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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.

Digital TV is coming soon


This is another reminder that in less than three months, all high-power TV stations will convert to broadcasting with an all-digital signal, affecting millions of American consumers. The switch takes place February 17, 2009. Many consumers are unaware of what to do, if anything.

In a nutshell, if you have cable or satellite TV, you’re fine. If you don’t, the solution is a simple converter box at a minimal cost.

Here are more details.

State Audit: The Wisconsin Lottery

Audits


As required by state statute, the highly acclaimed Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) has completed a review of the Wisconsin Lottery, based on an examination of trends in lottery sales, operating revenues and operating expenses, the development and management of instant games, and the Lottery’s oversight of its contracts with private firms.

There has been a dramatic decline in the sale of pull-tab tickets. Pull-tab ticket sales totaled about $25.3 million during fiscal year 1988-89. However, by fiscal year 2007-08, sales had dropped to $3.2 million. The Wisconsin Lottery says the decline is due, in part, to private pull-tab vendors operating illegally or under a loophole in state law allowing any business to offer a game of chance with its products as part of a promotion. Pull-tab ticket sales are not expected to increase until or unless private illegal games are stopped or if the exemption for private vendors is modified. Wisconsin Department of revenue Secretary Roger Ervin, in a letter to auditors, says Lottery staff has conducted a market analysis showing the Lottery could generate an additional $23 million per year in revenue if statutes were changed to allow Lottery-only games.

Another noteworthy item in the audit involves the contract for product information services, a term that simply means advertising. Milwaukee public relations firm Hoffman York is contracted by the Wisconsin Lottery to publicize lottery games. Almost all funds appropriated in the state budget for product information go to Hoffman York. The 2007-09 state budget increased the annual product information budget from $4.6 million to $7.5 million. Hoffman York received $7.2 million during fiscal year 2007-08 and used it to buy radio and TV time to publicize games.

The Wisconsin Lottery is required by its contract to formally review and evaluate Hoffman York’s performance each year. The LAB discovered the Lottery “has not done so. Instead, agency officials provide ongoing verbal feedback and conduct quarterly surveys of Wisconsin residents to gauge their awareness and opinions of the Wisconsin Lottery.”

While the audit was being conducted, the Lottery started to make an evaluation form for its product information contractor. The audit reports says:

“To measure the effectiveness of Hoffman York’s product information services, the Wisconsin Lottery compared initial 12-week ticket sales for 16 publicized scratch-off games with average 12-week sales data for comparable unpublicized scratch-off games that were introduced during the same period.”

Following a 2005 LAB recommendation, the Lottery began using an evaluation tool to determine each instant game’s first 12-week ticket sales and overall sales. During fiscal year 2007-08, 113 instant scratch-off games were available for purchase at some time. The LAB audit is recommending the Lottery include product information costs in its evaluation tool for instant games and require Hoffman York to consistently report amounts spent to advertise individual games.

In his response to the audit, Wisconsin Department of Revue Secretary Roger Ervin wrote that despite the challenge of precisely determining the effect of lottery advertising, it works. Ervin says the Lottery stopped advertising during 1993 and it lost about $19.5 million in instant ticket sales, a loss of at least $25 for every $1 of advertising not spent.

Other notes from the audit:

During fiscal year 2007-08, Wisconsin Lottery ticket sales totaled $494.7 million.

The Wisconsin Lottery provided taxpayers with $146.5 million in property tax relief during fiscal year 2007-08.

During fiscal year 2003-04 through fiscal year 2007-08, ticket sales increased 2.4 percent.

Once again, I commend the LAB for their consistently outstanding work. Here’s the audit report.

Could the airport be the new home for the Milwaukee USO?

Veterans issues


I have sent the following letter to Jessica Stice, Executive Director of the USO of Wisconsin-Southeastern Region, with copies to Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and members of the Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors about the possible closing of the Milwaukee USO office:

Dear Jessica:

 Enclosed is a copy of a letter, co-signed by legislative colleagues in Madison, to members of the Wisconsin Congressional Delegation, requesting that the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate take the necessary action to ensure that the Milwaukee USO office, the only USO office in the state of Wisconsin, remains open to serve our military, their families, and veterans. We strongly urge our Congressional delegation to assist the Milwaukee USO in meeting and adhering to national Standards Of Excellence (SOE) to prevent its closing and secure its operation that will continue to benefit Wisconsin military members and their families. 

