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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.

REMINDER: I’m at the Wisconsin State Fair

Once again, I am volunteering at the popular New Berlin Lions Club Corn Roast Stand at the Wisconsin State Fair.

It was a pleasure volunteering opening day at the fair Thursday, and assisting the New Berlin Lions Club Corn Roast Stand selling 6,103 ears of corn. The opening day total for 2008 exceeded last year’s opening day tally of 5,542 ears of corn sold.

N
ot only is the New Berlin Lions Club roast corn tasty, it is very good for you. MSN.com reports roast corn on the cob is one of the best theme park foods:

“There’s not much that the cooks can do to spoil this snack. Whether it’s boiled, steamed or grilled, an ear of corn delivers just 201 calories and 1 gram of fat. Of course, dousing it in butter will add significant fat, and loading it with salt will up your sodium intake. ‘But it’s a whole grain, it’s high in fiber and it has a natural sweetness—the combination may make you feel full and satisfied enough to resist other more fattening treats,’ says Gidus.” (Tara Gidus, R.D., spokesperson for the American Dietetic Association)

Read more from MSN.

Congratulations Grady Fitzgerald!

Eagle Scouts

Grady Fitzgerald’s Eagle Scout ceremony was held on Saturday, August 2, 2008.

My office prepared a state citation for Grady Fitzgerald. It reads:

Whereas, Grady J. Fitzgerald is a member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 152, and through dedication and commitment, attained the rank of Eagle Scout; and

Whereas, Grady J. Fitzgerald’s Eagle Scout project included building a retaining wall for a planter at Old World Wisconsin; and

Whereas, Grady J. Fitzgerald earned 21 merit badges, and served his troop in the leadership positions of Patrol Leader and Junior Assistant Scout Master; and

Whereas, Grady J. Fitzgerald is a 2008 graduate of Mukwonago High School, and was a member of German Club, Orchestra, Swim Team, volunteered with Special Olympics and tutored students in German; and

Whereas, Grady J. Fitzgerald plans to attend the University of Wisconsin, Waukesha; now

Therefore, the members of the Wisconsin State Senate on the motion of Senator Mary Lazich, commend Grady J. Fitzgerald for outstanding dedication and service to scouting.  Grady J. Fitzgerald is further commended for successfully completing the requirements necessary to attain the rank of Eagle Scout, the highest honorable rank awarded by the Boy Scouts of America.

Our country’s wealthy continue to pay the most taxes

Taxes


The Tax Foundation in Washington D.C. released a report, using Internal Revenue Service data, showing the amount 
residents of each income group in each state send to Washington each year. Here are some of the numbers for Wisconsin.

Federal Income Taxes paid by Wisconsin by Adjusted Gross Income Percentile 2006 in $millions:

TOTAL:                      $16, 278

TOP 1%:                    $5,753

TOP 2-5%:                 $2,997

TOP 5%:                    $8,750

TOP 6-10%:               $1,697

TOP 10%:                  $10,447

TOP 11-25%:            $2,765

TOP 25%:                  $13,212

TOP 26-50%:            $2,294

TOP 50%:                  $15,506

BOTTOM 50%:          $772


Percentile’s Share of Federal Income Taxes paid by Wisconsin, 2006

TOTAL:                     100% 

TOP 1%:                   35.34%          

TOP 2-5%:                18.41%          

TOP 5%:                    53.75%

TOP 6-10%:              10.43%

TOP 10%:                  64.18%

TOP 11-25%:            16.99%

TOP 25%:                  81.16%
           
TOP 26-50%:            14.09%

TOP 50%:                  95.26%

BOTTOM 50%:          4.74%


Here are the numbers for the United States.

Federal Income Taxes paid by the United States by Adjusted Gross Income Percentile 2006 in $millions:

TOTAL:                      $999,506

TOP 1%:                    $394,066

TOP 2-5%:                 $203,797

TOP 5%:                    $597,863

TOP 6-10%:               $106,327

TOP 10%:                  $704,190

TOP 11-25%:            $156,205

TOP 25%:                  $860,395

TOP 26-50%:            $108,066

TOP 50%:                  $968,461

BOTTOM 50%:          $31,045
  


Percentile’s Share of Federal Income Taxes paid by the United States, 2006

TOTAL:                       100% 

TOP 1%:                    39.43%          

TOP 2-5%:                 20.39%          

TOP 5%:                    59.82%

TOP 6-10%:              10.64%

TOP 10%:                  70.45%

TOP 11-25%:            15.63%

TOP 25%:                  86.08%

TOP 26-50%:            10.81%

TOP 50%:                  96.89%

BOTTOM 50%:          3.11%


The data reveals higher income filers are paying their fair share in taxes. I advise a healthy dose of skepticism anytime you hear an argument that the wealthy should pay more taxes because they don’t pay enough. Here is the new Tax Foundation report. 

