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.
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.
I am one of several state legislators to sign a letter sent last week to Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation urging members to vote against the proposed stimulus package. The letter reads as follows:
Dear Wisconsin Congressional Representatives,
Recent comments by our Governor may indicate that members of the Wisconsin state government want you to vote for some sort of stimulus package and that the State of Wisconsin would be in dire straits if you failed to do this. Nothing could be further from the truth. We would like to remind you that over the last year Congress has voted for a $170 billion stimulus package that was either paid for by borrowing or printing money and has only caused a lack of confidence in the American economy.
Then Senator Obama and the Congress passed an over $700 billion bailout plan with the Dow still over 10,000. Again, the result of printing and borrowing has only been the further decline of the American economy.
It is not like our federal government has been parsimonious to this point. In the seven years prior to that time, both education and healthcare spending on a national level almost doubled while transportation spending jumped over 50-percent. We implore you stop trying to stimulate the economy with a larger government.
Governor Doyle may have also implied that the state would face drastic cutbacks without federal money. The past decade has not seen any cuts that we are aware of. Instead we have seen massive expansions of state spending on healthcare with proposals for more. The only thing we know that will be in the new budget with regard to education are proposals for greater teachers’ salaries.
Please, this time, say No to more debt for our children and grandchildren.
Less than 24 hours after Governor Doyle proclaimed in his State of the State address that that Wisconsin faces a $5.4. billion deficit, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) announced the shortfall is now $5.7 billion.
The LFB estimates that for the three –year period including fiscal year 2008-09 and the 2009-11 biennium, general fund tax collections (income, sales, and corporate taxes) will be $342.4 million less than the LFB reported during November 2008.
It appears there could be a call to dedicate tax money toward the Wisconsin Covenant, a program included in the last state budget to provide financial aid at a UW System school to eighth grade students that sign and keep a pledge.
According to the Wisconsin Covenant website:
“Eighth graders in Wisconsin are invited to sign the Wisconsin Covenant Pledge, a promise that they will:
- Earn a high-school diploma.
- Maintain at least a “B” average in high school.
- Complete the classes they need to prepare them for higher education.
- Demonstrate good citizenship and participate in their community.
- Apply for state and federal financial aid in a timely manner.
- Take the necessary steps to gain admission to a University of Wisconsin System institution, a Wisconsin Technical College, and/or a Wisconsin private collage or university.
In return for meeting these goals and keeping the pledge, a Wisconsin Covenant Student will be recognized as a Wisconsin Covenant Scholar, earn a place within our partnered systems of higher education, and receive a financial aid package, based on their family’s financial need, to help make college affordable.”
A study by The Wisconsin Center for the Advancement of Postsecondary Education, a UW-Madison think tank, is recommending the state fund the program. Currently, two private sources, the Wisconsin Covenant Foundation and the Fund for Wisconsin Scholars provide grants. But the study’s authors believe more funding will be necessary and are urging a state investment. Investment is code for tax money.
Armed with this study, it is quite feasible that when Governor Doyle presents his proposed 2009-11 state budget to the state Legislature, it will include millions of dollars for the Wisconsin Covenant, minus an explanation from the governor about how the state will pay for and afford the program.
Approximately 35,000 eighth graders have signed pledges but many unknowns remain about the Covenant including how to pay for it, income guidelines for recipients, and whether the program can actually meet its goal of reducing the gap in enrollment rates of economic and racial groups. The first batch of Covenant students are scheduled to attend class in the fall of 2011.
The Wisconsin Covenant was one of the many reasons I voted against the last state budget. It is yet another ornament on a Christmas tree filled with goodies the state simply can’t afford. The state creates another massive program based on a promise, and then turns once again to the taxpayers to hand over the funding. That the Wisconsin Covenant has turned into one more tax increase shouldn’t come as any surprise.
Here are more details from the Associated Press.
Last month, I blogged about the national rankings of Wisconsin counties based on property taxes paid using U.S. Census Bureau data. The rankings were compiled by the nonpartisan Tax Foundation in Washington D.C. Here are the top ten counties in Wisconsin and their national ranking.
Property Tax on Owner-Occupied Housing, by County, Ranked by Property Taxes Paid, 2005-2007 Average
The county is listed, followed by Median Property Taxes Paid on Homes, then the national ranking with #1 being the highest in property taxes:
1) Dane County $3,977 46
2) Ozaukee County $3,924 51
3) Waukesha County $3,864 54
4) Milwaukee County $3,544 76
5) Pierce County $3,395 87
6) Washington County $3,372 90
7) Kenosha County $3,363 93
8) St. Croix County $3,245 103
9) Racine County $3,101 114
10) Walworth County $3,013 126
I raise the issue again because the Pew Research Center conducted a national survey asking people what metropolitan area they would most like to live. Certainly weather was a factor in the responses. I believe tax climate also provided a strong consideration for the survey respondents. Let’s examine the top 10 most popular metropolitan areas people would like to live and their property tax rankings by the Tax Foundation:
Property Tax on Owner-Occupied Housing, by County, Ranked by Property Taxes Paid, 2005-2007 Average
The city and county are listed, followed by Median Property Taxes Paid on Homes, then the national ranking with #1 being the highest in property taxes:
1) Denver (Denver) $1,233 811
2) San Diego (SD) $2,633 177
3) Seattle (King County) $3,297 101
4) Orlando(Orange County) $1,918 372
5) Tampa (Hillsborough) $1,967 352
6) San Fran.(SF County) $3,737 65
7) Phoenix (Maricopa) $1,286 760
8) Portland (Multnomah) $2,604 183
9) Sacramento (Sac.) $1,980 348
10) San Antonio (Bexar) $2,212 281
Here is the complete listing.
