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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.

New law makes it easier to dispense high-quality drugs

A significant health care delivery bill that I co-sponsored has been signed into law by Governor Doyle.

Under previous Wisconsin law, a pharmacist could only dispense a drug or device at a pharmacy licensed by the Pharmacy Examining Board. 

Senate Bill 409 that was signed into law allows
pharmacists to dispense a prescribed drug or device at a health care facility or correctional facility that does not have a licensed pharmacy.  The new law is noteworthy because it makes it easier for pharmacists to dispense high-quality services in remote areas of the state. 

Here is a history of Senate Bill 409 with links to the history of the bill, a Legislative Council memo, and the new law.

Wisconsin’s ability to compete continues to sag

Business, Taxes

Almost a year ago, on April 2, 2007, I blogged that the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reported during 2006, the rate of growth in Wisconsin income ranked near the bottom compared to all other states. Wisconsin’s per-capita personal income grew 4.3 percent. The national average of per-capita personal income growth was higher at 5.2 percent. Our income growth ranking put us in the bottom 10 states.

I also blogged about a Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance study that found from 1999 to 2005, Wisconsin’s median household income fell 2.2 percent from $45,667 to $44,650, while the national median rose 13.8 percent from $40,696 to $46,326. Wisconsin ranked 50th in the nation in household income growth during the period. Meanwhile, spending by state and local governments in Wisconsin takes over 20 per cent of your personal income.

You can read my entire blog from a year ago
 here. 

It’s disturbing that the downward spiral of Wisconsin income continues.

Competitive Wisconsin, Inc. (CWI), a nonpartisan group of state agriculture, business, education and labor leaders has released its tenth annual Benchmarks Survey, rating Wisconsin in 33 areas of interstate competitiveness.  Seventeen benchmarks changed this year, with eight improvements, and nine declines on some key areas, signaling reason to be concerned about Wisconsin’s ability to compete nationally.

Three benchmarks stand out:


1)
    PER CAPITA INCOME: Wisconsin’s per capita income, $34,476, is below the national average of $36,629. As CWI reports, “Personal per capita income is often cited as a measure of a state’s relative economic health. Wisconsin’s per capita income also continues to significantly trail that of its neighbors, Illinois ($38,297) and Minnesota ($38,751).”

2)
    JOB GROWTH: CWI reports, “In 2006, the number of Wisconsin jobs increased 0.7%, a drop from 1.1% in 2004 and 1.2% in 2005. Wisconsin trails the national average of 1.8%.”

3)
    CREATION OF NEW PRIVATE BUSINESSES: Wisconsin lags behind the nation in this category as well. CWI reports, “The number of new private businesses in Wisconsin dropped 0.4% in 2006, while the number of businesses grew nationally 2.5%. Even more troubling is that all of Wisconsin’s neighbors had increases in 2006.”


The CWI study is the latest in a series of gloomy eye-opening reports clearly demonstrating Wisconsin’s fragile economy is headed in the wrong direction.

Incomes are down. Job opportunities are down. The number of new businesses opening that offer job opportunities is down.

Because hard-working families have less income, their ability to keep financing government’s whimsical spending habits is more difficult. Since families have less, it is imperative government refrain from taxing them more.

Wisconsin is struggling to resolve a $652 million revenue shortfall.  The wrong solution is to raise taxes. Wisconsin taxpayers have given so much for so long that they cannot give anymore.

When families have trouble making ends meet, the last thing they do is pull out the Visa card. State government should adopt the same common-sense policy. How many more abysmal reports do we have to read before we realize the time to stop taxing and spending arrived a long time ago?

Here is the CWI report and a CWI press release.

Haven’t done your taxes? File electronically

News you can use

With the April 15 deadline for filing income tax returns quickly approaching, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue (DOR) is recommending that taxpayers file electronically.

E-filing will avoid a long wait for a refund.

The DOR offers these tips for taxpayers who choose the traditional method of filing on paper:

• Avoid using commas or cents, and follow examples on the form when printing numerals.
• Double check all math and review tax tables.
• Look over the entire return to ensure it is completely and accurately filled out.
• Sign the return, and include all necessary schedules and supporting documents.
• If tax is due, attach the payment check to the front of the return with a paper clip.

Here is more information from the DOR.

My reaction to Michael Gableman’s victory on Channel 12

Mary in the media


Channel 12’s Kent Wainscott interviewed me about Michael Gableman’s victory over Louis Butler in the state Supreme Court race and the call for change in high court elections.

