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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.

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH update: July 3 - July 12

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 July 3 –July 12:
I-94 North-South Freeway Project update for Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties


MILWAUKEE COUNTY

Read more

UPDATE: State Fair Park Audit

Audits


In my blog about the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) review of State Fair Park
I wrote:

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

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

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

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

There are rumblings that one race is already in jeopardy for 2010. The Indianapolis Star is reporting the Indy Racing League (IRL) is still attempting to recoup money from its races held at State Fair Park May 30 and May 31, 2009. The promoter of the IRL races also owes money to NASCAR for races held June 20, 2009
at the Milwaukee Mile.

The newspaper reports there is a possibility Milwaukee will be taken off the IRL schedule next year.

Here is the story.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has an update.

The latest abortion news: Good and bad


First, the good news.

For the fifth straight year, Wisconsin’s abortion numbers declined during 2008. Our state is a national leader in women having their babies.

Now, the grim news.

Townhall.com National Political Reporter Jillian Bandes reports that after the Independence Day break, Congress will consider legislation that would allow would government-funded abortions in the District of Columbia as long as the abortions were funded by local taxes and not federal dollars.

Congress would make this change by altering the “Dornan Amendment” as recommended by President Obama. The amendment
prohibits both federal and local funds from being used for abortions in the District of Columbia. First approved by Congress during 1988, the amendment was removed during 1993 and restored during 1996.It was authored by former Republican California Congressman Robert Dornan.

As Bandes reports, Congress will now consider removing the word, “federal” from the amendment that would pave the way for local taxes to fund District of Columbia abortions. The result will be an increase in abortions.

Read Bandes’ report here.

Are you better off with government health care?

Government health care


Most Americans say no.

Here are the results of a new
CNN poll.

UPDATE-Canadian health care: Wait and wait and wait and wait

Government health care


My blog, “Canadian health care: Wait and wait and wait and wait” examined the serious problems with waiting times for patients in the Canadian government health care program.

Award-winning ABC News Correspondent and author John Stossel has more, questioning claims that a government-run health care system would be “better.”

Stossel’s latest column quotes Canadian physician David Gratzer:

"People line up for care, some of them die. That's what happens."

Stossel writes, “Polls show most Canadians like their free health care, but most people aren't sick when the poll-taker calls. Canadian doctors told us the system is cracking. One complained that he can't get heart-attack victims into the ICU. In America, people wait in emergency rooms, too, but it's much worse in Canada. If you're sick enough to be admitted, the
average wait is 23 hours.”

Read Stossel’s column
here.

Wisconsin getting the short end of stimulus money

Taxes


A Wall Street Journal analysis finds great inequities in the distribution of federal stimulus money. Some states with high unemployment rates have received less stimulus dollars per capita. The newspaper reports:

Nevada, where unemployment stood at about 10% when the plan was passed, is getting $541 for each resident from the stimulus money allocated so far, a Wall Street Journal analysis found. Wyoming, where the 3.9% jobless rate was the lowest in the country in February, is getting $1,074 per person.”

Wisconsin has received $561 per resident. Only five states have received less:
Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada, Florida, and Georgia.

Here is the Wall Street Journal story and a chart comparing the states’ stimulus spending by resident with unemployment rates during February and May 2009.

Judge Lazich


I am pleased to once again be a judge in the pie eating contest in the annual New Berlin Fourth of July Activities.


The judging takes place tonight at 6:00 in the Schoeneck Containers Family Tent at Malone Park, 3953 S. Caspar Drive in New Berlin.

Here’s a schedule of all the activities.

Happy 50th anniversary, New Berlin!

I love a parade

 

I’ll be reading the Declaration of Independence at Greendale Village Hall at 9:15 a.m. on the 4th of July.

Then watch for me in the following parades:

10:30 a.m. - Greendale 

11 a.m. - Franklin 

12 p.m. - Greenfield 

1 p.m. - New Berlin

4 p.m.- Hales Corners 

On July 5, I will be in the East Troy parade at 1 p.m.

I hope to see you. Have a safe and happy 4th of July!

America is uniquely blessed


Caspian Makan begged his friend, Neda Agha-Soltan not to go to a demonstration in Tehran fearing she would be arrested or hurt.

"I tried to dissuade her from going out in the streets because I'd seen in my work as a journalist that, unfortunately, there are a lot of merciless behaviors.”

Agha-Soltan’s aunt who lives in the United States also pleaded with her in a telephone call, “
Don't go out into the streets. They're killing people."

The 26-year old was unconvinced, telling a friend, “Don't worry. It's just one bullet and its over."

Agha-Soltan was shot to death the night of June 2009 near the spot of skirmishes between pro-government militias and demonstrators who believe rampant vote fraud took place in the reelection of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.  A physician on the scene said she died from a gunshot to the chest in less than two minutes.

A screengrab from the YouTube video of Iranian girl Neda, 16, who was killed from a gunshot wound to the chest in Tehran.
Photo: Sky News


The shaky cellphone pictures of “Neda” as she became known worldwide, bleeding on the street immediately transformed her into an international hero.


People of Iranian origin hold images purporting to show Neda Agha Soltan, allegedly killed during a protest in Tehran, as they protest against the regime in Iran, during a demonstration in Zurich, Switzerland, Wednesday, June 24, 2009. The death of the woman identified as Neda Agha Soltan was captured on amateur videos and spread around the world in less than 48 hours on YouTube, Facebook, blogs and Twitter.
People of Iranian origin hold images purporting to show Neda Agha Soltan, allegedly killed during a protest in Tehran, as they protest against the regime in Iran, during a demonstration in Zurich, Switzerland, Wednesday, June 24, 2009. The death of the woman identified as Neda Agha Soltan was captured on amateur videos and spread around the world in less than 48 hours on YouTube, Facebook, blogs and Twitter. Photo: Associated Press


“Neda” is a modern day Jane McCrea who played a significant role in the growth of a new nation.

