees the pain and hurt and the effects of the bomb on the faces of other people. Even though she realizes at the age of 12 that many people have died from the radiation caused by the bomb’s explosion, she is fortunate because her life hasn’t been touched by what happened during the war. However, that all changes when she starts to get ill from the radiation. That’s when a friend tells Sadako the story of how a thousand paper cranes can bring good luck.

Read more

State Senate Calendar for Tuesday, June 9, 2009

News you can use


Here is the calendar for the state Senate floor session scheduled for Tuesday, June 9, 2009 at 11:00 a.m.:

First Order.               Call of Roll.

Read more

You call this stimulating the economy?


Remember how the federal stimulus money was supposed to create a huge number of jobs?


The Americans For Tax Reform reports the following numbers:

43.7 Billion: Stimulus dollars spent

1.5 million: Jobs lost since stimulus spending signed into law

2,900: Cost in dollars per job lost

Here are the details.

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH PROJECT update (6/11/09)

News you can use

Here is an update from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) for the I-94 NORTH-SOUTH freeway project:


Revised Construction update June 5 -June 15:
I-94 North-South Freeway Project update for Milwaukee County

  • The WB Airport Spur ramp to I-94 EAST (SB) will close tonight (6/11) from 9:30 p.m. - 2 a.m. The closure was previously scheduled for tonight from 9:30 p.m. - 1 a.m. 
  • Tonight's (6/11/09) lane closures on I-94 EAST (SB) will be the inside two lanes. Previous release indicated the two outside lanes would close. The closure time remains from 9:30 p.m. - 5:30 a.m.

State Budget Watch: Assembly to remove contributory negligence from budget

State budget


The state Assembly is scheduled to begin debate on the state budget this afternoon. The Assembly Democratic Caucus has adopted an amendment removing contributory negligence from the budget.

Governor Doyle included a provision in his proposed 2009-11 budget that was also included in the Joint Finance Committee’s budget that moves the civil justice system in Wisconsin to a “one percent pays all” system.

During the 1995 legislative session, Senate Bill 11 (SB 11) was approved and signed into law (Act 17) following the appropriate legislative process: there were public hearings and full debate by lawmakers in both houses. The state Senate approved SB 11, 24-8. The vote in favor in the state Assembly was 69-27.  The law required that someone had to be at least 51 percent at fault before the person could be held liable for 100% of the damages.

The change in state law in the mid-90’s was to promote fairness and equity. If someone was injured, responsibility needed to be apportioned fairly.

Tucked inside Governor Doyle’s proposed state budget (AB 75, page 1605) is a provision that anyone with equal or greater fault than the plaintiff can be held 100 percent  responsible (”jointly and severally liable”), even if only 1 percent at fault. Again, current law requires a person to be at least 51percent before the person can be held responsible for 100 percent of damages.

Why is the governor pursuing such change? It allows plaintiff attorneys to go after a greater number of targets, creating more litigation.

This is a major policy change that needs to be debated outside the scope of the biennial budget.

I oppose the change sought by the governor and the Joint Finance Committee. That is one horrendous idea that should be removed from the state budget. One down, several dozen more to go.

State Budget Watch: A list of what's wrong with the Governor's and JFC's budgets

State budget


Governor Doyle has proposed his 2009-11 state budget. His budget involvement is through until he makes vetoes in the budget approved by the Legislature and signs the document into law.

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, controlled by Democrats, has approved its version of the budget. The Democrat-controlled Assembly now considers the budget. Then it goes to the Democrat-controlled state Senate. If the Assembly version and Senate version are not identical, a

conference committee comprised of legislators from both houses then takes up the budget.

Here are 10 of the worst items about Governor Doyle’s proposed budget:

1) Tax and fee increases: The total amount of tax and fee increases in Governor Doyle’s proposed 2009-11 state budget = $1,707,734,400.

2) Property taxes for the average Wisconsin home would increase $91 on bills this December and an additional $134 next year under Governor Doyle’s proposed state 2009-11 state budget. The property tax increase would be 3.2 percent this year and 4.5 percent next year. They are likely to go up even higher with the elimination of the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO).

3) Spending: The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) reports the state would spend 7.7 percent more in 2009-11 compared to the base year doubled under the governor’s proposed budget. The governor’s budget creates a $1.574 billion deficit in the 2011-13 state budget.

4) Raiding funds: The practice continues

5) Non-fiscal policy items are plentiful.

6) Public safety is jeopardized by releasing felons early and reducing GPS monitoring of sex offenders.

7) Allows illegal immigrants to receive driver cards and in-state tuition rates.

8) Governor Doyle’s budget proposal refrains from putting any funding toward REAL ID compliance. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports over $12.5 million has been collected from motorists that was supposed to go toward compliance with the federal law. Congressman Sensenbrenner was right when he said this about the governor: "If he keeps the fee that was collected for REAL ID and doesn't use it for that purpose, then he's stealing money from people who got licenses or renewed licenses since the fee went up." Real ID is necessary for homeland security. The money state residents have already paid for Real ID should be used by Governor Doyle exclusively for that program.

9) The governor is proposing a stunning mandate, requiring that all insurance policies cover dependents in some cases until they reach the age of 27.

10) A state authority would be created that would select a private entity, the SEIU for example, to represent a union of home care workers. The registry of union home care workers would be the basis for collective bargaining. The state Legislature has never in the history of Wisconsin created a union by an act of the Legislature through statutes. The impact on senior citizens will be significant. Health care costs will be driven up for seniors trying to stay out of nursing homes and live out their 
years in the warmth and comfort of their own homes. By paying home care providers, they stay off public assistance and prevent their personal assets from being drained. This drives up costs for seniors at a time elderly are doing everything they can to stay in their own homes and minimize costs. Seniors choosing not to use the registry would lose any benefits or participation. Once they have exhausted all their assets, they have little alternative except to go into a nursing home.

