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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.

Driving the wealthy out

Taxes


Some states, including Wisconsin during 2009, balanced their budgets on the backs of wealthy residents with higher income taxes. Arden Dale writes in the Wall Street Journal 
that the trend may continue during 2010.

One of the ramifications of this tax increase is that wealthy residents will pack up and move, taking their investments, job creation capabilities, and charitable donations with them.

Jacking up taxes for the wealthy may sound appealing, even fair to some. However, as Edwin Feulner, the president of the Heritage Foundation emphasizes, almost half of Americans don’t pay income taxes. It makes sense that at the same time, about half of Americans feel the amount they pay in federal income taxes is about right. As Feulner writes in a  recent column, “If you’re paying nothing, that probably does seem like a good deal. Even if it isn’t either fair or sustainable.”

The percentage of taxpayers is declining while spending continues to increase sharply.  Feulner writes, “When government gives people cash and programs that cost more than they pay in taxes, most of them will favor ever bigger spending and more government. Who doesn’t love a ‘free lunch’? And, having had one today, who wouldn’t want one tomorrow, next month -- indeed, every day?”

At some point, Feulner concludes the wealthy that are already paying their fair share and then some, will decide that enough’s enough.

Read Feulner’s column here.

Congratulations to area high school football players!

Good news from Senate District 28


Here are players from schools located in state Senate District 28 that I represent who were named to the 2009 NOW All-Suburban Football Team.

Congratulations to all for an outstanding season and high school football career!

OFFENSIVE HONOR ROLL

Read more

Bad economy affects property tax bills

Taxes


Wisconsin
’s system of collecting income and sales taxes to send back to local governments and school districts to provide property tax relief has been in existence for close to 100 years. When the economy is good, the system works well. When the economy is poor, like the current recession, municipalities and taxpayers are affected, and this December will be a perfect example.

The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) examined the state property tax relief system and found that during fiscal year 2007, of all state-local revenue collected, 60.5 percent was collected at the state level and only 39.5 percent was collected at the local level. Meanwhile, state spending comprised only 41.8 percent of all state-local expenditures. Local governments spent 58.2 percent.

As WISTAX writes, “Put another way, state government accounted for 60.5% of all revenue collected here but only 41.8% of all spending. Conversely, local governments raised only 39.5% of total revenue but did 58.2% of all government spending. Either way (60.5 - 41.8 = 18.7 or 39.5 - 58.2 = -18.7), there was an 18.7 point gap between where monies were raised and spent.”


Here is a statistic you may not know. According to WISTAX, Wisconsin’s percentage of state aid to local governments, 32.2 percent, is the eighth highest in the nation. During fiscal year 2007, Wisconsin spent about $1,776 per capita on local aid, more than any other category of spending.

The state spent $1,714 per capita on K-12 education, $1,311 per capita on public welfare, $866 per capita on higher education, and $76 per capita on highways during fiscal year 2007.

The nature of our century-old system is that if the economy is struggling as it is currently, state government is almost forced to cut local aid. What does that mean for taxpayers? There most certainly will be an impact on December property tax bills.

WISTAX correctly concludes that during an economic downturn as incoming revenues to the state decline, the grim climate pits state against municipalities. State officials point to the drop in revenue while local officials claim tied hands because aid is inadequate.

The horrible exclamation point on this analysis is emphasized by WISTAX as it writes, “The irony is that, despite the state’s considerable commitment to ‘buying down’ property taxes with state aid, Wisconsin’s property tax burden relative to income remains ninth highest in the U.S.

The nonpartisan Tax Foundation in Washington D.C. reports that during fiscal year 2006, the latest year the Census Bureau published state-by-state property tax collections, Wisconsin’s combined state/local property taxes of $1,443.98 per capita ranked #11 nationally.

Congratulations, Section Elementary School in Mukwonago!

Good news from Senate District 28


Section Elementary School in the Mukwonago Area School District that is located in state Senate District 28 is one of eight Wisconsin schools nominated by State Superintendent Tony Evers for national recognition as a Blue Ribbon School.

Congratulations, Section Elementary and good luck!

UPDATE: Pro-choice, but not about light bulbs

Legislation, News you can use


Over a year ago, I wrote the following blog, “Pro-choice, but not about light bulbs”:

"There is great concern about the safety of fluorescent light bulbs given that the United States is phasing out the use of traditional, incandescent light bulbs and mandating the use of fluorescent bulbs. Most Americans fail to realize their choice of light bulbs has already been made in Washington.

Part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 approved and signed into law last year calls for a phasing out of traditional light bulbs beginning in 2012 leading to an all-out ban in 2014 in favor of energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs or CFL’s. CFL’s contain dangerous mercury. When the bulbs are broken, the mercury escapes into surroundings and must be handled with extreme caution.

Blogger John Lott and others wrote about the story of a Maine woman and her terrible experience with a broken CFL. A Maine Department of Environmental Protection employee came out to her home to check for damage and then suggested to the woman that she call in a firm that turned out to be a clean-up process costing over $2,000.  

Since this well-publicized account, other stories have reported that it is unnecessary for an environmental clean-up firm to respond to a broken CFL. Even so, pray you never break one in your home. The measures to take suggested by the state of Maine, the site of the above-mentioned story, pose one hassle after another.

During March 2008, two dozen members of the House, including Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner introduced the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act. The act repeals the portions of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 that mandate the use of CFL’s unless the comptroller general can offer a report that finds specific financial benefits of using the bulbs, environmental benefits achieved by their use, and evidence that addresses concerns of mercury threats from CFL’s.

On March 14, 2008, the Light Bulb Freedom of Choice Act was referred to the House Subcommittee on Energy and Air Quality. Seven months later, the committee, controlled by Democrats, including committee member Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), has yet to schedule a hearing.

I find it amazing pro-choice Democrats refuse to let Americans decide what kind of light bulbs they want in their own homes."