Tax filing time is right around the corner. The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) has compiled a list of federal and state income tax changes for filing year 2008. You can read them here.
Since I started writing Conservatively Speaking, I have posted many blogs that the major problem Wisconsin has putting together responsible budgets is that the state taxes and spends too much. I have consistently voted against budgets that raise taxes and fees. The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI) has released a report that while the economy has played a role in Wisconsin’s fiscal crisis, the state is primarily to blame.The WPRI writes:
“Several questionable budget practices allow Wisconsin to continually spend more than it takes in. First, the state has been filling budget holes in the general fund by pouring in one-time revenues from segregated state accounts, paid for with various user fees. According to state government’s own financial records, from fiscal years 2001 through 2008, a total of $2.373 billion of these one time, non-routine, revenues was used to help the general fund show positive ending balances. Much of this came from the transportation fund, which was then made whole by issuing debt to backfill the hole left by the transfer.
While the current economic recession is to blame for a good deal of state government’s fiscal troubles, the current pattern of the state spending more than it takes in has significantly exacerbated the problem. Even worse, the Governor and Legislature have set aside virtually no budget stabilization funds to ameliorate such downturns – which makes the current recession much more damaging to the state’s finances. While the average state holds between 5% and 10% of their general fund revenues in a ‘rainy day fund,’ Wisconsin keeps less than 1% in such a fund – allowing the state to spend that vital money on other ongoing programs, leaving the state’s finances in peril.”
One solution offered by the WPRI suggests the state should stop spending more than it takes in.
Here is the entire WPRI report.
Late last year, I wrote two blogs about the need to preserve the Wisconsin USO office in downtown Milwaukee that was in trouble:
Save Our USO
Could the airport be the new home for the Milwaukee USO?
I am happy to report that efforts to improve the USO Office have been successful, and the USO celebrated a Grand Re-opening this week. Here is a press release from the Wisconsin USO:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE Contacts:
January 27, 2009 Jessica Stice, 414.271.3133
Guides to Wisconsin’s wonderful birding and nature trails are now available online and in hard copies at various locations. You can get more details here.
Wisconsin Public Television will broadcast a special documentary in March about Wisconsin trails. The above link also has information about the broadcast.
Much like Madison, agreement is a rare commodity in Washington D.C. The great debate these days in the nation’s capital is the effectiveness of a near-trillion dollar stimulus package. While that debate rages on, there is concurrence that a costly stimulus package will add to the already massive federal debt.
Consider these numbers reported by the Associated Press;
This year's budget deficit that doesn’t include any stimulus money is still a record $1.2 trillion.
Interest payments on the federal debt are about $450 billion. A stimulus package would add about $40 billion to the interest payments a year.
The total national debt is currently over $10.6 trillion.
Every person in the United States would each have to pay $37,000 to wipe out the national debt.
Here are the details from the AP.
The House version of the stimulus bill originally contained 647 pages, 680 pages after amendments were added and the bill was approved. The Senate version has 431 pages.
The Family Research Council (FRC) has published some very revealing quotes about abortion attributed to David Ogden, President Obama’s nominee for Deputy Attorney General. The FRC writes:
“In a brief for the American Psychological Association in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, he wrote: ‘Abortion rarely causes or exacerbates psychological or emotional problems. When women do experience regret, depression, or guilt, such feelings are mild and diminish rapidly without adversely affecting general functioning. The few women who do experience negative psychological responses after abortion appear to be those with preexisting emotional problems ....’
Ogden also wrote: ‘In sum, it is grossly misleading to tell a woman that abortion imposes possible detrimental psychological effects when the risks are negligible in most cases, when the evidence shows that she is more likely to experience feelings of relief and happiness, and when child-birth and child-rearing or adoption may pose concomitant (if not greater) risks or adverse psychological effects’ ...."
Ogden’s blithe dismissal of the post traumatic impact on women having had abortions along with his suggestion that women experience “relief and happiness’’ are appalling.
During the previous legislative session I proposed legislation to prohibit coercive abortions, and I documented extensive data about the physical and emotional damage women suffer. The President’s nominee for one of the highest legal positions in the country should check his facts before making the offensive statement that a woman having an abortion “is more likely to experience feelings of relief and happiness.” The comment speaks volumes about the new administration.
Here are details from the FRC.
John Fund of the Wall Street wrote during August 2007 that increasing regulations and licensing hinders entrepreneurs from opening new businesses and kills jobs. Wisconsin has a horrible ranking when it comes to restricting jobs and it could get worse.
A provision contained in the 2007-09 state budget gives the Wisconsin Department of Regulation and Licensing (DRL) the authority to establish fees for the professions the DRL regulates. DRL Secretary Celia Jackson has informed the co-chairs of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee of the department’s new fees established for 2009-11. For the first time since 2001, fees are set to increase for over 100 DRL-regulated professions.
According to the Wheeler Report, “The base fee for all but a few new licenses will increase $22 to $75 from the current $53. Two-year renewals will range from $82 to a high of $170.”
The Joint Finance Committee has until Wednesday, February 18, 2009 to object to the fee increases or schedule a hearing to review the proposal.
The fee increases are business and job killers and should be rejected, especially during this time of layoffs and weakening economy.