There are many more that belong in the top 10, nursing home bed tax, auto insurance increases, etc. etc. etc.


Here are 10 of the worst items about the budget approved by the Joint Finance Committee (JFC):

1) The JFC-approved budget increases taxes and fees by $2.1 billion according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB).

2) The changes made by the JFC increased the state's net balance by $1.375 billion according to the LFB.

3) LFB also projects the state would have a structural deficit of almost $2.3 billion heading into the 2011-13 budget, under the JFC proposal.

4) The JFC budget is loaded with pork. 


5) The JFC budget aims to kill school choice. 

6) You will pay higher hospital care costs because a new hospital tax is being imposed in addition to the original hospital tax approved earlier this year by the Democrat-controlled state Legislature.

7) You will pay higher gasoline costs because a new oil company tax will merely be passed onto consumers.

8) You will pay higher car insurance premiums.

9) You will be less safe because many felons will be given early release. Your children will be less safe because GPS monitoring of sex offenders is being cut.

10) Your local police department will have longer response times because of a new requirement to collect racial data at every traffic stop.


These are just a few of the many problematic components of both the governor’s and the Joint Finance Committee’s budgets. I fear the Democrat-controlled state Assembly, Democrat-controlled state Senate, and Governor Doyle with his veto pen will not make any improvements to what will m
ore than likely be the worst state budget in Wisconsin history.

Honor and respect our Flag


It is considered to be one of the greatest moments in the history of America’s favorite pastime

and it didn’t even involve a baseball.

April 25, 1976, during the year of our Bicentennial, the Chicago Cubs were playing the Dodgers in Los Angeles. During the fourth inning, two men ran out of the stands onto center field with an American Flag in hand. Kneeling on the outfield grass, they poured lighter fluid onto the flag. Sensing what was about to happen, Cubs’ outfielder Rick Monday charged toward the two men and in one fell swoop snatched the Stars and Stripes before it could be set on fire.


412-rick-monday.jpg





After they gave Monday a rousing ovation, the Dodger Stadium crowd of over 30,000 slowly broke into a spontaneous rendition of, “God Bless America.”

“The American flag means so much to our country, especially our veterans,” Monday said during a 2007 speech. “In my mind, what the protestors were trying to do was wrong. It was wrong (during 1976) and it is still wrong today. There is no place for it.”

To this day, Monday receives congratulatory correspondences every week thanking him for his flag-saving action.



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Bernard Cigrand would have been proud of Rick Monday. The 19-year old teacher walked into his Waubeka, Wisconsin classroom one day during 1885 and stuck a 10-inch American Flag into the inkwell of a student’s desk. Cigrand’s instructions to the class were simple: Write an essay about

Read more

Audit finds major problems with state child care program

Audits

 

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Congratulations, Austin O'Dea!

Eagle Scouts


Austin O’Dea’s Eagle Scout ceremony was held on Saturday, June 13, 2009.

My office prepared a state citation that I presented to Austin O’Dea at the special ceremony. It reads:

Whereas, Austin Thomas O’Dea is a member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 531, and through dedication and commitment, attained the rank of Eagle Scout; and


Whereas, Austin Thomas O’Dea’s Eagle Scout project included building a new teen center for the Teen Life Program at Saint Martin of Tours Parish School; and

Whereas, Austin Thomas O’Dea earned 26 merit badges, served his troop in the leadership positions of Den Chief, Patrol Leader, Assistant Senior Patrol Leader, and is a Brotherhood member of the Order of the Arrow; and

Whereas, Austin Thomas O’Dea  is a junior at Marquette University High School and a member of the Debate Team, Forensics Team, and an active member of the Service Program; now

Therefore, the members of the Wisconsin State Senate on the motion of Senator Mary Lazich, commend Austin Thomas O’Dea for outstanding dedication and service to scouting.  Austin Thomas O’Dea is further commended for successfully completing the requirements necessary to attain the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest honorable rank awarded by the Boy Scouts of America.

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH PROJECT update (6/14/09)

News you can use

 

Here is an update from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) for the I-94 NORTH-SOUTH freeway project:

Construction update June 14 - 21:
I-94 North-South Freeway Project update for Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties

Read more

Please look at the DMV camera and smile


Take a look at your driver’s license.  Are you grinning broadly from ear to ear?  Probably not. Some states actually frown on smiling when you have your driver’s license photo snapped.

Wisconsin is one of 31 states that use facial recognition technology to take driver license photos at their Division of Motor Vehicle (DMV) bureaus and more states are considering installation.. The technology carefully examines various facial features to compare a new license photo with others that have already been taken. If a new photo appears to be nearly identical to a previous photo, the high-tech software is triggered that someone could be attempting to take on another driver’s identity. Security is enhanced and fraud is reduced.

However, some believe something as simple as a grin can throw off the technology.  A robotics professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh told USA TODAY that differing expressions on the face of the same person can prevent the system from coming up with successful matches. The thought in Virginia is that little or no facial expression makes for a more accurate procedure.

As a result, four states, Virginia, Arkansas, Indiana and Nevada have adopted a no-smiles policy for taking driver’s license photos. They require motorists to display neutral facial expressions. What does that mean? You can smile; however, you can only smile a little.

One driver in Virginia was recently told that because his mouth was open, the picture had to be taken again. In other words, in the four states mentioned, no grinning is best. If you grin, keep your mouth closed. Do not show any teeth.

In Nevada, there is more than just wiping the smile off your face. You must have your hair pulled behind your ears. You must take off your glasses.

