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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.

Americans are moving, but not to Wisconsin

The USA TODAY is reporting, “Americans are on the go again, moving across state lines at the highest rate since the early 1990s.”  The newspaper used an analysis of U.S, Census Bureau data to come up with their conclusion.

Wisconsin ranks at number 45 among the states, with 1.9 percent of the state’s population in 2006 having moved here from another state.

I find it interesting that the USA TODAY reported that demographers found one of the groups fueling the jump in Americans being on the move was the following:

A larger generation of 20-somethings, an age group more likely than others to move as they attend college, launch their careers or leave their childhood homes. The number of people in their 20s dropped from 40.5 million in 1990 to 38.3 million in 2000 but rebounded to almost 42 million in 2006.

In a blog I wrote for the Small Business Times in February 2007, I made reference to our prized youth and others leaving Wisconsin:

During November 2005, the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance issued a very troubling report entitled, "Moving In, Moving on: Migration in Wisconsin."  During the five years prior to the 2000 census, almost 669,000 people either moved to or out of Wisconsin. However, the net in-migration into Wisconsin was a meager 7,282.

Individuals with college or advanced degrees were more likely to leave, while those with less education tended to come. Individuals with household incomes above $75,000 left Wisconsin. Those with incomes of $200,000 or more had the highest rates of leaving.

The huge exodus of wealthy Wisconsinites leaving the state caused a loss of an estimated $4.72 billion in net worth and a loss of $455 million in income over the five years of this study. That means far fewer in-state bank deposits, less stock in Wisconsin firms, less investment capital for in-state ventures, and less money given to local charities.

We are losing our best and brightest at a very young age, and we're experiencing retiree flight.

Young adults leave for college, especially to Minnesota because tuition reciprocity with Minnesota means students cross the border at little or no added tuition cost. Western states like California, Arizona and Colorado also draw Wisconsin youth.

True, senior citizens head to Florida and Arizona for warm weather. They leave for another reason: economics. High-income seniors go to Florida at higher rates than to Arizona, the reason being Florida does not have income tax.”

The USA TODAY analysis doesn’t break down the specific reasons why individuals move from one region to another. But I can’t help but hypothesize that in the case of Wisconsin, our climate of excessive taxing and spending is driving more people out than we are enticing to relocate here.

Governor Doyle out of touch?


Wisconsin Public Radio and St. Norbert College often team up to conduct various surveys in Wisconsin. 
The most recent survey asking state resident the most important issue facing Wisconsin was November 2005. 

Here are the results:   

  Wisconsin Public Radio & St. Norbert College Survey Center

                   
THE WISCONSIN SURVEY – FALL 2005
            
MOST IMPORTANT PROBLEM FACING WISCONSIN

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

1.
      Taxes and Government Budgets                             29%
2.      Economy and Jobs                                                  14%
3.      Education                                                                  9%
4.      Politics                                                                      6%                            
4.   Gas/Energy Prices                                                    6%
6.      Health Care                                                               5.5%
7.      Crime/Violence                                                         5%
8.      No Problems/Good                                                    4%
9.      Poverty                                                                      3%
10.  Environment                                                               2.75%
11.   Moral Issues                                                              1.5%
12.   Welfare                                                                     1%
13.   Immigration                                                              1%
      
Other                                                                        4%
       
Not Sure                                                                   7%
       
No Opinion/No Answer                                            5%

Governor Doyle has called a special session of the legislature next Tuesday, December 11, 2007 to take up campaign finance reform. The Governor also wants the Legislature to consider a statewide smoking ban.

Neither of those issues are even mentioned in the survey.

 

Read more

State Senate agenda for Tuesday

Here is the calendar for the state Senate floor session on Tuesday, December 11, 2007:

First Order.     Call of Roll.

Read more

New Berlin not alone in quest for water

I’ve written extensively about New Berlin’s need for city of Milwaukee water and Milwaukee’s requirement that certain conditions be met before New Berlin gets water.

Milwaukee is insisting that New Berlin provide low-income housing and mass transit in exchange for much-need public drinking water.

Now Brookfield and Elm Grove are considering getting involved in negotiations for Milwaukee water.

If they do, I am curious to see what Milwaukee will ask those suburbs to offer in return.

States' wallets not as heavy

It was bound to happen.

Because the economy operates in cycles, many states that had enjoyed tremendous growth are now having problems.

Unforeseen factors like the falling housing market and smaller collections of sales tax revenue have contributed to the downturn.

The interesting angle of this development is states feeling a reversal of fortune are choosing to trim spending.

Wisconsin’s philosophy that seems to have been engrained as a normal operating procedure is to spend even more and raise taxes. That explains our high tax ranking and a structural deficit of over $800-million.

Read the report on the states from stateline.org
.

The good and the bad about gift cards

Gift cards are extremely popular. People like to buy gift cards because they are convenient. People love to get them, too. And merchants love to sell them because they take up little shelf space and are easy to stock and display. According to MSN.com:

  • In November, 57.7% of respondents told a National Retail Federation survey they plan to buy at least one gift card -- and 19% of those planned to buy six.
  • Consumers will spend $26.3 billion on gift cards this year, the NRF estimates, up from $24.8 billion last year.
  • Half of respondents (53.8%) said they would like to receive a gift card, up from 50.2% two years earlier.
As convenient as gift cards are, they can also be frustrating.

WSL Strategic Retail surveyed 1500 consumers nationwide last spring. Their biggest gripes about gift cards: fees and expiration fees.

Gift-card issuers are banking on your memory loss. TowerGroup, a research firm in Needham, Massachusetts figures the value of unused gift cards in the U.S.in 2006 was $8 billion for 2006.

Best Buy divulged in its 2006 annual fiscal report that it raked in $43 million from unused gift cards.

In October, a survey of 1,003 adults by the Consumer Reports National Research Center found that 27 percent of those getting gift cards for Christmas in 2006 had not used one or more of them nearly a year later. That was up from the previous year, when 19 percent of consumers had one or more unused gift cards. Over one-third of those respondents said they didn't use the cards because they either forgot about them, lost them, or the cards had expired. The most common reasons people gave for not spending their gift cards were that they didn't have time to shop (58 percent) or couldn't find anything to buy (35 percent).

