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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.

Is this really good news?

Taxes

The headline in the Wisconsin State Journal (WSJ) sure sounds good:

“Wisconsin falls from ranks of top 10 highest-taxed states for first time since 1980”

According to the University of Wisconsin and the non-partisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX), this would be only the second time since 1969 Wisconsin has not been in the top ten in taxes nationwide.

The researchers looked at data from 2006, the latest year that data was available.

How did this happen?

As the WSJ reports, “Wisconsin's taxes actually rose slightly in the fiscal year ended in June 2006 but those of other states rose more quickly.”

Translation: You’re still paying high taxes, Wisconsin, and they’re not going down.

I have written that state and local governments take a good-sized portion of your income. The painful trend continues.

According to the WSJ, “All state and local taxes amounted to $22.3 billion, or 12.3 percent of personal income in Wisconsin in 2006. That was up slightly from the previous year, when taxes accounted for 12.1 percent of personal income. The national average in 2006 for state and local taxes was 11.6 percent of personal income.”

Remember, the Legislature approved and Governor Doyle signed into law the 2007- 2009 state budget that increased taxes and fees by $763 million. I voted against the budget because it taxes and spends too much and beyond the rate of inflation. Shortly after the general legislative session ended mid-March, the state learned it had a budget revenue shortfall of $652.3 million. The amount of incoming revenue was not enough to fund committed spending.

Wisconsin also has a structural deficit of over $1.6 billion. A structural deficit occurs when future projected revenues fail to match future expenses.  It is clear Wisconsin has yet to solve the propensity to tax and spend.

If you listen to the positive spin coming out of Governor Doyle’s office, the good news is Wisconsin is trending in the right direction. I would hold that thought until we see the impact of the spending and borrowing in the most recent budget, and in the bill referred to as the budget repair bill.

Here is the WSJ article.

Here’s a report from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

World experts blame ethanol for food crisis

Ethanol


A blog I wrote during February 2007 about the effects of ethanol mentioned the impact on food with emphasis on Mexico. It read, in part:

Excitement over ethanol, a renewable fuel made with corn, has reached such a high level that there has been a virtual rush on corn. The effects have been devastating, especially in Mexico with a society, culture, and way of life dominated by the tortilla. Tortillas make up 40 percent of the diet for poor Mexicans, and with corn prices quadrupling in Mexico since last summer, Mexico is suffering through its worst tortilla crisis.

Exorbitant tortilla costs created by the buzz about ethanol have left few alternatives in Mexico. Mexicans who can afford food are bypassing tortillas for options that are less healthy, so they are gaining weight. The poor are eating less, eating less healthy, or going hungry.

There are many concerns about ethanol, its effect on world hunger being the latest. Ethanol has been known to wreak havoc on small engines, and now it is likely to wreak havoc on the food supply.”

Surely there were some who read that column and dismissed the conclusion. I doubt that’s the case today.

This is no longer a Mexican tortilla problem. Food supply epidemics have reached global proportions. The latest Agricultural Outlook from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) and the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization
, unveiled in late May in Paris has the grim details about escalating prices:

“Using data for February 2008 compared to February 2007, milk product prices have generally risen sharply, as shown by those for butter with price increases of 50% in Poland, 40% in France, 36% in Spain, 32% in the Czech Republic, about 36% in Jordan and some 12% in Malaysia. Egg prices have also risen sharply, by 34% in the US, 30% in the UK and the Czech Republic and 10% in Spain. Vegetable oil prices rose 18% in India and 47% in Botswana in the past year. Meat prices rose sharply in some countries such as China, where the increase was 45%.”

Sixteen months ago I pointed the finger at ethanol. Recently in Paris, world food experts did the same. OECD agriculture official Loek Boonekamp, according to the Washington Post, says about 33 percent of the projected increase in food prices over the next 10 years can be attributed to biofuels. Boonekamp also called the benefits of converting food into fuel, “probably smaller than commonly expected."

An OECD press release says growing demand for biofuels is leading to higher food prices, reporting “World fuel ethanol production tripled between 2000 and 2007 and is expected to double again between now and 2017 to reach 127 billion liters a year. Biodiesel production is seen to expand from 11 billion liters a year in 2007 to around 24 billion liters by 2017. The growth in biofuel production adds to demand for grains, oilseeds and sugar, so contributing to higher crop prices.”

The prognosis for the future of food prices from the OECD is bleak:

“Commodity prices will average substantially above the levels that prevailed in the past 10 years. When the average for 2008 to 2017 is compared with that over 1998 to 2007, beef and pork prices may be some 20% higher; raw and white sugar around 30%; wheat, maize and skim milk powder 40 to 60%; butter and oilseeds more than 60% and vegetable oils over 80%.

The poor, and in particular the urban poor in net food importing developing countries, will suffer more. In many low-income countries, food expenditures average over 50% of income and the higher prices will push more people into undernourishment.”

The report predicts more violent outbreaks and riots over food shortages that have already been reported in some countries.

The OECD recommends further review of existing biofuel policies. The suggestion comes as some members of Congress are requesting a relaxation of a requirement that 9 billion gallons of renewable fuels be produced in 2009, up from 6.5 billion last year. How widespread does the world’s food crisis have to get before we put the brakes on converting our food supply into fuel?

Is a softball title next for NB Eisenhower?

I certainly hope so.

The school has already won the Division 2 state boy’s basketball championship this year.

Today, New Berlin Eisenhower plays in the WIAA Division 2 Girl's State Softball Tournament Title game.

I wish the Lions the best of luck!

Get out and enjoy Wisconsin, free

News you can use

Outdoor enthusiasts, take advantage of some wonderful offers from the state of Wisconsin.

The weekend of June 7-8 is Free Fishing weekend. Fish in any of Wisconsin’s 15,000 lakes and 42,000 miles of rivers and streams without a fishing license. Here are more details. 

Sunday, June 8, anyone can visit any state park, forest or trail for free during Wisconsin State Park Open House Day. Read more about it here.



 

Think before you register your cell phone on the No Call List

News you can use

Cell phone numbers can now be added to Wisconsin’s No Call List. The number of consumers using cell phones as opposed to land lines is growing. While cell phone users now have the option of registering their cell phone numbers, I urge thoughtful consideration because there is generally not a reason to do so.

