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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.

While you slept, the Grim Reaper strikes

State budget, Taxes


Early this morning, while you were asleep, the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, controlled by Democrats, was voting to increase your taxes.

The committee voted 11-5 to create a board that would have the power to impose a one percent sales tax in Milwaukee County. Sales tax revenue would fund transit, parks, and emergency medical services. Milwaukee County’s sales tax rate would, if this plan is approved by the full Legislature and Governor Doyle, increase to 6.6 percent.

The five members of the board that would set a one percent sales tax increase would not be elected by the voting public, and thus, would not have accountability for their actions. They would be appointed by the Milwaukee County Board chairman, the Milwaukee mayor and the governor.

The committee also voted 12-4 to establish a regional transit authority in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties. A $16 car rental fee would fund the authority. The current fee is $2. The authority would operate a Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter link that more than likely will be very costly. The nine-member authority, again, would be un-elected. Members would be appointed by the chairmen of the Milwaukee County and Racine County boards, the Kenosha County executive, the mayors of Milwaukee, Kenosha and Racine; and the governor.

As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports, “The structure would ensure that local officials with Democratic ties would get to make appointments to the board while those with Republican links would not. For instance, Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser, a former legislator, would get to make an appointment while Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker – a Republican running for governor next year – would not.”

The Joint Finance Committee also rejected the idea of a requirement that light rail could be built in Milwaukee County only if voters approved.

I oppose the creation of boards or authorities with appointed members having taxing power.  This is taxation without representation.  The power to tax should only come from elected representation.

Hang on to your wallets, there goes millions of dollars. I vehemently oppose these new taxes and Regional Authorities. Our taxes are high enough, and in our darkest hours while we were asleep, the Grim Reaper swiped our credit cards, big time. 

The governor's ideas for stimulus money raise a question


On Thursday, Governor Doyle asked legislative leaders to approve legislation that would allow the state to “fully implement” the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The legislation would include:

    • Dept of Commerce. Modify the Enterprize Zone Program to add job retention as an eligible certification criterion to establish a zone; require companies to make a significant capital investment; have either 0ver 500 employees or be an original equipment manufacturer with a significant Wisconsin supply chain; provide refundable tax credits for up to 7% of payroll; limit tax credit claiming to five years.
    • Public Service Commission. Permit counties, municipalities, villages and towns to provide loans for energy efficient improvements to residences. Provide for repayment via special charges on property tax bills.
    • Dept of Administration. Modify income eligibility levels for the Weatherization Assistance Program and the state’s Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program to 60% of statewide median household income.
    • Dept of Workforce Development. Authorize unemployment insurance modernization changes in order to receive additional federal incentive funding available to states that reform UI eligibility rules to increase benefit coverage.
    • Office of the Commissioner of Insurance. Provide federal ARRA health insurance subsidies for individuals who have lost jobs at companies with fewer than 20 employees.
    • Dept of Natural Resources. Allow ARRA clean water and drinking water funds to be distributed as grants or loans at interest rates that may differ from the rates provided under current law; allow forgiveness of a portion of the principal amount of a loan.
    • Dept of Children and Families. Increase eligibility for community services block grant funding from125% to 200% of federal poverty level.
    • Office of Justice Assistance. Create a new federal appropriation for receipt of ARRA funding for Byrne and Justice Assistance Grant criminal justice programs.
    • Dept of Revenue. Exclude expenditures made related to ARRA funding from the Expenditure Restraint Program.
    • Dept of Public Instruction. Repeal the requirement DPI keep confidential any pupil records it receives from local school districts so that K-12 and post-secondary institutions can share data in support of education reform efforts.

That is an interesting list. The question I have is this:

How does any of this create sustaining jobs?

Very short notice for smoking ban hearing

Legislation


The chairman of the state Senate Health Committee that I serve on, state Senator Jon Erpenbach (D-Middleton) has barely given 24 hours notice that the committee will hold a public hearing on a proposed statewide smoking ban Tuesday at the state Capitol.


A hearing on an issue of this magnitude and public interest should have been given far more advance notice.

Why the short notice from Senator Erpenbach? Did he, knowing that he’d give as little notice as possible to announce the hearing, intentionally stack the deck by informing organized supporters of the ban about the hearing? Did he conveniently fail to give the same courtesy to organized opponents?

He has to answer those questions. 

As of this post and with less than 24 hours until the hearing, the bill is still not available on the State Legislature website.

Here is an analysis of the smoking ban bill, Senate Bill 181, from the Legislative Reference Bureau:


Current law prohibits smoking in mass transit vehicles and specific enclosed, indoor locations, including the following:

1. Inpatient health care facilities, such as community based-residential facilities and nursing homes.

2. Prisons and jails.

3. Retail establishments.

4. Restaurants.

5. Governmental buildings.

Except for hospitals, school buses, day care centers where children are present, and a few other places, a smoking area at an indoor location may be designated by the person who is in charge of that location. For example, the person in charge of a business is the owner of the business and the person in charge of a prison is the state secretary of corrections.

Under the bill, smoking areas at indoor locations may no longer be designated resulting in a complete ban on indoor smoking at those locations with exceptions for
private residences, a limited number of designated rooms in lodging establishments, and certain residence rooms in assisted living facilities. In addition to the specified indoor locations listed under current law, the bill prohibits smoking in any public place or place of employment.

The bill defines “a place of employment” to be any
indoor place that employees normally frequent during the course of employment, such as an office, a work area, an employee lounge, a restroom, a conference room, a meeting room, a classroom, or a hallway. The bill also defines a “public place” to be a place that is open to the public, regardless of whether a fee is charged or a place to which the public has lawful access or may be invited. In addition, the bill defines an “enclosed place” for purposes of determining at what locations smoking is prohibited. An enclosed place must have a roof and at least two walls.

Current law provides exemptions from the prohibition against smoking for bowling centers, taverns, halls used for private functions, rooms in which the main occupants are smokers, and areas of facilities that are used to manufacture or assemble goods, products, or merchandise. This bill eliminates these exemptions.

Current law allows smoking in any restaurant that has a seating capacity of 50 individuals or less, or that holds a liquor license, if the sale of alcohol beverages accounts for more than 50 percent of the restaurant’s receipts. This bill prohibits smoking in any restaurant regardless of seating capacity or the number of liquor sale receipts.

Current law allows smoking in any tavern holding a “Class B” intoxicating liquor license or Class “B” fermented malt beverages license issued by a municipality.This bill prohibits smoking in any tavern. The bill also specifically prohibits smoking in private clubs.

Under current law, smoking is prohibited outside in limited instances. These include within a certain distance of the state capitol building, dormitories that are owned or operated by the University of Wisconsin, and day care centers where children are present. This bill makes no changes to these specific prohibitions, but adds a general prohibition against smoking outside within less than a reasonable distance from any entrance into a building, an openable window, or a ventilation opening that draws air inside. The bill also specifically prohibits smoking in sports arenas and bus shelters, regardless of whether they meet the definition of “enclosed place.”

C
urrent law does not limit the authority of any county, city, village, or town to enact smoking ordinances that protect the public’s health and comfort. This bill makes no change in this provision.

This bill requires that persons in charge of places where smoking is prohibited enforce the prohibitions by taking certain steps to ensure compliance, such as asking a person who is smoking to leave and refusing to serve the person if the place is a restaurant, tavern, or private club. This bill imposes forfeitures on persons in charge who fail to take these measures.

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH PROJECT update

News you can use


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

Listed below are all major (2 lanes, or full and long-term) closures on the I-94 N-S Freeway.

All closures are weather-dependent and subject to change. 