But gift card sales keep increasing. TowerGroup is predicting sales will surpass $100 billion in 2008, compared with estimates of $80 billion in 2006. Consumer Reports found that 62 percent of consumers plan to give gift cards this year, second only to clothing (71 percent).  Gift cards are also the most-wanted gift among women and ranked third with men.

Experts advise that consumers search for information about gift card fees and expiration dates. If you can find it, check for the fine print. Gift cards typically do not have information on the cards or in their packaging about fees, expiration dates, or other stipulation. Before purchasing, consumers need to read the FAQs (Frequently asked questions) and the terms and conditions on the issuer's Web site.

Be advised that might not be enough protection. Consumer Reports says, “Card issuers often give themselves the right to change the rules in any way and for any reason. The terms and conditions for the American Express Gift Card say the issuer doesn't even have to give you notice of any such changes.

Investor’s Business Daily calls gift cards the “gift that stops giving,” because expiration usually begins a year after purchase, and there may be a $2 maintenance fee deducted from the balance each month.

Federal law requires that all gift cards come with a printed guide spelling out terms and conditions. Investor’s Business daily recommends giving the sheet along with the gift card and enclose the receipt. Some issuers require the receipt before they'll replace a card if it is lost, stolen or damaged.

And whether you get or give a gift card, good advice is to spend it as quickly as possibly because the value may decrease in time. Keep it in your wallet to remind yourself to use the card.

 

You deserve to vote on the Frankenstein veto

I plan to vote Tuesday in favor of a constitutional amendment that would ban the Frankenstein veto. Senate Joint Resolution 5 (SJR 5) that I have co-sponsored would do away with the veto power of any Wisconsin governor to create new words and sentences that would authorize spending that was never approved by the Legislature.

If the state Senate approves SJR 5 Tuesday, you, the voters get your say on the issue in a statewide referendum on April 1, 2008.

Over the weekend, the Wisconsin State Journal called the Frankenstein veto an “absurd and abusive veto trick.”

The newspaper editorialized:

Gov. Jim Doyle used this unbelievably brash technique to increase spending on a state aid program by hundreds of millions of dollars beyond what the Legislature approved in the last state budget. And in the current state budget, Doyle carved up a passage of text to nearly double the Legislature’s allowable increase in local property taxes for 2007.

Talk of exempting Doyle from the ban -- a cynical ploy that would have killed this much-needed reform yet again -- has finally petered out.

This is no small feat. The Senate will have plenty to be proud of Tuesday when SJR 5 sails through with a unanimous vote that includes an April referendum. It truly will be history in the making and the start of a much better government for and by the people of Wisconsin.”

I concur and will be happy to vote “Aye” on SJR 5.

State Senate votes to end Frankenstein veto

The state Senate today approved a constitutional amendment that I co-sponsored to eliminate the Wisconsin governor's use of the Frankenstein veto.

The vote by the Senate was unanimous, 33-0.

The constitutional amendment must go back to the Assembly so the Assembly can addres the date change for the statewide referendum on the veto. Originally, the amendment called for an election date of April 2007. The amendment approved by the Senate calls for a statewide referendum to take place April 1, 2008.

The Assembly is expected to concur with the Senate's action.

The amendment would prohibit future governors, regardless of party affiliation, from creating new words or sentences in their budget vetoes in order to appropriate spending that has not been approved by the state Legislature.

Taxes go up, people move out

Taxes

I’ve written extensively that Wisconsin’s high level of taxation is forcing too many residents to pack up and leave. New data indicates the disturbing trend continues, having a damaging effect on our ability to compete.

During November 2005, the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance issued a very troubling report entitled, "Moving In, Moving on: Migration in Wisconsin."  During the five years prior to the 2000 census, almost 669,000 people either moved to or out of Wisconsin. However, the net in-migration into Wisconsin was a meager 7,282.

Individuals with college or advanced degrees were more likely to leave, while those with less education tended to come. Individuals with household incomes above $75,000 left Wisconsin. Those with incomes of $200,000 or more had the highest rates of leaving.

The huge exodus of wealthy Wisconsinites leaving the state caused a loss of an estimated $4.72 billion in net worth and a loss of $455 million in income over the five years of this study. That means far fewer in-state bank deposits, less stock in Wisconsin firms, less investment capital for in-state ventures, and less money given to local charities.

We are losing our best and brightest at a very young age, and we're experiencing retiree flight.

Last month, the USA TODAY reported that Americans are moving across state lines at the highest rate since the early 1990s. U.S, Census Bureau data shows lots of people are moving, but not to Wisconsin that ranks at number 45 among the states, with 1.9 percent of the state’s population in 2006 having moved here from another state.
 Now the Wall Street Journal reports, “Americans are uprooting themselves and moving to places where there is economic vitality, opportunity, and a high quality of life. They are going, in short, to where the action is.”

Arthur Laffer, president of Laffer Associates and Stephen Moore, senior economics writer for The Wall Street Journal editorial board confirm that high taxing and spending have had a negative impact on Wisconsin’s ability to compete and cause many people to relocate elsewhere.

Laffer and Moore write in the Wall Street Journal,  “Five of the states near the bottom of our competitiveness ratings -- Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey and Wisconsin -- have enacted major tax increases in the last two years. Maryland and Michigan just raised business and income taxes on upper-income earners, while arguing that raising the cost of doing business will attract more businesses. More likely it will induce companies to stay away, and people to move out.”

Laffer and Moore say the record movement of citizens across America has little to do with the weather. They say the states with the most dynamic and desirable economies are generally the states with the lowest tax, spending and regulatory burdens. These states win the battle for the prized commodity of human capital. The big losers are high taxing and spending states in the Midwest and Northeast.
 