The village of Greendale held its America in Bloom celebration that I attended at Greendale High School January 27, 2009.
My office prepared a state citation for the village of Greendale. It reads:
Whereas, America In Bloom is an independent, non-profit organization dedicated to promoting nationwide beautification programs and community involvement; and
Whereas, America in Bloom conducts a national contest based on the use of flowers, plants, trees, and other environmental and lifestyle enhancements; and
Whereas, during the summer of 2008, Greendale, Wisconsin competed against communities of similar size located across the United States; and
Whereas, Greendale, Wisconsin was evaluated on eight criteria in the America in Bloom competition including floral displays, environmental awareness, landscaped areas, tidiness, urban forestry, heritage preservation, turf and groundcovers, and community involvement and
Whereas, the community-wide effort was coordinated by the Greendale Park and Recreation Department, the Greendale Community Education Council, and the Village of Greendale with participation by residents, business owners, school groups, church groups, environmental clubs, scout troops, and community organizations; and
Whereas, Greendale, Wisconsin residents cleaned up neighborhoods, planted flowers at schools, held garlic mustard pulls, and raised funds to place trees at schools; and
Whereas, Greendale, Wisconsin is named the 2008 America in Bloom winner for the 10,001 to 15,000 population category; and
Whereas, out of 125 points in each category, Greendale, Wisconsin scored 112 in tidiness, 112 in environmental effort, 119 in community involvement, 118 in heritage preservation, 118 in urban forestry, 116 in landscaped area, 112 in floral displays, 109 in turf and groundcover areas; and
Whereas, Greendale, Wisconsin earned the National Criteria Award in the Urban Forestry Category, a competition involving all participating communities regardless of population; and
Whereas, Greendale Wisconsin received an overall champion award in its population category; and
Whereas, Greendale, Wisconsin won the most prestigious of the competition’s awards, the 5 Bloom Award, designating that Greendale, Wisconsin received more than 90 percent of the total points possible; and
Whereas, the community-wide effort was coordinated by the Greendale Park and Recreation Department, the Greendale Community Education Council, and the Village of Greendale with participation by residents, business owners, school groups, church groups, environmental clubs, scout troops, and community organizations; now
Therefore, the members of the Wisconsin Senate, on the motion of Senator Mary Lazich, congratulate Greendale, Wisconsin, as the 2008 America in Bloom winner for the 10,000 to 15,000 population category. Greendale, Wisconsin, is further commended for bringing immense civic pride to its community.
Here is the calendar for the state Senate floor session Tuesday, February 10, 2009 at 10:00 a.m.:
First Order. Call of Roll.
Second Order. Chief clerk's entries.
Third Order. Introduction, first reading and reference of proposals; reference of appointments.
Fourth Order. Report of committees.
Fifth Order. Petitions and communications.
Sixth Order. Advice and consent of the Senate.
Seventh Order. Advice and consent of the Senate.
QUESTION: Shall the appointment be confirmed?
Boehmer, Tim, of Neenah, as a member of the Pharmacy Examining Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2012. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Bohacek, Linda, of Eau Claire, as a member of the Dentistry Examining Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2012. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Cantu, Kathleen, of Madison, as a member of the Cemetery Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2012. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Gottfredsen, Eugene, of Beloit, as a member of the Barbering and Cosmetology Examining Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2012. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Kailas, Sujatha, of Fond du Lac, as a member of the Medical Examining Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2012. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Leach, Kathi, of Junction City, as a member of the Optometry Examining Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2012. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
LeGrand, Roger, of La Crosse, as a member of the Tax Appeals Commission, to serve for the term ending March 1, 2009. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Leinenkugel, Richard, of Menomonee Falls, as Secretary of the Department of Commerce, to serve for the term ending at the pleasure of the Governor. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Commerce, Utilities, Energy, and Rail, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
McAdams, Thomas, of Greendale, as a member of the Tax Appeals Commission, to serve for the term ending March 1, 2013. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Misra, Suresh, of Milwaukee, as a member of the Medical Examining Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2011. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Nass, Steven, of Lake Mills, as a member of the Athletic Trainers Affiliated Credentialing Board to serve for the term ending July 1, 2012. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Osborn, Sandra, of Verona, as a member of the Medical Examining Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2012. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Patterson, Jeffrey, of Madison, as a member of the Barbering and Cosmetology Examining Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2012. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Porter, E. Glen, of New Berlin, as a member of the Cemetery Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2012. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Renwick, Suzette, of La Crosse, as a member of the Pharmacy Examining Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2012. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Rose, Teresa, of Hazelhurst, as a member of the Psychology Examining Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2012. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Ruiz, Laura, of Milwaukee, as a member of the Barbering and Cosmetology Examining Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2011. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Shropshire, Mark, of Appleton, as a member of the Physical Therapists Affiliated Credentialing Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2012. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Simpson, Luann, of Racine, as a member of the Health Insurance Risk-Sharing Plan Authority, to serve for the term ending May 1, 2011. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Sweeney, Timothy, of Green Lake, as a member of the Auctioneer Board, to serve for the term ending May 1, 2012. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Labor, Elections and Urban Affairs, Ayes 5, Noes 0)
Thornton, Patricia, of Grand View, as a member of the Funeral Directors Examining Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2012. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Twait, Howard, of Wisconsin Rapids, as a member of the Barbering and Cosmetology Examining Board, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2012. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Weix, Lou Ann, of Green Bay, as a member on the Board of Nursing, to serve for the term ending July 1, 2012. (Report confirmation recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Eighth Order. Messages from the Assembly.
