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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.

College students: Beware of identity thieves

News you can use


After attending a special summit this summer at the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department Training Academy, I published a series of columns about identity theft. In my first piece, I wrote, “Senior citizens are prey for identity thieves for many reasons according to Ivey. Susceptible seniors are intimidated by, and therefore refuse to use computers. Some are senile, too gullible, too trusting. They are affluent and have nest eggs, and because identity theft is a crime driven by greed, seniors are desirable targets. The thieves know all too well that when victimized, seniors are much less willing to pursue the case fearing involvement and possible retaliation. So their crimes go un-reported.”

However, the main presenter at the summit, Special Agent Wayne Ivey of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement cautioned that “No one is immune.” That includes the young.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade, and Consumer Protection (DATCP) reports that during 2009, young people aged 20 to 29 nationwide filed the highest number of identity theft complaints. The department is concerned about young victims, especially college students, and rightfully so.

The 2010 Identity Fraud Survey Report released by Javelin Strategy & Research discovered that 18 to 24 year olds are the slowest to detect identity fraud. The report states, “Millennials (consumers aged 18 to 24 years old) take nearly twice as many days to detect fraud, compared to other age groups, and thus are fraud victims for longer periods of time. Millennials were found to be the least likely group to monitor accounts regularly and take advantage of monitoring programs offered by financial institutions.”

“Identity thieves don’t care if you’re a struggling student and don’t have a penny to your name. Sometimes all they want is to exploit your clean credit record,” says Angie Barnett, President and CEO of the Greater Maryland Better Business Bureau.

School is back in session. College students away from home share living arrangements in dormitories. Not all personal belongings are under lock and key. It’s a perfect scenario for identity thieves.

The Wisconsin DATCP urges college students to take precautions to avoid becoming victimized.

Check your credit report on a regular basis to see if there are any unexplainable debts or creditors. Free credit reports can be obtained from any of the three credit reporting agencies:  Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion by calling 1-877-322-8228 or online at www.annualcreditreport.com.

Your mail is critical, one of the easiest and most popular targets of identity thieves. Shred or dispose of mail in a safe manner. Open all junk mail before disposing. A pre-approved credit card offer could be filled out by someone else in your name. Want to opt out of getting pre-approved credit card offers? Call toll-free 1-888-5OPTOUT (567-8688) or by go to www.optoutprescreen.com.  

Have sensitive mail sent to your parents’ home or a PO Box.

Review your bills and bank statements immediately for unauthorized expenditures or withdrawals. Report them immediately to your bank or credit card company. If you pay bills online, check your account periodically.

Do not leave written personal numbers, user names, or passwords where someone can steal them. Retaining this information to memory is best.

Beware of phishing scams used by thieves attempting to get you to divulge personal information over the telephone. Special Agent Ivey gave this advice at the identity theft summit. Ask yourself, why would a company I do business with every day suddenly need my private information? DATCP warns, “Never give out personally identifiable information unless you are the one who initiated the contact.”

Place firewall, virus, spam, and spyware protection on your computer. Never leave your computer on unattended. The 2010 Identity Fraud Survey Report found that “Millennials were the most likely group to take action such as installing anti-malware software when they discover fraud.”

For more information about identity theft, visit www.privacy.wi.gov.

Making Wisconsin's economic disaster even worse

State budget


For the past few months, Wisconsin’s structural deficit has been pegged at over $2.5 billion. Our debt dilemma keeps exploding.  Last month, I blogged:

According to U.S. Census Bureau data obtained by the Wheeler Report, state employment accounted for 70,457 full time employees during 2009, up from 69,019 during  2008. Local government employment was 222,214 during 2009, up from 214,332 during 2008. 

Nationally, the 89,526 state and local government units employed 16.6 million during 2009. The Census Bureau describes the figure as ‘statistically unchanged from 2008.’ The same holds true for part time employees that number 4.7 million during 2009, approximately the same number as 2008.

The Census Bureau detailed specific areas of employment for state and local government employees.  Most, 8.9 million, work in education. Another one million work in hospitals. Other areas include police protection (963,139), and corrections (759,513). Wisconsin is bucking a national trend. The Census Bureau reports most states showed declines in local government jobs.

Keep in mind that during the 2002 gubernatorial campaign, Jim Doyle promised he would eliminate 10,000 state jobs by 2010. WisGOP.org reported during May 2009, ‘
To date, the administration has actually taken on an extra 3,000 jobs since Doyle took office’.”

State statutes require budget requests by the various state agencies be submitted to the State Budget Office not later than September 15 of each even-numbered year.

The Wisconsin Associated Press reported July 9, 2010:

Outgoing Gov. Jim Doyle, a Democrat, ordered state agencies to continue holding open vacant positions and freezing compensation for employees. He said they should develop their budget requests not expecting any increase in revenue, and develop plans to cut their core budgets by 10 percent by Nov. 8, only a few days after the election.”

Governor Doyle’s agency leaders weren’t paying attention, didn’t listen, or both.

The Wheeler Report, a news agency that covers the state Capitol, has been crunching the numbers of the agency budget requests that have trickled in thus far. It discovered that agency budget requests are at least $1.1 BILLION over current approved spending.  Here are the numbers.

Needless to say these enormous requests are unacceptable. The next Governor and Legislature must produce a budget in line with current household and business economies.

UPDATE: Toolkit to Surviving Road Construction on Janesville Road


A special meeting has been scheduled Wednesday, October 6, 2010 at William's Supper Club to discuss the reconstruction project on Janesville Road. Here are more details:

Toolkit to Thriving During Road Construction
Informational and Planning Meeting 
 
Oct. 6th
5:30 pm
William's Supper Club

S76 W17745 Janesville Rd. 


It's Your Business - Be There!

