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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.

State Fair Park Audit released

Audits


The Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) has released its annual audit of the financial statements for the Wisconsin State Fair Park for fiscal year 2006-07. Here are the audit’s key findings.

For the first time since fiscal year 1998-99, State Fair Park annual revenue exceeded expenditures, by $1.3 million. Race track related expenditures declined by $3.8 million. As of June 30, 2007, State Fair Park’s accumulated cash deficit was $9.9 million. The deficit is a concern because less funding is available for other state programs and the deficit prohibits State Fair Park income from turning into investments.

State Fair Park made a license agreement in December 2005 with Milwaukee Mile Holdings to manage racing events at the Fair Park. The agreement was for 18 years and included a license fee of $246,000 the first year increasing to $1.8 million annually thereafter. There have been some amendments to the agreement since, the latest coming in a renegotiation in February of this year that reduced the annual license fee to $1 million beginning in 2008.

The original agreement December 2005 agreement was intended to have the license fee be sufficient to cover annual debt service at State Fair Park. Under the new agreement, the LAB estimates that, “State Fair Park’s financial responsibility for the Milwaukee Mile will increase to nearly $1.2 million in 2008,” meaning more revenue sources must be found. Some possibilities that had been considered review are the development of 5.75 acres at State Fair Park adjacent to I-94 and the construction of a billboard on the grounds. Because of I-94 construction, those options have been postponed.

The audit also examined concerns pertaining to livestock contests at the Wisconsin State Fair. The concerns include the role of the Agriculture Director consulting with advisory committees in establishing contest rules for junior division livestock shows, the responsibility of the Agriculture Director in choosing junior division judges, and changes in the payout procedures for the premier livestock competition of the State Fair, the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Livestock Auction.

The LAB also reports, “Several conflict of interest allegations have also been raised related to the Agriculture Director’s responsibilities to State Fair Park and his participation in an outside business that buys and sells show cattle. For example, the Agriculture Director maintained a financial interest in animals that were exhibited and won championships at the 2005 and 2006 state fairs. State Fair Park officials were aware of this potential conflict but did not reassign the Agriculture Director’s responsibilities because he was not a direct participant in the competitions and was not the sole person responsible for selecting judges. The Agriculture Director has indicated he is transitioning away from his outside business, but we found that he continued to participate as recently as March 2008.”

Here is the way the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel reported the issue.

The LAB recommends the State Fair Park Board consult with the state’s Government Accountability Board to examine if the Agriculture Director’s outside business interests constitute a conflict of interest with his duties at the State Fair Park.

The LAB also recommends the State Fair Park get more financial information from the company managing racing activities, report back to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee by March 31, 2009 on both the revenue shortfall in the new license agreement with Milwaukee Mile Holdings and the cash deficit, reevaluate the selection of judges for junior livestock competitions, and that the State Fair Park Board’s Agriculture Committee approves competition rules for livestock shows annually.

Here is the entire LAB audit report.

I commend the LAB for their consistently excellent reviews.

Court ruling creates big budget hole


A ruling  by the Wisconsin Supreme Court in favor of Menasha Corporation of Neenah will result in a huge hole in the state budget. The high court ruled that the state was wrong to collect sales taxes on customized computer software sales from Menasha and other firms in Wisconsin. The sales tax money collected will now have to be returned and the Legislature must address the $265 million gap.

Here are details from the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel.

As I did with the 2007-09 state budget and the state budget repair bill, I will oppose any solution to this latest budget problem that includes a tax increase.

The historical rise and fall of biofuels

Ethanol


Having written a dozen blogs on ethanol, my record on the issue is clear. Too many question marks along with the dramatic impact on the world food supply make me more than skeptical about the value of ethanol. My constituents have also informed me of their strong opposition.

In America, members of Congress and the food industry are calling for an end to ethanol mandates. The nationwide corn-based ethanol mandate requires blending 9 billion gallons of ethanol into America’s fuel supply this year. Midwest flooding during June devastated several million acres of corn and soybeans fields, pushing the price of corn to record highs that have, in turn, severely hurt livestock producers.

The British also understand the ramifications of the ethanol craze. Christopher Booker and Richard North recently published Scared To Death: From BSE to Global Warming, How Scares Are Costing Us The Earth. They have written a column in the Daily Telegraph, chronicling the historical rise and speedy fall of biofuels.

Booker and North write, “Rarely in political history can there have been such a rapid and dramatic reversal of a received wisdom as we have seen in the past 18 months over biofuels.” Prior to the change in heart over biofuels, Booker and North document what they call “mankind’s love affair with biofuels,” a process that developed in five stages going back decades.

Stage One-The internal combustion engine is born. Henry Ford wanted his autos to run on ethanol made from corn and hemp. The petroleum business boomed during the 1920’s, and ethanol got placed on the back burner.

Stage Two- During the 1970’s, skyrocketing oil prices put the focus back on biofuels. The United Nations, after holding a conference on the issue in 1981 adopted a program in 1987 emphasizing biofuels.

Stage Three- Two key developments occurred during the 1990’s: 1) After the first Gulf War, the United States, staring at a spike in oil prices, viewed surplus crops as the answer to dependence on foreign oil, and 2) The United Nations considered biofuels a solution to global warming.

Stage Four- Between 2004 and 2007, hysteria over global warming grew. In an attempt to show leadership on global warming, the European Union (EU) set a required target of 10 percent of all EU transport fuel to come from biofuels by 2020. A United Nations report during 2006 indicated that in order to meet the EU goal of 10 percent, 70 per cent of dry land would have to be taken out of food production. Despite the UN report, the EU today refuses to alter its 10 percent target.

Stage Five- The ethanol backlash exploded, coming from some unpredictable sources. Environmental groups, once chief biofuel proponents, now had serious doubts, spurred by the effects in the Third World and rainforests. Worldwide food shortages had critics pointing the finger squarely at the biofuel craze.

Booker and North quote a United Nations official who says biofuels can only
bring "more hunger to the poor people of the world, "and that biofuels are a "crime against humanity".

The world needs to get over its ethanol hangover and dramatically cut back on ramming food into fuel tanks. Here is Booker and North’s column in the Daily Telegraph.

Tax relief still available for flood victims

News you can use

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Flood victims, there is still time to apply for disaster unemployment

News you can use

Deadlines are fast approaching to file for disaster unemployment assistance in Wisconsin. If you were unable to work because of the severe flooding last month, you can apply for assistance, but time is running out.

Here are the deadlines for counties I represent in state Senate District 28:

Waukesha County: July 19, 2008

Walworth County: July 25, 2008

Here is more information in a press release from the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development
.

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