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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.

Southern states lead the way in percentages of income tax "nonpayers"

Taxes


One of the biggest news stories around tax deadline time this year was the growing number of Americans that
don’t have to pay federal income taxes. 

The nonpartisan Tax Foundation in Washington D.C. has broken down the data by states that have the highest percentages of filers without federal tax liability. Mississippi ranks # 1. Forty-five percent of tax filers in Mississippi had no federal income tax liability during 2008. Alaska ranks # 50 with 21 percent. Wisconsin ranks #35 with 32 percent, or 873, 884 filers with no tax liability.

Here’s an astonishing fact. The Tax Foundation reports, “There are millions of other Americans who have some income but not enough to be required to file a tax return. The Tax Policy Center has estimated that when these people are added to the 52 million nonpaying filers, some 47 percent of all households pay no income taxes at all.”

Read more from the Tax Foundation.

Troubling tracking

State budget


After hearing from local law enforcement in Senate District 28 that I represent, I opposed a provision in the 2009-11 state budget that requires law enforcement throughout Wisconsin to keep track of racial data on all traffic stops beginning next year.

One of the departments I heard from was the Franklin Police Department through the Franklin Common Council.

As feared and predicted, the tracking requirement will be costly. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:

“Plans released last week by the state Office of Justice Assistance show the cost to the state to gather the data would be $757,000 next year - costs that would be paid through an additional $1.50 fee on traffic tickets, other civil fines and some court filing fees.

That wouldn't include the costs for local police departments, which have to ensure the data is collected and forwarded to the state. The easiest method for officers on patrol would be to use a modified version of an existing data system called Badger Tracs that already is used by the state and some local police departments to track tickets. That system, which automatically could forward the data to the state, uses special laptops installed in squad cars at a cost of $5,000 to $8,000 each.

Read more

Good luck, boys and girls!

Good news from Senate District 28


The 2010 WIAA Girls Softball and Boys Spring Baseball Tournaments begin today. The following schools located in state Senate District 28 will be competing.

SOFTBALL


DIVISION I
 

Mukwonago

Waterford

Greenfield

Franklin

Greendale

Muskego


DIVISION II

New Berlin West

New Berlin
Eisenhower



DIVISION III

Greendale Martin Luther


SPRING BASEBALL

DIVISION I

Waterford


DIVISION III

Greendale Martin Luther


Best of luck to all!


UPDATE: Scores from Tuesday:

SOFTBALL

Waterford forfeited to Burlington

Kenosha Tremper 4
Mukwonago 3

Franklin 21
Milwaukee Bay View 0

Greendale 11
Racine Horlick 1

Whitnall 2
Waukesha South 1

New Berlin Eisenhower 5
New Berlin West 0

Greendale Martin Luther 12
Racine St. Catherine's 2



SPRING BASEBALL

Waterford 10
Racine Horlick 5

Greendale Martin Luther 10
Racine St. Catherine's  0


UPDATE: Scores from Wednesday:


SPRING BASEBALL

Greendale Martin Luther 3
Kenosha St. Joseph 2 
(9 innings)


UPDATE: Scores from Thursday:

SOFTBALL

Greenfield 4

Racine Case 3

South Milwaukee 7
Franklin 2

Kettle Moraine 16

Read more

The 2009-10 general legislative session review: Promi$e$, promi$e$


A disturbing trend permeated the 2009-10 general legislative session: Despite a nagging recession, state government foolishly kept making bold promises via expansion or creation of programs that are unaffordable.

The Washington Times reports dependence on government programs is at an all-time high. Using February 2010 data from the Commerce Department, the newspaper concludes, “For the first time since the Great Depression, Americans took more aid from the government than they paid in taxes.” The Times says there has been “an extraordinary flood of government spending.” Any blip in the economic recovery is being attributed to this avalanche of public expenditures. However, economists concur this type of remedy is unsustainable. Record borrowing was used to pay for the record spending that has resulted in record debt.


The Heritage Foundation reports, “Our current national debt stands at $12.5 trillion, or nearly $42,000 for every man, woman, and child in the country.” Moody’s is threatening that if the United States fails to make deep spending cuts, it will lose its AAA credit rating that could increase interest rates and borrowing costs.  The debt clock in Times Square is spinning like a slot machine.

During March 2007, then-US Comptroller General David Walker appeared on CBS’ “60 Minutes” and said: “I will argue the most serious threat to the United States is not someone hiding in a cave in Afghanistan or Pakistan, but our own fiscal irresponsibility. We suffer from a fiscal cancer. It’s growing within us and if we do not treat it, it could have catastrophic consequences for our country.” The cancer, according to Walker, is a host of unaffordable entitlements exacerbated by the large number aging, soon to retire baby boomers. By 2040, if nothing is done to address this crisis, Walker predicts federal money will only be targeted for entitlements. Other programs like national defense, homeland security and education will be tapped out.

Wisconsin suffers from the same fiscal woes as Washington. A rough, lumbering recession has failed to stop the creation of new state government programs with high price tags including BadgerCare Plus Basic, the Wisconsin Covenant, and an $810 million high speed rail project from Milwaukee to Madison. The latest example is BadgerCare Plus Basic, signed by Governor Doyle late last month, a new, health care plan for nearly 43,000 adults that supporters insist is self-funded.

History demonstrates repeatedly that government programs are always more expensive and less effective than advertised. Our state cannot afford current programs let alone brand new ventures. Repealing a costly government program or service is next to impossible.

Like Washington, Wisconsin is mired in debt. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, our current deficit this biennium is $10 million. The next biennium, the structural deficit is an astounding $2 billion, 329 million. Forbes has classified Wisconsin as a debt disaster, having the tenth worst debt in the country.

Throughout history, American sustenance has been predicated upon innovation and entrepreneurship. American way of life has seen a total reversal with a complacent dependency on the public sector. High taxes lead to abandoning long term planning and more short term oriented philosophies. We spend and borrow to achieve gratification today, pushing the bills and hard decisions to our children and grandchildren.

Government should maintain its primary functions of defense, public safety, courts, and caring for the neediest. Government becomes destructive when it over-taxes and over-spends through unaffordable program expansion, i.e. promises we cannot keep. Shuffling the fiscal responsibility off to future generations is immoral. A better headline for the Washington Times report could be that reliance on the American taxpayer is at an all-time high. The well is on the verge of going dry. The proper solution is to shut off the tax and spend spigot.

Let’s look at how Wisconsin has made promises the state can’t afford to keep.

During October 2008, the state reached an agreement with the federal government allowing Wisconsin to become one of the few states in the country to provide health care coverage to low-income eligible adults without children. Wisconsin was, at the time, already making efforts to enroll eligible children in state health programs and allow insurance available to every child in the state. A slumping economy made coming up with the necessary funding problematic.

The 2009-11 state budget, crafted and approved by legislative Democrats and signed into law by Governor Doyle reduced funding for the state’s Medical Assistance (MA) program by $600 million.  Ironically, Department of Health Services (DHS) was instructed to find the necessary savings. I heard from medically fragile MA constituents dreadfully concerned about the MA funding reductions and the health care rationing they are expecting as a result of the nearly $600 million funding cut.  Instead, BadgerCare Plus was expanded, and a few months later, enrollment was suspended (more on that later in this blog).

Despite a massive cut to MA in the 2009-11 budget, the state, at the time, made the decision to maintain eligibility standards and benefits for Medicaid and BadgerCare Plus recipients at their current levels.