View Toolkit Here

Questions:
Keith Hammit (414) 840-7207
Kathy Chiaverotti (414) 422-1155 x 111

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Election Day is November 2....let's vote today


“Never mind that October is filled to the brim with televised debates, advertising pitches and eager anticipation from candidates waiting to see if they win the endorsement of their local newspaper’s editorial page. These old political rituals take place after millions of voters have already selected their candidates.

 

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Unelected tax and spenders need to be accountable

Taxes


A blistering article about the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel was stunning. However, it was not surprising. The newspaper reports:

Milwaukee Area Technical College is heading for a financial crisis, according to a new report released by a nonpartisan government watchdog group. Part of the crisis is tied to the economic downturn, which is squeezing the college's finances while increasing demand for its services, according to the report by the Public Policy Forum. MATC is largely dependent on property tax revenues, which make up about 60% of its operating funds, at a time when a lagging real estate market is hitting property values. At the same time, fringe benefits and salary increases have spiraled to a level that arguably puts MATC at the top of the nation among peer institutions.”

The Journal Sentinel 
also reports, “MATC already sets its property tax rate at the maximum amount allowed, and other revenue options are limited.”

The MATC Board is in the process of formulating next year’s budget that assuredly will include a property tax increase with the question being, the amount increase.

MATC is one of the state’s 16 technical colleges. C
onsider the total tax levies for the schools. According to the non-partisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, the technical college tax levies have increased from $251 million during 1992-'93 to $622 million during 2005-'06. That’s an increase of almost 150 percent compared to a 75 percent increase in overall levies during the same time period. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau reports property tax levies for the technical colleges increased to $680.6 million during 2007-08.

Technical college property tax hikes are considered by, voted on, and approved by unelected technical college boards that are free to raise tax levies leaving powerless taxpayers without recourse. The process is the perfect example of taxation without representation.

I support making unelected technical college boards with taxing authority elected bodies that are accountable to voting taxpayers. I also support extrapolating that concept to other unelected boards in the state.

Audit: Health Insurance Risk-Sharing Plan Authority

Audits


The Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) completed a statutorily-required financial audit of the Wisconsin Health Insurance Risk-Sharing Plan (HIRSP) Authority for 2009. The report a) examined financial statements and b) made a recommendation about internal access to the Authority’s pharmacy records.

The HIRSP Authority offers medical and prescription drug insurance to individuals unable to obtain private insurance or who have lost their group coverage provided by an employer. Participants must be Wisconsin residents that are not eligible for employer-sponsored group insurance, Medicaid, or Wisconsin’s BadgerCare Plus standard plan. They must meet certain criteria to be eligible for any of the six plans offered by the Authority that provide the same coverage. However, they differ on the amount of premiums and deductibles.

Policyholder premiums, financial assessments on health insurance companies that do business in Wisconsin, and reduced reimbursements to health care providers pay for the program costs. Tax dollars are not used to fund the programs. Policyholder premiums, by law, provide 60 percent of operating and administrative costs. The remaining 40 percent comes equally from insurers and health care providers.

HIRSP enrollment continues to increase this year. As of August 31, 2010, there were 17,944 policyholders. Increasing enrollment is attributed to reduced premiums, increased income limits for subsidies, and individuals that have lost employer-sponsored coverage exhausting their COBRA benefits.

The LAB reports the HIRSP Authority has kept a sound financial position with a total net asset balance at the end of 2009 of  $27.5 million. Helping the HIRSP Authority remain strong has been a transition to higher-deductible plans, an increased use of generic rather than brand-name drugs, and reduced utilization. The LAB surmises this could be the result of improved health of the policyholders.

 

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New light bulbs not so green after all


Traditional, incandescent light bulbs Americans have been using for years are being phased out. Taking their place: fluorescent bulbs that have been mandated by the federal government. Part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 approved and signed into law during 2007 calls for the elimination of traditional light bulbs beginning in 2012 leading to an all-out ban in 2014 in favor of energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs or CFLs that contain mercury. When broken, the bulbs leak mercury into surroundings, requiring extreme caution and care.

According to Governing Magazine, 
the problems associated with CFLs will only get worse. The first supplies of CFLs that were purchased during 2008 will start to lose their life during 2011. Certainly many consumers will simply dump them in the garbage and their next stop will be local landfills all across the United States.

Recycling programs for CFLs, so far, have not caught on with the public.  To work, consumers must change their routine of tossing CFLs in the trash and actually make a trip to a location that collects the burnt-out CFLs.  The campaign to urge consumers to run out and buy CFLs was probably more expansive and successful than the future public relations effort to get them to travel to a collection site.

One bulb contains but a tiny amount of mercury, but it is estimated that 290 million CFLs were sold during 2007.  As Governing Magazine reports, “Once mercury reaches a landfill, the risk of its being released remains forever.”
  Landfill operation failures could result in mercury being released into groundwater and the air.

A more recent analysis questions the green claims made about LEDs or light-emitting devices. A study was conducted by the highly-regarded Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico .  Researchers at the Sandia facility recently developed a device that propels a blade of water capable of penetrating steel that U.S. troops in Afghanistan will use to disable improvised explosive devices. Sandia’s study on LEDs suggests a re-examination of products that advertise energy savings. A Sandia news release reports:

“Solid-state lighting pioneers long have held that replacing the inefficient Edison light bulb with more efficient solid-state light-emitting devices (LEDs) would lower electrical usage worldwide, not only ‘greenly’ decreasing the need for new power plants but even permitting some to be decommissioned. But, in a paper published in the Journal of Physics D, leading LED researchers from Sandia National Laboratories argue for a shift in that view. ‘Presented with the availability of cheaper light, humans may use more of it, as has happened over recent centuries with remarkable consistency following other lighting innovations,’ said Sandia lead researcher Jeff Tsao.”

