NOW:53132:USA00949
http://widgets.journalinteractive.com/cache/JIResponseCacher.ashx?duration=5&url=http%3A%2F%2Fdata.wp.myweather.net%2FeWxII%2F%3Fdata%3D*USA00949
38°
H 45° L 33°
Cloudy | 6MPH

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.

Oh my goodness, look what we are number one at!

Gambling


Two years ago, I wrote a column predicting “an outrageous explosion of gambling, the likes of which Wisconsin has never seen. Tourism brochures can start describing the Badger State as the Las Vegas of the Midwest.”  

I specifically pointed to the Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee and how its massive expansion flies in the face of voters and the Wisconsin Constitution.

Just how big was the growth at Potawatomi? Here is the most recent ranking of the top 10 largest Indian casinos.

Time is running out to apply for flood assistance

News you can use


The deadline is fast approaching to apply for flood recovery assistance from the federal government. If you want to apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for assistance for damages from June flooding, the deadline is September 15, 2008.

You can apply online here or call FEMA's toll free line at (800) 621-FEMA.

Just under 38,500 Wisconsin registrants have applied for help from FEMA. The agency has provided over $48 million to Wisconsin residents and households and about $29 million in loans to small businesses has also been approved.

Reminder: The Muskego Water Bugs celebrate their 50th anniversary


The incredibly talented Muskego Water Bugs have been invited to compete in the 
2008 Sino-American Water Ski Competition in China. They will represent the United States against two of the very best professional Chinese water ski show teams.

The Muskego Water Bugs will leave for China on September 26 and return on October 6 after competing in Dongguan City of Guangdong Province and Shanghai. The Chinese competition became part of a Chinese holiday celebration six years ago. While the Muskego water skiers are delighted to travel to China for the competition, they believe the most important element of their trip is the great opportunity to build U.S./China relations through the avenue of entertainment.

T
ravel and food expenses are being handled by the Chinese Water Ski Association in cooperation with each local government sponsor.  Private and corporate donations are being accepted to offset miscellaneous expenses. Fourteen members of the Muskego Water Bugs and three other Wisconsin water-skiers are making the trip.

Family oriented, the Muskego Water Bugs feature parents and children performing on the shores of beautiful Little Muskego Lake at Idle Isle. This year, the group is celebrating its 50th anniversary. Formed in 1958 on Okauchee Lake, the skiers wanted to exhibit their water skills to spectators. The Water Bugs became one of Wisconsin’s first ski show clubs.

The group moved to Beulah in East Troy in 1967 and built their first ski jump. Not only did the Water Bugs perform shows at Beulah beach, they began competing in state, regional, and national contests, taking second place for show competition at the 1973 Wisconsin State Water Ski Show Championships.

One year later, another move, this time to rainbow Springs. Without a particular home, the Water Bugs traveled from location to location, performing at various cities and lakes. That changed in 1981.  The Water Bugs declared Little Muskego Lake as their new home. They have been performing at Idle Isle Park ever since, even providing water ski lessons during the summer.

The Muskego Water Bugs is one of the oldest water ski show teams in the country, officially celebrating their 50th anniversary September 5 and 6, 2008.   September 6 will feature an alumni show at 2:00 pm. The current Water Bugs will perform at 3:00 pm. And you can’t beat this…the price is right: all shows throughout the season and on September 6 are free!

The performers have been rewarded for their hard work and talent, winning numerous state, national, and international championships. Like our Olympians, the team is comprised of amateur skiers and drivers whose only compensation is the thunderous applause of appreciative fans.  I am truly amazed  
at the enormous talent and high-quality entertainment Wisconsin has to offer right here in Senate District 28 in Muskego.

I prepared a special Senate citation, and I was thrilled to present it during intermission at another of their outstanding performances on August 20. The citation reads:

Whereas, the Muskego Water Bugs are invited to represent the United States at the 2008 Sino-American Water Ski Competition to compete against two top professional Chinese show ski teams; and

Whereas, the Muskego Water Bugs qualified and placed fourth in the Division One National Show Ski Team Competition at the Thirty-Fourth Championships, with additional competition awards to Kelly Neubauer and Kyle Wohler earning fourteenth place doubles, Meghan Moriarty and Marty Campbell earning second place doubles, The Jump Team earning fifth place, and Terry Roslawski earning the Skip Gilkerson Award for best male skier; and

Whereas, the Muskego Water Bugs will represent the United States of America with 14 participants from Muskego, including Terry Roslawski, Peggy Moriarty, Alyssa Modlinski, Cory Krivitz, Kyle Wohler, Michelle Aird, Meghan Moriarty, Marty Campbell, Kaitlin Moriarty,  Andy Krumrai, Mike O’Dwyer, Allie Krumrai, Craig Planton, and Mark Moriarty and three Wisconsin water skiers, Jeremy Armstrong, Kristin Armstrong, and Geoff Stone joining the Muskego Water Bugs for the China competition; now

Therefore, the members of the Wisconsin State Senate on the motion of Senator Mary Lazich congratulate the Muskego Water Bugs for successfully competing to earn status to represent the United States of America at the China competition.  The Muskego Water Bugs are further commended for earning distinction to represent the United States of America at the China event to better United States/Chinese relations in an environment centered around fun and entertainment.