There currently is not a cell phone directory but the state is about to create one. If you already refrain from giving your cell phone number to credit card companies, retail stores and businesses, think twice about giving it to a No Call registry.

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

On the other hand, if you regularly provide your cell phone number and it has become part of the electronic world, you may want to register it on the No Call List. 

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has issued a news release stating:

“Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regulations prohibit telemarketers from using automated dialers to call cell phone numbers. Automated dialers are standard in the industry, so most telemarketers are barred from calling consumers on their cell phones without their consent. The national associations representing telemarketers have stated that their clients do not intend to start calling consumers’ cell phones.”

I continue to urge consumers to register residential land line numbers on Wisconsin’s No Call List.

There are two ways to sign up for the Wisconsin No Call List. You can sign up over the phone by calling 1-866-9NOCALL (1-866-966-2255), toll-free in Wisconsin. You can sign up at the Wisconsin No Call List website at: https://nocall.wisconsin.gov/web/registration.asp.

Only one adult in each household needs to register. Registering for the Wisconsin No Call List is free.

Congratulations go out to New Berlin Eisenhower

 

 

Read more

New fraud hotline operating

News you can use


Governor Doyle signed into a law a bill I co-sponsored that creates a toll−free telephone number to receive reports from Wisconsin citizens about fraud, waste, and mismanagement of tax funds. The toll-free hotline is operated by the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau and is now up and running.

Here is a Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel article, details from the Legislative Audit Bureau on how the fraud hotline works, and the history of Senate Bill 86 that contains links to Legislative Council memos and the enacted law.
 

The state Senate killed the Coercive Abortion Bill


During the past legislative session, I co-authored the Coercive Abortion Bill that would have prevented women from being forced into having an abortion.

The bill passed by a healthy margin in the state Assembly. However, the state Senate refused to take up the bill or even schedule a public hearing.

Sue Armacost of Wisconsin Right to Life has more on the state Senate’s inaction on the Coercive Abortion Bill.

State lawmakers across the country are blogging

Mary in the media


I’m mentioned in a Stateline.org column about legislators around the country who blog.

S
tateline.org is an independent element of the Pew Research Center based in Washington, DC. that provides news about state legislatures throughout the United States.

Wisconsin still #1 in cheese if you please


At one time, California threatened to surpass America’s Dairyland as the largest cheese producer in the country.

During the past 10 years, California kept creeping up, decreasing the margin of cheese production between the West Coast and Wisconsin.

It appears California production has leveled off while Wisconsin enjoys continued growth. Grim predictions about Wisconsin losing its title as the cheese king are not as serious as they once were.

Read more in the Wisconsin State Journal.

Business writer says Wal-Mart equipped to run health care


One of my very first blogs during February 2007 was titled, “Wal-Mart to the rescue.”  I wrote, in part:

“The best solution to provide top-notch health care at affordable prices is not going to come out of city halls, statehouses, or Washington D.C. Any talk of fixing health care in America should have Wal-Mart and other private sector executives at the discussion table.”

I explain why in my blog.

Jim Jubak agrees. Jubak is senior markets editor for MSN Money. Previously, he served as senior financial editor at Worth magazine and as editor of Venture magazine. Jubak was a Bagehot Business Journalism Fellow at Columbia University and has written two books: "The Worth Guide to Electronic Investing" and "In the Image of the Brain: Breaking the Barrier Between the Human Mind and Intelligent Machines.”

In his latest column, he says Wal-Mart should run the health care system:

It's a company that understands how low prices can build market share and thus increase profits. Furthermore, it's a company with a culture of cutting costs that has shown no compunction in pushing suppliers to the wall over price. The Wal-Mart motto ought to be, ‘Make it cheaper, or we'll find someone who can.’ I'd love to see that attitude brought to bear in health care.”

You can read Jubak’s entire column here.

Sticking it to smokers does more harm than good


With the cigarette tax increase approved in the last state budget signed into law by Governor Doyle (that I opposed),
Wisconsin's cigarette tax stands at $1.77  per pack of twenty and ranks 12th highest nationally. (Source: The Tax Foundation, Washington D.C.)

Non-smokers may believe they are unharmed by this hefty tax increase. The nonprofit, nonpartisan National Taxpayers Union (NTU) thinks differently. A report by the NTU says cigarette tax increases hurt everybody:
  • States with low cigarette taxes tend to have lower overall tax burdens. The per capita state and local tax burden in high-tobacco tax states is 8 percent above the national average, while the general tax bill for residents of low-tobacco tax states is 15 percent below the national average.
  • Tobacco tax hikes rarely result in other cuts and are often paired with other tax increases or cuts worth less than the tobacco tax boost. "Most states that increase cigarette taxes don't refund the revenue elsewhere -- they spend it," the study notes.
  • Tobacco tax increases don't prevent other hikes. Taxpayers face a seven out of 10 chance of seeing another net annual tax hike within two years of a tobacco tax hike.
  • Cigarette tax hikes may encourage other increases because the extra revenue often is tied to specific spending schemes (such as health care or education) and tobacco use rates are falling -- along with potential tax collections. State governments will need to look elsewhere to fill the gap, and non- smokers could be on the hook.
  • Tobacco taxes don't spur economic growth. States that adopted a tobacco tax hike in fiscal year 2003 saw an average growth rate in gross domestic product from 2005 to 2006 that was 0.6 percent lower than states that did not adopt a tax increase.

Here is the NTU report and  press release.

Massachusetts health care continues to fail


I have written several blogs about the universal health care debacle in the state of Massachusetts.

Senate Democrats in Wisconsin are insisting our state adopt a government health care program that would cost more than a similar program that has been proposed in California.

Attempting to get a proper handle on how much universal health care would cost is a major problem. According to the Associated Press, during 2006, Massachusetts estimated the program would cost $725 million in the fiscal year starting in July. The figure has blossomed, with the governor budgeting $869 million. Managers of the program concede that won’t be enough.

The mandate aspect of the program is also problematic. Anyone deemed able to afford health insurance must purchase or face penalties. Hundreds of employers have failed to pick up the tab for employees and are paying large fines. Observers acknowledge such a policy that penalizes business that doesn’t exist in other states will hurt Massachusetts.