Here is the Sandia release. 

In Washington D.C., Representatives Joe Barton, Michael Burgess, and Marsha Blackburn want to repeal the ban on traditional light bulbs. Representative Burgess told the blog, Power Line, “Thousands of American jobs have been shipped overseas as a direct consequence of this light bulb provision in the Democrats' 2007 energy bill. Further, I have stated all along that exposing our citizens to the harmful effects of the mercury contained in CFL light bulbs, which are being manufactured in China, is likely to pose a hazard for years to come.”

Representative Barton said, “The unanticipated consequence of the '07 act - Washington-mandated layoffs in the middle of a desperate recession - is one of many examples of what happens when politicians and activists think they know better than consumers and workers, From the health insurance you're allowed to have, to the car you can drive, to the light bulbs you can buy, Washington is making too many decisions that are better left to people who work for their own paychecks and earn their own living.”

I wholeheartedly concur.

Want to reduce poverty? Say "I do"

Economy


Poverty tightens its grip on America.

The U.S. Census Bureau reports poverty increased to 14.3 percent during 2009 from 13.2 percent the previous year. The percentage of Americans living in poverty is the highest level since 1994.

The Census Bureau reports one in seven Americans or 43.6 million people lived in poverty during 2009, up from 39.8 million during 2008. The poverty threshold for a family of four during 2009 was set at $21,954 by the federal government.

So what are the solutions? Certainly, more jobs and more Americans staying in school and finishing their education come to mind.

How about strengthening families and the institution of marriage? Marriage is directly linked to poverty. A new study by the Heritage Foundation calls marriage America’s number one weapon against childhood poverty. Conventional wisdom is that two-parent families have less susceptibility to poverty than a single-parent family. The Heritage Foundation study that relied on data from the U.S. Government, U.S. Census Bureau, and National Center for Health Statistics provides proof.

According to the study, during the launch of the War on Poverty in 1964, a mere 6.3 percent of children in the U.S. were born out of wedlock. Fast forward to 2008 and four out of 10 births occurred outside of marriage. The study notes, “The War on Poverty led to the creation of more than three dozen welfare programs to aid poor persons. The government has spent $16.7 trillion on means-tested aid to the poor since 1963.”

Odds are clearly stacked against single-parent families with children that are nearly six times more likely to be poor than married couples. Factors working against single-mother families are lower education levels of the mothers and lower income due to the absence of fathers.

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DNR wants public input on condition of WI waters

News you can use


Residents statewide are encouraged by the Department of Natural Resources (DNR)  to submit data they have personally collected about Wisconsin waterways that will be used to identify waters failing  to meet water quality standards.

Information can be submitted now through December 31, 2010 that will help the DNR compile a list of the state’s impaired waters as part of the biennial water quality report required by Congress. The DNR reports about 1,000 lake volunteers and another 2,000 stream volunteers are actively involved in water monitoring programs.

The goal is to help state officials pinpoint lakes and rivers in need of clean-up and allocate scarce resources to those areas.

Here is more information.

Spending remains out of control

Economy, State budget


Stunning news from the Wall Street Journal. The newspaper picked up on a huge story that was missed by most, if not all other media.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) unveiled preliminary figures for fiscal year 2010. The big spending machine in Washington is in full throttle.

The Wall Street Journal 
reports, “Spending rolled in for the year that ended September 30 at $3.45 trillion, second only to 2009's $3.52 trillion in the record books. What did Washington spend more money on? Well, despite two wars, defense spending rose by 4.7% to $667 billion, down from an annual average increase of 8% from 2005 to 2009. Once again domestic accounts far and away led the increases. Medicaid rose by 8.7%, and unemployment benefits by an astonishing 34.3%—to $160 billion. The costs of jobless insurance have tripled in two years."

CBO calculates that during the two-year period from 2008 through 2010, federal spending increased by a whopping 21.4 percent. From the Wall Street Journal:

“The 21.4% federal spending increase in two years ought to put to rest any debate about the nature of America's fiscal problem. The Pelosi Congress has used the recession as an excuse to send spending to record heights, and its economic policies have contributed to a lousy recovery. The solution is to stop the spending and change the policies.”

The same holds true for state government.
The current 2009-11 state budget increased spending 9.4 percent according to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance. And that was during a recession. I am pretty confident few households in Wisconsin have increased  their personal spending by almost 10%.

The Wall Street Journal’s solution for the nation’s capital should also be applied at the state Capitol:

“Stop the spending and change the policies.”

Congratulations Universal Electronics!

Good news from Senate District 28, Business


During these difficult economic times filled with sad news of people losing jobs, it is heartwarming to learn about successful, expanding companies. One of them is Universal Electronics, a supplier of electronics manufacturing services that designs and assembles devices for medical technology, the military, aerospace, communications, and agriculture. Universal most recently has been producing energy-saving street lights.

Universal Electronics is thriving in a dismal economy, hiring 65 people since the beginning of this year. The company has 225 employees at their Whitewater facility and 30 to 35 employees at their prototype shop that moved from Mukwonago to East Troy into a portion of the facility that once housed Buell Motorcycles, a former Harley Davidson facility.

Friday, October 8, 2010, I was pleased to attend an Open House at Universal’s new East Troy prototype shop along with employees, customers, and suppliers. I was impressed by this truly amazing facility and Universal’s dedicated workforce.

The new East Troy facility, called UEI II has 27,500 square feet of electronics manufacturing space. Universal Electronics’ two Wisconsin plants have a combined capacity of 120,000 square feet allowing the company to provide rapid prototyping, strong program management, and quick integration for volume manufacturing that can serve industrial, telecom, lighting, and laboratory industries. Founded during 1980, Universal Electronics has offered electronic contract manufacturing and services for three decades.