Some drivers have been less than thrilled when told not to lighten up, assuming the order is a bureaucrat’s arbitrary notion. When told it’s for national security, they become more understanding.

Facial recognition technology works having nabbed sex offenders, welfare cheats and forgers.  The USA TODAY reports the software has prevented 6,000 people from obtaining fraudulent licenses in Illinois since the state installed the program during 1999.

According to the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators, most states are comfortable that their systems will match faces regardless of facial expressions. Wisconsin installed facial recognition technology during 2005 and the state Department of Transportation (DOT) is pleased with the program, saying it does reduce the possibility of fraud and identity theft. Unlike other states, Wisconsin does not enforce a no-smiles policy. You will even be encouraged to grin, as long as you don’t get too silly.

So the next time you visit the DMV for a new photo and you are instructed to, “Smile,” the DMV worker really means it.  Go right ahead and do it the Wisconsin way. Say, “cheese.”

State Budget Watch: I'm on Channel 4

State budget


I was interviewed by WTMJ-TV's Charles Benson about the state budget that is being taken up by the state Senate today.  You can hear clips of the interview during today's 5:00 and 6:00 news on Channel 4.

State Budget Watch: I moved to kill auto insurance rate increases

State budget


During early budget deliberations on the floor of the state Senate today, I offered an amendment to remove a provision that would increase your auto insurance premiums by mandating motorists take on additional coverage.

I have talked with agents in the insurance industry and they assure me that auto insurance rates will increase. They explain consumers are beginning to pay their premiums in installments due to the poor economy and are likely to drop their auto insurance, creating great risk.


Why would we want to encourage motorists to do away with insurance?

We need to have mercy on the people of this state struggling and already stretching their auto insurance payments. This provision penalizes decent people paying their bills and continuing to have coverage.

I am sure you have seen investigative TV news reports that show people making court appearances for driving without licenses leaving the courtroom and climbing into a car and driving away. The state can’t seem to get a handle on this problem. So what does the state do? It mandates increases in auto insurance for law-abiding citizens.

We are fortunate in Wisconsin to have generally low auto insurance rates.  Must we ruin everything that’s good about our great state?

The auto insurance increase is unforgiveable because of our poor economy. It is also embarrassing.


My amendment failed on a vote of 15-18 along party lines.

State Budget Watch: I voted against the state budget

State budget


This was not one of the better days in the Wisconsin State Senate. The Senate approved what very well could be the most irresponsible budget in the history of the state of Wisconsin. I voted against the budget that was approved on a vote of 17-16. In just a few weeks, Governor Doyle will sign an irresponsible budget into law.

The taxpayers of Wisconsin are fully aware and understand what apparently too many Democrat legislators just can’t seem to grasp…..that we are in a recession.

It is unconscionable that as hard workers in the private sector are forced to endure salary cuts, benefits being taken away, or even loss of jobs that we are telling them state government is expanding. The message from this budget to the people who pay the bills is that you’re not paying enough. You’re not paying your fair share. You must and you will pay more. How much more? This budget increases taxes and fees by over $2 billion.

The Senate version of the budget increases capital gains taxes alone by $485 million. It increases spending $562 million more than the Finance Committee budget.

One of the most outrageous components in the Senate budget changes how capital gains are taxed, going from 60% to 100% full taxation of capital gains. The increase will affect 248,000 tax filers according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. The average tax increase would be $926 per tax filer. This change that will severely impact Wisconsin's ability to grow economically is made even worse because it is retroactive to January 1, 2009. 

How can we justify this budget to taxpayers making sacrifices in their homes, a budget that during a recession increases spending? This is the worst time to raise taxes and fees by billions of dollars. This is the worst time to increase spending.  How are taxpayers who have been getting pink slips or cuts in salary going to afford this budget?

There is far too much pork in the budget that the state can’t afford. This budget looks like the buffet line at an all-you-can-eat Sunday brunch. We all know that, and so does an angry public. They want legislators to take care of the state’s business in a fiscally responsible manner, not take care of themselves with pet projects.

There are plenty of dramatic policy changes that have been jammed into this budget that should be debated on their merits as separate pieces of legislation. 

I am not surprised that the overwhelming majority of this budget was crafted in secret, behind closed doors, outside the view of the public and the news media.  Too many tax increases. Too many fee increases. Too much spending. Too much pork. Too much policy. I wouldn’t want anybody to see all the damage that was being inflicted upon taxpayers, either.

 

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State Budget Watch: Republican amendments to the Senate budget

State budget


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State Budget Watch: What happens next?

State budget


Both houses of the Legislature have passed their respective versions of the state budget. However, because there are differences between the two versions, a conference committee made up of legislators from each house from each party will meet to work out the differences. The conference committee budget will then be considered by the Assembly and the Senate. It cannot be amended.

The final budget approved by the Legislature will then be considered by Governor Doyle who maintains one of the most powerful veto pens in the country.

A fireworks warning


Travelling up north this summer? Be careful with fireworks.

State forestry officials say due to the lack of rainfall, the use of fireworks in many parts of northern Wisconsin could start fires.

Here are more details.

New Berlin meeting to focus on I-43/County Y project

News you can use


A public information meeting about the reconstruction of the I-43 and County Y interchange is scheduled June 25, 2009. The meeting takes place at New Berlin City Hall, 3805 S. Casper Drive from 5 to 7 p.m.

Here are more details.

"Why did the turtle cross the road?"

Economy

“To get to the other side of a stimulus project."

That’s what U.S. Senator Tom Coburn (R-Ok), one of the most fiscally conservative members of the Senate writes in a detailed report outlining questionable projects funded with federal stimulus money.