Follow the political gamesmanship. Governor Doyle promised to put a Rolls Royce under the Christmas tree on a Ford budget. He created a tremendous demand for residents seeking health care and residents rush forward to enlist. The problem: The state can’t pay for the Rolls-Royce.   Governor Doyle and the Democrats promised MA and BadgerCare Plus and cannot pay for either.  However, the governor seems to believe the federal government can pay for it.  Since he can't keep his promises, he expects others to keep them for him. 

When interest surges far beyond what the state can affordably provide, the governor then pulls the rug out from underneath innocent and unsuspecting citizens. After offering false hope to thousands of health care seekers, what is the governor’s solution? The state will establish another program to offer limited coverage to people who, for now, have had the door shut in their faces and must keep their fingers crossed while on a waiting list. The governor made another promise: the new program will be created without cost to taxpayers. Do you believe it?

So……despite limited resources and continuing serious problems with delivery of social service program benefits, the state surged forward with plans to expand existing programs like BadgerCare. I formally asked the co-chairpersons of the Joint Committee on Audit that I serve on to request that the Legislative Audit Bureau conduct a full review of the BadgerCare program.

W
here there’s smoke, there’s fire. We are still trying to figure out all the things that went wrong with Wisconsin Shares, and we still haven’t learned our lessons from the food stamp debacle a few years ago.  Writer George Santayana is most famous for his quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Santayana’s historic words are especially true applied to recent controversies in Wisconsin health programs.

Warning signals that could and should have prevented scandals of today were apparent years ago. During 2003, the Audit Bureau reported that “Wisconsin’s food stamp benefit payment error rate…has been at an historical high of 4.4 percentage points above the national average.  Since FFY 1993-94, the federal government has imposed a total of $10.6 million in sanctions as a result of Wisconsin’s high error rates. Wisconsin had the third-worst error rate in the nation during these two years (FFY 2000-01 and 2001-02).  Only California and Michigan had higher error rates than Wisconsin.” 

Serious errors occurred in the food stamp program, followed by fraud in Wisconsin Shares. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel investigation turned up astounding levels of fraud in Wisconsin Shares, identifying nearly $750,000 in suspicious child care disbursements. Since then, the Audit Bureau has estimated that fraud and errors cost Wisconsin taxpayers $16.7 million to $18.5 million during 2008 alone. 

During 2009, the state created BadgerCare Plus Core, an extension of the BadgerCare Plus program to include adults that don't have children. The state Senate Health Committee that I serve on was informed the waiting list for BadgerCare Plus Core had ballooned to about 7,000 people. The earliest the waiting list applicants would be eligible for insurance would be March 2010 and by then the waiting list could grow to over 20,000.

There was a flood of applicants to BadgerCare Plus Core, causing backlogs for the new food stamp program, FoodShare, resulting in thousands of people waiting months for benefits.  The US Department of Agriculture views Wisconsin’s backlog of cases among the worst in the country. Failure to process applications and distribute or deny benefits in a timely manner could have meant federal sanctions issued against the state.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary Karen Timberlake supplied data reported by the Journal Sentinel that the state received more than 46,000 applications for FoodShare from June 15 to October 19, 2009. Over 29,000 applicants waited more than 30 days to either obtain a debit card to purchase food or have their enrollment rejected. Wait times over the telephone to receive information about FoodShare applications are lasting over an hour.

The fiscally irresponsible pattern starts with the mantra that people need coverage followed by the argument that people are under-covered. Programs keep getting bloated, never getting smaller. Government falls further and further behind in its attempts to keep promises and then makes the injudicious decision to make more promises, create more programs, and spend more money it does not have.

Keep in mind the governor and legislative Democrats cut about $600 million from Medical Assistance. DHS continues to struggle with making up for the cut. Their answer is to develop more programs the state can’t afford or administer appropriately. To consider such new programs given our current fiscal and human service delivery problems is mind-boggling.

In a letter I sent to Joint Audit Committee co-chairs and the state Auditor requesting an audit of the BadgerCare program, I wrote, “My intent is not to cast blame, or to scapegoat, it is to have the Audit Bureau identify inefficiencies or problems that the Department of Health Services can utilize to assist more individuals properly and effectively. A BadgerCare audit by the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau is preventative medicine to ensure the state does not repeat previous scandals. The outstanding Audit Bureau can make sure the state does not.” W
e owe it to the taxpayers to ensure their money is being spent as wisely and efficiently as possible.

So again…. strong signs indicate that the recent proliferation of government health care in Wisconsin causes a crisis. The recent expansion of state BadgerCare government insurance caused an abrupt stoppage of enrollment during October 2009. During January 2010 enrollment was 63,644. The projected enrollment was 24,900. How is Governor Doyle's Department of Health Services paying for health care for 63,644? The answer the legislature got was to create another version of BadgerCare for those that were cut off from enrolling.

In the very same budget that expanded BadgerCare to more population, the Doyle administration's Department of Health Services was directed to reduce medical assistance spending by $600 million. On top of that, the state has been late making Medicaid payments to hundreds of providers of care to the frail elderly and those with serious disabilities. 

The BadgerCare debacle, cutting $600 million in government health care expenditures, and the $955 million Family Care Program are three known medical assistance problems.  Yet, a state audit of Medical Assistance requested by Republican state Senator Rob Cowles and I is being stopped at every turn by Democrats. 

In addition, an audit by the Legislative Audit Bureau found a $109 million shortfall in the
Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund, the state’s medical malpractice fund. To balance the 2007-09 state budget, $200 million was raided from the Injured Patients and Families Compensation Fund to balance the 2007-09 state budget.

I sincerely wish the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel or any other news outlet would duplicate the Journal Sentinel’s award-winning reporting on the Wisconsin Shares program that led to an audit of the state subsidized child care program. This time, the focus should be on the $6 billion state Medical Assistance program. Imagine the amount of fraud and waste that could be uncovered by investigative reporters.

The State Legislative Audit Bureau published a scope statement for an audit of Medical Assistance.  The co-chairs of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee scheduled two meetings to approve a Medical Assistance audit.  At both meetings Democrats obstructed the audit.  The Joint Legislative Audit Committee that I serve on should, as I have requested, schedule an audit of Medical Assistance to determine the scope of inefficiency in one of the state’s largest programs. A full-blown audit by our outstanding Legislative Audit Bureau would provide clear answers. Ongoing problems with unaffordable programs that the state continues to expand must stop.


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The Democrat-approved auto insurance increases are now in effect

State budget


A question for Wisconsin motorists:

At any time during the first six months of 2009, during the 2009-11 state budget deliberations, did you contact Governor Doyle, your state Senator, and/or your state Representative to voice concern that your auto insurance premiums were too low and state government should take action to make your premiums increase?

As you chuckle and scoff, let me just say, I didn’t think so.

And yet, Governor Doyle and the Democrat-controlled Legislature decided to include a provision in the current state budget that mandate higher auto insurance premiums that officially increase today, June 1, 2010.

On March 3, 2009, I blogged:

“The Wisconsin Insurance Alliance (WIA) says that the governor’s budget includes an astounding 300 percent increase in mandatory auto insurance limits. Current minimums are $25,000 for personal injury, $50,000 for occurrence, and $10,000 for property. The governor wants minimums set at $100,000 for personal injury, $300,000 for occurrence, and $25,000 for property.

The WIA says the new limits would mean some motorists could experience cost increases ranging from 33-45 percent with the largest dollar increases affecting Milwaukee area motorists.

The WIA worries the increased rates will result in the dangerous scenario of more uninsured motorists on Wisconsin roads.

I agree with the WIA that the issue of auto insurance rates is not an appropriate matter to be dumped into the state budget and should be debated as a separate policy item.”


Then on June 17, 2009, I blogged:

“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?

This provision penalizes decent people paying their bills and continuing to have coverage.

