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A wonderful civic resource

News you can use


The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports there is a great source citizens can tap for information about civics: The Internet.

Here are some examples.

Greenfield High School holding open house for pool

Greenfield School District, sports

A grand opening celebration will be held for Greenfield High School's new swimming pool starting at 9 a.m. Saturday.

Events kick off with a dedication ceremony with members of the Greenfield High girls swim team. Tours of the high school facilities will be conducted after the dedication ceremony, and refreshments will be served.

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My 2010 Wish List


The editors of WaukeshaNOW invited me to submit a 2010 wish list for Waukesha that is idealistic, not necessarily practical. Here is my submission, my 2010 Wish List for Waukesha Residents that I hope for all:



Tax cuts and reduced spending

100% employment

Jobs for every Waukesha graduate

The utmost safety for Waukesha residents serving in our military

Lake Michigan water at a fair price

Far less government intervention

 

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New DMV hours in 2010

News you can use


Operating hours at all Wisconsin Department of Motor Vehicle (DMV)  customer service centers changed
 beginning January 4, 2010.

You can read the changes here.

A new year means new state laws

Legislation


The Appleton Post Crescent has a listing of some of the new state laws taking effect during 2010.

$2.7 BILLION

State budget


Wisconsin
’s fiscal crisis keeps getting worse. In fact, the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) reports our economic conditions are the worst they have ever been.

Here are some excerpts from a new WISTAX report.

“According to its just-released financial statements, state government closed its 2008-09

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The top issues states face this year

Legislation


The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) has released its annual forecast of the top ten top policy issues states will confront during 2010.

Here they are, starting with Issue #10:



Issue #10 – Expanding Broadband Access

Issue #9 – Examining Sex Offender Registration

Issue #8 – Developing Clean Energy Alternatives

Issue #7 - Balancing and Managing State Government

Issue #6 – Maintaining Transportation and Infrastructure

Issue #5 – Analyzing Sentencing and Corrections Costs

Issue #4 - Affording Higher Education

Issue #3 – Lowering Unemployment Rates

Issue #2 - Managing Health Costs and Coverage

Care to guess what Issue #1 is according to the NCSL?

States, inluding Wisconsin, have their work cut out for them during 2010.

Global warming legislation: You will pay more

Legislation


Former WTMJ meteorologist, state Representative Jim Ott (R-Mequon) has been keeping very close tabs on Governor Doyle’s Global Warming Task Force.  Representative Ott has published a brief list of provisions in proposed legislation by Democrats based on the Task Force’s recommendations.

Here are some that Representative Ott lists:

“Enhanced Renewable Portfolio Standard

Wisconsin will be required to produce 25% of its electricity from renewable sources by 2025. This will cause your utility bills to skyrocket because electricity produced from renewable sources is considerably more expensive to produce. Electricity touches every facet of our lives, from food production, to transportation to entertainment. You will pay more!

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New Traffic Laws

Several important changes to Wisconsin traffic laws went into effect on January 1, 2010.

Making a u-turn at a controlled intersection is now LEGAL in Wisconsin.

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Chicago keeps stealing and stealing

Great Lakes


During the debate about the Great Lakes Compact in September 2008, Chicago dumped 99 billion gallons of sewage into Lake Michigan following a strong storm.
I blogged on September 25, 2008:

Chicago’s dumping of vast amounts of sewage into Lake Michigan should come as no surprise. Historically, Chicago has more or less been able to do whatever it wants about Lake Michigan, regardless of the circumstances or consequences.

Take, for instance, Chicago’s diversion of water from the Great Lakes.

The Illinois-Michigan Canal was opened to shipping traffic in 1848, the same year Wisconsin entered the Union. Every day, 64.6 million gallons of water was diverted from Lake Michigan at Chicago through the Chicago and Illinois Rivers to the Mississippi River.

The Windy City’s sewage poured into the Chicago River and then into Lake Michigan, Chicago’s drinking water source. As a result, in 1885, over 10 percent of Chicago’s population, 90,000 people died from cholera.

Since then, the amount of water in the Chicago diversion has grown substantially, even beyond the limit imposed by a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The Chicago diversion was not only in direct defiance of the high court, but is, today, the largest diversion out of the Great Lakes Basin. The other Great Lakes states voiced concern, leading to a battle in federal court.

Illinois agreed to reduce the outtake of water from Lake Michigan to the amount set by previous court decisions. The other states agreed not to take legal action for previous Illinois violations. What a sweet deal Illinois received. At a time when Wisconsin communities are desperate for water, today, millions of northeast Illinois residents that live outside the Great Lakes Basin have access to Lake Michigan water because of the Chicago diversion.

With that history in mind, I am not surprised at Chicago’s recent dumping of sewage into Lake Michigan.”


Writing in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, freelance columnist Mike Nichols has a more blunt assessment. Nichols writes;

Once upon a time, many years ago, Chicago was a cesspool.

