economic recovery package to work for Wisconsin
By RUSS FEINGOLD
February 26, 2009
the economy in recession, and many families hurting financially, itís
critically important that we act to get our economy, and our country,
back on the right track. The economic recovery package President Obama
just signed into law, while not perfect, will help put us on that
right track when we need it the most.
Having spent my career working to restore fiscal responsibility to
the federal budget, it was difficult for me to vote in favor of a bill
with such a hefty price tag. In fact, cost was one of the reasons I
voted against the recent Wall Street bailout. But this package was
much more carefully considered than the bailout legislation. It
includes vital provisions to stimulate our economy, including funding
for highway and bridge construction, wastewater treatment, high-speed
rail and rural broadband infrastructure. These projects will not only
help jump-start the economy, they are also investments in our economic
future that will pay dividends for years to come.
In addition to individual and business tax breaks, the new law
provides Wisconsin with more than a billion dollars for Medicaid,
hundreds of millions of dollars for education and tens of millions of
dollars for law enforcement, to give just a few examples. It also
includes part of my E4 Initiative to help create jobs by supporting
energy efficiency projects, and a provision I worked on with Sen. Herb
Kohl to help Harley-Davidson by expanding a tax credit, originally
written for purchasers of new cars and light-duty trucks, to also
As the new administration begins to implement the economic recovery
package in Wisconsin, creating or saving as many as 70,000 jobs in the
state over the next two years, I stand ready to help Wisconsinites who
have questions about how the package will work, what grant money will
be available, or any other questions people may have. I encourage
everyone to visit http://feingold.senate.gov/recovery for much more
information on the economic recovery package at work in Wisconsin, and
answers to many frequently asked questions about these recovery funds.
I agreed with a number of the concerns about the stimulus bill that
were expressed when it was being drafted and debated. I am concerned
about the debt we are piling on, and some of the spending and tax
provisions could be better targeted toward stimulating the economy.
But now that the economic recovery package has been signed into law,
our focus must be on the challenges ahead, including getting our
fiscal house in order and making sure that there is strong oversight
of these taxpayer dollars. These funds must be spent wisely if they
are to truly work for Wisconsinís families.
(U.S. Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, represents Wisconsin.)
only run up deficit
need money most, not the government
By F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER
February 19, 2009
U.S. government has a much looser borrowing money policy than most
children have growing up.
Our country borrowed our way into this economic mess, and now, with
the passing of the stimulus bill, and President Obamaís imminent
signing of the legislation, weíre attempting to borrow our way out
of the problem. The legislation may be billed as a mere $789 billion,
but when you add in the interest, it totals nearly $1.2 trillion. This
reckless spending will only stimulate our federal deficit, which is
already at record levels - not our economy. A beer may seem like a
good treatment for a hangover at the time, but itís not a cure. Like
that beer, the legislation does little to solve the immediate problem.
The private sector is hurting. The private sector is where jobs are
being cut. The private sector is what needs immediate relief. However,
this bill doesnít focus on the private sector - it grows government
bureaucracy. Growing government doesnít help the employees of
Harley-Davidson, Johnson Controls or GE Healthcare who have recently
lost their jobs. And growing government doesnít help the mom-and-pop
shops that have closed their doors because business has stopped.
The Democrats made a bad bill even worse by cutting back on the tax
relief Republicans had put in the bill and rejecting the alternative
bill Republicans put forth that offered positive incentives for job
growth and tax policy. Buying green golf carts, giving money to
organizations like ACORN and rationing health care does little to
stimulate the economy or put people to work. And while funding an
additional $100 a month for 553,000 Wisconsinites who have lost their
jobs will offer some needed immediate help, funding additional
unemployment benefits doesnít get anyone back to work or spending
In addition to supporting the Republicansí alternative bill, I
support a two-month tax holiday - so money goes not to the government,
but to where itís needed most - the peoplesí pockets. The small
business owner in Wisconsin knows much more about how to make their
dollar go further than the federal government ever will.
The legislation the Democrats passed will have lasting economic
consequences that will burden our children and grandchildren. Letís
hope our children and grandchildren learn a better lesson about
borrowing on their own, than they will from the federal government.
(U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, represents
the 5th District.)
be a tool to protect society
stimulus to update prison system,
then turn it over to private sector
By DAVID A. CLARKE Jr.
January 27, 2009
state Sen. Lena Taylorís suggestion in a recent press release, that
Wisconsin abandon its "lock Ďem up" attitude has got to be
music to the ears of criminals. She and state Corrections Secretary
Rick Raemisch would have these thugs live among us instead of rightly
being separated from law-abiding society. The lie that will be
advanced is that many of those currently in prison are non-violent,
are there for lesser offenses or are substance abusers in need of
treatment. The truth, according to the U.S. Department of Justice, is
that over half of those currently in prison are there for violent
crimes and many are repeat offenders and habitual felons. Those locked
up for drugs are mainly dealers belonging to notorious street gangs.
This population is not in need of treatment, theyíre in need of
punishment. Itís foolhardy to believe that group hugs will be
effective with this group of miscreants.
