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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.

Wisconsin income taxes among the highest in the country

Taxes


I have written extensively about Wisconsin’s high income tax and low income per capita rankings. The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) has an update, and the results are still grim. WISTAX reports:

Wisconsin’s income tax claimed 3.3% of personal income in 2007, making it the 10th highest nationally among state income taxes. When compared on a per capita basis, income taxes averaged $1,137 per person, 13th highest nationally, and ahead of all neighboring states except Minnesota. Relying heavily on income tax collections compounds the state’s challenges in projecting annual tax collections.  Sensitive to economic conditions, the income tax can provide unexpected revenues in boom times and significant shortfalls in downturns. As is now the case, when collections fall below projections, the state is faced with a budget gap.

In terms of average tax rate paid, filers in the low-income category paid an average rate of 1.75%, while middle-income filers paid 4.3%. Those in the high-income category paid the highest average rate at 5.52%. Filers at the very top ($200,000 or more) paid an average rate of 5.83%.“

Now is the worst time to consider and approve big increases in taxing and spending given the inability of Wisconsin residents to afford such increases.

Read more from
WISTAX.

UPDATE: Mow, DOT, mow!


After receiving angry complaints from constituents about the lack of grass mowing in some medians in Milwaukee County, I wrote a letter to Governor Doyle and
Department of Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi about the issue. You can read it in this blog.

I received the following response from Secretary Frank Busalacchi:


August 10, 2009

The Honorable Mary Lazich
Wisconsin State Senator
Room 109 S, State Capitol
Madison, WI 53702

Dear Senator Lazich:

Thank you for writing to share your concern about mowing efforts on state highways. The Governor has asked me to respond on his behalf.

The department has directed that changes be made in order to assure that those routine maintenance activities that are more directly related to safety needs are addressed more effectively and done ahead of those activities that, while still providing a valuable service, are less essential to achieving the higher priority safety responsibilities on the state highway system.

The department is obligated to use the very limited resources available for the day-to-day maintenance of the state highway system in a way that best serves first safety, and then mobility needs. There are many other responsibilities related to ride and comfort, stewardship, and aesthetics that cannot be fully. The appropriation that funds ongoing operation and maintenance of the state highway system is severely constrained. The department has few options but to severely limit a number of valuable, but non-essential services.

Mowing for safety purposes has not been curtailed. Our direction has been and will continue to be that mowing for vision at public road intersections is to continue as in the past. That element of the overall mowing activity is indeed a safety issue and will continue. Mowing that is done for aesthetics or stewardship purposes has been targeted as an area for reduction. We recognize and would prefer that the department were in a position to conform with local expectations placed on other property owners; however, the funding to make that commitment is not available.

The department is working with local governments who may be in a position to place a higher priority on mowing for aesthetics and are willing to step in and do the mowing on the state highway rights of way. Regional offices are prepared to issue permits for that work.

Read more

Washington takes and spends a lot from your household

Taxes


How much will the federal government in Washington spend per household during 2009? $5,000? $10,000? $15,000?

How much will Washington take from each household in taxes?

And where does most of the money go? Iraq? Afghanistan? Roads? Schools?

The actual numbers are staggering.

Wisconsin native, UW-Madison graduate and Grover M. Hermann Fellow in Federal Budgetary Affairs in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage FoundationBrian Riedl, analyzed financial data from the Office of Management and Budget and applied it to America’s 118 million households.

Now comes the sticker shock. Riedl found that during 2009, Washington will spend $33,880 per household. That is the most in American history and a whopping $8,000 increase over 2008.  Washington this year will collect $18,277 per household in taxes. The leftover $15,603 constitutes our ever-growing budget deficit.

Here is the breakdown on how $33,880 per household is spent in the nation’s capital:

Social Security/Medicare: $9,418. Employer
s and their workers split the payroll tax. Unless the number of workers can keep pace with the increasing number of baby boomer retirees, Riedl projects an increase in taxes per household of $12,000 to cover costs.

Financial Bailouts: $6,328.  This includes stimulus expenditures and the rescue of financial institutions.

Defense: $5,850. Anything military falls under this category that saw a decrease in spending because
Communism fell in the early 1990’s, only to increase again post 9/11.

Anti-poverty programs: $4,745. Half goes to state Medicaid programs. The rest is spent on food stamps, housing and child-care subsidies, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and low-income tax credits.

Interest on the federal debt: $1,210. Washington is $12.9 trillion in debt. The federal government owes $8.5 trillion to public bond owners, and the rest to other federal agencies. And yet, Washington continues to spend like crazy.

Federal employee retirement benefits: $982.

Unemployment benefits: $902. This category doubled this year.

Veterans' benefits: $819.

Health research/regulation: $699.  Dollars go to the National Institute of Health, the Food and Drug Administration and grant programs for health providers.

Read more

Top consumer complaints in the nation

News you can use

 

Read more

No more WisconsinEye


Time Warner Cable customers no longer receive state government coverage from WisconsinEye. Time Warner dropped WisconsinEye at midnight Monday, Aug. 31, 2009. 