TUESDAY, MAY 5
I-94 EAST (SB) double lane closed Grange to Rawson Ave 9:30 p.m.-5:30 a.m College Ave. WB single lane closed at Howell Ave 9 a.m.-5:15 p.m.

WEDNESDAY, MAY 6
I-94 EAST (SB) double lane closed Grange to Rawson Ave. 9:30 p.m.-5:30 a.m West frontage road fully closed between County C and WIS 50 9:30 p.m.-5:30 a.m.

THURSDAY, MAY 7
East frontage road fully closed between County C and WIS 50 9:30 p.m.-5:30 a.m.

FRIDAY, MAY 8

SATURDAY, MAY 9

SUNDAY, MAY 10

LONG TERM CLOSURES IN MILWAUKEE COUNTY

I-894/I-43 WB exit ramp to 27th Street Until Late July

Read more

Editorial rips short notice on smoking ban hearing

Legislation


Editorial writers at the Oshkosh Northwestwern support a statewide smoking ban. However, even they were outraged at the decision by the Democrat-controlled state Senate Committee on Health to "barely" give 24-hour notice of an important public hearing on Senate Bill 181,  a statewide smoking ban. The editorial says, in part:

"
The short-notice satisfies, barely, the 24-hour meeting notice provision of Wisconsin' open meetings law. If it meets the letter of the law, it certainly slaughters its spirit by making it difficult for supporters and opposition alike to get to Madison to offer testimony. Although political opposition has weakened over the past years, smoking bans are still highly controversial and this bill is sure to generate considerable interest.

While we support the ban, we cannot support a process that prevents residents — no matter their view — time to prepare travel to the capitol and make their case to their elected representatives.

Perhaps Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, who chairs the committee and called the meeting, saw it as an opportunity to catch opposition to the measure off-guard. Maybe he figures lobbyists on both sides of the issue will have no issue preparing and getting to the meeting. It could be innocent and innocuous on his part. But it smacks as the worst in state politics."

I would agree. Here is the editorial.


UPDATE: The Wisconsin State Journal also objects.

Smoking ban public hearing held in Madison

Legislation


The state Senate Health Committee that I serve on conducted a hastily called public hearing today on a proposed statewide smoking ban. The public notice about the hearing was barely 24 hours.

Waukesha Mayor Larry Nelson has stated he would support an exemption for cigar bars. A successful cigar bar that has invested heavily in their operation is in Waukesha

At the opening of today's hearing, I asked the legislative sponsors of the ban about a possible cigar bar exemption. State Senator Fred Risser (D-Madison) said even though the ban was modeled after the city of Madison’s smoking ban that exempts cigar bars, Senate Bill 181, the proposed statewide ban does not. Risser said, “Some people have talked to me about possibly putting in an amendment to grandfather in the current cigar bars which would handle your mayor’s concern. This bill like any other is subject to amendments and I understand your argument.”


Joette and Jeff Barta, owners of the Nice Ash cigar bar in Waukesha who were mentioned in the above Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, testified in favor of a cigar bar exemption. Joette Barta said the lack of an exemption is “dooming us to failure.” Jeff Barta said it is impossible to successfully run a cigar bar business if smoking is banned. “We are here fighting for our economic lives,” said Jeff Barta. Joette Barta testified that if their customers are not allowed to smoke, the Barta’s will be unable to run their business they way they have the past three years.

The Barta’s correctly submit their bar is different than other bars. Smoking on the premises is essential. Otherwise, customers will simply turn to the Internet or catalogues to buy their products. The Barta’s are planning to spend $300,000 in improvements at the Nice Ash that will stimulate the economy and enhance downtown economic development in Waukesha.

“We have a ban, it’s called choice,” said Jeff Barta, emphasizing no one is forced to patronize the Nice Ash.

Barta informed the committee that the city of Madison smoking ban exemption for cigar bars stipulates that 10 percent of cigar bar sales be from tobacco. Jeff Barta said at his business, 30 percent of sales are attributed to tobacco.

I commend the Barta’s for their compelling testimony.

When I also asked supporters of the ban if casinos would be included, they said that would be unconstitutional. I am mindful that casinos must obtain government –issued liquor licenses to allow distributors to deliver liquor. Casinos must also comply with health provisions found in Chapter 101 of the state statutes. To simply dismiss the inclusion of casinos in a statewide smoking ban I find short-sighted.

Smoking remains a legal activity. I am concerned about the far-reaching negative impact the ban would have on many Wisconsin businesses at an economic time that we can least afford the loss of more businesses and jobs.

State Budget Watch: The deficit

State budget


The state budget deficit had been reported to be about $5.4 billion. That is old news.

The deficit is expected to get even worse, increasing by $1 billion or more.

The Wisconsin State Journal has details.

State Budget Watch: Do-over’s?

State budget


The co-chair of the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee says the committee may have to reconsider some of its previous votes taken on the proposed 2009-11 state budget.  

State Budget Watch: JFC shuts down for the rest of the week

State budget


The legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) has voted to close several Department of Natural Resources (DNR) walk-in centers and to increase boat registration fees.

The committee then decided to hold off on budget deliberations until next week so that revenue collection figures can be reviewed. There is concern the state’s fiscal crisis is getting worse and the JFC might have to revisit some of its previous budget votes.

Thank you, Americans for Prosperity

  Americans for Prosperity

NEWS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, May 6, 2009
Contact: Mark Block (262) 617-2716 or Phil Kerpen (202) 349-5880

Read more

UPDATE: Seems to me I have heard that slogan before


Remember the hullabaloo over the selection of the state’s new, not-so original slogan?


Here is the price tag for, “Live Like You Mean it.”

Mixed results in Wisconsin’s annual report card

Business, Taxes


I often blog about reports that rank the state of Wisconsin in various categories: taxes, spending, income, business climate, competitiveness. These reports are critical because they provide a barometer of Wisconsin's rankings,  and provide guidance about where we need to go and how to get there.

Unfortunately, more often than not, the reports show Wisconsin’s performance to be less than sub-par.

There is some good news to share. Competitive Wisconsin, Inc. (CWI) is a nonpartisan group of state agriculture, business, education and labor leaders. The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WTA) has prepared for CWI an annual report charting Wisconsin in 33 separate benchmarks. The report, "Measuring Success: Benchmarks for a Competitive Wisconsin," does offer some positive elements.

High school graduation rates increased during 2007 and remain above the U.S. average. Also on the rise, the percentage of Wisconsin’s 25-or-older population with at least a bachelor’s degree, increasing to 25.4 percent.

The number of doctoral degrees earned in science, engineering, computer sciences, and mathematics increased almost 16 percent during 2006.

Exports continue to be strong. As a percentage of output, exports rose more than 12 percentage points during the five years ending in 2007. Venture capital also showed signs of improvement.

During 2007, 8.2 percent of Wisconsinites were uninsured, compared to 15.3 percent nationally. Wisconsin’s uninsured rate was lowest in the region and the third lowest in the U.S. So why do we need state government health care?

That is the good news. Like any report of this nature, there is bad news to report.

Per capita personal income still trails the nation, by a full six percent.

The number of private businesses in the state is down for the second straight year.

Energy costs continue to increase.

Violent crime is up.  So why does Governor Doyle want to release more felons?

WISTAX has more details.

Congratulations, Danny Gokey!


Congratulations, Danny Gokey for moving into the final three of Fox's "American Idol."

You have made Milwaukee proud and have impressed millions of TV viewers nationwide! I can personally attest to the fact that fans in other states are watching your every move and listening to every note as they cheer you on.