Ninth Order. Special Orders.
QUESTION: Shall the joint resolution be adopted?
Special Order at 10:01 A.M.
Senate Joint Resolution 8. Relating to: modifying the session schedule for the 2009-10 biennial session period and extending the deadline for the governor's budget message. By Senator Decker; cosponsored by Representative Nelson.
Tenth Order. Consideration of motions, resolutions, and joint resolutions not requiring a third reading.
Eleventh Order. Second reading and amendments of senate joint resolutions and senate bills.
QUESTION: Shall the bill be ordered to a third reading?
Senate Bill 1. Relating to: a state minimum wage, permitting the enactment of local living wage ordinances, and granting rule-making authority. (FE) By Senators Decker, Kreitlow, Sullivan, Wirch, Taylor, Lehman, Carpenter, Coggs, Plale, Erpenbach, Miller, Hansen, and Vinehout; cosponsored by Representatives Mason, Sinicki, Milroy, Turner, Hilgenberg, Colon, Grigsby, Pope-Roberts, Pocan, Berceau, Kessler, Zepnick, Black, A. Williams, Garthwaite, Soletski, Sherman, Shilling, Benedict, Toles, Krusick, and Young. (Report adoption of Senate Substitute Amendment 1, Ayes 3, Noes 2, passage as amended recommended by committee on Labor, Elections and Urban Affairs, Ayes 3, Noes 2) Senate Substitute Amendment 1 pending
Senate Bill 2. Relating to: the filing of a wage claim or the bringing of a wage claim action by a collective bargaining representative on behalf of an employee and the priority of a wage claim lien over a prior lien of a commercial lending institution and over the rights of a purchaser of any property of the employer. (FE) By Senators Lehman, Robson, Hansen, Wirch, Carpenter, Decker, Kreitlow, Erpenbach, Coggs, Miller, Plale, Holperin, and Taylor; cosponsored by Representatives Garthwaite, Sinicki, Mason, Black, Turner, Jorgensen, Zepnick, and Cullen. (Report passage recommended by committee on Labor, Elections and Urban Affairs, Ayes 3, Noes 2)
Senate Bill 7. Relating to: the filing of certain forms related to tax incremental financing district number ten in the city of Chippewa Falls. (FE) By Senator Kreitlow; cosponsored by Representatives Dexter, Wood, and Suder. (Report passage recommended by committee on Health, Health Insurance, Privacy, Property Tax Relief, and Revenue, Ayes 7, Noes 0)
Twelfth Order. Second reading and amendments of assembly joint resolutions and assembly bills.
Thirteenth Order. Third reading of joint resolutions and bills.
Fourteenth Order. Motions may be offered.
Fifteenth Order. Announcements, adjournment honors, and remarks under special privilege.
Sixteenth Order. Adjournment.
Today on the floor of the state Senate, I voted against an increase in Wisconsin’s minimum wage.
The timing of the proposal is horrible given our recession. A new survey shows 25 percent of American companies are planning a salary freeze. Residents across Wisconsin are accepting pay cuts just to preserve the jobs they have. The state Senate wants to impose a salary hike on Wisconsin businesses that will kill jobs and hurt businesses.
I received several communications from a constituent very concerned about the impact on camps. The constituent correctly points out that the minimum wage increase bill contains a 24 percent increase for minor staff and an 11 percent increase for adult staff at camps. The increases that would go into effect this June would create an immediate $10,000 shortfall at the constituent’s camp. Camp directors do not want to see themselves put in the terrible position of contributing to increasing the unemployment numbers.
Because this bill will create layoffs, kill jobs, and raise unemployment at the worst possible time in our state and national economies, I voted against the minimum wage increase on the floor of the state Senate today.
I blogged that the federal stimulus package being considered by Congress will not solve budget problems being encountered in all states, including Wisconsin.
Governor Doyle in his State of the State address said the stimulus package would not solve Wisconsin’s budget deficit. The Wisconsin State Journal writes the stimulus could make our budget problems even worse. The newspaper writes:
“The federal largesse — up to $4 billion or more for Wisconsin alone — carries the potential of leaving the state budget worse off in the future if the economy doesn't recover and lawmakers don't do a better job than they have in the past of making sure the state lives within its means.”
You can read the entire State Journal piece here.
Requiring a photo ID to vote is a concept I strongly support, even more so after a recent court ruling and some significant findings from the November 2008 election.
Georgia’s photo ID law, one of the strictest in the country, had its constitutionality upheld by an appellate court on January 14, 2009. The court compared obtaining a photo ID to air travel, writing in its decision:
“Before an adult passenger can board an airplane for a commercial flight in the United States, the passenger must present to a federal official an identification card with a photograph of the passenger. The burden of that exercise assists the federal government in keeping passengers safe from physical harm. We conclude that the burden imposed by the requirement of photo identification is outweighed by the interests of Georgia in safeguarding the right to vote.”
The Georgia case was like many other court challenges to photo ID laws in that the plaintiffs were unable to produce evidence of individuals who either did not already possess a valid ID or could not easily obtain one. Two witnesses testified, according to the court ruling, “that they could and would obtain a free photo identification with little difficulty.”
More evidence strengthening the validity of requiring photo ID comes from the November 2008 presidential election. Hans von Spakovsky, a former commissioner on the Federal Election Commission and a former Justice Department official did some digging and uncovered some fascinating data about photo ID and voter turnout. Remember, opponents of photo ID argue that the requirement will suppress turnout, especially among minorities.