Coburn writes:

“By offering 100 examples of questionable stimulus projects, worth $5.5 billion, this report does not attempt to prove that the stimulus is not working. Rather, the intent is to educate taxpayers, policymakers and the media on lessons that can be learned from some of the early missteps and prevent other questionable projects from moving forward.

As Congress debated the stimulus bill in February, there were significant concerns that billions of dollars would be wasted and the bill was rushed to passage without a single member of Congress reading it. Even Vice President Joe Biden, who was charged with heading up the stimulus implementation, said on June 2, ‘Some people are being scammed already’.”

Included in Coburn’s report are what he calls, “the ten most questionable stimulus projects I have encountered until now.” One of the ten projects is in Wisconsin.

Coburn says that while Wisconsin has over 1200 bridges in desperate need of repair, $15.8 million is being spent, instead on 37 rural bridges that hardly anyone uses.

Another top ten project cited by Coburn spends $3.4 million in Florida to build an n underground wildlife road-crossing for turtle in Lake Jackson, Florida. In true government doublespeak fashion, the wildlife crossing is referred to as an “eco-passage.”

You can read a Coburn news release here.

Here is Coburn’s report, “100 Stimulus Projects: A Second Opinion.”

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH PROJECT update (6/22/09)

News you can use


Here is an update from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) for the I-94 NORTH-SOUTH freeway project:


Construction update June 22 -June 28:
I-94 North-South Freeway Project update for Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties

MILWAUKEE COUNTY

All closures are weather-dependent and subject to change.
New long-term closures are BOLD. 
 

Read more

State Audit: Wisconsin State Fair Park

Audits


The required annual audit of the Wisconsin State Fair Park has been completed by the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) and it shows continued financial struggles at the Park.

As of June 30, 2008, the LAB found State Fair Park’s accumulated cash deficit was $8.6 million.

One of the key areas of financial concern is State Fair Park’s racetrack, the Milwaukee Mile.

During February 2009, State Fair Park ended its license agreement with Milwaukee Mile Holdings that it had since January 2006. A new agreement was entered into with Wisconsin Motorsports. The state Department of Justice intends to file a lawsuit on behalf of State Fair Park to recover at least $2.7 million in license fees, as required by the terms of the license agreement with Milwaukee Mile Holdings. 

State Fair Park entered into a new agreement with Wisconsin Motorsports in order to continue racing during 2009. The agreement stipulates a fixed license fee of $15,000 per month, or $180,000 per year. The fee is far less than the annual license fee of $1.0 million that was required
under the most recent agreement with Milwaukee Mile Holdings.

The LAB writes, “State Fair Park will continue to incur significant costs. We estimate State Fair Park will be responsible for $1.8 million in Milwaukee Mile costs in 2009, less license fees it collects from the new promoter. Past promoters have had difficulty in operating the racetrack profitably. State Fair Park anticipates the new promoter will incur an operating loss in 2009, raising questions about the viability of racing at the Milwaukee Mile racetrack.”

The LAB also uncovered that, “Interest earnings on proceeds from the sale of the Pettit Center have been less than the amounts expected, which may create an additional liability for State Fair Park starting in Fiscal Year 2012-13.”

The Wisconsin Exposition center continues to have problems. The LAB writes, “The future financial stability of the Wisconsin Exposition Center warrants close attention. The Exposition Center has accumulated a deficit of $3.0 million through calendar year 2007. Based on unaudited data, the deficit increased to $4.3 million as of December 31, 2008.”

The LAB also examined conflict of interest concerns that it wrote about in the 2008 audit of State Fair Park. New policies are in effect for agricultural competitions, rules, and selection of judges. The Agriculture Director of State Fair Park may not own any animal showing at the Wisconsin State Fair, may not reference the State Fair when selling any cattle or the embryos and progeny of cattle, and may not conduct outside consulting related to the fair. Anyone purchasing cattle
presentation and preparation services from the Agriculture Director’s business is prohibited from showing animals at the Fair.

The LAB recommends the State Fair Park continue to review its rules and policies for competitions and the criteria for selecting judges, develop a process to examine Wisconsin Motorsports’ financial data and report to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee by March 1, 2010, on how to address the revenue shortfall from changing racetrack promoters, and report to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee by March 1, 2010, on its financial relationship with the Pettit Center and the Wisconsin Exposition Center.

I commend the LAB for another outstanding review. You can see the full audit report
here.

State Budget Watch: Editorials sharply criticize budget deals

State budget


Several Wisconsin newspaper editorials are blasting the state budget process and the content of the budgets approved thus far.

The Appleton Post-Crescent is disappointed, writing that legislative Democrats blew their chances:

"What a disappointment. Given the chance to change how the state Legislature operates in devising the state budget, the newly empowered Democrats who hold the majority in the Assembly and Senate, as well as the governor's seat, chose more of the same.

Now, it's down to figuring out which version of bad to use."

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel says it’s impossible to determine the authors of the pork and policy developed behind closed doors, writing:

“In the state budget bills currently before the Assembly and Senate, there are earmarks and other provisions that were inserted without public discussion, whose authors are unknown and whose effects on public policy could be significant. Meetings take place into the dead of night; deals are made and decisions are reached in secret and in the wee hours of the morning when - our guess - legislators often are too fatigued to think straight.”

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State Budget Watch: Budgets create even more debt

State budget


Debt would skyrocket under any of the state budgets approved so far. The Wisconsin State Journal writes:

Like a financially strapped consumer facing higher credit card bills, the state would face unprecedented debt payments over the next four years under state budget proposals by Democratic Gov. Jim Doyle and lawmakers.

By 2012, yearly payments on state debt will likely consume at least 4.5 percent of the state’s total income from taxes and fees, according to projections by the Legislature’s and Doyle’s budget offices. That’s 13 percent higher than the 4 percent threshold state officials have long considered to be a reasonable limit.”