Former Oklahoma Congressman Ernest Istook finds fault with the new bulbs. Istook writes:

"I paid about $5 for a new bulb advertised to save me money by lasting seven years. It burned out in three weeks…. It used to be easy to buy a light bulb -- grab and go. Now I join shoppers hunched over in the light-bulb aisle, trying to decipher the fine print of the new-fangled bulbs."

Istook emphasizes the new bulbs have sent jobs overseas, and some supporters now have doubts. Istook writes:

“Even some proponents are expressing doubts about what they’ve imposed on us. Buried within a New York Times (article) in January, I found the confessions of a self-described CFL advocate: Michael Siminovitch, director of the California Lighting Technology Center at the University of California, Davis. ‘In the pursuit of the holy grail, we stepped on the consumer,’ he admits. The new bulbs are ‘falling short’.”

You can read Istook’s enlightening column here. 

E15 in boats

Ethanol, Legislation, News you can use


This past summer, I warned about a plan by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to increase the amount of ethanol in gasoline. Because the increase could wreak havoc on boat engines, the EPA’s plan is opposed by the Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatU.S.) and the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA).

Here are the latest developments. The ethanol industry is seeking a waiver from the EPA to sell gasoline with 15 percent ethanol. The EPA and the Department of Energy have yet to conduct testing to determine the effect gasoline with a higher level of ethanol would have on marine engines.

Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.) and Mary Landrieu (D-La.) have introduced S.1666, the "Mid-Level Ethanol Blends Act of 2009" that would ensure that new fuels such as E15 are compatible with engines, including boat engines.

You can read S.1666 here. 

If you agree with S.1666 that has the support of the National Marine Manufacturers Association,  you are encouraged to contact U.S. Senators Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold.

This 2006 Boston Globe article demonstrates that gasoline with just 10 percent ethanol was causing problems for boaters.

Christmas safety tips

News you can use


The Wisconsin Attorney General’s Office has released a series of Christmas fire prevention tips for Christmas trees, lights, candles and other decorations.

You can read them
here.

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH update: December 7- December 13

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 December 7 –December 13:
I-94 North-South Freeway Project update for Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties

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

MILWAUKEE COUNTY

Monday, DECEMBER 7

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Extended deer hunting season put on hold

Read more

A grim fiscal report card for the states

Legislation, State budget, Taxes


From the past. 

“The latest news reports indicate Congress is poised to approve the $825 billion stimulus package. Some see the package as the savior for state governments suffering from massive deficits.  That won’t be the case…….a stimulus package would fail to come close to resolving the budget woes of the states.”
From my January 27, 2009 blog, “Congress does not have the magic wand to help the states.”



“What happens, though, when this one-time money, and it is important to note that this is one-time money, dries up? What happens when it is all gone and our needs and wants continue? Using it to prop up our budget would be like using lottery winnings. Once the winnings run out, the expenses remain and we simply face the same problem in two years, only without the same one-time money.”
From my February 25, 2009 blog, “State stimulus package a budget gimmick that won’t work.” 

This month, the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers has released the second of its two yearly reports analyzing the fiscal status of the states.  “The Fiscal Survey of States” includes data on the states’ general fund receipts, expenditures, and balances, and was conducted between August and November 2009. Surveys were done by Governors’ state budget officers in all 50 states.

Here are some of the key findings of the survey:

States, like Wisconsin, increased taxes and fees. According to the survey, approved  tax and fee changes are expected to result in $23.9 billion in additional revenue for fiscal 2010 budgets. For fiscal 2010, 29 states enacted net increases while nine states enacted net decreases.  The largest increase for fiscal 2010 was in personal income taxes ($10.7 billion).

The increase in personal income taxes came during a recession as the unemployment rate rose above 10 percent.

Tax collections were down. The survey reports, “Fiscal 2009 estimated tax collections of sales, personal income, and corporate income are 7.4 percent lower than actual fiscal 2008 collections. Sales tax collections were 4.7 percent lower and personal income tax collections were8.2 percent lower. Corporate income tax collections were 16.1 percent lower relative to actual fiscal 2008 collections. Within state budgets, about 40 percent of general fund revenue is from personal income tax, 33 percent is from sales tax, and eight percent is from corporate tax, with the rest from various other sources.”

The forecast is that the decline in tax collections will continue for fiscal year 2010.  And it gets worse. The survey offers this grim outlook:

“State finances worsened in 2009 and are forecast to decline further during fiscal 2010 and likely into 2011 and possibly 2012. Nearly every state faced tightening fiscal conditions compared to fiscal 2008, when such fiscal difficulties were seen in about half the states. In fiscal 2009, 43 states reduced enacted budgets by $31.3 billion, while 36 states have reduced fiscal 2010 expenditures by $55.7 billion. In comparison, three states cut enacted budgets in fiscal 2007 and 13 states imposed cuts to enacted budgets during fiscal 2008.

The 2009 and 2010 cuts are further indication of the extent and speed of the fiscal deterioration. The downward trend during 2009 resulted predominantly from a significant slowdown in revenue collections. Based on state fiscal data from previous downturns, the impact on state budgets may lag the downturn in the economy. States are expected to take up to several years after the recession has ended to fully recover and begin expansion.

Due to the drastic decline in revenue collections, 42 states and Puerto Rico reported closing budget gaps during fiscal 2009 totaling $73.1 billion. Thirty-four states reported that they have already closed $111.8 billion in budget gaps for fiscal 2010. However, even after solving these gaps, an additional $14.8 billion in budget gaps currently remains in fiscal 2010 and states face at least $21.9 billion in budget gaps for fiscal 2011.”

The stimulus packages at both the federal and state levels were sold as job-creating engines that would revive the struggling economy. By yet another account, that hasn’t happened, and won’t.

Here is the “Fiscal Survey of States.”

Wisconsin is late on releasing prisoners early, and that’s ok

Corrections, State budget


It has been about five months since Governor Doyle signed the 2009-11 state budget that allows the early release of certain felons. As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, “
Not a single inmate has been released - and no money has been saved. Because of a lengthy inmate review process that must be conducted by Wisconsin Department of Corrections staff, the first inmate won't be released until next year, the agency says.”

Please take your time, everyone.