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

Increases were approved by legislative Democrats in both the state Senate and state Assembly and signed into law by Governor Doyle.

Making matters worse, after the budget became law, word started to spread and consumers started to get angry. Democrats falsely claimed that insurance companies lobbied for the increases.

On November 2, 2009, I blogged,
"Your auto  insurance is going up and here's why." Here is an excerpt:

Wisconsin enjoyed some of the lowest auto insurance rates in the nation. Dramatic changes brought on by government were unnecessary. Neither insurance companies nor consumers requested the mandates. They were the exclusive brainchild of legislative Democrats and the governor now wanting to pass blame. Savvy drivers might have to buy more and pay more, however they are not buying the Democrats’ explanation.”

Where do we stand today?

Effective June 1, 2010, the insurance hikes mandated by Democrats in their 2009-11 state budget are in effect. The Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) reports:

Effective June 1, no one may operate a motor vehicle in Wisconsin unless the owner or operator has a motor vehicle liability policy in place covering that vehicle that has minimum liability limits of $50,000 per person and $100,000 per accident for bodily injury and $15,000 for property damage. Drivers are also required to have proof of the vehicle's liability coverage in their possession if they are asked to produce evidence of coverage by law enforcement officials.”


Again, did you Wisconsin residents demand these changes?

The automatic increase in auto insurance premiums is part of the more than $3 billion increase in taxes and fees approved by Democrats in the 2009-11 state budget, according to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

Canada considers major changes in its health care

Government health care

Read more

Statement re: New Berlin City Center Controversy


From the very beginning, I have vehemently opposed a planned multifamily and senior housing development for the New Berlin City Center. After learning the details about the housing development, I immediately determined they are inconsistent and incompatible with the theme of the economic development planned for the City Center area.

On March 3, 2010, I was contacted by Dan Kassis, Project Manager for
MSP Real Estate, Inc. Kassis informed me that MSP was applying to the Wisconsin Housing and Economic Development Authority (WHEDA) for use of low income housing credits. Kassis asked me to sign a letter of support for the project and supplied two sample letters to consider. I refused to sign the letters and refused to support the project.

About one week later, I learned that state Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison) and state Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) had also been approached by MSP and sent letters of support for the project to WHEDA. It angers and concerns me deeply that the developers, upon failing to garner sufficient local support, would turn to Democrats from Dane County to endorse a New Berlin project the New Berlin community clearly and rightly opposed.

New Berlin mayor Jack Chiovatero’s e-mail comment that “
Our city is filled with prejudice and bigoted people” was inappropriate, ill-advised, and untrue. New Berlin is a respectful community with a deep sense of honor and pride, completely undeserving of the mayor’s e-mail characterization. The mayor’s subsequent apology to the good citizens of New Berlin was warranted.

Good luck, girls!

Good news from Senate District 28


The 2010 WIAA Girls Soccer State Tournament begins today with regional games. The following schools located in state Senate District 28 will be competing:


DIVISION I

 

Read more

Audit: Emergency Management

Audits


The Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) has completed a review of Wisconsin’s Emergency Management, finding that the Department of Homeland security awarded the state $318.5 million from fiscal year (FY) 2004-5 through FY 2008-09.

Federal funding can be used to prepare for, prevent, respond to, and recover from terrorism and other disasters. Most of the federal funding Wisconsin received from fiscal year (FY) 2004-5 through FY 2008-09 was spent on equipment such as radios, security
cameras, and emergency medical supplies. The LAB found that Wisconsin used its appropriated funds properly under federal rules.

However, the LAB has concerns about communications and preparing for emergencies in Wisconsin.

The LAB reports the state does not have “an interoperable communications system that would allow all emergency responders statewide to communicate with one another during a large-scale emergency.” Four regional interoperable programs have been created.  The Office of Justice Assistance (OJA) that disburses most of the Homeland Security funding the state receives is establishing a statewide interoperability plan with the anticipation that a statewide system could be operating during 2011. Initiation radio coverage will be provided to 95 percent of the state, but, as the LAB reports, “only for in-vehicle radios with strong antenna ranges.”  That means many local units of government will need to buy equipment capable of gaining access to the system. The costs are unknown. 


Local governments contacted by the LAB worry that the system depends on the VHF band that does not penetrate buildings as well as other radio bands and can be difficult to use in urban areas with heavy radio traffic. The portable radios used by emergency responders lack strong antenna ranges and may not be able to gain access to the system from all locations. Since costs are unknown, local government officials worry the future cost will be significant.

Another LAB concern relates to planning for emergencies. Wisconsin Emergency Management (WEM) has yet to complete the Wisconsin Emergency Reponses Plan and share it with all county and tribal emergency management departments. WEM has also failed to establish an electronic system for tracking all emergency management resources statewide that could be beneficial during emergencies involving multiple counties. WEM intends to implement the system sometime this year.

The LAB also reports:

“While the State and local governments have made progress in improving some aspects of emergency preparedness, responses to two recent and significant natural disasters indicate that additional efforts are needed, particularly to achieve interoperable communications among all responders to large emergencies.”

Here are the details about those two natural disasters:

“In February 2008, a severe winter storm stranded hundreds of
motorists for more than 12 hours on Interstate 90 in Dane and Rock counties. The Adjutant General’s March 2008 written assessment of the response noted that county staff and Wisconsin National Guard units were unable to communicate with one another during the storm, state emergency management officials lacked an accurate and timely assessment of the incident’s magnitude, and the public was not adequately informed about the ongoing incident.

In June 2008, flooding resulted in the declaration of a state of emergency in 30 counties in southern Wisconsin. WEM’s internal post-incident report noted that improved communication was

needed between the State’s emergency operations center in Madison and county emergency management departments. In addition, it noted the need to improve the mapping capabilities of WEM’s emergency operations center and to designate trained staff to assist at the emergency operations center."

In response to the difficulties that hindered the responses to these two emergencies, the State has taken steps to improve its preparation for emergencies. DOT updated its procedures so that

Read more

Insurance agents scrambling to help confused motorists

State budget, News you can use


It was bound to happen.

Wisconsin motorists are surprised, confused, worried, ill-informed, all of the above about new auto insurance liability rules that went into effect June 1, 2010.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:

The new rules and confusion over them have caused customers to flock to insurance offices statewide. Several agents said they've had double or triple the normal number of calls and visits about auto insurance this week.

Agents also have to explain the terminology of auto insurance and the types of coverage to customers who have never had it before. (Milwaukee agent Jaime) Mercado said it can take 30 minutes to an hour to serve new customers.

To add to the potential confusion, agents in some cases are telling drivers that the new state minimum coverage rules don't really do enough to protect them.”

Here are details about the new law from the Wisconsin Insurance Commissioner’s Office.

No more raids? Let’s ask the voters

State budget


During three consecutive biennial state budgets, Governor Doyle raided the state’s Transportation Fund. Here is the history, provided by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) in an informational paper it published during January 2009:

“The 2003-05 budget act used a combination of direct appropriations from the transportation fund for general fund programs (shared revenue and K-12 education aids) and a transfer of revenues from the transportation fund to the general fund, for a total of $675.0 million.”

First raid = $675 million.

Back to the LFB:

“The 2005-07 biennial budget act made a transfer of $427.0 million from the transportation fund to the general fund, but did not make any direct appropriations from the transportation fund to general fund programs.”

Second raid = $427 million.

Again, the LFB:

“The 2007-09 budget act (Act 20) and the 2008-09 budget adjustment act (Act 226) together resulted in a transfer of $155 million from the transportation fund to the general fund. “

Third raid = $155 million.

The six-year total of transfers and appropriations from the transportation fund = $1.257 billion.