I wish the Muskego Water Bugs the best of luck at the 2008 Sino-American Water Ski Competition in China! Thank you, Water Bugs, for sharing your gifted talents and for bringing immense pride and joy to our great state! 

Calling all Veterans

News you can use, Veterans issues

 

The Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs is holding a meeting this week at Fort McCoy to provide information on the various benefits and services available to our fine Veterans. It’s called the Supermarket of Veterans Benefits, and takes place Friday, September 5.

Here are the details.  

Thank you, Harley supporters!

Motorcycles


Thank you to everyone who came out to the events surrounding the 105th anniversary of Harley-Davidson. The outpouring of support and hospitality was tremendous.

Here are some pictures taken during the Women’s Day Ride I participated in last Friday.

 

Read more

Are you ready for DTV?

News you can use


You have probably seen one of the many announcements that have inundated the airwaves about the impending mandate about conversion to digital or DTV. As of midnight, February 17, 2009, by a Congressional mandate, all full-power television stations in the United States will stop broadcasting in analog. They will switch to 100% digital broadcasting. Digital broadcasting will provide a clearer picture and more programming options. The new technology will also free up the airwaves for use by emergency responders.

What does this mean to consumers? What will you have to do in order to comply with the conversion mandate?

If this sounds too complex and raises many questions, you can find answers at the Milwaukee Public Television website and from the Federal Communications Commission.

The government is going to regulate your lawnmower


Residents of southeast Wisconsin are quite familiar with the federal agency, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA has determined the quality of air in our area is hampered by auto emissions. According to the Wisconsin Vehicle Inspection Program (WVIP) Annual Report for 2005-2006, “The U.S. EPA implemented a more stringent ozone standard, the so-called 8-hour ozone standard. In April 2004, several southeastern and eastern Wisconsin counties were designated non-attainment areas under this standard. The WVIP will play an important, ongoing role in the state’s efforts to comply with the standard.”

That means the auto emission program continues in southeast Wisconsin, although there was a change implemented in the program this summer. As of July 1, 2008, cars and trucks built before 1996 are exempt from undergoing emissions testing.

This seems odd given that the conventional wisdom is older cars produce dirtier emissions and that newer, cleaner running automobiles that have replaced older cars are cleaner and stay cleaner much longer than their predecessors. If any vehicles should be exempt, it should be the newer and not the older models.

Motorists in southeast Wisconsin are also required to pump and use reformulated gas (RFG) that during the summertime costs much more than gasoline in counties outside our region. How effective is RFG in improving the quality of our air? The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently posed that question to the EPA. The EPA had to admit that it didn’t know.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported June 30, 2008,The Public Investigator Team asked the Environmental Protection Agency exactly how the gas benefits air quality today. The answer: ‘That's the data we don't know now,’ said Paul Machiele, director of the EPA's Fuels Center in Ann Arbor, Mich.”

During May of this year, I signed a letter with other lawmakers asking the EPA to eliminate the RFG requirement. The EPA says it's preparing a response. Remember, southeast Wisconsin consumers have complained mightily about the effect of RFG, wreaking havoc on automobiles and small engines.

That leads to the latest EPA folly. The EPA on September 4, 2008 implemented a rule that allows the agency to regulate the emissions of your lawnmower.

Beginning in 2011, a 35 percent reduction in emissions will be required for new lawn and garden equipment. Emission reductions of 70 percent will also be enforced for speedboats and other recreational boats starting in 2010. The executive director of the National Association of Clean Air Agencies, Bill Becker told the Associated Press the new EPA rules will be the equivalent of taking one out of every five cars and trucks off the road.

Not surprisingly, the new rules carry a big cost. According to the EPA, it will cost $236 million a year to attain the required reductions in emissions so that the government can regulate your lawnmowers and boats. I will bet you can figure out rather quickly what will happen to those increased costs. You, the consumer, will pay higher prices when you purchase that next piece of lawn or gardening equipment. The California Air Resources Board calculates walk-behind lawnmowers will cost 18 percent more. The cost of commercial turf care mowers will go up about three percent.