McCrea, born in 1752, lived with her family in New Jersey. One of ten children, McCrea moved to New York to live with her brother after her father died. McCrea’s brother was a Colonel in the American Army. Another brother served as a surgeon for American forces. However, the family was divided with two other brothers serving with the British.

Jane McCrea fell in love with and became engaged to a British officer, a loyalist in General John Burgoyne’s army. Jane was living with her brother John on his farm at Fort Edward in New York at the time. During 1777, General Burgoyne’s soldiers were bearing down on Fort Edward and Fort Ticonderoga. While many colonists left, Jane stayed behind, feeling secure because her fiancée was fighting for the British.

On July 27, 1777, McCrea went to visit a friend in Fort Edward. Indian scouts paid by General Burgoyne broke into the friend’s home around noon and kidnapped the women. Half the Indians took McCrea, the other half, her friend. McCrea’s friend survived, but the Indians murdered McCrea.

News of McCrea’s cold, brutal murder at the hands of Burgoyne’s Indians spread like wildfire and ignited uncommitted men to finally take a side, flocking to enlist. The infusion of new fighters was the impetus Americans needed. Inspired by McCrea, they defeated Burgoyne at Saratoga three months later and the Revolutionary War swung heavily in America’s favor,

With the injection of new fighting soldiers on the American side, General Burgoyne and his troops were defeated in Saratoga just three months later. This defeat was a significant turning point in the Revolutionary War.

Jane McCrea was 26 years old. Neda Agha-Soltan was also 26.

Agha-Soltan’s perseverance and senseless killing illustrate how desperately people around the globe want what we have and enjoy every day. A Freedom House report shows  43 countries or 36 percent of the world population were judged “not free” and 60 countries or 18 percent of the global population “partly free” during 2007. That amounts to over 100 countries and 54 percent of the worldwide population that do not know what it feels to be an American.

Sadly, too many Americans take their liberties for granted. However, many more fully understand how fortunate it is to be an American. 

A poll conducted by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research Inc. for the PBS news program Religion & Ethics Newsweekly and the United Nations Foundation during October 2008 found that 61 percent believe America is a nation uniquely  blessed by God, and 59 percent believe the United States should be a model Christian nation to the world.

Many courageous, valiant individuals throughout our storied history fought and sacrificed that we may benefit from that special status today.

This July 4, 2009, I have the distinct honor of reading the Declaration of Independence at the Greendale Village Hall at 9:15 a.m. It reads, in part:

...governments are instituted among men, deriving their powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes.....But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such government and to provide new guards for their future security.”

Rush Limbaugh Jr, father of national talk show host Rush Limbaugh wrote an essay about our forefathers. An excerpt reads:

"Of those 56 who signed the Declaration of Independence, nine died of wounds or hardships during the war. Five were captured and imprisoned, in each case with brutal treatment. Several lost wives, sons or entire families. One lost his thirteen children. Two wives were brutally treated. All were at one time or another the victims of manhunts and driven from their homes. Twelve signers had their homes completely burned. Seventeen lost everything they owned."

The fight for freedom never was and never will be easy. Remember to pause and reflect on our great history as you celebrate Independence Day.

Happy Birthday, America. I hope you have a safe and joyous 4th of July!

State budget process an open government failure

State budget


During an interview with reporters on June 22, 2009, Governor Doyle said this about the state budget process:

"Everything is totally transparent. Everybody knows what the bills were that were passed by the two houses and they know what the issues of debate are, the differences between the two houses. So there aren't any secrets here."

Read more

Texas Road House, New Berlin, Today, 10% off


You must present coupon available at
this link.

State Budget Watch: The deficits continue

State budget


Work has yet to begin on the next biennial state budget, however the budget signed into law last week by Governor Doyle creates a deficit of $2.049 billion in the 2011-2013 state budget. The grim projection comes from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB).

Here is a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article and an
LFB memo.

State Budget Watch: Your property taxes

State budget


Unfortunately, they’re going up.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) reports that under the 2009-2011 state budget signed into law by Governor Doyle, property taxes on a median-valued Wisconsin home will increase $93 this year and an additional $123 next year.

Here is an LFB memo

"We should not, we must not and I will not raise taxes."
Governor Doyle’s 2003 State of the State address

Audit Committee members request hearings on state travel

Audits

As a member of the Legislature’s Joint Audit Committee, I have joined colleagues asking the committee chairs to conduct hearings into the travel policies for elected officials and state employees. Our request follows a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report  that Governor Doyle and his staff “failed to properly account for 145 travel expenses over two years.”

In a letter to the co-chairs, we write:

“We want to believe that 145 failures to abide by travel policies over the course of two years is neither a pattern nor a cause for concern.

It is our hope that we can gain a fuller understanding of the frequency of travel, the procurement of travel-related services, and the ultimate documentation and justification of said travel.”

You can read our letter here. 

Meanwhile, Governor Doyle, whose expenses according to the Journal Sentinel included “a $5,200 business-class flight to Ireland and a $654-a-night stay in a London hotel” told the Appleton Post-Crescent editorial board, “
You better pack a lunch when you travel with me.”

The Journal Sentinel defended its reporting about the governor’s travel deficiencies. Read more in the
Appleton Post-Crescent.