I congratulate Universal Electronics for their expansion and continuing success, and I am thrilled they are providing jobs and located in Senate District 28.

Socking it to the wealthy comes up woefully short

Taxes


The Heritage Foundation has been carefully analyzing the impact of President Obama’s tax and spending proposals. The President claims he will raise taxes, and the increases will only be imposed on the wealthy.

The implication is clear. President Obama hopes most Americans will have a knee-jerk reaction that the wealthy can afford higher taxes, so why not? The Heritage Foundation says because spending is so out of whack, the president’s plan does not come close to fixing the economy:

“Obama’s current tax hike plan would raise the top two income tax rates from 33 and 35 percent to 36 and 39.6 percent, respectively. This tax hike will take effect on January 1, 2011, if he has his way and will slow the already badly struggling economy. This will keep unemployed Americans out of work longer and suppress the wages of those fortunate enough to retain their jobs. In fact, the higher tax rates Obama calls for will destroy an average of 800,000 jobs per year by the end of the decade and lower incomes by $720 billion over that same period. Over the next 10 years, the Obama tax hikes will take almost $700 billion from taxpayers. That is only 8 percent of the nearly $9 trillion President Obama’s budget adds in debt over that same period.”

The Heritage Foundations reaches the proper conclusion:

“Low tax revenues are not the cause of the debt explosion; spending is. If President Obama and Congress committed to spending reductions, the deficit could be lowered to more acceptable levels without raising taxes a dime.”

Read more here. 

Wisconsin school spending continues to increase

Taxes


The nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) provides some revealing data in its latest SchoolFacts report. Among WISTAX’s findings:

Wisconsin public schools budgeted to spend $10.6 billion in 2009-10, or 4.3% more than in 2008-09.

Since 1999-2000 (school year), per student spending has risen an average of 4.0% per year.

The increase in spending came in spite of state cuts in school aids and allowable revenue increases.

General (school) aids were reduced 2.9%.

The drop in general school aids resulted in above-average school property tax increases.

Total school levies rose 6.0% in 2009-10, the sixth increase over 5% in the past seven years.

School property tax increases topped 10% in 116 districts, compared to 72 last year.

Another 151 had levies rise between 5% and 10%, versus 115 in 2008-09.

A new development this year was 98 districts that did not tax to the maximum allowable under state law, including 47 that levied property taxes at least 5% under their limits.”

Read more here. 

New Jersey says no, so should Wisconsin

State budget, Taxes


A construction area near Hoboken, New Jersey was the site of a historic transportation announcement during June 2009.  Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff attended a groundbreaking for an $8.7 billion commuter rail Hudson River tunnel project to and from New York City and spoke about the federal government’s financial share.


“That $3.0 billion commitment will be the largest commitment made to any transit project anywhere in the United States by the Department of Transportation, in the history of the U.S Department of Transportation.”

Those assembled responded with obligatory applause, including then- New Jersey Governor Jon Corzine. Today, Chris Christie is governor, and on October 7, 2010, Christie officially killed what has been reported as America’s largest public works project.

“I have made a pledge to the people of New Jersey that on my watch I will not allow taxpayers to fund projects that run over budget with no clear way of how these costs will be paid for,” said the governor. “Considering the unprecedented fiscal and economic climate our State is facing, it is completely unthinkable to borrow more money and leave taxpayers responsible for billions in cost overruns.” The tunnel project costs “far more than New Jersey taxpayers can afford and the only prudent move is to end this project.”

Fifteen months after groundbreaking for the ballyhooed tunnel, the project funded with billions of federal dollars is dead. Christie’s remarks uncannily mirror the political debate surrounding the controversial $810 million high speed train between Milwaukee and Madison.

Opponents of the Hudson River tunnel project say the initiative was rushed. Opponents of the Milwaukee-Madison train submit the project was rushed. During February of this year, the Legislature’s powerful Joint Finance Committee (JFC) voted along party lines to approve spending over $800-million in federal stimulus money to construct a high-speed rail line between Madison and Milwaukee. Some of the money will also be used to update existing track that connects Milwaukee to Chicago.

The cost of the rail line is equivalent to two Miller Parks. The contentious debate about Miller Park took several months. Yet in less than one half-hour, the Democrat majority JFC debated and voted to approve a likely huge boondoggle.   In my view, that’s a rush job.

Because the federal allotment for the rail line is nearly $8-million short of expenses, there is a deficit to the project. The state must find a way to fund nearly $8-million every year for operating expenses.

Job creation claims made by proponents are dubious. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel looked at the state’s application for the $810 million in stimulus money and reports, “Only 55 permanent jobs would be created to operate and maintain the trains, tracks and stations, starting in 2013, per the application.”

Sensing growing opposition to the Milwaukee-Madison project, U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood defiantly responded, "High-speed rail is coming to Wisconsin — there's no stopping it.” It seems a number of area residents are unwilling to accept the secretary’s stubbornness.

A Public Policy Forum poll of residents in Milwaukee, Waukesha, Ozaukee and Washington counties taken during the fall of 2009 showed 57 percent supported high-sped trains between Milwaukee and Madison. A similar poll taken during June 2010 showed support plummeting to 41 percent. Constituents I have heard form overwhelmingly oppose the project.

Wisconsin is not alone in its raised eyebrows. Candidates in Ohio, Florida, and California are emphatic that exorbitant price tags on projects in those states mean the projects need to be stopped. That leads to a pivotal point written by the New York Times on October 4, 2010:

“The state-level opposition is a reminder of the challenge of building a national transportation project in the United States: while the federal government can set priorities, the construction is up to the states. “

Prudence mandates slamming the brakes on high-speed rail in Wisconsin. Firms that would construct the rail line may be open to canceled contracts since they already do work for the state on highways and roads. Using money intended for rail on other projects is nothing new. It’s been done before.