In the end, the program has failed on its two promises of proving care for everyone and lowering the cost of health care. As a result, conservatives and liberals alike have attacked the program.

Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick says, "I don't think anybody is prepared to say that what we have done here in Massachusetts is necessarily the formula for the rest of the country or for a national reform, but at least we are trying."

That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement.

Here is an Associated Press story on the continuing problems in Massachusetts.

No other state has implemented Massachusetts-like health care coverage. It would be a complete disaster if Wisconsin were to approve a government health care program.

Crime victims in Wisconsin have many rights

News you can use


Wisconsin
recently commemorated National Crime Victims’ Rights Week.

Victims of crimes in Wisconsin have many rights, as listed by the Wisconsin Department of Justice.

Best Practices Review: Libraries

Audits


Under a requirement of state law, the highly-regarded Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) conducts studies to determine local government practices that can save costs or deliver services with greater efficiency. These reviews are called Best Practices reports.

The LAB has completed a Best Practices review of public library services in Wisconsin. According to the audit, “
Wisconsin has 388 public libraries, which are funded primarily with municipal and county taxes, as well as 17 regional library systems supported by state aid. These libraries and systems employed more than 3,200 full-time equivalent staff in 2006, when their operating expenditures totaled $210.4 million.”

As part of the audit, the LAB sent online surveys to all 388 library and 17 regional library system directors in Wisconsin. All 17 regional library system directors and 180 of the 388 member library directors responded to the surveys.

Here are some of the key findings of the audit.

Funding for library services increased 14.0 percent during the five-year period from 2002 through 2006, going from $201.7 million in 2002 to $230.0 million in 2006. During 2006, municipalities provided 59.4 percent of total funding, or $136.7 million. Expenditures for library services totaled $210.4 million; 70.6 percent was for employee salaries and benefits.cipal Funding$136.7

Wisconsin has 17 regional library systems, created to provide greater access to library materials and services, and to foster the sharing of resources among public libraries. The goal has proven to be significant, since the ability for library patrons to access resources from various member libraries within regional public library systems is very popular.

Most member libraries allow access to online catalogs that enable patrons to see and request materials from other member libraries within their system. Over half of libraries responding to the LAB survey reported that the online catalogs are the most valuable service provided by library systems.

Computers continue to be a big drawing card for libraries, getting more and more patrons in the door. Computers with Internet access is one of the most popular services offered by libraries.

The number of computers in libraries for public use increased 20.3 percent, from 4,477 in 2002 to 5,386 in 2006.  Over half, 53.9 percent of the libraries that responded to the LAB survey noted a need for additional computer terminals. More than half of the survey respondents provide wireless Internet service to patrons with their own computers or set time limits for using the library computers because of the demand.

Judging from the number of library materials circulated statewide, the role and popularity of libraries is growing.

The number of materials circulated statewide increased 11.8 percent in five years, from 53.3 million in 2002 to 59.6 million in 2006. Libraries have stepped up and have managed to handle the heavier demand for materials by installing self- checkout machines, cross-training staff, and using more volunteers.

The expanded services have become more specialized. Examples include large-print and audio books, providing materials to senior centers and nursing homes, and maintaining special collections in Spanish or Hmong.

The LAB recommends specific best practices for regional library systems and individual libraries.

Among the recommendations, the LAB says it is a best practice for regional
library systems to encourage all member libraries to participate in systemwide online catalogs of library materials, assist their member libraries in maintaining current information technology, and explore additional opportunities for collaboration with other systems that can lead to more efficient and lower-cost delivery of services.

It is a best practice for libraries to support their services with an array of funding sources and consider the formation of friends and foundation groups to assist with fund-raising and provide volunteer support, periodically evaluate cross-training and centralizing responsibilities as means for staff to serve patrons more effectively, assess the extent to which volunteers can be effectively used to assist in providing library services, periodically review their collections to identify and remove materials that are not being circulated, and use rotating collections or other means to provide access to more extensive or specialized materials from other libraries, and inform local officials and the general public, through local media outlets and the Internet, about the programs and services they provide.

This spring, I conducted a series of town meetings throughout Senate District 28.  I am very pleased that five of my town hall meetings were held in libraries in my district.

Here is the full report of the LAB.

I commend Wisconsin libraries and their dedicated employees for the tremendous public service they perform, and the LAB for once again conducting an outstanding review that contributes to the quality of life in our state.

Hearings scheduled on unemployment program

The Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development has announced the Unemployment Insurance Advisory Council is holding a series of public hearings around the state to receive public comments on the state’s unemployment program.

One of the hearings is scheduled in Milwaukee:

Friday, July 25, 2008
Milwaukee State Office Building
819 N 6th Street, Room 40
Milwaukee, WI 53203
1:30 pm

Here are more details.

They call this repairing the budget?


As you know, the Legislature approved and Governor Doyle acted on, with some vetoes, the budget repair bill. I voted against the budget repair bill because it didn’t repair anything.

The structural deficit at the time the governor signed the 2007-09 state budget into law (that I voted against because it increased taxes and fees by $763 million) was $896 million. A structural deficit occurs when spending is put off into the next budget cycle or spending commitments are made into the future without adequate revenue.

The nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB), the highly regarded analysts who crunch all the budget numbers for the state, has released a memo reporting that following the enactment of the budget repair bill (2007 Act 226), the structural deficit has ballooned to $1.682 billion dollars.

How is this a budget fix?

This kind of budgeting is risky and irresponsible. We have merely created another budget crisis for the near future.

The state needs to get far more serious about getting its fiscal house in order, once and for all.

Audit completed on dental services for MA recipients

Audits

 

Wisconsin’s Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) has finished a review of dental care services provided under the state’s Medical Assistance program.

During fiscal year 2006-07, approximately $46.0 million was spent on dental services provided to Medical Assistance recipients, but only 1,342 of 3,493 licensed dentists in Wisconsin, or 38.4 percent, were certified as Medical Assistance providers statewide.