Read more

Help New Berlin TOYS for TOTS effort


I am very pleased that one of the fine businesses in the state Senate district that I represent,
Ament Industrial Truck is teaming up again this year with the New Berlin Chamber of Commerce, the Marines, and the Salvation Army to help make Christmas merry for needy youngsters. Dave Ament has issued the following press release.


Once again this year Ament Industrial Truck and The New Berlin Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau will be working closely with The United States Marine Corps Reserve, the Marine Corps League Badger Detachment and The Salvation Army in their TOYS for TOTS Program for 2008.

Each year, the generosity of individuals, families and businesses make it possible to serve thousands of needy children in Southeastern Wisconsin. For most of these kids it’s the one bright spot in their holiday.

So, while you’re out Christmas shopping this year pick up some extra toys for children who need your help. We are all feeling the financial crunch this year but even the smallest gift or donation will help brighten up a child’s Christmas.

Starting November 20thth you can drop off the NEW toys, unwrapped, at our office located at 2140 South Calhoun Road, New Berlin. Our office hours are weekdays from 7:30 AM to 4:30 PM. We ask that all donations be dropped off by December 18th so we have time to deliver them to the Toys for Tots distribution center. If you cannot drop off your donation, please feel free to contact us at 262-785-9890 and we will be happy to pick them up. So please do it soon. 

To make a monetary contribution, make your check payable to “Marine Toys for Tots Foundation”

They can be dropped off at our office or mailed to us at:

Ament Industrial Truck
2140 S. Calhoun Rd.
New Berlin, WI 53151

God Bless You and Merry Christmas!

Dave Ament
Ament Industrial Truck
New Berlin Chamber of Commerce & Visitors Bureau, Board of Directors
7th District Alderman, New Berlin

You Still Have Time To Enroll In Medicare Part D Drug Program

News you can use


The opportunity to enroll in the Medicare Part D prescription drug program continues through December 31, 2008. Those now eligible for Medicare along with current beneficiaries considering changes to their Medicare Part D plan may enroll now through the end of the year.

The Medicare Part D prescription drug program is designed to assist with the high cost of medications. The program is available to all Medicare beneficiaries and is completely voluntary. Beneficiaries with low incomes could be eligible for extra help in 2009 amounting to as much as $3900.  You must provide your income, the value of your savings, investments and real estate (other than the home you live in) to Social Security to determine if you are eligible for additional assistance
.

The Social Security Administration says in order to be eligible, you must be receiving Medicare and also have:

• Income limited to $15,600 for an individual or $21,000 for a married couple living together.

• Resources limited to $11,990 for an individual or $23,970 for a married couple living together. Resources include such things as bank accounts, stocks and bonds. Your car and house are not counted as resources.

To complete an easy online application for yourself or someone you care about, click here.You may also call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 for help or to have an application mailed to you.

More information on the Medicare Part D prescription drug program can be found here. 

Tiny Light Bulbs Pose Serious Dangers

News you can use


Traditional, incandescent light bulbs are being phased out and the use of fluorescent bulbs has been mandated by the federal government. Part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 approved and signed into law last year calls for the elimination of traditional light bulbs beginning in 2012 leading to an all-out ban in 2014 in favor of energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs or CFL’s. CFL’s contain dangerous mercury.  When broken, the bulbs leak mercury into surroundings, requiring extreme caution and care.

According to Governing Magazine, the problems associated with CFL’s will only get worse.  Three years from now, the first batch of CFL’s now being purchased will begin to lose their life. Odds are many consumers will simply dump them in the garbage where their next stop will local landfills all across the United States. Who knows what might happen to the quality of our water and air.

Recycling programs for CFL’s, so far, have not caught on with the public.  To work, consumers must forego inertia, change their routine of tossing CFL’s in the trash and actually make a trip to a location that collects the burnt-out CFL’s.  The campaign to urge consumers to run out and buy CFL’s was probably more expansive and successful than the future public relations effort to get them to travel to a collection site.

One bulb contains but a tiny amount of mercury, but it is estimated that 290 million CFL’s were sold last year. As Governing Magazine reports, “Once mercury reaches a landfill, the risk of its being released remains forever.”

