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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.

Powerball calls them improvements

Gambling


I call them enticements.

Powerball is announcing big changes in its jackpot lottery game. Like a trailer for the next Hollywood box office smash, a lottery press release pulls out all the persuasive stops to lure more players. Powerball promises to “increase the size of the average jackpot,” and make the game “even more exciting,” because Powerball wants to “create lots of millionaires” and wants to “create more winners with better overall odds.”

Here is an example of the spin Powerball is using to attract even more gamblers. Ernie Passailaigue, the Powerball Group Chairman and the Executive Director of the South Carolina Lottery says, “The price of a Powerball ticket remains unchanged at $1.  Even though our players know that the cost of everything else has gone up since Powerball sales commenced over 16 years ago, we didn’t want to raise Powerball’s price in our current economy.”

Isn’t that considerate of Powerball? The people who run the jackpot lottery are so thoughtful, they are going a step further by letting you make the decision to spend even more on your tickets because there will be the option to play for bigger prizes for $2 by using Power Play. “We wanted to give our players the power to choose and with many of our newer member lotteries, more than half of our players have chosen the benefits of the $2 Power Play option,” said Passailaigue.

Changes to the game effective January 2009 include increasing the starting jackpot from $15 million to $20 million, and increasing the average jackpot from an expected average of $95.5 million to $141 million. Powerball promises bigger jackpots that will increase faster. The regular second-highest prize will be $1 million, but players will have to buy the Power Play option for an extra $1 and hit all the numbers except for the Powerball.

Powerball is instituting changes because Florida will become the 33rd state to join Powerball in January.

Currently, the odds of winning Powerball are 1 in 146.1 million. After Florida joins Powerball, the odds increase to 1 in 195.2 million. The long odds are the only sure thing about Powerball. Your chances of winning Powerball are slim to begin with and will become even more difficult.

Jackpots will be bigger and there probably will be more millionaires as a result of the Powerball changes. But there will be a great deal more losers as Florida joins Powerball come January.

If you have ever wanted to dunk a state Senator...


Here’s your chance.

The Muskego Teen Advisory Board is hosting a dunk tank for the community festival at Moorland Park this weekend. Proceeds will be used toward two sand volleyball courts at the park.

I will be the target in the dunk tank this Sunday, August 24, from 2-3 pm.

Please attend the community festival  and try your skills. Dunk yours truly for a very good cause!

Wisconsin taxes remain some of the highest

Taxes


Here is Exhibit A why Wisconsin is a tax hell and why I consistently vote against state budget and budget repair bills that increase taxes and spending.

The non-partisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) reports, “Net property taxes in Wisconsin rose 5.7 percent in 2008, the largest increase since 2005, the year before the recent levy limits on municipalities and counties were imposed. The new study notes that 2006 property taxes here were ninth highest nationally and higher than those in all surrounding states.”

School levies increased the most, at 7.4 percent.  County and municipal levy increases were limited to the greater of 3.86% or the increase in property values due to new construction. Due to the slowing real estate market, new construction growth around the state was only 2.5 percent. Even so, municipal property taxes increased by 5.0 percent, and county levies were up 4.5 percent.

Using the most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, WISTAX found that Wisconsin property taxes, at 4.4 percent of personal income, were ninth highest in the nation.

Here is Exhibit B. The Tax Foundation in Washington D.C. has completed its annual report estimating the combined state-local tax burden of residents in all 50 states. It concluded that state-local tax burdens have declined due to income growth surpassing tax growth.

That is not the case, however, in Wisconsin. Every year, the Tax Foundation determines the percentage of income residents in each state pay in state and local taxes. Wisconsin ranks number 9 in the country for state and local tax burdens. Wisconsin’s rank was number 10 in 2007.

According to the Tax Foundation, Wisconsinites pay 10.2 percent of their income in state and local taxes. Wisconsin’s burden isn’t far from New Jersey that ranks number 1 with a state-local tax burden of 11.8 percent.

Surrounding states have lower state-local tax burdens than Wisconsin:

Minnesota: 10.2 percent (#12)

Michigan: 9.4 percent (#27)

Illinois: 9.3 percent (#30)

Iowa:  9.3 percent (#31)

O
ne of the interesting parts of the report is a segment on states where the tax burden rankings have dropped the most:

From 1977 to the present, South Dakota’s tax burden ranking has dropped 25 places from 20th highest to 45th, primarily by maintaining a zero rate on individual and corporate income. The tax burden ranking in Arizona has dropped 24 places from 17th highest to 41st, and the residents there now pay the tenth lowest tax burden. Most of the change came in the wake of a property tax limitation in 1980, and their ranking has changed little since. 