Von Spakovsky notes black turnout during the November 2008 election was an all-time high. He examined results from Indiana and Georgia, the two states with the strictest voter ID requirements.
Von Spakovsky found that numbers released by American University indicate Georgia had the largest turnout in the state’s history. The black share of Georgia’s vote increased from 25 percent during the 2004 election while Georgia did not have a photo ID law to 30 percent during the 2008 election while a photo ID requirement was enforced. Neighboring Mississippi that does not have a photo ID law and has a black population comparable to Georgia saw an increased turnout of just 2.35 percent.
What about Indiana, with a strict photo ID law ruled constitutional during 2008 by the U.S. Supreme Court? Von Spakovsky found that during the November 2008 election, Democrat turnout increased by 8.32 percent, the largest Democrat turnout increase in the U.S. Neighboring Illinois that does not have a photo ID law experienced just a 4.4 percent increase.
Von Spakovsky came to the conclusion that there is overwhelming evidence photo ID laws do not suppress voter turnout. In fact, Von Spakovsky believes voter confidence in the election system is enhanced by photo ID laws.
Opposition to voter IDs has come largely from those fearing the requirement will disenfranchise voters without IDs or would find it difficult to acquire them. The evidence suggests otherwise.
I have always supported and continue to support the implementation of a photo ID requirement for voting in Wisconsin.
I have blogged extensively about the scheduled February nationwide conversion to all-digital television. Congress has voted to delay the conversion from February 17, 2009 to June 12, 2009.
Here are complete details from MSNBC.
Prior to the vote by the House, ZDNet.com editorialized that a delay was unnecessary and costly.
Despite the frigid temperatures, Wisconsinites are taking advantage of the candlelight events in Wisconsin state parks and forests. More events are scheduled in the next few weeks. The Department of Natural Resources says they can even be, “romantic.”
Here are details.
Governor Doyle is one of only a handful of governors to refuse to sign a proclamation honoring President Ronald Reagan.
Here are the details.
Near the end of 2008, I blogged about a significant agreement that would streamline the review of cranberry marsh expansions in Wisconsin. The cranberry industry is one of the largest in Wisconsin. I wrote that, “The 2008 Wisconsin cranberry crop will be above earlier projections and demand for the berries is strong worldwide.”
The predictions were true. The Wisconsin State Journal reports cranberry production during 2008 was the highest on record. That is excellent news for our state!
During 1919, Wisconsin became one of the first states to enact a minimum wage. It was 22 cents per hour. Today, the minimum wage is $6.50. This week, Senate Democrats voted to increase the minimum wage to $7.60 by June of this year, and to index it to inflation every year thereafter. It is only fair; they say poor families are losing ground to inflation.
Well, let us take a look. During 1919, our minimum wage was 22 cents per hour. Adjusted for inflation, according to the bureau of labor statistics, that today would be $2.70. Today’s actual minimum wage is over twice that amount.
During 1956, the minimum wage was increased to 70 cents per hour. Indexed to inflation, that would be $5.47 today. During 1989, the wage became $3.65; today, that would be $6.25. Again, growth in the minimum wage outstripped inflation.
Moreover, it is still outstripping inflation. June 1, 2005, Wisconsin’s minimum wage went from $5.15 to $5.70, nearly an 11% increase. June 1, 2006, one year later, it was increased another 14%, to $6.50.
This latest increase, if it becomes law, will be another 16.9% increase. That will be a 47.6% increase just since 2005. Inflation has not been anywhere close to that increase.
Clearly, this is not about lifting people out of poverty, or keeping up with inflation as proponents say. It is about power, government power, and the power to take money from one person, and give it to another person. To stick government fingers deeper and deeper into other people’s pies, and set the stage for even more government power by pitting groups of citizens against each other.
Proponents of increasing the minimum wage hope to convince us that the government must act, and act big, to save us all.
It is likely we will see that strategy replayed repeatedly during this session of the Wisconsin Legislature. To save us all from the rising cost of health care, Democrats are already pursuing policies that will force increases in the cost of health insurance. As those costs rise, more people will be unable to afford health care, and government health care will be the only answer!
To save us from a bad economy, Democrats will spend billions upon billions of our dollars and create a lot of debt burdening us, our children and grandchildren, and convince us that government action alone saved us from the recession! Never mind that their own government policies of high taxes, constant regulation, and a new bureaucracy for every problem create a bad economic environment and prevent businesses from using their dollars to build business and add jobs in our state and in our country.
The irony is, if lawmakers during 1919 had been able to see the path they were starting with their 22-cent minimum wage, they likely would not have done it.
The 4th annual College Goal Sunday takes place all over Wisconsin on February 21st and 22nd, 2009. College Goal Sunday offers help to high school seniors and their families seeking financial aid for college.
Over 1,400 students and parents attended the 2008 event. The 2009 College Goal Sunday will be held at 20 different sites with financial aid experts on hand to assist with Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) forms that determine the amount of aid a student is eligible to receive. Students that complete the FAFSA may receive state or federal grants, scholarships, campus jobs in the work study program, low interest loans or other forms of financial assistance.
I encourage constituents to attend these events to receive valuable information that can make the complex procedure of financial aid application much easier.
More information is available at the College Goal Sunday website. Here are the locations for College Goal Sunday. You may call a toll-free number, 1-866-578-GOAL (4625) for more information.