Last November, I wrote a blog on taxes entitled, America’s wealthy paying more than their fair share. According to a report at the time by the Tax Foundation in Washington D.C., I wrote, “America’s richest 25 percent of taxpayers paid about 86 percent of all federal income taxes in 2005, despite earning only 67 percent of the nation’s income. The highest-earning 1 percent alone—those earning more than $364,657—paid a staggering 39.4 percent of all federal income taxes, despite earning just 21 percent of the nation’s income. That means the top 1 percent of tax returns paid about the same amount of federal income tax as the bottom 95 percent of tax returns combined.”

The Tax Foundation has released an updated report using Internal Revenue Service data on individual income taxes from calendar year 2006. The results are the same: the wealthy are carrying a very heavy tax load.

The Tax Foundation reports, “This year's numbers show that both the income share earned by the top 1 percent of tax returns and the tax share paid by that top 1 percent have once again reached all-time highs. In 2006, the top 1 percent of tax returns paid 39.9 percent of all federal individual income taxes and earned 22.1 percent of adjusted gross income, both are significantly higher than 2004 when the top 1 percent earned 19 percent of adjusted gross income (AGI) and paid 36.9 percent of federal individual income taxes.”

Here’s another interesting finding from the report: “The top-earning 25 percent of taxpayers (AGI over $64,702) earned 68.2 percent of the nation's income, but they paid more than four out of every five dollars collected by the federal income tax (86.3 percent). The top 1 percent of taxpayers (AGI over $388,806) earned approximately 22.1 percent of the nation's income (as defined by AGI), yet paid 39.9 percent of all federal income taxes. That means the top 1 percent of tax returns paid about the same amount of federal individual income taxes as the bottom 95 percent of tax returns.”

You can read the entire report here.
 

The Wall Street Journal also has an editorial.

Bob Lang leads the outstanding Legislative Fiscal Bureau

The state of Wisconsin is blessed to have the services of the outstanding, non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau(LFB). The 16 members of the LFB gather fiscal and program information and analyses, and provide it to the Wisconsin Legislature, its committees, and members of the state Senate and Assembly. Their work is invaluable to the state of Wisconsin.

The LFB is under the stellar leadership of Bob Lang. Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Capitol Bureau Chief Steve Walters has written a wonderful profile of Lang for the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Lang is very deserving of this tribute that you can read here.

Purple Heart Day

Veterans issues


Under state law, every August 7 is designated as Purple Heart Day. Wisconsin State Statutes s. 14.16 (11) says:

"The governor shall annually proclaim August 7 as Purple Heart Day and urge the people and organizations of the state to display the American flag on that day as a public expression of the recognition of those individuals who have been wounded or killed in action preserving the freedoms that all United States citizens cherish.”

Why August 7?

General George Washington liked to reward soldiers of outstanding valor with a commission or rank promotion until he was ordered to stop in 1782 by the Continental Congress for economic reasons. Washington wanted another means of bestowing a special honor upon his men and came up with it, described in his written General Order issued on August 7, 1782:

"The General, ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers as well as foster and encourage every species of military merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk edged with narrow lace or binding. Not only instances of unusual gallantry but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way shall meet with due reward... The name and regiment of the persons so certified are to be enrolled in a Book of Merit which shall be kept in the orderly room...”

General Douglas MacArthur came up with the idea of reviving Washington’s medal and the War Department unveiled the new award on February 22, 1932, in honor of Washington’s Bicentennial. The oldest military honor, the Purple Heart is awarded today for being wounded or killed in any action against an enemy of the United States or as a result of an act by any such enemy or enemy forces. President Kennedy took action to expand the award to any civilian national of the United States, and President Reagan extended eligibility to those wounded in international terrorist attacks.

Originally designed by Washington as a cloth medal, the Purple Heart today shows a heart stamped from bronze, plated with gold, hanging from a purple and white ribbon.

Read more

Many Wisconsin students unprepared for college

Wisconsin high school students have a long, proud history of exceptional performance on ACT tests, registering some of the highest scores in the country. That is the good news. The bad news is that despite performing well on ACT tests, many Wisconsin high schoolers remain unprepared for college.

The non-partisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) has found that only 29 percent of the state’s 46,430 students tested in 2007 met ACT college-readiness benchmarks in core subjects.

According to WISTAX, “More than three-fourths of the Badger State students were prepared for a college English composition course (77% vs. 69% nationally), but results were lower in social science (60% vs. 53% nationally), college algebra (53% vs. 43%), and college biology (37% vs. 28%). Combining all four subjects, only 29% of 2007 Wisconsin high school graduates were likely to succeed in all four subjects.”