Landfill operation failures could result in mercury being released into groundwater and the air.

Read more from Governing Magazine.

Wisconsin’s Deer Hunt: The Good News and The Bad


The Lakeland Times confirms what many had suspected about this year’s Wisconsin deer hunt that the number of deer killed was down.
Lost in the focus on the deer kill numbers is the good news that 2008 was one of the safest hunts on record. The Lakeland Times reports:

“DNR hunter education administrator and DNR's hunter safety expert warden Tim Lawhern, said there were nine total hunting incidents involving firearms during the nine-day hunting period making 2008 the third safest season on record. Sadly, one of the incidents was fatal. Of the nine incidents, six involved shotguns, two involved rifles, and one involved a handgun. Nearly half, about 44 percent, were self-inflicted.”

Read the entire Lakeland Times article

 

Read more

Wisconsinites Continue To Oppose Government Health Care

Taxes


During August 2007, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce (WMC) released a poll showing 64 percent of voters supported market-based health care reform and 54 percent of voters disapproved of the government-run health care plan  proposed by state Senate Democrats. Wisconsinites opposed the plan because of the potential for health care rationing, waiting lists, and higher taxes.  
  A recent poll by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI) demonstrates opposition to a state-run government health care program remains heavy. The WPRI reports:

“There is very little support for the idea of a state-run insurance system. Wisconsin residents believe that if a government-run health insurance system were set up in Wisconsin, out-of-state people would definitely immigrate to Wisconsin to enroll in the system.

We asked a question that dealt with a proposal to replace Wisconsin’s current private health insurance system with a universal health insurance system controlled by the state government. Only 34% of the residents of the state approved that idea while 53% disapproved it. On this particular question there were some demographic differences across the state. 43% of outstate Wisconsin residents approved this idea, while 45% disapproved of it.

In the Milwaukee suburbs, only 26% approved it, while 55% disapproved it. In Madison, 36% of the residents approved it, while 46% disapproved it.

The largest gaps were the political and ideological demographics. 58% of Democrats approved of this idea, while only 13% of Republicans and 28% of residents who said they were Independent approved. Ideologically, 59% of Liberals supported this idea, while only 8% of Conservatives did.

There was also an age spread in support – 50% of residents between the ages of 18 and 24 supported this idea of a state-controlled health care system, but only 28% of our senior citizens 65 and older supported the idea, while 58% disapproved of it.

Finally we asked if Wisconsin established a government-run health care system if residents thought people would move to Wisconsin in order to enroll in this program. 58% said yes, 30% said no. 60% of our residents in Green Bay thought that there would be migration, as did 64% in Southeastern Wisconsin.

The strongest opposition to this question of potential migration came from Milwaukee suburbs where 41% said that there would not be migration and 40% in Waukesha County.
Again there were some political and ideological differences. 67% of Republicans thought there would be migration, while 51% of Democrats agreed that there would be migration. Among Conservatives, 67% thought that migration would happen, while only 47% of Liberals felt the same way.

The survey of 600 Wisconsin residents was conducted between November 9 and 10, 2008. Here are the complete survey results.

State Senate Democrats plan to reintroduce their government health care plan in the next legislative session. The same plan that was rejected in the previous session was estimated to cost an astounding $15.2 billion.

I remind everyone that the Senate Democrats’ plan was ridiculed by the Wall Street Journal
and John Stossel of ABC News.

Another key reminder: Government health care isn’t free

The Tax Foundation in Washington D.C. called the $15.2 billion tax increase, “off the charts.”

Our State Budget Gap Compared To Others

State budget, Taxes


When it comes to fiscal matters, the state of Wisconsin always seems to rank at the top, and usually in a negative manner. Our tax rankings, for example, always place us in the top taxed states. The same holds true for our business climate. Here is another example.

Wisconsin has one of the largest state budget gaps in the country according to a report by the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL). During 2010, Wisconsin is predicted to have a budget gap that will surpass 17.2 percent of its general fund budget.
 Given our propensity the last several budget cycles to dig ourselves deeper and deeper, this news is not surprising.

Read more in stateline.org.

If The QEO Is Repealed, Where Will The Money Come From? Unfortunately, That's Easy

Taxes


One of the top priorities of Governor Doyle and legislative Democrats in the next session in Madison
will be the repeal of the QEO, a guaranteed property tax increase.
 