The executive and legislative branches of Wisconsin government are about to begin work on their single most important piece of business: the biennial state budget. The process is lengthy and complex with deliberations that will dominate the Capitol landscape until summer.
After the governor presents his 2009-11 state budget proposal to a joint session of the Legislature, the most powerful committee in state government, the Joint Finance Committee (JFC) reviews the document. Following the JFC’s budget action, both the Assembly and Senate propose their own budgets that will be compiled by Democrats that control both houses. The budget approved by the Assembly and Senate must be identical. The governor can then make line item vetoes and sign the budget into law. State lawmakers do have an opportunity to override the governor’s vetoes, though doing so is very difficult.
This year’s budget debate will be one of the toughest in memory because of the precarious fiscal climate the state confronts. 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.
Like many other states, Wisconsin must address a gap in the current budget before it can start tackling the 2009-11 budget. 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, the fourth largest state budget gap in the country behind Arizona, New York and California.
Certainly, the recession gripping the nation is partially to blame for Wisconsin’s budget woes. However, the state is primarily responsible for its fiscal chaos, according to a report by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI). In a nutshell, when crafting state budgets, Wisconsin taxes and spends too much, an irresponsible method of budgeting.
Wisconsin has fallen into the dangerous pattern of spending more than incoming revenue. Previous budget tactics have been highly questionable. Budget holes have been filled with one-time revenues, usually by raiding the state’s Transportation Fund designed to channel money toward road projects. The WPRI reports that according to the state’s own financial data, “from fiscal years 2001 through 2008, a total of $2.373 billion of these one time, non-routine, revenues was used to help the general fund show positive ending balances. Much of this came from the transportation fund, which was then made whole by issuing debt to backfill the hole left by the transfer.”
States are resorting to various measures to solve their budget problems including across the board cuts, hiring and salary freezes, travel bans, and dipping into their rainy-day funds. Wisconsin’s rainy-day fund strategy is to hope and pray for constant sunshine. The WPRI reports while the average state keeps between five and ten percent of its general fund revenues (sales, income, corporate taxes) in a rainy-day fund, Wisconsin keeps less than one percent, spending it on ongoing programs .With little to no more money set aside for economic downturns, the state’s vulnerable finances are in jeopardy.
I often tell constituents that attend my town hall meetings that the state, like a typical family, should only spend based on what it takes in. For too long Wisconsin has spent above and beyond its means. Yes, there is a recession. However, the state has itself to blame for its own financial mess.
I have written several blogs during the past two years recognizing Wal-Mart efforts at developing affordable heath care.
Wal-Mart has opened clinics staffed by certified nurse practitioners that treat common family illnesses such as sore throat, ear infection, seasonal allergies and bronchitis. Cholesterol screenings, TB testing and flu vaccinations are also available. Other retailers like Target, CVS, and Walgreens have followed suit. Wal-Mart has also revolutionized access to prescription drugs, offering $4 medications.
During May 2008, Jim Jubak, senior markets editor for MSN Money went so far as to recommended in a column that Wal-Mart run the health care system.
Now comes word from the Washington Post that Wal-Mart’s successful trend continues. The newspaper reports, “Washington policymakers contemplating a fundamental overhaul of the nation's troubled health-care system may want to study the saga of Wal-Mart. Once vilified for its stingy health benefits, the world's largest company has become an unlikely leader in the effort to provide affordable care without bankrupting employers, their workers or taxpayers in the process.”
Only 5.5 percent of Wal-Mart employees are un-insured, compared to the national rate of 18 percent. Wal-Mart has implemented digital records, and has teamed up with the renowned Mayo Clinic.
The Wal-Mart experience, though not perfect, has had more than enough progress to have observers calling the huge retailer an “innovator” and “leader” in health care. The public sector would be wise to pay attention.
Read more in the Washington Post.
Read my previous blogs on this issue:
Wal-Mart to the rescue
Walgreens follows Wal-Mart’s lead
Wal-Mart to the rescue, again
Business writer says Wal-Mart equipped to run health care system
The last route the state should take is the direction the governor laid out in his 2007-09 budget address that proposed new tax and fee increases totaling $1.75 billion. The approved 2007-09 state budget that I voted against, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau increased taxes and fees by $763,272,000. Wisconsin’s beleaguered taxpayers in this economic downturn simply cannot afford more hits to their pocketbooks.
Every metropolitan area in Wisconsin suffered job losses during 2008. Many employers are cutting back on their payrolls. At the national level, the U.S. Labor Department reported during January that claims for unemployment insurance are at a record high. At a time job security is not a guarantee, layoffs are increasing, and workers are accepting pay cuts to salvage their jobs, state government needs to refrain from taking away more of taxpayers’ hard-earned money. The government does not need the money as much as Wisconsinites need their income. Instead, it should remain in the hands of taxpayers.
Wisconsin remains one of the highest taxed states in the nation. Governor Doyle needed to acknowledge this well-documented fact and tell a statewide audience that his budget will put taxpayers first, not state coffers. For the sake of taxpayers, it would have been nice for GovernorDoyle to propose a budget that puts the brakes on runaway state spending and refrains from any new tax and fee increases. No new taxes. No new fees. No tax increases. No fee increases.
My suspicions were correct that the message the governor delivered would not be taxpayer-friendly given his overtures about a hospital tax, a tax on oil companies, an income tax increase, and yet another cigarette tax increase. The governor proposed new tax and fee increases as he did two years ago with a budget calling for increases to the tune of $1.75 billion. How will taxpayers around the state pay for budget increases with jobs and payrolls being slashed? These dire straits are the worst possible time to place a heavier burden on workers and families by increasing taxes and fees.