And now, NJ Governor Christie may have set a precedent with his bold and fiscally responsible move to reject an unaffordable project because his state is broke, he fears cost-overruns, and he knows his state would be responsible for the additional costs. Sound familiar, Wisconsin?

Even the pro-rail website alltransit.com concedes, “The problem is that, while (stimulus) money has already been allocated to high speed rail projects in Florida, Washington, California, Wisconsin, Illinois and elsewhere, the more than $8 billion out the door is just a tiny fraction of what is needed to get the systems built. While President Barack Obama called the money a ‘down payment,’ some see it as a tease. States who want to build high speed rail with federal dollars have to put up 20 percent on their own. While this 20 percent is small portion compared to the overall investment by the feds, it still adds up to a hefty amount of cash.”

A hefty amount of cash Wisconsin cannot afford and should not spend on half fast rail.

We need to follow New Jersey’s example. The sooner we stop the so-called high-speed rail, the less money we will waste on a non-sustaining train that will attract few riders, and like the stimulus in general, create few jobs.

Here comes more ethanol

Ethanol


The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has decided to allow up to 15 percent ethanol in gas for cars made after 2007. Currently, gasoline contains up to 10 percent ethanol.

Ethanol
Photo: NPR

Concerns are already being raised. The Wall Street Journal reports:

Auto makers and oil marketers have expressed concern that use of gasoline with higher ethanol content may harm engines, particularly in older models, leaving a big bill to honor vehicle warranties. Some leisure boat owners--who already use a higher ethanol/gasoline blend--are already suing fuel suppliers. Refiners can choose to buy credits to meet the government's existing renewable fuels mandate instead of blending more ethanol into their mix. Gasoline stations will have to ensure that fuel dispensers, pipes and tanks are certified for use with the higher ethanol usage or replace them to avoid potential lawsuits for any vehicle damage. Pumps will have to be clearly labeled as E10 (for a 10% ethanol blend) or E15 (for 15% blend) but that may not be enough to prevent misfueling, industry associations said.”

Adding to worries is that ethanol demand creates competition between food and fuel.

The newspaper also reports that ethanol producers gave only “a cautious welcome’ to the EPA news. One trade group official that supports alternative fuels admits the jury is still on E15.

Read more here.

If the Bush tax cuts expire, how much will it cost you?

Taxes


If Congress fails to take action by the end of the year to extend the so-called Bush-era tax cuts, Americans will suffer a big jolt to their pocketbooks. Tax Foundation President Scott Hodge says, "Most federal income tax rates will rise, the estate tax and the marriage penalty will return, capital gains taxes will rise, and more.”

The key question is what will be the direct impact on you, the individual American taxpayer if the Bush tax cuts go away? To supply the answer, the Tax Foundation has created a free online calculator that will inform how your 2011 income taxes will change under the following possibilities:

1) The tax cuts expire.

2) The tax cuts are extended.

3) President Obama’s budget is enacted.

4) Congress passes a tax bill with a statutory pay-as-you-go provision.

The Tax Foundation provides this example. A married couple filing jointly making $80,000 with two children would pay $2,137 more in federal income taxes next year if Congress fails to extend the Bush tax cuts.

Check out how this issue would affect you personally here.

 

Overseas ballots still available


With the November elections just around the corner, some states have experienced problems getting ballots to military personnel and citizens overseas. The Wisconsin Department of Military Affairs offers an easy answer to any voter overseas that has yet to receive a ballot: obtain your ballot online. On its website, the Department posts an article from the
American Forces Press Service that reports:

Local elections officials are encouraged to make use of the Federal Voting Assistance Program's Electronic Transmission Service (ETS) for overseas faxes to reduce costs. ETS will also forward e-mails to military and overseas citizens. Additionally, voters from all 55 states and territories can use the FVAP online federal write-in absentee ballot automated assistant to vote for at least all federal candidates.  

(Bob) Carey (Federal Voting Assistance Program director) said the federal absentee ballot can be used for all jurisdictions' federal-level elections. 'You can choose your federal candidates online,' he said. 'It will print out the ballot with your choices already in there, and give you complete instructions including a pre-addressed envelope to send back to your local election officials'."

Carey confirms absentee ballots are still available.

Here is The Federal Voting Assistance Program website.

Management 101: Wisconsin needs improvement


Typically as reports are issued grading states on various issues, Wisconsin tends to disappoint. Our taxes are some of the highest in the country. Ditto for debt per capita. Our unfriendly business climate ranks in the bottom ten among all states. Wisconsin’s income per capita also ranks near the bottom.

24/7 Wall Street is a Delaware corporation that operates a financial news and opinion outlet with pieces and material often published by AOL Finance, The Wall Street Journal online, MarketWatch, MSN Money, Time.com, and Newsweek.com. The news agency reports it has completed “one of the most comprehensive studies of state financial management ever performed by the mainstream media meant to help businesses and individuals examine state operation with an unbiased eye."

In essence, 24/7 Wall Street asks a simple question: How well is your state run? Where does it rank from a management perspective?
Hundreds of data categories were examined including debt rating agency reports, unemployment patterns and median income. From those, 24/7 Wall Street selected what it considered the most important areas of financial and overall government management to calculate its final rankings of all 500 states.

Wisconsin ranks number 18. Some observers would probably react with a double take, one of pleasant surprise. Number 18? Compared to most other dismal report cards Wisconsin has received, this ranking could be viewed as one to celebrate.

Let’s review what 24/7 Wall Street discovered about Wisconsin and pay attention to the individual rankings. Our debt per capita of $7,448 ranks number 27. The state’s unemployment rate at the time of the study, 7.9 percent ranks number 19. The 4.5 percent change in the price of homes from 2006 through 2009 ranks number 28. Median household income of $49, 993 ranks number 21. Credit rating rank number 26.