The Green Bay Press Gazette is editorializing for the cable channel to return:

“The privately owned cable television station does a solid job of providing coverage of legislative action from a network of 70 video cameras around the State Capitol.

In fact, when Democratic leaders preparing the 2009-2011 budget were accused of late-night shenanigans and hiding from the public, they countered that interested citizens could have watched all of the debate from the comfort of their living rooms on WisconsinEye.

Now it's not available to a large group of cable subscribers. And that's a shame.”

I agree.

Attorney General opposes bill allowing felons to vote

Legislation


Legislation has been proposed to restore voting rights to convicted felons that have not served their entire sentence. I oppose the legislation. 


I am pleased that Wisconsin Attorney General JB Van Hollen also opposes the measure. Van Hollen says, “Voting by felons diminishes victims, the law and the sentences judges hand down. It erodes a fundamental right reserved for citizens not serving a sentence resulting from a felonious criminal conviction. The collision of voter rights and felons’ rights, in this matter, is not a pretty picture.”

Read more in Van Hollen’s news release.

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH update: September 8- September 14

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 September 8-September 14:
I-94 North-South Freeway Project update for Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties


All closures are weather-dependent and subject to change.

--------------------------------------------------------

Read more

Service Academy nomination applications

News you can use


Wisconsin Congressman James Sensenbrenner is now accepting applications for individuals wishing to enter any of the United States Service Academies during summer 2010.

Here is more information.

State Audit: State Purchasing Cards

Audits


The Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) has completed a review of the state’s program allowing state employees to use purchasing cards for state business purposes. The audit findings are mixed. There was not evidence of rampant fraud; however compliance with requirements could be improved.

A total of 3,071 purchasing card transactions recorded during 2008 was reviewed by the LAB. The purchases were selected based on the potential risk of abuse or fraud including purchases from retailers selling luxury or high-priced consumer goods, electronics stores, online retailers, restaurants, gas stations, and purchases made on holidays and weekends. Under the state’s program, executive branch agencies and University institutions used the purchasing cards.

Here are key findings of the LAB.

The state purchasing card program has grown dramatically. Total expenditures during 2005 amounted to
of Wisconsin
  $109.8 million. That compares to the 2008 total expenditures of $161.7 million.

Read more

It’s time to repeal the death tax

Taxes


The Wisconsin Family Council has released a study demonstrating that Congress has the power and ability to raise revenue, increase employment, and stimulate the economy if it moves to repeal the estate or “death” tax. The death tax is a tax on the total worth of an estate and especially hurts small businesses when owners die.

Getting rid of the death tax costs taxpayers nothing. The study incorporates findings from Douglas Holtz-Eakin’s new study, Changing Views of the Estate Tax: Implications for Legislative Options that shows repealing the death tax would create 1.5 million jobs and reduce the unemployment rate by nearly a full percentage point over the next two years. The administration wants to create 3.5 million jobs during that time period. The death tax repeal would get the president about halfway to his goal.

The study says ending the death tax would increase workers’ income by $79 billion.


Holtz-Eakin estimates that Wisconsin would lose 10,996 jobs if Congress does not eliminate the death tax during 2010. Julaine Appling, the CEO of Wisconsin Family Council that also worked on the study compares that to losing General Motors in Janesville three times over.

If Congress repeals the death tax, Holtz-Eakin says Wisconsin would gain over 32,000 jobs. Holtz-Eakin is a former Congressional Budget Office director.

According to the study, the United States death tax rate is one of the highest in the world. The Tax Foundation’s latest study found that nearly two thirds of Americans support a permanent repeal of the death tax. Those surveyed also considered the death tax as the least fair and least popular tax. 


I concur with the study conclusion, “It is clear that all groups, and especially those most productive, would benefit from the permanent repeal of the death tax.  Eliminating the estate tax would increase business capital, jobs for workers, and government revenue. A full repeal increases jobs and expands the economy. It also increases government revenue most. It is rare that such a win-win scenario on taxes and the economy presents itself so clearly to Congress. This scenario is made even more compelling by the present macroeconomic situation, one in which government is looking for many ways to improve the economy and is also seeking more sources of revenue. Eliminating the death tax does both. No other stimulus package can deliver so many patently clear benefits as simply ending the federal estate tax permanently.”

You can read the full study, “Repealing Death Tax Will Create Jobs and Boost Economy,”
here.

State Budget Watch: Schools, taxpayers about to feel the pinch

State budget, Taxes


Confronted with budget deficits of billions of dollars after continuous high levels of taxing and spending, the state in its 2009-11 state budget approved cuts in aid to local school districts. The cut of 2.7 percent during 2009-10, according to the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) constitutes “the first aid reduction in modern memory.”

One school district, North Lakeland, lost all (100 percent) of its state aid.

The ramifications of the state budget dilemma are not good news for school districts or local taxpayers.

