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.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau announced the shortfall is an incredible $652.3 million. It’s a huge problem that needs to be addressed and with a proper solution.
Have you seen the cost of gasoline? At $3.20/gallon and climbing, the price is the highest ever in Wisconsin.
Have you traveled on the Interstate lately? A myriad of potholes and huge divots, the Interstate and many Wisconsin roads are in deplorable condition.
Have you renewed your license or registration lately? Did you notice the $10 increase in license renewal, and the $20 increase in registration renewal?
Connect the dots: the large revenue shortfall, the high cost of gasoline, roads that look like minefields, and increased fees. Keep those issues in mind as you consider Governor Doyle’s proposal to repair the state budget.
Part of the governor’s plan to fix the budget shortfall is to raid the state’s Transportation Fund of $243 million and transfer it to the General Fund. The Transportation Fund is financed through the state gas tax, one of the highest in the nation, and driver license fees and registration fees. The revenue is used for road projects.
That means less money will be available for work on Wisconsin roads at a time they are in desperate need of attention.
Once again, Governor Doyle has dug into the pockets of taxpayers and his bag of tricks and pulled out an oldie, but not a goodie: raiding the Transportation Fund to plug a spending hole.
During February 2005, Governor Doyle presented his 2005-07 state budget to the Legislature including a $180 million transfer from the state's Patient Compensation Fund and another $250 million from the transportation fund.
After the 2005-07 state budget was approved by the Legislature, Governor Doyle partially vetoed 752 words out of a large section of the budget to create a 20-word sentence. The result was a raid of $427-million from the Transportation Fund, an appropriation the Legislature did not authorize.
The 2007-09 state budget transfers $200 million from the state's Patient Compensation Fund to the general fund. The Wisconsin Medical Society is now suing the state because of the raid that could be illegal.
When citizens pay a tax or fee designated for a specific purpose, like the gas tax for roads, they expect the funds will be used in that manner. The use of funds for other programs or services other than those the funding was intended for is a serious breach of faith and trust with the public. These raids are wrong and must stop.
This legislative session, a constitutional amendment, Assembly Joint Resolution 34 (AJR 34) to prevent budget raids was approved by the state Assembly, 91-6. AJR 34 would prohibit state lawmakers from raiding segregated funds to fill budget holes and prevent funds from being used outside their original intent.
This is the first consideration of AJR 34. The amendment must still pass the state Senate in this legislative session, then be approved by both houses of the Legislature in the next legislative session before going to voters in a statewide referendum. It is highly unlikely the state Senate will schedule AJR 34 for a vote before the current session ends Thursday.
Wisconsin got into its current budget mess because the state taxes, spends, and borrows too much. Governor Doyle’s plan to fix the state budget is to increase the hospital tax and raid the Transportation Fund. Raising taxes and raiding funds are the wrong solutions. Think about that the next time you fill up your tank or hit a pothole.
Here is the state Senate calendar for today, Wednesay, March 12, 2008:
State Senate Democrats voted unanimously today to block the state Senate from bringing up the coercive abortion bill that I co-authored for an immediate vote.
Assembly Bill 427 (AB 427) is a prevention bill. The goal of this legislation is to prevent women from suffering post-abortion trauma.
There has been a public hearing on the bill. I testified at the hearing. AB 427 passed the state Assembly on October 30, 2007, 65-32.
I made a motion on the floor of the state Senate today to bring AB 427 to the floor for a vote. Senate Democrats asked that the Senate stand informal for two minutes. Senate Democrats then went into a closed door caucus for about 15 minutes to discuss my motion.
When the Senate Democrats came out of their caucus, the Senate voted 18-15 against bringing AB 427 up for a Senate vote, even though one Senate Democrat is the Senate author of the bill and another Senate Democrat is a co-sponsor.
I submit the following question: If you authored or co-sponsored a bill, why would you, in the last few days of the legislative session, oppose an opportunity to have a vote on your very own bill?
The plan is very similar to the proposal Senate Democrats attempted to put in the 2007-09 state budget. That plan was rejected.
The latest version of the Senate Democrats’ government health care plan is Senate Bill 562 (SB 562). Based on a memo on the proposal I requested and received from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the plan is just as troubling as last year’s proposal.