It was so polluted in the late 1800s, it has been written, that chickens could run across the scum that formed on top of the rivers.

The smell and the disease were too much even for Chicagoans to bear. So they did something about it.

They stole Lake Michigan.”

Nichols reports that the same canal Chicago built over 160 years ago that has allowed the city to steal water is also responsible for the invasion of Asian carp. Plug that link between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi, Nichols contends, and you resolve the carp issue and the water thievery.

You can read Nichols’ column here. 

My views on medical marijuana

Legislation, Mary in the media


You can see and hear them on Fox 6 News Milwaukee and Wisconsin Public Radio.

Here is the Fox 6 News report.

 

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Is latest tax report good news or not?

Taxes


A report from the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance (WISTAX) certainly sounds like good news. WISTAX reports, “
Over the past 15 years, Wisconsin’s tax ranking among the 50 states fell from third in 1993 to 14th in 2007.”

A WISTAX headline reads, “State Tax Rank Out of Top 10 for Second Consecutive Year.”

WISTAX provides its usual thorough and comprehensive analysis. However, I would urge caution before any champagne corks are popped.

WISTAX also reports, “The study was based on Census Bureau figures from 1993 to 2007, the most recent year for which data are available.” That means data from 2008, 2009 and the 2009-11 state budget when Wisconsin continued to adopt large tax and spending increases was not included.

My guess is when the fine folks at WISTAX crunch those numbers, kiss the rosy headlines goodbye.

Possible changes in Wisconsin early voting system

Legislation


During May 2008, I blogged about the phenomenon of voting by mail: 

“The number of people who prefer not to vote in-person on Election Day and would rather mail in their vote is increasing. In fact, the state of Oregon is the first and only state in the country where all voting is done by mail. Other states are taking notice and have either implemented the system in some areas or are exploring the concept.

One of the reasons for the increase in mail voting is the relative ease of obtaining an absentee ballot. All a voter need do in many states is request an absentee ballot. No reason or explanation is necessary.

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’.”

Prior to the November elections, the Associated Press reported that nationwide, about a third of the electorate was expected to vote before Election Day, November 4, 2008. In Wisconsin, the Government Accountability Board (GAB) reports, “Statewide, more than 21 percent cast absentee votes in the November 2008 election, compared to 6 percent in 2000.”

Changes in the popular early voting system are coming to Wisconsin. Responding to pleas from election clerks around the state, the GAB is recommending:

 

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Beware of Haiti relief scams

News you can use


Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade & Consumer Protection Secretary Rod Nilsestuen have issued the following joint press release.

Business experts pessimistic about jobs outlook

Economy


"I don't really see the private sector hiring much in the next few months.”

Brian Bethune, an economist at Global Insight made that grim statement to CNBC. The reason for this pessimism? Business owners fear they will simply be unable to take on more workers due to a wave of increased taxes and new business regulations.

This comes as little surprise. Last year, Wisconsin businesspeople told lawmakers loudly and clearly that bigger taxes and over-regulation were forcing employers to cut jobs or, in the worst case scenario, close up shop completely. 

High taxes kill jobs. The national Tax Foundation in Washington D.C. writes:

“Taxes matter to business. Business taxes affect business decisions, job creation and retention, plant location, competitiveness, the transparency of the tax system, and the long-term health of a state's economy. Most importantly, taxes diminish profits. If taxes take a larger portion of profits, that cost is passed along to either consumers (through higher prices), workers (through lower wages or fewer jobs), or shareholders (through lower dividends or share value). Thus, a state with lower tax costs will be more attractive to business investment, and more likely to experience economic growth.

States do not enact tax changes (increase or cuts) in a vacuum. Every tax law will in some way change a state's competitive position relative to its immediate neighbors, its geographic region, and even globally. Ultimately it will affect the state's national standing as a place to live and to do business. Entrepreneurial states can take advantage of the tax increases of their neighbors to lure businesses out of high-tax states.

The ideal tax system, whether at the local, state or federal level, is simple, transparent, stable, neutral to business activity, and pro-growth. In such an ideal system, individuals and businesses would spend a minimum amount of resources to comply with the tax system, understand the true cost of the tax system, base their economic decisions solely on the merits of the transactions, without regard to tax implications, and not have the tax system impede their growth and prosperity.”


Businesspeople are anything but confident. The National Federation of Independent Business (NFIB) in its Small Business Economic Trends, January 2010 writes:

“The ‘job generating machine’ remains in reverse, jobs are being lost and new hiring is very weak. Ten percent of the owners increased employment, but 22 percent reduced employment (seasonally adjusted). While the trend for increased employment is going in the right direction, there is no indication that job growth will be strong enough to dramatically reduce the unemployment rate. Ten percent (seasonally adjusted) reported unfilled job openings, up two points from November, a good sign. Over the next three months, 15 percent plan to reduce employment (down two points), and eight percent plan to create new jobs (up one point), yielding a seasonally adjusted net negative two percent of owners planning to create new jobs, a one point improvement from November.”