Montana has dropped 22 places, primarily by maintaining a zero rate on general sales.

Colorado has dropped 19 places in the ranking over the last 30 years. It levies every major tax, but the rate on each is among the lowest in the country. Spending discipline in the form of a so-called TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) has helped the state keep tax rates low.

Two politically liberal states have dropped sharply: Oregon and Massachusetts. Oregon has done so by never enacting a sales tax, dropping 16 ranks from 10th highest to 26th. Massachusetts has dropped 17 places by imposing a property tax limitation and keeping a lid on its personal income tax rate, living down its ‘Taxachusetts’ nickname.”

While other states have found the right formulas, Wisconsin continues down the disastrous path of excessive taxing and spending.

Two months ago, I was skeptical of a Wisconsin State Journal article with a bold headline that proclaimed, “Wisconsin falls from ranks of top 10 highest-taxed states for first time since 1980.” Researchers at WISTAX and the University of Wisconsin said this would be only the second time since 1969 Wisconsin has not been in the top ten in taxes nationwide.

How did this happen? As the newspaper reported, “Wisconsin's taxes actually rose slightly in the fiscal year ended in June 2006 but those of other states rose more quickly.” Translation: You’re still paying high taxes, Wisconsin, and they’re not going down.

Judging from the latest reports on our tax climate, it is time to put the corks back in the champagne.

WEAC’s top priority: Elimination of the QEO

Taxes


WEAC (The Wisconsin Education Association Council), the state teacher’s union has released its 2009-10 Legislative Agenda. Topping WEAC’s list of priorities is repealing the QEO (Qualified Economic Offer).

This is another reason the November election is critical. If Democrats maintain control of the state Senate and take back control of the state Assembly, a legislature controlled by Democrats along with Governor Doyle will kill the QEO. The result will be a property tax explosion.

Some background is in order. The QEO was instituted by the Legislature after angry taxpayers statewide demanded action be taken to stop the tidal wave of huge property tax increases. Since its inception, the QEO has helped keep property taxes from being even higher than they already are.

Under the QEO, the compensation package for teachers including salaries and benefits is to be limited to a 3.8 percent increase. Prior to the implementation of the QEO, settlement packages with teachers were much larger, forcing a tremendous burden on taxpayers.

According to data from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) that used figures from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the average total teacher salary and benefit package increase in the years before the QEO was 8 percent during 1984-85, 8.4 percent during 1985-86, 7.7 percent during 1986-87, 7.4 percent during 1987-88, 7.1 percent during 1988-89, 7.3 percent during 1989-90, 7.4 percent during 1990-91 and 6.9 percent during both 1991-92 and 1992-93.

Enough was enough. Taxpayers protested. The Legislature heard and listened, and the QEO was adopted.

In reality, most school districts do not stay within the QEO, agreeing to settlements that surpass the 3.8 percent limit. The WASB reports that the average total package of salaries and benefits was 4.29 percent during 2006-07, 4.25 percent during 2005-06, and 4.31 percent during 2004-05. The percentages are higher than the rate of inflation, and more than likely are greater than increases provided in the private sector.

The QEO must remain intact. Without the QEO, spending and taxes will rise substantially, more people will leave their homes, more people will leave the state, and more jobs will be lost. We cannot afford to lose the QEO.

States shouldn’t rely on cigarette tax increases

Taxes


Proponents of large cigarette tax increases like to point to the additional revenue the tax hikes will bring in to the state Treasury. There is one problem with that assumption. What happens if many of the revenue sources, the cigarette smokers, stop smoking?

Maryland politicians are now dealing with that very scenario. While they begrudgingly admit some satisfaction with fewer cigarettes being sold in Maryland, they are less than thrilled that the smokers have simply gone to nearby Virginia where the cigarette tax is much cheaper. Maryland has lost sales and much-needed revenue and has reacted by making it a crime to carry two packs of cigarettes that weren't purchased in Maryland.

The Maryland experience demonstrates the folly of government depending on cigarette tax increases. Read more in the Wall Street Journal.

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