The newspaper reports increasing debt will put more pressure on the state to make cuts or raise taxes. Once the federal stimulus money runs out, the State Journal reports the Legislative Fiscal Bureau sees more financial troubles ahead.

Here is the
Wisconsin State Journal article.

A "true" statewide smoking ban

Legislation


Three months ago during debate on the proposed statewide smoking ban, I offered an amendment that
the governor during compact negotiations with the tribes shall request that the smoking ban be implemented in casinos.

The amendment failed, so casinos will be exempt from the ban when it goes into effect next summer.

My colleague in the state Assembly, state Representative Dean Kaufert (R-Neenah) is pushing what he calls a “true” statewide smoking ban. The Appleton Post Crescent is reporting Kaufert is interested in possible legislation that would include casinos in the smoking ban.

Read more
here.

How much would cap and trade cost you?

Taxes


Sometimes lost in the national news coverage of the federal government assuming control of yet another industry is discussion about an equally significant, if not more so story: the largest tax increase in American history, the cap-and-trade energy tax.


Under the Democrats’ cap and trade proposal, the federal government establishes a specific cap on the amount of carbon dioxide American industries can emit. In order to enforce the cap, a limited number of allowances are sold. Utilities, factories and other businesses regulated by the cap and trade law would be required to submit the appropriate number of allowances determined by the amount of carbon dioxide they emit into the atmosphere annually.

Washington obtains revenue by selling allowances to the highest bidder.  Trade transpires because allowances can be purchased and sold according to the needs of individual businesses.

Hundreds of billions of dollars in new costs will be created for American businesses. Care to guess how they will address the huge new expense? Of course, they will pass the costs onto consumers, making cap and trade a large tax on energy. Some U.S. businesses facing an increase in the cost of doing business will shut down operations and high tail it for countries with lower energy costs and without similar regulations. U.S. firms will be placed in a competitive disadvantage. The exodus of American businesses as a result of cap and trade is now referred to as a “carbon leakage.”

During March of this year, the nonpartisan, nonprofit Tax Foundation in Washington D.C. conducted a study about the costs associated with a cap and trade policy aimed at lowering greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent. The annual burden on American households would be $144.8 billion. The average annual household burden would be $1,218, approximately 2% of the average household income.

What kind of financial burden would cap and trade impose on your household? The Tax Foundation has devised the Household Cap-and-Trade Burden Calculator. Calculate the cost of cap and trade to your household here. 

I have signed the No Climate Tax Pledge that shows my opposition to any effort to include cap and trade, a huge tax increase, in climate control legislation.
  

Canadian health care: Wait and wait and wait and wait

Government health care


During a speech last week to the American Medical Association, President Barack Obama said,
I'll be honest; there are countries where a single-payer (health care) system works pretty well."

I would hope he wasn’t referring to Canada.

A new report from Canada shows continued serious problems with waiting times in five priority health care areas in the country that provides care for all of its citizens.

The Wait Time Alliance (WTA) is comprised of 13 medical associations including the Canadian Medical Association. The WTA has released its annual report card assessing the amount if time between when a patient is referred by a family doctor to when treatment is provided by specialist. The report has been issued annually since 2004 when the governments of Canada decided to improve wait times for health care and appropriated $6 billion to the effort. Canada’s provinces and federal governments agreed to attempt to reduce wait times in five critical areas: hip and knee replacements, cataract surgery, heart bypass surgery, MRI and CT imaging, and radiation therapy for cancer patients. 

The WTA reported, “Although there are signs of improvement, the lack of uniform and timely information on wait times is just one symptom of the ‘unfinished business’ relating to wait times in Canada.” The findings are a serious indictment of the quality of care provided by a government-run health care system.

Canada.com reports:

For cancer patients, the study found that the median wait time for radiation therapy was almost seven weeks, exceeding the benchmark of four weeks. Patients are also facing long delays when they go to the emergency department, the WTA said, waiting an average of nine hours to be seen and treated and for patients who needed to be admitted, the average wait time was nearly 24 hours. Wait times for psychiatric care are also well beyond the maximum wait-time benchmark of four weeks, the study said. Patients with major depression are waiting almost six weeks to start treatment with a psychiatrist.”

The WTA report found the following wait time in days for the following specialties:

Corneal transplant: 636 days

Adult strabismus surgery: 450 days

Total knee arthroplasty: 312 days

Chronic diarrhea or chronic constipation: 260 days

Pelvic prolapse: 250 days

Urinary incontinence: 247 days

Total hip arthroplasty: 247 days

There seems to be little, if any hope conditions will get better. “
The WTA study also asked specialists for their opinion on future wait-times and 62% believe that wait times to access specialty care will increase over the next 5 years.”

America can and should learn from Canada’s failures and reject calls for government-run health care. So should the state of Wisconsin. State Senate democrats have been pushing for government health care at the state level.

Here is the WTA report, “Unfinished Business: Report Card on Wait Times in Canada.”

Here is an article from Canada.com.

Confidence in stimulus waning

Taxes


More and more Americans are losing faith in the spending of federal stimulus dollars. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll shows support is dropping. The Washington Post reports:

“Overall, 52 percent now say the stimulus package has succeeded or will succeed in restoring the economy, compared with 59 percent two months ago. The falloff in confidence has been sharpest in the hard-hit Midwest, where fewer than half now see the government spending as succeeding. In April, six in 10 Midwesterners said the federal program had worked or would do so.”

The uneasiness is being felt across party lines:

“Confidence in the package's effectiveness has dropped from 81 percent to 73 percent among Democrats and from 32 percent to 26 percent among Republicans. Among independents, it has dropped from 56 percent to 50 percent. What was once a clearly positive assessment of the program among independents (56 to 39 percent) is now an almost even split (50 to 47 percent).”