Best of luck to you as you continue your quest for a potential first place finish and recording contract.

Please enjoy your day of honor in Milwaukee today:

7 a.m.: Danny arrives at WITI-TV (Channel 6) studios, 9001 N. Green Bay Road, Brown Deer.

11:15 a.m.: Danny visits AT&T store, 9078 N. Green Bay Road, Brown Deer.

Read more

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH PROJECT update (May 11-May 17)

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 May 11- May 17:
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. 


MONDAY, MAY 11

I-94 EAST (SB) exit closed to Airport Spur  9:30p.m. - 5:30a.m.

Read more

State Senate calendar for Wednesday, May 13, 2009


H
ere is the calendar for the state Senate floor session scheduled for Wednesday, May 13, 2009 at 11:15 a.m.:

First Order.               Call of Roll.

Second Order.           Chief clerk's entries.

Third Order.              Introduction, first reading and reference of proposals.

Fourth Order.            Report of committees.

Fifth Order.               Petitions and communications.

Sixth Order.               Referrals and receipt of committee reports concerning proposed administrative rules.

Seventh Order.          Advice and consent of the Senate.

QUESTION:        Shall the appointment be confirmed?

Beil, Martin, of Madison, as a member of the Deferred Compensation Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2009. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Veterans and Military Affairs, Biotechnology, and Financial Institutions, Ayes 5, Noes 0)

Drury, Michael, of Merrill, as a member of the Deferred Compensation Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2011. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Veterans and Military Affairs, Biotechnology, and Financial Institutions, Ayes 5, Noes 0)

Macareno, Amelia, of Milwaukee, as a member of the Banking Review Board, to serve for the term ending May 1, 2013. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Veterans and Military Affairs, Biotechnology, and Financial Institutions, Ayes 5, Noes 0)

Eighth Order.       Messages from the Assembly. 

QUESTION:        Shall the amendment be concurred in?

Senate Bill 51. Relating to: judicial discretion in certain John Doe proceedings and the provision of attorney representation of state employees at John Doe proceedings. (FE)  (Received from Assembly amended and concurred in as amended, Assembly amendment 2 adopted) Assembly Amendment 2 pending

Ninth Order.          Special Orders

QUESTION:         Shall the bill be ordered to a third reading?

Special order at 11:15 A.M.

Senate Bill 181. Relating to: prohibiting smoking in indoor areas, in sports arenas, in public conveyances, and at certain outdoor locations and providing a penalty. (FE)  (Report adoption of Senate Substitute Amendment 1, Ayes 6, Noes 1, passage as amended recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 5, Noes 2) Senate Substitute Amendment 1 pending

Tenth Order.   Consideration of motions, resolutions, and jpint resolutions not requiring a third reading. 

QUESTION:    Shall the joint resolution be concurred in?

Assembly Joint Resolution 9. Relating to: proclaiming May 15, 16, and 17, 2009, Syttende Mai Weekend. 

Assembly Joint Resolution 23. Relating to: declaring May as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Awareness Month. 

Assembly Joint Resolution 41. Relating to: declaring June as Scoliosis Awareness Month.

Assembly Joint Resolution 48. Relating to: Proclaiming May 2, 2009, as Pediatric Stroke Awareness Day. 

Assembly Joint Resolution 50. Relating to: the public service of Allen J. Buechel. 

Eleventh Order.    Second reading and amendments of senate joint resolutions and bills 

QUESTION:        Shall the bill be ordered to a third reading?

Senate Bill 14. Relating to: the definition of sexual intercourse for the crime of incest. (FE)   (Report passage recommended by committee on Judiciary, Corrections, Insurance, Campaign Finance Reform, and Housing, Ayes 5, Noes 0)

Senate Bill 31. Relating to: the Uniform Prudent Management of Institutional Funds Act, as approved by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws. (Report adoption of Senate Substitute Amendment 1, Ayes 5, Noes 0, passage as amended recommended by committee on Veterans and Military Affairs, Biotechnology, and Financial Institutions, Ayes 5, Noes 0) Senate Substitute Amendment 1 pending

Senate Bill 39. Relating to: cash value of life insurance regarding eligibility for the veterans assistance program. (FE)  (Report passage recommended by committee on Veterans and Military Affairs, Biotechnology, and Financial Institutions, Ayes 5, Noes 0)

Senate Bill 75
. Relating to: the designation of Korean War Armistice Day.  (Report passage recommended by committee on Veterans and Military Affairs, Biotechnology, and Financial Institutions, Ayes 5, Noes 0)

Senate Bill 76. Relating to: the designation of Vietnam Veterans Day. (Report passage recommended by committee on Veterans and Military Affairs, Biotechnology, and Financial Institutions, Ayes 5, Noes 0)

Senate Bill 112. Relating to: the possession of green skins of fur-bearing animals, the tagging of traps, and the sale, purchase, bartering, and trade of wild animals and their carcasses. (FE)  By Senators Holperin, Kedzie, Olsen, and Taylor; cosponsored by Representatives Hraychuck, Gunderson, Milroy, A. Ott, Smith, and Vruwink. (Report passage recommended by committee on Transportation, Tourism, Forestry, and Natural Resources, Ayes 7, Noes 0)

Senate Bill 123. Relating to: regulating the transportation of aquatic plants and aquatic animals, the administration of federal funds for the control and eradication of noxious weeds, the placement of vehicles, seaplanes, watercraft, and other objects in navigable waters, the regulation of noxious weeds by municipalities, the disposal of invasive species, providing an exemption from rule-making procedures, requiring the exercise of rule-making authority, and providing a penalty. (FE)   (Report adoption of Senate Amendment 1, Ayes 5, Noes 0, passage as amended recommended by committee on Environment, Ayes 5, Noes 0)   Senate Amendment 1 pending

Senate Bill 137. Relating to: the definitions of motor bicycle and moped. (FE)  (Report passage recommended by committee on Transportation, Tourism, Forestry, and Natural Resources, Ayes 7, Noes 0)

Twelfth Order.          Second reading and amendments of assembly joint resolutions and assembly bills.

Thirteenth Order.     Third reading of joint resolutions and bills.

Fourteenth Order.     Motions may be offered.

Fifteenth Order.        Announcements, adjournment honors, and remarks under special privilege.

Sixteenth Order.        Adjournment.

State Audit: Construction Engineering in State Highway Projects

Audits

 

The Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) has completed a review of the part constructions engineers play in the Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) quality assurance on state road projects. The review was made following a complaint reported to the state’s fraud hotline  and is critical since the state will receive $529.1 million in federal stimulus funds, primarily for state highway construction.

Construction engineers, who include both DOT staff and private consultants, are responsible for making sure highway projects are built according to requirements stipulated in contracts. The LAB found that construction contractors measured pavement thickness less frequently than required on 11 of 20 projects begun from fiscal year 2006-07 through fiscal year 2007-08.

Here is important background.

A
ccording to the initial complaint, when the LAB contacted the DOT after receiving a call on the fraud hotline, it learned that allegations were received by the DOT during 2004, claiming contractor Streu Corporation was not meeting concrete thickness requirements. The allegations raised questions whether the DOT was taking proper steps to make sure Streu Corporation was compliant.

The source of the complaint was a former Streu worker who said not only was Streu  using less concrete than specified by the DOT, it was then falsifying thickness measurements in order to increase profits. The complainant also said Streu intentionally submitted false smoothness measurements to obtain greater incentive payments for surpassing DOT requirements. The allegation was that Streu was supposed to measure smoothness over an entire paved surface of road. Instead, Streu repeatedly moved its measuring equipment over the smoother portions of construction.