Even the state’s best students fall into this category. WISTAX found, “Between one- and two-fifths of Wisconsin’s most advanced students—those taking classes well beyond the core, i. e., four or more years of classes in all areas, including calculus—were not college ready: English (18%), math (22%), social studies (35%), and science (43%).”

ACT discovered the problem in Wisconsin is the high school curriculum has an inadequate “quality and Intensity” for college preparedness.

Wisconsin students, while faring better than their national counterparts, are following a country-wide trend of high school graduates lacking the skills needed for college. Instructors at colleges and universities have noticed, and even students concede the finding is true.

According to a 2005 survey done by the non-partisan group, Achieve,  “
As many as 40 percent of the nation's high school graduates say they are inadequately prepared to deal with the demands of employment and postsecondary education, putting their own individual success and the nation's economic growth in peril. More than 80 percent of high school graduates say they would work harder, take tougher courses, if they could do high school over again.”

The survey found agreement that the bar is set too low in high school for students and that expectations and standards need to be higher.

Here are details on the Achieve survey.
 The Cato Institute also prepared a report based on the Achieve findings.

Wisconsin students still score well on ACT tests and exceed the national average. However, the WISTAX findings 
show our high school students can and must do better.

State legislators ask Congress to lift moratorium on drilling


I signed on to a letter sent to the United States Congress with copies to the Wisconsin Congressional delegation and Governor Doyle regarding the high price of gasoline. It reads:

Members of the Congress of  the United States of America

July 28, 2008

We the undersigned, as members of the Wisconsin State Legislature, along with our constituencies, are very concerned about the increasing price of oil and gasoline, as well as its effect on the economy of our state and of the United States as a whole. Resources available within the United States and in surrounding coastal regions are not being adequately utilized. Our reliance upon foreign sources of energy leaves us vulnerable to both market fluctuations in price and potential fuel shortfalls. Further, we are concerned that the resulting transfer of wealth to nations unfriendly to the United States is occurring at an ever-increasing rate. We hereby petition the Congress of the United States of America to repeal the current moratorium on offshore and domestic oil drilling.

The letter is signed by 19 state legislators.

Since 1982, a federal law prohibits offshore drilling in all states except Louisiana, Alabama, Mississippi, Texas and parts of Alaska and California. Record-setting gas and oil prices show the clear need to utilize new sources of energy, especially drilling in our own country.

Last month, officials in Louisiana gave a tour to visiting state legislators to demonstrate that offshore drilling can be done without harming the environment. Louisiana and three other Gulf Coast states signed an agreement with oil companies and environmental groups to push environmentally friendly drilling.

It can be done, so what are we waiting for?

Stateline has more.

Wisconsin's unhealthy culture


The health of Wisconsin needs serious improvement. I am speaking from a cultural rather than a physical perspective.

Taking a cue from William Bennett’s The Index of Leading Cultural Indicators, the Wisconsin Family Council (WFC) has released Wisconsin Cultural Indicators, a comprehensive review of Wisconsin trends in various social and cultural categories. The CEO of WFC, Julaine Appling writes the report shows how these indicators, “impact Wisconsin’s best natural resource: her traditional families.”

Here are some of the unhealthy findings:
  

 

  • During 2006, there were 6,100 births to women age 19 and under in Wisconsin, and almost 9 out of 10 of these births were to unmarried women.
  • During 2006, 1 out of every 3 babies born in Wisconsin was to an unmarried mother.
  • A total of 498,429 reported abortions occurred in Wisconsin between 1974, the year following Roe v. Wade, and 2007.This figure is greater than the combined populations of Madison, Green Bay, Racine, and Eau Claire. In 2007, there were 8,267 abortions, or an average of about 23 abortions a day in Wisconsin.  During 2007, 77 percent of the abortions performed in this state were to women never married.
  • Since 1980, the marriage rate has decreased 34 percent in Wisconsin, primarily due to cohabitation.
  • The divorce rate in Wisconsin has increased steadily since the enactment of no-fault divorce legislation in 1978. Over half of the divorces granted in Wisconsin in 2007 involved children under the age of 18.
  • The majority of domestic abuse incidents occur outside of a marital relationship in Wisconsin.
  • Since 1997, the overall number of STDs (sexually transmitted diseases) has increased steadily in Wisconsin.
  • During 2004 and 2005, Wisconsin ranked 1st in the nation in underage drinking (those between the ages of 12 and 20).  
  • Since 1960, the adult prison population in Wisconsin has increased 8 fold, and between 2000 and 2005, there was a 66.7 percent increase in the adult prison population.
  • Between 1997 and 2006, there was an 84.7 percent increase in the amount of money wagered at Wisconsin casinos on Indian reservations.  During 2006, $16 billion was wagered at casinos on reservations, or about $2,855 per person in the state of Wisconsin during 2006. Recent research reveals a relationship between the presence of casino gambling in a community and an increase in crime rates in Wisconsin. The 2001 study, published in a peer-reviewed journal found that the opening of a casino in a county increased the total number of index crime arrests in that county (violent and non-violent) by 8.6 percent and non-index crime arrests by 14.8 percent. 