I am not surprised. 

There is a growing sentiment in Congress that I support to repeal the rest of the stimulus money.

Not a good "sign" for the stimulus

Taxes


Not at all.

State Budget Watch: No progress in conference committee

State budget


A special conference committee formed to iron out differences between the state Assembly and state Senate versions of the state budget met Wednesday night, but got nowhere.

The Wisconsin Associated Press is reporting, “An agreement reached in secret by Democratic leaders of the state Legislature is expected to be made public on Thursday (today). 


Senate Minority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, a member of the conference committee is quoted by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel saying, “"So far, every step in this process has been another charade, done behind closed doors."

You can read a statement by Senator Fitzgerald here. 


The state Senate could be in session as early as 3:00 today.

State Budget Watch: The Grand Opera House

State budget


One of the widely reported and most criticized pieces of pork in the state budget is the state Assembly’s authorization of $500,000 for the Grand Opera House in Oshkosh. The curtain may never rise on this renovation project.

The state Assembly approved bonding for the Grand Opera House if its owners, the city of Oshkosh could come up with the remainder of the funding. Here is the problem. The Daily Reporter reports no one has been able to determine what the city’s portion would be.

Closed since March 2009 after engineers found the roof in need of repair, the Grand Opera House is 126 years old. Bids will be submitted for repair to the city of Oshkosh next month.

If the city fails to come up with its share, the project could be doomed.

During budget deliberations, funding for the Grand Opera House was often cited by the news media and lawmakers as an example of unnecessary spending during a recession.

REMINDER: Important transportation meeting in New Berlin tonight


A public information meeting about the reconstruction of the I-43 and County interchange is scheduled  tonight, June 25, 2009. The meeting takes place at New Berlin, 3805 S. Casper Drive from 5 to 7 p.m.

Here are more details.

72 percent support government health care

Government health care


Or do they?

Last weekend, The New York Times and CBS News released a poll showing 72 percent of those surveyed favor President Obama’s plan for government health care and that 50 percent believed the government would be more effective than private insurers.

The New York Times ran this banner headline:

In Poll, Wide Support for Government-Run Health

The paper glowingly reported, “Americans overwhelmingly support substantial changes to the health care system and are strongly behind one of the most contentious proposals Congress is considering, a government-run insurance plan to compete with private insurers, according to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll.”

Here is the Times report. 

The poll, however, is seriously flawed. Critics say the poll was heavily skewed toward Obama voters and supporters.

Here is the story.

"Root for the Home Team" Giveaway

News you can use


The Wisconsin Association of Lakes (WAL) and the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources are inviting boaters and fishers to take a special pledge. In exchange, one lucky winner will get luxury-suite Milwaukee Brewer tickets.

The pledge is to take a few easy measures to help stop the spread of invasive species.

Here are the details. 

Sign the pledge, and good luck!

Illinois could help Wisconsin

Business, Taxes


Illinois
legislators have gone into special session and could approve a huge corporate tax increase making the state’s corporate tax the fourth highest in the country. The move would also lower Illinois’ business climate ranking.

Illinois'  barometer of business friendliness would still be higher than Wisconsin’s, however, the Illinois ranking would be in the bottom 25 states, just like us. Our neighbor to the south would suddenly become less attractive and competitive.

It is a sad commentary that we in Wisconsin fail to take the necessary measures on our own to improve our business climate and have to rely, instead on mishaps in other states to allow us to better our conditions.


Here is more from the Tax Foundation.

Before you vote for government health care, Mr. Congressman...

Government health care


Former U.S. House Majority Leader Dick Armey, now Chairman of the organization, FreedomWorks has three excellent questions all politicians should answer before they vote on the president’s government health care proposal:

1. Do you support any of middle-class tax hikes to fund government-run health care?  If not, how would you pay for it?

2. Under the plan, can you guarantee that I would get to keep my current health care plan and doctor? 

3. Can you guarantee that a new government plan will not deny care to individuals in order to control costs?

Read more here.

Your opinions needed on early voting

News you can use


During September 2008 and May 2008,  I blogged about the popularity of early voting, writing, “Clearly this is an election issue that will receive further study and a great amount of attention in the future all across the country.”

The Government Accountability Board (GAB) will hold eight listening sessions around the state during July and August to gather public input about starting an early voting process with the 2010 elections in Wisconsin. One of the listening sessions is scheduled for July 23, 2009, West Allis City Hall, Common Council Meeting Room, West Allis. A Clerks meeting will be held from 3 PM to 5 PM and the Public Meeting from 6 PM to 8 PM.

An early voting system has the potential of catching on and becoming popular. However, if such a system was to be implemented, every precaution must be taken to prevent fraud.

If you cannot attend any of the public meetings, the GAB says, “Comments from the public may be submitted directly to the Board at the following address: gab@wi.gov.

An early voting system has the potential of catching on and becoming popular. However, if such a system was to be implemented, every precaution must be taken to prevent fraud.

Read more from the GAB.

Here is an article from the Wisconsin State Journal. 

Oregon is the only state that votes exclusively by mail.

State Budget Watch: Senate still in recess

State budget


The state Senate could begin debate today on the state budget that is being negotiated by a conference committee controlled by Democrats. The committee has yet to convene today.

Senate President Fred Risser has recessed the Senate until 9:00 this evening. The Senate was scheduled to go into session at 3:00 this afternoon.

State Budget Watch: The ugly numbers in the conference committee budget

State budget


The conference committee on the state budget has convened. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau has provided the committee the following information about the budget worked out in secret by Democrats on the conference committee:

The total all funds increase in spending in the budget is 6.8 percent totaling an astounding $4 billion.