Cleveland RTA struggling


The numbers concerning Cleveland’s Regional Transit Authority (RTA) are not pretty:

Ridership on RTA buses and trains down 14 percent during April 2009

Ridership on RTA buses and trains down nearly 21 percent during May 2009

Fare revenues $260,000 less than expected during first five months of 2009

The RTA 2010 projects a $16 million deficit.

Read more in the Cleveland Plain Dealer. 

W
isconsin communities should think long and hard before developing RTA’s.

The wrong people are spending the stimulus

Taxes


Talk show host columnist, and author Neal Boortz has some intriguing thoughts about how the stimulus should have been handled. Writing in his latest piece, Boortz agrees with the general concept:

Clearly, to stimulate our economy money had to be spent.”

Boortz then raises a critical question:

“Who gets to spend the money?”

Recalling that a Texas Congressman suggested a one-month federal income and payroll tax holiday for Americans, Boortz took that idea and proposed extending the holiday to six months.

“Do you remember how much that stimulus bills was? Let’s just call it $750 billion. For the sake of argument let’s accept that this $750 billion had to be borrowed and spent to get our economy cranking again. It seems that $750 billion is almost exactly equal to the amount of federal income, Social Security and Medicare taxes withheld from American paychecks over a six-month period.”

The problem, and Boortz nails it, is that the wrong people were put in charge of spending stimulus money.

“Here are the two possible scenarios our politicians had to work with:

1. Borrow the $750 billion and let the politicians (the looters) decide how it is going to be spent to stimulate our economy.

Read more

Should Wisconsin vote early?

News you can use


Early voting is a trend that has caught on all across the country. Governing Magazine goes so far as to say, "The traditional precinct election, where everyone shows up on the appointed day, is in the process of decline."


Wisconsin election officials want your input about our state expanding early voting opportunities. The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) is asking for opinions from local election officials and the general public during a series of summer listening sessions about the possible implementation of early voting measures for the 2010 elections.

Currently in Wisconsin, as in many other states, voters can cast ballots early with relative ease by using absentee ballots. A voter simply needs to request an absentee ballot. No reason or explanation is necessary.

A report produced by the GAB during March 2009 suggested three possible options for modifying Wisconsin’s absentee ballot process:

1) Regional Districts comprised of counties and/or municipalities would conduct early voting at designated locations.  The GAB believes this option would offer uniform access for early voters. However, it would profoundly change Wisconsin’s system of municipality-controlled elections.

2) Municipalities would have the option of adopting early voting. The GAB says this would offer maximum flexibility for municipalities, however would reduce statewide uniformity. Under this option, traditional forms of absentee voting would continue.

3) Absentee balloting would be streamlined. No absentee application would be required. Instead of placing the ballot in an envelope, the ballot would be placed in a secure carrier, to be fed into a voting machine and tabulated on Election Day.


The GAB studied other states with early voting procedures to determine what works best and has suggested these practices be considered in Wisconsin 

  • Beginning early voting about 20 days before an election and ending at least three days before Election Day giving officials time to prepare for Election Day.
  • Setting minimum hours at permanent early vote locations that can be extended at the discretion of election officials, with some Saturday hours being required and Sunday hours being optional.
  • Staffing early voting locations just like the polls on Election Day, having Electronic poll lists to prevent duplicate voting, and using Direct Recording Equipment systems that eliminate the need for paper ballots. 
     

The GAB says, “True early voting allows the elector to complete and cast a ballot immediately by placing it in a tabulation machine. Early voting would significantly reduce the need for absentee applications and envelopes.  Objectives of early voting, according to the GAB include increasing voter satisfaction by reducing lines, maintaining the integrity of the vote-counting process, relieving the workload of local elections officials,  and controlling costs.

A report by the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project is cited by the GAB that advocates early voting in-person versus absentee voting in-person or by mail. The GAB says the Caltech/MIT report 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.

There are negative aspects to early voting. Some studies, according to the GAB, also suggest in-person early voting increases turnout only slightly, if at all. Florida experienced numerous technical problems with its optical scan machines used during 2004. Early vote centers in the Sunshine State have experienced long lines and emergency extension of voting hours.

We can’t forget the cost. The GAB says, “Early voting will cost more. It is very difficult to generalize how much it costs, because different states pay poll workers different amounts, have different hours, and a different number of locations. One study found that ‘early voting required considerably more staffing than traditional precinct voting’. States and localities with outmoded voting machines may have to purchase new ones capable of processing dozens or hundreds of different ballot styles. Studies confirm that early in-person voting and liberalized absentee balloting do not clearly result in cost saving.”

GAB listening sessions about early voting include July 22, 2009, at the Kenosha County Center, Hearing Room, Kenosha, with a Clerks meeting from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. followed by the public meeting from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and July 23, 2009 at West Allis City Hall, Common Council Meeting Room, West Allis, with a Clerks meeting from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. followed by the public meeting from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m.

Comments from the public may also be submitted to the GAB by e-mailing the following address: gab@wi.gov. An early voting process that has been recommended for the spring 2010 election could be considered during the current legislative session. So your opinion is critical.

An early voting system 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.

New Berlin one of the best places to live in America

Good news from Senate District 28


Money Magazine has its annual list of the 100 best places to live in our great country and New Berlin ranks #34. 

I am proud to live here and represent New Berlin in the state Senate.

Here is more from
Money Magazine.

3 minutes + 34 seconds = Taxation without representation

Taxes, Legislation

Unelected boards with vast taxing authority in Wisconsin should be accountable to taxpayers. Members of these boards should be elected.