The LFB reports the use of replacement bonds offset the transfers ($865.5 million), however the debt service paid from the transportation fund during the 2003-05 biennium ($43.9 million) adds to the loss.

The LFB concludes, “Therefore, the total loss to the transportation fund over the six years equals $435.4 million.”

That’s $435.4 million unavailable for the use it was intended: road projects statewide.

The raids have triggered a call for counties to hold advisory referenda this fall asking for an end to the transfers. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:

A coalition of groups is pushing for advisory referendums this fall in counties statewide to urge lawmakers to change the state constitution and keep their hands off the transportation fund in response to $1.2 billion being drained from the account.

Waukesha County could be among the first counties to put a question on the November ballot asking voters if the Wisconsin Constitution should be amended to bar the state from using gas taxes to balance the state budget.

Read more

Time to audit UW funding of abortion training

Audits


The Wisconsin Department of Justice (DOJ) is recommending the state Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) investigate whether
the University of Wisconsin is improperly funding abortion training.

The Associated Press reports, “Wisconsin law prohibits state agencies from paying doctors or medical facilities for performing abortions. The University 
of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics Authority pays medical residents specializing in gynecology to train at Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, where they can choose to take abortion training. The Alliance Defense Fund, an Arizona-based group  of Christian lawyers, sent a letter in April on behalf of Pro-Life Wisconsin to Republican Atty. Gen. J.B.  Van Hollen alleging the UW Hospital and Clinics Authority has paid nearly $60,000 over the last three years to cover residents' training at Planned Parenthood. The group claims the payments violate  the law and asked Van Hollen for a formal opinion.”

Assistant Attorney General Kevin Potter wrote a letter to the LAB May 25, 2010 that reads, in part:

“Wisconsin law provides that ‘no funds of this state or of …any agency of this state…shall be authorized for or paid to a physician or surgeon or a hospital, clinic or other medical facility for the performance  of an abortion.” Wis. Stat.20.927.  (University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics Authority, UWCHA) appears to be an 'agency of this state’ for purposes of Wis. Stat. 20.927, and, cannot, therefore, use its funds in violation of that provision.

Although we have not yet concluded that UWCHA has violated section 20.927, the information contained in the April 16, 2010, letter (sent from Alliance Defense Fund to Attorney General Van Hollen) does raise concerns that we believe should be brought to your attention. Because e a violation of section 20.927 is not, in and of itself, a criminal offense, the Department of Justice has limited authority to investigate the matter. The Legislative Audit Bureau, on the other hand, is charged with financial oversight of state operations to insure compliance with applicable law.”

Assistant AG Potter then suggests the LAB examine the following: Records reflecting the activities performed by UWCHA residents assigned to Planned Parenthood facilities or other facilities abortions are performed; a copy of all contracts, agreements, memoranda of understanding, or similar documents between UWCHA and any organization that performs abortions or operates a facility that performs abortions; and internal UWCHA records pertinent to this matter.

As a member of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, I wholeheartedly support the DOJ request 
for this audit.

Read the letter from the DOJ to the LAB 
and the Associated Press article.

"Paper or plastic? That'll be 25 cents"

Taxes


One has to wonder how this idea got by Wisconsin Democrats.

It’s called the bag tax. Fifteen states have proposed charging for paper, plastic bags or both ranging from five cents in  Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, and Virginia to 25 cents in Hawaii and the city of Baltimore.

The rationale offered by the bag taxers is that the additional charge will lead more consumers to reject paper and/or plastic and a cleaner environment will result. Like most good-intentioned policies, this one comes up short.

The Tax Foundation in Washington D.C. reports that the nation’s capital enacted a five-cent tax on most, not all paper and plastic bags during January 2010. Interestingly, exempted from the tax are those products used to bag newspapers. If the tax is supposed to help the environment by clamping down on villainous bags, why are some in D.C.  like the recyclable carryout variety not included?

How is the Washington bag tax faring? Poorly, to say the least. When asked, paper or plastic, it seems Washington consumers are opting for neither. A paltry $150,000 has been collected in the first four months of the bag tax. Revenue was supposed to fund clean up of a dirty river. The mayor of Washington now wants to raid the river clean up fund and put the money toward other unrelated services. Does that sound familiar, Wisconsin taxpayers?

Because the intended use of the bag tax is being altered, that makes the additional charge per bag, by definition, a tax as opposed to a fee. Proponents of the charge have preferred spinning it as a fee, claiming those paying stand to benefit. However, revenue collected and results have both been minimal. So the fee is actually a tax, just another means of seeking general revenue.

One of the consequences of a bag tax has consumers rushing to buy paper or plastic bags in bulk. In essence, as the Tax Foundation emphasizes consumers will “purchase products that have the same chance of ill effects as grocery bags.” In Ireland, a 20-cent bag tax led to a 77 percent increase in the sale of trash can liners.

Proponents can be their own worst enemies.  Seattle bag taxers oversold the concept, making ambitious pitches that the extra revenue would lead to reduced greenhouse emissions, reduced landfill deposits, and less street and ocean litter. Seattle voters rejected the bag tax during a 2009 referendum.

I suspect that despite the many question marks, bag tax proposals will surface across the country. Read more from the Tax Foundation.

The 2009-10 legislative session by the numbers

Legislation


The nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) has crunched the numbers from the 2009-10 general legislative session that ended during April 2010 to determine the extent of legislative activity. Here are some of the findings:

“Legislators made 8,987 requests for bills, amendments, and resolutions to be drafted in statutory language in 2009-10.

A total of 412 bills passed the legislature this session, up from 243 in 2007-08 and the fourth-highest number in the last 10 sessions.

The assembly convened and took a roll call 36 times in 2009-10, up from 29 times in 2007-08, but down from sessions in the 1980s and 1990s when session days often exceeded 60.

As has been the case in recent years, the senate convened slightly fewer days (31) than the assembly, but numbers in both houses could grow if lawmakers were yet to meet in special session.”

Some observers base their legislative activity barometer on total number of bills approved. Others argue that the Legislature could inflict too much damage by passing too many bills that create too many taxes, fees, spending, rules, regulations, bureaucracy, and bad policy. This past session is a perfect example.

Read more from WISTAX.

Free ride indeed


What did Governor Doyle expect?

After announcing the Wisconsin Covenant, a program designed to offer financial aid to high achieving students 
attending an in-state public institution, parents anticipated a free ride. 

The Covenant is a perfect example of a government program with lofty
promises that cannot be kept, especially during a downturn in the economy.

Other states also have merit-based scholarship programs similar to the Wisconsin Covenant and are considering major changes.

Georgia’s program, called HOPE, was the first of its kind in the nation when it began during 1993. Stateline.org reports, “The program, funded by proceeds from a state lottery, became instantly popular. Bright students, who otherwise might have left Georgia for colleges in other states, instead stayed home to claim a free ride. (Flat-rate awards of $1,750 per semester are available to attend private schools in Georgia.) More than a dozen states, from Florida to New Mexico, followed Georgia's lead by setting up merit-based scholarship programs of their own.”

That was then. Several problems are forcing Georgia officials to return to the blackboard:

The struggling economy

Reduced lottery proceeds that fund HOPE

Rising tuition costs

Booming enrollments

The result
is Georgia’s HOPE cannot live up to its promises. To accommodate all applicants, Georgia must dip into a reserve account for the first time that will go dry in two years without modifications to the program.

States like Georgia that have financial aid programs facing uncertainties have alternatives:

Cut the scholarship amounts

Cut the number of students eligible

Increase academic standards for eligibility

Put an income limit on those eligible

None of the options would be popular.

The first round of Wisconsin Covenant students are scheduled to attend class in the fall of 2011. Wisconsin’s program has yet to begin and it already has had to scale back. Again, what did proponents think would happen?