The Tomah Journal recently editorialized rather succinctly that if the QEO is repealed, the state must find a source for increased teacher salaries. The newspaper writes:

“The QEO operates as both a cap AND a floor for teachers salaries. There are many private-sector workers in Wisconsin who can only dream of a mechanism that guarantees a 3.8 percent annual compensation hike. If teachers start getting raises of 5, 6 or 7 percent instead of 3.8 percent, the money must come from somewhere.”

Of all the options the Tomah Journal lists as sources for the money needed to fund the QEO’s repeal, tax increases seem to be most likely.

Meanwhile, the La Crosse Tribune reports that, “Dale Knapp, research director for the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, said that Wisconsin’s salaries for all teachers are usually at or above national averages but that benefits are usually among or near the top five states in the country.”

The paper also reports that Dan Rossmiller, a lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards believes the repeal of the QEO will result in teacher positions being cut.

Read more in the La Crosse Tribune
 

Is It Smart To Legislate Against Junk Mail?


Apex, North Carolina, a town about the size of Franklin, Wisconsin describes itself as combining a relaxing small-town atmosphere with convenience to big-city amenities. Apex’s Steve Padgett is considered by many townsfolk to be a hero for not doing his job. That’s right, for not doing his job.

The 58-year old Padgett was a mailman who was recently given probation in a federal court for stashing away piles and piles of undelivered junk mail, seven year’s worth to be exact. He even buried flyers and catalogues in his back yard. The judge passed on sending Padgett to prison for five years, telling the mailman, “
Today, you'll get credit for a life well lived."

The U.S. Postal Service did not receive any complaints from anyone on Padgett’s route about undelivered mail. Instead, hundreds contacted local media to praise Padgett, saying he deserves an award.

The lack of a backlash against Padgett illustrates the public’s distaste for junk mail, despised in the same way as telemarketer calls. Do Not Call lists have become so popular that many states have explored Do Not Mail registries.

On the surface, the concept of consumers being afforded the opportunity to sign up for a Do Not Mail lists sounds great. But there are ramifications. Direct mail advertising, as obnoxious as it might be, provides discounts to consumers on various goods and services. The industry also provides jobs, employing about 10 million Americans. Doing away with junk mail sends a lot of people to the unemployment line.

Numerous states have attempted to pass Do Not Mail laws. They have all failed.

Read more about this issue in the Los Angeles Times and the Christian Science Monitor.

Ballot Measures Run the Gamut


There was a host of referendum and initiative questions on ballots all across the country on Election Day last month.

State Legislatures Magazine has a rundown of the results.

IRS Changes Mileage Rates


The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has announced the 2009 mileage rates for using vehicles for business, charitable, medical, or moving purposes. The IRS reports:
“Beginning on Jan. 1, 2009, the standard mileage rates for the use of a car (also vans, pickups or panel trucks) will be:
  • 55 cents per mile for business miles driven
  • 24 cents per mile driven for medical or moving purposes
  • 14 cents per mile driven in service of charitable organizations”
 Read more details here.

Make Sure The Ice Is Nice and Safe

Ice fishing might be popular, but it can also be dangerous due to the unpredictability of ice. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) instructs that a minimum of four inches of clear ice is needed before anyone should walk on a frozen body of water. A minimum of six inches is necessary before driving a snowmobile across ice. The ice should be 8 to 10 inches thick before travelling with a car or light truck.

Gary Eddy, the DNR conservation warden who runs the snowmobile and ATV safety programs, offers the following tips to ensure safe ice fishing:

  • Contact local sport shops to ask about ice conditions on the lake or river you want to fish.
  • Do not go out alone, carry a cell phone, and let people know where you are going and when you’ll return home.
  • Wear proper clothing and equipment, including a float coat to help you stay afloat and to help slow body heat loss; take extra mittens or gloves so you always have a dry pair.
  • Wear creepers attached to boots to prevent slipping on clear ice.
  • Carry a spud bar to check the ice while walking to new areas.
  • Carry a couple of spikes and a length of light rope in an easily accessible pocket to help pull yourself – or others – out of the ice.
  • Do not travel in unfamiliar areas or at night.
  • Know if the lake has inlets, outlets or narrows that have current that can thin the ice.
  • Look for clear ice. Clear ice is generally stronger than ice with air bubbles in it or with snow on it.
  • Watch out for pressure ridges or ice heaves. These can be dangerous due to thin ice or may be an obstruction you may hit with a car, truck or snowmobile.