You can see Kent Wainscott’s story here.

I'm a guest of Mike Gousha's

Mary in the media

I will be a guest this Sunday morning on Channel 12’s Up Front with Mike Gousha.

We will discuss the state Supreme Court race and calls for reforming judicial campaigns.

You can see Up Front with Mike Gousha this Sunday morning on Channel 12 at 9:00 a.m.

How does the government spend your money?

Taxes

You have completed, signed, and sent in your income tax returns and you may be pondering this question: how does the government spend my tax dollars? Where does most of the money go? Does the bulk of my taxes go to pay for schools? Roads? The war in Iraq?

Those are daunting questions, considering all levels of government, federal, state, and local spent $4.1 trillion during 2007. Approximately two-thirds of your taxes go to the federal government with the remaining third going to state and local governments.

Using data from the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis, MSNBC.com crunched the numbers to calculate how your taxes are spent.

The largest chunk of tax dollars, 22 percent goes toward income security that includes Social Security, welfare, disability payments, and unemployment insurance. The next largest expenditure, 20 percent goes for health care that includes Medicaid and Medicare. A significant 42 percent of American tax dollars is spent on entitlement programs.

Public safety, including national defense and local police, fire, prison, and court costs make up another 20 percent of taxes.

Then comes education. About 74 percent of taxes spent on education goes toward elementary and secondary schools, with most of the rest paying for colleges, and the remainder for public libraries. Overall, education accounts for 16 percent of your tax dollar.

Since government doesn’t pay taxes, someone has to pay for the cost of government and that, of course is you. When government spends more than it generates in revenue (sound familiar, Wisconsinites?) and resorts to credit card budgeting by borrowing money, there is interest that must be paid. The cost of managing all levels of government takes up another 14 percent of tax dollars, with the largest portion (63 percent) being the interest paid on borrowing. Other government costs include salaries, expenses, and the cost of actually collecting taxes.

That leaves eight percent of taxes that goes to pay for roads, agriculture, airports, air and water quality, the space program, and recreation.

Let’s review how American tax dollars are spent according to the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis:

INCOME SECURITY: 22 percent

HEALTH CARE: 20 percent

NATIONAL DEFENSE/PUBLIC SAFETY: 20 percent

EDUCATION: 16 percent

COST OF RUNNING GOVERNMENT: 14 percent

MISCELLANEOUS: 8 percent

Finally, who pays what in taxes in America?

A 2007 report by the non-partisan Tax Foundation in Washington D.C. reported:

In general, households that earn the most income pay the most dollars of taxes. This is no surprise, since income and payroll taxes make up a very large portion of the nation’s tax bill. Overall, the most tax dollars were paid by households in the top income group. They paid an average of $81,933 in taxes—$57,512 to the federal government in Washington in 2004, and $24,421 to state and local governments at home.

Households in the middle income group—which some refer to as the “middle class”—paid an average of $21,194 in taxes, or $13,028 in federal taxes and $8,166 in state and local taxes.

America’s lowest-earning households—those earning less than $23,700 in cash money income in 2004—face the nation’s lowest tax burden. Households in the bottom income group paid an average of $4,325 in taxes in 2004, or $1,684 to the federal government and $2,642 to state and local governments.”

Taxes at all levels of government remain too high, severely impairing income growth, job creation and retention. The best way to get a handle on taxes is to curtail runaway spending.

Watch my appearance on Mike Gousha’s program

Mary in the media


If you missed it, here is the video of my appearance Sunday with state Representative Fred Kessler on Up Front with Mike Gousha on WISN-TV Channel 12.  

We discuss proposed changes for state Supreme Court elections.

State’s list of top ten expenses now includes debt


A study by the non-partisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) says that debt service has vaulted into the state’s list of top ten expenses, right up there with school funding and aid to local governments.

WISTAX reports:

The principal reason the state faces major challenges whenever it has a budget crisis rests on how it spends its money. In addition to debt service, which it legally cannot cut, it devotes 55% of general fund expenses to aiding schools and local governments, and another 12% on health care for low-income individuals (Medicaid). That means that close to 70% of what the state spends is devoted to programs whose costs are difficult to control (Medicaid) or to programs that, if trimmed, would likely result in local property tax increases.