I have argued for that change for some time. During February 2006, I wrote a column about this issue:

 “Across Wisconsin, there are numerous boards that have the power to tax. Members of these boards are appointed, not elected. Technical colleges, sewage districts, and other types of unelected boards have the authority to impose taxes on Wisconsin taxpayers although they are not elected and they do not answer to Wisconsin taxpayers. Data indicates some of the increases these boards are approving go well beyond the rate of inflation.

I am proposing legislation requiring that all appointed boards in Wisconsin with taxing authority be elected bodies. It is time to end taxation without representation.

If boards are going to increase taxes, they must be accountable to the people paying taxes. Right now, taxpayers do not have recourse. It is fundamentally unfair and a violation of one of the basic concepts of good, open, clean government. If taxes are going to be increased, the boards should have to stand up and defend the increase and then vote to increase taxes. Finally, they need to face the people that pay the taxes in an election. The concept is called taxation with representation, and one that we should always adhere.”


In another column a year later, I provided the following numbers:

“It appears from all the data, the (tax) increases being hoisted upon taxpayers are substantial. Consider the total tax levies for the state's 16 technical colleges. According to he non-partisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, the technical college tax levies have increased from $251 million in 1992-'93 to $622 million in 2005-'06. That’s an increase of almost 150 percent compared to a 75 percent increase in overall levies during the same time period. Governor Doyle exempted technical colleges from levy limits in the 2005-07 state budget. Technical college boards were free to raise tax levies, and taxpayers were powerless.”

Former Milwaukee Journal Sentinel columnist Mike Nichols, now with the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute has written an outstanding, revealing investigative piece on one of those unelected boards, the board at the Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC).  His compelling article offers more evidence that the current system of unelected, unaccountable boards epitomizes fiscal irresponsibility.

Nichols’ analysis focused on the MATC Board meeting of September 18, 2008. With the nation’s economy crumbling, MATC Board members in just one minute, without discussion or debate, approved and seconded a motion to extend lucrative MATC contracts that taxpayers would have to fund. The entire meeting lasted three minutes and 34 seconds.

Read more

Boaters urged to contact EPA about ethanol

Ethanol, News you can use


Here is extremely important news for boat owners. The Boat Owners Association of The United States (BoatU.S.) and the National Marine Manufacturers Association (NMMA) are strongly encouraging every boater in America to send comments to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) about a plan to increase the amount of ethanol in gasoline. Such an increase could wreak havoc on boat engines.

The deadline to send comments is fast approaching, July 20, 2009.

Read more details here, here, and here.  These links will have links to other news articles and a form to send comments to the EPA.

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

Health care reform surtax bad news for Wisconsin

Government health care, Taxes


Congressional Democrats have found their answer to how to pay for a massive, exorbitant government health care plan: a surtax on big wage earners that would be an anti-stimulus. 


The Tax Foundation in Washington D.C. reports a surtax would have a devastating impact in Wisconsin, bringing our top tax rate well above 50 percent, making it the 11th highest in the country.

Here are the Tax Foundation details. 


The Cato Institute explains why tax hikes on high wage earners is bad fiscal policy.

UPDATE: Not a good "sign" for the stimulus

Taxes


Last month, I blogged about news that signs advertising government stimulus projects cost $300 apiece. 

The price tag for those signs has risen considerably. ABC News reports critics are angry.

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH update: July 18- July 26

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 July 18 –July 26:
I-94 North-South Freeway Project update for Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties

 

Read more

State Budget Watch: Budget Round-up

State budget


The nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WTA) has a recap of the 2009-11 state budget that was crafted exclusively by Governor Doyle and legislative Democrats, most done behind closed doors outside the purview of the public and news media.


Here are some highlights from the WTA: 


  • Compared to the $62.2 billion (b) in spending from all sources that he approved, the governor vetoed about $10 million (m), or less than 0.02%.
  • Relatively few earmarks were vetoed. A review of five leading agencies shows that only eight (11.9%) of 67 identified earmarks were struck by the governor.
  • The governor did not veto any nonfiscal items left in the budget by JCF (Joint Committee on Finance), although he modified some by partial veto. Nonfiscal items enacted include QEO repeal, changes in public-employee bargaining, restrictions on Milwaukee school choice, motor vehicle insurance requirements, domestic partnership benefits, prevailing-wage mandates, and collective bargaining for university faculty and staff.
  • Federal stimulus monies are one-time revenues that will leave a hole—a "structural deficit"—in the 2011-13 biennial budget. According to the LFB (Legislative Fiscal Bureau), these imbalances will total $899m going into 2010-11 and $1.15b the year after, if no action is taken.
  • The largest single source of new tax revenues in 2009-11 is individual income tax increases of $529.8m, $287.3m from adding a new "top" tax rate of 7.75% and $242.5m from halving the state’s capital gains exclusion.
  • Biennially, spending would total $61.99b, or 9.4% higher than the $56.64b estimated for 2007-09.

 

Read more

State Budget Watch: Budget impact still a mystery

State budget


Editorial writers at the Green Bay Press Gazette correctly analyze that it will be some time before we truly know the damage and the personal impact on Wisconsin taxpayers the new state budget will have. The newspaper writes:

“It will take weeks and months to unravel all of the mysteries regarding the impact of the state budget formed in secret and passed before most lawmakers could read the last-minute changes and additions. Slowly over the next few months, people will start to realize the extent to which Doyle and the Legislature passed the pain of the recession along to other people.”

You can read the editorial
here.

It's state baseball playoff time!