There is some good news: 

Read more

Turning the tables on a Department of Transportation

Mary in the media

You may recall during May 2007, I was interviewed extensively for an investigative report by Fox 6 Milwaukee about meter ramps.  Part of my frustration is the unnecessary amount of time spent idling in line on a ramp waiting for the light to change.

A Michigan woman took her disgust even further in what is being called a first. She complained via e-mail to the state. Nothing unusual there, but then she sent the Michigan Department of Transportation a bill for the estimated gas she thinks she wasted idling in traffic.

Here are all the details of this story.

I’d like answers before we let repair shops test auto emissions


A constituent raised concerns to me about the state Department of Transportation’s (DOT) plans to allow auto repair shops to conduct auto emissions tests. A story about the DOT appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

The Journal Sentinel has also reported that repair shops wouldn’t get paid for emissions tests under the state program. That begs the question, what incentive there would be for shops to participate?  The door is opened to fraud since the shops wouldn’t be paid, the only way to make money would be to find problems with a vehicle requiring repairs that might be questionable. 

Because of the constituent’s concerns, I sent a letter to the DOT Secretary:

July 23, 2008

Frank Busalacchi

Secretary
Wisconsin Department of Transportation

Dear Secretary Busalacchi,

A constituent expresses concern to me about the July 22, 2008, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article revealing that the Department of Transportation (DOT) would allow emissions testing at car repair shops.  The constituent explains that New York allows car repair shops to emissions test, and that his son lives at New York and has been complaining about the practice for years.  He explains the New York practice as a disaster. 

In addition the constituent explains that it is a violation of state law and common sense to allow repair shops to test. 

The newspaper article reveals an appeal to the state Department of Administration has blocked final approval of the contract. 

Before DOT pursues any further efforts toward testing at car repair shops, I ask that you direct a thorough research of the New York program.  Information indicates that this practice may not be in the best interest of Wisconsin residents.

I look forward to your reply.  If you have any questions, please contact me.

Sincerely,

State Senator Mary Lazich 

Copy:  Governor James Doyle 


I received the following response from Secretary Busalacchi:

August 8, 2008

The Honorable Mary Lazich
Wisconsin State Senator
State Capitol, Room 109S
Madison, WI 53707-7882

Dear Senator Lazich:

I am writing in response to your constituent’s concerns regarding a pending vehicle emissions inspection and maintenance (I/M) program transition. Your constituent had questioned the legality of using a “hybrid” I/M program – in which a network of contractor-owned stations that perform only emissions inspections (no repairs) is augmented with a network of subcontractor-owned private inspection and repair facilities (PIFs) – in Wisconsin, and had cited concerns with such a program in the state of New York.

New York’s vehicle inspection program is not a hybrid program. It is a fully decentralized program; that is, each inspection facility is privately owned and operated and all facilities provide both emissions inspection and repair. We have specifically avoided using a fully decentralized program in Wisconsin because fraud is both more common and more difficult to control than in centralized and hybrid programs.

In our planned new program, Southeastern Wisconsin’s motorists would have the option of using one of twenty-five private repair facilities to obtain their emission test; they would also have the option of continuing to visit a contractor owned emission test only facility if they prefer. The proposed changes to this program are designed to enhance the choices and convenience available to motorists.

The award of a new contract for this program is currently under review by the Wisconsin Department of Administration. During this review by DOA, it is inappropriate for the department to make specific comments regarding our legal arguments, or those of any vendor. I am, however, confident in the analysis of the department’s legal team on this matter.

If you have questions about the department’s contracting procedures, please contact Steve Martinelli in our Purchasing Office at (608) 267-4480. Questions about the existing emission inspection program may be directed to Chuck Rhodes, I/M Unit Supervisor, at (414) 266-1084.

Sincerely,

Frank Busalacchi
Secretary 


I will be a guest on the Jay Weber program on Newstalk 1130 WISN Wednesday morning at 6:40 to discuss this issue.

I'm on WISN

Mary in the media

This morning I appeared with Jay Weber on Newstalk 1130 WISN to discuss the state’s idea of using service stations to perform emissions testing.

You can hear the interview here.  Click on LISTEN under Hour 1, Part 2.

The audio will be available until Thursday morning at 7:00.

Deadline coming to register cell phones on No Call List

News you can use


You will soon be hearings news that the deadline is fast approaching for signing up for Wisconsin’s first No Call List that will include cell phone numbers. In the previous legislative session, the legislature approved a bill that was signed into law allowing cell phone numbers on the popular No call List.