The  LAB concentrated its review on dental services in southeast Wisconsin that are provided to Medical Assistance recipients through health maintenance organizations (HMOs). The audit discovered lower utilization of dental care services among HMO enrollees, especially for those under the age of 21, and higher costs than in the fee-for-service system used in other counties. The audit also found HMO utilization rates have not improved in the past five years.

The LAB is recommending the Department of Health and Family Services (DHFS) that administers the Medical Assistance program establish alternative dental service delivery models for southeast Wisconsin before current contracts expire in December 2009.

Here are more details from the LAB’s review.

Dentists in the four counties in southeastern Wisconsin are concerned about the amount they are reimbursed for services to Medical Assistance recipients, believing the HMOs and dental administrator are keeping an unfair, larger share of the State’s total capitation payments. The dentists feel the results are reimbursement levels below fee-for-service rates that are used in the other 68 counties in Wisconsin. They submit that many of their colleagues do not participate in the Medical Assistance program, resulting in limited access to dental services for low-income persons.

Attempting to find a reasonable percentage of capitation payments, the LAB concedes it found no standard to judge the appropriateness of the amounts retained. The HMOs state that the amounts retained were necessary to pay for their administrative and other expenses, including language translation services. The dental administrator, and not the HMOs however, is responsible for a number of other services, including paying for dental care, assessing enrollees’ emergency dental needs, managing billing, and monitoring providers’ professional qualifications.

Regarding access to care, the contracts between DHFS and the HMOs, as well as those between the HMOs and the dental administrator, have several provisions designed to provide timely access to care. The contracts require a dental care provider to be located within 35 miles of each HMO enrollee who is a Medical Assistance recipient, HMOs’ contractors must keep an “adequate” number of dental providers, and HMO enrollees who are Medical Assistance recipients must have access to routine dental care within 90 days of requesting an appointment, and within 24 hours in emergencies.

The LAB found the 35-mile requirement was automatically met because the greatest distance between any two points in any of the four counties is less than 35 miles. But the HMO’s have been unable to provide an adequate number of providers and timely access to care on a consistent basis.

The HMOs must report to DHFS the number of dentists providing services to their enrollees. Every year, the HMO’s have a December 31 deadline to list the names of all dental providers serving HMO enrollees. Dental administrators reported contracting with significantly more dentists in 2006 than in 2005. During 2007, however, the overall number of dental providers declined.

In fact, the LAB notes that both DHFS’s review of the HMOs’ reports in 2007 and an earlier survey it conducted show that the number of dentists actually serving Medical Assistance recipients is likely overstated in the reports submitted by HMOs. Even so, DHFS concluded that the number of dentists was still adequate to meet the needs of Medical Assistance recipients in three of the four southeastern Wisconsin counties.

The LAB also found that the required timeliness standards have not been met consistently. One of the dental administrators, Doral reported that based on its own calls to dentists, 83.9 percent of its dentists met a 24-hour emergency standard and 79.0 percent met a 90-day routine appointment standard from 2002 through 2004.

One HMO reported that during 2004, only 40.0 percent of SEDA’s (another dental administrator) dental providers met the 24-hour standard and 60.0 percent met the 90-day standard.

As part of its 2007 reviews of dental providers, DHFS found that 32 of the 45 providers Doral listed as accepting new patients were not able to schedule non-emergency appointments within 90 days, but that SEDA’s performance had improved and only “a few” SEDA providers were unable to meet the 90-day standard.

Despite these inconsistencies, as of April 2008, DHFS has not established standardized procedures for the HMOs to use in measuring compliance with the timeliness standards spelled out in contracts.

The contracts between DHFS and the HMOs contain broad language requiring HMOs to provide enrollees with needed care.  The LAB found that based on data provided by the HMOs to DHFS, a higher percentage of Medical Assistance recipients served by fee-for-service providers in the other 68 counties received dental services than those served by the HMOs in the four southeastern Wisconsin counties. During fiscal year 2006-07, 33.8 percent of children under the fee-for-service system received services, compared to less than 30.0 percent of children enrolled in managed care plans. The LAB says it seems that HMOs have not been more successful than fee-for-service providers in ensuring that Medical Assistance recipients under the age of 21 receive dental care.

Questions about the cost-effectiveness of HMO’s in southeastern Wisconsin have been raised for many years. DHFS estimated in a June 2005 report that costs were $2.7 million higher under managed care than they would have been under a fee-for-service system. The LSAB tried to confirm the DHFS finding but had trouble doing so for the following reasons:

1) HMOs and the dental services administrators have argued that the systems are inherently different and cannot be directly compared, in part because the concept of managed care is designed to provide advantages to enrollees by facilitating access to services.

2) The population density and demographic characteristics of Medical Assistance recipients differ significantly between the four-county area and the rest of the state.

3) Certain administrative costs are expressly reflected in the managed care capitation payments received by HMOs but less expressly reflected in fee-for-service reimbursements received by dentists, and therefore cannot be readily compared.

But when the LAB compared average costs for all Medical Assistance recipients receiving dental services, including the elderly, blind, and disabled, as well as participants in Family Medical Assistance and BadgerCare, the LAB found significant differences. During fiscal year 2006-07, the average fee-for-service cost per Medical Assistance recipient receiving services was $211. Under HMO’s, it was $270.

The LAB concludes:

The number of participating dentists is declining.

HMO’s have neither documented that they are providing services more cost-effectively than the fee-for-service system nor have they improved their  rate of service delivery to Medical Assistance recipients in the four counties audited.

As a result, The LAB believes alternative models to improve access to care and utilization of dental services by Medical Assistance recipients in southeast Wisconsin should be considered.

Here is the entire LAB report.

Seniors beware: There is no free lunch

News you can use


The state Office of the Commissioner of Insurance has issued a consumer alert, warning senior citizens to be aware of and question sellers of insurance and annuities. There is a chance the seller is only in it for himself.

The Insurance Commissioner’s Office offers the following suggestions to avoid becoming a victim of fraud:


Question the credentials of “experts.”