"What is not readily understood," observes WISTAX President Todd A. Berry, "is that the cost of operating state governments accounts for only 17% of general fund expenditures. The public and press often presume that cutting state agency budgets can solve a budget problem, yet the uncomfortable truth is that more than four of every five dollars in the state budget are spent elsewhere."


Read the press release from WISTAX  and a Wisconsin State Journal editorial

Major problems continue with Massachusetts’ government health care

Government health care

State Senate Democrats have been pushing to implement a multi-billion dollar government health care plan in Wisconsin.

Thankfully, their efforts have been unsuccessful.

Government health care is failing in Massachusetts where patients are having difficulty finding doctors. Patients fortunate enough to find a physician then experience long waits for appointments. One physician’s next opening for a physical is early May — of 2009.

The New York Times has the story.

Wisconsin's health care is some of the best in the country

Government health care

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services ranks Wisconsin health care at number two in the nation.

Do we really want to toss out our health care system and convert it into a government health care program?

Here are more details in the Stevens Point Journal.

Wisconsin now has an official tartan

Governor Doyle has signed legislation that creates the official state tartan. I was the lead Senate sponsor of the legislation.

Take a look.  The story behind the tartan is quite interesting.

Update on virtual schools

 

Governor Doyle has signed a compromise bill approved by the Legislature to keep virtual charter schools operating in Wisconsin.

One of the provisions in the bill sets an enrollment cap for virtual charter schools at 5,250 students.

The Wisconsin Legislative Council writes in a memo on the legislation, “In general, the limit for pupils attending virtual charter schools under the full-time open enrollment program is 5,250 pupils statewide. However, notwithstanding this limit: (1) pupils who are already attending a virtual charter school under the fulltime open enrollment program in a school year may attend virtual charter schools the next school year and (2) new open enrollment applicants who are siblings of continuing open enrolled pupils also may attend virtual charter schools the next school year.”

The Wisconsin Coalition of Virtual School Families issued the following press release:


April 7, 2008


For Immediate Release
April 7, 2008
Contact: Rose Fernandez, 262-565-7844


The following is a statement by Rose Fernandez, president of the WI Coalition of Virtual School Families:

"Today marks the end of a long battle for public virtual school supporters. While we are not happy that this victory came at the cost of the enrollment cap, we are thankful for the work of Rep. Brett Davis and Senators John Lehman and Luther Olsen. Together, they guided our bill through a contentious spring legislative session.

"We fought off court-ordered closures of our schools; proposals to slash per-pupil funding in half; and onerous suggestions of parental licensing.   Today's signature by the governor would not have happened had 1,100 of us not brought our appeal directly to the halls of government in January.

"This was grassroots democracy at its finest; a blow to powerful special interests; and, most important, a win for Wisconsin's children."



I support virtual charter schools as another education option for parents and students that is not only popular but successful.

Here is the history of Senate Bill 396 with links to a Legislative Council memo and the enacted law.

A warning to motorcyclists

News you can use

When many areas of Wisconsin ran out of salt this winter, sand was applied to roads.

Motorcyclists, be advised. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) is warning that the sandy residue on roads will make traveling a bit more adventurous for motorcyclists.

The leftover sand and potholes could result in more crashes this spring.

Read the DOT press release. 

Please drive carefully

Conceal carry for retired officers

Many solid pieces of legislation failed to survive the 2007-08 legislative session. One of the casualties was a bill I co-sponsored, Assembly Bill 877 (AB 877) that would have allowed retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed weapons.

Retired law enforcement officers and law enforcement departments around the state support this common-sense legislation. These trained men and women have dedicated their professional lives to protect and serve. Why would we deny empowering them to help fight crime in our communities?

Under the bill, law enforcement agencies in Wisconsin could allow retired law enforcement officers to carry concealed firearms. Retired officers would be required to meet certain standards for training and qualification.

I understand that this is a priority for law enforcement around Wisconsin. This legislation is likely to be re-introduced in the next legislative session and will again have my support.

Here is a copy of AB 877.

The largest income tax increase since World War II

Taxes

Beware of “The Coming Tax Bomb.”

John Cogan, a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and former deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan, and  Glenn Hubbard, dean of Columbia Business School,  and former chairman  of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush write an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal about what’s in store for taxpayers if the Bush tax cuts disappear.

Cogan and Hubbard write:

“Letting the Bush tax cuts expire will drive the personal income tax burden up by 25% – to its highest point relative to GDP in history.