The American Legislative Exchange Council has just released a study Laffer and Moore conducted that presents a 2007 Economic Competitiveness Rating of the 50 states. During the past decade, Laffer and Moore discovered that, “the 10 states with the highest taxes and spending, and the most intrusive regulations, have half the population and job growth, and one-third slower growth in incomes, than the 10 most economically free states. In 2006 alone 1,500 people each day moved to the states with the highest economic competitiveness from the states with the lowest competitiveness.”

Wisconsin ranks at number 30 on the Economic Competitiveness rating. Hurting Wisconsin is its ranking at number 45 for property tax burden, the fifth worst in the country, a ranking of 30 for the top marginal personal income tax rate, and a ranking of 32 for the top marginal corporate income tax rate.

Laffer and Moore contend that policy decisions made by state legislators matter. They write, “State officials can influence these factors—the economic, fiscal, and social policy legislation that contribute to, or in all too many cases against, the livability of a state. If you don’t believe that economic policies matter, then why is it that thousands upon thousands of people in East Germany risked their lives and fortunes every year to get through the Berlin Wall to move to West Germany? Why is it that Mexicans line up at the U.S. border to get into this nation to live and work here by whatever means they can, but not too many Americans sneak over the border to get into Mexico?”

The prescription is clear. The remedy to stop people from voting with their feet in Wisconsin is to stop the hemorrhaging of taxing and spending.

 

Buy a fresh tree, help the economy

The Christmas tree industry is big business in Wisconsin. How big? The growth of fresh Christmas trees adds over $50 million to the state economy every year according to the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture.

Wisconsin ranks as the fifth largest Christmas tree producer in the country, selling 1.8 million trees every year. We also are the third largest state nationally for acreage of Christmas trees grown.

Finding a Christmas tree farm to purchase a fresh tree is easy. There are 1,387 Christmas tree farms in the state selling any number of varieties of trees.

University of Wisconsin-Extension Racine County horticulture educator Patti Nagai says each acre of trees produces enough oxygen for 18 people. For very tree chopped down, two or three more are planted. The trees are recyclable and when chipped or shredded make great mulch. So Christmas trees are good for the environment.

For more information, check out the Wisconsin Christmas Tree Growers Association.

 

A state fraud hotline

Audits, News you can use

One of the bills approved by the state Senate this week would require the Legislative Audit Bureau to maintain a toll-free number with voice mail at the bureau’s office to receive reports of fraud, waste, and mismanagement in state government. The bureau must send these reports to the appropriate bureau employee for investigation.

An amendment to Senate Bill 86 provides that if an Audit Bureau employee investigates a report, the employee may consult with a state agency. The amendment also provides that instead of requiring a bureau employee to investigate a report, the bureau may refer a report to a state agency for investigation. In the case of the Audit Bureau referring a report to a state agency for investigation, the agency must conduct the investigation and deliver the results of the process to the Audit Bureau in a timely manner.

I am a co-sponsor of Senate Bill 86 that would allow citizens to alert the state to improprieties in state government and help the state operate more efficiently.

Senate Democrats are at it again

Government health care

Democrats who control the state Senate aren’t happy unless they’re coming up with new ways to reach into your pockets and take away more of your hard-earned money.

Remember “Healthy Wisconsin,” the Senate Democrats’ incredibly expensive government health care plan proposed in the state budget? The plan became the target of national ridicule.

In an editorial in July titled, “Cheese Headcases,” the Wall Street Journal wrote:

“Wow, is "free" health care expensive. The plan would cost an estimated $15.2 billion, or $3 billion more than the state currently collects in all income, sales and corporate income taxes. It represents an average of $510 a month in higher taxes for every Wisconsin worker.

Employees and businesses would pay for the plan by sharing the cost of a new 14.5% employment tax on wages. Wisconsin businesses would have to compete with out-of-state businesses and foreign rivals while shouldering a 29.8% combined federal-state payroll tax, nearly double the 15.3% payroll tax paid by non-Wisconsin firms for Social Security and Medicare combined.

This employment tax is on top of the $1 billion grab bag of other levies that Democratic Governor Jim Doyle proposed and the tax-happy Senate has also approved, including a $1.25 a pack increase in the cigarette tax, a 10% hike in the corporate tax, and new fees on cars, trucks, hospitals, real estate transactions, oil companies and dry cleaners. In all, the tax burden in the Badger State could rise to 20% of family income, which is slightly more than the average federal tax burden.

As if that's not enough, the health plan includes a tax escalator clause allowing an additional 1.5 percentage point payroll tax to finance higher outlays in the future. This could bring the payroll tax to 16%.”

The plan did not make its way into the final state budget. But Senate Democrats aren’t giving up on their plan to mandate government health care. Senate Majority Leader Russ Decker told the Wausau Daily Herald that their government health care plan will be re-introduced early next year.

According to the Wausau Daily Herald, “The plan would group employer-sponsored health insurance into one pool, thereby spreading risk among a larger population and lowering costs for employers and workers alike. Those who are self-employed would be able to buy in as well. The plan would be funded through a $15 billion payroll tax.”

That’s not all.

Senator Decker also told the newspaper that Senate Democrats will introduce a measure exempting the first $60,000 of a home's value from local school taxes.

The Daily Herald reports, “That would ease the burden on low- and middle-income folks but bring less money to school districts. To make up for the loss, tax rates on home values above $60,000 would be raised -- a rate that also would apply to commercial and industrial properties. For example, the owner of a $150,000 home would pay no taxes on the first $60,000 of the home's value, but a higher rate on the remaining $90,000 of value.”

That could result in a huge tax increase for Wisconsin homeowners who already pay some of the highest, if not the highest property taxes in the nation.

The Senate Democrats see government spending, tax increases, and government mandates as the solution to every problem. It appears their goal is to see the day that Wisconsin ranks number 1 in all forms of taxes. We must do everything possible to make sure that does not happen.

Putting a stop to raiding funds in state budget

The state Legislature is taking steps to restore credibility and honesty to the state budget process.

This week, the state Senate approved for the second time a constitutional amendment to do away with the Frankenstein veto power of Wisconsin governors. Voters will get to decide on the issue in a statewide referendum April 1, 2008.