The state puts out a No Call List quarterly. To get on the next list that comes out October 1, 2008, cell phone users must register their numbers by August 31, 2008.

Consumers can sign up for the list free of charge by calling 1-866-9NO-CALL . They can also register at the Wisconsin No Call List Web site.

Again, as I have stated in the past, while the new law gives cell phone users the option of registering their cell phone numbers, I urge thoughtful consideration.

Federal law prohibits telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phones. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) advises that you may put your personal cell phone number on the National Do Not Call Registry, and now you may soon have the option to place your cell phone number on Wisconsin's No Call List. However, there is generally not a reason to do so.

Registering your cell phone is unnecessary and a very bad idea. Cell phone numbers are unpublished. If you provide your cell phone number to the national do not call list, suddenly, it becomes a published number. The lists of numbers must be purchased by telemarketers so they can comply with the do not call registry. It would be extremely easy for unscrupulous entities and foreign, international entities to get their hands on the numbers. Your best bet is to avoid registering your cell phone.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a news release stating: "Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations prohibit telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phone numbers. Automated dialers are standard in the industry, so most telemarketers are barred from calling consumers on their cell phones without their consent. The national associations representing telemarketers have stated that their clients do not intend to start calling consumers' cell phones.”

I
do suggest registering your residential land line number on Wisconsin's No Call List. You can sign up over the phone by calling 1-866-9NOCALL (1-866-966-2255), toll-free in Wisconsin or you can sign up at the Wisconsin No Call List website.  Registration is free.

States shouldn’t rely on cigarette tax increases

Taxes


Proponents of large cigarette tax increases like to point to the additional revenue the tax hikes will bring in to the state Treasury. There is one problem with that assumption. What happens if many of the revenue sources, the cigarette smokers, stop smoking?

Maryland politicians are now dealing with that very scenario. While they begrudgingly admit some satisfaction with fewer cigarettes being sold in Maryland, they are less than thrilled that the smokers have simply gone to nearby Virginia where the cigarette tax is much cheaper. Maryland has lost sales and much-needed revenue and has reacted by making it a crime to carry two packs of cigarettes that weren't purchased in Maryland.

The Maryland experience demonstrates the folly of government depending on cigarette tax increases. Read more in the Wall Street Journal.

WEAC’s top priority: Elimination of the QEO

Taxes


WEAC (The Wisconsin Education Association Council), the state teacher’s union has released its 2009-10 Legislative Agenda. Topping WEAC’s list of priorities is repealing the QEO (Qualified Economic Offer).

This is another reason the November election is critical. If Democrats maintain control of the state Senate and take back control of the state Assembly, a legislature controlled by Democrats along with Governor Doyle will kill the QEO. The result will be a property tax explosion.

Some background is in order. The QEO was instituted by the Legislature after angry taxpayers statewide demanded action be taken to stop the tidal wave of huge property tax increases. Since its inception, the QEO has helped keep property taxes from being even higher than they already are.

Under the QEO, the compensation package for teachers including salaries and benefits is to be limited to a 3.8 percent increase. Prior to the implementation of the QEO, settlement packages with teachers were much larger, forcing a tremendous burden on taxpayers.

According to data from the Wisconsin Association of School Boards (WASB) that used figures from the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, the average total teacher salary and benefit package increase in the years before the QEO was 8 percent during 1984-85, 8.4 percent during 1985-86, 7.7 percent during 1986-87, 7.4 percent during 1987-88, 7.1 percent during 1988-89, 7.3 percent during 1989-90, 7.4 percent during 1990-91 and 6.9 percent during both 1991-92 and 1992-93.

Enough was enough. Taxpayers protested. The Legislature heard and listened, and the QEO was adopted.

In reality, most school districts do not stay within the QEO, agreeing to settlements that surpass the 3.8 percent limit. The WASB reports that the average total package of salaries and benefits was 4.29 percent during 2006-07, 4.25 percent during 2005-06, and 4.31 percent during 2004-05. The percentages are higher than the rate of inflation, and more than likely are greater than increases provided in the private sector.

The QEO must remain intact. Without the QEO, spending and taxes will rise substantially, more people will leave their homes, more people will leave the state, and more jobs will be lost. We cannot afford to lose the QEO.

Wisconsin taxes remain some of the highest

Taxes


Here is Exhibit A why Wisconsin is a tax hell and why I consistently vote against state budget and budget repair bills that increase taxes and spending.

The non-partisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) reports, “Net property taxes in Wisconsin rose 5.7 percent in 2008, the largest increase since 2005, the year before the recent levy limits on municipalities and counties were imposed. The new study notes that 2006 property taxes here were ninth highest nationally and higher than those in all surrounding states.”