Allegations were referred by the DOT to the Department of Justice (DOJ) during December 2004 that centered on the concrete thickness issue rather than the smoothness, thinking it was not feasible to duplicate the smoothness measurements taken by Streu since the roads were open to traffic. 


By July 2005, the DOT secured pavement samples for three selected projects completed by Streu before 2003, and the DOT’s measurements of concrete thickness compared to those taken by Streu were significantly different.

In one of two projects constructed by Streu on Highway 151, thickness
measurements in 27 of 40 samples taken by DOT staff indicated Streu did not comply with DOT’s concrete thickness requirements, and eight of these samples were “nonconforming” because the concrete failed to meet the required specifications by more than 3/8". In the second project, 24 of 41 samples taken by DOT indicated the concrete did not comply with thickness requirements, and 16 were nonconforming. For the third project reviewed on Highway 51, the DOT found that 17 of 30 samples did not comply with thickness requirements, although none were nonconforming.

According to the LAB, “DOJ officially closed its investigation of Streu in January 2008, citing insufficient evidence to pursue criminal charges. At that time, DOT considered its legal options, including whether to prohibit any additional Streu employees from performing future highway construction work or whether to pursue civil action against Streu. Ultimately, DOT chose not to pursue any additional action because Streu’s owners had already been barred from performing construction work and DOT had received restitution from Streu as part of federal bid-rigging settlement. In addition, because of the time that had passed, many of the individuals involved were no longer employed by Streu, and Streu’s ownership had changed.”

During December 2008, the LAB announced it would conduct a review of the role of DOT contractors because of the significant amount of funding for Wisconsin roads and because of the LAB’s initial findings. The goal was to determine if appropriate monitoring safeguards are in effect.

The LAB specifically examined projects begun from fiscal year 2006-07 through fiscal year 2007-08, finding none of the 20 reviewed with measurements that indicated unacceptable concrete pavement thickness. However, 11 of the 20 projects involved contractors that measured the concrete pavement’s thickness less frequently than contractually required. State staff served as the lead
construction engineer on seven of the 11 projects, while consultants served in that role on the other four. The LAB says it is possible the measurements were actually taken but not documented, however the LAB cannot independently confirm this.

As a result of the audit, the DOT says it has changed its quality assurance practices. However, the LAB has issued additional recommendations:

The DOT should electronically track the extent to which consultants serve as construction engineers on each state highway project, including whether
they serve as the project leader or as inspectors.

The DOT should ensure that contractors measure the thickness of concrete pavement on state highway projects as frequently as required and that construction engineers verify the contractors’ measurements.

The DOT should use core samples to verify concrete thickness on at least a sample of state highway projects annually.

The DOT should report to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee by August 31, 2009, on the improvements it plans for measuring and verifying the roughness of concrete pavement on state highway projects.

The DOT should report to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee by August 31, 2009, on the steps it has taken to ensure construction engineers complete the required tests on concrete materials, review the necessary certifications, and electronically document the results of these quality assurance activities.

The DOT should report to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee by August 31, 2009, on the actions it has taken in response to the Federal Highway Administration’s December 2008 review of its policies regarding nonconforming construction materials.

You can see the full audit report here. 

As a member of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, I once again applaud the LAB for another outstanding review, and I am pleased to see the state’s fraud hotline serving its purpose for the benefit of taxpayers.

My smoking ban amendment on casinos

Legislation


During debate today on the state Senate floor about the proposed statewide smoking ban, I offered an amendment that the governor during compact negotiations with the tribes shall request that the smoking ban be implemented in casinos. This is necessary for the casinos to comply with our public health laws.

The compact negotiations are re-opened every five years. That would be the proper time for the governor to address the smoking issue.

Remember, the state is headed down a slippery slope, infringing upon private property rights, regulating a legal product and activity. The fairness issue is of the utmost importance. If the state is going to ban smoking in businesses, establishments and entertainment areas, then it follows if you support a ban that you support a consistent balanced approach by imposing the ban in all businesses, establishments and entertainment areas including casinos.

The Legislature is the lawmaking body of state government. The governor’s office, the executive branch of government, is directed by the legislative branch to administrate our laws. The Legislature would be shirking its responsibilities without a directive on casinos that sends a message about fairness and uniformity.

My casino amendment bolstered the positions of both sides of this issue. Supporters of a ban should embrace a casino amendment if they genuinely are motivated by public health. Opponents of the ban have their concerns about fairness addressed with the amendment.

Unfortunately, my amendment was tabled on a vote of 20-13.

 

Read more

Mother Nature fails to dissuade Muskego carp shooters


Thank you to the Little Muskego Lake Association (LMLA) for inviting me to the carp shoot on Little Muskego Lake Saturday, May 9, 2009.

Carp shoots provide great environmental benefits, including making the water clearer and improving the populations of other fish.

It was a brisk, chilly, night for Saturday’s carp shoot with a wind that made the water choppy and difficult to see the fish. From combined bow shooting activities Friday and Saturday evenings, there were 117 carp removed from the Lake.  Local carp shooters will continue throughout the year working to rid the Lake of carp and enhance the Lake environment for other fish. Once again, I congratulate the carp shooters for their contribution to our environment and quality of life!


Ridding our waters of carp is critical. During the early 1900’s, biologists discovered carp were filling waterways to the point of crowding out other more prized game fish. Carp are known as bottom feeders. They literally suck up mud and spit it out before selecting their food from the water. The carp cause sediment to stir up resulting in poor water conditions and feeding problems for desirable fish.

A special thank you to Chris Kittleson, Pronghorn Productions, for taping the event and participating in the carp shoot.  A special thank you to the special people that work so hard year around to improve and maintain the quality of the Lake.  Managing all the details Saturday night were Bob & Darlene Bueckers, Wally Spitzer, Renee Reckin with daughter Andrea and of course Ken Fries always there making sure things get done. 

Here are some photos from the event:

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Wisconsin roundabouts could face legal challenge

Roundabouts


The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is on a roundabout rampage. 

The La Crosse Tribune reports opponents in Prairie du Chien are ready to engage in a legal battle on behalf of the disabled. The newspaper writes:

“Opponents of traffic roundabouts in Prairie du Chien have a new weapon: a blind attorney from Michigan who says Wisconsin is heading for a legal showdown if it doesn’t back off plans to build roundabouts. Richard Bernstein, specializing in disability rights cases, has battled roundabouts in his home state — and threatened lawsuits in Wisconsin — on the grounds they violate the federal Americans with Disabilities Act.” 


Bernstein told the Tribune a court fight is inevitable.

Here is more information about Bernstein’s previous challenge to roundabouts, a Detroit TV news story, and a Michigan Lawyers Weekly article.

Let's not rush into rail

State budget


Wisconsin is in the midst of a mass transit frenzy. It needs to shift into park.

Governor Doyle’s proposed 2009-11 state budget includes a provision that would allow southeastern Wisconsin, Dane County and the Fox Valley to develop regional transit authorities (RTA’s). The RTA’s would administer bus systems and commuter rail lines and be funded via local sales.

The non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau reports a half- cent sales increase to fund RTA’s would cost about $172 per household.

In the early morning hours of May 1, 2009, while you were asleep, the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee was voting to increase your taxes. The committee voted 11-5 to create a board that would have the power to impose a one percent sales tax in Milwaukee County. Sales tax revenue would fund transit, parks, and emergency medical services. Milwaukee County’s sales tax rate would, if this plan is approved by the full Legislature and Governor Doyle, increase to 6.6 percent.

The five members of the board that would set a one percent sales tax increase would not be elected by the voting public, and thus, would not have accountability for their actions.