This would be the largest increase in personal income taxes since World War II. It would be more than twice as large as President Lyndon Johnson's surcharge to finance the war in Vietnam and the war on poverty. It would be more than twice the combined personal income tax increases under Presidents George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton. The increase would push total federal government revenues relative to GDP to 20%.

Why this large tax increase? The tax code changes enacted in 2001 and 2003 are scheduled to expire at the end of 2010. If they do, statutory marginal tax rates will rise across the board; ranging from a 13% increase for the highest income households to a 50% increase in tax rates faced by lower-income households. The marriage penalty will be reimposed and the child credit cut by $500 per child. The long-term capital gains tax rate will rise by one-third (to 20% from 15%) and the top tax rate on dividends will nearly triple (to 39.6% from 15%). The estate tax will roar back from extinction at the same time, with a top rate of 55% and an exempt amount of only $600,000. Finally, the Alternative Minimum Tax will reach far deeper into the middle class, ensnaring 25 million tax filers in its web.”

Cogan and Hubbard contend a tax increase “is neither wise nor necessary.”

Read their entire piece.

New expanded law allows hunters to transfer more licenses to minors


A new Wisconsin law expands the current law that allows licensed hunters to transfer their hunting permits for bear to minors.

Under previous law, hunters could only transfer a Class A bear license to a minor. Under the new law that I voted for, permits can be transferred to minors for deer, bobcat hunting and trapping, otter trapping, fisher trapping, Canada goose hunting, wild turkey hunting, sharp−tailed grouse hunting, elk hunting, and sturgeon spearing.

The minor has to be eligible to use the permit. The minor cannot have been issued a transfer of that type of permit in the past.

The new law will give minors a chance to hunt and harvest rare game and will promote one of Wisconsin’s storied traditions among young people.

The Appleton Post-Crescent reports, “Few people can hunt rare game because a limited number of permits are distributed each year. Compared with 641,000 resident deer licenses issued last year, only 4,405 were issued for bear and 1,030 for bobcat. Eighty-one people between the ages of 12 and 18 received Class A bear licenses in 2006, according to the state Department of Natural Resources. Out of 110,000 spring turkey licenses handed out that year, young people accounted for 11 percent, or 11,700. That's what makes transferring a permit a difficult decision.”

Typically, there is a long waiting list for certain wild game permits that can last several years.

Hunters can transfer their permits as soon as applications are available. The Department of Resources (DNR) is working on the application forms and will make them available online. The application forms must be filed with the DNR 15 days prior to the beginning of any particular hunting season.

Minor hunters must be at least 12 years old and must attend and finish a hunter safety course in order to get a transferred permit.

Channel 10 panel on taxes

Mary in the media

I will be a guest panelist this week on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10’s “4th Street Forum.”  The subject for discussion:


WISCONSIN TAXES: WHAT'S ENOUGH? WHAT'S FAIR?
What's the Truth about Wisconsin Taxes?
Are they fairly distributed? Excessively high?
Are some people and businesses getting a good deal at the expense of others?

The program will air this Friday night at 10:00 p.m. and will be repeated this Sunday afternoon on Channel 36 at 3 p.m.

Other states not raising taxes to fix budgets

Taxes

Wisconsin is not alone in its budget woes. The Associated Press reports, “Nearly two dozen states are grappling with deep cuts and tax proposals to close shortfalls totaling more than $34 billion.”

The similarity between Wisconsin and other states ends with the red ink. There is a stark contrast between Wisconsin’s approach to a budget fix and the remedies being applied in other cash-strapped states.

Last week, state Senate Democrats voted for big tax increases to fix the budget shortfall. Compare that short-sighted solution to what is being proposed elsewhere.

The Washington Post reports, “Only half a dozen states have approved, or are considering, tax increases……. Instead of raising taxes, most states with shortfalls are curtailing services.”

Regarding tax increases as a solution, the Associated Press reports, “Despite the dire conditions, only a handful of states are seriously considering general tax increases or even modest hikes on the wealthy to close the gaps. Lawmakers say they fear such actions would only further stress the economy.”

Program and service cuts in other states reportedly will be painful. That is the inevitable price that must be paid following year after year of over-taxation and spending.

Wisconsin would be wise to forget the tactic that has been used too often and has propelled the state into the economic chaos we now confront-pulling out the credit card and pushing ever-growing debt into the future. The result is a never-ending cycle of budget debacles.