Another related constitutional amendment cleared its first hurdle this week when the state Assembly approved Assembly Joint Resolution 34 (AJR 34) on a vote of 91-6.

AJR 34 would prohibit
state lawmakers from raiding segregated funds to fill budget holes and prevent funds from being used outside their original intent.

Here is an analysis of AJR 34 from the Legislative Reference Bureau:

This proposed constitutional amendment, proposed to the 2007 legislature on first consideration, permits the creation of a state fund, or program revenue appropriation account thereof, other than a fund or account related solely to the issuance or payment of public debt or other obligation, only if two−thirds of all the members elected to each house concur therein.

Any state fund, or program revenue appropriation account thereof, created by law before, on, or after the date of ratification of this amendment remains in effect until abolished by law, and the purpose for which the fund or account was created may not be changed by law.

The proposal also provides that a state fund, or program revenue appropriation account thereof, created before, on, or after the date of ratification of this amendment may not be lapsed, transferred, or expended in any manner that would conflict with the purpose of the fund or account. If a state fund, or program revenue appropriation account thereof, is abolished, all unencumbered moneys in the fund or account as of the date the fund or account is abolished are transferred to the general fund of the state.”

After the 2005-07 state budget was approved by the Legislature, Governor Doyle partially vetoed 752 words out of a large section of the budget to create a 20-word sentence. The result was a raid of $427-million from the Transportation Fund to pay for schools, an appropriation the Legislature never authorized.

The 2007-09 state budget transfers $200 million from the state's Patient Compensation Fund to the general fund. The Wisconsin Medical Society is now suing the state because of the raid that could be illegal.

This is the first consideration of AJR 34. The amendment must still pass the state Senate in this legislative session, then be approved by both houses of the Legislature in the next legislative session before going to voters in a statewide referendum.

When citizens pay a tax or fee designated for a specific purpose, they expect the funds will be used in that manner. The use of funds for other programs or services other than those the funding was intended for is a serious breach of faith and trust with the public. These raids are wrong and must be stopped.

I support AJR 34 and will vote in favor of the amendment if it is scheduled for action in the state Senate.

Special interest groups have no place in the classroom

The state Senate Committee on Education that I serve on held a public hearing on a bill that requires that every school board’s instructional program in state, national, and world history include information on the history of organized labor in America and the collective bargaining process.

I am deeply concerned about the prospect of the state mandating this type of instruction. What’s next? Requiring instruction on the birth of the Republican Party in Wisconsin and how important the Party is to American politics?

The Green Bay Press Gazette shares my concerns. The newspaper editorializes:

“We're troubled by legislation that seeks to mandate curriculum. The same argument for mandating the teaching of the labor movement could be used to promote the history of agriculture, forestry, tourism and papermaking. And so on. There are any number of special interests that can convincingly present the case for the role they've played in the history of Wisconsin.”

Here’s the entire editorial.

My Biz blog

Mary in the media

I’ve updated my biz blog. “Taxes go up, people move out,” appears in today’s Small Business Times.

Winter's coming-Be careful out there

It’s hard to believe with all this snow on the ground that winter officially has yet to arrive in Wisconsin. More snow is definitely coming our way.

The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) reports there are about 17,000 vehicle crashes during winter when roads are covered with ice, snow, or slush. The crashes kill, on average, nearly 80 people and injure more than 7,000 people. Many of the accidents occur because people are driving too fast for winter conditions.

With winter on the way, the DOT suggests some tips to remember when driving in inclement weather:
  • Stay off roads until they are plowed.
  • If you have to venture out, slow down, leave plenty of room between vehicles, and anticipate stops and turns.
  • Be prepared for the unexpected. Remember: If there's ice and snow, take it slow.
  • Give snowplows plenty of room to work. They're big and hard to see around.
  • Don't pass a working snowplow - they can throw up a cloud of snow that could cause a whiteout and disorient you.
  • Also, it's tough for snowplow drivers to see you. Don't crowd the plow. Make sure you can see the driver's mirrors so he can see you. Remember, it's the law that you stay at least 200 feet behind a working snowplow.
  • And always remember to wear your seatbelt, drive sober, and keep your speed appropriate for the conditions - all essential when winter weather hits.

Wisconsin’s deadly roads of 2007

Motorcycles

With a little less than two weeks still remaining in 2007, Wisconsin has already surpassed the number of traffic fatalities from last year. An increase in the number of motorcycle deaths is being blamed.

The Associated Press reports, “With the busy holiday traveling season still ahead, Wisconsin has already suffered more traffic crash deaths than a year ago, in part because more motorcyclists died, the state Department of Transportation reported Monday. There were 717 people killed on state roads as of Monday morning — 33 more than a year ago at this time, the agency said.”

The Wausau Daily Herald has more details.

As a motorcyclist, I’ve been very concerned about the number of motorcycle fatalities.

My friends at ABATE are also concerned but caution that statistics about motorcycle deaths should be reviewed carefully.

Abstinence under attack

The Washington Post is reporting that 14 states are rejecting federal aid for abstinence education.

Earlier this year I blogged that despite the fact it is rare for a state to turn down a federal grant, Governor Doyle did just that.  He refused to accept grant money that would have been used by school districts that teach abstinence-only courses.

In March, I wrote:

“His rejection of $602,958 in federal money will hurt efforts to instruct Wisconsin teenagers that abstinence is, and this is indisputable, the only method guaranteed to prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually-transmitted diseases.

Acceptance of the federal grant money would not have cost the state. Doyle's rejection does cost the state.

According to the Wisconsin Abstinence Coalition, the federal dollars pay for the salary, benefits, and expenses of a state Abstinence Title V Program Consultant in the Department of Health and Family Services. The grant also pays for four of every seven dollars expected to be spent within a state's Title V program. There is a match requirement of three dollars for every federally awarded four dollars that Wisconsin passes on to the sub-grantees. Matching funds could come from State dollars, local government dollars, private sector dollars or in-kind support. Therefore, the target population in Wisconsin is losing $1,051,680 in program dollars.”