The EPA says that, “To meet the new exhaust emission standards, manufacturers will likely employ catalytic converters for the first time in many small watercraft and lawn and garden equipment.” The agency claims the strategy of requiring catalytic converters is “feasible and safe,” despite the objections of some members of Congress that installing the devices in small engines creates a fire hazard.

Your car, your gasoline, your boat, your lawnmower, your weed trimmer….I shake my head in amazement and wonder what could possibly be next.

Proud to be pro-Wisconsin business

Business


I am honored to be one of 32 state legislators that have a 100 percent
voting record on business issues according to Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC). The WMC says these legislators “clearly understand the connection between a strong economy and the quality of life we enjoy in Wisconsin. We salute these 100% pro-business legislators — they deserve our thanks and support.”

James A. Buchen, WMC vice president of government relations said, “These legislators are stalwart defenders of jobs for our families. Legislators who stand up for jobs time and again – especially with a slowing economy – are the true friends of working families. These legislators are stalwart defenders of jobs for our families.”

Here is a WMC press release  and the complete WMC scorecard.

It's the spending


Big government is alive, big time in Washington D.C. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is projecting a near-record federal budget deficit of $407 billion, more than double last year's figure. Red ink will spill into 2009 when the deficit could skyrocket to $438 billion, or even more as the federal government assumes control of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. The CBO blames the booming deficit on the sputtering economy, the housing slump, weak financial markets, and expensive food and energy costs.

While the deficit is serious, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports what is more troublesome is the excessive amount of federal spending. The problem isn’t how much we borrow, the Bush tax cuts, or the war on terror. Putting it in simple terms, the WSJ reports, “Rather than sort through priorities, Congress is spending more on just about everything.”

The “pay as you go” promise has flopped as “paygo” violations and earmarks have escalated since Democrats took control of Congress in 2006.

The WSJ has a chart that displays runaway federal spending in various categories from 2001-2008. The paper correctly asserts that voters this November need to seriously consider which candidates are best suited to curb “Congressional appetites.”

You can read the WSJ article here.

Fall is just around the corner

News you can use


The calendar says we still officially have about two weeks of summer left. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) says the changing color of leaves will begin in some areas, can you believe it, next week.

Wisconsin makes little progress improving business climate

Business


Wisconsin
continues its unfortunate pattern of being one of the worst states in the nation to do business.

Forbes.com has released its third annual Top States for Business report, and the news remains horrendous for Wisconsin. Wisconsin ranks #43 on the list of the best states for business. Wisconsin’s 2007 rank was #44 and its 2006 rank was #39.

Forbes.com rated the states on six different criteria: business costs, labor, regulatory environment, economic climate, growth prospects, and quality of life.

Here is how Wisconsin ranked in each of the six categories:

1) Business Costs- Wisconsin ranks #37, down from #34 last year. This index is based on cost of labor, energy and taxes.

2) Labor-Wisconsin ranks #37, up from #38 last year. This index measures educational attainment, net migration and projected population growth.

3) Regulatory Environment- Wisconsin ranks #37, up from #44 last year. This index measures regulatory and tort climate, incentives, transportation and bond ratings.

4) Economic Climate-Wisconsin ranks #26, up from #38 last year. This index reflects job, income and gross state product growth as well as unemployment and presence of big companies.

5) Growth Prospects-Wisconsin ranks #46, down from #33 last year. This index reflects projected job, income and gross state product growth as well as business openings/closings and venture capital investments.

6) Quality of Life-Wisconsin ranks #16, down from #8 last year. This is an index of schools, health, crime, cost of living and poverty rates.

The rankings compiled by Forbes are revealing. Wisconsin continues its proud tradition of being a great place to live, given our high quality of life, although it is sad to see the state drop out the top ten in that category. In all other categories, Wisconsin’s business climate is woeful. 

Wisconsin taxes and spends too much, the state over-regulates, our income growth rate is one of the lowest in the country, and the brain drain is costing us many of our best and brightest workers.

The Forbes.com report is another wake-up call to Wisconsin to take dramatic measures to significantly improve our business climate. How did surrounding states fare? Minnesota ranks #11, Iowa ranks #22, Indiana ranks #25, Ohio ranks #39, Illinois ranks #35, and Michigan ranks #47.

Here are all the state rankings and the full story from Forbes.com.
  

Remembering 9/11


Thursday marks the seventh anniversary of the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center.

To mark the fifth anniversary of 9/11, I wrote a column about my emotional experience touring the World Trade Center site. You can read my column here.