Good news from Senate District 28


Several teams from schools in Senate District 28 are competing.  Here are details. 


Good luck to all!

The QEO goes down, your property taxes go up

State budget, Taxes


Here is astounding evidence the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO) kept property taxes from being even worse than they are in Wisconsin.

Waukesha School Superintendent Todd Gray told the Waukesha Freeman research he conducted about teacher salaries in Wisconsin during the years prior to the QEO showed salaries increased by an incredible 119 percent between about 1979 and 1992. The QEO, the product of taxpayer outrage, helped set property tax limits.

Fears about the elimination of the QEO may not have been unfounded. School officials are deeply concerned about the effect the loss of the QEO will have on school funding and local property taxes.

Gray says in the short term, arbitrators might be sympathetic to economic conditions. However, he sees struggling school districts in the years ahead.

Read more in the
Waukesha Freeman.

REMINDER: Boaters urged to contact EPA about ethanol


The deadline is today.

Silver Alert update

State budget, Legislation

 

During August 2008, I initiated discussion about plans to create a Silver Alert system in Wisconsin. 

A Silver Alert provision was inserted into the budget approved by the Legislature that was sent to Governor Doyle. However, the Governor vetoed the provision.

While I am disheartened because I want to see such a system instituted soon, I am hopeful this nonpartisan, life-saving legislation will now get appropriate public hearings and debate through the legislative process.


Support for Silver Alert is growing that could result in Wisconsin becoming the next state to implement this great public service.

The next time you’re at a Bucks or Marquette game…

Good news from Senate District 28

You have probably been to a sporting event where during a timeout or break in the action, T-shirts are literally shot into the crowd. I’m proud that the gun used to propel the T-shirts at local sporting events is made in Senate District 28.

The Waterford Post reports, “The gatling gun that shoots souvenirs high up into the stands at Milwaukee Bucks, Marquette Golden Eagles, Class AAA baseball and other sporting events is made in teacher Norman Brehm's metal-working classes at Waterford High School. A partnership between the high school and Exciting Events, a New Berlin sports promoter, has been producing the popular T-shirt shooters for about 2-1/2 years.”

You can read the entire article here.

C
ongratulations to Norman Brehm and his students!

Post-budget sticker shock

State budget


By law, Wisconsin is required to have a balanced budget in place every two years with a July 1 deadline for implementation. The 2009-2011 state budget was signed into law by Governor Doyle on June 29, 2009.

The next budget already has a huge gaping hole. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau projects the as yet to be addressed 2011-2013 state budget has a structural deficit of over $2 billion. In other words, projected revenues will not be anywhere near enough to cover committed costs in the next state budget.

You can take our budget fiasco and multiply it by 50.  A budget crisis is occurring in each and every state in America. Therefore, a state experiencing a budget shortfall is not an exclusive story.

Here is the real news bulletin. Governing Magazine in its latest issue reports:

“T
he real problem may be that the news coming out of capitols hasn’t been shocking enough. States have used the federal stimulus money in most cases to ease the current shortfalls, rather than to help them face up to the prospect of future long-term deficits. (Stimulus dollars made up about 40 percent of states’ shortfalls this year.) Rather than planning ahead, lawmakers have done their best to muddle through this year's woes, hoping that an economic turnaround will make budgets easier to deal with in the near future.

That, however, seems unlikely. Many states begin this new fiscal year looking at fresh shortfalls that will require action within a matter of months. State revenue sources tend to be lagging indicators, meaning that even if the economy were to start growing again tomorrow, it would take quite a while before tax collections perked up.”

Governing Magazine is correct in its analysis. There is a real possibility that before the year is over, the state Legislature will quickly be called upon to consider another budget adjustment bill (The Legislature approved one in February of this year).

How will Democrats that control the governor’s mansion and both houses of the Legislature respond? If their track record is any indication, it seems more tax and fee increases and borrowing are in store, possibly before the end of fall.

The minimum wage is increasing

Legislation


The minimum wage is increasing. 


Wisconsin
’s minimum wage goes up July 24, 2009.

I voted against the increase earlier this year.

Public comment encouraged about Zoo Interchange


The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (WisDOT) is conducting an environmental and engineering review of the Zoo Interchange that opened during 1963. It is the busiest interchange in the state and is nearing the end of its useful life according to the DOT. Studies on the interchange are scheduled to continue throughout 2009 including the development of alternatives, evaluation of alternatives, addressing environmental concerns, and choosing an alternative.

Following well-attended meetings during May and October of 2008, a decision was made to refine the “modernization alternatives” that include a multi-level system interchange with right side exits and entrances the DOT believes would provide greater safety.

A Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) has been issued and the public is invited to offer comment. I have been informed by the DOT that the public comment has been extended. Here is the notice from the DOT:

Read more

Summer baseball tournament update

Good news from Senate District 28


Congratulations to the following high school baseball teams located in state Senate District 28 that won their summer baseball regional games Tuesday:

New Berlin Eisenhower

New Berlin West

Franklin

 

Read more

UPDATE: Summer baseball tournament

Good news from Senate District 28


Here are the results of Friday's games in the summer state baseball tournament involving  teams located in state Senate District 28:

SECTIONAL SEMI-FINALS

Oak Creek 6, Greendale 2

Franklin 9, Cudahy 8

Marquette 8, New Berlin West 1

New Berlin Eisenhower  5, West Allis Hale 1

Muskego 3, Waukesha West 2

Whitnall 6, Mukwonago 4


SECTIONAL FINALS

Franklin 5, Oak Creek 4

Read more

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH update: July 27- August 2


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


Construction update July 27 –August 2:
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, JULY 27

Read more

I support the proposed Sacred Heart at Monastery Lake in Franklin

Good news from Senate District 28


I wrote the following letter to Franklin Mayor Tom Taylor and members of the Franklin Common Council last week as they consider a proposal by
The Priests of the Sacred Heart to build a four-story apartment building across the street from the Sacred Heart School of Theology:

Dear Mayor Taylor,

 

Read more

Iowa might pull the curtain on film tax breaks

State budget


One of the questions raised during the recent state budget deliberations was whether Wisconsin’s program that provides tax incentives for filmmakers is effective or too generous. Governor Doyle chopped funding for the program in the 2009-11 budget signed into law. 