Other states are rejecting federal aid or notifying the federal government they will not apply, claiming abstinence programs are ineffective and to blame for an increase in teen births.

Those states are making a big mistake according to Stan Koutstaal of the Department of Health and Human Services. He told the Washington Post, “My greatest concern about states dropping out is that these are valuable services and programs. It's the youths in these states who are missing out."

Supporters are continuing to fight for abstinence funding.

Valerie Huber of the National Abstinence Education Association told the Washington Post, “We're talking about the health of millions of youth across the United States. We know abstinence education offers the best for them. Now is the time to put more emphasis on that message, not less."

Huber scoffed at critics of abstinence programs.

"Our critics would have governors believe that these programs are just somebody standing in front of the class wagging a finger and saying, 'No. No. No. Don't have sex.' That's not what these classes entail. They are holistic. They include relationship-building skills and medically accurate discussions of sexually transmitted diseases and contraception,” said Huber.

Koutstaal also takes issue with abstinence education critics.

Nationally syndicated radio talk show host, best-selling author and veteran film critic Michael Medved has also weighed in on this topic. In his blog, Medved writes:

“Recent headlines announced a sudden rise in the teen birthrate and Planned Parenthood and CNN lost no time in blaming the abstinence education programs backed by Christian conservatives.

For one thing, the unexpected increase in pregnancies among teenagers hardly represents a crisis: it’s a 3% increase after 14 straight years of decline, and teen pregnancy rates are still more than 30% lower than they were in 1991.

It’s also ridiculous to single out the limited funding for abstinence education, when the federal government still devotes six times the money toward programs that emphasize birth control and that Planned Parenthood enthusiastically supports.

Moreover, most commentators forgot to mention that birthrates not only increased for teenagers, but also went up for women in their 20’s, 30’s and even 40’s. This increase could even indicate a cultural change that’s basically positive: with more and more Americans looking at children as a blessing rather than a burden.

Unfortunately, it also no doubt reflects the rapidly disappearing stigma attached to out-of-wedlock birth and the general obsession with sexuality in our society. In any event, it’s outrageous to blame religious conservatives who are the strongest voice for placing that sexuality in a responsible marital context.”

I authored a bill that was signed into law last session that requires school districts that provide sex education to present abstinence as the most effective way to prevent pregnancy. It is shameful that the Governor would refuse to accept federal money that could provide much-needed public health information to Wisconsin youth.

I'm on WisconsinEye

WisconsinEye has produced a video profile on all Wisconsin legislators.

You can see my profile here.

Property tax reminder

The Wisconsin Department of Revenue reminds homeowners that property tax payments must be made by December 31, 2007, to be included as credits on income tax returns file during 2008.

Every year, municipalities send out property tax bills to individual property owners. Property tax payments are a legitimate credit property owners may claim on income taxes.

However, property owners must pay their bill on or before December 31, 2007.  If property taxes are paid on or after January 1, 2008, the credit cannot be taken until filing income taxes during 2009.

Homeowners with questions or concerns about property tax bills may contact local municipalities.

A Christmas miracle

Do you believe in miracles?

As our brave men and women continue to defend our country in Iraq and other hotspots overseas, I am reminded of a wartime Christmas miracle.

The miracle occurred on December 24, 1914 on a cold French battlefield during World War I. The Great War had been raging for four months, and one million soldiers had already perished. Many dead bodies were strewn across the bloody battlefields. Enemy trenches were so close, opposing soldiers could easily yell back and forth.

Suddenly that Christmas Eve night, British soldiers couldn’t believe their eyes as they saw candlelit Christmas trees rise above the German trenches. The candlelight allowed the Brits to see the faces of their enemies, but they withheld fire.

A British soldier, Henry Williamson, wrote in his diary, “From the German parapet, a rich baritone voice had begun to sing a song I remembered my German nurse singing to me. The grave and tender voice rose out of the frozen mist.” The song was the most beloved of Christmas carols, Stille Nacht, Silent Night.

When the Germans had finished, the British countered by singing, “”The First Noel.” The Germans clapped and then started signing again, this time, “Oh Tannenbaum.” Back and forth the enemy forces alternated carols, until the British launched into “O Come All Ye Faithful.” At that point, the Germans joined in. As one British soldier would later write, “This was really a most extraordinary thing, two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.”

This unbelievable scenario would become even more remarkable as a spontaneous ceasefire broke out. Soldiers from both sides agreed not to use their weapons on Christmas Day in a truce that would stretch along 500 miles of the Western Front. Amongst the bodies of fallen comrades, soldiers from both sides emerged from their trenches to exchange uniform buttons and badges. They shared family photos with some actually agreeing to be pen pals after swapping addresses. Germans rolled out beer barrels and Brits offered plum pudding. The battlefield where shots rang out just hours before transformed into an athletic field when soldiers tossed out soccer balls.

The sudden celebration turned solemn when an impromptu ceremony was held to bury the dead. A solitary soldier began singing, once again, Silent Night, in French. Soon another voice, this one in German, joined in. Superior officers threatened their men, and the miracle ceasefire ended. When fighting resumed, soldiers admitted aiming their rifles high so their bullets would sail over their enemies’ heads. The very first Silent Night inspired a miracle that brought enemy forces together on a French battlefield in 1914.

Christmas is a humbling time of year, offering a great opportunity to reflect and appreciate what we have: family, friends, individual liberties and freedom, and for those truly fortunate, rewarding employment and good health. The most joyous season should be a reminder to all of us not to take any of what we enjoy each and every day for granted.

Please remember the true meaning of Christmas. Christmas is the time we give of ourselves, we sacrifice our time, and we share the greatest gifts of love and peace. Most importantly, we must be ever mindful, as soldiers were on that French battlefield in 1914, of the Christ child and the promise of hope and salvation that came into the world with his birth.

I wish you and yours the most blessed and joyous holiday season.

Merry Christmas!

Our Medicaid computer system

Once again, there’s a cost overrun with a state computer program.

The Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel reports:

A new computer system to run the state's Medicaid program will cost $64.2 million, twice as much as originally projected, officials said Thursday.