The increase in taxes and fees is, remember, we are in a recession, $2.1 billion.


Property taxes would increase on a median valued home by $90 in the first year of the biennium and $130 in the second year. Property taxes increase by $1.5 billion over the biennium.  

This budget borrows an additional $2.9 billion.

This budget creates a structural deficit of $2.3 billion.

This budget taxes more, spends more, borrows more, and fails to protect the middle class.

I will be voting
no.

State Budget Watch: Senate approves conference committee budget

State budget


The vote was 17-15.

I voted against the budget that now goes to the state Assembly.

State Budget Watch: $5 BILLION in 5 months

State budget


Legislative Fiscal Bureau Director Bob Lang and his staff laid it out for members of the conference committee late Thursday night before members voted on the committee budget.

The budget includes a $4 billion or 6.8% spending increase. Remember, the Democrat-controlled legislature and Governor Doyle approved a budget adjustment bill during February of this year. Combine that bill with the conference committee action and Democrats have increased taxes by $5 billion during 2009.

Think about that.

$5 billion in less than five months.

That is a staggering increase especially during a recession.

Here are the ugly numbers from the conference committee budget approved by the state Senate.

Will Governor Doyle use his vast veto authority to reduce this outrageous taxing and spending? I wouldn’t bet on it.

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH update: June 29 - July 5

News you can use


Here is an update from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) for the I-94 NORTH-SOUTH freeway project:

Construction update June 29 –July 5:
I-94 North-South Freeway Project update for Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties

MILWAUKEE COUNTY

All closures are weather-dependent and subject to change.
New long-term closures are BOLD. 

Monday, JUNE 29
Double lane closure of I-94 WEST (NB) between Rawson Ave and Grange Ave from 11:30 p.m. – 5:30 a.m.

Tuesday, JUNE 30

Read more

State Budget Watch: Governor Doyle signs state budget into law

State budget


Here is Governor Doyle’s veto message. 

More to come.

State Budget Watch: Budget nothing to brag about

State budget


I find it quite revealing that in Governor Doyle’s veto message, his very first comment in promotion of the budget is that, “the Legislature finished the budget on time.”

While that certainly is a budget goal, shouldn’t the top priority be to get the budget done right?

The 2009-2011 state budget failed in every possible way: it taxes too much, spends too much, borrows too much, and has too much pork and policy.

More to come.

Happy 50th Anniversary New Berlin!

Good news from Senate District 28


Please check out this wonderful section about New Berlin from Sunday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Buckle up


Wisconsin
’s new primary seat belt enforcement law is now in effect. 


As of today, law enforcement can pull a motorist over for not wearing a seat belt. The change is part of the state budget signed into law by Governor Doyle.

The Wausau Daily Herald has details.

State Budget Watch: I thought the Frankenstein veto was dead?

State budget


Remember the Frankenstein veto? 

Wisconsin voters approved changing the state constitution to prohibit governors from using the veto. 

Monday, Governor Doyle used his veto pen for the first time since the Frankenstein veto was killed. It appears the governor, inadvertently, may have violated the state constitution with one of his vetoes.

Here’s the story......and another.

Here
is a Legislative Fiscal Bureau memo.

Enjoy "Public Enemies" because...

State budget

Johnny Depp will probably never make another movie in Wisconsin.

Governor Doyle used his veto pen to lower the amount of funding for tax break incentives for filmmakers in the 2009-2011 state budget.

The current program had no limits. The governor had proposed changing the program to allow a limit of $500,000 annually. The Legislature’s budget called for a $1.5 million program. The governor’s veto reduced it to $500,000.

I
ronically, the governor announced this veto just two days before the nationwide opening of one of the most-talked about movies of the summer, “Public Enemies,” much of which was filmed in Wisconsin.

State Budget Watch: Doyle vetoes Milwaukee County sales tax increase

State budget


On November 4, 2008, voters in Milwaukee County were asked to decide on this advisory referendum question:

ADVISORY REFERENDUM QUESTION:
Shall the State of Wisconsin grant Milwaukee County the authority to provide property tax relief of at least sixty-seven million dollars ($67 million) by levying a one percent (1%) county sales and use tax to be used to remove the following three items from the property tax levy: parks recreation culture, transit and emergency medical services (EMS)?

Voters in communities that I represent in Senate District 28 voted no. Here are the numbers:



Greendale

YES: 3066

NO: 4975


Hales Corners

YES: 1599

NO: 2528


Franklin

YES: 6534

NO: 10,559


Greenfield

YES: 7332

NO: 10,343


The state Legislature, controlled by Democrats, sent a budget to Governor Doyle that included a provision to allow the Milwaukee County Board to raise the county sales tax by 0.65% - 0.5% for buses and 0.15% for public safety. The increases would have raised the county sales tax to 6.25%.

Monday, Governor Doyle vetoed the increases.

In his veto message, Doyle wrote about proposals for a Milwaukee Transit Authority and a Southeastern Regional Transit Authority, “I believe they would move us in the wrong direction. We must commit from the very beginning to a vision of real regional transit. New revenues must be focused on regional transit, not immediate local transit funding needs. Transit planning and operations must reach across county boundaries in southeastern Wisconsin. My vetoes remove the Milwaukee Transit Authority but retain the Southeastern Regional Transit Authority and the $18 vehicle rental fee.”

When the governor says "new revenues," he means tax increases. When he says “a vision of real regional transit,’” he means light rail and commuter rail. Both would be extremely costly and both are unnecessary.

State Budget Watch: The death of the QEO

State budget

Property taxpayers, you are in trouble.

The 2009-2011 state budget signed into law by Governor Doyle today eliminates the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO).