Tough as it may be to swallow, other states have the correct blueprint. Difficult choices must be faced head on rather than taxing and spending that will only exacerbate an already out-of-control problem.

Read more from the Associated Press and the Washington Post.

Governor quietly drops cost-savings program, audit planned

Audits

The Wisconsin State Journal is reporting that last year, Governor Doyle’s administration “quietly dropped” the Accountability, Consolidation and Efficiency, or ACE initiative. The administration promoted ACE, promising a savings to the state of $200 million over four years by determining more effective ways to make state purchases.

My colleague, state Senator Rob Cowles of Green Bay has asked for an audit of ACE. Cowles is correct that during a time of a $650 million dollar revenue shortfall, the state must take every step it can to ensure funding is being spent appropriately and effectively.

Read the Wisconsin State Journal article.


Reminder: Milwaukee Public Television panel on taxes

I was a guest panelist last week on Milwaukee Public Television Channel 10’s “4th Street Forum.”  The subject for discussion:


WISCONSIN TAXES: WHAT'S ENOUGH? WHAT'S FAIR?
What's the Truth about Wisconsin Taxes?
Are they fairly distributed? Excessively high?
Are some people and businesses getting a good deal at the expense of others?

The program will be repeated this afternoon on Channel 36 at 3 p.m.

Negative effects of cigarette tax increases

Taxes

Wisconsin is one of 14 states to increase cigarette taxes over the past two years.

There are concerns the cigarette tax increases will have the following ramifications:

1) Black-market cigarettes will be more profitable.

2) There will be an increase in cigarette smuggling.

USA TODAY has the story.

States look to Venezuela for energy assistance

Wisconsin is one of 15 states to accept free heating oil from Venezuela to help low-income families heat their homes this past winter.

Some states refuse to participate because of America’s political differences with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Stateline.org has the details.

The biggest problem facing Wisconsin?

Taxes

Wisconsin Public Radio and St. Norbert’s College have released their latest statewide survey. The issue of taxes was mentioned as the most important problem facing Wisconsin, and has been listed as the number one problem in 15 of the last 17 surveys taken by WPR and St. Norbert’s.

The random telephone survey of 400 residents was taken March 25 through April 5, 2008.

There is a margin of error of +/- 5%.
   

Biggest Problem Facing Wisconsin 

What is the most important problem facing the State of Wisconsin today? (Open-ended)  


  Taxes & Budget Education Economy & Jobs Health Care Environment Welfare Issues Crime/ Drugs Gas Prices Gov't Ethics
Fall '94 21% - 7 3 1 21 27 NA NA
Fall '95 21% 5 5 5 2 14 15 NA NA
Fall '96 14% 7 11 2 1 15 16 NA NA
Fall '97 18% 12 5 2 5 10 15 NA NA
Fall '98 30% 11 5 2 2 6 7 NA NA
Fall '99 29% 20 6 4 3 5 9 NA NA
Fall '00 26% 13 13 8 7 5 4 NA NA
Sp '02 51% 14 7 1 2 3 1 0 5
Fall '02 49% 11 13 4 <1 <1 3 0 8
Sp '03 54% 10 20 4 <1 1 1 <1 2
Sp '04 30% 9 32 4 1 1 3 <1 4
Sp '05 40% 15 15 8 3 <1 4 3 2
Fall '05 29% 9 14 6 3 1 5 6 6
Sp '06 26% 12 15 10 2 2 0 7 7
Sp '07 22% 12 14 14 1 3 5 3 6
Fall '07 35% 8 9 9 2 1 3 5 11
Sp '08 33% 7% 21% 7% 2% 3% 6% 6% 6%
  

Taxes

Most responses in this category were that they were in general too high and that we have too many. Several mentioned property taxes in particular and a couple said that taxes were driving businesses and jobs out of the state. 

Economy & Jobs

About half the responses in this category were either economic conditions in general or jobs/unemployment as being the biggest problem. There were several that mentioned cost of living/prices – this was an increase from what we have previously seen. Others mentioned (a few responses each):

-          Brain drain
-          Too much debt
-          Lack of economic development
-          Stability
-          Businesses and jobs leaving the state
-          Farming is getting tougher, loss of dairy farms
-          Lack of high-paying jobs
-          Lack of industrial jobs 

Health Care

About half the responses just said “health care” while others mentioned that costs were too high, that insurance costs were too high, or lack of coverage. 