The system won't be finished until October, almost two years behind schedule. The project originally was to cost $32.3 million and be finished by January 2007.”

Here's the story.

And the Democrats who run the state Senate want us to believe them when they claim their proposal to have the state run health care for everyone in Wisconsin will actually save money?

I don’t think so.

More ways to entice problem gamblers

Gambling

We are about to enter a period of heavy gambling with college football bowl games, pro football playoffs, the Super Bowl, and eventually, March Madness, the NCAA College basketball Tournament.

During 1997, the 24-hour Helpline at the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling received 3,865 calls from problem or compulsive gamblers and their families. During 2006, the Helpline received 9,206 calls. During 2007, the Helpline is on target to receive over 10,000 calls.

The Executive Director of the Helpline, Rose Gruber says, “It is so exciting to see the increase in calls. It means that people are beginning to understand that compulsive gambling is an addiction and that help is available.”

In their latest newsletter, the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling outlines the scourge of remote gambling.

REMOTE GAMBLING

Gambling at your Fingertips - Everywhere.
Remote gambling is any form of gambling in which a person does not need to be physically present. It can be conducted from the safety of a gambler’s own home, car, airplane, street corner, café, school room, board room or any place a remote device is operable.

What makes Remote Gambling a growing concern?

• It is immediate – accessed from anywhere, anytime• It is a solitary endeavor
• It is even more hidden than other forms of gambling
• Others know that it is a problem only after their lives have been painfullyeffected

Remote gambling includes:
• Internet sites which include any form of betting imaginable• Mobile devices for text messaging and internet/web access
• Cell phone, telephone
• Interactive TV

Facts on Remote Gambling
• Internet has over 2,500 gambling sites and the number is growing daily
• Online poker has over 400 websites and is growing daily
• Presently there are over 5 million transactions conducted per day, or anaverage of about 300 bets per second
• There is no US regulation on how the sites control payouts and percentages.The sites could manipulate the gambler to think they are skilled and can outplay the others on the site. Once winning and playing with greater amounts of money the site could decrease the gamblers odds and take the winnings back with interest.

Attractive to persons who:
• Want immediate access
• Are socially shy and lack confidence• Prefer privacy
• Are uncomfortable with physical nearness to others
• Disabled and do not want to be seen as different
•Want to decrease social barriers based on sex, race, age, disability
• Want to be someone they are not

Remote Gambling makes the gambler feel:
• Uninhibited – people do and say things in cyberspace that they wouldn’t ordinarily say in the real world.
• Interactive with others without face to face contact
• As if they can escape and get away from the real world
• Intelligent, skilled and all powerful until they start losing

Thoughts of the Remote Gambler
• You don’t know me – anonymity
• You can’t see me – invisibility
• See you later – don’t relate in real time, wait for messages
• It’s just a game – real money does not change hands – it’s all credits
• We’re equals – authority really does not exist 

What Remote Gambling Provides
• Gratification: No waiting, instant
• Anticipation: Removed, instant action, adrenaline rush
• Companion: Always there when needed
• Fantasy: Takes you to it, change persona, gender bender
• Expression: In a private world, more satisfying than real life
• Ego: Boosts fragile/bruised ego
• Constraints: Lacking boundaries. Limit only by extent cash/credit
• Chasing: Several times a day. PC is a beckoning finger. (Bellringer, 2006)
• A Chance: to lose financial resources, friends, jobs, family, freedom, etc. 

What to do if you think you or someone you know has a problem withRemote Gambling . . . . . . . .
Call the Wisconsin Council on Problem Gambling Hotline at 1-800-426-2535. 
 

And now, a new gambling innovation has surfaced that is said to cause the same kind of problems associated with casino betting.

The New York Times has the story:
  


Behind the Jackpot

The $50 Ticket: A Lottery Boon Raises Concern

By NELSON D. SCHWARTZ


With the popularity of traditional lotteries waning across the country, many states are turning to instant games priced at $20, $30 and as high as $50 to lure new players and raise revenue.

Scratch-off tickets, for example, now account for more than 75 percent of lottery sales in Texas, which this year became the first state to introduce a $50 scratch-off game.

But critics in Texas and elsewhere say games promising this kind of instant gratification are more likely to contribute to the kind of problem gambling that is usually associated with fast-paced casino betting, and they are now trying to limit them.

They say the games take particular advantage of the most vulnerable members of society, including the poor and members of minority groups.

“Scratch-off tickets are to the lottery what crack is to cocaine,” said State Senator Eliot Shapleigh, a Democrat who represents El Paso.

In Massachusetts, a third of the calls to the state’s 24-hour gambling addiction hot line come from lottery players, the majority of whom play instant games, according to Margot Cahoon, a spokeswoman for the state’s Council on Compulsive Gambling.

Industry leaders agree that the future of the lottery business now depends on instant games with bigger prizes. The $50 Texas game, for example, offers thousands of instant prizes ranging from $50 to $50,000, with a few exceptional prizes as high as $5 million. But they say the games are not aimed at compulsive gamblers and are not intended to be addictive.

“It used to be lotteries would offer $1, $2 and $5 tickets but the growth is in $10 and $20,” said Ernest L. Passailaigue, director of the South Carolina lottery and president of the North American Association of State and Provincial Lotteries.

The higher value games certainly appeal to people like Larry Hardy, who nearly every day walks from his central Houston rooming house to a nearby Chevron station to work odd jobs and buy scratch-off lottery tickets.

He has won $200 several times with a game called “Break the Bank,” but Mr. Hardy, who relies on $600 a month in federal disability payments to support himself, still spends $30 to $40 a week on the elusive dream of hitting it big.

“I feel at times I shouldn’t play again,” Mr. Hardy said, “but the reason I play is I really need $20, $30, $40 or maybe $50.”

States are now considering even more potentially addictive offerings. A Florida government report this year on how to enhance lottery revenue suggested that the introduction of video lottery terminals there could raise more than $1 billion a year. But the report acknowledged these games “are considered to be more addictive than traditional lottery games and could contribute to a problem of pathological gambling.”

