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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.

This could be a very tough winter

I’m not talking about the frigid cold or heavy snow. I’m talking about rough travelling conditions due to a shortage of road salt.

The Appleton Post-Crescent reports, “Dave Vieth, director of the state's bureau of highway operations, said the state purchased an amount about 40,000 tons short of what it requested during an early-year buy. It plans to increase the use of additives to stretch supplies and truck salt from different parts of the state as necessary.”

Why the shortage? In a nutshell, demand is high, supplies are down, and costs are up. The Post- Crescent reports, “Road salt prices now range as high as $250 per ton in the upper Midwest, and some would-be buyers are finding it hard to come by at any price.” It could have been worse, but Wisconsin, unlike some other states, put in bids for road salt early.

One state official told road maintenance supervisors to use only enough salt to “keep the snow plowable,” as well as anti-icing and de-icing additives.

Heavy snowfall last winter resulted in the United States dumping a near-record 20.3 million tons of salt.

Here are more details from the Appleton Post-Crescent and USA Today.

Time running out to apply for popular absentee ballots

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There is still time to apply for an absentee ballot in Wisconsin. You must complete the proper form and mail it to or turn it into your municipal clerk's office. The application must be received by 5:00 this Thursday, the Thursday before the election in order for an absentee ballot to be mailed to you.

Here are instructions on how to apply for an absentee ballot in Wisconsin.

During May, I blogged about the trend of voting via the Post Office.  As one election official put it, “There is no line at your mailbox.”  Just how popular is the absentee ballot? The Associated Press reports that nationwide, about a third of the electorate is expected to vote before Election Day, November 4, 2008.

The numbers show an increasing percentage of voters want to take advantage of the absentee ballot because they are travelling, they are elderly and have difficulty getting to the polls, the convenience of considering their choices in the comfortable confines of their home, or simply because they can. Twenty-eight states, including Wisconsin, allow anyone to vote absentee, no questions asked.

During 2000, 16 percent of voters in the United States cast their ballots early. The number increased to 22 percent in 2004.

Statewide in Wisconsin, according to the Government Accountability Board’s Kyle Richmond who was quoted by the Associated Press, about 365,000 people used absentee ballots or cast early votes at clerk’s offices in 2004, about 12 percent of the voting age population in the state. The number is expected to grow this year to 15 percent.

At least 40% of California’s registered voters already have decided they want to vote by mail. The LA Times reports that according to the Early Voting Information Center at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, a majority of voters prefer their mailbox over the ballot box in Nevada, New Mexico, Arizona and Colorado. Oregon did away entirely with polling places during 2000. Washington state is getting close to 100% vote-by-mail.

Here is an Associated Press story on the popularity of Post Office voting.

Audits done about state health insurance program

Audits


Wisconsin’s highly-acclaimed Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) has released two audits about the Wisconsin Health Insurance Risk-Sharing Plan (HIRSP) Authority. The HIRSP Authority offers medical and prescription drug insurance for those unable to obtain coverage in the private market or who have lost employer-sponsored group
health insurance.

Financial records of the HIRSP Authority for the final six months of 2006 and all of calendar year 2007 were reviewed. The LAB did not find what it called, “significant concerns,” but it does advise that the HIRSP Authority work with the federal government to settle a federal cash management issue.

Every quarter, the HIRSP Authority should remit to the federal government interest earned on advances of federal funds. The LAB found that a $4,422,935 grant was awarded to Wisconsin for HIRSP during September 2006 by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services under a grant program. The entire amount was drawn by the Wisconsin Department of Administration (DOA) during November 2006 and transferred through the Wisconsin Office of the Commissioner of Insurance (OCI) to the HIRSP Authority during the first week of January 2007.

The LAB reports the HIRSP Authority had spent only $2,333,710 of the federal grant
when it received the funds during January 2007. The remaining $2,089,225 was spent from January through June 2007. The HIRSP Authority did not remit to CMS any interest earned on the federal funds it received.

How could that happen? The LAB explains that there was a change in the administration of HIRSP effective July 1, 2006. Control was transferred from the Wisconsin Department of Health and Family Services to the HIRSP Authority effective July 1, 2006. Prior to that time, OCI received federal funds to be paid to the HIRSP Authority. State law was then changed to allow federal grant funds to go directly to the HIRSP Authority. As a result, the LAB reports, “the HIRSP Authority may owe interest to CMS on the advance of $2,089,225 it received in January 2007. Potential interest earnings on those funds are estimated to not exceed $33,000 for the period January through June 2007.”

The LAB writes that when the administration of HIRSP changed, staff members at the HIRSP Authority were unaware of and not informed about the cash management requirements. The audit recommends that the HIRSP Authority work with CMS, DOA, and OCI to resolve this issue and take measures to meet federal cash requirements in the future.

I commend the LAB for their consistently outstanding work. You can read their audits here and here.

Wisconsin law gives workers time to vote

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Under Wisconsin law, employers must allow workers time to vote on Election Day. Here is the Wisconsin statute:

6.76 Time off for voting.
(1)
Any person entitled to vote at an election is entitled to be absent from work while the polls are open for a period not to exceed 3 successive hours to vote. The elector shall notify the affected employer before election day of the intended absence. The employer may designate the time of day for the absence.
(2) No penalty, other than a deduction for time lost, may be imposed upon an elector by his or her employer by reason of the absence authorized by this section.
(3) This section applies to all employers including the state and all political subdivisions of the state and their employees, but does not affect the employees’ right to holidays existing on June 28, 1945, or established after that date.
History: 1977 c. 394; 1991 a. 316.

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Wisconsin counties struggling to grow income

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