24/7 Wall Street says, “Wisconsin is average with regards to most of the measurements used in our ranking, failing to surpass 20th place for GDP per capita, percent of population below the poverty line, median household income, or debt per capita.”

How does Wisconsin earn a final management ranking of number 18? The answer is quite revealing. Wisconsin is commended in the report for having the seventh highest rate for insurance coverage. Only 9.4 percent of Wisconsinites are not covered.

Not surprisingly, most Wisconsin residents like their current health care coverage.
Wisconsin has some of the best doctors, the best hospitals, the best clinics, and some of the best care in the nation. Every year Health Grades, a leading health care ratings organization measures the quality of care at the nation’s approximately 5,000 hospitals and finds “Wisconsin is one of the top five states nationwide.”  The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has ranked Wisconsin health care as high as number two.

Some questions immediately come to mind. Do we really want to toss out our health care system and convert it into a government health care program? Why would we go that route, especially while many Wisconsin residents approve of their current health coverage and our care is good quality?

Put the 24/7 Wall Street report in perspective. If not for the rating about health insurance, our overall management ranking would have been much lower than number 18. Our states fares poorly in key management areas.

We can learn a valuable lesson from critical advice offered by 24/7 Wall Street.

“S
tates can control their own destinies. Well-run states have a great deal in common with well-run corporations. Books are kept balanced. Investment is prudent. Debt is sustainable. Innovation is prized. Workers are well-chosen and well-trained. Executives are picked based on merit and not ‘politics’.”

State Senate Committee Acts on Bureaucratic Overreach

Business, Legislation


Earlier today, the Senate Committee on Small Business that I serve on met to discuss payday loan regulations put forward by the Department of Financial Institutions (DFI).  The new regulations follow the payday loan bill, signed into law earlier this year.

 

Read more

UW research brings hope for ovarian cancer


I was pleased to attend a presentation today by the Wisconsin Ovarian Cancer Alliance in the Senate Parlor at the state Capitol that brought exciting news. The University of Wisconsin Medical School is on the cutting edge of ovarian cancer research.

Presenters included Manish Patankar and Joseph Connor, both Assistant Professors at the UW Medical School Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology. The school received a two-year pilot study grant during June from the National Institute of Health (NIH) to fine tune research on the cancer 125 (CA-125) molecule. Obtaining the grant is noteworthy since the NIH rejects about 90 percent of grant applications received.

The CA-125 molecule is a large molecule made on the surface of cancer cells that sheds into the bloodstream. UW researchers made the discovery that CA-125 attaches or sticks onto immune cells in the body. A healthy immune cell can suppress a cancer cell. CA 125 is seen in pelvic disorders.

Ovarian cancer patients have donated blood and tissue, allowing researchers to analyze CA-125 and learn more about its functions inside the body. UW researchers want to create an antibody therapy that will target CA-125 molecules stuck on ovarian cancer cells.

More than 21,000 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer annually, and more than 15,000 women die from the disease each year, according to the American Cancer Society.

I commend Professors Patankar and Connor for their dedication to saving women’s lives and wish them continued success.

It's high school football playoff time!

Good news from Senate District 28


Congratulations and good luck to these Senate District 28 high school football teams selected by the WIAA to play in the state playoffs beginning tonight:

Franklin

Greendale

Greendale Martin Luther

Muskego

Mukwonago
 

New Berlin West

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Wisconsin business climate could be better


The state of Wisconsin continues to post one of the worst business climate rankings in the country. The Tax Foundation in Washington  D.C. ranks Wisconsin #40. During fiscal year 2010, Wisconsin ranked #42.

As it does every year, the Tax Foundation examined the following state data to calculate rankings followed by Wisconsin’s ranking in each category:

The Corporate Tax Index (29)

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DOC defends administrator's commute from Illinois


During August 2010, the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) released a report about the Division of Gaming that included details about reimbursements for a staff attorney.I blogged:

“The LAB suggested the expenditures pertaining to the Division’s full-time legal counsel be monitored closely to ensure they are reasonable and necessary. The Chicago home of the Division staff attorney has been designated his office headquarters. From fiscal year 2006-07 through fiscal year 2008-09, the Division reimbursed him $26,300 for mileage between his home and the Division’s office and for food and lodging while he stayed in Madison. The LAB reports, ‘Division officials believe that the experience and specialized knowledge of this employee justify this unusual arrangement, and they assert that contracting for legal services would have resulted in substantially higher costs’.”

The same month, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that an administrator with the state Department of Corrections (DOC) was commuting to Wisconsin from his home in Illinois using a state vehicle. The Journal Sentinel wrote:

“The state employee in charge of responding at a moment's notice to riots and other disturbances in Wisconsin prisons recently moved to Illinois, more than 90 miles away from his office in Madison.

The employee also received an exemption to state policy requiring him to keep his specially equipped emergency response vehicle at his home overnight. The same policy forbids the car, a 2008 Chevrolet Impala similar to a police cruiser equipped with a special two-way radio, to be driven outside of Wisconsin.

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Here is a ballot measure to keep an eye on

Taxes


The Bay State is often jokingly referred to as, “Taxachusetts.” Voters in Massachusetts have a chance to radically change their image this November.

The November 2, 2010, statewide ballot in Massachusetts will include the Massachusetts Sales Tax Relief Act, Question 3 (2010), an initiated state statute. Petition signatures were collected to attempt to get the question placed on the ballot. The state Legislature did not approve the measure within a prescribed deadline, set during May 2010. Under the process, the initiative is then put before voters.

The details make this issue fascinating. Voters will decide whether the state sales tax in Massachusetts should be lowered from the current rate of 6.25 percent to three percent. If the measure is approved and it needs a simple majority, it becomes law 30 days after the election. A Suffolk University poll shows 51 percent support the sales tax reduction.