During this year’s state budget deliberations, I blogged, “Suggestions to save the state over $2 billion and ease prison overcrowding involve locking up fewer criminals and releasing many from custody early. The Council of State Governments Justice Center has made a series of recommendations to the state Legislature. They include alternatives that result in reduced incarceration. That is a recipe for even greater costs and harm to society. Wisconsin cannot afford this open door policy for criminals.”

I added the following:

“Why is the prison population growing? The Capital Times also examined the Council of State Governments Justice Center report, writing that, ‘A majority of inmates are incarcerated because they re-offend or violate the terms of their release. In 2007, 55 percent of prison inmates had violated terms of their parole, probation or extended supervision or were re-offenders who had committed a new crime.’

And we want to release more of them earlier? Certainly, inmates inside prison cost the state. Do not forget all the costs of criminals to society.”

While Wisconsin delays action on early release, the state of Oregon has had some experience with this issue, and we certainly do not want to have the same results.

The Oregonian reports:

“A law intended to save taxpayers $6 million by lopping time off the sentences of Oregon's nonviolent prisoners has unwittingly opened freedom's door early to hundreds of violent inmates. They include Troy Lee Hischar, who fired a bullet so close to his ex-girlfriend's skull that it clipped off a tuft of hair; Raul Peña-Jimenez, who gave a 16-year-old girl drugs and alcohol before sexually assaulting her; and Joseph Duane Betts, a convicted child molester who exposed himself to two boys.

Nearly 800 of the 2,397 inmates approved for reduced sentences were sent to prison for crimes as serious as robbery, arson and attempted murder or had previous convictions for crimes against people, The Oregonian found in an examination of state corrections data.”


There is a call to repeal the Oregon law because violent offenders were set free. 
Can we really be assured the same nightmare won’t occur here?

We cannot afford to ease up on corrections.

* WX CANCELLATION: WisDOT cancels three public information meetings scheduled Wednesday*


I received the following information from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT):


WisDOT cancels three public information meetings in southeast region


 Three public information meetings scheduled by the Wisconsin Department of Transportation for Wednesday, Dec. 9 have been cancelled, owing to inclement weather.

The three cancelled public information meetings are:

The WIS 20 Corridor Preservation Study, set 4 p.m. at East Troy Middle School

The I-43/WIS 164 bridges, Martin Road bridges project, set for 5 p.m. at New Berlin City Hall

WIS
145 reconstruction project at WIS 100, set for the Menomonee Falls Fire Station Number Three.


All three public information meetings will be rescheduled.

Audit: Charges for Cable TV service

Audits


Following the enactment of a new state law aimed at providing uniform regulation of cable video service, the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) conducted a small-scale analysis to determine the effect, if any the new law had on rates and level of service. The law, 2007 Wisconsin Act 42 took effect during January 2008.

Under the law, a state-level franchising process for cable television providers was established. The law includes both cable and certain telecommunications companies. Prior to the new law, cable television providers negotiated franchise agreements with municipalities and paid them franchise fees. Providers apply to the Department of
Financial Institutions (DFI) for a single state-level franchise under the new law. Similar laws are in place in 27 other states.

The LAB looked at the monthly charges for basic and expanded basic service for 10 providers in 17 Wisconsin during July 2007 and July 2009. Data was supplied to the LAB by the providers, including Milwaukee.

Over that two-year period, the LAB reports, “Charges for basic service increased an average of 21.2 percent, and charges for expanded basic service increased an average of 11.5 percent. The reported data do not suggest that competition has had a substantial effect in reducing either basic or expanded basic video service charges or in slowing their rates of growth during the period we reviewed.”

From the LAB report:

Charges for Basic Service

Milwaukee

AT & T
Basic service was not offered during July 2007

During July 2009, AT & T had a monthly charge of $19.00 and 23 channels.

Time Warner Entertainment Company, LP

July 2007 data

Monthly Charge - $13.50

Number of Channels- 29

July 2009 data

Monthly Charge- $15.73

Number of Channels- 29


Charges for Expanded Basic Service

Milwaukee

AT & T

July 2007 data

Monthly Charge - $44.00

Number of Channels- 50

July 2009 data

Monthly Charge- $ 49.00

Number of Channels- 70


Time Warner Entertainment Company, LP

July 2007 data

Monthly Charge - $48.15

Number of Channels- 78

July 2009 data

Monthly Charge- $55.99

Number of Channels- 78


The LAB warns that its findings must be regarded with caution due to the “variations in the number and types of channels that different providers offer as basic and expanded basic service, as well as variations in individual providers’ charges for the same services because of promotional rates and the increasingly common practice of ‘bundling’ video, Internet, and telephone services and charging less than their standard rate for each bundled component.”

Most importantly, little time has occurred since the new law took effect. The LAB says it is difficult to determine if the rate trends it discovered will continue.

You can read the LAB report here.

GAB changes meeting date on early voting

Photo ID


The public comment period about proposed early voting procedures being considered by the Government Accountability Board (GAB) has expired.  The GAB has issued its Final Draft Report and recommendations and will take up the report and recommendations at its December meeting.

You can see the Final Draft Report here.

The date of the meeting has been changed and is now scheduled for Monday, December 14, 2009. 

Here are previous blogs I have written about early voting:

Proceed cautiously with early voting 

Photo ID not in GAB's future plans

Public hearing planned about 2009 deer hunt

News you can use


Wisconsin
hunters are angry.

This season,
hunters bagged the fewest deer in 27 years according to initial figures from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). The 2009 harvest of 195,647 deer is a 29 percent decline from 2008’s harvest of 276, 985 deer.

Ed Harvey, chairman of the Wisconsin Conservation Congress said, “There's a lot of dissatisfied hunters. It's one thing to not get a deer. It's another thing entirely to not even see a deer."

One hunter from Tomahawk is so upset he is organizing a campaign, asking other hunters to send him their tags and personal stories about the 2009 hunt. He will present them to the offices of the DNR. 