Best Practices Review: Truancy

Audits


Having served on the Legislative Audit Committee in the past, I have a keen interest in the high caliber work of the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) that always impresses. Under a requirement of state law, the highly-regarded 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
efforts by Wisconsin’s public school districts to reduce truancy. Wisconsin statutes define  truancy as any absence for all or part of a school day for which a pupil’s parent or guardian has not notified school officials of the reason for the absence. A habitual truant is a pupil who is absent without an acceptable excuse for all or part of five or more days in a semester.


During the 2006-07 school year, the most recent year data was available, the LAB found:
 
 
  • 9.3 percent of pupils in kindergarten through grade 12 were habitually truant.
  • The habitual truancy rate varied among districts in the 2006-07 school year, ranging from 0 in 47 districts to a high of 58.2 percent in the Menomonie Indian district.
  • The 20 largest school districts account for nearly three quarters of habitual truants.
  • The Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS) district had a habitual truancy rate of 46.3 percent during the 2006-07 school year.
  • The older a student gets, the more apt the student is to be truant. Habitual truancy rates ranged from 4.5 percent for fourth graders to 17.2 percent for ninth graders.
This finding by the LAB is quite interesting. The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) is required by law to collect attendance data and report certain data to federal agencies. However, DPI is not required to review or approve school districts’ attendance policies, truancy plans, or truancy reduction efforts.

The LAB reports that during the past four school years, DPI has administered federal funds totaling $1.9 million for districts with high pupil poverty rates, higher habitual truancy rates, and inadequate yearly progress as measured by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
 Eight school districts have received federal truancy funds. Here are the districts and their latest habitual truancy rates:

Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS):  46.3%

Menominee Indian School District: 58.2%

Green Bay Area Public School District
: 9.2%

The School District of Beloit:  33.6%

The School District of Janesville: 19.8%
 

Kenosha
Unified School District: 19.0%

Madison Metropolitan School District: 8.5%

The Racine Unified School District: 8.5%


Habitual truancy rates at three of the six MPS schools that received federal truancy reduction grants during the 2006-07 school year increased from the previous year.The best analysis that can be offered about the effect between federal funding and truancy rates is that the results are mixed.

The LAB found that school d
istricts have generally complied with state statutes and have drawn up and monitored attendance policies and have contacted families about unexcused absences. Districts have instituted truancy plans and have conducted reviews of their own plans and plans in other districts. The variety of truancy reduction programs includes social workers at elementary schools contacting students and families to discuss ways of reducing tardiness. At the high school level, night schools, schools within schools, and local ordinances to punish truants have been adopted.

The effectiveness of the ordinances has been mixed. The LAB writes, “For example, in Kenosha Unified School District Number 1, 79.0 percent of pupils who received truancy citations did not comply with the order to attend school. In contrast, 55.0 percent of Racine Unified School District pupils who received citations had fewer instances of truancy after being cited.”

The LAB recommends that school districts consistently review compliance with statutory requirements for attendance monitoring and truancy planning, monitor habitual truancy at each grade level and develop strategies to minimize truancy in the early grades, identify alternative programming to help truant high school pupils obtain high schoolDiplomas, involve parents and guardians in truancy-related matters, consider the full range of available sanctions for addressing truancy, and evaluate and modify, asnecessary, their truancy reduction efforts on a regular basis.

DPI should, according to the LAB, promote the sharing of cost-effective information about truancy reduction efforts among school districts.

I commend the LAB for once again conducting an outstanding Best Practices review.

Here is the full LAB report.

UPDATE - The government is going to regulate your lawnmower


Folks, you can’t make this stuff up.

Last week, I blogged that the EPA has approved a rule that will have the federal government regulating your lawnmower. 

A reader identified as GENO53151 left the following comment on my blog:

“I am going to open a business to sell goats.  We can save gas, reduce pollution, and have organic fertilization at the same time our lawns are being maintained. Can I get a state grant to start up my business??”

I am pretty sure Geno intended to be funny. In California, it seems this issue is taken very seriously.

Take a look at these photos posted on zimbio.com:
 

Read more

Deer hunting begins Saturday

News you can use


As hard as it is to believe, deer hunting season in Wisconsin begins this weekend. Here are the season dates:
  • Bow - Sept. 13 - Nov. 20, 2008 and Dec. 1, 2008 - Jan. 4, 2009
  • Gun - Nov. 22 - Nov. 30, 2008
  • Muzzleloader - Dec. 1 - Dec. 10, 2008
  • Youth Deer Hunt - Oct. 11 & 12, 2008
  • Statewide Antlerless Hunt - Dec. 11 - Dec. 14, 2008
Department of Natural Resources (DNR) officials say as many as 1.7 million whitetail deer are currently roaming the Badger State, approximately the same figure as last year. Our severe winter may have claimed the lives of some deer in north central Wisconsin, but overall, the DNR says the state has more deer than the targeted population goals.