WISTAX calculates that only about one in nine school districts (48) are likely to cut property taxes this year, 181 could increase taxes by 10 percent or more, and 111 could  increase taxes by 5 -10 percent.

If every school district raises its taxes to the revenue limit, the statewide increase this December would be 7.8 percent. When statewide increase started approaching that level and beyond during the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, taxpayers revolted, and the Qualified Economic Offer (QEO) was born. Now the QEO has been repealed by Governor Doyle and Democrats that control both houses of the legislature, and WISTAX reports that could mean big compensation increases, cuts in school programs and staff, and large school tax increases.

Read more in this
WISTAX release.

Remembering 9/11

NEW YORK - AUGUST 24:  The final steel beam taken from the World Trade Center site is hoisted into place for permanent installation at the planned National September 11 Memorial & Museum August 24, 2009 in New York City. The 58-ton, 36-foot-tall 'Last Column' was delivered to the World Trade Center site this morning after being stored for seven years at a hangar at Kennedy International Airport. The column is famously etched with graffiti and first responder logos in tribute to those killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

The final steel beam taken from the World Trade Center site is hoisted into place for permanent installation at the planned National September 11 Memorial & Museum August 24, 2009 in New York City. The 58-ton, 36-foot-tall 'Last Column' was delivered to the World Trade Center site this morning after being stored for seven years at a hangar at Kennedy International Airport. The column is famously etched with graffiti and first responder logos in tribute to those killed in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Photo: Getty Images
 

Read more

New numbers show roundabouts unsafe

Roundabouts


Jane Ford-Stewart of NewBerlinNOW provides some new data about the safety of roundabouts. Ford-Stewart writes:

“New figures from the city show that drivers were more likely to have a crash in the Moorland Road/Rock Ridge roundabout last year than at any other major intersection in New Berlin.

There were 2.08 crashes per 1 million vehicles through the intersection, the highest crash rate among the top 25
New Berlin intersections in 2008.

New Berlin's other roundabout, at Moorland Road and Interstate 43, had the third highest crash rate with 1.43 crashes per 1 million vehicles.

Those figures are based on accidents reported to the state - those that involve injuries or more than $1,000 in property damage. Eight of the city's top 25 intersections had crash rates more than 1 per 1 million vehicles in 2008, an indication that the intersection should be looked at for safety improvements, city officials say.”

My consistent view is that these roundabouts were installed too quickly and were not ready for prime time.

You can read Ford-Stewart’s article here.  


Here are my previous blogs about roundabouts.

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH update: September 12- September 20

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 is the detailed closure schedule for activities on I-94 N-S Freeway between September 12th - 20th.

All closures are weather-dependent and subject to change.

--------------------------------------------------------

Read more

Facebook helps nab deer shining suspects


The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) recently made arrests in an illegal deer shining case based on a tip. The helpful information came from an individual that saw a video of the shining on the popular website, Facebook.

The DNR says it’s the first time an arrest has  been associated with Facebook. Even so, the agency says because monitoring of the various sites on the Internet is virtually impossible, informational tips from the public are still valuable.

Read more from the DNR  and the
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

State Senate Calendar for Tuesday, September 15, 2009


Here is the calendar for the state Senate floor session scheduled for Tuesday, September 15, 2009 at 12:00 noon:

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?

Bitter, Alan
, of Manitowoc, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, for the term ending June 30, 2011. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Education, Ayes 7, Noes 0)

Boldt, Thomas, of Appleton, as a member of the State of Wisconsin Investment Board, to serve for the term ending May 1, 2015. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Veterans and Military Affairs, Biotechnology, and Financial Institutions, Ayes 4, Noes 0)

Castaneda, Michael
, of Milwaukee, as a memeber of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, to serve for the term ending June 30, 2011. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Education, Ayes 7, Noes 0)

Colburn, Bruce, of Milwaukee, as a member of the State of Wisconsin Investment Board, to serve for the term ending May 1, 2015. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Veterans and Military Affairs, Biotechnology, and Financial Institutions, Ayes 4, Noes 0)

Davis, Stan
, of Sun Prairie, as a member of the Wisconsin Technical College Ssytem Board, to serve for the term ending May 1, 2015. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Small Business, Emergency Preparedness, Technical Colleges, and Consumer Protection, Ayes 5, Noes 0)

Greenberg, Martin, of Milwaukee, as a member of the Wisconsin Professional Baseball Park District Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2011. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Economic Development, Ayes 7, Noes 0)

Levit, Jr., William, of Milwaukee, as a member of the State of Wisconsin Investment Board, to serve for the term ending May 1, 2015. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Veterans and Military Affairs, Biotechnology, and Financial Institutions, Ayes 4, Noes 0)

McCabe, Jeff
, of Madison, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, for the term ending June 30, 2009. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Education, Ayes 7, Noes 0)

Mulligan, Thomas, of West Allis, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, to serve for the term ending June 30, 2009. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Education, Ayes 7, Noes 0)

Staff, Katherine, of Milwaukee, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, for the term ending June 30, 2011. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Education, Ayes 7, Noes 0)

Watson, Dwight, of Eau Claire, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, to serve for the term ending June 30, 2008. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Education, Ayes 7, Noes 0)

Watson, Dwight, of St. Paul, Minnesota, as a member of the Professional Standards Council for Teachers, for the term ending June 30, 2011. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Education, Ayes 7, Noes 0)

Wozniak, Marion, of Edgerton, as a member of the Accounting Examining Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2010. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Economic Development, Ayes 7, Noes 0)

Eighth Order.               Messages from the Assembly.