The committee also voted 12-4 to establish a regional transit authority in Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties. A $16 car rental fee would fund the authority. The current fee is $2. The authority would operate a Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter link that more than likely will be very costly. The nine-member authority, again, would be un-elected.

I oppose the creation of boards or authorities with appointed members having taxing power. This is taxation without representation. The power to tax should only come from elected representation.

Hang on to your wallets, there goes millions of dollars. I vehemently oppose these new taxes and Regional Authorities. Our taxes are high enough, and in our darkest hours while we were asleep, the Grim Reaper swiped our credit cards, big time. 


There is more. Last month, it was reported that Governor Doyle and other Midwest governors want to use $3.4 billion in stimulus funding to build three high speed rail routes: Chicago to the Twin Cities, Chicago-to-St. Louis and Chicago-to-Detroit. The Chicago to the Twin Cities route would include a Milwaukee to Madison segment.

Who knows? There might even be talk about light rail in the not too distant future. The following illustrates the folly of light rail.

During December 1993, a Study Advisory Committee appointed by the governor recommended a mass transit plan to facilitate traffic along the I-94 corridor between Milwaukee and Waukesha. The plan included spending $543 million for a 14-mile light rail line running from Glendale to the Milwaukee County Grounds in Wauwatosa and a $257 million busway, a separate road running parallel to I-94 from downtown Milwaukee to Waukesha.  At the time, I questioned if individual commuters would opt for the 42-minute, 14-mile light rail trip with frequent stops at 15-20 miles per hour.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) stated passengers were expected to be existing mass transit users and that there may be a potential to attract new passengers.


Numbers provided by the LFB and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation demonstrated the massive, if not sinful expense of light rail. The capital costs of the proposed 14-mile light rail line were estimated at $543 million with annual operating costs, in 1992 dollars estimated at $7.7 million. The capital costs of a single busway from Waukesha to Milwaukee were estimated at $257 million with 0 (zero) annual operating costs because the busway would have accommodated existing busses.

I expressed at the time that it was incomprehensible as to why proponents would want to duplicate services by putting a $543 million light rail and a $257 million busway in the corridor between Milwaukee and Waukesha. If the goal was to address traffic congestion and air quality, what about two additional busways with 0 (zero) annual operating costs for the price of one light rail?

The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI) also finds the cost of rail to be astronomical, reporting the most cost-effective federally funded systems have required annual subsidies of $5,000 and more per new ride.  The WPRI said in a 1998 study that commuter rail would also be ineffective in reducing congestion and would have fewer riders than light rail. The study estimated an East-West Corridor route would cost at least $16,000 annually per new automobile driver attracted, A Chicago corridor would cost $20,000 per year per new automobile driver attracted. The costs would be exponentially higher today.

Add it all up. Commuter or light rail systems are too expensive, fail to attract few riders, and fail to reduce traffic congestion and air pollution.

Let’s slam the brakes on this mass transit stampede.

Stimulus can’t stop states from losing jobs


During January 2009, I blogged that the huge stimulus package created in Washington would not help states crawl out of their large budget deficit holes. 


Here is more evidence the stimulus has failed to provide a boost to states. The Washington Post reports, “Eleven weeks after Congress settled on a stimulus package that provided $135 billion to limit layoffs in state governments, many states are finding that the funds are not enough and are moving to lay off thousands of public employees.”

The state of Washington: 1100 layoffs

Massachusetts: 1000 positions cut, 250 layoffs, and more to come

Arizona: 800 layoffs

It would seem that spending your way out of a deficit isn’t the best remedy.

More problems with the stimulus


The Washington Times recently posed an interesting question about the expenditure of all that stimulus money: Who is keeping track?

A meeting involving a congressional panel formed to provide oversight had only three of ten members attend. 

Whatever system is in place could probably use some major tweaking. The Associated Press reports that areas in greatest need of the stimulus aren’t getting it because the money is going to other less-needy counties. The AP writes:

“Counties suffering the most from job losses stand to receive the least help from President Barack Obama's plan to spend billions of stimulus dollars on roads and bridges, an Associated Press analysis has found. Although the intent of the money is to put people back to work, AP's review of more than 5,500 planned transportation projects nationwide reveals that states are planning to spend the stimulus in communities where jobless rates are already lower.”

Here is the story.  

State Budget Watch: The auditors

Audits, State budget


I have long admired and respected the outstanding work of the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) under the direction of Jan Mueller. 


The LAB, like auditors around the country in other states, faces budget cuts. Governor Doyle’s proposed 2009-11 state budget calls for a one percent cut in the LAB. However, as our state budget deficit gets bigger, so, too might cuts in state agencies like the LAB.

Some perspective along with a warning is in order. The state budget hole is huge, demanding that spending cuts be made. There are few, if any sacred cows. However, the quality and value of the LAB must not be overlooked.

The LAB meticulously, diligently, thoroughly, effectively carries out its task of finding waste and fraud. The bureau’s work is extremely helpful to lawmakers in deciding what programs deserve more or less funding. Serving on the Legislative Audit Committee, I know firsthand how invaluable the LAB is to state government and to state taxpayers.


Current budget woes in every state pose a dilemma for budget cutters when it comes to auditors. How far do you wield the budget axe on the very people utilized to help save money? It is the perfect example of cutting off your nose to spite your face.

The job of state auditors has never been more challenging. Not only must auditors perform their regular duties, they must also under a federal directive track the use of federal stimulus dollars.

The inherent risk of cutting auditing offices is that waste, fraud, and abuse won’t be discovered. In that event, the taxpayers lose.

For the sake of the people who pay the bills, the work of auditors during a tough economy may be more valuable than ever.

Stateline has more on this budget area that certainly requires cautious review.

Congratulations, Andrew Bottom!

Eagle Scouts


Andrew Bottom’s Eagle Scout ceremony was held on Sunday, May 17, 2009.

My office prepared a state citation that I presented to Andrew Bottom at the special ceremony. It reads:

Whereas, Andrew E. Bottom is a member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 93, and through dedication and commitment, attained the rank of Eagle Scout; and

 

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Congratulations, Christopher Scheele!

Eagle Scouts


Christopher Scheele’s Eagle Scout ceremony was held on Sunday, May 17, 2009.

My office prepared a state citation that I presented to Christopher Scheele at the special ceremony. It reads:

Whereas, Christopher J. Scheele is a member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 93, and through dedication and commitment, attained the rank of Eagle Scout; and

 

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Congratulations, Alexander DiFonzo!

Eagle Scouts


Alexander DiFonzo’s Eagle Scout ceremony was held on Sunday, May 17, 2009.

My office prepared a state citation that I presented to Alexander DiFonzo at the special ceremony. It reads:

Whereas, Alexander M. DiFonzo is a member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 93, and through dedication and commitment, attained the rank of Eagle Scout in July of 2008; and

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Congratulations, David Grebe!

Eagle Scouts


David Grebe’s Eagle Scout ceremony was held on Sunday, May 17, 2009.

My office prepared a state citation that I presented to David Grebe at the special ceremony. It reads:

Whereas, David S. Grebe is a member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 93, and through dedication and commitment, attained the rank of Eagle Scout; and

 

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Congratulations, John Grosch!

Eagle Scouts


John Grosch’s Eagle Scout ceremony was held on Sunday, May 17, 2009.

My office prepared a state citation that I presented to John Grosch at the special ceremony. It reads:

Whereas, John F. Grosch is a member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 93, and through dedication and commitment, attained the rank of Eagle Scout; and

 

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Congratulations, Christopher Hahn!