A Tax Promise Wisconsin Needs To Keep

State budget, Taxes


A provision in the 2005-07 state budget phases out taxes on Social Security income. The taxes will be totally eliminated during tax year 2008.

Given the state’s continuing budget deficit dilemma, this good news story is being spun as a tax break coming at the worst possible time.

The Associated Press (AP) reports, “An estimated 228,000 senior citizens will get average reductions of $518 on income taxes due in April even as lawmakers will likely be deciding to cut services and raise other taxes and fees to balance the budget, according to the Department of Revenue.”

I might add the senior citizens deserve this tax break. It would be dishonest and downright disgusting for the state to go back on its word and commitment to our seniors. Exempting Social security income from taxes might serve to prevent so many of our older, retired residents from packing up and leaving Wisconsin
.

Former Assembly Speaker John Gard told the AP, “I think the people who this helps need the money more than the government does.” I agree.

You can read the AP article here.

 

Good News On the Roads, Fatalities Decrease

During November 2007, 55 people died in traffic crashes in Wisconsin.  The number of traffic fatalities dropped one year later to 39 during November 2008.The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) reports if this trend continues for the next few weeks, 2008 will go down as one of the safest years on Wisconsin roads in decades.


Read more from the DOT.

Tips From the DOT For Winter When It Gets Here


Winter has yet to officially arrive in Wisconsin
and we have already had some doses of snow with more on the way.

There are about 17,000 vehicle crashes during winter when roads are covered with ice, snow, or slush according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT). These inclement weather crashes are responsible for, on average, nearly 80 fatalities and more than 7,000 people being injured.  Speed is often a factor. People are driving too fast for winter conditions.

With winter officially right around the corner, the DOT suggests some tips to remember when driving in bad 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.

Fresh Christmas Trees Are Good For Our Economy

Business, News you can use


The family ritual of climbing into the car, driving to a tree farm and cutting down a fresh Christmas tree is very good news for Wisconsin’s economy. That’s because the Christmas tree industry is big business in our state. Fresh Christmas trees generate 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. About 1.8 million trees are sold every year.  Wisconsin is also 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 every 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.

Do Not Become a Victim of ID Theft This Christmas Season


The United States Postal Service reports identity theft is America's fastest-growing crime. More than 9.9 million Americans were victims last year, costing them about $5 billion.

Here are some tips from the Office of Privacy Protection at the WI Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to prevent becoming a victim of identity theft, especially during the Christmas shopping season. 

Tis The Season To Be Shopping: Be Careful


The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection offers helpful reminders and gift-buying tips about such areas as ordering, gift cards, return policies, and what to do if you have a problem.

Read the tips here.

Audit finds questionable Medicaid payments

Audits


An audit prepared by the highly-regarded, nonpartisan Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) found $268,000 in potentially improper payments during fiscal year 2005-06 to Medicaid providers that include nursing homes, pharmacies, chiropractors and dentists. Examples show the state paid a nursing home $1,507 to transport a Medicaid patient one mile and $250 to transport another patient five miles.

Wisconsin’s Medicaid program funds health care services for low-income, elderly, blind, and disabled individuals. Medicaid includes medical and dental services and long-term care. The Department of Health Services (DHS) certifies that providers meet basic standards to participate in Medicaid. DHS also must ensure that service payments meet federal and state rules.

Other potentially unallowable claims pinpointed by the LAB include an estimated $108,700 paid to 65 nursing homes for transportation services. Three nursing homes were paid an approximate $1,500 to reserve beds for longer than allowed under Medicaid rules. Pharmacies were paid an approximate $97,400 for 2,620 claims for controlled substances that didn’t have authorization numbers issued by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

Wisconsin does have a system in place to control Medicaid fraud. As required by federal law, the state has a Medicaid Fraud Control Unit that operates within the Department of Justice (DOJ). It investigates charges of fraud and patient abuse and neglect in health care facilities that receive Medicaid payments and prosecutes providers believed to have committed crimes. Eleven full time positions in DOJ have been assigned to fraud control from fiscal year 2002-03 to fiscal year 2006-07 that include three attorneys, three consumer protection investigators, three auditors, and two support staff. The 2007-09 state budget allowed for the creation of two additional auditor positions that have been filled.