Wisconsin is not alone. Read more from Stateline.

Welcome home, Steve Warner!


On behalf of my entire family, I extend a warm, loving welcome home to my son-in-law, New Berlin native Steve Warner.

Steve is stationed in the U.S. Navy at Jacksonville, Florida, and deployed during the past six months. I am thrilled that Steve arrived at the Jacksonville Naval Base at 1:10 this morning.

Steve’s wife, our daughter, Rhonda and their two children, Kaytlyn and Madyson stayed with us in New Berlin during Steve’s six month deployment. Katie grew from two and one-half years old to three years old, celebrating her third birthday during Daddy’s deployment. Maddy grew from four months to nine months during the deployment. We loved and cherished that time together, watching Maddy go from an infant cradling her head to sitting up on her own and beginning to crawl.

We miss Rhonda, Katie, and Maddy immensely. However, we are overjoyed that Steve, Rhonda, Kaytlyn and Madyson are safely reunited.

Steve’s return was delayed several times. We were at Jacksonville, hoping to be there for Steve's homecoming. We flew out Saturday and Steve arrived early this morning.

Here are some photos of the family. The first two photos are Katie waiting for Daddy, holding a flag I gave her for her Daddy's happy homecoming.

Welcome home, Steve! We are so happy to have you home safe! God bless you and thank you for your service to America!

Read more

Could New Berlin City Center case end up in court?


Constituents have been asking me questions about possible lawsuits in the wake of new developments in the New Berlin City Center controversy.

The concern is that the developer of proposed housing might sue the city of New Berlin because the city’s Planning Commission wants the developer to alter its proposal after the Planning Commission approved it a few months ago.

A similar story unfolded recently in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The city was the target of a federal lawsuit filed by the developer of proposed low-income housing at a former YMCA location downtown. The lawsuit claimed the city stopped construction of the development because it included low-income housing, and in doing so was discriminatory and violated federal law.  A federal judge late last month dismissed the lawsuit due to lack of evidence.

At this link you may read about the Ann Arbor case and link to the judge’s decision. 

One cannot assume that the Michigan case means: a) a lawsuit will be filed in New Berlin, or b) if a lawsuit is filed against New Berlin, the city would prevail.

However, the Michigan case does provide an example of claims filed against a city that were subsequently dismissed after a low-income housing development was halted.

At this point, any discussion about potential lawsuits is pure conjecture.

Letter to WHEDA: Deny New Berlin City Center development financial request

WISCONSIN LEGISLATURE
P. O. Box 7882 Madison, WI  53707-7882

Read more

Famous flag still missing for almost 10 years


"It's a piece of history. I don't think the average citizen knows it's missing."
Shirley Dreifus, referring to an American flag that flew at Ground Zero.

September 11, 2001.
 




Six hours after the Twin Towers were destroyed by terrorist murderers, a New York firefighter walked past a yacht docked in the Hudson River owned by Shirley Dreifus and her husband. Spotting a flag, firefighter Dan McWilliams yanked it from the boat and proceeded towards Ground Zero, the site of the massacre. McWilliams was joined on the way by two other firefighters, George Johnson and Billy Eisengrein.

When the three arrived at Ground Zero, they found a long pole, attached Old Glory, and raised the Stars and Stripes, unaware that photographer Thomas Franklin of The Record newspaper in Bergen County, New Jersey was capturing the moment with a picture that gained fame worldwide.


Read more

Oil spill scammers

News you can use


Oil continues to spew from the massive spill in the Gulf. Patches of oil from the Deepwater Horizon spill are seen from an underwater vantage in the Gulf of Mexico south of Venice, Louisiana.



AP photo.

Every day, the news media conveys pictures showing the effects of the disaster. At the Fort Jackson Bird Rehabilitation Center in Buras, Louisiana, pelicans huddle together as they wait their turns for a bath to remove oil contamination.



LA Times photo

Naturally, good-hearted Americans want to help. Unscrupulous scammers are highly aware and are trying to take advantage.


The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is warning consumers to use caution before making any charitable donations. DATCP writes, “Scammers will use e-mails, websites, and telephone calls to make contact and solicit money - claiming they're raising money for environmental causes or other fraudulent services relating to the oil spill.”

Read tips about avoiding spill-related scams from
DATCP.

Wisconsin economic performance near the bottom

Economy, State budget, Business


When a new economic report is issued about Wisconsin, you can bet the news will be gloomy.

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has released its 2010 edition of “Rich States, Poor States” that ranks all 50 states on their economic policies and performance, and also forecasts the states best equipped to rebound from the rough economy. ALEC bases the economic performance rankings of the states on three factors: personal income per capita cumulative growth from 1998-2008, domestic migration from 1999-2008, and non-farm payroll employment from 1998-2008.


Wisconsin has the seventh worst economic performance ranking, #44 (1=best 50=worst). Last year, Wisconsin’s economic performance ranking was #41.

From the ALEC report:

“To give you a more in-depth look at which states are asking more from taxpayers—and in the process making their states less competitive— we have put together our very own top 10 list of biggest state losers for 2010. Wisconsin:  Raised its income tax rate to 7.75% on incomes above $225,000 and also increased cigarette taxes.”

Wisconsin’s property tax burden is the tenth worst in the nation.

Co-author of the report and highly-regarded economist Dr. Arthur B. Laffer said in an ALEC press release, “Tax and economic policies are essential to the competiveness of our states. Most actions being taken in state capitals today—and practically all actions from Washington, D.C. today—are flat-out wrong.”  

“The tax-and-spend attitude in Washington, D.C. is making the problem far worse for states,” co-author Stephen Moore said. “Once the federal stimulus dollars dry up, only federal requirements will remain—and states will be left with bloated programs they are no longer able to afford.”

According to the release, the authors “found that states with a high and rising tax burden are more likely to drive away individuals and business, while those with lower and falling tax burdens are more likely to attract businesses and create jobs.”

The solution for the states: Reasonable spending limits. The report says, “If states would have simply allowed their spending to grow at the rate of population plus inflation (PPI) growth, they would (almost without exception) be sitting on budget surpluses instead of facing deficits.”

Some states have actually cut taxes. Vermont lowered its income tax rate, North Dakota reduced personal income tax rates and property taxes, and Louisiana adjusted its tax brackets. The ALEC report calls efforts to provide tax relief “a silver lining” amidst all the gloom and doom.

ALEC concludes that Washington has actually done more harm than good to states:

Washington would be wise to end all federal aid for states, because the money that Washington spends has to come from states—it is far from being free. Instead state lawmakers should ask Congress to focus on broad economic growth policies that will put states back in the black. This should include low, flat-rate taxes, government spending restraint, sound and stable money, free trade, and minimal regulation. State fiscal policies have a profound impact on their relative economic performance. Governors and state legislators would be wise to tell Washington next time it offers bailout dollars: ‘Thanks, but no thanks’.”

Here is the ALEC report and the ALEC press release.

DPI issues emergency rule about mascot law

Legislation


A Wisconsin law that establishes a new procedure for challenging a school board’s use of a race-based nickname, logo, mascot, or team name went into effect May 20, 2010. I voted against the mascot legislation.

The state Superintendent of Public Instruction is required to promulgate rules necessary to implement and administer the law.  June 1, 2010, the office of the state Superintendent of Public Instruction published an emergency rule pertaining to the new law. Here are excerpts from the department’s analysis:

“Plain language analysis:

2009 Wisconsin Act 250 allows a school district resident to object to the use of a race-based nickname, logo, mascot, or team name by the school board of that school district by filing a complaint with the state superintendent. If a complaint objects to the use of a nickname or team name by a school board, the state superintendent must immediately review the complaint and determine whether the use of the nickname or team name by the school board, alone or in connection with a logo or mascot, is ambiguous as to whether it is race-based.