Thursday, December 17th, 2009, the Senate Natural Resources Committee and Assembly Fish and Wildlife Committee are scheduled to hold a joint public hearing in Madison to review the just-completed hunting season and discuss deer management unit population goals.

The hearing will be held in Room 411 South of the state Capitol at 10:00 a.m. Hunters and concerned citizens are urged to attend. If you cannot attend and would like me to forward your comments to committee members, please send me your request and comments. 

Wisconsin products make great Christmas gifts

Business, Good news from Senate District 28, News you can use

 

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A few days left in Toys for Tots program

 Toys for Tots logo

Press Release

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Money faucet at RTA needs to be turned off

Taxes


Kudos to the Racine Journal Times.

The newspaper sifted through a financial report from the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority RTA) and discovered an excerpt it calls, “
more than enough to make any citizen explode with a, ‘Say what’?"

Mueller Communications Inc. billed the RTA $1.2 million public relations work done between October 1, 2006 and Sept. 30, 2009.  That’s nearly half of the money collected for a state-imposed $2 car rental fee that is funding an RTA study of regional transit options like commuter and light rail.

Have you grumbled, ‘Say what’ yet?

The newspaper correctly emphasizes that the problem is governmental agencies and bodies should be their own public relations machines rather than forking out, in this case, $1.2 million for materials the RTA could have and should have generated itself.

The Journal Times writes, and I concur:

“This is the type of expenditure which fuels cynicism about government's ability to control expenditures and generates remarks about gorging at the public trough.”

Let the people pick their Supreme Court

Legislation


There is no question high court elections in Wisconsin are the subject of intensifying attention. Like other elections, the candidates or special interest groups are slugging it out on negative 30-second TV and radio ads.

The Wisconsin State Journal has editorialized about the current judicial election system calling it a “mess of big money influence, disgraceful TV ads, conflicts of interest, demands for recusals, disciplinary investigations of electoral winners and increasing public distrust of Wisconsin's judiciary.”

Pressure is building to strip the voting power of the general public in Supreme Court elections and convert to a system of appointed justices. A state Assemblyman is working on a proposed constitutional amendment that would have the governor nominate a circuit court or appellate judge in Wisconsin with at least eight years of experience to fill a vacancy on the state Supreme Court. Three-fifths of the state Senate, 20 of 33 members, would have to confirm the nominee. At the end of the justice’s 10-year term, voters in a statewide retention election would decide whether the justice remains on the bench.

I find little merit in this so-called merit system for justices.

Our country was founded as a Republic and the main foundation was and should continue to be representative government. The people elect their government. People have a basic, fundamental right to be participatory in their government in our great country. I am not thrilled about any notion of taking away that right.

Passionate citizen participation in government is the driving force that keeps our country strong and free. As government continues its troubling pattern of delegating more and more decisions to government because it is thought that the government will make better choices than the general voting public, we slip further away from the people’s government, and that has serious ramifications for the future.

The people, especially generations to follow become less aware of the actions of government. People become more and more reliant upon government to make decisions for them that they had made for themselves in the past. People's government awareness, decision-making, critical thinking, and voting responsibilities literally disappear.

The success of our government is the result of many bloody fights on many battlefields. I have a tremendous amount of respect and reverence for those that fought those bloody battles. The importance of the bloody battles in preserving our great country, still the best country in the world, far outweighs the importance of the petty bickering battles we read about in the media over Wisconsin Supreme Court elections.

Government should run plentiful honest elections, and do whatever is necessary to assure the public that their elections are clean and fair. Clean and fair elections mean the old adage of one man, one vote. Clean and fair elections do not mean stifling free speech. Clean and fair elections do not mean this game of government creating rules it believes control the fairness.

The more people are involved in their government, the better decision making the people will get from the government. That can not happen with people's voting privileges stripped away.

Assuredly the controversy surrounding the Wisconsin Supreme Court is causing people to sit up and pay attention. Would it be better that the high court be one big happy family we hear nothing about? Would it be better that the justices are all of one stripe and are mired in groupthink?

The controversy forces the justices to toil with difficult thought and present the public with their judicial philosophy, and the media then has something to stir up into controversy.

I say let the people vote. Do not eliminate that right. Let the noisy elections and public vetting be thorough and plentiful!

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH update: December 14- December 21

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


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

MILWAUKEE COUNTY

Monday, DECEMBER 14
I-894 WB Two Left lanes closed at 27th St. (taper starts at 20th) 9:30pm – 5:30am 

Tuesday, DECEMBER 15

Read more

Audit: Universal Service Fund

Audits


Wisconsin
’s Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) has uncovered fiscal mismanagement of the Universal Service Fund (USF), created to ensure delivery of essential telecommunications services to Wisconsin consumers. The LAB points a direct finger at the state Department of Administration (DOA) for problems it found.

 

Read more

Audit: State Life Insurance Fund

Audits


For close to 100 years, the Wisconsin State Life Insurance Fund has been offering low-cost individual life insurance to Wisconsin residents. The Fund is operated by the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI).

The Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) completed a review of the Fund and found internal control weaknesses of concern. The audit focused on the calendar years ending December 31, 2008, 2007, 2006, and 2005.

Financial statements for he Fund are prepared in compliance with provisions required by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC). The guidelines, the LAB concedes are complex and the deadline for submitting reports is tight.

 

Read more

More evidence stimulus $$$ should have been used for water

Great Lakes, Legislation, Taxes, Economy


I blogged about the need to direct Wisconsin stimulus funds to fixing our water problems:

A better use of our stimulus $$$: Fix our water problems 

I repeat: Use stimulus money to clean up Lake Michigan 

However, The problems go beyond Wisconsin. It seems a greater emphasis on how we spent stimulus money should have been placed on the nation’s water supply.

The New York Times reports:

More than 20 percent of the nation’s water treatment systems have violated key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act over the last five years, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data.

That law requires communities to deliver safe tap water to local residents. But since 2004, the water provided to more than 49 million people has contained illegal concentrations of chemicals like arsenic or radioactive substances like uranium, as well as dangerous bacteria often found in sewage.