Education

About half mentioned that it is underfunded. Something that came up this year was several people mentioning low graduation rates.

Government Ethics

Just under half the responses in this category were that Governor Doyle is the biggest problem facing the state, followed by the legislature, liberals, and in general, how the state is being run. Two people mentioned the legal system and how judges are selected as being the biggest problem.

Crime & Drugs

The most frequent mention was crime generally, followed by several mentions of teenagers getting into trouble. Other mentions were gangs, drug abuse, violence, and law enforcement as the problem. 

Gas & Energy

Most people said that gas prices were too high, but also included in this category were a few mentions of needing more efficient energy, worry about dwindling supply, or a general sense of energy crisis. 

Budget

Responses in this category were mixed between general mentions of the budget as the biggest problem, and specifying that it is the budget shortfall/the deficit, too much spending, and the need to reprioritize spending.

Social Programs

Most responses in this category were that welfare and the people on it are the biggest problem facing the state. There were a couple of mentions of poverty and the need for more social programs/spending on social programs.   

Environment

All responses but one (which said wolves were the biggest problem facing the state) mentioned water pollution. This is a change from previous years where most just mention pollution or need for a clean environment more generally. A few specifically mentioned the fish viruses and the dredging projects underway.

The worst time to raise gas taxes

Taxes

Gasoline prices in Wisconsin are as high as they have ever been.

The state record of $3.43 per gallon was set May 26 and matched this week, according to AAA Wisconsin. The average price of unleaded gas is up more than 13 cents from a month ago and nearly 55 cents from a year ago.

Locally, the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel reports, “the Milwaukee figure was roughly 12 cents higher (than the national price), $3.51, according to the AAA motor club. The previous high for the Milwaukee area was $3.49, set on May 24, 2007.”

I think we can agree that now is the worst time to raise gas taxes. But that is exactly what the Governor Doyle’s administration is suggesting.

Two weeks ago, on April 2, Wisconsin Department of Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi testified before a House panel in Washington D.C. that the federal gas tax, now 18 cents, should be raised to 40 cents to pay for improvements to the nation's  infrastructure.

Busalacchi testified, “Raising taxes is never an easy decision. For the good of the country, we have to make this investment,” according to the Green Bay Press Gazette.

That means if the governor’s Transportation Secretary had his way, motorists in Milwaukee would currently be paying $3.91 per gallon.

Just before the latest upsurge in gas prices, the Green Bay Press Gazette editorialized on April 15:


“Busalacchi is a member of the Natural Surface Transportation Policy and Revenue Study Commission, which recently submitted its final report. Among its findings is a gap of 71 cents to 88 cents per gallon between ‘currently sustainable’ federal highway costs and the amount of dollars the tax is expected to bring in through 2020. In other words, more than doubling the federal gasoline tax is just the start.

This is the same Frank Busalacchi who has worked with Gov. Jim Doyle to shift state transportation funds about three-quarters of a billion dollars in the last two budgets. First there was a $500 million raid on the gas tax revenues to boost the education fund, saddling DOT with the equivalent in debt service. Now Doyle is proposing $190 million in additional borrowing so that the cash from the gasoline tax can help balance the budget.

Which is it? Is the transportation fund so low that the gasoline tax needs to be doubled on a nationwide basis, as Busalacchi preached in Washington, or is the fund so flush that it can be used as a slush fund for any state purpose every couple of years, as Busalacchi has practiced in Madison?”


Compare Busalacchi’s idea to John McCain’s consumer-friendly proposal to suspend federal gas taxes between Memorial Day and Labor Day.

While gas prices continue to rise and Busalacchi preaches they should go up even higher, more and more motorists are filling up their tanks and then taking off without paying. The Door County Advocate reports station owners are seeing more drive-off’s, but usually catch the violators, thanks to camera systems that focus in on license plates.

Most, if not all of you reading this blog would never drive away without paying for your gas, and that is very smart.

Wisconsin statute 943.21 (1m) (d) reads, “Whoever does any of the following may be penalized… Having obtained gasoline or diesel fuel from a service station, garage, or other place where gasoline or diesel fuel is sold at retail or offered for sale at retail, intentionally absconds without paying for the gasoline or diesel fuel…..”

Drive off without paying and you are subject to a Class D forfeiture.