Individuals often boast designations and credentials using terms such as “certified,” “accredited,” “retirement planner,” “senior advisor” or “senior consultant” to convince people they have special expertise to help seniors choose investment strategies. This may not be true. While some organizations require members to complete a difficult study program and pass extensive exams to earn designations, other organizations have much less stringent requirements that can be completed in a three- or four-day course. In the worst cases, some senior “expert” designations are earned simply by paying a monetary fee. Ask about the person’s qualifications and training, and check them out for yourself. Find out how the person earned the credential, and whether the credential actually requires learning more about older adults’ financial needs and/or more about the product being sold.

Beware of the “Free Lunch” Seminar.

According to a report from FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority), four out of five investors 69 years and older received at least one invitation to a free lunch investment seminar in the past three years and three out of five received six or more. There is often a catch to a “free” seminar, even those advertised as unbiased and educational. Federal regulators examined 110 firms that offer free lunch seminars and found that every seminar was a sales presentation. While certain information provided at seminars may be useful, a seminar may end up being a sales presentation for life insurance, annuities, other insurance products, or investments. Such seminars often use enticements, including free meals and door prizes, or claims of “urgency” or “limited space,” in order to encourage you to attend. You should be aware that if you give contact information on a registration form, that information will be used to solicit you for future sales and marketing efforts.


Does this product make sense for you?

Always be sure you understand what is being sold. Do not hesitate to ask questions. Financial products can be complicated even for the most informed consumer. You should be able to explain this product in your own words to someone (other than the salesperson) in a way that makes sense to both of you. The product must be right for you, your lifestyle, your financial goals, and your tolerance for risk. It’s rare that one product will meet the financial needs and goals of everyone attending a seminar. Be cautious about any promises that one product can meet all your financial needs. If the presenter doesn’t know your personal financial situation, he/she can’t know if the product is right for you.

Never make a final decision at a seminar.

 
A Boston Globe article reported that “more than a third of ‘free lunch’ seminars aimed at seniors focused on unsuitable or fraudulent investments.” If you attend a seminar, you may be exposed to high pressure tactics, frightening stories about individuals who don’t have enough money to live on in retirement, and promises of amazing financial returns. Consider obtaining a second opinion from an accountant or other professional who will not benefit financially from the sale.

Report scams.

If you feel that you may have been pressured into purchasing a product that is not right for you or if you feel that you may have been misled during a sales presentation about the product you purchased or if you simply don’t understand the product, do not hesitate to contact your state or federal regulator for assistance. Regulatory agencies are available to assist you. Financial scams happen to all kinds of consumers, including seniors. Do not let fear or uncertainty keep you from contacting the proper regulatory agencies.

Important Contacts

In all cases, before you disclose any personal or financial information, call the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance at (800) 236-8517 or the Department of Financial Institutions Division of Securities at (608) 266-1064 to verify that the person is licensed to sell insurance products or securities products, and that there have been no complaints or enforcement actions against the person. If a company hosted the seminar, contact the Better Business Bureau (or check their website at www.bbbonline.com) to learn about any complaints. To check for complaints against securities brokers, visit the Web sites of the NASAA (North American Securities Administrators Association) at www.nasaa.org, or FINRA (Financial Industry Regulatory Authority) at www.finra.org.

Here is the Boston Globe article referenced above.

If you know a senior that could benefit from this information, please forward it to that senior.

Audit completed on federal funding for Wisconsin

Audits

 Wisconsin’s highly-acclaimed nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB) has released its annual Single Audit report that outlines federal funds awarded to the state. The Single Audit is generally considered critical in ensuring the effective use of taxpayer dollars, and helping maximize the State’s federal funding.

During fiscal year (FY) 2006-07, state agencies administered $9.6 billion in federal funding through more than 1,600 federal programs and grants that included 930 research and development grants awarded to the University of Wisconsin (UW) System.

The amount of federal funding administered by Wisconsin has changed very little since fiscal year 2002-03.

How is the money spent?
According to the LAB:

“The Department of Health and Family Services (DHFS), the Department of Workforce Development (DWD), the UW System, the Department of Transportation (DOT), and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) “administered 95 percent of the federal cash and noncash assistance the State expended in FY 2006-07. DHFS was responsible for the largest share: $3.8 billion, including $2.8 billion in federal funding for the Medicaid Cluster. The Medicaid Cluster includes Medical Assistance, the largest federal program administered by the State of Wisconsin. Additional state funding to support Medical Assistance totaled $1.9 billion in FY 2006-07.

Other federal programs administered by DHFS include the Food Stamp Cluster, the State Children’s Insurance Program, Foster Care—Title IV-E, and Adoption Assistance.

DWD administered $1.5 billion in federal financial assistance in FY 2006-07. DWD administers the Unemployment Insurance program, as well as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Child Care subsidy, and Vocational Rehabilitation programs.

UW System disbursed a total of $1.3 billion in federal funds, including $648.5 million in student financial aid and $512.9 million in research and development grants.

Most of the $729.8 million in federal funding administered by DOT supported the Highway Planning and Construction program, which had FY 2006-07 expenditures of $638.2 million.

DPI provided the majority of its $688.0 million in federal funding to local schools and other entities for education and child nutrition programs. Other state agencies disbursed another $461.2 million in federal funds during FY 2006-07.”

The audit concentrated on 22 programs that accounted for 69.9 percent of Wisconsin’s federal funding during FY 2006-07. Programs were selected for review based on their size and the risk of noncompliance with federal rules. The good news is the LAB determined that state agencies have properly administered federal grant programs and complied with federal requirements.

During FY 2007-08, the state did return $15.5 million to the federal government due to excess balances in an internal service fund administered by the Department of Administration. Excess balances are prohibited under federal grant rules.

Another concern was raised about food stamps issued to prison inmates. The LAB matched data on food stamp benefit recipients with data from the Department of Corrections and reviewed a group of 12 inmates that appeared most likely to have improperly received food stamp benefits. The LAB found that 10 of the 12 inmates did receive food stamps inappropriately received food stamp benefits while in prison. The recommendation from the LAB is that the state recover those benefit payments.

The Single Audit has 27 recommendations to improve the state’s administration of federal funding.

Here is the full audit report. 

Once again, I commend the LAB for another outstanding and thorough review.

New federal law allows Wisconsin to track molesters living on tribal lands

Wisconsin is one of six states that has gained new power to track sex offenders living on tribal lands because of a provision in a new federal law.