Studies indicate that drinking water contaminants are linked to millions of instances of illness within the
United States each year.”

The newspaper 
found violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act in all 50 states.

So again, I say that if the nation was going to spend such an incredible amount of stimulus money, a top priority should have been targeted toward sewer and water.

Instead, we have made a colossal waste of our opportunity.

Far too many concerns about medical marijuana

Legislation


“This is not good public policy. This is not good medical policy. Marijuana is not safe. It is not effective.”

Dr. Michael Miller of Meriter Health Services and a member of the state Medical Society made those comments today to a joint hearing of the state Senate and Assembly Health Committees about medical marijuana legislation.

Dr. Miller hates the term, 'medical marijuana,’ saying it is “too appealing.”  Miller prefers, “the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes.”

As a member of the Senate Health Committee, I prepared for today’s hearing by speaking to the Waukesha County Drug Unit Commander, doctors, pharmacists,  staff at the Medical College of Wisconsin  and the University of Wisconsin, and End of Life Palliative Medicine professionals.  Wisconsin physicians can currently prescribe a drug that contains the active ingredient THC that according to the US Drug Enforcement Agency “has been found to relieve the nausea and vomiting associated with chemotherapy for cancer patients and to assist with loss of appetite with AIDS patients.” The drug is
marinol (Dronabinol).

Is medical marijuana necessary? Not if better medications are available that provide relief without giving a high. As I questioned at the hearing, why not provide medical marijuana through pharmacies rather than via compassion centers referred to as pot houses.

Testifying before a committee room packed with bill supporters, Dr. Miller reminded the audience that the American Medical Association (AMA) does encourage more research on this topic. However, the AMA does not support current state initiatives. Miller cautioned not to mix the idea of compassion with science.

The issue of whether marijuana works, said Dr.Miller, is extremely important.

“Smoking is not a safe delivery method for any product. The harms of marijuana are well-documented,” said Dr. Miller.

Proponents cited polls showing acceptance of medical marijuana that Dr. Miller conceded. Why is the concept so popular?  Dr. Miller testified, “Everyone assumes it’s effective because it’s medical.” However, Dr. Miller said medical marijuana is not safe.

Dr. Miller emphasized this is an issue about a drug approval process and that the legislation is not the correct method to approve a new drug. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and its system of enacting new drugs is the appropriate mechanism.  Dr. Miller believes the bill is an effort to legalize marijuana for certain patients.

Doctors will be put in an untenable position of having the authority to give the green light, so Dr. Miller says they will be deluged and heartstrings will be tugged. 

Dr. Miller testified that doctors will be asked, “How can you not be compassionate to me?  Physicians are really bad at saying no.”  Dr. Miller added that anecdotal reports should not drive public policy making.

Recent trends show an increase in opiate and marijuana use among children.  Dr. Miller said kids are getting the sense that marijuana is safe because they perceive it is medical.

“The medical marijuana bandwagon is giving kids a (bad) message that it (marijuana) is a medicine,” said  Dr. Miller.

Assistant Attorney General (AAG) Kevin St. John told the committees, “Compassion centers (medical marijuana dispensaries) become targets for criminal activity.” AAG St. John noted crimes including homicides have been associated with dispensaries. Drug dealers are known to congregate outside the facilities, offering marijuana for lower prices.

Under the legislation, an individual would be allowed access to 12 marijuana plants.  AAG St. John testified a plant can yield one pound of marijuana. The street value of marijuana is about $4,000/pound meaning patients would have access to about $50,000 worth of pot.

AAG St. John described the legislation as unnecessary because it problematically limits the arrest and prosecutorial powers of law enforcement if patients get a doctor’s note.

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen sent this letter to members of the Senate and Assembly Health Committees in opposition to the legislation.

Other concerns raised at the hearing include:

 -   A previous fiscal note prepared for medical marijuana legislation that if approved could result in 2.6 million individuals included in a medical marijuana registry, about half the state’s population . 

 -   The inconsistency of proponents of smoking marijuana that lobbied heavily in the past for a statewide smoking ban . 

 -   A slippery slope leading to all-out legalization of marijuana is the actual motivation behind the legislation . 

 -  Other states that enacted compassion centers found them to be problematic, refer to them as pot houses, and are working to pass laws to regulate them similar to strip clubs and adult book stores.

The Christmas tree business in Wisconsin is resilient

Business


Wisconsin
harvests close to one million Christmas trees per year. Trees are big business in Wisconsin. Even though the harvest during 2007, the latest year information is available from the national Christmas Tree Association, was down 41 percent, Wisconsin ranks number five in the nation for Christmas tree production. 

A long drought in the northern part of Wisconsin hurt the harvest more than the economy, and since the drought has ended, insiders are optimistic the tree business will bounce back. 

The National Christmas Tree Association has published these 10 myths about Christmas trees.

"I wonder what kind of sex education courses Tiger Woods sat through when he was a kid"

Legislation


During the 2005 legislative session, I authored legislation that was approved and signed into law requiring that school boards that choose to provide sex education present abstinence as the preferred choice of behavior. 

The law and its intent are in serious jeopardy due to legislation now before the Legislature.

The New Richmond News editorializes against the legislation in a piece entitled, “Local control over sex ed could disappear. I wonder what kind of sex education courses Tiger Woods sat through when he was a kid.”  Here is an excerpt:

“Today’s sex education system in Wisconsin allows local school boards to decide how and when to teach sex education to students. The local school board is given the opportunity to consider community standards and sensibilities when deciding how to proceed.

The proposed legislation (SB324/AB458) making
its way toward passage would end the freedom communities have to teach their students the way they feel is best.

Under the state mandate bill, school districts would no longer be allowed to teach an abstinence-only curriculum.

The bill would require instruction in the proper use of contraceptives, opening the door to the possibility that children at the middle and high school levels will witness demonstrations on the use of contraceptive materials.

Also under the proposal, sex education classes will no longer have to teach the benefits of marriage and parental responsibility, as has been done in the past.