A Class D forfeiture may result in a fine up to $200. That amounts to 56.98 gallons of gas.

New Berlin Lioness Champagne Breakfast is this Sunday

The New Berlin Lioness will host their 31st Annual Champagne Breakfast this Sunday, April 20. The breakfast will be served from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Holy Apostles School Gymnasium in New Berlin located at 3875 S 159th Street.

The top-notch menu includes the Lioness’ famous fruit pancake rollups with vanilla sauce, scrambled eggs, hot ham, pork sausage, hash browns, fresh fruit, rolls, butter, coffee, juices, milk, champagne, plus homemade desserts.

All proceeds go to an outstanding cause, the Wisconsin Lions Foundation Camp at Rosholt, Wisconsin. Since 1956, the Wisconsin Lions Camp has provided quality camping experiences to Wisconsin residents with disabilities free of charge.

Advance tickets are $8.50 for adults, $9 at the door, $2.50 for children under 12, free for children under 5, and include everything on the menu.

Call 262-786-5735 or 262-786-4449 for ticket information.

I hope to see you at the New Berlin Lioness Annual Champagne Breakfast this Sunday.

Town Hall meetings scheduled

The pioneers that formed and shaped our democracy used the town hall meeting as a building block for America.  Our country’s first citizens congregated at town halls to collectively share ideas in a decision-making process. The innovative prototype of the small, intimate gathering that allows citizens to directly participate in and influence their government has become very popular and is still used more than 225 years later.

I will be holding a series of town hall meetings this spring throughout my district, Senate District 28. Please feel free to attend any of these town hall meetings. I look forward to seeing you and hearing your comments, questions and concerns. Here is the complete schedule of town hall meetings:


MONDAY, MAY 5

FRANKLIN 5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Franklin Public Library • 9151 West Loomis Road

GREENDALE 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
Layton State Bank of Greendale 7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
5850 Broad Street


MONDAY, MAY 19

GREENFIELD 5:00 p.m.  - 6:00 p.m.
Greenfield City Hall, Council Chambers
7325 West Forest Home Avenue

HALES CORNERS 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Hales Corners Public Library • 5885 South 116th Street


WEDNESDAY, MAY 21

BIG BEND/VERNON 5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Big Bend Village Hall • W230 S9185 Nevins Street

MUSKEGO 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Muskego Public Library • S73 W16663 Janesville Road


THURSDAY, MAY 22

MUKWONAGO 6:00 p.m. - 7:00 p.m.
Mukwonago Town Hall  • W320 S8315 Beulah Road


WEDNESDAY, MAY 28

WATERFORD 5:00 p.m. - 6:00 p.m.
Waterford Public Library • 101 North River Street

EAST TROY 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
East Troy Village Hall  • 2106 Church Street


THURSDAY, MAY 29

NEW BERLIN 2:00 p.m. - 3:00 p.m.
New Berlin Public Library • 15105 Library Lane

WAUKESHA 7:00 p.m. - 8:00 p.m.
Waukesha Town Hall • W250 S3567 Center Road


Another bad tax ranking for Wisconsin

Business, Taxes

No matter what economic study or report you look at, the conclusion is always dismal for Wisconsin when it comes to taxes.

The latest comes from the Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council.

Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council chief economist Raymond Keating has just completed the “Business Tax Index 2008” for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

Using 16 different tax measures to compile one score, Keating ranks the states according to their Business Tax Index. Among the factors Keating studied were a state's top personal income tax rate, a state's top individual capital gains tax rate, a state's top corporate income tax rate,  property taxes, and gas taxes.

Wisconsin ranks number 32, near the bottom third of all the states.

Keating writes, “As Elvis Presley said: ‘A little less conversation, a little more action please.’ For example, more action is needed by elected officials in many states to make their state tax systems friendlier towards entrepreneurs and small businesses.”

I concur, having blogged extensively about Wisconsin’s unfreindly 
business climate that is severely hampering business growth and retention. Our high taxes coupled with one of the lowest per capita income rates in the country are forcing too many residents to leave the state.

Our state faces a revenue shortfall of $652.3 million, and yet some legislators in Madison want to increase taxing and spending even further.

Keating’s new study is yet another wake-up call to the Legislature and the governor to control excessive taxing and spending.

Read Keating’s entire piece.

Also, the nonpartisan Tax Foundation in Washington D.C. has more details on Wisconsin’s tax system and comparison to other states.