I wholeheartedly support our hunters and outdoor enthusiasts for not only promoting one of the state’s rich historical traditions but their involvement in critical wildlife management. Even Wisconsinites not hunting benefit from the tax revenue generated from hunters that purchase guns, ammunition and outdoor equipment.

Hunting is an integral element of American culture. Families by the millions engage in this recreational activity. Hunters have long demonstrated social responsibility through their continued support of wildlife management and conservation policies. Their activity has led directly to the funding of programs that have resulted in aiding and restoring the populations of ducks, turkeys, antelope, elk and deer.

Hunting has fed the hungry through thousands of pounds of donated game meat to programs for the poor.

There are fewer accidents involving crashes with wildlife because of hunters.

Hunting serves to teach responsible gun ownership. Rural residents are more apt to be hunters and violent crime rates are much lower in rural areas.

The benefits of hunting are many, and for that, Wisconsin owes a big thank you to all of our hunters. 

Here’s to a very safe and successful 2008 deer hunting season!

Reminder: Today is deadline to apply for flood assistance


If you want to apply to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) for assistance for damages from June flooding, the deadline is today, September 15.

You can apply online here or call FEMA's toll free line at (800) 621-FEMA.

State help for job seekers

News you can use


The state of Wisconsin has an online job center to assist the unemployed find work. The website operated by the state Department of Workforce Development features county-by-county job listings, job fair postings, and assistance for creating quality resumes. For employers, the website has a search feature to help them find applicants qualified for their open positions.

You can visit the website here.

The government knows how much you’re driving


This isn’t exactly a news bulletin.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHA) reports, “S
ince last November, Americans have driven 53.2 billion miles less than they did over the same period a year earlier – topping the 1970s' total decline of 49.3 billion miles. Americans drove 4.7 percent less, or 12.2 billion miles fewer, in June 2008 than June 2007. The decline is most evident in rural travel, which has fallen by 4 percent – compared to the 1.2 percent decline in urban miles traveled – since the trend began last November.”

Here is the news release from the FHA.

The reasons for the decline are obvious and indisputable: high gasoline prices and a sluggish economy. But how does the federal government know the decline between November 2007 and June 2008 is 53.2 billion miles? How does the federal government arrive at the figure?

The answer is a matter of modern technology and mathematics. States have installed special sensors on our roadways that can determine the amount and size of cars. The data is sent to the feds every month and they do the math.

Read about it in Slate.

The Obama tax shift


Barack Obama’s policies on taxes are difficult to determine. They keep changing all the time. Thankfully, the Wall Street Journal has been keeping track.

First there was what the Journal calls ObamaTax 1.0. Obama would end the Bush tax cuts, raise the cap on wages that come under the payroll tax, place the top marginal rate at 39.8 percent, and increase rates on capital gains and dividends.

This summer came ObamaTax 2.0.  Obama changed his position by lowering the top rate on capital gains.

Now with John McCain and election ads pummeling Obama as a tax-raiser, Obama has revised his tax strategy again. Under ObamaTax 3.0, if the economy is still sputtering at the beginning of 2009, President Obama might, the operative word being might, forego all of his earlier proposals calling for big increases.

There is plenty of uncertainty when it comes to Barack Obama’s intentions on taxes. The only certainty appears to be that taxes will go up, and go up a lot.

Here is the Wall Street Journal article.

Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports John McCain is delivering a simple, easy to understand message on taxes. 

Clarifying the Move Over Law

News you can use


On January 24, 2007, I blogged about Wisconsin’s new Move Over Law:

“Wisconsin has a Move Over Law that requires drivers to move over or slow down for emergency and maintenance vehicles. The law says that a motorist must ‘move the motor vehicle into a lane that is not the lane nearest the parked or standing vehicle or machinery and continue traveling in that lane until safely clear of the vehicle or machinery.’ It also requires that a motorist ‘slow the motor vehicle, maintaining a safe speed for traffic conditions, and operate the motor vehicle at a reduced speed until completely past the vehicle or machinery.’”

Despite the law being in effect for almost 20 months, it seems many Wisconsin motorists are unaware of the details. The state Department of Transportation informs me that there has been compliance by motorists with emergency vehicles. However, many motorists are not slowing down for maintenance vehicles as required under the Move Over Law. 

So, please, move over for emergency and maintenance vehicles. It’s the law.