Proponents say the lower sales tax will increase commerce, create more private sector jobs, and will allow residents to keep more of their own money. Opponents say the tax cut will create a bigger hole in the state’s deficit.

The question will be interesting to watch Election Day given the current mood of voters. The ballot measure reads:

“Do you approve of a law summarized below, on which no vote was taken by the Senate or the House of Representatives before May 4, 2010?

This proposed law would reduce the state sales and use tax rates (which were 6.25 percent as of September 2009) to 3 percent as of Jan. 1, 2011. It would make the same reduction in the rate used to determine the amount to be deposited with the state Commissioner of Revenue by non-resident building contractors as security for the payment of sales and use tax on tangible personal property used in carrying out their contracts.

The proposed law provides that if the 3 percent rates would not produce enough revenues to satisfy any lawful pledge of sales and use tax revenues in connection with any bond, note, or other contractual obligation, then the rates would instead be reduced to the lowest level allowed by law.

The proposed law would not affect the collection of moneys due the Commonwealth for sales, storage, use or other consumption of tangible personal property or services occurring before Jan. 1, 2011.

The proposed law states that if any of its parts were declared invalid, the other parts would stay in effect.

A YES VOTE would reduce the state sales and use tax rates to 3 percent.

A NO VOTE would make no change in the state sales and use tax rates.

America is not ready for online voting


We can put a man on the moon, create a computer chip the size of a human white blood cell capable of storing the Declaration of Independence, and develop a device that propels a blade of water to penetrate steel that our troops use to disable improvised explosive devices.

 Yet...we cannot vote online?

Seems like a logical question. Internet users make purchases, banking transactions, pay bills, and send various communications across the globe. However, when it comes to elections, hitting the send button has yet to be perfected. Given a recent experiment in the nation’s capital, the notion of online voting should probably be sent back to the drawing board.

Washington D.C. toyed with the idea of allowing some voters to cast ballots via the Internet this November. Thank goodness someone had the foresight to suggest the system be tested in advance.

The plan was called Digital Vote by Mail, a never-before attempted technology. Overseas voters could receive, print and mail their ballot. A voter could opt to also digitally mark and return a ballot.
Between September 24, 2010 and September 30, 2010, Digital Vote by Mail was given a practice run with testers logging in as fictitious voters, requesting and submitting absentee ballots.  Washington D.C. election officials were to examine the decoding software and systems used to accept and process digitally transmitted votes.

Something went wrong two days into the weeklong testing period. Washington D.C. election officials were completely unaware that some individuals in Ann Arbor, Michigan had other plans for Digital Vote by Mail.

Computer scientists at the University of Michigan hacked into the Washington D.C. test system. The scientists managed to change the code so it played the following:

Hail! to the victors valiant

Hail! to the conqu'ring heroes

Hail! Hail! to Michigan

The leaders and best!’

Instead of test ballots, election officials got the University of Michigan fight song.

Quite a funny gag, except University of Michigan professor J. Alex Halderman testified in Washington D.C. about the hacking, he produced, according to Stateline.org,  “937 pages of names, addresses and PIN numbers of test voters who had signed up to try out the system. Had it been a real election, Halderman said, he could have changed the votes on ballots or revealed voters’ supposedly secret choices on the Internet. Additionally, Halderman’s crew wasn’t the only one rooting around in the D.C. system. They noticed other attacks occurring, originating in China and Iran.”

Not surprisingly, Washington D.C. has cancelled the Digital Vote by Mail experiment.

Online voting supporters are unwavering, pointing to Arizona’s success during 2008 that yielded few, if any problems, prompting a return to online voting in that state this year. They also claim there are better systems available than the one used by Washington D.C. that are more resistant to hackers.

Stateline.org submits a most salient argument about this ongoing debate:

“Nobody doubts that states can safely use the Internet to reduce the time it takes to send ballots out. The question is whether voters can return those ballots online without the risk of hackers tampering with the results.”

July 23, 2009, I testified before a Government Accountability Board (GAB) public hearing at West Allis City Hall that Wisconsin should proceed cautiously before adopting an early voting system:

“The Government Accountability Board, in its own report during March of this year admits there are drawbacks. The Board cited a Caltech/MIT report that raised worries about absentee and mail-in voting including the potential for voters being coerced because privacy could be compromised, for example, by family or staff at a nursing home. There are also concerns about mail security and voter fraud. The possibility of uncounted, unmarked, or spoiled absentee ballots was also mentioned in the report.

Expanding early voting has the potential of catching on and becoming popular. However, if such a system were to be implemented, every precaution must be taken to prevent fraud. As for me, one of the best changes we could and should make to our election process is to require a photo ID to vote.”

Ultimately, the GAB recommended against early voting and instead advocated improvements in Wisconsin’s absentee voting system.

The same caution about early voting needs to be exercised about online voting.

TIME focuses on fading fast trains


TIME.com has posted an article explaining why the approved half fast train between Milwaukee and Madison is becoming a losing issue.


Michael Grunwald writes in High-Speed Rail Goes Off the Tracks in Wisconsin that such projects are not political or public darlings:

“High-speed rail was once a bipartisan dream, but ever since it was included in Obama's controversial $787 billion stimulus bill, it's become another hyperpartisan issue in a hyperpartisan climate. Republican candidates for governor in California, Florida and Ohio, three of the other big winners in the rail-funding sweepstakes, are also talking about stopping trains and giving the government its money back.