Just who plays the lottery — and how much — has always been a contentious issue. As lotteries have expanded their offerings, most states have emphasized statistics showing overall participation in any type of game, which typically matches the demographics of the population.

Academic experts on the lottery, however, say this kind of analysis is misleading because it does not make a distinction between those who play once or twice a year players and daily or weekly bettors.

“Surveys usually stop with the question: ‘Have you played in the last month?’” said Philip J. Cook, a professor of public policy at Duke University. “They don’t plumb the questions about depth of play, which the lotteries have chosen to obfuscate because they see themselves as vulnerable on this issue politically.”

The introduction of the $50 ticket in Texas — and evidence that blacks and Hispanics individually spend much more than whites on the lottery — has spurred criticism from legislators in heavily minority neighborhoods, like the one in Houston where Mr. Hardy lives.

“I didn’t think I’d be this concerned but it’s harming people,” said Garnet Coleman, a Democrat who represents a majority black district in Houston in the state legislature. “When I go to get a pack of cigarettes or a soda I’m in line behind people playing the lottery. They’re not buying one ticket or five tickets. They’re buying $50 or $75 worth and this is in my district, which is limited-income.”

Unlike most states, Texas is required by law to provide detailed demographic information on lottery participation — data that backs up Mr. Coleman’s argument. In 2006, according to a University of North Texas survey commissioned by state lottery officials, the typical black player spent $70 a month on the lottery, compared with $47 for Hispanics and $20 for whites.

The demographic differences were especially sharp when it came to scratch-offs. Players with a high school degree or less typically buy $20 a month worth of scratch-off tickets, compared with $10 for college graduates. Similarly, players with an annual income of less than $12,000 spent 33 percent more a month than those with incomes above $100,000.

Mr. Passailaigue, the president of the state lotteries association, does not dispute that certain games appeal more to minorities and low-income people but he said these groups were not being singled out and the trend should not worry state lottery officials.

“It’s more cultural in nature,” he said. “Some people think it’s O.K. to go and play golf and bet on each hole.”

While golfers might have more disposable income than many scratch-off bettors, Mr. Passailaigue argued the reality was, “Culturally, people have experienced different ways not only to amuse themselves but to gamble. It’s been that way for a long time in this country.”

Whatever the reasons, state lottery officials and the companies they hire to run the games appear to be concentrating on the heaviest players.

The Scientific Games Corporation, which dominates the scratch-off market and counts states like Texas and Massachusetts as clients, advises lottery managers to increase jackpots to lure players, according to a report supplied by the company to the Texas Lottery Commission and obtained by The New York Times under an Open Records Act request.

“But like any ‘tool,’ an increased payout is only useful when used in the right way,” the report cautions. Describing what it calls ‘‘chatter,’’ or midsize prizes, Scientific Games concludes, “Better to increase the number of chatter prizes in a game aimed at heavy players so that they see more of the prizes they are playing for and will communicate their excitement to others, creating a buzz for the game.”

This approach seems to be working. In Massachusetts, which Mr. Passailaigue considers a forerunner in developing higher-priced tickets with bigger payouts, 70 percent of the state lottery’s $4.6 billion in revenue comes from instant games.

In Texas, the $50 scratch-off was introduced after higher-value denominations of $20, $25 and $30 proved popular. The success of these and other instant games helped the state increase total lottery sales in four of the last five years.

Meanwhile, the popularity of its more traditional lotto offerings has sagged and the percentage of Texans playing any game has fallen from 70 percent a decade ago to about half today. Lottery officials in Texas credit the rapid success of the $50 game, introduced in May, with helping it avoid a sharp drop in sales during the 2007 fiscal year. For the $50 game, the odds range from 1 in 6.67 for a $50 prize to 1 in 1.2 million for the top $5 million jackpot.

As for the criticism from legislators and others that such games appeal most to compulsive gamblers or low-income players, a spokesman for the Texas Lottery Commission, Bobby Heith, said, “We value and respect those concerns very much but our job is to run the lottery, to generate as much revenue as possible, as responsibly as possible.”

In Texas, urban liberal Democratic politicians like Mr. Coleman and Mr. Shapleigh of El Paso now find themselves aligned with the Christian Life Commission, the public policy division of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, as well as traditional conservatives like Robert F. Deuell, a Republican state senator from the suburbs east of Dallas. Four years ago, the Baptist group hired a former state lottery official to crunch the numbers and prepare reports intended for urban Democratic officeholders that detailed the high rate of play in their districts.

“We use the facts that are the most persuasive,” said Suzii Paynter, executive director of the advocacy group. “If it’s just a religious argument, people can pat you on the head.”

Mr. Deuell has opposed the lottery since he took office in 2003, but research from the anti-gambling group played an important role in Mr. Coleman’s change of heart, whose district has the highest rate of lottery spending in the Houston area. His constituents spend about 3 percent of their income on games, according to the anti-gambling group’s research.

“Ten years ago, I wasn’t opposed to the lottery,” Mr. Coleman said. “This has really made me take a second look at whether the state should be in the gaming business.”

The Baptist group has been fighting the lottery ever since it was introduced in Texas in 1991 by Ann Richards, then the Democratic governor, and Ms. Paynter concedes the lottery will not be abolished overnight. “It’s a long fight, and a hungry industry,” she said.

Mr. Coleman does not support shutting down the Texas Lottery. But he shares Ms. Paynter’s goal of eliminating the $50 scratch-off and similarly priced instant games. “If people want to play,” Mr. Coleman said, “they’re better off buying a dollar ticket and calling it a day.”

Ron Nixon in Washington and Thayer Evans in Houston contributed reporting.
  

Changes coming New Year's Day

 It will cost more to drive and smoke in Wisconsin beginning January 1, 2008.

On New Year’s Day, fees and taxes increase for motor vehicle registration and other car and truck-related services, and a $1 per pack increase on cigarettes takes effect.

The changes were part of the state budget approved in October that I voted against because it taxes and spends too much.

