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.
Under a requirement of state law, the highly-regarded Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) conducts studies to determine local government practices that can save costs or deliver services with greater efficiency. These reviews are called Best Practices reports.
The LAB has completed a Best Practices review of public library services in Wisconsin. According to the audit, “Wisconsin has 388 public libraries, which are funded primarily with municipal and county taxes, as well as 17 regional library systems supported by state aid. These libraries and systems employed more than 3,200 full-time equivalent staff in 2006, when their operating expenditures totaled $210.4 million.”
As part of the audit, the LAB sent online surveys to all 388 library and 17 regional library system directors in Wisconsin. All 17 regional library system directors and 180 of the 388 member library directors responded to the surveys.
Here are some of the key findings of the audit.
Funding for library services increased 14.0 percent during the five-year period from 2002 through 2006, going from $201.7 million in 2002 to $230.0 million in 2006. During 2006, municipalities provided 59.4 percent of total funding, or $136.7 million. Expenditures for library services totaled $210.4 million; 70.6 percent was for employee salaries and benefits.cipal Funding$136.7
Wisconsin has 17 regional library systems, created to provide greater access to library materials and services, and to foster the sharing of resources among public libraries. The goal has proven to be significant, since the ability for library patrons to access resources from various member libraries within regional public library systems is very popular.
Most member libraries allow access to online catalogs that enable patrons to see and request materials from other member libraries within their system. Over half of libraries responding to the LAB survey reported that the online catalogs are the most valuable service provided by library systems.
Computers continue to be a big drawing card for libraries, getting more and more patrons in the door. Computers with Internet access is one of the most popular services offered by libraries.
The number of computers in libraries for public use increased 20.3 percent, from 4,477 in 2002 to 5,386 in 2006. Over half, 53.9 percent of the libraries that responded to the LAB survey noted a need for additional computer terminals. More than half of the survey respondents provide wireless Internet service to patrons with their own computers or set time limits for using the library computers because of the demand.
Judging from the number of library materials circulated statewide, the role and popularity of libraries is growing.
The number of materials circulated statewide increased 11.8 percent in five years, from 53.3 million in 2002 to 59.6 million in 2006. Libraries have stepped up and have managed to handle the heavier demand for materials by installing self- checkout machines, cross-training staff, and using more volunteers.
The expanded services have become more specialized. Examples include large-print and audio books, providing materials to senior centers and nursing homes, and maintaining special collections in Spanish or Hmong.
The LAB recommends specific best practices for regional library systems and individual libraries.
Among the recommendations, the LAB says it is a best practice for regional library systems to encourage all member libraries to participate in systemwide online catalogs of library materials, assist their member libraries in maintaining current information technology, and explore additional opportunities for collaboration with other systems that can lead to more efficient and lower-cost delivery of services.
It is a best practice for libraries to support their services with an array of funding sources and consider the formation of friends and foundation groups to assist with fund-raising and provide volunteer support, periodically evaluate cross-training and centralizing responsibilities as means for staff to serve patrons more effectively, assess the extent to which volunteers can be effectively used to assist in providing library services, periodically review their collections to identify and remove materials that are not being circulated, and use rotating collections or other means to provide access to more extensive or specialized materials from other libraries, and inform local officials and the general public, through local media outlets and the Internet, about the programs and services they provide.
This spring, I conducted a series of town meetings throughout Senate District 28. I am very pleased that five of my town hall meetings were held in libraries in my district.
Here is the full report of the LAB.
I commend Wisconsin libraries and their dedicated employees for the tremendous public service they perform, and the LAB for once again conducting an outstanding review that contributes to the quality of life in our state.
I have written several blogs about the universal health care debacle in the state of Massachusetts.
Senate Democrats in Wisconsin are insisting our state adopt a government health care program that would cost more than a similar program that has been proposed in California.
Attempting to get a proper handle on how much universal health care would cost is a major problem. According to the Associated Press, during 2006, Massachusetts estimated the program would cost $725 million in the fiscal year starting in July. The figure has blossomed, with the governor budgeting $869 million. Managers of the program concede that won’t be enough.
The mandate aspect of the program is also problematic. Anyone deemed able to afford health insurance must purchase or face penalties. Hundreds of employers have failed to pick up the tab for employees and are paying large fines. Observers acknowledge such a policy that penalizes business that doesn’t exist in other states will hurt Massachusetts.
In the end, the program has failed on its two promises of proving care for everyone and lowering the cost of health care. As a result, conservatives and liberals alike have attacked the program.
Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick says, "I don't think anybody is prepared to say that what we have done here in Massachusetts is necessarily the formula for the rest of the country or for a national reform, but at least we are trying."
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.
Here is an Associated Press story on the continuing problems in Massachusetts.
No other state has implemented Massachusetts-like health care coverage. It would be a complete disaster if Wisconsin were to approve a government health care program.
With the cigarette tax increase approved in the last state budget signed into law by Governor Doyle (that I opposed), Wisconsin's cigarette tax stands at $1.77 per pack of twenty and ranks 12th highest nationally. (Source: The Tax Foundation, Washington D.C.)
Non-smokers may believe they are unharmed by this hefty tax increase. The nonprofit, nonpartisan National Taxpayers Union (NTU) thinks differently. A report by the NTU says cigarette tax increases hurt everybody:
- States with low cigarette taxes tend to have lower overall tax burdens. The per capita state and local tax burden in high-tobacco tax states is 8 percent above the national average, while the general tax bill for residents of low-tobacco tax states is 15 percent below the national average.
- Tobacco tax hikes rarely result in other cuts and are often paired with other tax increases or cuts worth less than the tobacco tax boost. "Most states that increase cigarette taxes don't refund the revenue elsewhere -- they spend it," the study notes.
- Tobacco tax increases don't prevent other hikes. Taxpayers face a seven out of 10 chance of seeing another net annual tax hike within two years of a tobacco tax hike.
- Cigarette tax hikes may encourage other increases because the extra revenue often is tied to specific spending schemes (such as health care or education) and tobacco use rates are falling -- along with potential tax collections. State governments will need to look elsewhere to fill the gap, and non- smokers could be on the hook.
- Tobacco taxes don't spur economic growth. States that adopted a tobacco tax hike in fiscal year 2003 saw an average growth rate in gross domestic product from 2005 to 2006 that was 0.6 percent lower than states that did not adopt a tax increase.
One of my very first blogs during February 2007 was titled, “Wal-Mart to the rescue.” I wrote, in part:
“The best solution to provide top-notch health care at affordable prices is not going to come out of city halls, statehouses, or Washington D.C. Any talk of fixing health care in America should have Wal-Mart and other private sector executives at the discussion table.”
I explain why in my blog.
Jim Jubak agrees. Jubak is senior markets editor for MSN Money. Previously, he served as senior financial editor at Worth magazine and as editor of Venture magazine. Jubak was a Bagehot Business Journalism Fellow at Columbia University and has written two books: "The Worth Guide to Electronic Investing" and "In the Image of the Brain: Breaking the Barrier Between the Human Mind and Intelligent Machines.”
In his latest column, he says Wal-Mart should run the health care system:
“It's a company that understands how low prices can build market share and thus increase profits. Furthermore, it's a company with a culture of cutting costs that has shown no compunction in pushing suppliers to the wall over price. The Wal-Mart motto ought to be, ‘Make it cheaper, or we'll find someone who can.’ I'd love to see that attitude brought to bear in health care.”
You can read Jubak’s entire column here.