(Republican Wisconsin gubernatorial candidate Scott) Walker says the federally financed (Milwaukee - Madison) line is too expensive for debt-ridden Wisconsin, because the state would have to pay about $8 million a year to maintain it. The Milwaukee-Madison trains would have a top speed of 110 m.p.h. (180 km/h), a far cry from the 220-m.p.h. (350 km/h) bullet trains zipping around Europe and Asia; initially, they'd average less than 60 m.p.h. (100 km/h), which wouldn't be a particularly attractive alternative to the modest intercity drive. And the rail line itself would create only a few permanent jobs. One recent poll found that Wisconsin residents opposed the new line by 55 to 41.”

Grunwald concludes, “Like other long-term Obama priorities slipped into the stimulus - clean energy, electronic medicine, the Race to the Top education reforms - it's a legacy program, an effort to use government to create something of enduring value. These days, that's not an issue that anyone can run on.”

Read the entire article here.

UPDATE: New Jersey says no, so should Wisconsin


A few weeks ago, I blogged about comparisons between the proposed
 $8.7 billion commuter rail Hudson River tunnel project in New Jersey to and from New York City and the $810 million half fast train between Milwaukee and Madison. I quoted New Jersey Governor Chris Christie from October 7, 2010:

“I have made a pledge to the people of New Jersey that on my watch I will not allow taxpayers to fund projects that run over budget with no clear way of how these costs will be paid for. Considering the unprecedented fiscal and economic climate our State is facing, it is completely unthinkable to borrow more money and leave taxpayers responsible for billions in cost overruns.”

Christie said the tunnel costs “far more than New Jersey taxpayers can afford and the only prudent move is to end this project.”

For any tunnel supporters holding out the faintest of hopes that Christie would reconsider, those hopes were dashed October 27, 2010 as Christie said, reported by National Public Radio, “I can’t do it and I’m not going to do it.” NPR reports NJ Governor Christie’s decision to kill the nation’s largest public works project is final.

As I blogged,
 “
NJ Governor Christie may have set a precedent with his bold and fiscally responsible move to reject an unaffordable project because his state is broke, he fears cost-overruns, and he knows his state would be responsible for the additional costs. Sound familiar, Wisconsin?”

New Jersey’s move to back off a monstrously unaffordable project could give Scott Walker impetus as governor. In a series of election preview reports aired by WTMJ Radio, Walker says Wisconsin’s train can be derailed:

"The bottom line is the train that Jim Doyle and Tom Barrett want, that the Obama Administration is pushing, is something we don't want and can't afford. As the Journal Sentinel pointed out in it's fact checks of late, we can stop it.  Unlike what the politicians are saying, we can stop it, as money that still has to be let through contracts by the state of Wisconsin. We can stop it by stopping the contracts.  In doing so, my next step would be to do what Tommy Thompson did in 1998 and that is go to our congressional delegation - lobby them to change those funds, so we can spend them to fix our crumbling roads and bridges right here in Wisconsin."

You can see Scott Walker’s entire statement here.

Scott Walker has my complete support in that effort.

Are you waiting until Tuesday to vote?


Most voters cast their ballots on Election Day. However, a growing percentage of voters is opting to vote early. 


Early voting has proven to be flawed. Deroy Murdock, a media fellow with the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution and Peace at Stanford University provides a listing of voting problems in various parts of the country during this year’s mid-term elections in the National Review.

Linda Chavez, chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity prefers to vote on Election Day and admits being “self-righteous” on the topic. Chavez writes that early voting “eliminates an important public exercise of civic duty, one that helps build a sense of community and responsibility. Election Day is the only time citizens come together in their communities in one place at one time to engage in an important civic activity. When I go to the polls on Tuesday, I will see my neighbors, meet political volunteers, and judge for myself how well election officials are handling their duties.”

Deroy Murdock and Linda Chavez are both right.

Murdock says, “Physically voting at the polls is a vital exercise in self-government. It also gives election officials a chance to deter or catch cheaters. Voting at home while clad in a towel prevents such scrutiny.”   

Can America restore honesty to its voting system? Murdock thinks so:

“Step one is for the American people to march valiantly to the polls Tuesday and dislodge those who have brought the country to this point. Then, with a new Congress rededicated to limited government, public integrity, accountability, and the rule of law, the American people should demand photo-ID requirements at the polls, serious jail time for vote fraudsters, a rollback in absentee ballots and early voting, and other steps to establish voting norms worthy of the Home of the Brave.”

Ultimately, Linda Chavez nails it:

Choosing our elected officials is the most important thing we do as Americans. Is it really too much to ask that we set aside a few minutes every two years to go to the polls and cast our vote?”

REMINDER: Transportation referendum on the ballot


Tuesday, voters in 53 Wisconsin counties will see this question on their ballots:

"Should the Wisconsin Constitution be amended to prohibit any further transfers or lapses from the segregated transportation fund?"

How did this referendum get on the ballots in almost three quarters of the counties in the state?

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 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, from 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.

"Should the Wisconsin Constitution be amended to prohibit any further transfers or lapses from the segregated transportation fund?"

I will be voting yes.

Right on, Sasha!


They are unable to vote, however, they inform Wisconsin gubernatorial candidates about their position on issues.

The Wisconsin Council on Children and Families invited students from across the state in grades KG through eight write letters to Scott Walker and Tom Barrett. One student wanted “laptops instead of desktops.” Another wrote that the candidates should encourage people to adopt babies, even if they have medical problems.  Feeding the homeless was mentioned.


A favorite is from Sasha Gentile, a 10-year old boy in fifth grade at Edgewood Elementary, Greenfield  Sasha writes, in part:

“Right now, thousands of families in Wisconsin are struggling. I think you should lower taxes, and kill tax increase, because my family needs lower taxes. Wisconsin also needs crime rate lowered, because children are being injured, and sometimes killed. Families in Wisconsin want to make Wisconsin a better state, so you should do that.”

Sasha, we sure could use you in the state Senate!

Here
is a sampling of the letters sent by the children.

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