Ninth Order.                 Special Orders.

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

QUESTION:            Shall the joint resolution be adopted?

Senate Joint Resolution 43. Relating to: the life and public service of Linda Farley.  By Senators Erpenbach, Miller, Holperin, Carpenter, Vinehout, A. Lasee, Risser, Taylor, and Lehman; cosponsored by Representatives Pope-Roberts, Berceau, Kessler, Hintz, Sinicki, Hebl, Milroy, Black, Vruwink, Roys, Pasch, Benedict, Hilgenberg, Steinbrink, Cullen, Turner, Richards, Bernard Schaber, Mason, Pocan, Jorgensen, and Townsend.

QUESTION:            Shall the joint resolution be concurred in?

Assembly Joint Resolution 61. Relating to: the life and public service of Ralph Houghton and honoring his many accomplishments.  By Representatives Barca, Steinbrink, Turner, and Kerkman; cosponsored by Senator Wirch.

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

QUESTION:            Shall the joint resolution be ordered to a third reading?

Senate Joint Resolution 11. Relating to: veto power of county executive over appropriations (first consideration).  By Senators Carpenter, Lehman, and Harsdorf; cosponsored by Representatives Pasch, Van Akkeren, Lothian, and Townsend. (Report adoption recommended by committee on Ethics Reform and Government Operations, Ayes 4, Noes 1)

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

Senate Bill 38. Relating to: issuing annual vehicle admission receipts for motor buses for entry to state parks and other vehicle admission areas under the jurisdiction of the Department of Natural Resources. (FE)  By Senators A. Lasee and Grothman; cosponsored by Representatives Bies, Kaufert, Nygren, Spanbauer, Townsend, and A. Ott. (Report adoption of Senate Substitute Amendment 1, Ayes 7, Noes 0, passage as amended recommended by committee on Transportation, Tourism, Forestry, and Natural Resources, Ayes 7, Noes 0)Senate Substitute Amendment 1 pending

Senate Bill 57. Relating to: composition of the board of directors of the Wisconsin Aerospace Authority.  By Senators Leibham and Grothman; cosponsored by Representatives Van Akkeren, Gunderson, Kestell, LeMahieu, A. Ott, Spanbauer, Townsend, Ziegelbauer, and Zigmunt. (Report passage recommended by committee on Economic Development, Ayes 7, Noes 0)

Senate Bill 160. Relating to: increasing the amount of the homestead exemption.  By Senators Taylor, Holperin, Lehman, Miller, Decker, Erpenbach, Wirch, and Vinehout; cosponsored by Representatives Hebl, Black, Berceau, Pope-Roberts, Turner, A. Williams, Zepnick, Fields, Spanbauer, and Molepske Jr.. (Report passage recommended by committee on Judiciary, Corrections, Insurance, Campaign Finance Reform, and Housing, Ayes 4, Noes 1)

Senate Bill 170. Relating to: making June 19, Juneteenth Day, a legal holiday.  By Senators Coggs, Taylor, Sullivan, Miller, and Lassa; cosponsored by Representatives Grigsby, Young, A. Williams, Turner, Fields, Cullen, Kessler, Zepnick, Soletski, Berceau, Parisi, Hebl, A. Ott, Bernard Schaber, Mason, Pasch, Jorgensen, and Toles. (Report passage recommended by committee on Ethics Reform and Government Operations, Ayes 4, Noes 1)

Senate Bill 185. Relating to: regulation of wind energy systems and granting rule-making authority. (FE)  By Senators Plale, Hopper, Hansen, Holperin, Kreitlow, Taylor, Sullivan, Miller, Risser, Wirch, and Coggs; cosponsored by Representatives Soletski, Montgomery, Parisi, Black, Mason, Spanbauer, Hilgenberg, Roys, Townsend, Richards, Suder, Honadel, Pocan, Clark, Wood, Smith, Pasch, Vruwink, Molepske Jr., and Stone. (Report introduction of Senate Substitute Amendment 1, Ayes 7, Noes 0, introduction and adoption of Senate Amendment 1 to Senate Substitute Amendment 1, Ayes 7, Noes 0, introduction and adoption of Senate Amendment 2 to Senate Substitute Amendment 1, Ayes 7, Noes 0, introduction and adoption of Senate Amendment 3 to Senate Substitute Amendment 1, Ayes 7, Noes 0, passage as amended, Ayes 6, Noes 1, adoption of Senate Substitute Amendment 1 recommended by committee on Commerce, Utilities, Energy, and Rail, Ayes 7, Noes 0)      Senate Amendments 1, 2 and 3 to Senate Substitute Amendment 1, and  Senate Substitute Amendment 1 pending