Eagle Scouts


Christopher Hahn’s Eagle Scout ceremony was held on Sunday, May 17, 2009.

My office prepared a state citation that I presented to Christopher Hahn at the special ceremony. It reads:

Whereas, Christopher J. Hahn is a member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 93, and through dedication and commitment, attained the rank of Eagle Scout; and

 

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Congratulations, David Kratz!

Eagle Scouts


David Kratz’s Eagle Scout ceremony was held on Sunday, May 17, 2009.

My office prepared a state citation that I presented to David Kratz at the special ceremony. It reads:


Whereas, David J. Kratz is a member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 93, and through dedication and commitment, attained the rank of Eagle Scout; and

 

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Congratulations, Jacob Rivard!

Eagle Scouts


Jacob Rivard’s Eagle Scout ceremony was held on Sunday, May 17, 2009.

My office prepared a state citation that I presented to Jacob Rivard at the special ceremony. It reads:

Whereas, Jacob S. Rivard is a member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 93, and through dedication and commitment, attained the rank of Eagle Scout; and

 

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This is a good time to replace Old Glory


This time of the year you see many American flags proudly displayed, waving over government buildings, schools, business and homes. Some of those flags have seen better days, having suffered through cold wintry snow, bitter winds, and driving rain. This would be an appropriate time to consider replacing Old Glory with a new flag.

Replacing the Stars and Stripes means proper and respectful disposal of your old flag. The U.S. flag code states, "The flag, when it is in such condition that it is no longer a fitting emblem for display, should be destroyed in a dignified way, preferably by burning." You may contact your local American Legion office to assist you in the disposal of your flag. Veteran’s organizations hold special ceremonies throughout the year to respectfully dispose of old flags with dignity and decorum.

Remember, the annual observance of Flag Day is June 14. On that day in 1777, the Continental Congress approved the design of a national flag. In 1916, President Woodrow Wilson issued a proclamation declaring June 14 Flag Day and ever since, Americans have commemorated the adoption of the Stars and Stripes by celebrating June 14 as Flag Day.

There are special rules to follow when displaying the flag. According to the U.S. flag code:

• It is the universal custom to display the flag only from sunrise to sunset on buildings and on stationary flagstaffs in the open. However, when a patriotic effect is desired, the flag may be displayed 24 hours a day if properly illuminated during the hours of darkness.

• The flag should be hoisted briskly and lowered ceremoniously.

• The flag should not be displayed on days when the weather is inclement, except when an all-weather flag is displayed.

• When the flag of the United States is displayed from a staff projecting horizontally or at an angle from the window sill, balcony, or front of a building, the union of the flag should be placed at the peak of the staff unless the flag is at half-staff.

• When the flag is suspended over a sidewalk from a rope extending from a house to a pole at the edge of the sidewalk, the flag should be hoisted out, union first, from the building.

• When displayed either horizontally or vertically against a wall, the union should be uppermost and to the flag's own right, that is, to the observer's left. When displayed in a window, the flag should be displayed in the same way, with the union or blue field to the left of the observer in the street.

• The flag should never be displayed with the union down, except as a signal of dire distress in instances of extreme danger to life or property.

• The flag should never touch anything beneath it, such as the ground, the floor, water, or merchandise.

• The flag should never be carried flat or horizontally, but always aloft and free.

• The flag should never be used as wearing apparel, bedding, or drapery. It should never be festooned, drawn back, nor up, in folds, but always allowed to fall free.

Did you buy a poppy yet?


You’ll see them out in the community, at the malls and at grocery stores: proud military veterans offering poppies for a donation. Every nine-piece poppy is painstakingly assembled by disabled and needy veterans, the bright red color symbolizing the bloodshed and sacrifices made by those who fought for our country. Proceeds are exclusively used to assist hospitalized and disabled veterans.

Dedicated veterans who make the poppies earn a small wage; for some, it’s their only income. The labor of love gives them a priceless sense of pride and accomplishment.

Poppies date back to the Belgium battlefields of World War I. Surrounded by soil damaged by death and destruction, red poppies somehow grew wild. Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae of the Canadian military wrote about the flower in his 1915 poem, In Flanders Fields: “In Flanders fields the poppies blow, between the crosses, row on row that mark our place…” McCrae’s poem inspired Madame E. Guerin, founder of the American and French Children’s League to choose the poppy as the most fitting memorial flower.

Guerin persuaded veterans’ organizations in several countries to sell the poppy to benefit underprivileged children in France. By the early 1920’s, Guerin had brought her campaign to the United States, and the Veterans of Foreign Wars and the American Legion were distributing poppies.

Today, the little red flower’s trademark is the Buddy Poppy, so named for the poppy makers and the memories of their friends who never returned home from war. Silk flowers today are made by veterans in 11 different locations around the country, including Milwaukee. Over three quarters of a billion Buddy Poppies have been sold by the Veterans of Foreign Wars for the aid, assistance, relief, and comfort of needy or disabled veterans or members of the Armed Forces and their dependents, and the widows and orphans of deceased veterans.

The cost of making the poppies really doesn’t matter. The memorial Buddy Poppy is given by a needy veteran in exchange for a contribution. Offering the poppies helps the Veterans of Foreign Wars live up to their longtime motto, “to honor the dead by helping the living.” Please consider a generous donation when you see these wonderful veterans, and wear your poppy as a remembrance of those who served and died for our country.

Every day should be Memorial Day

Veterans issues


Three-day weekends customarily provide time for celebration. Let us remember that in America, Memorial Day is a patriotic day to honor soldiers. We acknowledge the importance of lives lost, our brave young soldiers having died in wars to ensure our great country is the freest in the world. These courageous men and women believed in principles and ideals so powerful that they were willing to fight and die so that we could freely continue our pursuit of happiness.

At one time Memorial Day was exclusively a reverent occasion, with festivities frowned upon. Author and historian James McPherson wrote in the New York Times that during 1888, “the G.A.R. (Grand Army of the Republic) condemned ‘indulgence in public sports, pastimes and all

amusements on Memorial Day,’ while crusty old Gen. William T. Sherman said Americans should spend the day at the cemetery honoring the dead rather than marching in parades.”

Amidst family cook-outs and golf outings, find time to ponder the tremendous sacrifices our soldiers have made. Pause for a few moments to remember the reason they served and the reason they died to protect and preserve democracy. Value their extraordinary sacrifice and the

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Congratulations, New Berlin!

Great Lakes


I am very pleased to learn that the city of New Berlin has been granted the first water diversion outside the Great Lakes basin under the Great Lakes Compact.

Congratulations to New Berlin for compiling and submitting a strong diversion request that emphasized conservation and will help improve public health.

Here is the latest and a news release from the Department of Natural Resources (DNR). 

State Budget Watch: JFC to meet this holiday weekend

State budget


The Legislature’s powerful budget-writing committee, the Joint Finance Committee, controlled by Democrats, 12-4, will meet Friday and Saturday. 

T
his could be a bad omen for taxpayers.

An old axiom in public relations is that you release bad news late on a Friday.  The story will get published in the Saturday papers, the least read editions of the week, and then be virtually forgotten come Monday.

The Joint Finance Committee is scheduled to take several key votes on taxing and spending during a holiday weekend. The general public will certainly not being paying attention, and that might very well be the hope of Democrats leading the committee, wishing to escape public scrutiny for what could be some moves that are unfriendly to taxpayers.

Something smells funny about this latest budget development.