The price tag is $15.2 billion, the largest tax increase in the history of the United States.
The Senate Democrats’ proposal also includes an un-elected Board that would have wide-ranging authority. According to a memo I received from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, here are the details about the responsibilities of the un-elected Board:
“Board Membership. Create the Health Wisconsin Authority (Authority) as a public bodycorporate and politic, the Board of Trustees (Board) of which would consist of: (a) five non-voting members, including the Secretary of Employee Trust Funds, who would serve as the initial chairperson until the Board elects a chairperson from its voting members, and four representatives from the Authority's health care advisory committee who are health care personnel and administrators and who would be selected as Board members by the health care advisory committee; and (b) 16 voting members, nominated by the Governor and appointed with the advice and consent of the Senate, comprised of: (1) four members selected from a list submitted by statewide labor or union coalitions, one of which would be a public employee; (2) four members selected from a list submitted by statewide business and employer organizations, one of which would be a public employer; (3) one member selected from a list submitted by statewide public school teacher labor organizations; (4) one member selected from a list submitted by statewide small business organizations; (5) two members who are farmers, selected from a list submitted by statewide general farm organizations; (6) one member who is a self-employed person; and (7) three members selected from a list submitted by statewide health care consumer organizations. Specify that Board members would serve staggered terms of six years each. Authorize the Board to appoint an Executive Director, who would serve at the Board’s pleasure, and whose compensation would be determined by the Board.
Board Responsibilities. Charge the Board with the duty to establish, fund, and administer a health care system in Wisconsin that would ensure that all eligible persons have access to high quality, timely, and affordable health care. Direct the Board, in carrying out that duty, to seek to attain the following goals: (a) that every Wisconsin resident has access to affordable, comprehensive health care services; (b) that health care reform would maintain and improve the choice of health care providers and high quality health care services in Wisconsin; and (c) that health care reform would implement cost containment strategies that retain and assure affordable coverage for all Wisconsin residents.
Require the Board to do the following: (a) provide for mechanisms to enroll into the Healthy Wisconsin Plan (plan) every eligible Wisconsin resident; (b) create a program for consumer protection and a process to resolve disputes with providers; (c) establish an independent and binding appeals process for resolving disputes over eligibility and other determinations made by the Board, and entitle individuals adversely affected by any such determination to judicial review of the determination; (d) submit an annual report on the Board’s activities to the Governor and each house of the Legislature; (e) contract for annual, independent program evaluations and financial audits that measure the extent to which the plan is achieving its statutorily-defined goals; (f) accept bids from health care networks, or make payments to fee-for-service providers, upon consulting with the Department of Employee Trust Funds to determine the most effective and efficient way to purchase health care benefits; and (g) audit health care networks and providers to determine if their services meet the plan’s statutory objectives and criteria.
Vest the Board with all powers necessary or convenient to carry out the plan’s statutory purposes and provisions. Specify that those powers would include, but not be limited to, the power to establish the Authority’s annual budget and monitor its fiscal management, to execute contracts, to employ any officers, agents, and employees it may require, to sue and to be sued, to borrow money as necessary on a short-term basis to address cash flow issues, and to compel witnesses to attend meetings and to testify upon any necessary matter concerning the plan.”
The Senate Democrats’ costly plan would likely bankrupt the state and establish an astonishing bureaucracy with little accountability. An un-elected Board would have the power to set health care costs and determine the type and amount of health care services.
SB 562, like the Great Lakes Compact legislation is on the fast track. I will be voting against the proposal.
Government health care, as proposed by Senate Democrats and approved in their version of the state budget, is fraught with exorbitant costs, high risks, and political problems. An informational hearing Tuesday of the state Senate Health Committee that I serve on featuring testimony from two experts offered me little, if any reassurance, in part because the experts were not completely aware of all the details in the government health care plan.
One of the speakers at Tuesday’s hearing was Stanford University economics professor Alain Enthoven, considered an expert in health care. During his presentation, Enthoven testified that the current health care market needs rules and management. During my questioning of Enthoven, I noted that the Senate Democrats’ plan would be administered in a political environment. As a result, it is inevitable that a government health care system will have political rules and management, and that is troubling.