School levies increased the most, at 7.4 percent.  County and municipal levy increases were limited to the greater of 3.86% or the increase in property values due to new construction. Due to the slowing real estate market, new construction growth around the state was only 2.5 percent. Even so, municipal property taxes increased by 5.0 percent, and county levies were up 4.5 percent.

Using the most recent figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, WISTAX found that Wisconsin property taxes, at 4.4 percent of personal income, were ninth highest in the nation.

Here is Exhibit B. The Tax Foundation in Washington D.C. has completed its annual report estimating the combined state-local tax burden of residents in all 50 states. It concluded that state-local tax burdens have declined due to income growth surpassing tax growth.

That is not the case, however, in Wisconsin. Every year, the Tax Foundation determines the percentage of income residents in each state pay in state and local taxes. Wisconsin ranks number 9 in the country for state and local tax burdens. Wisconsin’s rank was number 10 in 2007.

According to the Tax Foundation, Wisconsinites pay 10.2 percent of their income in state and local taxes. Wisconsin’s burden isn’t far from New Jersey that ranks number 1 with a state-local tax burden of 11.8 percent.

Surrounding states have lower state-local tax burdens than Wisconsin:

Minnesota: 10.2 percent (#12)

Michigan: 9.4 percent (#27)

Illinois: 9.3 percent (#30)

Iowa:  9.3 percent (#31)

O
ne of the interesting parts of the report is a segment on states where the tax burden rankings have dropped the most:

From 1977 to the present, South Dakota’s tax burden ranking has dropped 25 places from 20th highest to 45th, primarily by maintaining a zero rate on individual and corporate income. The tax burden ranking in Arizona has dropped 24 places from 17th highest to 41st, and the residents there now pay the tenth lowest tax burden. Most of the change came in the wake of a property tax limitation in 1980, and their ranking has changed little since. 

Montana has dropped 22 places, primarily by maintaining a zero rate on general sales.

Colorado has dropped 19 places in the ranking over the last 30 years. It levies every major tax, but the rate on each is among the lowest in the country. Spending discipline in the form of a so-called TABOR (Taxpayer Bill of Rights) has helped the state keep tax rates low.

Two politically liberal states have dropped sharply: Oregon and Massachusetts. Oregon has done so by never enacting a sales tax, dropping 16 ranks from 10th highest to 26th. Massachusetts has dropped 17 places by imposing a property tax limitation and keeping a lid on its personal income tax rate, living down its ‘Taxachusetts’ nickname.”

While other states have found the right formulas, Wisconsin continues down the disastrous path of excessive taxing and spending.

Two months ago, I was skeptical of a Wisconsin State Journal article with a bold headline that proclaimed, “Wisconsin falls from ranks of top 10 highest-taxed states for first time since 1980.” Researchers at WISTAX and the University of Wisconsin said this would be only the second time since 1969 Wisconsin has not been in the top ten in taxes nationwide.

How did this happen? As the newspaper reported, “Wisconsin's taxes actually rose slightly in the fiscal year ended in June 2006 but those of other states rose more quickly.” Translation: You’re still paying high taxes, Wisconsin, and they’re not going down.

Judging from the latest reports on our tax climate, it is time to put the corks back in the champagne.

If you have ever wanted to dunk a state Senator...


Here’s your chance.

The Muskego Teen Advisory Board is hosting a dunk tank for the community festival at Moorland Park this weekend. Proceeds will be used toward two sand volleyball courts at the park.

I will be the target in the dunk tank this Sunday, August 24, from 2-3 pm.

Please attend the community festival  and try your skills. Dunk yours truly for a very good cause!

Powerball calls them improvements

Gambling


I call them enticements.

Powerball is announcing big changes in its jackpot lottery game. Like a trailer for the next Hollywood box office smash, a lottery press release pulls out all the persuasive stops to lure more players. Powerball promises to “increase the size of the average jackpot,” and make the game “even more exciting,” because Powerball wants to “create lots of millionaires” and wants to “create more winners with better overall odds.”

Here is an example of the spin Powerball is using to attract even more gamblers. Ernie Passailaigue, the Powerball Group Chairman and the Executive Director of the South Carolina Lottery says, “The price of a Powerball ticket remains unchanged at $1.  Even though our players know that the cost of everything else has gone up since Powerball sales commenced over 16 years ago, we didn’t want to raise Powerball’s price in our current economy.”

Isn’t that considerate of Powerball? The people who run the jackpot lottery are so thoughtful, they are going a step further by letting you make the decision to spend even more on your tickets because there will be the option to play for bigger prizes for $2 by using Power Play. “We wanted to give our players the power to choose and with many of our newer member lotteries, more than half of our players have chosen the benefits of the $2 Power Play option,” said Passailaigue.