STATE OF WISCONSIN

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I-94 NORTH-SOUTH PROJECT update (5/21/09)

News you can use


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

The College Avenue ramps to and from I-94 and park and ride lots are scheduled to close Friday morning, May 22 so the entire College Avenue interchange can be rebuilt. Later in 2009, the northeast park and ride lot is scheduled to reopen in late-August while the southeast park and ride lot and the interchange ramps are scheduled to reopen in November.

During the park and ride lot closures from May 22 to late August, a temporary park and ride lot will be available for public use at MATC's parking lot B. That lot will be accessible off of Howell Avenue between College and Rawson. The Layton Avenue and Rawson Avenue interchange ramps will be open as alternates during the College Avenue ramp closures.

All scheduled closures are weather dependent. Thank you for your patience during the project's long-term roadway closures.

Soaking the rich

State budget, Taxes, Business

 

In my “Rich states, poor states” blog last month, I wrote that Wisconsin has the tenth worst economic performance ranking among the states, according to a report by  The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). 

Co-author of the report and highly acclaimed economist Dr. Arthur B. Laffer said, “States cannot tax their way into prosperity.”

Laffer, president of Laffer Associates, and Stephen Moore, senior economics writer for the Wall Street Journal have a column in the Wall Street Journal that emphasizes a point I have been making for some time: Taxes go up, people move out.

Laffer and Moore cite a number of states subscribing to the president’s budget philosophy of soaking the rich. They write:

“Here's the problem for states that want to pry more money out of the wallets of rich people. It never works because people, investment capital and businesses are mobile: They can leave tax-unfriendly states and move to tax-friendly states. And the evidence that we discovered in our new study for the American Legislative Exchange Council, 'Rich States, Poor States,' published in March, shows that Americans are more sensitive to high taxes than ever before. Updating some research from Richard Vedder of Ohio University, we found that from 1998 to 2007, more than 1,100 people every day including Sundays and holidays moved from the nine highest income-tax states such as California, New Jersey, New York and Ohio and relocated mostly to the nine tax-haven states with no income tax, including Florida, Nevada, New Hampshire and Texas. We also found that over these same years the no-income tax states created 89% more jobs and had 32% faster personal income growth than their high-tax counterparts.”

Laffer and Moore make this strong assertion:

“Dozens of academic studies -- old and new -- have found clear and irrefutable statistical evidence that high state and local taxes repel jobs and businesses.”

You can read the entire column here. 

G
overnor Doyle’s proposed 2009-11 state budget includes $1,707,734,400 in tax and fee increases.  The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) reports the state would spend 7.7 percent more during 2009-11 compared to the base year doubled under the governor’s proposed budget.

I'm pleased to participate in Memorial Day ceremony

Veterans issues


Memorial Day is this Monday, May 25, 2009. I am honored once again to be a guest speaker at the Memorial Day ceremony in New Berlin.

Here are details from New Berlin Memorial Day Committee Chair Dave Ament:
 


2009 MEMORIAL DAY CEREMONY

 

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A warning from DATCP

News you can use


The Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) is investigating unsolicited mailings and phone calls offering Wisconsin consumers extended warranties, or extended service contracts, on their cars, trucks, van or SUVs.

The callers are violating Wisconsin's No Call list.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection says beware of calls offering extended vehicle warranties. The callers could be in violation of Wisconsin’s No Call List.

Read more information from
DATCP.

I'm in Wisconsin Builder magazine

Mary in the media


A column I wrote that cleaning up wastewater and raw sewage problems in Lake Michigan and elsewhere in Wisconsin is the best use of stimulus money is in this month’s Wisconsin Builder magazine.

You can read it
here.

Helping the military kick the habit

News you can use


The Wisconsin Tobacco Quit Line (1-800-QUIT-NOW) is extending help to Wisconsin military and veterans. Operation Quit Tobacco has been expanded to provide free coaching and medication to any active or veteran military personnel wanting to quit smoking.

The number to call is 1-800-784-8669.

Here is more information.

Time to register for the Wisconsin No Call List

News you can use


The deadline is fast approaching for signing up for the most updated Wisconsin No Call List. The state puts out a No Call List quarterly. Names drop off the list after two years unless people register again.

To get on the next list that comes out July 1, 2009, you must register by Sunday, May 31, 2009.

Consumers can sign up for the list free of charge by calling 1-866-9NO-CALL. They can also register at the Wisconsin No Call List Web site. 


Glen Loyd of the state Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) advises against waiting until just before the deadline because the system can get bogged down.

Memorial Day photos


It was an honor to take part Monday in the New Berlin Memorial Day ceremony.

NewBerlinNOW has posted numerous pictures from the ceremony that you can see
here.

State Budget Watch: JFC to meet today

Here is the calendar for the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) session scheduled today, Wednesday, May 27, 2009:


 

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State Budget Watch: JFC budgeting in the wrong direction

State budget


I was apprehensive about the Legislature‘s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) meeting this past holiday weekend
, and it turns out with good reason.

The Democrat-controlled JFC met last Friday and Saturday and again Tuesday, and in their haste to finish their business by the end of May made some bad votes on party-lines.

I am going to list some of them and the key question to ask when considering each vote is how does the action taken help resolve the state’s massive $6.6 billion dollar budget deficit?

Friday, May 22, 2009

Here is a biggie. The JFC approved allowing illegal immigrants to pay resident tuition at state universities.

More increased spending: The JFC approved expanding health insurance and retirement benefits for domestic partners of sate employees. The annual cost, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, could range from $11-16 million. Even if this was a good idea (it’s not), this is clearly not the time for such an expansive and expensive policy.

The JFC approved, but put off until the next biennial state budget, 50 new public defender positions, a blatant example of increased spending using the failed approach of the state’s credit card. The cost in the 2011-13 state budget is $4.4 million that the state doesn’t have.

The JFC agreed with Governor Doyle’s proposed creation of the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. Another new program is created at an additional cost to state taxpayers. Seven new faculty members will receive average salary and benefits packages of $164,000.00 each. Support staff for the faculty members will receive salary and benefits averaging $128,000.00.

The committee also endorsed Governor Doyle’s proposed increased spending of $2 million for the Wisconsin Genomics Initiative. 

Saturday, May 23, 2009

The JFC rescinded its previous vote to cut $3,000 in gaming law enforcement, resulting in more spending.

Once again following suit with Governor Doyle, the committee approves tripling the fee for background checks. The garbage tax is more than doubled from $5.90 per ton to $13.00 per ton, a measure that according to the LFB will cost local municipalities $63 million per year that more than likely will result in local property tax increases.

A requirement that construction projects provide a prevailing wage is approved, a provision that will kill jobs restrict economic development.

Fines are created for pharmacies that refuse to dispense contraceptives.

The committee agrees with Governor Doyle’s proposal to expand
the Medicaid Family Planning Waiver program to include men, increasing spending by $355,000 in 2009-10 so that condoms can be provided to male recipients in the program.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Beginning January 1, 2011, all state and local government would be required under the JFC vote to keep track of the racial makeup of all traffic stops and submit those numbers to the Department of Justice.

The handgun purchaser record check fee is lowered from the governor’s recommendation. The fee is currently $8. Governor Doyle had wanted it raised to $30. The JFC raises it to $13.

The committee increased the reimbursement rate to foster care providers by five percent beginning in 2011.

A total of $55,000 was approved for the Gay Straight Student alliance in public schools.

The JFC approves raiding the Agrichemical fund that is funded by a tax on agrichemicals in order to pay for county fairs.

A meat tax is eliminated; however the state could impose a meat tax after July 1, 2010. To replace the funding that the meat tax was going to raise, the JFC raids money from the agrichemical fund.

The committee approved $46,000 for the purchase of new recycling bins for Wrightstown.