The annual registration fee for automobiles will go from $55 to $75. For light trucks up to 4,500 pounds, the fee goes from $48.50 to $75. Owners of trucks between 4,500 pounds and 6,000 pounds will see an increase in their registration fees from $61.50 to $84. For trucks up to 8,000 pounds, the fees go from $77.50 to $106. Registration fees for heavy trucks of over 8,000 pounds, for which there are 16 different classifications, are going up 30 percent.

Title fees will go from $28.50 to $53 in 2008. License renewals will cost an extra $10 to make up for costs to put in place the federal Real ID Act specifications for driver’s licenses.

In addition to the cigarette tax jumping to $1.77 a pack,  the tax on "tobacco products” other than cigarettes increases from the current 25 percent of the manufacturers’ list price to 50 percent. "Moist snuff" tobacco users will see the tax go from a price-based tax to a weight-based tax of $1.31 per ounce.

The Legislative Reference Bureau has put together a list of laws taking effect on January 1, 2008.

Governor unsure of how to handle Internet cigarette sales

The Associated Press is reporting, “Wisconsin and other states either don't know who is buying cigarettes over the Internet and not paying state taxes, or they know and don't go after the culprits.

Some states make high-profile attempts to collect taxes owed on cigarette sales. But even when they do, many Web sites skirt the law by operating overseas or on American Indian reservations where state laws are largely unenforceable.”

The article goes to report that Governor Doyle isn’t sure who to go after but would prefer that the Revenue department seek out large buyers of Internet cigarettes.

Read more information here
.

More evidence government health care failing in Massachusetts

Government health care

As state Senate Democrats pledge to resurrect their failed proposal to enact government health care in Wisconsin, we need only look to Massachusetts to learn valuable lessons about this flawed idea.

Jacob Goldstein writes in the Wall Street Journal that, “Massachusetts’s universal health-care plan is turning out to be more expensive than predicted. Now the state is looking at cutting payments to docs and hospitals next year to make ends meet.”

Goldstein points out that in Massachusetts, everyone is required to purchase health insurance. A plan containing subsidies to the poor has been, not surprisingly, more popular than predicted, so popular that the costs are now 20 per cent higher than Massachusetts budgeted. The Boston Globe reports the price tag for government health care in Massachusetts could be as high as $619 million for the current fiscal year, $147 million over budget.

Because the cost is so high, a board that oversees the health plans has given its approval to cuts of three to five percent in reimbursements to health-care providers caring for those in the subsidized plan. The board has yet to decide whether it should raise co-pays and other out-of-pocket costs for those with income above the poverty level. The Boston Globe reports doctor visits, prescription drugs and hospital care cost much less for those with subsidized insurance than for those that have private insurance.

Hillary Clinton and John Edwards want such a plan for the entire country. Senate Democrats in Wisconsin want such a plan for our state that would impose the largest tax increase in the history of the United States.

The end result would be higher taxes, higher premiums, and health care rationing.

No thank you.

Wisconsin job growth rates near the bottom

I repeat: This is not the time to be raising taxes.

You may have missed this from jsonline.com as you celebrated Christmas:

Wisconsin ranked 43rd among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in annual job growth rate through November, according to federal data released Friday.

A report issued by the Bureau of Labor Statistics shows Wisconsin gaining 12,400 jobs since November 2006, an employment increase of 0.4%.

Only two states - Michigan and Ohio - had net losses for the 12-month period, according to preliminary payroll counts. Utah led all with a growth rate of 4.2%.
 


Nothing has changed since August 2007 when Americans  For Prosperity issued its “Wisconsin Prosperity Report,” that provided the following gloomy details:

The “Wisconsin Prosperity Report” analysis of data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that from June 2006 to June 2007 Wisconsin experienced an anemic 0.28 percent job growth and 58 percent of jobs created were government jobs.
The analysis also showed that government payrolls are growing more than eight times faster than private-sector payrolls. “Just in case our Governor and policymakers don’t get it by now, hopefully this data makes it crystal clear that our economy is struggling,” said AFPF Wisconsin Director Mark Block. “In order to address lackluster private-sector job growth, we have to recognize that Wisconsin has a problem, and huge tax hikes aren’t the solution. Policymakers should reflect on the well-known slogan: ‘Last business to leave Wisconsin, please turn off the lights.’” 

Governors may regain more control over National Guard units

An obscure provision in a bill approved by Congress would remove the power of the President to call up National Guard troops during emergencies and return the authority to the nation’s governors.

President Bush reportedly will sign the measure into law. President Bush has not used his authority to call up state Guard units this year. However, Republican and Democrat governors have contended that the states are in a better position to decide if and when Guard units are to be called into service.

Here are more details from Stateline.org

People move out, states try to get them back

There’s evidence that the high level of taxation in states including Wisconsin leads people to move out.

The Wall Street Journal is reporting that throughout America, states are now going after former residents, attempting to lure them back to rejuvenate dwindling workforces. For example, South Dakota, aware of its harsh winters and open spaces, has instituted, “Dakota Roots,” a service that matches up former South Dakotans with businesses that need workers.

North 
Dakota unveiled a similar program last fall, and did so by announcing it an event in St. Paul, Minnesota.

Admittedly, these programs attract a limited number of people, but the states that utilize them claim they’re worth the investment. The feeling is that it is far easier to lure people that have already lived in a state than to attract strangers. Iowa has been able to recruit 2,200 workers to return.

The concept is new. Most states wish to lure new people to move in, with development efforts geared to offering companies tax breaks and incentives like less expensive real estate. Companies say their biggest concern about moving to a state is securing a well-trained workforce.

How do the programs get former residents to move back?

College alumni lists are used, along with Internet sites to track down graduates. Helping the cause is the fact ex-residents show a pattern of moving to other states that aren’t very far away. Great Plains residents tend to settle in Minneapolis.

The Wall Street Journal reports the cost of the programs is low especially when compared to the millions in tax breaks given to attract businesses. Intended for ex-residents, the programs are open to anyone looking for a job in the state. The states that do offer these programs share common characteristics of cold weather and a shortage of workers.

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