The NFIB concludes, “There is little hope and the change that is being delivered is far from encouraging. Washington is offering nothing but higher taxes and fines and fees and more regulation. Congress is passing bills with thousands of pages of hidden bombs that will go off as the legislation is passed and implemented. Federal spending has soared amazingly, yet been ineffective except at pushing the federal deficit to incomprehensible heights, promising to double our national debt in just a few years. The interest burden this will place on average Americans is
astounding. Uncertainty is the enemy of economic growth and investment, and Washington, D.C., the usual source of uncertainty, is delivering plenty of it. Confidence in our political leadership has tanked.”

It is high time we start to listen and adhere to the expertise of the people who create the jobs that drive our nation’s economy, and do it fast.

Read more from CNBC

Hotline headaches continue for the unemployed


Over four months ago, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that 86 percent of phone calls to a special Department of Workforce Development hotline designed to handle inquiries about unemployment compensation were dropped.

Problems persist months later as evidenced by this Fox 6 News investigation. 

 

 


Perhaps the well-respected Legislative Audit Bureau needs to begin a thorough review of what’s wrong with this user-unfriendly service.

Protecting children

Legislation


Few stories have shocked us over the past year as those involving Wisconsin child care scams.

First was the story about rampant fraud in the taxpayer subsidized Wisconsin Shares program. A Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter toiled over 2,500 records and documents and uncovered, “a trail of phony companies, fake reports and shoddy oversight,” finding a system that could be scammed without difficulty and lacking accountability by parents and child-care providers, “capitalizing on children for public cash.”

With limited access to child care cases, Journal Sentinel reporters still pinpointed $750,000 in suspicious child-care disbursements.

A December 14, 2009, Journal Sentinel article reveals that the same Journal Sentinel reporter, Raquel Rutledge, found that drug dealing and other criminal links with child care providers are common. Raquel Rutledge wrote:

"More than a dozen Wisconsin child-care centers that reaped millions of dollars in state subsidies have had close ties to drug-dealing operations, including big-time crime bosses, a Journal Sentinel investigation has found.

The newspaper identified 16 child-care centers with recent connections to drug operations, and the number is likely much higher. Those 16 alone have collected more than $8.5 million in public subsidies since 2006.

Records show many of those centers have been used to stash and transport drugs, launder dirty cash and provide fake employment for criminals - at taxpayers' expense."

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Governor, stop the early release of felons now

Corrections


I am one of 45 state legislators to sign a letter to Governor Doyle requesting that he immediately stop his early release of felons. Our letter to Governor Doyle reads in part:

“In the interest of public safety and in light of the suspension of a similar program in Illinois, we are respectfully asking you to consider an immediate repeal of the early release program.

Chief among our concerns is the threat this program poses for compromising public safety. Out of the 21 offenders who were released this week, many of them have a history of serious felony convictions. Most could be classified as career criminals who have been in and out of the corrections system their entire life.

Furthermore, the fact that this program does not rely on judges, prosecutors, or law enforcement to determine whether these inmates are safe for release makes it even more likely that new crimes will be committed.

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UPDATE: Voting rights for felons


A three-judge panel in Washington State has ruled that felony prisoners there must be allowed to vote. The case could go to the U.S. Supreme Court.

During July 2009, I wrote about my opposition to efforts by legislative Democrats to expand felon voting rights in Wisconsin.

The Racine Journal Times Editorial Board has also weighed in on the subject:

Handing all of them (felons)  the keys to the nation’s greatest privilege removes one of the stains from their records.

Freedom and voting are a package deal, and committing a major offense costs you both.”

You can read the editorial here. 

Knock Knock. Who's There?

We have all heard the Knock Knock jokes but the knock knock at your door might not be funny.  The Milwaukee County area has had a rash of incidences in which home visitors are not who they claim to be.  The visitors have claimed to be police officers, cable repairmen, utilities workers, and home inspectors.  The ploy is to get into your home to steal from you.  They may be working with other people or alone and want to distract you long enough to get at your valuables.

Whenever you have unsolicited visitors at your door, ask who it is prior to opening the door.  If it is someone you do not want at your residence ask them to leave without opening the door.  If they persist; CALL THE POLICE!  If you determine the visitors may have a legitimate purpose for being there, ask for identification.  This may seem like an uncomfortable request but legitimate visitors will have identification and have been asked for it many times in the past.  If someone is hesitant to show identification; DON'T LET THEM IN and call the police!  If you receive identification and you still feel uncomfortable then have the visitor wait outside and call the company that supposedly sent the visitor.  I recommend finding the number in the phone book as opposed to the number on the identification card.  The number on the identification may not be legit.  If the company has not sent the visitor; CALL THE POLICE!  If you are getting flustered and the visitor is pressuring you to let them in, CALL THE POLICE!

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