T
he state of Iowa is now having the film credit debate.

Driver's licenses for drug lords?

State budget


Remember how during the recent state budget debate Democrats fought to include a provision to provide driver’s licenses to illegal immigrants? Thankfully, that item was left out of the 2009-11 budget. However, the exercise demonstrates the misplaced priorities of legislative Democrats.

 

Read more

Is state ready for rail?


Governor Doyle wants to spend close to half a billion dollars to build a high-speed rail system linking Milwaukee and Madison. A new report by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism questions if that is a wise move.

The report, “Is state ready for rail?” found the following problems:
 

Read more

As predicted, cigarette smuggling on the rise

Taxes


During April 2008, I blogged that one of the ramifications of a cigarette tax hike is an increase in cigarette smuggling. 


The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports bootlegging of cigarettes is becoming a much larger issue, leading states to beef up law enforcement. How serious is the problem? The WSJ reports:

 

Read more

Voting rights for felons

Legislation


Legislation has been proposed in Madison to restore voting rights to convicted felons that have not served their entire sentence. If approved, the legislation would affect about 42, 000 felons in Wisconsin.

Current Wisconsin law takes away voting rights from felons until they have served their complete sentences including probation or parole after being released from prison.

This is risky legislation. Following the 2000 presidential election, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel discovered and reported that at least 361 felons on supervision had voted illegally in Milwaukee. An investigation of the November 2004 election in the city of Milwaukee by U.S. Attorney Steve Biskupic and then-Milwaukee County District Attorney E. Michael McCann found that more than 200 felons voted illegally.

The change in current law being advocated would dilute the severity of the punishment for felonies. Felons working to reintegrate and become productive members of society should use the right to vote as an incentive to cleanly serve out their sentences. I oppose relaxing current law that is an affront to law-abiding citizens.

Hunters, take a survey on Earn-a-Buck

News you can use

One of the most contentious issues for Wisconsin hunters is the controversial Earn-a-Buck (EAB) program.

The Natural Resources Board established a special advisory committee to find alternatives to EAB. In typical government fashion, the committee has a mile-long name: The Special Advisory Committee for Hunter and Landowner Support of Effective Alternative Deer Population Control Methods.

The committee wants public input on possible changes and will accept opinions through an online survey that began July 25, 2009 at this website. 

Time is of the essence. The committee will submit recommendations during early August. The goal is to implement changes to the EAB in time for the 2010 hunting season.

EEK

News you can use


Did you know the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has a website designed especially for kids?

It’s called EEK, Environmental Education for Kids.

Check it out!

Gov. Doyle calls for more ethanol

Ethanol


Governor Doyle wants the federal government to increase the percentage of ethanol in gasoline from 10 to 15 percent.

My constituents have not been clamoring for a mandate that would increase the amount of ethanol in our fuel. To the contrary, they vehemently oppose ethanol.

Governor Doyle is one of 10 Midwestern governors lobbying the feds to put more ethanol in your gas tank.

Congratulations to NB Eisenhower teacher William Priegel!

Good news from Senate District 28


Thanks to Priegel’s efforts, thousands of supplies will help school children in Iraq.

Watch the Fox 6 News story.

Congratulations Franklin High!


Franklin
High School defeated Homestead this morning, 2-1 in an exciting quarterfinal summer state baseball tournament game.


Franklin trailed 1-0, but came back for the victory, scoring the winning run in the bottom of the 6th inning. It is Franklin’s fourth consecutive one-run win.

They now advance to the tournament semifinals Thursday morning at 10:00 a.m.

Congratulations, Sabers!

The game story...

29 percent

State budget, Taxes, Legislation


The expenditure of millions and millions of federal stimulus dollars was supposed to provide a much-needed booster shot to an economic downturn and put Americans back to work. Stateline.org reports a stunning analysis about how states used their share of the stimulus, not to create jobs, but to plug huge holes in their budgets.

According to Stateline, Wisconsin used 29 percent of its stimulus money toward fiscal year 2010. Despite the infusion of federal money, the moment Governor Doyle signed the 2009-2011 state budget into law, it created a gigantic hole of $899 million going into 2010-11 and $1.15 billion the year after. Stimulus dollars were anything but a savior 
to Wisconsin’s 2009-11 budget that is chock full of tax, fee, and spending increases. 

Stateline reports the National Conference of State Legislatures reviewed the stimulus spending in 25 states, including Wisconsin, and found that nine states spent over half of their stimulus to fix their budgets.

One Democrat quoted by Stateline seems to understand what critics of the stimulus concept have been arguing from the very beginning.

“What’s the exit strategy when this is over?” asked state Rep. Steven Costantino, a Democrat from Rhode Island who heads the House Finance Committee. “The stimulus is really a one-shot infusion that at some point ends.”