The curriculum would not require instruction on Wisconsin’s sex assault and sex crimes laws, which could help to make students aware of the serious consequences of such poor choices.

But the proposal would require non-judgmental instruction on alternative lifestyles and behaviors that some might view as risky.

Inexplicably, the current proposal also will not allow for sex education to be provided to boys-only or girls-only classes. A number of local districts split up the two sexes for such instruction to avoid embarrassment for the students.

Clearly, the proposed wholesale changes in the way Wisconsin conducts sex education are misplaced. It’s time for legislators to back off and allow districts to continue to decide how to provide this important instruction.”

I concur wholeheartedly with the column that you can read here. 
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Audit: Child Care Regulation

Audits


During January 2009, as a member of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, I requested an audit be conducted of Wisconsin Shares, the child care subsidy program for low-income working families and participants in the welfare-to-work program, W-2. The following month, the committee directed the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) to review Wisconsin Shares.  The findings by LAB are startling.


As I reported in previous blogs, during June 2009, the LAB discovered that $22.5 million in improper Wisconsin Shares subsidy payments were made during 2008. During September, the LAB pinpointed four registered sex offenders who reported the same addresses as child care providers.

The LAB has completed its final phase of its review of Wisconsin Shares and released its report today. As of June 2009, about two-thirds of all licensed child care facilities and one-half of all certified facilities participated in Wisconsin Shares.

The audit examined background checks, comparing names, dates of birth, and social security numbers of all operators of licensed and certified facilities regulated as of June 30, 2009, with criminal records of felony and misdemeanor convictions.

“We found eight instances in which convicted felons or individuals who had abused or neglected children were employed by or reported living in child care facilities. When we shared our findings with DCF, it investigated each case, and DCF believes that no children have been harmed,” the LAB writes. Details about the eight matches from the LAB report include the following:

1) A household member residing at a licensed family facility in Milwaukee County was convicted of felony battery in May 1995. 


2) A household member residing at a certified facility in Racine County was convicted of felony battery in January 2004. 

3) A household member residing at a certified facility in Kenosha County was convicted of felony battery in June 1995. 

4) A household member residing at a licensed family facility in Lincoln County had a substantiated finding of child neglect in January 2009. 

5) A household member residing at a licensed family facility in Green Lake County had two substantiated findings of child abuse in August and October 2006. 

6)  An employee of a licensed family facility in Racine County had a substantiated finding of child abuse in July 2004.

7) A household member residing in a certified facility in Waukesha County had a substantiated finding of child abuse in June 2008.  

8) A  household member residing at a certified facility in Dane County had a substantiated finding of child abuse in March 2009.

It is astounding to learn that children were placed in high risk situations. Thank goodness they were unharmed.

The audit also determined 317 individuals have prior criminal offenses that require further review. The LAB reports many facilities are having difficulty with stricter background checks signed into law during November 2009, writing, “Operators of 184 licensed facilities and 20 certified facilities were overdue for criminal background checks as of June 30, 2009. Operators of licensed facilities in Milwaukee County were 42.9 percent of those overdue.”

Also problematic is that DCF fails to keep a database of child care workers. When the LAB tried to match employee records with criminal records and with findings of child abuse or neglect, the LAB “could do so for less than 3.0 percent of the estimated 20,000 individuals employed in licensed or certified child care facilities statewide.”


Licensing and certification staff are required during site visits to child care facilities to issue written citations when child care violations are identified. The citations are then to be entered into statewide databases administered by the Department of Children and Families (DCF).

The LAB reports, “DCF staff conducted 28,549 regulatory visits to licensed facilities in the past three fiscal years. In 37.6 percent of these visits, no citations were issued. However, 29 facilities—including 27 in Milwaukee County—received more than 40 citations in a single visit……some county and tribal regulatory staff are not citing or recording all violations, despite contractual requirements to do so.”

As a result of these discrepancies, the LAB notes, “DCF cannot effectively use information maintained in statewide licensing and certification databases to target
higher-risk facilities for increased regulatory attention. Health and safety also may be compromised if regulatory staff cannot gain access to child care facilities.”

The LAB found problems with daily attendance records for Wisconsin Shares:

“Facilities cited for attendance record violations could reasonably be expected to receive notice of a payment error and to make repayments. However, in a random sample of 100 facilities with attendance record citations, we found that 42.0 percent of the licensed facilities and 82.0 percent of the certified facilities had not been assessed for payment errors.”

Significant changes were made this year to improve the detection of fraud in Wisconsin Shares and the LAB advises those methods be continued during 2010 and watched closely by the Legislature. The LAB also recommends DCF report to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee by June 30, 2010, on its work to:
 
 

  • Improve the timeliness of regulatory visits to higher-risk facilities
  • Establish a severity index for violations
  • Document unsuccessful attempted regulatory visits to licensed facilities
  • Ensure that county and tribal agencies document their regulatory sanctions as required by contract
  • Address the most serious or persistent violations of child care rules
  • Target facilities that have been sanctioned most frequently
  • Improve timeliness of background checks
  • Ensure that all necessary background checks are completed
  • Address the needs of facilities to gain information about findings of child abuse or neglect in order to complete employee background checks
  • Strengthen fraud prevention and detection efforts in Wisconsin Shares, especially in Milwaukee County.


I commend the LAB for another outstanding analysis on behalf of Wisconsin taxpayers. You can read the entire LAB report here.

Ongoing problems require audit of BadgerCare

Audits, Taxes


Despite limited resources and continuing serious problems with delivery of social service program benefits, the state is surging forward with plans to expand existing programs like BadgerCare. Before the state goes any further, I am formally asking 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.

Where 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 last year alone. 

Problems continue. Earlier this year, 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 has 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.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports a flood of applicants to BadgerCare  Plus Core, about 600-700 has caused backlogs for the new food stamp program, FoodShare  resulting in thousands of people waiting months for benefits.  The newspaper reports 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 mean federal sanctions issued against the state.

Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS) Secretary Karen Timberlake has 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.

There’s more. At a meeting last month of the state Senate Health Committee that I serve on, DHS announced three options being explored to expand BadgerCare Basic.