The provision is part of the new Adam Walsh Child and Protection Act that was signed into law by President Bush.

Stateline.org reports, “The change would mean the states soon must ensure that sex offenders within tribal borders register more frequently with law enforcement authorities and often for longer periods of time. The states must add molesters to existing online sex-offender registries and collect and publish information about their appearance, whereabouts and even the cars they drive. In some cases, they must see that offenders who currently are not behind bars are identified and added to state registries retroactively.”

Read the entire Stateline.org article.

Taxing the Internet: UPDATE

Taxes


About a year ago, I  blogged about the possibility of the Internet being taxed.

It’s happening in New York.

The New York Times has details including numerous comments from unhappy readers.

Wisconsin losing prime population


One of the biggest concerns I have blogged about and discussed extensively as I travel throughout Senate District 28 is Wisconsin’s propensity to lose our high-income level citizens and many of our best and brightest to other states. We can point fingers at the weatherman but the taxman shoulders much of the blame.

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. 

During November 2007, 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.

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 wrote 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.”

The latest USA TODAY analysis of Census data shows 35 states, including Wisconsin lost population during 2007 in the age category 25-44. Wisconsin’s population in that age bracket dropped by five percent last year.

William Frey, demographer at the Brookings Institution tells USA TODAY that older industrial states are facing the loss of the younger, high-fertility workers.

In Massachusetts, that suffered a 9.6 percent drop in its 25-44 population, the research director at MassINC, a non-partisan think tank in Boston, Dana Ansel made an understatement when she told USA TODAY, "Losing people in their prime working years is not positive."

The new USA TODAY analysis fails to offer specific details why states like Wisconsin are losing workers aged 25-44 but my suspicion is that economics plays a vital role. That all goes back to our high level of taxing and spending.

Please read the USA TODAY article and my blog on this issue, “Taxes go up, people move out.”

Most states are saying no to tax increases

Taxes


So far, only a handful of states have decided to raise taxes to address their budgets.

The 2007-09 Wisconsin budget that I voted against that was signed into law increased taxes. So did the budget repair bill that I voted against.

it is unfortunate that Wisconsin has failed to follow the path taken by most other states and reject tax increases during tough budget times.

Stateline has the story.

Flood victims may be eligible for tax relief

News you can use


The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says flood victims in five Wisconsin counties, including Milwaukee County could receive tax relief.

Here is more information from the IRS.

After flooding, state issues warning about food safety

News you can use

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has issued a warning about food safety after massive flooding in many parts of the state.

DATCP is the state agency responsible for food safety, animal and plant health, protecting water and soil and monitoring fair and safe business practices.

Read their warning here.

The use of a tape recording in case of abused boy on school bus is upheld

I am very pleased to learn that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled a tape recording capturing Milwaukee Public Schools bus driver Brian Duchow’s statements as he abused a boy with Down syndrome could be used in court. The boy’s parents, suspecting he was being threatened and abused, placed a tape recorder in their son’s backpack.

Duchow’s conviction in a Milwaukee County Circuit Court was overturned by an appellate court that ruled the tape recording should have been inadmissible. The state Supreme Court has now ruled the tape recording was allowable.

I have been very close to this case, working with the boy’s parents on a bill I authored on school bus safety that became law in 2004. 

Here is more background from the Attorney General’s office and an article about the case from the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel.

Congratulations Brandon Koster!

Eagle Scouts


Brandon Koster's Eagle Scout ceremony took place on Sunday, June 8, 2008.

My office prepared a state citation that was presented to Brandon Koster at the special ceremony. It reads:



Whereas, Brandon G. Koster is a member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 19, and through dedication and commitment, attained the rank of Eagle Scout; and
 

Whereas, Brandon G Koster’s Eagle Scout project included renovating and updating the astronomy tower at Muskego High School;  and 

Whereas, Brandon G. Koster served his troop in the numerous leadership positions, attended Junior Leadership Training, Order of the Arrow Ordeal campout, and traveled to England in 2005; and 

Whereas, Brandon G. Koster  is a 2008 graduate of Muskego High School, graduated in the top three percent, and was a member Astronomy Club, Science Club, Bowling Team, Wind Ensemble, Jazz Band 1, Marching Band, and Pep Band; and 

Whereas, Brandon G. Koster plans to attend Carroll College in Waukesha majoring in history and education; now 

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

Congratulations Brian Herr!

Eagle Scouts


Brian Herr’s Eagle Scout ceremony was held on Saturday, June 14, 2008.

My office prepared a state citation that was presented to Brian Herr at the special ceremony. It reads:

Whereas, Brian Herr is a member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 159, and through dedication and commitment, attained the rank of Eagle Scout; and

Whereas, Brian Herr’s Eagle Scout project included refurbishing the state and cleaning out brush at the Ottawa Lake State Park Amphitheater; and

Whereas, Brian Herr earned 30 merit badges and served his troop in the leadership positions of Assistant Patrol Leader and Patrol Leader; and

Whereas, Brian Herr is a 2008 graduate of Muskego High School was a member of the Honor Roll, Tennis team, and Jazz band; and 

Whereas, Brian Herr was a nominated as a People to People Ambassador for the State of Wisconsin and to attend the National Young Leaders State Conference where he was named a National Young Leaders Conference National Scholar; and

Whereas, Brian Herr started his own landscaping business servicing the Little Muskego Lake/Wind Lake areas; and

Whereas, Brian Herr has enlisted in the United States Marine Corp and has been accepted into the Construction Management/Engineering program at the University of Wisconsin Platteville; now

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

Snowbirds take note

Taxes


Many Wisconsinites spend a great portion of each year living in Florida, attracted by good weather and a favorable tax climate.

These snowbirds need to be aware that they might be targeted for tax increases.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

“Florida voters in January amended the state's constitution to further limit property taxes. The state has long protected "homesteaders," or Floridians who live in their houses for more than six months of the year, by limiting the increase in the assessed value of their homes to 3% annually. In January, voters built on those limits. Over time, the difference between the assessed value and the market value of homesteaders' properties becomes substantial; the new measure ensures that homesteaders who move to a new home won't lose the tax benefits they've built up in their old home.