DOJ received 182 referrals of suspected provider fraud from fiscal year 2002-03 through fiscal year 2006-07. During that time, the department filed criminal charges against 36 providers that resulted in 34 providers convicted of fraud and theft-related charges and two acquittals. Courts ordered convicted providers to pay a total of $2.9 million, including $2.0 million in restitution, $898,900 in fines, and $1,200 to cover the cost of investigations by DOJ.

Where do restitution payments go? The state and federal governments are reimbursed for their shares of the unallowable Medicaid payments made to the provider. Fines are deposited into the Common School Fund. Payments received for investigative costs go to help support DOJ’s investigation and prosecution activities.

DOJ may also prosecute alleged violations of Medicaid rules in civil court Such legal action is considered best at times because the evidence standards in civil court are lower than in criminal court, and DOJ may avoid the cost of a trial through a settlement. From fiscal year 2002-03 through fiscal year 2006-07, 16 civil settlements were negotiated between the State and Medical Assistance providers, pharmaceutical manufacturers and companies that deliver medical equipment or services. Courts ordered providers and companies to pay the state a total of $11.7 million.

The LAB identified methods DHS could use to improve the certification and monitoring of Medicaid providers, including conducting criminal background checks and quickly decertifying providers that violate Medicaid rules. The audit found that typically, DHS does not use all of its power to recoup unallowable payments.

The LAB made several recommendations as the result of its review:

* DHS should determine whether any claims the LAB identified were unallowable and recover payments related to those that are.

* DHS should report to the Joint Legislative Committee by April 1, 2009 on its efforts to improve the certification and monitoring of Medicaid providers by conducting criminal background checks as part of the provider certification process and ensuring that providers whose professional licenses are restricted, suspended, or revoked are decertified on a timely basis.

* DHS should also report to the Committee on its efforts to enhance the prevention and recovery of unallowable payments, including how it plans to use its authority to sanction providers that repeatedly commit the same violations, and the date by which it will promulgate rules to charge interest to providers that fail to promptly or entirely reimburse the state for unallowable payments.

Once again, I commend the LAB for their consistently thorough reviews on behalf of Wisconsin taxpayers. Here is the entire audit report.

Skiing by candlelight

News you can use, Tourism


Only in beautiful Wisconsin could you enjoy a nighttime ski or hike by candlelight.
State parks will soon offer recreational events along trails lit by candles or tiki torches.

Candlelight ski at Gov. Thomspon State Park
Candles lighting the way for a candlelight ski at Gov. Thompson State Park.
Photo by Maggie Kailhofer


Candlelight skis and hikes are quite popular and start shortly after the New Year. Here are more details from the DNR.

Editorial asks if Governor Doyle is breaking a campaign promise

Taxes


The Beloit Daily News editorial board performs, as Charlie Sykes would say, a flagrant act of journalism by reminding readers what Governor Doyle campaigned on during 2002 and what he is saying today. The newspaper writes:

OK, LET'S TAKE a trip back in time, to 2002, when then-Attorney General Jim Doyle was locked in a tight race as he attempted to unseat Republican Gov. Scott McCallum.

The state faced a deficit then, too, estimated at more than $2 billion. Candidate Doyle pledged to bridge the gap without raising taxes. And he vowed to do so, in part, over a couple of terms in office, by eliminating about 11,700 state employees.

Hmmmm.

In 2002, Doyle asked voters to put him in office on a promise to streamline government and cut those jobs. Now, he's begging Congress for a bailout so he won't have to cut jobs.

Just a tad inconsistent, wouldn't you say?”

I would say more than just a tad. You can read the entire editorial here.

Great news about Wisconsin cranberries

Business


The Wisconsin State Cranberry Growers Association (WSCGA) has announced that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has issued the final administrative step that will streamline the review of cranberry marsh expansions in Wisconsin. This is big news for one of the biggest industries in the state. The 2008 Wisconsin cranberry crop will be above earlier projections and demand for the berries is strong worldwide.