Changes to the game effective January 2009 include increasing the starting jackpot from $15 million to $20 million, and increasing the average jackpot from an expected average of $95.5 million to $141 million. Powerball promises bigger jackpots that will increase faster. The regular second-highest prize will be $1 million, but players will have to buy the Power Play option for an extra $1 and hit all the numbers except for the Powerball.

Powerball is instituting changes because Florida will become the 33rd state to join Powerball in January.

Currently, the odds of winning Powerball are 1 in 146.1 million. After Florida joins Powerball, the odds increase to 1 in 195.2 million. The long odds are the only sure thing about Powerball. Your chances of winning Powerball are slim to begin with and will become even more difficult.

Jackpots will be bigger and there probably will be more millionaires as a result of the Powerball changes. But there will be a great deal more losers as Florida joins Powerball come January.

Congratulations to the Muskego Water Bugs Water Ski Show Team!


Last night, I had the honor of presenting a special citation from the Wisconsin State Senate to the Muskego Water Bugs during intermission at another of their outstanding performances.
The Muskego Water Bugs are invited to compete in the 2008 Sino-American Water Ski Competition in China. Family oriented, the Muskego Water Bugs feature parents and children performing on the shores of beautiful Little Muskego Lake at Idle Isle.

You still have two opportunities to see this incredibly talented group of people this year. The next Muskego Water Bugs show will be next Wednesday, August 27 at 6:30 pm.  Arrive at 6:00 PM and see the Futures show featuring new performers in training. Some of the regular fans of the shows call this particular program, giggles.  To reach Idle Isle Park, enter via Hardtke Drive from Martin Road. 

The Muskego Water Bugs is one of the oldest water ski show teams in the country, 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 Senate citation, and I was thrilled to present it at last night’s performance.  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! 

I want to create a Silver Alert System in Wisconsin


Modeled after Wisconsin’s Amber Alert Plan, legislation I have drafted would utilize the Amber Alert system to alert the public about an elderly person wandering or becoming lost. Called the Silver Alert, the system would not increase costs because it uses a service already in operation.

My legislation would also use the current system to notify the public about a sex offender being monitored by Global Positioning System (GPS) either tampers with the GPS device or if the device is not working.

When an Amber Alert is activated, Wisconsin radio and television stations cut into programming to broadcast information about an abducted child using the Emergency Alert System.  Highway message board signs also convey information about confirmed child abduction.

Eight states have instituted a Silver Alert-type system that helps find missing Alzheimer’s or dementia patients. Silver Alert has been successful.  A majority of those reported missing have returned safely.  Stateline.org reports:

“At least 5.2 million Americans suffer from dementia, and research shows that six out of 10 of those will wander. Only 4 percent of those who leave home alone are able to find their way back without help, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. Every year, hundreds of seniors and others with dementia wander away, on foot or driving, and if not found within 24 hours, at least half suffer serious injury or death, according to the Alzheimer’s Association. As baby boomers age, the toll is expected to multiply.”

Getting information out quickly and employing the aid of the public may prevent the tragic death of a senior citizen.

Because of my work during the past several years on sex predator/offender issues, I have included offenders that tamper with GPS devices in my legislation. Tampering with a GPS device is a felony. Wisconsin law also prohibits blocking, diffusing or preventing the transmission of a signal from a GPS device.

Should an offender tamper with GPS or if the monitoring device ceases to function, the state’s current Amber Alert System would be used to notify the public of pertinent information about the offender.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on May 10, 2008, that Roy Jackson, convicted of first degree sexual assault of a child, cut off his GPS monitoring bracelet on March 6 while on parole. Jackson went into hiding, but was apprehended in New Holstein by a team of Sheboygan County Sheriff’s Deputies, Sheboygan Police Officers and Deputy U.S. Marshals during a special operation in early June. Jackson had been at large for about three months and was hiding under a couch at the time of his arrest.

Sex offenders tampering with GPS pose a risk to families and their children. The public needs to be given as much information as possible in such instances to insure they can better protect themselves and their children.

I will introduce my legislation to add senior citizens that go missing and sex offenders that tamper with GPS to the current Amber Alert System during the next legislative session that begins January 2009.

Here is an analysis of my legislation from the Wisconsin State Legislative Reference Bureau:

"The Department of Justice (DOJ) currently administers the Amber Alert System, under which it works with law enforcement agencies, broadcasters, and others to disseminate information regarding certain missing child cases.

This bill creates a statutory requirement that DOJ administer an alert system to disseminate information regarding missing adults who are cognitively impaired. This bill also provides civil immunity to persons who, as participants in this alert program, disseminate alerts regarding missing adults at risk and to persons who assist an adult at risk who is the subject of an alert.

Under current law, the Department of Corrections (DOC) uses global positioning system tracking devices (GPS devices) to monitor certain sex offenders, and tampering with such GPS devices is a felony. Under this bill, if DOC believes that the GPS device monitoring a sex offender has been tampered with, or is otherwise not working at a risk to public safety, DOC will alert DOJ. DOJ will administer an alert system to disseminate information regarding that sex offender." 