Correct. When that occurs, how will states like Wisconsin respond to future budget chaos? Our dismal track record would indicate we will once again resort to the fiscally irresponsible solution of spending more, taxing more, and borrowing more.

Read more in
Stateline.

Potty pork

Taxes, Legislation


There has been documentation about vast amounts of stimulus money virtually being wasted across the country.  

Here is another example. Tens of millions of stimulus dollars are being spent on bathrooms, everything from outhouses to facilities in national forests.

Nice restrooms are always a plus. However, a major problem with the expenditure of stimulus funds is that government is providing the jobs instead of small business, often referred to as the engine that drives our economy.

How does the repairing of aging toilets create sustaining jobs?

Read more in the New York Post.

State Budget Watch: New budget gimmick employed by Gov. Doyle

State budget


This is not the sexiest blog ever published on Conservatively Speaking. However, the following revelations are critical in understanding why Wisconsin continues to suffer major budget problems.

Wisconsin, by statute, must have a balanced budget every two years. During recent budgets, several gimmicks have been utilized to balance the books including transferring funds (i.e., transportation), lowering the amount of required budget surpluses, and eliminating the requirement to have a balanced budget for a particular year.

The nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) discovered that Governor Doyle used a new trick in signing the 2009-11 state budget into law. Simply put according to WISTAX, the governor used his expansive veto authority to issue a partial veto promising that his administration would lapse, meaning cut spending or transfer monies from other funds to the general fund, $200 million by mid-2011.

WISTAX writes in a new report, “If, when, and where these (unspecified cuts or fund transfers) will occur is unclear…..Also unclear is whether the details of the promised action will ever be broadly scrutinized.”

This new information gathered by WISTAX raises several flags including, as WISTAX points out, questions about accountability, the potential for misuse, and the separation of powers. WISTAX poses the following questions that are extremely important:

“First, what prevents any legislature or governor from developing a deficit budget and then, to balance it, ‘plugging’ into the budget an unspecified promise of future cuts or transfers sufficient to produce an ending surplus? And, if the governor can promise $200m in future lapses this year, why can’t a future chief executive or legislature promise $500m to cover a $500m deficit? Or $1 billion (b) to avoid a $1b shortfall?

Second, as a separate and coequal branch of government, is it constitutionally wise for the legislature to cede substantial budget-making authority to the executive branch?

And, finally, what assurances do legislators or citizens have that the promised actions will occur and that they will be informed in a timely and detailed manner of what was done?”

That is a rather diplomatic way of asking if we can trust the governor who has made an unspecified promise that the public and the press are virtually unaware.

I commend WISTAX for its outstanding research. 

Proceed cautiously with early voting

Photo ID, Legislation


The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel is reporting the Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) is recommending Wisconsin expand voting by mail before it explores voting by telephone, the Internet, or other options. Wisconsin is considering various plans to expand early voting procedures.

The GAB held a listening session on early voting at West Allis City Hall on July 23, 2009. I was invited by the GAB to attend and here is the testimony I delivered:


Good afternoon, members of the Government Accountability Board. Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony to the Government Accountability Board about possible expansion of early voting procedures in Wisconsin

Allowing voters to cast their ballots prior to Election Day is a phenomenon that has become quite popular across the country. Inherent advantages are clear. The more voters that vote early, the smoother the process will be at the polls. The average poll worker nationally is 72 years old. Early voting also provides a certain comfort level for voters.

However, 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.

Some studies, according to the GAB, also suggest in-person early voting increases turnout only slightly, if at all. Florida experienced numerous technical problems with its optical scan machines used during 2004. Early vote centers in the Sunshine State have experienced long lines and emergency extension of voting hours.

Then there is the cost. The GAB says, “Early voting will cost more. It is very difficult to generalize how much it costs, because different states pay poll workers different amounts, have different hours, and a different number of locations. One study found that ‘early voting required considerably more staffing than traditional precinct voting’. States and localities with outmoded voting machines may have to purchase new ones capable of processing dozens or hundreds of different ballot styles. Studies confirm that early in-person voting and liberalized absentee balloting do not clearly result in cost saving.”

Another concern, if the state switched to regional district voting, is the profound impact on Wisconsin's system of municipality-controlled elections.

I urge the Board to proceed cautiously before adopting any major changes. Above all, I strongly recommend serious consideration be given to our dedicated clerks. 


A few legislative sessions ago, I served on the Senate Labor and Election Process Reform Committee that toured the state, conducting public hearings.  The clerks and poll workers that offered their valuable expertise specifically requested that the hard work they do on Election Day be accurate. They work very long days and must depend on the communications of all citizens.

That is why a far loftier and commendable goal for the Board would be to endorse and then work with the Legislature to enact a photo ID requirement for voting. An identification in written form allows clerks and poll workers to facilitate citizen communication, speed long lines, and maintain accuracy. Poll workers truly want a democratic process in place. I recall poll workers testifying passionately that they want their work to be accurate and be respected. They testified that a written communication such as driver license or other identification allows them to confidently perform tasks with accuracy and maintain a voting process in Wisconsin that gives the public confidence and erases concerns and bickering. 


The highly acclaimed, nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau released an audit dated November 28, 2007 recommending, “The Elections Board and, after it is replaced, the Government Accountability Board request that municipal clerks obtain birth dates from voters during future elections and consider ways to more easily facilitate the collection of this information.”  That is a strong and clear message that the state should adopt this common sense election reform measure that the voting public has been clamoring for.

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.

Congratulations Muskego High!

Good news from Senate District 28


Muskego
defeated New Holstein 12-2 Wednesday in a quarterfinal game in the WIAA state summer baseball tournament.