During October I blogged that a much-needed agreement had been reached between cranberry growers and  the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers to quicken the permitting process for cranberry bogs. As many as 1,115 jobs could be created, and the impact on the state’s economy is expected to be about $75 million.

Here are more details from the Wisconsin Cranberry Growers Association.

Remember, the cranberry is a super food with many health benefits. It’s not just for Thanksgiving anymore. 

Children do better when raised at home by both parents

Family issues


Children raised at home by both biological parents who attend regular religious services together have less home and school problems. That’s according to a new study released by the Wisconsin Family Council.

Some of the key findings in this study are that children raised at home by their biological parents are five times less likely to repeat a grade, less likely to have behavior problems at home and school, and are more likely to be cooperative and understanding of others’ feelings.

Their parents have less stress, healthier relationships with the children, and less worries about their children’s ability to achieve.

It is incredibly difficult to disagree with the study findings or the sentiments of Julaine Appling, the CEO of Wisconsin Family Council when she says, “Children do best when they’re living with their biological or adopted mother and father and are taught moral responsibility. Children thrive under the community and moral structure of a church.”

Here is the full study 
and the Wisconsin Family Council press release. 

Does Wisconsin have too much government?


You be the judge.

A report by the nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WTA) shows Wisconsin ranks at number 11 among the states when it comes to government units.

Care to guess how many government units Wisconsin has? 1,000? 1,500? 2,000?

Try 3,120; that includes municipalities, school districts, special districts, and counties.

Wisconsin ranks number 11 for the number of government units even though we ranked number 20 in population and number 25 in land area. The 10 states with more government units than Wisconsin had greater populations and land mass.

Other findings by the WTA:

“Depending on the type of government, Wisconsin’s numbers vary. Wisconsin has more towns (1,259) than all but six states. When cities and villages were added, Wisconsin had 1,851 municipalities, sixth highest among states.

Comparing other government units, the ratio of Wisconsin’s school districts (K-12 and technical college combined) was 7.9 for every 100,000 residents, 14th highest and well above the U.S. average of 4.8.”

My committee assignments for the 2009-11 legislative session


I am pleased to announce the state Senate Committees I have been assigned for the upcoming 2009-11 legislative session that begins January 2009.

I will serve as the ranking member on the state Senate Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief and Revenue committee.

I will also serve on the state Senate Small Business, Emergency Preparedness, Technical Colleges and Consumer Protection Committee, and on the Joint Committee on Audit.

I am happy to serve once again on the Health Committee. Health will be one of the most important issues the Legislature will tackle in the next session. Senate Democrats are poised to reintroduce their massive government-run health care plan that had a price tag in the previous legislative session of $15.2 billion, creating the largest tax increase in the history of the United States. I opposed the plan in the last session and will be ready to thoroughly review any government subsidized program Democrats offer this session.

The Audit Committee appointment is one I am thrilled about. I have served on the Committee in the past, and as you have read in my many blogs on audits I have the highest regard for the outstanding work done by the Legislative Audit Bureau. As I have stated at my various Town hall appearances, I enjoy audit data that usually is a good barometer about whether we are allocating and spending funds effectively.

Small businesses are the engine that runs our economy. I look forward to the challenges that will come before the Small Business Committee. The success of our state depends on the success of small businesses. The other areas the committee covers, emergency preparedness, technical colleges, and consumer protection all have impact and affect constituents.

Message to the feds: Don't help


Conservative columnist Thomas Sowell provides us an important history lesson.

Some would argue the Great Depression was caused by a failure of the free market system. They claim that only when the federal government imposed its solutions did America crawl out of its fiscal abyss.

Not so, says Sowell. A series of government interventions after the stock market crash of 1929 led to a huge increase in unemployment. It’s a lesson we should heed.

Sowell’s column is a must-read.

Is Santa conservative?


This is an 1863 print done by Thomas Nast that is considered the first image of Santa Claus, taken from the January 1863 issue of Harper’s Weekly.






The print illustrates a family torn apart by the Civil War. On the left, you see a woman kneeling in prayer on Christmas Eve. She is gazing out the window looking at the nighttime sky, contemplating the absence of her husband who is seen on a picture on the wall.

On the right, the woman’s forlorn husband is depicted sitting around a campfire with his rifle, in his hand a photo album with pictures of his wife and children.

