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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.

Seniors beware: There is no free lunch

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The state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance has issued a consumer alert, warning senior citizens to be aware of and question sellers of insurance and annuities. There is a chance the seller is only in it for himself.

The Insurance Commissioner’s Office offers the following suggestions to avoid becoming a victim of fraud:


Question the credentials of “experts.”

Individuals often boast designations and credentials using terms such as “certified,” “accredited,” “retirement planner,” “senior advisor” or “senior consultant” to convince people they have special expertise to help seniors choose investment strategies. This may not be true. While some organizations require members to complete a difficult study program and pass extensive exams to earn designations, other organizations have much less stringent requirements that can be completed in a three- or four-day course. In the worst cases, some senior “expert” designations are earned simply by paying a monetary fee. Ask about the person’s qualifications and training, and check them out for yourself. Find out how the person earned the credential, and whether the credential actually requires learning more about older adults’ financial needs and/or more about the product being sold.

Beware of the “Free Lunch” Seminar.

According to a report from FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority), four out of five investors 69 years and older received at least one invitation to a free lunch investment seminar in the past three years and three out of five received six or more. There is often a catch to a “free” seminar, even those advertised as unbiased and educational. Federal regulators examined 110 firms that offer free lunch seminars and found that every seminar was a sales presentation. While certain information provided at seminars may be useful, a seminar may end up being a sales presentation for life insurance, annuities, other insurance products, or investments. Such seminars often use enticements, including free meals and door prizes, or claims of “urgency” or “limited space,” in order to encourage you to attend. You should be aware that if you give contact information on a registration form, that information will be used to solicit you for future sales and marketing efforts.


Does this product make sense for you?

Always be sure you understand what is being sold. Do not hesitate to ask questions. Financial products can be complicated even for the most informed consumer. You should be able to explain this product in your own words to someone (other than the salesperson) in a way that makes sense to both of you. The product must be right for you, your lifestyle, your financial goals, and your tolerance for risk. It’s rare that one product will meet the financial needs and goals of everyone attending a seminar. Be cautious about any promises that one product can meet all your financial needs. If the presenter doesn’t know your personal financial situation, he/she can’t know if the product is right for you.

Never make a final decision at a seminar.

 
A Boston Globe article reported that “more than a third of ‘free lunch’ seminars aimed at seniors focused on unsuitable or fraudulent investments.” If you attend a seminar, you may be exposed to high pressure tactics, frightening stories about individuals who don’t have enough money to live on in retirement, and promises of amazing financial returns. Consider obtaining a second opinion from an accountant or other professional who will not benefit financially from the sale.

Report scams.

If you feel that you may have been pressured into purchasing a product that is not right for you or if you feel that you may have been misled during a sales presentation about the product you purchased or if you simply don’t understand the product, do not hesitate to contact your state or federal regulator for assistance. Regulatory agencies are available to assist you. Financial scams happen to all kinds of consumers, including seniors. Do not let fear or uncertainty keep you from contacting the proper regulatory agencies.

Important Contacts

In all cases, before you disclose any personal or financial information, call the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance at (800) 236-8517 or the Department of Financial Institutions Division of Securities at (608) 266-1064 to verify that the person is licensed to sell insurance products or securities products, and that there have been no complaints or enforcement actions against the person. If a company hosted the seminar, contact the Better Business Bureau (or check their website at www.bbbonline.com) to learn about any complaints. To check for complaints against securities brokers, visit the Web sites of the NASAA (North American Securities Administrators Association) at www.nasaa.org, or FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) at www.finra.org.

Here is the Boston Globe article referenced above.

If you know a senior that could benefit from this information, please forward it to that senior.

They call this repairing the budget?


As you know, the Legislature approved and Governor Doyle acted on, with some vetoes, the budget repair bill. I voted against the budget repair bill because it didn’t repair anything.

The structural deficit at the time the governor signed the 2007-09 state budget into law (that I voted against because it increased taxes and fees by $763 million) was $896 million. A structural deficit occurs when spending is put off into the next budget cycle or spending commitments are made into the future without adequate revenue.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), the highly regarded analysts who crunch all the budget numbers for the state, has released a memo reporting that following the enactment of the budget repair bill (2007 Act 226), the structural deficit has ballooned to $1.682 billion dollars.

How is this a budget fix?

This kind of budgeting is risky and irresponsible. We have merely created another budget crisis for the near future.

The state needs to get far more serious about getting its fiscal house in order, once and for all.

Hearings scheduled on unemployment program

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development has announced the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council is holding a series of public hearings around the state to receive public comments on the state’s unemployment program.

One of the hearings is scheduled in Milwaukee:

Friday, July 25, 2008
Milwaukee State Office Building
819 N 6th Street, Room 40
Milwaukee, WI 53203
1:30 pm

Here are more details.

Best Practices Review: Libraries

Audits


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.

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