Great news for Wisconsin football fans

News you can use

  

An announcement made Monday will ensure that the Big Ten Network will be distributed on expanded basic cable in the eight Big Ten states, including Wisconsin.

JOINT STATEMENT FROM TIME WARNER CABLE AND THE BIG TEN NETWORK:

Time Warner Cable and the Big Ten Network announced today that they have reached an agreement-in-principle on terms of carriage for the Big Ten Network and its high-definition and video-on-demand programming on Time Warner Cable's line-ups throughout the Big Ten territory, including Ohio and Wisconsin. The pending agreement will ensure that Time Warner Cable's customers across these Big Ten states will have access to this Saturday's Big Ten college football season openers and all future Big Ten Network programming on an expanded basic level of service.


 

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Lose weight or else

Taxes


One year ago, I blogged about the problems associated with feel-good fat taxes. 

As far-fetched as a fat tax may sound (most of the revenue often fails to get to obesity-prevention programs or  healthy food  subsidies), Alabama has taken the extraordinary step of mandating that its state employees get into shape in two years or be forced to pay more for insurance.

Some states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, provide incentives for people to adopt healthier lifestyles.  Workers in Ohio get $50 for having health assessments and another $50 if they follow medical instructions.

Arkansas and Missouri give monthly discounts on premiums for employees who take health risk assessments and enroll in programs to reduce obesity and stress. Those states differ from Alabama in that they offer incentives instead of punishments. Alabama has become the first state to charge workers who fail to try to lose weight.

Some medical experts oppose the Alabama plan, saying it's too punitive. Read more about Alabama’s plan here.

Find out if you are registered to vote

News you can use


Wisconsin residents can find out if they are registered to vote in the September 9, 2008 primary or the November 4, 2008 general election at a state website.

The Government Accountability Board’s site informs voters if they are registered. Click here  and follow instructions.

What you can do to make The Harley-Davidson celebration safe

Motorcycles, News you can use


Over the next several days, thousands of motorcyclists will be in our area celebrating the 105th anniversary of Harley-Davidson.  Everyone wants the most enjoyable festivities, and even if you don’t ride a motorcycle, you can do your part to make the celebration safe. Here are tips from the Motorcycle Safety Foundation for automobile and truck drivers to be aware of around motorcyclists:

There are far fewer motorcycles on the road than cars and trucks. Motorists often don’t recognize motorcycles. Look for them, especially when checking traffic at intersections.

Judging a motorcycle’s speed and how close it is can be difficult because of the motorcycle’s size. It is always best when checking traffic to assume a motorcycle is closer than it looks.

The small size can make it appear that a motorcycle is moving faster than it really is. Do not assume all motorcyclists are speed merchants.

Motorcycles can hide in a motorist’s blind spot or be blocked by objects or backgrounds like bushes, fences, and bridges. Thoroughly check traffic when changing lanes or turning at intersections.

At times, motorcyclists will slow down by downshifting or rolling off the throttle. When they do, their brake lights are not activated. Motorists need to apply more following distance around motorcyclists.

Be aware that turn signals on a motorcycle are generally not self-canceling. Motorcyclists at times forget to turn their signals off after making a turn or lane change.

Motorcyclists will change position in a lane for various reasons, including the ability to seen more easily and to minimize the effects of road debris, passing vehicles, and the wind. They are not adjusting their lane position to show off, be reckless, or share their lane with you.

Despite the great maneuverability of a motorcycle, don’t expect a motorcyclist to always be able to dodge out of the way.

Allow more stopping distance behind a motorcyclist, especially on slippery pavement.

When you see a motorcycle in motion, regard it as a person, not a motorcycle.

Happy 105th Anniversary Harley-Davidson!

Motorcycles


As one of the four million women Harley-Davidson motorcycle riders, I am thrilled to be participating in the exciting 105th anniversary of Harley-Davidson.

This Friday, August 29, I will be one of the VIP’s leading the Women’s Day Ride that featured over 2,000 female bikers at the 100th anniversary in 2003. The Women’s Day Ride leaves Greenfield High School at 60th and Layton at 3:30 p.m. sharp on Friday. The parade route will be Layton Avenue to 794 over the Hoan Bridge to the lakefront. 

 

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Dunk you very much!


This past weekend, the Muskego Teen Advisory Board hosted a dunk tank for the community festival at Moorland Park. I sat in the dunk tank for an hour on Sunday and took a few dips in the process.

I’m very happy to report that the dunk tank raised $1432.50.  Proceeds will be used toward two sand volleyball courts at Moorland Park. Thank you to everyone who participated for this very good cause!

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