Two teams from state Senate District 28 are still alive and play today. Here is today’s semifinal schedule:

Semifinals: Thursday, July 30

Franklin (25-13) vs. Marquette (20-20) - 10:05 a.m.

Arrowhead (32-5) vs. Muskego (24-9) - approx. 35 min. following Franklin/Marquette game.

UPDATE: Rain today has caused postponement of the semifinal games that have been re-scheduled for Friday.

The first semifinal will be at 11 a.m. between Franklin and Marquette, and the 2 p.m. game will feature Arrowhead and Muskego. The championship will be at 6 p.m.

Mow, DOT, mow!


I recently received complaints from constituents about the lack of grass mowing by the state Department of Transportation (DOT) in some medians in Milwaukee County. Observations were made that in some locations, “the grass in the medians is well over 2 feet tall and it has not been cut all summer long. To make this unsightly mess even worse, the Dept. of Transportation has cut the grass in the area's that are near intersections for safety reasons. This looks absolutely terrible.”

An angry constituent informed me that he was told by the Milwaukee County Highway Department that it had, “a directive from the DOT to not cut the grass to save money” and that “the DOT has told them that the grass will not be cut anymore this year.”


I wrote the following letter and e-mail, sent to Governor Doyle, and DOT Secretary Busalacchi, July 23, 2009:

Dear Governor Doyle and Secretary Busalacchi:


I write with urgent concern about median grass cutting in Milwaukee County.  During recent years I have received numerous complaints about tall grass and weeds in the medians.  Some people are so frustrated, that they have taken it upon themselves to cut the medians near their property.  A few years ago a benevolent Milwaukee County Supervisor, trying to provide constituent service, told of his cutting the grass in the median and a humorous, yet not so humorous tale, of almost losing the lower backside of his body.

I am especially annoyed about this issue because during road design/construction, I have pleaded with DOT staff to eliminate the grass in the median, predicting just the scenario we have today.  In addition, many and possibly all, of the communities in Milwaukee County have procedures in place requiring property owners to cut their grass or government will cut it for them and charge the property owner.

I understand the economy and shortage of money is the reason the directive is issued by DOT to eliminate median grass cutting.  However, there is a lot of stimulus money floating around, especially in transportation, and some prioritizing of transportation spending should be able to address this issue.  Since it is past mid July, it shouldn't take too much cutting to get past the growing season. 

Please address this issue as soon as possible.  I do not care to read about injury to people, and I cannot justify to constituents the requirements that property owners must cut their grass and that government does not have to cut their grass.

Sincerely, 


State Senator Mary Lazich 


The Racine Journal Times this week reported that officials from seven counties are requesting the governor relax the limits on mowing.

Job creation numbers deceiving

Taxes, Legislation


The exorbitant federal stimulus expenditures were supposed to create jobs. Some states are basking in the numbers they claim show that jobs are increasing.

The Associated Press (AP) checked to make sure the bragging was on the level. What the AP found was that there is a whole lot of spinning going on. The AP reports:

“In Oregon, where lawmakers are spending $176 million to supplement the federal stimulus, Democrats are taking credit for a remarkable feat: creating 3,236 new jobs in the program's first three months. But those jobs lasted on average only 35 hours, or about one work week. After that, those workers were effectively back unemployed.”

We are in trouble if states can’t even perform the simple task of counting jobs.

Read the AP article.

No wonder Congressional Democrats don't want you to read the bill

Government health care


House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.) is catching some heat for a comment he made at the National Press Club about the House Democrat government health care bill.

“I love these members (of Congress), they get up and say, ‘Read the bill.’  What good is reading the bill if it’s a thousand pages and you don’t have two days and two lawyers to find out what it means after you read the bill?”

The National Taxpayers Union (NTU) has read the 1,018-word bill and conducted a revealing analysis of the legislation based on its verbiage.

The NTU makes the observation that House Democrats pushing the trillion dollar- plus government health care legislation often in their speeches use the word, “choice,” a favorite term employed by Democrats. However, the NTU combed the entire bill and found that the word, “choice” only appears 47 times. “Options” appears 38 times.

Is the legislation heavy on bureaucracy? The word, “Secretary” appears 1,124 times.

Versions of the words, “require,” “limit,” and “must” appear 708 times.

The words, “consumer-driven,” “freedom,” “liberty,” and “patient-drive” appear zero times.

Read more from the
NTU.

Wisconsin domestic partner benefits begin Monday


The provision in the 2009-11 state budget
allowing same-sex couples to apply for domestic partnership benefits goes into effect Monday, August 3, 2009. 

continue to question the constitutionality of this new law. 

A lawsuit has been filed against the state by Wisconsin Family Action and other groups claiming the domestic partnerships are unconstitutional.

Remember the November 2006 constitutional amendment vote?


Domestic partner benefits approved by the state budget signed into law by Governor Doyle become effective Monday, August 3, 2009. A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the benefits has been filed with the state Supreme Court.

The Beloit Daily News reminds us that Wisconsin voters during November 2006 overwhelmingly rejected same-sex marriage, civil unions or “substantially similar” arrangements.

As a result, the newspaper editorializes that opponents of the domestic partner budget provision have a case:

“It appears majority Democrats decided on their own that the people’s vote was wrong and refused to be bound by it. The Wisconsin Supreme Court should slap the legislators, hard, and remind them that the democratic process — small ‘d’ — cannot be overridden by politicians who disagree with their bosses, the people.”

The bottom line, according to the newspaper:

“In our view, when the voters have spoken the politicians must listen.”

Read the editorial
here.

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