Senate Bill 195. Relating to: adding a member to the council on veterans programs.  By Senators Sullivan, Hansen, Taylor, Lassa, Carpenter, and Coggs; cosponsored by Representatives Hilgenberg, Colon, Pasch, Turner, Bies, Townsend, Berceau, Petrowski, Zepnick, Petersen, Sinicki, Lothian, Spanbauer, Cullen, and Ripp. (Report passage recommended by committee on Veterans and Military Affairs, Biotechnology, and Financial Institutions, Ayes 5, Noes 0)

Senate Bill 218. Relating to: penalties and private actions for violations of restrictions on telephone solicitations. (FE)  By Senators Erpenbach, Taylor, Coggs, Hansen, and Vinehout; cosponsored by Representatives Roys, Schneider, Berceau, Black, A. Ott, Jorgensen, Pope-Roberts, Zepnick, Gunderson, and Hintz. (Report introduction of Senate Amendment 1, Ayes 5, Noes 0, passage recommended by committee on Small Business, Emergency Preparedness, Technical Colleges, and Consumer Protection, Ayes 5, Noes 0) Senate Amendment 1 pending


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.

Preventing license sticker thefts


Governor Doyle’s proposed 2009-11 state budget included a provision to do away with vehicle registration stickers. Many law enforcement agencies around the state objected, wanting to keep the stickers, with the exception of the City of Milwaukee.

Police Chief Ed Flynn argued that eliminating the requirement would put an end to the rash of stickers being stolen in the Milwaukee area. 


Vehicle registration stickers are still required. What can be done to prevent thefts that are likely to continue? The state of Missouri has come up with a very good solution.

Governing magazine reports that as part of a pilot program in St. Louis, new license tabs “will have a watermark and its corresponding license plate number printed directly on the tab. This way, if any part of a sticker is stolen and placed on another plate, it is glaringly obvious to law enforcement that a tab theft has occurred.”

This is an excellent idea that should be considered in Wisconsin.

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH update: Freeway Closure I-94 WEST (NB) at Rawson Ave. Mon - Wed evenings

News you can use


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

Construction activities have scheduled to close I-94 WEST (NB) at Rawson Ave and at the Airport Spur Monday-Wednesday evenings, September 14th - 16th from 10 pm to 5 am. Contractors will be setting beams for the new Grange bridge over I-94. Listed below are all associated closures scheduled for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday evenings.

Read more

I trust this could never happen in Wisconsin


Take a look at this beautiful building:





That’s the Arizona State Capitol.

Now imagine a picture of this wonderful piece of architecture dating back to 1901 with a “FOR SALE” sign in front.

Unthinkable, you say?

Last week, Arizona Governor Jan Brewer signed a bill allowing the sale of state buildings to address the state’s huge budget shortfall.  The state is now contemplating which buildings to sell with the hope of leasing the buildings back later, a prospect that would only cost taxpayers more in the long run.

Have state budget conditions become so perilous that policymakers have to resort to putting prized structures on the market? Apparently so in Arizona. 


May we never see such a day in Madison.



Government knows no recession


While the private sector continues to get pounded by the current recession, government keeps growing.

A new report by the
Rockefeller Institute of Government states the following:

Private sector employment for the nation as a whole has fallen by 6.9 million jobs between the December 2007 start of the recession and July 2009. Over the same period, state and local government employment has risen by 110 thousand jobs or 0.6 percent, with increases in both state governments and local governments.”

According to the report, during the period April-June 2009 compared to the same period one year ago, private sector employment in Wisconsin decreased by 5.5 percent while state and local government employment in Wisconsin increased 1.8 percent.

You can read the full report
here.

I'm on Wisconsin Public Radio

Mary in the media


Today, September 16, 2009. I will participate in a live panel discussion on Wisconsin Public Radio about health care reform. The live program will be broadcast from Froedtert Hospital‘s Clinical Cancer Center during Kathleen Dunn’s morning show.

The other panelists are:

Secretary Karen Timberlake, Wisconsin Department of Health Services


Jon B. Erpenbach, Wisconsin State Senator (D). 

Michael C. Pucci, Vice President of External Advocacy, GlaxoSmithKline. 

George Kerwin, President and CEO, Bellin Health in Green Bay

John Bartkowski, President and Chief Executive Officer, Sixteenth Street Community Health Center in Milwaukee

Larry Schreiber, President, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield in Wisconsin.

Jon Pryor, Chief Executive Officer, Medical College Physicians

You can hear the program this morning  from 9-11 on WHAD, 90.7 on the FM dial.

When disaster strikes the state Capitol

Legislation


Suppose a bomb goes off at the state Capitol during the annual State of the State Address, destroying the historic building and killing most inside. How would the state pick up the pieces and restore a working government? Legislation being considered in Madison would create a system whereby sitting legislators would handpick their successors in the event of fatalities caused by terrorism or natural disaster.