During August 2008, I blogged the following:

“If Democrats maintain control of the state Senate and take back control of the state Assembly, a legislature controlled by Democrats along with Governor Doyle will kill the QEO. The result will be a property tax explosion.

Some background is in order. The QEO was instituted by the Legislature after angry taxpayers statewide demanded action be taken to stop the tidal wave of huge property tax increases. Since its inception, the QEO has helped keep property taxes from being even higher than they already are.

Under the QEO, the compensation package for teachers including salaries and benefits is to be limited to a 3.8 percent increase. Prior to the implementation of the QEO, settlement packages with teachers were much larger, forcing a tremendous burden on taxpayers.

According to data from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) that used figures from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the average total teacher salary and benefit package increase in the years before the QEO was 8 percent during 1984-85, 8.4 percent during 1985-86, 7.7 percent during 1986-87, 7.4 percent during 1987-88, 7.1 percent during 1988-89, 7.3 percent during 1989-90, 7.4 percent during 1990-91 and 6.9 percent during both 1991-92 and 1992-93.

Enough was enough. Taxpayers protested. The Legislature heard and listened, and the QEO was adopted.

In reality, most school districts do not stay within the QEO, agreeing to settlements that surpass the 3.8 percent limit. The WASB reports that the average total package of salaries and benefits was 4.29 percent during 2006-07, 4.25 percent during 2005-06, and 4.31 percent during 2004-05. The percentages are higher than the rate of inflation, and more than likely are greater than increases provided in the private sector.

The QEO must remain intact. Without the QEO, spending and taxes will rise substantially, more people will leave their homes, more people will leave the state, and more jobs will be lost. We cannot afford to lose the QEO.”

The QEO evolved because taxpayers statewide demanded it. The taxpaying public has not requested the QEO be eliminated. That mattered little to Governor Doyle and legislative Democrats.

You will see and feel the consequences in your property tax bills.

State Budget Watch: Governor wastes opportunity to salvage irresponsible budget

State budget


There is almost nothing to be happy about in the entire 2009-2011 state budget signed into law by Governor Doyle, that is, unless you are an advocate of over-taxing, over-spending, over-borrowing and bloating the budget with pork and policy during a recession. Then you are probably ecstatic.

As I have stated in the past, this is the most irresponsible state budget in the history of Wisconsin. I find it to be a sad and revealing commentary that the first talking point Governor Doyle highlights to defend the budget he signed in his veto message is that the budget got done on time. True, it is nice if you can get the document finished by the deadline. However, it is far more important to get it done right, and this budget failed in every way imaginable. It taxes too much, spends too much, borrows too much and is just loaded with pork and non-fiscal policy.

Governor Doyle squandered a golden opportunity to fix this atrocious budget by using his powerful veto pen to eliminate the horrendous taxing and spending. Unfortunately for taxpayers, he let that opportunity slip away and he and legislative Democrats have the unenviable task of trying to sell this budget to the public. Judging from the reaction I am getting from angry constituents, that will be a very tough sell because they, unlike the Governor and legislative Democrats understand what a mess this budget is.  Taxpayers are absolutely livid and who can blame them?

The entire budget is a travesty. What is most breathtaking is the astounding fiscal damage caused and the vicious assault on taxpayers. I don’t have the final breakdown on the exact fiscal impact of the budget after the governor’s vetoes from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. I do know this. The budget that was sent to the Governor included a $4 billion or 6.8% spending increase. Remember, the Democrat-controlled legislature and Governor Doyle approved a budget adjustment bill during February of this year. Combine that bill with the conference committee action and Democrats have increased taxes by $5 billion during five months of 2009.

The governor did some tweaking with his veto pen. However, he certainly failed to make any dramatic or significant changes to put a noticeable dent in that $5 billion figure. That is simply outrageous. Legislative Democrats have been content in the past 5 months to raise taxes $5 billion.

Under the budget sent to the governor, the increase in taxes and fees was, remember, we are in a recession, $2.1 billion. Property taxes would increase on a median valued home by $90 in the first year of the biennium and $130 in the second year. Property taxes increased by $1.5 billion over the biennium.  The budget sent to the governor borrowed an additional $2.9 billion. The budget sent to the governor created a structural deficit of $2.3 billion.

With pen in hand, the governor had the authority to right the many wrongs plopped on his desk. Instead, the governor turned his back on the taxpayers by refusing to use his veto pen to repair the bulk, if not all of the damage, thereby breaking his promise made a few years ago to not raise taxes.

It is unconscionable that as hard workers in the private sector are forced to endure salary cuts, benefits being taken away, or even loss of jobs that we are telling them state government is expanding. The message from this budget to the people who pay the bills is that you’re not paying enough. You’re not paying your fair share. You must and you will pay more.

One of the most outrageous components in the state Senate budget changed how capital gains are taxed, going from 60% to 100% full taxation of capital gains. The conference committee changed it to 30 percent; however that is still an incredible tax increase.

How did the governor respond to the dozens of earmarks? He vetoed five of them. The budget still contains $500,000 for the Oshkosh Opera House, the recycling bins for Wrightstown, and how about that study for a high speed rail stop in Waterloo…who wants the train to stop in Waterloo? And there are so many more that are unwarranted anytime, but especially during a recession.

Then there is the highly questionable process that has been highlighted by the news media. I am not surprised that the overwhelming majority of this budget was crafted in secret, behind closed doors, outside the view of the public and the news media. Too many tax increases. Too many fee increases. Too much spending. Too much pork. Too much policy.  If I were the author, I wouldn’t want anybody to see all the damage that was being inflicted upon taxpayers, either.

This is the Unaffordable Budget that is the most fiscally irresponsible in Wisconsin history and is the taxpayers’ worst nightmare.

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