A glaring example is the fact that a single group is treated differently by the Senate Democrats’ proposal. School districts with some of the best benefits in the state are in the plan; however, they are guaranteed that their benefits will not change to conform to the government plan that the rest of us will be forced into. In essence they are out of the plan.
Another disturbing element is the effect the plan would have on many excellent Wisconsin institutions like the Dean Health System, Marshfield system and many others that are performing outstanding work through research and innovation. Political rules and management that would dominate government health care have the harmful potential of stifling the progress of these tremendous medical facilities. The state should not be an obstacle to creativity in the private sector.
The U.S. General Accounting Office (GAO) on August 23, 2004 released a report on health care costs in Milwaukee. Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett requested the report. The findings showed that health care costs in Milwaukee are higher than in other parts of the country. Local employers reacted by working in conjunction to form mini-groups with purchasing power. This type of private sector innovation would disappear under a government plan that eliminates private insurers and institutes political rules and management.
Professor Enthoven had to admit during my questioning that he was not aware of all of the political components of the Senate Democrats’ plan and even called the potential of political rules and political management a “serious problem in our democracy.”
The other invited speaker was former state Senator and former Department of Health and Family Services Secretary Joe Leean. Leean insisted teachers are included in the government plan and are treated the same as everyone. They are not.
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau wrote a memo I requested about teachers and the universal health care plan:
Municipal Employment Relations Law. Provide that the definition of economic issue would include "health insurance coverage of benefits not provided under the Healthy Wisconsin Plan."
Under current law, the definition includes the term "health insurance." Further, provide that, for the purpose of determining if a school district employer has maintained current fringe benefits requirements under current qualified economic offer (QEO) law, the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission (WERC) would be required to consider the employer to have maintained its health care coverage benefit if the employer provides health care coverage to its school district professional employees through the Healthy Wisconsin Plan and supplements that coverage, if necessary, to produce a health care coverage benefit that is actuarially equivalent to the health care coverage benefit in place before the school district professional employees become covered under the Healthy Wisconsin Plan.
In other words, teachers are guaranteed to retain their current coverage. The rest of us will take the plan dictated by the government health authority.
During Tuesday’s Health Committee hearing, I was more than a bit surprised that two invited speakers were brought in to testify in support of government health care and lecture the committee about the plan while they both were unaware of some of the more critical and troubling elements contained in the proposal.
Finally, this is the worst possible time to even be thinking about increasing taxes in Wisconsin. There are numerous Wisconsin leading indicators crying out that a government one-size-fits all health care program is folly.
1) The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WTA) has done some projections on the cost of the Senate Democrats’ plan, Healthy Wisconsin (HW), if the plan were to begin in 2007. The WTA reports:
“Based on 4.6 percent annual wage growth projected by the Wisconsin Department of Revenue, HW revenues would increase from $15.2 billion in 2007 to $23.9 billion in 2017. If (the consulting group that worked on the government health plan), the Lewin Group is correct and health costs grow 6.5 percent per year, plan expenses would reach $28.4 billion by 2017. If costs grew eight percent, similar to recent increases in the existing state employee plan, spending would reach $32.8 billion.
Since the result would be deficits of between $4.5 billion and $8.9 billion, if the state HW (government) plan were to remain solvent, total payroll tax rates now set at 14.5 percent would have to rise to between 17.3 percent and 19.9 percent over the next decade.”
WTA- June 29, 2007
2) The WTA study, "Wisconsin’s Eroding Household Income," reports on Wisconsin income trends based on figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. From 1999 to 2005, Wisconsin’s median household income fell 2.2% from $45,667 to $44,650, while the national median rose 13.8% from $40,696 to $46,326. Wisconsin ranked 50th in the nation in household income growth during the period. This is no time for Wisconsin to enact the largest tax increase in the history of the United States.
3) Wisconsin is undergoing a foreclosure crisis.
4) American businesses like Sears and Home Depot are experiencing lower profits due to a housing slump.
5) China’s trade surplus has rocketed to new heights.
There may never be a good time for government health care in Wisconsin. However, now is clearly not the time for the Senate Democrat's plan fraught with politics controlling health care, and Wisconsin current economic indicators ranking Wisconsin as one of the highest taxed states, with the lowest income growth, and a forecast of less jobs and less income due to the largest housing slump in 16 years.