Read more

The CPR challenge


The American Heart Association (AHA) has embarked on a campaign to have 1 million people learn about CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation) and AEDs (automated external defibrillators). Less than 1/3 of individuals that suffer cardiac arrest, whether it occurs in the home, at work, or in pubic receive immediate, life-saving CPR from someone nearby.

The AHA has made it easier for people to learn the procedure and has worked to address the concerns of bystanders who fear they may act inappropriately.

Read more about the AHA campaign here and watch the following public service announcement. 

 

Read more

WRTL Urges Officials to Determine if UW is Violating Abortion-Funding Law

Audits


Wisconsin Right To Life (WRTL) has sent the following memo to the co-chairs of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee that I serve on, expressing concerns about the possibility that the UW Hospital and Clinics Authority Board is violating Wisconsin's abortion-funding law:

"June 7, 2010

Senator Kathleen Vinehout, Joint Legislative Audit Committee Co-Chair
Representative Peter Barca, Joint Legislative Audit Committee Co-Chair
Wisconsin State Legislature
Madison, Wisconsin
53703


Dear Senator Vinehout and Representative Barca,

I am writing on behalf of Wisconsin Right to Life to request that the Joint Legislative Audit Committee to look into whether the University of Wisconsin Hospital and Clinics Authority (UWHCA) is in compliance with section 20.927 of the Wisconsin statutes.  Section 20.927 prohibits the use of state tax dollars from paying physicians, surgeons, hospitals, clinics or any other medical facility for the performance of an abortion except under specific circumstances outlined in the law.

In a letter to State Auditor Janice Mueller dated May 25, 2010,  Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen encouraged the Legislative Audit Bureau to look into the possibility that UWHCA is violating section 20.927 by using its funds to pay medical residents for performing abortions at Planned Parenthood.

In his letter, Attorney General Van Hollen outlined the information from UWHCA that would be helpful in determining whether UWHCA is in violation of the law.

Read more

Mopeds, too

Legislation


From the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) website:

“Do I need a license to drive a moped?

A driver license is required.

They (moped drivers) can operate a moped with a Class D regular or probationary license. However, it is not legal to operate a moped with only a valid instruction permit.

A moped is:

Any of the following vehicles (excluding a tractor) capable of speeds not more than 30 mph, with 150 lb. Rider on a dry, level, hard surface with no wind, a power source as an integral part of the vehicle, and a seat for the operator:

  • A bicycle-type vehicle with fully operative pedals and an engine certified by the manufacturer at not more than 130cc.
  • A Type 1 motorcycle with an automatic transmission and engine certified at not more than 50cc. “

Read more

State Patrol advises slowing down


Every 46 minutes in Wisconsin, someone is killed or injured in a speed-related accident.

During 2009, more than 200,000 speeding citations were issued in Wisconsin.

Speeding is the State Patrol’s “Law of the Month” for June.

Wisconsin No Call List sets record


The new Wisconsin No Call List that goes into effect July 1, 2010, will include more than 2.1 million phone numbers.

What area code has the most phone numbers enrolled? Read more from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.

If you think things are bad in Washington.....

Economy, State budget, Taxes

 

Most Americans would assuredly agree that our debt dilemma is out of control. The debt clock looks like something in a Las Vegas casino. Take a look. …over $13 TRILLION and growing fast.

Read more

A Supermarket of Veterans Benefits

News you can use, Veterans issues


The state of Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs is reminding veterans to attend a one-stop shop event to learn about available benefits. It’s called the “Supermarket of Veterans Benefits” and is scheduled to be held soon in Milwaukee.

The Supermarkets were designed to put representatives from federal, state, and local agencies that provide services to veterans and their families in a single location. Information is available about the following areas:

VA health care


VA disability compensation/pension

Read more

Congratulations, Hales Corners!

Good news from Senate District 28


Hales Corners has been named one of the most affordable suburbs in the United States.

Here are the details.

Federal spending by the numbers

Economy, Taxes


Mind-boggling numbers and data highlight the Heritage Foundation’s 2010 edition of "Federal Spending by the Numbers."  The staggering report authored by UW-Madison graduate Brian Riedl, the Heritage Foundation’s lead budget analyst, outlines out of control taxing and spending in Washington D.C. with fiscal irresponsibility reigning.

 

Read more

Stop and smell the roses in Hales Corners

Good news from Senate District 28, News you can use


The Wisconsin Department of Tourism has published its list of the “Top 15 Places to Stop and Smell the Roses, Lilacs and Other Blooming Wonders.”

An absolute must to be included on the list is the lovely Boerner Botanical Gardens located in Senate District 28 in Hales Corners.

Read why it makes the list here.

Wisconsin life jacket requirements

News you can use


The Wisconsin Rapids Tribune calls state life jacket regulations some of the weakest in the nation.

Department of Natural Resources recreation safety warden Jeff Dauterman told the newspaper the use of life jackets by boaters is a matter of common sense.

You can read Wisconsin’s life jacket regulations in the 2010 Wisconsin Boating Regulations and Handbook.

Oh, no, not another stimulus!

Economy, Taxes

 

Read more

Tax credits approved for New Berlin City Center development


Jsonline.com is reporting the controversial housing development at the New Berlin City Center will receive tax credits from the Wisconsin Housing and Economc Development Authority (WHEDA). WHEDA made its announcement about the tax credits today.

State Representative Mark Gundrum and I had requested the developer’s request for tax credits be denied.

Joint Finance Committee meets this week


The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee will meet under s.13.10 Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 10:00 a.m. in Room 412 East in the State Capitol. Here is the meeting agenda.

Your tax dollars at work: $1 Billion for abortions

Taxes


Common fiscal sense would dictate that when the federal debt is over $13 trillion, every aspect of Washington spending should be under heavy scrutiny. That would include the federal funding of abortions.

The amount of taxpayer subsidization of abortion is astounding. According to a Government Accountability Office (GAO) report, since 2002, six organizations that promote or perform abortions spent nearly $1 billion ($967.1 million) in taxpayer money during fiscal years 2002-2009.

Elisabeth Meinecke reports on Human Events about the stunning numbers from one of those organizations:  “Planned Parenthood’s 2006-2007 annual report, for example, states the organization performed 289,750 abortions in 2006 alone—a year it spent $100 million of taxpayer’s money. It performed 306,310 abortions in 2007, when it spent $97.6 million of federal funds.”

Is this Hillary Clinton’s definition of keeping abortions “rare”?

The Heritage Foundation reported during March 2010, “
A CNN poll taken shortly after the House vote (on federal government health care) found that 60 percent of Americans oppose public funding of abortion. One month later, a Quinnipiac University poll showed 72 percent of Americans oppose abortion funding with taxpayer dollars.”

Rita Diller, the national director of Stop Planned Parenthood (Stopp), also dug into the GAO report and discovered this eye-opener, written in a column in the Washington Times:

Planned Parenthood Federation of America's (PPFA) audits show the organization spent just $657.1 million between 2002 and 2008 from federal government grants and programs, but the abortion behemoth's own annual reports show that it took in $2.3 billion from government grants and programs during the same time period.

Since 2009, at least five nationwide polls have confirmed that a majority of Americans consider themselves pro-life. Someone, then, needs to explain to all those people why $2.3 billion in tax dollars have been doled out to an organization that admits to systematically having killed more than 1.8 million pre-born babies between 2002 and 2008 and then reports it only spent $657.1 million in federal dollars.”

The time has come to eliminate all federal funding for abortions.

Here is the GAO report.