It would have been nice to hear the governor reach out directly to Wisconsin homeowners paying some of the highest property taxes in the nation, and propose a statewide property tax freeze. Such an idea would have had Wisconsinites watching his speech on television leap from their seats in cheers of approval. While a property tax freeze would be welcomed in every corner of the state, we reminisce that the governor vetoed a property tax freeze in the past.
School aids are increasing under the governor’s budget. Todd Berry of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance believes this could result in a five to seven percent statewide average property tax increase.
One week after the state Senate approved a job-killing measure to increase the minimum wage with annual automatic increases based on the rate of inflation, the governor needed to strongly urge the Legislature to stop considering bills that will hurt Wisconsinites, businesses, employees, consumers. This stern warning needed to be issued before the Legislature does even more damage.
Wisconsin’s business climate is one of the worst in the nation. It would have been nice to hear the governor say that higher taxes, fees, and government spending will only make it more difficult rather than more accommodating for businesses to create or retain jobs.
Wisconsin’s per capita income levels are some of the lowest in the country. I hoped the governor would cite this statistic and tell the state that more cannot be taken from workers earning less. Sadly, he did not.
Our state’s budget gap is the fourth highest in the country. To illustrate the seriousness our fiscal situation ranks, we are being mentioned in the same sentence as states like California and New York that are experiencing budget meltdowns. In the past, we have spent, borrowed, and pushed our troubles ahead into the next budget. It would have been nice to hear the governor proclaim that the days of charge card budgeting ended.
The 2009-11 state budget must not be about new taxes and increased spending. The next biennial state budget must be about protecting you, the taxpayers. That is the clear, concise message that would have been nice to hear from Governor Doyle over and over again tonight. For the sake of taxpayers in need of protection, it was a disappointment.
Wisconsin had 589 traffic fatalities during 2008 compared to 739 during 2007, a 20 percent decline. Virginia also had a 20 percent decline in traffic fatalities.
Only the District of Columbia (30 percent), Massachusetts (27 percent), Alaska (23 percent), and Hawaii (22 percent) had a greater percentage drop in traffic fatalities than Wisconsin.
Read more in USA TODAY.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Audit, I voted in favor of a full audit of the taxpayer-funded Wisconsin Shares child care program. I was the first legislator to call for an audit following an investigative series by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Joint Committee on Audit approved an audit of Wisconsin Shares, 10-0.
Prior to the vote, State Auditor Janice Mueller informed the committee an audit of Wisconsin Shares would be conducted in two phase. An investigative phase to ascertain the scope of the problems in Wisconsin Shares would be conducted and completed no later than this June. The second phase would evaluate issues of quality and assess the program’s regulatory process.
During the hearing, I mentioned that a past audit that I requested of the Food Stamp program was intended to catch or minimize the problems encountered in Wisconsin Shares because the Food Stamp program is an access point for other programs. I asked Auditor Mueller if there were reasons why this did not occur. Mueller said the answers are hard to come by because of delays and backlogs in food stamp applications.
I also asked Mueller if the Audit Bureau would be sampling the experiences of foster parents. Mueller confirmed that input would be sought from foster parents and that if anyone wanted to provide information anonymously, they could contact the state’s toll-free hotline of waste and fraud.
Prior to the committee vote, I testified, asking for a full audit of the Wisconsin Shares child care program. Here is my testimony:
Testimony of Senator Mary Lazich
On Audit request of Wisconsin Shares
Joint Committee on Audit
February 19, 2009
Good morning, Co-committee chairs Senator Vinehout and Representative Barca and committee members. Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony to the Joint Committee on Audit on my request about an audit of the Wisconsin Shares program.
Many of us recall the blaring headline on the front page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel just a few weeks ago: “Child-care scams rake in thousands.” That was the newspaper’s introduction to a series of investigative reports on Wisconsin Shares, the state taxpayer supported child care system. The $340-million program, when successful, provides assistance to low-income parents to help them get and retain jobs.
However, during the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s four-month long investigation, it discovered Wisconsin Shares was not operating effectively or appropriately. The newspaper found what it called, “a trail of phony companies, fake reports and shoddy oversight.”
The Journal Sentinel reported, “The system allows child-care providers and parents to easily con the system, capitalizing on children for public cash.” With limited access to child care cases, the Journal Sentinel still was able to pinpoint $750,000 in suspicious child-care disbursements.
Taxpayers funding this program demand answers and accountability concerning these serious allegations. The current conditions outlined by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel are unacceptable. The newspaper’s findings include counties accepting almost anything as verification of employment for parents requesting assistance, caseworkers approving child care while children were at school all day, and regulators reluctant to revoke licenses for fraud.
My fear is that the problems associated with Wisconsin Shares are even more serious than the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel uncovered. It appears the state and local governments investigated refused to provide some information to the newspaper. That indicates to me that the true scope of the problem could be even more serious and widespread. That is the reason a full audit of Wisconsin Shares is necessary.
I liken this to the welfare fraud allegations that led to major reform in Wisconsin that served as a model for the rest of the nation. The newspaper articles along with a thorough review could lead to a much-needed overhaul of the program. Like the welfare scandals years ago, the taxpaying public will not tolerate waste and fraud. We have to protect the taxpayers and we must ensure that the truly needy, the truly deserving are receiving program services. Measures to prevent cash-grabbing scams can be put in place only after a full audit.