Take a look at the upper left hand corner of Nast’s print. Even though it is quite small, you can see Nast’s image of Santa Claus getting into a chimney. Santa in his sleigh with reindeer, one of the first images of this Christmas tradition,  can be seen in the upper right corner.

Down in the lower right corner, you see ships at sea, and in the lower center, graves of soldiers killed in action. The entire collage is a magnificent and historic work by Nast.

Nast, a Republican, was called the Father of American Caricature. He designed the elephant symbol for the Republican Party and also came up with the donkey for the Democrats.  One of Nast's cartoons reportedly helped re-elect Abraham Lincoln in 1864, and Lincoln himself said that Nast was his best recruiting sergeant.

Nast is credited with creating the image of Santa Claus as a jolly, fat man.

Read more about Nast here.

So, is Santa conservative? Columnist John Andrews thinks so. Andrews wrote a piece last December outlining how everything the left stands for is, “a total repudiation of St. Nicolas,” and “the exact opposite of ‘be good for goodness' sake.”

You can read Andrews’ column here. 

If you still have doubt, there’s that bright red suit.

Merry Christmas!

Christmas wishes: You are the Nativity scene


Take a good look at a Nativity scene. What do you see? Appropriately, the Baby Jesus is at the center of attention, surrounded by Mary, Joseph, the wise men and the shepherds. Do you see yourself in the crèche? Peter Kreeft says you should.

A Christian author of over 25 books, Kreeft teaches at Boston College and is on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Education Resource Center. Kreeft wrote in the National Catholic Register during December 1986 the fresh and compelling interpretation that we are all the figures in that historic birthplace.

Kreeft’s suggestion is the most spectacular symbolism. He writes, “When you look at your Nativity set, at this most natural and ordinary thing in the world, a mother and a newborn baby, you are reading a pictorial newspaper headline that announces the most extraordinary event in history; the Maker of Mary was made by Mary; the One who surrounds the stars is surrounded by Mary’s womb; the Creator consented to come into His creature because she consented to have Him.” Kreeft asserts that in this most marvelous of scenes, we all incredibly surround the Christ Child.

The analogies are fascinating. The challenge is to use your imagination and picture yourself, that night, in that stable.

Can you relate to the shepherds? They are poor, humble, unassuming, decent, hard-working individuals. The peasant in each of us hopes and dreams, just like the awe-filled shepherds.

Angels, the story goes, told the shepherds this magnanimous event came to them, much like God is around us no matter if it be our home, office, or outside under the evening stars.

The wise men provide a stark contrast to the shepherds in many ways, including their cleverness and wealth. But the shepherds, like the wise men, share a seat near the Child, for everyone is the same in Christ’s eyes.

The wise men brought treasures to present. Some of us have more to offer in life than others who can only give of themselves or their work. The gift is less significant than whether a gift and how a gift is given. The less fortunate shepherds among us are very much like the more sophisticated wise men.

Joseph served the relatable role of provider, even though he had no home and couldn’t get a room at the inn. Unable to provide to the fullest might lead to a provider feeling like a failure, but examine Joseph beyond that magical night. Under his selfless, constant guidance, Mary and Jesus prospered as a family. It’s a winning formula that has worked ever since. Daily, hard work brings dignity and stability.

Relating to Mary, an immaculately conceived woman, the Mother of the Christ Child, can pose a tougher mental challenge. Women today, as Kreeft says, “conceive, bear, and nurture that precious seed of divine life in our souls as Mary did in her womb….a mother loves nothing more than to share with her children all her privileges. Even now she (Mary) is helping Christ prepare our heavenly home, decorating our rooms for us.”

Comparing oneself to Biblical times and figures, especially its most dramatic episode might sound incomprehensible, but it shouldn’t. We are laborers, workers, gift givers, providers, and nurturers, just like those present at the most sacred, blessed night of all.

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 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!

REMINDER: Digital TV is coming soon


This is another reminder that in less than two months, all high-power TV stations will convert to broadcasting with an all-digital signal, affecting millions of American consumers. The switch takes place February 17, 2009. Many consumers are unaware of what to do, if anything.

In a nutshell, if you have cable or satellite TV, you’re fine. If you don’t, the solution is a simple converter box at a minimal cost.

Here are more details.

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