My sincere appreciation to Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan who was one of the members of Congress that requested this information from the GAO.

Everything you wanted to know about fireworks in Wisconsin

News you can use


The law pertaining to fireworks just might be the most confusing in Wisconsin.

The Attorney General's office has issued an advisory memo to local law enforcement that summarizes current law and addresses common questions and misunderstandings. You can read the memo here.

UPDATE: Joint Finance Committee meets this week


The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee will meet under s.13.10 Wednesday, June 23, 2010 at 10:00 a.m. in Room 412 East in the State Capitol. Here is the meeting agenda.

Here are the Legislative Fiscal Bureau issue papers about the agenda items.



Another analysis shows WI property taxes are too high

Taxes


A startling reminder from the Tax Foundation in Washington D.C. Considering property taxes as a percentage of property value, Wisconsin has the fourth-highest property taxes on owner-occupied homes in the nation.

Using Census Bureau data, the Tax Foundation calculated the median real estate taxes as a percent of median home value for all 50 states.  The U.S. average median is 0.96 percent ($1,897 in taxes on $197,600 in home value). Wisconsin’s percentage is 1.71. Only Texas, New Jersey and Nebraska rank higher.

The key to reducing property taxes is to control spending. Wisconsin property owners certainly have paid more than their fair share.  

License plates could be going high tech


Many policy ideas, good or bad, tend to originate in California. Mired in a $19 billion deficit, the Golden State is desperately searching for ways to save money. The latest idea would be a first of a kind in the nation: electronic license plates.

The thought out west is that if we have electronic ads on big billboards, why not on automobiles

The Associated Press reports:

The device would mimic a standard license plate when the vehicle is in motion but would switch to digital ads or other messages when it is stopped for more than four seconds, whether in traffic or at a red light. The license plate number would remain visible at all times in some section of the screen. In emergencies, the plates could be used to broadcast Amber Alerts or traffic information. Interested advertisers would contract directly with the DMV, thus opening a new revenue stream for the state. Any cost associated with the initial research would be borne by the company, not the state.”

Thus far, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and the California Highway Patrol are neutral on the proposal.

A major concern by some about electronic license plates could be what the Associated Press calls, “the next frontier in distracted driving.” Even so,
the California Senate has already approved the concept and the California Assembly is taking up the matter. Other states are also considering the plates.

Read more here.

Could electronic license plates come to Wisconsin

Audit: State Fair Park

Audits


Wisconsin law requires the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) perform a yearly audit of State Fair Park in West Allis. The latest analysis is complete following a review of State Fair Park revenue and expenditures, the park’s use of in-kind support, the current status of the Milwaukee Mile racetrack, and the state’s purchase of the Wisconsin Exposition center, located on the Fair park grounds.

First, some good news. During fiscal year 2008-09, revenue exceeded expenditures by $828,000 thanks to increased attendance at the Wisconsin State Fair that led to increased admissions, concessions, and parking revenues. The result is State Fair Park attained positive operating results for the third consecutive year, allowing the park to reduce its accumulated cash deficit on June 30, 2009 to $7.8 million.

The bad news is the deficit reduces funding opportunities for other state programs and reduces the state’s ability to raise revenue from investment earnings. The LAB says State Fair Park must continue to reduce the deficit.

Concerns were raised by the LAB about in-kind support, “businesses providing goods or services to State Fair Park in exchange for admission tickets, parking passes, advertising exposure, and other items.” Though in-kind support can be beneficial to the park, the LAB cautions there is a risk of inappropriateness and notes there are few safeguards in effect to guarantee transparency and accountability.

The LAB examined 122 in-kind agreements from the 2008 and 2009 Wisconsin State Fairs and wrote about its findings:

“In nine instances, a formal written agreement did not exist; instead, the details of the transaction were agreed upon verbally or informally by e-mail. Further, there were inconsistencies between the number of main stage concert tickets provided to businesses and the numbers included in agreements. For example, for the 2008 fair we found that a total of 3,238 main stage concert tickets had been distributed, but documentation in the in-kind support agreements indicate that only 1,450 were to have been provided.”

Another LAB concern: the combination of in-kind support with procurement transactions may have resulted in bidding processes where all businesses may not have had an equal opportunity to participate; in other words, there may have been favoritism. The LAB offers this example:

State Fair Park provided a Milwaukee automobile dealership with storage space on the fairgrounds in 2009, in exchange for a $3,000 credit to purchase a vehicle. State Fair Park used this credit in April 2009 for the purchase of a used vehicle from the dealership. State Fair Park prepared a simplified bid document and made a down payment on the vehicle three days before completing the simplified bid. Officials indicate that State Fair Park had researched online bids before making the down payment but cannot provide supporting documentation. While this in-kind exchange was beneficial for State Fair Park, it may appear as if State Fair Park had intended to purchase a vehicle from this dealership before it obtained the other bids.”


There are problems with managers distributing State fair tickets. The LAB found that “department managers did not submit ticket request forms to the ticket office as required; ticket request forms were not available in 12 of the 22 ticket disbursements reviewed; procedures were not in place to verify the number of tickets requested to a written agreement or other supporting documentation to ensure tickets are being distributed for appropriate purposes; the spreadsheet used to track tickets distributed by managers does not include the business purpose for providing these tickets, limiting its usefulness as a monitoring tool; and accounting staff were unable to reconcile the tracking spreadsheet to the electronic ticket system for the 2008 Wisconsin State Fair. State Fair Park estimated an unreconciled difference of $18,000 remains, indicating that some tickets were likely distributed without a ticket request form.”

Improvements were made to the process, and the LAB determined there was an unreconciled difference of $1,600 remaining it reviewed the 2009 Wisconsin State Fair.


The Milwaukee Mile Racetrack: No national races are being held at the Milwaukee Mile during 2010. State Fair Park projects revenue from racing events will exceed expenditures by $80,900 for the 2010 racing season. This will be offset by track and grandstand improvements. Debt service costs related to the renovation will cost State Fair Park $1.9 million. The LAB has calculated State Fair Park will suffer a net loss on racetrack operations of nearly $2.0 million during 2010.

Wisconsin Exposition Center: The state purchased the facility during December 2009, and State Fair Park assumed ownership during May 2010, anticipating revenue will surpass expenditures during both fiscal year 2009-10 and fiscal year 2010-11.

Recommendations made by the LAB:

State Fair Park should report to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee by March 1, 2011, on steps being taken to improve controls and better monitor the use of in-kind support, steps to improve controls and better monitor the distribution of Wisconsin State Fair tickets by managers, long-term plans for managing the Milwaukee Mile racetrack, and the status of Wisconsin Exposition Center operations.

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

Have a special veteran in mind?

Veterans issues


The Wisconsin Board of Veterans Affairs wants nominations for its Veteran Lifetime Achievement Award. The award will be presented at a meeting August 20, 2010 in Port Washington.

 

Read more

Congratulations, Tudor Oaks!

Good news from Senate District 28


I am proud to represent Tudor Oaks, a high quality, full-service Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC), located at Muskego within Senate District 28. Tudor Oaks is undergoing an exciting expansion and will be officially unveiled in a few weeks.

The newly redeveloped Tudor oak community was featured as a special insert in last Sunday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. You can see the informative insert here. 

Congr
atulations to Tudor Oaks on your thrilling expansion, and thank you for over 35 years of outstanding service to seniors and their families!

Tanning salons victims of Obamacare

Taxes, Government health care


September 12, 2008, Dover, New Hampshire.



Read more

Why is Wisconsin so much fun?

Tourism


You tell the Wisconsin Department of Tourism and you could win prizes in the Miles of Fun Giveaway.

Here are the details.