Such changes are already putting the squeeze on Florida school jurisdictions, which may tap "snowbirds" -- retirees who live in the state only part of the year -- to make up lost revenues. Those out-of-state property owners aren't eligible for most of Florida's property-tax protections.

Mr. Calabro (Dominic M. Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch) is most critical of a Florida proposal on the ballot this November that would further roll back property taxes and increase state sales taxes to do so. With no state income tax, Florida relies on its 6% sales tax to a larger degree than any state save two -- Washington and Tennessee.”

The Wall Street Journal reports Florida is one of several states looking to curb property taxes.

Read the entire article.

FEMA scam alert in Wisconsin

News you can use


The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is reporting scam artists are going door-to-door in flood ravaged Iowa, claiming to offer speedy assistance on claims and repairs..

The scammers are also surfacing in Wisconsin.

The Janesville Gazette is reporting that the Rock County Sheriff’s Office is aware of a scam in Racine County where individuals posing as FEMA agents were knocking on doors. The fake agents claim they’re assessing damages for the homeowners and a charge will be issued for their services.

That’s a scam because FEMA doesn’t charge for assessment services.

Residents are asked to call 9-1-1 immediately if they suspect anyone posing as a FEMA agent. Homeowners are also advised not to pay anyone claiming to be a FEMA representative for any services.

Here’s more from FEMA.

Now it’s the banana

Ethanol


You can add bananas to the list of foods that are seeing a sharp increase in price thanks to the rising cost of fuel.

Like the corn tortilla in Mexico, the banana is an important part of the daily diet in Britain.

There seems to be a consensus that ethanol has been a major factor in the rising cost of food that has led to food crisis conditions in many parts of the world.

It is encouraging to see the editorial board of the Milwaukee Journal/Sentinel write that ethanol mandates should be reconsidered.

Flood health and safety tips

News you can use

Wisconsin Emergency Management of the Department of Military Affairs has issued a news release containing flood health and safety tips.

It says, “Whether you are repairing your home, helping someone with theirs or helping as part of your job, you will need to protect yourself against the hazards you may encounter.”

Read the news release here.

State sets up flood resource site

News you can use


The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection (DATCP) has set up a flood resources page on their website full of helpful information for flood victims.

You can see the page here.

If you live in flooded areas, consider direct deposit for checks

News you can use


The U.S. Treasury is advising Social Security recipients who live in flood-affected areas to make arrangements for their checks to be deposited directly into their accounts.

Here are the details.

How do I know if my pier is ok under new state law?

News you can use


Wisconsin has a new pier protection law that could create confusion for many Wisconsin residents.

The most critical question pier owners may have is if their piers comply with the new state law. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) has created a fact sheet with complete information about new pier regulations.

The DNR says on its website, “Piers that meet the size and location requirements that have stayed essentially the same for nearly two decades continue to be exempt.”

Pier owners can go here 
for a special online tool to get assistance figuring out if they need to register, get a permit, or if their pier complies.

Inland fishing season is open

News you can use

The gradually improving weather is good news for Wisconsin anglers. One of the state’s great pastimes, the inland fishing season opened on May 3.

Each fishing license that is sold in Wisconsin means another participant in a longtime Wisconsin tradition that hopefully can pass the time-honored ritual down to another generation. According to the Department of Natural Resources DNR), For every license sold, the state receives an additional $10 in federal aid for fish restoration.

Here is more information from the DNR:

The hook-and-line game fish season opened May 3 on inland waters for walleye, sauger, and northern pike statewide.

The largemouth and smallmouth bass southern zone opened May 3, while the northern bass zone runs for catch and release only from May 3 through June 20. Anglers are reminded that artificial lures and barbless hooks must be used if fishing for bass during the catch-and-release bass fishing season in the northern zone and any other waterbody that has bass catch-and-release regulations. From June 21 to March 1, 2009, there’s a minimum length limit of 14 inches with a daily bag limit of five fish in total. The northern zone is the area north of highways 77, 64 and 29.

The musky season opened May 3 in the southern zone and May 24 in the northern zone, with Highway 10 the dividing line.

The seasons for rock, yellow and white bass, panfish, bullheads and rough fish, catfish, cisco and whitefish are open all year.

Wisconsin residents and nonresidents 16 years old or older need a fishing license to fish in any waters of the state. Residents born before Jan. 1, 1927 do not need a license, nor do people who exhibit proof they are in active service with the U.S. armed forces and are a resident on furlough or leave.

People can buy licenses: over the Internet through the Online Licensing Center; at any DNR Service Center; at DNR license vendors; or by calling toll-free 1-877-WI LICENSE (1-877-945-4236). 

Congratulations Matt Dobbs!

Eagle Scouts

Matt Dobbs’ Eagle Scout ceremony was held on Saturday, June 21, 2008.

My office prepared a state citation that was presented to Matt Dobbs at the special ceremony. It reads:


Whereas, Matt Dobbs is a member of the Boy Scouts of America Troop 530, and through dedication and commitment, attained the rank of Eagle Scout; and

Whereas, Matt Dobbs’s Eagle Scout project included renovating five sets of bleachers, by removing and replacing forty 20-foot boards,  for three baseball fields at the New Berlin Veterans of Foreign Wars Post; and

Whereas, Matt Dobbs earned 41 merit badges, served his troop in the leadership positions of Senior Patrol Leader, Patrol Leader, Quartermaster, and was elected to the Order of the Arrow; and

Whereas, Matt Dobbs is a 2008 Graduate of Franklin High School and earned a 3.6 grade point average and participated with several bands; and

Whereas, Matt Dobbs plans to attend University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, majoring in biochemistry; now

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

All of State Senate District 28 is now a disaster area

Every county in Senate District 28 that I represent has now been declared a disaster area by FEMA.

Here is a release from Governor Doyle’s office:


Governor Doyle Announces Six More Counties Added to Disaster Declaration 

MADISON – Governor Jim Doyle today announced that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has declared a state of disaster for Adams, Calumet, Green Lake, Jefferson, La Crosse, and Walworth counties.

“FEMA is working hard to expand individual assistance to people across southern Wisconsin who have been hit hard by floods and severe weather,” Governor Doyle said. “I thank them and all those who are working together to recover and rebuild. We are committed to getting people the help they need.”