The Legislative Audit Bureau will have far greater access and cooperation than the newspaper received and I trust will do an excellent job determining the seriousness of the fraud in Wisconsin Shares.
Governor Doyle re-introduced his hospital tax proposal that was rejected during the 2008 state budget repair bill deliberations. It was included in the governor's budget repair bill that was signed into law last week. Doyle calls it an assessment, however it is a tax that supporters claim will bring in more federal dollars to the state.
Illinois has implemented a hospital tax, and is now experiencing a major problem: the promised federal money has yet to arrive.
The State Journal Register of Springfield, Illinois reports:
“The idea is for hospitals to pay money to the state. That money then is used to generate extra Medicaid funds from the federal government. The result is a cash boost for hospitals and state government.
The first step in the assessment program, however, requires the state to come up with some cash — about $1 billion as of Friday. That hasn’t happened.
Hospital officials throughout the state say the delay has left them in the lurch. They’ve put off large purchases and reduced travel and other expenses, but they say patient care hasn’t been affected.”
Here’s the entire article.
I voted against the budget repair bill and Governor Doyle’s hospital tax that will drastically increase hospital rates.
Because of the efforts of Wisconsin Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and the state Department of Justice (DOJ), a sexual predator has been taken off the streets of Waukesha. Victoriano Cano-Hernandez, now in custody after his arrest, is also an illegal immigrant.
Here are more details.
Congratulations to Attorney General Van Hollen and the DOJ for a job well done!
The state Senate today took action on Senate Bill 16, a bill to allow breast-feeding in public.
I want to make sure that the public is clear about the details of this bill. This bill is not about the merits of breast-feeding. It is not about whether breast-feeding is healthy or unhealthy. This legislation specifically would allow breast-feeding in any public or private place.
The Legislative Reference Bureau (LRB) provides this analysis of Senate Bill 16:
“This bill permits a mother to breast-feed her child in any public or private location where she is otherwise authorized to be.”
The wording of the bill before the state Senate today included the following:
“A mother may breast−feed her child in any public or private location where the mother is otherwise authorized to be. No person may interfere with the right of a mother to breast−feed her child as provided in this section.”
An amendment to the bill I authored changed the above wording to the following:
“A mother may breast−feed her child in any public or private location where the mother is otherwise authorized to be. No person may prohibit a mother from breast-feeding her child as provided in this section.”
My amendment was approved on a voice vote. Senate Bill 16, as amended, was then approved on a voice vote.
Because breast-feeding in public is not prohibited by Wisconsin law, I was not enamored with Senate Bill 16. However, I feel more comfortable that the legislation was amended to stipulate that no person may “prohibit” as opposed to “interfere” with breast-feeding.
The state Legislature committed the same colossal error Congress made with the federal stimulus. Legislators were swept into the same rush to act as our representatives in Washington. There was little, if any light of day shed on a massive budget repair proposal that was approved by the state Senate and Assembly and signed into law. The taxpaying public and the news media did not have the proper time to review the nearly 400-page bill legislators suddenly had dumped on their calendars. The package increases business taxes by $215 million over the next three years, imposes a hospital tax, and taxes Internet sales.
For many legislators, the prospect of all this money from Washington is a God-send. They can tell their constituents that the funding will be used to save education and health care and roads. Goodness knows there is a lot of money. According to the Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau, Wisconsin will likely receive more than $3 billion. More than $2 billion of the $3 billion will go to education and medical assistance.
What happens, though, when this one-time money, and it is important to note that this is one-time money, dries up? What happens when it is all gone and our needs and wants continue? Using it to prop up our budget would be like using lottery winnings. Once the winnings run out, the expenses remain and we simply face the same problem in two years, only without the same one-time money.
The general public's support of big bailouts and huge stimulus packages has been on the decline. Citizens understand that with huge stimulus packages, we are merely buying bigger and more serious fiscal problems down the road. Deficits won't go down. Debt won't disappear. In the nottoo distant future when our fiscal crisis has not been solved, we will wonder what went wrong. We can simply point to the budget repair package the state enacted that is not a cure-all, and just a short-term, feel-good fix for some.
In one day the enormous bill was rammed through the Legislature, marking the only chance most legislators would have to vote on anything marginally related to the billions of federal stimulus dollars Wisconsin is expecting. We should be using this "stimulus" to make it easier for businesses to do business, to make Wisconsin a more profitable place to be. That is what spurs economic growth and creates jobs.
If anything, this bill does the opposite. This bill makes it harder to do business in Wisconsin. Business is the horse that pulls the cart.
I understand that my colleagues want to protect government programs. However, they should keep in mind that the money for those programs starts with business. Business provides every cent that any of us, government included, spend. When you make conditions more difficult forbusiness, you run the high risk of losing business. That means less money for workers, consumers, and less incoming revenue for government.
If the state isn't going to actually try to stimulate the economy with this "stimulus" bill, the state must not fall into the trap of using whatever federal stimulus money it receives to prop up existingspending. With so much money coming into the state, we must resist the great temptation to spend it on pet programs and agencies. Our budget situation means difficult days ahead. We must not use the stimulus money to offset our current budget problems.
Wisconsin must fix its budget problems the way we have been promising the people of Wisconsin we'd fix them: the right way, without gimmicks.
The Wisconsin Government Accountability Board (GAB) has released its Legislative Agenda for the 2009-10 legislative session. You may note a photo ID requirement to vote is not on the list.