LAB letter: Fraud, Waste, and Mismanagement Hotline

Audits


During the 2007-08 regular legislative session, I co-sponsored legislation that was approved and signed into law that created
a toll free telephone number with voice mail maintained at the Legislative Audit Bureau’s office to receive reports of fraud, waste, and mismanagement in state government.

Read more

Editorial supports my suggested state transparency web site

Legislation


Monday, I released a column renewing my call for the creation of a state government transparency web site. I intend to introduce transparency web site legislation during the next legislative session. 

The Appleton Post-Crescent has editorialized in support of the idea:

“Wisconsin is one of just 14 states that don't have a transparency website, where the public can go to track state government spending…..somehow, 36 other states have figured out a way to do it — and not spend millions in the process.

If Wisconsin had a transparency website, would it draw thousands of people? Maybe not. But those who would view it, including others in state government, should be able to find some ways for the state to save money. Just the fact that spending information would be made public could lead to reduced spending.”

You can read the entire editorial here. 

New poll numbers on mass transit


The results of a new poll indicate declining public support for high-speed rail, commuter rail, and a sales tax-subsidized regional transit authority.

The Milwaukee Business Journal has the details. 

How you could spend $13 trillion

Economy


I have blogged in the past about the never-ending, ever-growing out of control U.S. Debt Clock, now at an astounding  $13.1 trillion.

How much is $13 trillion? What does it mean?

MSN Money puts the astronomical figure in perspective with ways the money could be spent:

“With $13 trillion, Americans could buy nine 32-gigabyte iPhones (the 3GS model) for every one of the 6.8 billion human beings on the planet, with a little money left over.

At $101,500 apiece, $13 trillion could buy Tesla Roadsters for 128 million lucky people. That's roughly the population of Japan.


Four years at Yale, including room and board, cost about $190,000 at today's prices. For $13 trillion, 68 million students could be sent to New Haven, Conn. That's 91% of the under-18 population of the country.

Thirteen trillion dollars could buy every person in the U.S. population of 309 million one item off McDonald’s dollar menu every day for the next 115 years. Doing the same for every one of the 6.8 billion people in the world, the money would last a little more than five years.”

There’s more.  

How will your pie stand up to Judge Lazich?

Good news from Senate District 28


I am pleased to once again be a judge in the pie bake off during the annual New Berlin Fourth of July Activities. The judging takes place July 3, 2010
, at the Schoeneck Containers Family Tent at Malone Park, 16400 West Stigler Parkway (163rd & National AvenueNew Berlin. Entry forms necessary to participate must be submitted by July 1, 2010.

Good luck and see you on July 3!

Here are more details:

PRESSRELEASE

Read more

Alaska needs to be like Wisconsin


In Wisconsin, one parent of a minor must consent before an abortion is provided. A minor is allowed to bypass parent by obtaining a court approval. A minor is also allowed to obtain consent from other relatives as an alternative to parental consent.

Some states require parental notification but do not require parental consent.

Alaska is one of the states without a parental notification law.

A campaign is underway to have a measure put before Alaska voters this August that would require doctors to notify one parent before an abortion is performed on a minor.

Naturally, Planned Parenthood is fighting the measure. The Susan B. Anthony List puts it succinctly, “If Planned Parenthood had their way, a 17 year old would need a parent to get acne medication, but a 13 year old girl would need no parental notification or consent whatsoever to get an abortion.  It’s time to stop Planned Parenthood’s war for unlimited, unrestricted abortions.”

Read more here.

Great Lakes Compact hearings scheduled

Great Lakes


Public hearings are scheduled around the state late this month about rules to implement the Great lakes Compact. Hearings will address three of seven water use rules the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will eventually adopt to carry out the Great Lakes Compact.

Here are details from the DNR.

Photo ID for FoodShare

 
Wisconsin’s FoodShare program has seen numerous problems.

During 2009, the state created BadgerCare Plus Core, an extension of the BadgerCare Plus program to include adults that don't have children. The state Senate Health Committee that I serve on was informed late last year the waiting list for BadgerCare Plus Core had ballooned to about 7,000 people. The earliest the waiting list applicants would be eligible for insurance would be March 2010 and by then the waiting list, committee members were told, could grow to over 20,000.

There was a flood of applicants to BadgerCare Plus Core, causing backlogs for the new food stamp program, FoodShare, resulting in thousands of people waiting months for benefits.  The US Department of Agriculture views Wisconsin’s backlog of cases among the worst in the country. Failure to process applications and distribute or deny benefits in a timely manner could have meant federal sanctions issued against the state.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary Karen Timberlake supplied data reported by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that the state received more than 46,000 applications for FoodShare from June 15 to October 19, 2009. Over 29,000 applicants waited more than 30 days to either obtain a debit card to purchase food or have their enrollment rejected. Wait times over the telephone to receive information about FoodShare applications are lasting over an hour.

The debit cards themselves are problematic. The Racine Journal Times has editorialized in support of a photo ID requirement for Food Share recipients:

“While the cards are stocked with a monthly stipend so they can be used much like the debit cards that banks issue, there’s one key difference. Recipients of FoodShare aid can only use the money for food — not toiletries, medicine, cigarettes or alcohol. So some people sell the cards for cash, finding willing partners who pay less than the value on the card.

Earlier this month, after county officials announced they were looking into ‘rampant’ fraud among card users here, we wrote that the state must place a keener eye on the program while resisting the urge to punish the law-abiding recipients with cutbacks in assistance. Since then, leaders have suggested a quicker, easier fix that we fully support: photo identification.

Requiring recipients to show ID wouldn’t eliminate these problems, but would certainly reduce them. The four-digit personal identification numbers currently in use can easily be passed from person to person. A face can’t.”

The newspaper was informed by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services that the federal government will not allow a photo ID provision for FoodShare recipients. Even so, the editorial

says such a requirement makes sense. To prevent fraud, I agree.

A handy summer guide

News you can use, Tourism


Courtesy of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection, here is the list and entertainment schedule of this year’s state fairs across Wisconsin.

DMV offices closed Friday

News you can use


Friday is a furlough day for many state offices.

Beware of "Storm Chasers"

News you can use



Mark Zangl walks through the debris of the Tess Corners Fire Department Station 3 roof blown onto an adjacent property. Last week’s storm damaged roofs at the fire station, the Post Office building and a unit in Freedom Square Condominiums north of Janesville Road and downed power lines in the Muskego area. MyCommunityNOW  Photo by C.T. Kruger 

When disaster strikes, part of the ugly pattern is unscrupulous scam artists referred to as Storm Chasers crawl out of the woodwork hoping to take advantage of victims. Some good advice for property owners that sustained damage from the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection: be cautious about the workers you hire.

Here are important tips.

While you’re here, Mr. President …


President Obama makes a visit to Racine today.

He should also schedule a stop in South Milwaukee to explain himself.

Great news!


The state Supreme Court has upheld Wisconsin’s constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage.  The ruling by the court was unanimous.
 

November 7, 2006, Wisconsin voters approved the constitutional amendment, with 1,264,310 voting yes (59.43 percent) and  862, 924 voting no (40.57 percent).

A smoking alternative?

Legislation


Don’t forget, Wisconsin’s statewide smoking ban takes effect next week.

What’s a smoker to do? The answer could be e-cigarettes, described by the Green Bay Press-Gazette as “battery-powered devices that use liquid nicotine to imitate a cigarette's taste and effects. Made to look like cigarettes, electronic cigarettes do not use tobacco. The battery heats the nicotine when the user inhales, creating a vapor that gives the appearance of smoke.”

The Brown County Tavern League is getting demands for e-cigarettes from all across the state.

Read more here.

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