A special Joint Legislative Committee on Emergency Management and Continuity in Government has presented legislation that establishes policies for replacement of elected officials who may have been killed or are otherwise unable to continue to serve. The Assembly and Senate Chief Clerks presented the following scenario during testimony to the Senate Committee on Small Business and Emergency Preparedness on which I serve:


Terrorist Event

 

Read more

Clarification on the closing of Franklin's Sentry store

I am very sorry to know Sentry Food Stores, a quality grocer located at 76th and Rawson in Franklin is closing soon.

I understand some people have heard that a reason for the closing is a new state law mandating costly new cash registers. 

The Wisconsin Grocers Association (WGA) informs me that it contacted Sentry’s owner and learned that there are many reasons the store is closing.  The owner said that there is not state law about registers leading to the closing of Sentry. One of the reasons the store is closing is due to Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards (PCI DSS).  The owner of the store and the WGA both stated that many people believe that the PCI DSS is a state or federal law; however, it is actually a mandate from credit card companies.  These mandates are forcing retailers that accept credit cards to replace current cash registers with machines that are compliant with PCI DSS.  These standards are set by the credit card industry, and not by the federal or state government. Here is more information on Payment Card Industry Data Security Standards.  

I am always saddened by businesses closing. I am hopeful that people will embrace the services that are provided by other fine grocery stores in the 76th and Rawson area.

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH update: Full Freeway Closure I-94 at County G (Racine) Wed - Thu

News you can use


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

Construction activities have scheduled to close I-94 WEST (NB) & EAST

(SB) in Racine County Wednesday, September 16th and Thursday, September

Read more

MJS questions roundabouts

Roundabouts


One year ago this month, I blogged the following about roundabouts:


“Before the state proceeds with its plan to blanket roadways with roundabouts, it should slow down and I have made that request to the DOT. …..I suggest the state put the brakes on roundabouts until the kinks can be worked out. The idea is to improve all aspects of roundabouts: design, safety, ease of use.”

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editorial Board one year later seems to have come to the same conclusion, writing:

We're not ready to give up on roundabouts just yet, and we think in general they can work well. But they are not the solution for every intersection, and officials should be careful about where they place them.”

The editorial concludes:

“And the state needs to monitor roundabouts carefully to make sure accident rates aren't going up statewide. If they are, the state should reconsider its policy on roundabouts.”

You can read the editorial here. 

State Senate toughens penalties for No Call List violations

Legislation



The state Senate has approved legislation increasing penalties for violators of Wisconsin’s popular No Call List.

Current Wisconsin law prohibits telephone solicitors from making calls to residential customers that have registered with the No Call List maintained by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP).  Violators are currently are subject to a forfeiture of $100. Senate Bill 218 (SB 218) that I support increases the penalty for a violation to a forfeiture of not less than $1,000 or more than $10,000.

SB 218 also allows a person who suffers damages due to a violation to seek relief for actual damages or $500 per violation, whatever is greater.

The state Assembly will now consider SB 218.

Area counties under emerald ash borer quarantine


An emergency rule to impose a quarantine on materials that could transport emerald ash borer from Milwaukee, Waukesha or Racine counties is now in effect.

The Franklin Public Library will host a public hearing on the rule next month.

You can read more details here.

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH update: September 21- September 27


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


Construction update September 21 –September 27:
I-94 North-South Freeway Project update for Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties

 

Read more

State Senate Calendar for Tuesday, September 22, 2009


The State Senate is scheduled to begin the fall floor session September 22, 2009.  Below is a list of the bills we will be debating.  You may click on the titles of the bills and link to the history of the bills and then to the text of the bills. You may contact me with your thoughts about the bills at: Sen.lazich@legis.wisconsin.gov


Senate Joint Resolution 39
Relating to continuity of government (first consideration)  

Senate Bill 89
Relating to: requirements for pupils enrolled in five-year-old kindergarten 

Senate Bill 190
Relating to: renewals and extensions of business contracts.

Senate Bill 200
Relating to: products containing mercury and granting rule-making authority.

Senate Bill 226
Relating to: emergency management, succession of public offices, liability and licensure of emergency volunteers, disaster relief, ratification of the pest control compact, transportation and disposal of animal carcasses, the plant industry, computation of school days, variance for hospital requirements, public works mutual assistance, emergencies related to computer or telecommunication systems, and providing penalties


Senate Bill 227
Relating to: interim successors for legislators, meetings of the legislature and legislative committees, and temporary seat of government for the legislature

Senate Bill 229
Relating to: regional structural collapse teams and granting rule-making authority. 

Senate Bill 241
Relating to: modifying the definition of all-terrain vehicle.


Senate Bill 243
Relating to: hunting of deer during the open bow hunting season. 

Senate Bill 257
Relating to: emergency assistance grants.


Assembly Bill 8
Relating to: municipal quotas for retail intoxicating liquor licenses.

Assembly Bill 33
Relating to: technical changes that affect the public debt amortization fund of a first class city.