Major Election Day problems ahead

Photo ID


On February 4, 2008, I agreed with pessimistic forecast that there would be major problems with our elections this year. My blog quoted Dr. Robert A. Pastor, director of the Center for Democracy and Election Management at American University in Washington, DC:

“Voters are likely to face hassles with registration lists and voting machines. Poll workers will remain under-trained and overworked. Election management remains under the thumb of partisan officials, and voter identification is likely to remain problematic. 2008 is unlikely to be an improvement over 2006.”

You can read my entire blog here. 

Seven months later, the Washington Post concurs, reporting that, “election officials across the country are bracing for long lines, equipment failures and confusion over polling procedures that could cost thousands the chance to cast a ballot.” 

The tragedy is that Wisconsin does not require photo ID’s to vote. Governor Doyle and state Senate Democrats killed any chance of a photo ID requirement being in place for the critical November elections when the governor vetoed photo ID legislation three times and Senate Democrats refused to allow a vote on a photo ID constitutional amendment. A common sense photo ID requirement would not be an obstacle to voting or hamper the process. Such a law would be a great step in cleaning up an election system in disrepair.

Photo ID opponents in Wisconsin, albeit a minority, got their wish. Even so, it appears there are going to be  many problems on Election Day, here and across the country.

Slowing down on roundabouts

Roundabouts


The state of Wisconsin seems to be on a roundabout binge. The philosophy of the state Department of Transportation (DOT) is that whenever major intersection improvements on state roads or four-way stops are planned, the installation of roundabouts must be considered. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on August 24, 2008 that statewide, there are 58 roundabouts open on state and local roads, seven to 10 more are scheduled to open by the end of the construction season, and 140 or more are in various planning stages.

Before the state proceeds with its plan to blanket roadways with roundabouts, it should slow down and I have made that request to the DOT. I have also asked the DOT to rethink the roundabout at Racine Avenue and I-43 in Muskego because of concerns with the roundabout at I-43 and Moorland Road in New Berlin.

The design at the New Berlin roundabout left much to be desired with poor signage and lane markings. There have been a number of accidents at the roundabout, not to mention a high level of anxiety and frustration. There are also complaints about the roundabout on Drexel Avenue in Franklin near Highway 100 and the new Shoppes at Wyndham Village.

Some of my constituents that have corresponded with me about roundabouts have been receptive to the roundabout concept. They agree with the DOT that roundabouts improve safety and reduce crashes. The DOT contends, “Roundabouts move traffic safely through an intersection because of slower speeds, fewer conflict points, and decision-making. Studies by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety show that roundabouts provide a 90% reduction in fatal crashes, 76% reduction in injury crashes, 30-40% reduction in pedestrian crashes, and a 10% reduction in bicycle crashes.”

However, constituents I have heard from angrily oppose roundabouts. I am very concerned about the danger posed by roundabouts resulting in accidents. There are other concerns including poor signage and lane markings that I have already indicated. What about semi-trailer trucks?  The configuration of roundabouts makes it extremely difficult for semi-trailers, long trucks, campers, and cars with boats to successfully negotiate the turns.

Proponents at the DOT suggest frustrated motorists, in time, and with more education will learn to accept roundabouts.  How does DOT  adequately train the masses, the vast number of motorists on our roadways?  Most of them will never get their hands on a DOT brochure or see a roundabout video on the DOT website.

That is why I suggest the state put the brakes on roundabouts until the kinks can be worked out. The idea is to improve all aspects of roundabouts: design, safety, ease of use. The DOT should bring together special study groups of designers, engineers, and importantly motorists to determine the best model for roundabouts. I have asked the DOT to conduct simulations with a cross-section of Wisconsin drivers and cross-section of vehicles before proceeding further with roundabouts.

Until then, the state should put away the plans to build more and more because the current roundabout design at I-43 and Moorland Road is not ready for prime time.

Congratulations Muskego carp shooters!


Congratulations to the Little Muskego Lake Association (LMLA) on having a very successful carp shoot on September 20, 2008. Approximately 100 fish were removed from Little Muskego Lake. When the carp shoots from the spring are factored in, a total of approximately 630 carp were removed from Little Muskego Lake during 2008. Carp shoots provide great environmental benefits, including making the water clearer and improving the populations of other fish.

Ridding our waters of carp is critical. During the early 1900’s, biologists discovered carp were filling waterways to the point of crowding out other more prized game fish. Carp are known as bottom feeders. They literally suck up mud and spit it out before selecting their food from the water. The carp cause sediment to stir up resulting in poor water conditions and feeding problems for desirable fish.

Carp eggs stick like heavy-duty industrial strength glue so it can get quite messy. Carp shooters are a special breed of people, willing to get down and dirty to help the environment.