Again, the key question is, how do any of these votes help resolve the state’s budget deficit?

The JFC raised taxes, raised fees, increased spending, and created new government positions at a time the state is in a hole by $6.6 billion.

The bad news is the JFC isn’t done yet.

UPDATE: JFC action late Thursday-early Friday morning, 5/28/09-5/29/09.

State Budget Watch: Live coverage of the JFC


The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is meeting at 10:00 tonight to continue budget deliberations. 

You can watch the proceedings live on
WisconsinEye.

UPDATE: 
The JFC will not meet tonight and will attempt to meet at noon on Thursday.

Great golf ahead this weekend

News you can use


The sixth annual Golf Wisconsin Weekend takes place this weekend, May 30-31, 2009. More than 65 resorts and hotels statewide are offering special packages that will allow golfers to play some of the best courses in Wisconsin at a discount. Here’s the complete list. 


Here are more details from the Wisconsin Department of Tourism.

Fish for free

News you can use


During this troubling economy, everyone is on the search for bargains. Even better, how about something free?

You can fish Wisconsin waters without a fishing license the weekend of June 6-7, 2009. Numerous events around the state are planned to help promote and introduce this recreational activity to youth and newcomers. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) will have free fishing gear at over 50 parks and DNR offices statewide.

Trout stamps are unnecessary during the free fishing weekend, however all other regulations apply.

Throughout the year, those under the age of 16 can always fish free in Wisconsin.  Active service members of the U.S. armed forces and residents on furlough or leave can have license requirements waived.

Here are details on the upcoming free fishing weekend.

Happy Birthday Wisconsin!


From the
Wisconsin Historical Society...

State Budget Watch: JFC savages taxpayers in overnight fiasco

State budget, Taxes, Legislation


This is becoming a pattern with the Democrat-controlled state Legislature. While you slept, or as Frank Sinatra once sang, in the wee small hours of the morning, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) approved tax, fee, and spending increases and major policy changes during the worst budget crisis in Wisconsin history.

It all took place following days of secret budget negotiations by Democrats that control the JFC held behind closed doors. Dozens of items were considered with little or no opportunity for review by the general public, the news media, and minority Republicans.

A vote on a 67-page omnibus motion crafted in secret Wednesday and most of Thursday was approved by the JFC along party lines Thursday night at about 10:20. Most state residents had already retired for the day. The final vote approving the budget along party lines, 12-4 was taken by the JFC at 5:30 this morning.

Why the mad rush to meet all night and through the early morning hours to ram through such a critical document? The worst kept secret in the Capitol the past few days was that it was critical the budget work be completed in time for a Senate Democrat golf fundraiser scheduled Friday morning at 9:30.

The depth of the assault on taxpayers along with troubling changes in policy is breathtaking. Let’s examine the damage done by the JFC.

Overall spending increases about seven percent. How and why do you increase spending when the state is $6.6 billion in the hole?

A new hospital tax totaling $44 million over two years would include outpatient surgery centers.


A tax on oil companies was approved that could be unconstitutional. Any tax imposed on oil companies would almost assuredly be passed on to consumers via higher gas prices at the pump.

The JFC slashed state spending on schools and local governments by 2.5 percent. The action might lead local municipalities and school boards to raise property taxes. If cuts in state aid to municipalities somehow fail to result in property tax increases, eliminating the QEO certainly will. The JFC voted to end the QEO that has held the line on property tax increases since 1993

There is yet another raid from the transportation fund, this time totaling $140 million.

The capital gains exclusion on the individual income tax was reduced from 60 percent to 40 percent.

The cigarette tax increase was approved. A sales tax will be charged to all downloaded items including music and books. This is commonly referred to as the iPod tax.

The per child licensing fee for group child care centers and day camps was raised from $10.33 per child to $16.94 per child.

Consumers would be charged 75 cents a month on phone lines to fund police and fire departments.

There is an increase in the minimum amount of auto insurance motorists would be required to purchase if they choose to have insurance.

The JFC increased the time a recipient can be on W-2 from 24 months to 60 months
.

Funding Governor Doyle cut from the Wisconsin Shares Program, a program I requested be reviewed by the Legislative Audit Bureau, was restored by the JFC.

A provision to require school districts to transport pregnant teens that live less than two miles from school was approved.

Illegal immigrants would be allowed to acquire driver’s licenses, opening up all kinds of possibilities for voter fraud and convenient access to other government services.

The budget was kind to criminals and felons. It cuts funding for sex offender management by reducing funding related to the GPS monitoring program. The JFC cut GPS monitor funding of sex offenders further than the governor by over $5 million dollars and cut 91.25 positions over the biennium. Criminals with class C through I felonies would be allowed to earn positive adjusted time to go towards early release.

The JFC eliminated current joint and several liability rules. A plaintiff could collect damages even when he or she is more at fault for the injury than any individual defendants, as long as the plaintiff’s liability is not greater than the combined negligence of all the persons against whom recovery is sought.

The above and so much more...

This all transpired under the cloak of darkness while the vast majority of Wisconsin was unaware and not paying attention. Process, though complex and unexciting to most should remain important in our legislative system. The process was trampled upon by the JFC, and you, the taxpayers, are the big losers.

State Budget Watch: The JFC porks up the budget

State budget


The legislature’s Joint Finance Committee (JFC) was very busy Thursday night into Friday morning making a horrendous state budget even worse. Before the committee adjourned at 5:30 this morning, it stuffed more pork into the budget than the swine barn at the Wisconsin State Fair.

The JFC made sure the budget included funding the following earmarks at a time the state faces a deficit of $6.6 billion:


Information sign for the National Railroad Museum in Brown County

Funding for food banks in Burlington, Union Grove, Lodi, and the Rio Area Food Pantry


Require DCF to provide $50,000 GPR annually, beginning October 1, 2009, to the Emergency Shelter of the Fox Valley to provide services to homeless individuals and families

Job retraining grant in Rusk County

Development of a public shooting range in Eau Claire County

Funding for new programming for the Root River Education Center in Racine

Construction of a children’s playground in Beloit

Restoration and renovation of Beckman Mill Park in Rock County

Eliminating the sunset of a $4 surcharge on nurse credential renewals

A
Yahara River project in Dane County

$5 million for the Bradley Center Sports and Entertainment Corporation, home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks

P
reparations for a joint museum for the State Historical Society and Department of Veterans Affairs

Funding for the AIDS Network and AIDS Resource Center of Wisconsin

Funding for an environmental center in a park in Dane County

Funding for the Oshkosh Opera House

Funding for the Madison Children's Museum

Funding for Eco Park in La Crosse

The Donald J Schneider Highway near Turtle Lake

Require DOT to construct an I90/I94/I39 interchange at Cuba Valley Rd in Dane County with the state picking up the entire cost

A bridge in Wood County

US Highway 61 rehabilitation Project between Dickeyville and Lancaster

US Highway 12 Major Highway Development Project Study between Elkhorn and Whitewater

County Trunk Highway X in Chippewa County with the state paying 80% of cost or $430,000

$1.25 million to the Village of Bellevue for the reconstruction of Manitowoc Road

$900,000 for transportation enhancements for the city of Racine

$250,000 to the Town of La Prairie to replace and expand a bridge on South Reid Rd

$100,00 to the Village of Bellevue for street beautification

$20,000 to the Village of Footville for a pedestrian path


Climbing out of a $6.6 billion deficit will be virtually impossible using this kind of irresponsible budgeting.

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH update: June 1- June 7, 2009

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 June 1-June 7:

I-94 North-South Freeway Project update for Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties


MILWAUKEE COUNTY

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