Assembly Bill 86
Relating to: authorizing hunting of certain game with a crossbow by nonresidents who have attained the age of 65 years. 


Assembly Bill 132
Relating to: a requirement that an employer grant an unpaid leave of absence to allow an employee to participate in an emergency service operation of the Civil Air Patrol and prohibiting discrimination in employment based on Civil Air Patrol membership.

Assembly Bill 308
Relating to: police escorts and vehicle rights-of-way related to escorted vehicles and providing a penalty

Congratulations, Olympian Alyson Dudek!

Good news from Senate District 28


Alyson Dudek of Hales Corners has qualified for the 2010 U.S. Olympic Short Track Speedskating Team
(See paragraph 11).

Prior to making the team, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel published this article about Dudek.

The 2010 Olympic Games will be played in Vancouver.

Congratulations to Alyson Dudek! Best wishes at the Olympic Games and bring home the gold!

Wisconsin's abysmal business climate ranking gets even worse

Business, Taxes


The nonpartisan Tax Foundation in Washington D.C. keeps track of each state’s business climate. I have often blogged about Wisconsin’s dismal rankings, near the bottom of the pile. That’s no surprise, given how unfriendly Wisconsin is to business. 

The latest rankings are out, with the #1 state being the best state to do business and #50 the worst. The Tax Foundation reports:

“The top 10 states in the 2010 Index, from 1st to 10th, are South Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, Nevada, Florida, Montana, New Hampshire, Delaware, Washington and Utah. The bottom 10 states, from 41st to 50th, are Vermont, Wisconsin, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Maryland, Iowa, Ohio, California, New York and New Jersey.”

Wisconsin ranks #42, a drop from a not so positive # 38 last year. Why the decline? According to the Tax Foundation:

“The blame for Wisconsin’s drop falls on the creation of a new income tax bracket: 7.75 percent on taxable income over $225,000.”

The new tax bracket hurts the wealthy that invest and create jobs.

The Tax Foundation writes:

“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.”

Wisconsin doesn’t come close to meeting that definition of an ideal tax system when it throws one tack in the road after another, impeding the ability of businesses to advance and flourish.

Here are key points made by the Tax Foundation:

  • Taxes can have a significant impact on an individual’s decision to become a self-employed entrepreneur.
  • Complex, poorly designed tax systems that extract an inordinate amount of tax revenue are known to reduce both the quantity and quality of the labor pool.
  • Every state must raise revenue, and thus every state must tax. No state, however, needs to tax in a way that has significant adverse effects on the business climate. A state needs to continually strive for a tax system that is neutral and pro-growth. A neutral tax system is one in which specific economic activities are not targeted for exemptions or selective taxes. A pro-growth system will avoid excessive taxes and compliance costs on businesses.

Read more

Audit finds matching addresses of sex offenders and child care providers

Audits


As a member of the Joint legislative Audit Committee, I received a letter from State Auditor Janice Mueller about the ongoing review of Wisconsin Shares, the state child care program. Here is an excerpt from the letter:

“Our evaluation of the overall effectiveness of child care regulation is ongoing, but we are writing at this time to disclose a serious problem we discovered during the course of our work.

In July 2009, we began to compare the addresses of registered sex offenders to addresses for the sites at which all licensed and certified child care providers care for children. We subsequently found four matches. DCF (Department of Children and Families)  and the Department of Corrections (DOC), which maintains
Wisconsin’s Sex Offender Registry, were notified immediately and have confirmed the accuracy of the matches we found in electronic records. They are continuing to follow up and at this point believe that no child was harmed as a result of the situations we identified. However, we could not independently determine whether registered sex offenders had ever been present while care was being provided, and unless procedures are implemented to ensure similar situations do not occur in the future, such a potential will exist.”



The Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) reports the following about the four matches it found:


  • The child care site address of a licensed family provider in Milwaukee County, which is her home address, matched the address of an adult convicted of third-degree sexual assault. DOC indicated to us that the provider and the offender had resided in the same building but in different units, and the offender’s whereabouts are now unknown. Milwaukee County currently authorizes the provider to care for 22 children in the Wisconsin Shares program, and she received $165,600 in program subsidy payments in 2008.

  • The child care site address of another licensed family provider in Milwaukee County, which is not her home address, matched the address of an offender adjudicated as a juvenile for second-degree sexual assault of a child. DOC has reported that the whereabouts of this offender are unknown. Milwaukee County currently authorizes the provider to care for 20 children in the Wisconsin Shares program, and she received $163,500 in program subsidy payments in 2008.

 

  • The child care site address of a certified provider in Racine County, which is her home address, matched the address of her adult son who was convicted of second-degree sexual assault of a child. The county suspended the provider’s certification until it determined that the offender did not reside in the home, and DOC verified that the offender currently resides elsewhere. The provider is currently authorized to care for three children in the Wisconsin Shares program, and she received $23,600 in program subsidy payments in 2008.

Read more

The Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau is priceless

Audits


Thank goodness for the
Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau.

The Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) is a non-partisan agency that assists the state Legislature in keeping a thorough review and oversight of state operations through objective analyses of state programs and expenditures. Audit data is compiled and presented along with recommendations to the Legislature.

One of the latest find
s by the LAB shows the cost of the state’s plan to consolidate state computer services has far surpassed its original estimate.

During April 2004, the state Department of Administration (DOA) contracted with a South Bend, Indiana accounting and consulting firm, Crowe Chizek to facilitate a project to consolidate computer servers. Seven months later, Crowe Chizek informed the DOA the consolidation project would cost approximately $12.8 million and would reduce server maintenance costs by as much as 20 percent.

Crowe Chizek’s projections were far off-base as the LAB uncovered. The DOA spent $90.9 million on server consolidation through June 2009. As the LAB reports, that is “more than seven times the initial cost estimate of $12.8 million to implement the project. Although DOA originally anticipated that it would complete server consolidation by May 2006, consolidation has been hindered by planning that did not adequately account for the project’s complexity. DOA now estimates that server consolidation will be completed in June 2010, at a total cost of $110.0 million.”

Any savings and efficiencies that may have been attained through consolidation according to the LAB have been offset by payments of $15.2 million to four contractors that were brought on to advise the state about how to operate more efficiently. The LAB reports, “Continued legislative monitoring of ongoing consolidation efforts is warranted.”

The LAB’s latest audit also discovered that while the Legislature authorized DOA to sell $36.0 million in surplus property during the 2005-07 biennium and $40.0 million during the 2007-09 biennium, only $9.6 million was sold during that four-year period.

This review of the consolidation of administrative functions is the latest example of how invaluable the LAB that has been serving since 1965 is to policymakers and the taxpayers they represent. Other audits conducted during 2009 have found the following:

 

Read more

How safe is Wisconsin's drinking water?


Despite tremendous flooding in southern Wisconsin during June 2008, the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) reports state public water systems exceeded federal drinking water standards. The DNR has issued, “Safe Water on Tap: 2008 Annual Drinking Water Report.”

During 2008, the DNR reports 96.4 percent of Wisconsin’s 11,446 systems (11,037) served safe water. How safe was the water? The systems produced water that, according to the DNR “did not have a single water sample in which a regulated contaminant exceeded a standard. That exceeds the national goal of 95 percent.”

A total of 409 systems, or 3.6 percent tested high for one or more contaminants. Smaller systems, including those for motels, restaurants, parks, taverns, churches and campgrounds accounted for about 68 percent of the violations.  People did not get sick because of the violations. However, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), they were exposed to an unreasonable risk of illness.

Read more

New Berlin to host Sensenbrenner Town Hall meeting


Wisconsin Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner invites you to a Town Hall Meeting this Monday, September 28, 2009 at 7 p.m. at the New Berlin City Hall.  Hear about the latest events in Washington, have a chance to express your thoughts, and obtain help if you have encountered problems with a federal government agency or program.   

New Berlin City Hall
3805 S. Casper Dr.
New Berlin, Wisconsin

I-94 NORTH-SOUTH update: September 28- October 4

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 September 28–October 4:
I-94 North-South Freeway Project update for Milwaukee, Racine and Kenosha counties

Read more

Because we just don't have enough casino gambling

Gambling

 

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I-94 NORTH-SOUTH update: Freeway Closure I-94 WEST (NB) at Rawson Ave Tue and Thur Evening

News you can use


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

Construction activities have scheduled to close I-94 WEST (NB) at Rawson Ave
Tuesday, September 29th, and Thursday, October 1st, from 11:59 pm to 5 am.  Contractors will be demolishing the overpass at Airport Spur.

 

Read more

Lights! Camera! Curtains?

Legislation, Taxes, Business


It sure was great to see popular Hollywood star Johnny Depp filming “Public Enemies” in Wisconsin during 2008. Production of the movie in various Wisconsin locations was only possible because of a program offering tax breaks as incentives to film makers.

However, it is realistic and prudent to question whether Wisconsin is getting enough box office bang for its buck. Wisconsin is one of many states reconsidering how much money it pumps into luring Hollywood producers to America’s Dairyland to make movies. One of the questions raised during the 2009-11 state budget deliberations was whether Wisconsin’s program that provides tax incentives for filmmakers is effective or too generous. Governor Doyle chopped funding for the program in the 2009-11 budget signed into law. 

The LA Times notes that in the case of “Public Enemies,”  after the tax breaks were dished out that helped offset costs for, among other expenses, Depp’s hair stylist, makeup artist, and two chauffeurs, the net gain was debatable as to its worth. 

Wisconsin’s batch of incentives has now been reduced substantially, leading one to wonder if the state can even compete with 39 others offering tax credits, some that are much greater.

In Iowa, the program has led to a full-blown scandal. 


Wisconsin surely wants to and needs to attract business, including exciting ventures like box office smashes. However, when pink slips are being handed out to workers, it is difficult to justify expensive subsidies of Hollywood stars.

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