The carp shoot was truly a team effort. Organizers made perfect plans. Crews removed floating weeds on the lake. Police patrolled in two shifts. The event went off without complaints or problems as all riparians gave their full cooperation and support. Videographers captured the carp shoot for broadcast on Madison’s Fox Channel affiliate in October.

Little Muskego Lake got a big boost in quality thanks to everyone who played a part in this successful event. Congratulations carp shooters for your contribution to our environment and quality of life!

Mayor Tom Barrett’s sudden concern about a Great Lakes issue

Great Lakes


What is going on inside Milwaukee City Hall? It seems Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has suddenly become worried about the fact that Chicago is discharging large amounts of sewer overflow into Lake Michigan.

Last week, Mayor Barrett wrote a letter to U.S. Congressman Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) expressing his concerns about, “the amount of the overflows reported by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago which were estimated at 99 billion gallons” during a strong storm this month. Barrett continues:

“So, in this one September storm alone, Chicago released five times more combined sewage than Milwaukee has released in 14 years. Additionally, Chicago is perhaps the only community that can have overflows that go both east and west into different watersheds (Lake Michigan and the Mississippi River) at the same time. Chicago has dozens of combined sewer overflows every year into the Mississippi basin – the source of drinking water for millions of people. Chicago is also the only city on the Great Lakes that does not disinfect its wastewater.”

I commend Mayor Barrett for writing the letter; however, I have two questions for Mayor Barrett:

1) Where have you been?

Chicago’s dumping of vast amounts of sewage into Lake Michigan should come as no surprise. Historically, Chicago has more or less been able to do whatever it wants about Lake Michigan, regardless of the circumstances or consequences.

Take, for instance, Chicago’s diversion of water from the Great Lakes.

The Illinois-Michigan Canal was opened to shipping traffic in 1848, the same year Wisconsin entered the Union. Every day, 64.6 million gallons of water was diverted from Lake Michigan at Chicago through the Chicago and Illinois Rivers to the Mississippi River.

The Windy City’s sewage poured into the Chicago River and then into Lake Michigan, Chicago’s drinking water source. As a result, in 1885, over 10 percent of Chicago’s population, 90,000 people died from cholera.

Since then, the amount of water in the Chicago diversion has grown substantially, even beyond the limit imposed by a 1967 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The Chicago diversion was not only in direct defiance of the high court, but is, today, the largest diversion out of the Great Lakes Basin. The other Great Lakes states voiced concern, leading to a battle in federal court.

Illinois agreed to reduce the outtake of water from Lake Michigan to the amount set by previous court decisions. The other states agreed not to take legal action for previous Illinois violations. What a sweet deal Illinois received. At a time when Wisconsin communities are desperate for water, today, millions of northeast Illinois residents that live outside the Great Lakes Basin have access to Lake Michigan water because of the Chicago diversion.

With that history in mind, I am not surprised at Chicago’s recent dumping of sewage into Lake Michigan.

2)  If this so concerns you, Mayor Barrett, why didn’t you raise these issues during the time you so vigorously lobbied for approval of the Great Lakes Compact?

I thought, listening to officials like Mayor Barrett that the Compact was going to resolve these issues, protect our resource, and prohibit the kind of harmful action Chicago took. Throughout the entire process, I never heard Mayor Barrett voice any objections about the questionable Chicago sweet diversion deal or the city’s dumping of sewage into Lake Michigan.

During the lengthy deliberations about the Great Lakes Compact, I made it clear that despite my reservations, I supported an effective document that was good for the Great Lakes, the state of Wisconsin, and would preserve our greatest natural resource.

Time and time again, I heard Compact proponents make the case that the Compact would address the water needs of New Berlin. The conventional wisdom was that the Compact needed to be approved quickly, and if it was, New Berlin’s water woes would be taken care of. Making those arguments were city of Milwaukee officials from Mayor Tom Barrett on down. They claimed the city of Milwaukee would no longer have issues with New Berlin getting water if Wisconsin would simply okay the Compact. City of Milwaukee officials even threatened to withhold the sale of water to New Berlin until the Compact was approved by the Legislature.

What happened? Wisconsin approved the Compact, but for the city of Milwaukee, on this critical public health issue, it remained business as usual, as it imposed a hefty price tag for a community in desperate need of water. For the city of Milwaukee, it was never about the Compact. It was and remains a question of money and control over a suburb to the west.

It appears Tom Barrett, who argued long and hard that the Compact needed to be approved as quickly as possible, and even used precious water as a negotiating chip, believes Congress needs to be aware of a serious problem in the Great Lakes Basin. Maybe Mayor Barrett should have thought about that before his rush to judgment.