 

     

Is the hospital tax dead?

Taxes

 

I certainly hope so.

The Wisconsin State Journal is reporting Democrats might be ready to drop their proposed hospital tax as one of the provisions to fix the state’s $652.3 million revenue shortfall. 

I am on record opposing any tax increase that is part of the budget repair bill.


 

Some very good news from the highways

Traffic deaths in Wisconsin are down 30 percent from this same time one year ago.

As of April 21, 2008, there have been 137 traffic fatalities in Wisconsin this year compared to 188 the same time in 2007, according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT).

Why the big increase in safer roads?

The DOT chalks it up to two reasons:

1) We had a very bad winter, so people either slowed down, or didn’t drive as much.

2) Gas prices have been on a steady rise, so motorists have cut back on their driving.

Even so, the news is remarkable. During March of 2008, Wisconsin had 27 fatalities. The DOT reports you have to go back to the World War II era with gas rationing, slower speed limits, and a much smaller population to find such a small monthly fatality rate.

There were 743 traffic fatalities in Wisconsin during 2007. So far this year, the state has recorded 137 fatalities in the first 112 days of 2008. If Wisconsin continues its current safe pace, it would end 2008 with less than 500 traffic deaths (447).

Here are more details from WISN-TV. 

Drive carefully everyone.

Smile Wisconsin taxpayers



Tax Freedom Day has finally arrived.

Popular Do Not Call List comes with a price

News you can use

Wisconsin’s Do Not Call List is phenomenally popular. During 2007, more than 1 million Wisconsin residential phone lines were covered by the list that is operated by the Wisconsin by the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP).

Unfortunately, fewer telemarketers at dinner time mean more salespeople knocking on your door.

DATCP is warning residents to be aware of door-to-door salespeople who are popping up more frequently in Wisconsin neighborhoods selling home improvements, lawn care, the traditional vacuum cleaners, meat, and even investments. The department is offering tips on proceeding with caution whenever you get an unexpected knock on your door.

Avoid being pressured to sign any contract on the spot.

Call DATCP’s hotline at 1-800-422-7128 for information about complaints.

Rather than being compelled to make a quick, impulsive purchase, do some comparison shopping.

Be sure you are aware of the exact total you must pay, not just the monthly payment.

There is also the notorious fine print to worry about. DATCP reports one alarm company had in its contract fine print that it could increase monthly fees when it so desired and could demand payment of monthly fees in full if the purchaser ever canceled the contract. If you are being pressured to pay more than the original contract indicates, you are advised to call local law enforcement.

Since August 1, 1999, Wisconsin has had a direct marketing rule providing consumer protection that applies to telephone, e-mail, fax, mail, and door-to-door transactions. These include purchases made in places away from the seller's place of business.

All direct marketers, including door-to-door salespeople must, after a short greeting, tell who they are, who they are working on behalf of, and what they are selling.

Before finishing the sale and taking any credit card information or cash, direct markets must tell consumers the cost, quantity, conditions, refund policy and the name and address of the principal company.

A direct marketer must obtain verifiable authorization before a credit card is billed and must keep transaction records for at least two years.

According to DATCP, the direct marketing rule also prohibits:

  • Threatening, intimidating or harassing consumers.
  • Failing to leave a consumer's premises upon request.
  • Calling consumers who previously said they do not wish to receive telephone solicitations from that seller.
  • Calling consumers before 8 a.m. or after 9 p.m. without their prior consent.
  • Requesting or receiving payment for loan finder services before the consumer actually receives the promised loan. This is aimed at companies that promise loans, charge a fee, and disappear without producing the loan.
  • Requesting payment for helping consumers recover money lost in a prior home solicitation transaction until at least seven days after the consumer recovers the money. This is aimed at so called "recovery room" schemes, which prey on previously victimized consumers.

 

Read more

U.S. Supreme Court upholds voter ID

Photo ID


In a major ruling today, the U.S. Supreme Court, in upholding a law in Indiana, ruled that states may enact photo ID requirements for voting. 

The court’s 6-3 ruling says states can require a photo ID without violating the constitutional rights of voters.

The legislative session that concluded in Wisconsin in mid-March ended with state Senate Democrats failing to schedule a Senate vote on a constitutional amendment that would have required a photo ID. Had the Senate voted and approved the amendment that I co-sponsored, it surely would have passed overwhelmingly in a statewide referendum.

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