Governor Doyle declared a state of emergency in 30 counties after severe weather this month brought record floods and other damage across southern Wisconsin. FEMA is in ongoing damage assessments in those counties to make disaster declarations.

Wisconsin bankers not rosy about economy

A survey of bank CEO’s in Wisconsin shows the majority believe the state’s economy is still getting worse.

The Wisconsin Bankers Association (WBA) questioned CEO’s, 124 completed the survey, and 65 percent feel or economy is weakening with only 35 percent saying Wisconsin’s economy is improving.

Why the gloomy outlook? CEO’s cited flat demand for loans, more delinquencies, foreclosures and past due payments for their lack of optimism.

Here’s more from the WBA.

Good luck, Greendale!


I am proud that Greendale, one of the great communities that I represent in Senate District 28, is competing in this year’s America in Bloom competition.

America In Bloom describes itself as “an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting nationwide beautification programs and both personal and community involvement through the use of flowers, plants, trees and other environmental and lifestyle enhancements, and to providing educational programs and resources to that end.”

Greendale is competing against
Bemidji, Minnesota, Bexley, Ohio, Ironton, Ohio, Tipp City, Ohio and Warrenville, Illinois in the 10,001-15,000 population category.

Greendale residents have been busy fixing up their yards, planting flowers and picking up litter.

Judges will be surveying Greendale June 25 and 26.

I wish Greendale the best in their beautification projects and in the America in Bloom competition!


Most states, including Wisconsin, are hooked on gambling

Gambling

 

"America is on a gambling binge. The more available and accessible it becomes, the more gambling is acceptable to people.”

Tom Grey, executive director of the National Coalition Against Legalized Gambling made that concession during March 2006. Grey’s next line was the following:

"But shouldn't government be encouraging people to save their money instead of encouraging them to gamble?"

Even if you believe the answer to Grey’s question is yes, the stark reality is just the opposite. Government is expanding gaming options, even searching for creative ways to separate gamblers from their money.

Stateline.org reports, “States are more addicted to gambling revenue than ever as the lure of easy new money for schools, tax relief and public services has led to an explosion of state-sanctioned casinos, slot machines at racetracks and lottery games. Twenty-five years ago, gambling was legal in only three states. Now every state except Utah and Hawaii rely on gambling to generate revenues to help avoid raising taxes.”

Wisconsin is right there with other states, enabling gambling that rivals Las Vegas and promoting games with clever marketing in radio and TV ads. The heavy concentration of games has evolved despite the fact Wisconsin voters took a firm stand against the proliferation of gambling.

The Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau wrote a report during May 2000 entitled, “The Evolution of Legalized Gambling in Wisconsin.” The report details the 1993 statewide vote that asked voters if Wisconsin had enough gambling:

Governor Thompson called a special session in June 1992 to consider amending the constitution to permanently exclude casino style gambling from inclusion in the state lottery. After considerable debate and a series of legislative hearings held around the state, the following question was presented to the voters:

Gambling expansion prohibited. Shall article IV of the constitution be revised to clarify that all forms of gambling are prohibited except bingo, raffles, pari-mutuel on-track betting and the current state-run lottery and to assure that the state will not conduct prohibited forms of gambling as part of the state-run lottery? 

Republican Governor Thompson and Democratic Attorney General Doyle stumped for the amendment in joint appearances around the state and expressed a shared desire to restrict the expansion of gambling. The Wisconsin Conference of Churches and the Wisconsin Catholic Conference also favored passage, asserting that gambling activity had exceeded the bounds of moderation and was a threat to community values and health. On April 6, 1993, the amendment was ratified by a vote of 623,987 to 435,180. As things now stand, state-operated or private casino-style gaming in Wisconsin would require subsequent constitutional change.

The results of the advisory referenda, which also appeared on the ballot, indicated the voters’ preference for maintaining the status quo regarding gambling. They voted against allowing casino gambling on excursion boats (604,289 to 465,432); against video poker and other forms of off-reservation video gambling (702,864 to 358,045); for a continuation of pari-mutuel on-track wagering on racing, such as on horses, dogs, or snowmobiles (548,580 to 507,403); and for the continuation of the state lottery (773,306 to 287,585). A fifth advisory question, asking voters if they favored a constitutional amendment that would restrict gambling casinos in the state, was made moot by the ratification of the amendment, but it passed by a vote of 646,827 to 416,722.”

Despite those votes, Governor Doyle has signed gaming compacts with tribes that have resulted in an explosion of gambling never foreseen. After Louis Butler replaced Diane Sykes on the state Supreme Court, the court made a ruling that essentially okayed the expended gaming negotiated in the compacts.

My July 17, 2006 column said, “
Thanks to the ruling, the state’s largest gambling operation, the Potawatomi Bingo Casino in Milwaukee will now advance with plans to triple its floor space, currently at 70,000 square feet. That will give the facility 210,000 square feet, more floor space than any casino in all of Las Vegas. The MGM Grand Hotel is the largest casino in Las Vegas at 171,500 square feet.

The Potawatomi also plan to double the number of slot machines from 1,500 to 3,000. That would rival the MGM Grand’s 3,700 slot machines, and the expanded Potawatomi facility would have more slots than any other casino in Las Vegas; Wynn (2,500), Venetian (2,500), Bellagio (2,433), Mandalay Bay (2,400), Mirage (2,294), Circus Circus (2,255), Excalibur (2,250), Caesars Palace (2,100), and the Palms, Luxor and New York New York hotels, (2,000).”

As predicted, last week the Potawatomi Bingo Casino advertised the grand opening of its expansion, now featuring 3100 slot machines.

The director of the Wisconsin Lottery now wishes games could be offered online. 

This follows a national trend of states searching for new ways to expand gambling opportunities, from “racinos”, slots at racetracks  to state-owned casino resorts. 

Is there no end to what states might do to recruit more gamblers? Probably not.

The Denver Post reports the Colorado Lottery is now selling coffee-flavored scratch-and-sniff scratch-off lottery tickets with chocolate and flower flavored scents coming soon. A spokeswoman for the Colorado Lottery, Erika Gonzalez says, "We could even have a Corona with lime."

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