Agreement needed to expand Wisconsin’s booming cranberry industry

Business


Cranberries are big business in Wisconsin. Wisconsin Rapids now boasts having the largest cranberry producing plant in the world.

Our cranberry business could be even bigger if the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and cranberry growers can come to an agreement on expediting the permitting process to transform as many as 5,000 acres into cranberry bogs. An economic study prepared this year by University of Wisconsin economists has concluded that if Wisconsin’s cranberry industry were to add 5,000 new acres, the state would gain 1,115 new jobs and see an annual income increase of $75 million.

The CEO’s of Ocean Spray Cranberries and Cliffstar Corporation, two large and significant buyers of Wisconsin cranberries, have been discussing speeding up the process with Governor Doyle and the DNR so that cranberry expansion can take place in Wisconsin. Failure to come up with an agreement could send the cranberry companies to seek land in Canada, taking all the jobs and income that go along with the expanded fruit production.

A greater global demand for cranberries has necessitated the call for more bogs. The United States is exporting 30% of its crop to places like the United Kingdom, Australia, Germany, China, and South Korea.

Wisconsin is an ideal place to grow and harvest cranberries and expand production. The state understands the business and already has plants in operation. Canada has plenty of land to convert into bogs, but lacks Wisconsin’s knowledge of the industry and processing plants.

Cultivating cranberries is time-consuming. The time it takes from beginning work on the land to the actual harvest is usually about three years. Add on the two-year permitting process in Wisconsin and one can understand the concerns of cranberry companies who can’t wait that long to satisfy global demand.

What is the hang-up? Some portions of the land that would be included in the Wisconsin expansion contain wetlands. Environmental groups are worried the wetlands will be destroyed. The CEO’s of Ocean Spray and Cliffstar insist they will replace any wetlands converted into cranberry bogs.

There is not a state in the entire country that produces more cranberries than Wisconsin. The Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association reports the cranberry is the state’s number one fruit in both value and acreage, providing an annual $350 million boost to the state economy and 7,200 jobs in Wisconsin. The Association also says in order to meet the rising worldwide demand for cranberries, an additional 110 million pounds, or 5,000 acres of berries must be produced in the next 5-10 years.

Wisconsin has a golden opportunity to expand one of our most successful industries, create jobs, and benefit the state economy. The Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune reports there is progress in talks between the state and cranberry executives. 
I urge the involved parties to come to a mutual agreement soon that will be in the best interests of all, especially Wisconsin’s lucrative cranberry industry.

This summer, I blogged that the Wisconsin blueberry is a superfood. The Wisconsin cranberry is also a superfood with many health benefits.

 

More want to vote early

News you can use


I blogged during May about the trend of voting via the Post Office. 
As one election official put it, “There is no line at your mailbox.”  Just how popular is the absentee ballot? The Associated press reports that nationwide, about a third of the electorate is expected to vote before Election Day, November 4, 2008.

The numbers show an increasing percentage of voters want to take advantage of the absentee ballot because they are travelling, they are elderly and have difficulty getting to the polls, the convenience of considering their choices in the comfortable confines of their home, or simply because they can. Many states, including Wisconsin, allow anyone to vote absentee, no questions asked.

During 2000, 16 percent of voters in the United States cast their ballots early. The number increased to 22 percent in 2004.

Statewide in Wisconsin, according the Government Accountability Board’s Kyle Richmond quoted by the Associated Press, about 365,000 people used absentee ballots or cast early votes at clerk’s offices in 2004, about 12 percent of the voting age population in the state. The number is expected to grow this year to 15 percent.

Voters who request an absentee ballot should start getting them in the mail the week of October 6, 2008. Here are details on obtaining an absentee ballot in Wisconsin.

Here is an Associated Press story on the popularity of Post Office voting.

It’s that time: Watch out for deer

Motorcycles, News you can use


The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) is issuing the following warning to motorists: Be extremely cautious the next several weeks. Here’s why:

Deer will be abundant and their movement unpredictable along Wisconsin roadways in coming weeks.”

The risk for car-deer crashes increases this time of year. During fall, deer on the prowl to mate are active and while on the move often find their way in the path of vehicles. October is a bad month for deer collisions and so is November. The most commonly struck objects in Wisconsin crashes are, in this order, another vehicle, a fixed object, and deer.

As a motorcycle enthusiast, I especially want to emphasize this finding:
Motorcycles were involved in 10 of the 14 fatal deer-vehicle crashes in Wisconsin during 2007.

Here is a press release from the DOT including advice about how to prevent car-deer crashes.

Page Tools