Option 1 covers emergency room (ER) visits and applies a Medicaid standard plan cost sharing. Generic drugs have a $3 copayment per script. Total cost: $100.05.

Option 2 limits inpatient hospital to two visits. ER visits are unlimited. There is a $15 copayment for outpatient non-ER services and professional services and $60 for ER visits. Inpatient hospital has a $100 co-payment per visit and generic drugs have a $5 copayment per script. Total cost: $131.66

Option 3 has a $7,500 deductible on all hospital services including ER visits. Once the deductible is reached, all hospital services are covered generic drugs carry a $5 copayment per script, and modest Medicaid standard plan cost sharing applies. Total cost: $106.89.


No matter the option (s) chosen by DHS, problems are sure to follow. Each option would result in another expansion of membership, pressuring an already strained system. Option 2 with its unlimited ER visits would attract applicants in droves. The high deductible provision arguably makes Option 3 the most cost-effective; however an unaffordable increase in members is likely.

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.

The options considered by DHS are even more imprudent when the 2009-11 state budget is factored in. 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 draft and then seriously consider such options 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.

School levies increase throughout most of Wisconsin

Taxes


The nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) reports, “School property tax levies for 2009-10 are up 6.0%.... the rise in school taxes exceeded last year’s increase of

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"The Highest Tax Increases Ever"

Taxes


I have blogged that the National Governors Association and the National Association of State Budget Officers has released the second of its two yearly reports analyzing the fiscal status of the states.  “The Fiscal Survey of States” includes financial data from surveys done by Governors’ state budget officers in all 50 states.

Key findings from the survey:

States, like Wisconsin, increased taxes and fees.

The largest tax increase in the states during fiscal 2010 was in personal income taxes ($10.7 billion).

The increase in personal income taxes came during a recession as the unemployment rate rose above 10 percent.

Tax collections were down. The forecast is that the decline in tax collections will continue for fiscal year 2010.  And it gets worse. The survey offers this grim outlook: 

"State finances worsened in 2009 and are forecast to decline further during fiscal 2010 and into 2011 and possibly 2012."

You can read my blog that contains the “Fiscal Survey of States” here. 


Jim Geraghty of National Review Online offers more analysis in a column about the report with this open:

“State governments know we’re in a recession, and they know you’re hurting. That’s why they’re demanding more from you.”

Here are excerpts from the rest of Geraghty’s piece:

“A new survey of state governments shows that 29 states enacted tax and fee increases this year that are expected to take almost $24 billion from their residents.

How did states get into this mess? Over the past two decades, most states enacted gargantuan increases in spending.

While this year’s tax increases are the worst — by a lot — it’s not as if state tax and fee revenues have declined in recent years. They’ve increased every year since 2002, except for a 2.1 percent decline in 2007.

And this is just state taxes. Local governments are hiking taxes as well.

More tax hikes are coming down the pike.”

Here is Geraghty’s column, “The Highest Tax Increases Ever.” 

An unthinkable irony in government health care

Government health care


It is laughable that the Federal Government thinks it has the smarts to teach children responsible use of money. 


The website Politico reports part of the massive health care reform legislation allocates funding for, are you ready for this, having the federal government instruct citizens to handle their own money more effectively.  I imagine that the last chapter of the government book about responsible spending will be instruction to turn all money over to the government because the government can spend money better than common citizens. 

The very notion is beyond incomprehensible and isn’t lost on one conservative U.S. Senator, Tom Coburn (R-Okla) whose aides tell Politico:

“The federal government, which is now $12 trillion in debt and riddled with hundreds of billions of dollars of waste, management, duplication and ineffective programs, has little credibility educating Americans about financial responsibility.”

Truth is, indeed, stranger than fiction.

Read more from Politico.

UPDATE: Because we just don't have enough casino gambling

Gambling


On September 29, 2009, I warned that there could be another huge explosion of gambling because the Wall Street Journal was reporting the Obama administration
is considering allowing tribes to operate casinos at great distances from their reservations.

The Associated Press has updated details:

“An Indian tribe wants to build a grand, $1.5 billion, Las Vegas-style casino resort on a swath of land overlooking San Francisco Bay - a spot more than 100 miles from its tribal lands.

An Associated Press examination of federal records has found about a dozen tribes have filed applications to set up casinos on distant pieces of land, close to population centers. In six cases, including the Guidiville proposal, the resorts are slated for land more than 100 miles away.”


Some see a new outburst of gambling venues as a potential economic boom. However, I concur with California state Senator Loni Hancock who is quoted by the Associated Press:

"No family achieved economic stability through gambling."

The entire story is here. 

What it would take to close the deficit

Taxes


America
’s deficit is huge. Even so, Washington D.C. continues to spend and spend.

Here is one way of looking at just how bad the deficit is by using numbers.

A new study by the Tax Foundation In Washington D.C. finds that in order to close our nation’s budget deficit during 2010, federal income tax rates would have to be TRIPLED.

The Tax Foundation reports, “To close the deficit, federal income tax rates
for joint filers which today range from 10 percent to 35 percent would have to be increased to between 27.2 percent and 95.2 percent—a tax hike of unprecedented size.

The study’s author, William Ahem says
, “If high-income people had to pay a federal tax rate over 90 percent, plus state and local income taxes and other taxes, total tax rates would be well over 100 percent for many households.”

You can read more about the study and other tax issues in the Tax Foundation’s latest edition of Tax Watch.

Bans on texting while driving are ignored

Legislation


On July 3, 2008 I posed this question in a column:

Do cell phone bans really work?

Support for a ban in North Carolina on the use of cell phones by drivers under the age of 18 was overwhelming. Even three out of four teenagers liked the idea.

The result of the ban? Cell phone use among young drivers increased. 

During October of this year, the state Senate approved a ban on texting while driving that I voted against. I blogged last month that a recent Insurance Institute for Highway Safety report found many drivers still use their hand-held phones, even after they are banned, and other drivers switch to hands-free phones.  The crash risk is about the same, regardless of phone type. It is unknown whether bans reduce crashes, and police enforceability is a problem because it is difficult to determine whether a driver is sending a text message or talking on a hands-free phone.

Reuters now reports, “At least one major study has found that, with mobile devices now central to their lives, young people often ignore laws against using cell phones or texting in the car. The number of text messages is up tenfold in the past three years and Americans sent an estimated 1 trillion in 2009. Some police agencies, while strongly in favor of such mandates, say its tough for officers to enforce them.”

Read the entire Reuters article.

Is that snow plow dumping water on the road?

 
No it is not.

What appears to be water is actually salt brine.

Read more from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation.

Congratulations ABB, Inc. of New Berlin!

Business, Good news from Senate District 28


ABB, Inc. is one of the Wisconsin companies nominated for the Wisconsin Manufacturer of the Year Award. 


ABB provides power and automation products, systems, solutions, and services.

Congratulations and best of luck to ABB, Inc.of New Berlin!

Silent Night's Magical Message


Imagine that during 1818, there were radio stations, phonographs, phonograph records, and the Billboard Hot 100 charts.  Assuredly, Bing Crosby’s current milestone of having produced the highest-selling recording of all-time, White Christmas, would belong to others: Franz Gruber and Joseph Mohr.

Joseph Mohr wrote the words and Franz Gruber the melody to the most sacred and best loved of Christmas carols. Lacking the upbeat glorious rejoicing of Joy to the World or Angels We Have Heard on High, Silent Night stands alone as the quintessential carol, magically capturing the true mood and meaning of the Christmas season. Like every great work of art, there is a fascinating story behind the magnificent Silent Night.

Austrian priest, Father Joseph Mohr had written a poem with the words, "Silent night, holy night" during 1816.  Two years later on the morning of Christmas Eve, Father Mohr is searching his soul to find the right music for his service at St. Nicholas Church in Oberndorf.  Father Mohr’s thoughts turn to the village of Arnsdorf and school teacher/musician Franz Gruber. Surely he could help.

Father Mohr trudges out into the cold to make the 20 minute walk to Arnsdorf.  Franz Gruber is home with his wife and as Franz Gruber wrote on December 30, 1854 in his Authentic Account of the Origin of the Christmas Carol, ‘Silent Night, Holy Night’  that he graciously accepted Father Mohr's challenge:

"Write a fitting melody for 2 solo voices together with choir and for accompaniment by guitar."

Christmas Eve, 1818, Father Mohr and Franz Gruber lead the church in singing the carol Franz Gruber wrote just hours ago. In the words of today’s popular culture, Silent Night was a smash hit, the talk of all the villagers Christmas Day. Within the next 20 years, remember, without radio or recording devices, the carol quickly gained worldwide popularity.

Legend has it that Franz Gruber discovered mice chewed away the bellows of the church organ.  Without organ music for Christmas Eve, Father Mohr wrote a poem that Franz Gruber almost immediately put music to and Silent Night was born.

Silent Night is serious business at Oberndorf. Around the world, radio stations featuring Christmas music since late October have played Silent Night countless times with renditions from Frank Sinatra to Destiny’s Child.  At Oberndorf, Gruber and Mohr’s sacred collaboration is reserved for one night only: December 24.

Silent Night transcends all other Christmas carols because of its powerful message and meaning. Not holly jolly shaking of bells or cracking of horse whips. Silent Night is soft, intimate with a haunting melody that emotionally grips at the heart. Most other tunes heard this time of year deal with familiar themes of joy, love, Christmas symbols and rituals. Silent Night sets the perfect musical background for the appropriate temperament and reason we celebrate: the birth of the Christ Child.

Franz Gruber’s tender melody and Father Mohr’s sensitive lyrics invite listeners to dwell on the tranquil evening the Child was born in a manger. Like that extraordinary night, the music and the words are peaceful. Hustle and bustle dominates the Christmas season for weeks, yet Silent Night with its powerful imagery instantly brings us to a sense of reverent reality.

"Shepherds quake at the sight. Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia." Suddenly, in just a few musical measures, the true meaning of Christmas comes to mind.

The fourth verse of the German, Stille Nacht translated directly into English is noteworthy almost two hundred years later. The website, Stille Nacht Gesellschaft writes, "The creation of the fourth verse of Silent Night takes on special meaning. Its text expresses a great longing for peace and comfort."

Silent night! Holy night!
Where on this day all power
of fatherly love poured forth
And like a brother lovingly embraced
Jesus the peoples of the world,
Jesus the peoples of the world.

At Christmas we reflect on that special night. We give of ourselves, we sacrifice our time, and we share the greatest gifts of love and peace.  We reflect on the Christmas that came to us for the first time that silent, holy night with the Christ Child giving the world a promise of hope and salvation.

I wish you and yours the most blessed and joyous holiday season.

Merry Christmas!



Silent Night Chapel, Oberndorf

Interior

Window

Silent Night Chapel, Oberndorf
Photos: www.sacred-destinations.com



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Of course they are the happiest states in America

Taxes

 

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Tracking of racial profiling data coming in 2011


During the 2009-11 state budget deliberations, I expressed opposition to a budget provision originally proposed by Governor Doyle that would impose new traffic- stop record- keeping responsibilities on local law enforcement departments starting in 2011.

The state budget drawn up by the governor and legislative Democrats, most of it in secret that I voted against was approved and signed into law, including the new racial profiling tracking requirement.

The Office of Justice Assistance has been holding listening sessions around the state asking citizens what kind of information should be collected at traffic stops, how it should be collected, and what types of questions should be asked.

Read more in the Beloit Daily News.

TOP TEN STATE GOVERNMENT STORIES OF 2009


There were many important issues state government addressed during the past year. Here are some top ten state government news stories of 2009.

10) PUBLIC ENEMIES - The long-awaited film, “Public Enemies”  starring Johnny Depp that was filmed in several Wisconsin locations during 2008 opened in theaters July 1, 2009.  Unfortunately the 
Governor increased taxes for filmmakers in the 2009-2011 state budget.   

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