The other myth perpetrated by these advocates is that corrections
expenditures exceed spending on education. Wrong again. Nationally,
between 1995 and 2007, spending for education almost doubled, while
corrections spending was lower.
This attitude is nothing new. Lower crime rates are always seen by
soft-on-crime advocates as an opportunity to experiment with shorter
sentences and rehabilitation. This only leads to rising crime rates,
as evidenced by history and empirical evidence. When the soft-on-crime
advocates had their way with legislators back in the Ď60s, it led to
massive increases in crime in the Ď80s, most notably violent crime
in Americaís urban communities. Liberal policies like these not only
fail, but they have a devastating effect in urban neighborhoods where
blacks and other minorities reside. Locking away violent and
recidivist offenders does work. It gives women, children and families
a temporary respite from being preyed upon by drug dealers, gang
members and those who use firearms and intimidation to impose their
will and to hold entire neighborhoods hostage. Locking them away can,
and is, an immediate remedy. Besides, they already benefit from a
There is no one approach that will solve the dilemma of crime.
Among all the strategies that people may want to try, incarceration
will never be replaced. It will always be one piece of the puzzle.
This is very unsettling to the left, but it is a fact of life. Society
should always be willing to try programs that have merit based on
empirical research and evidence, not those that are only
well-intentioned. If it is determined that a program doesnít work,
it should be trashed, not repackaged with additional spending.
Senator Taylorís assertion that corrections spending is
bankrupting Wisconsin is true, but her reasoning is faulty. Wisconsinís
expenditure on corrections is high because it is inefficiently run.
Employee costs are the culprit. The benefit ratio alone of operating
prisons with state employees makes it cost prohibitive. Health care
costs, pensions and benefits (like the scheme that was uncovered this
past summer, where some state employees reached six-figure salaries by
abusing sick leave and increasing overtime) are what make corrections
so costly in Wisconsin.
My suggestion is for the state Legislature to enact real reform by
repealing the prohibition on operating private prisons in Wisconsin.
Some out-of-the-box thinking is in order. Turning all or part of
corrections over to be privately run will not only reduce the cost but
the size of state government. Public sector labor organizations will
scream, but is this about them or the taxpayers? Government never does
anything more efficiently and effectively than the private sector. Itís
why people rely on FedEx and UPS instead of the U.S. Postal Service to
have a package delivered.
Iím a career cop, not an economist and I donít advocate for any
particular approach to fixing the economy, but the stimulus proposal
being offered in Washington, D.C., believes that massive public works
projects to rebuild Americaís infrastructure, including roads and
schools, are the way to stimulate the economy. This leaves out another
important part of Americaís infrastructure that people rely on and
that are in need of rebuilding - local jails and prisons.
This approach will put many of Wisconsinís unemployed back to
work building and repairing prisons and jails in a two- to four-year
project. The construction industry has been one of the hardest hit and
is being targeted for revitalization. Once completed, these projects
must end, according to John Maynard Keynes, the author of this
economic theory. My concern is that government projects are usually
behind schedule and over budget. By that time the economy will
hopefully improve enough for those working on public projects to then
find work in the private sector. Turning over Wisconsinís prisons to
be run privately will increase the stateís private sector hiring as
I realize that improving public safety by use of jails and prisons
is not part of the liberal agenda but to not include them as part of
Americaís infrastructure along with roads, transportation projects
and schools is for government to abdicate its most elementary
responsibility, which is to secure the personal safety of its
(David A. Clarke Jr. is sheriff of Milwaukee County.)
New hope, and
in a new year
must be heard on economy, health care, security
By RUSS FEINGOLD
January 5, 2009
new year always brings new hope and new challenges, and this year will
be no exception. As I travel around Wisconsin, at my listening
sessions and everywhere I go, I hear from people who are excited about
the opportunity for change with a new president and a new Congress,
but who at the same time are worried about the economic downturn and
what it means for them and their families.
I want to make sure that the voices of those Wisconsinites are
heard in Washington. So, with a new year under way, here are my
priorities as I proudly represent Wisconsin in the U.S. Senate:
* Supporting businesses, jobs and Wisconsinís economy: In this
struggling economy, Wisconsinís unique strengths and resources are a
great cause for optimism. Thatís why Iíll push my E4 Initiative to
boost small business innovation, support job growth in the emerging
energy sector, strengthen work force development and prepare our
students to work in emerging industries. Iíll also continue to fight
the unfair trade agreements that have sent our manufacturing jobs
overseas in the first place.
* Fighting for Wisconsin families: I will work across party lines
on the issues affecting Wisconsinís families, including the pressing
need to fix our broken health care system. I am also committed to
supporting our family farmers, pushing for reforms to the No Child
Left Behind Act that has frustrated so many Wisconsin parents, and
working for cleaner energy and a cleaner environment.
* Strengthening Americaís security: As a member of the Senate
foreign relations and intelligence committees, I am a strong advocate
for redeploying our brave troops from Iraq so that we can focus on the
global threat of al-Qaida and its affiliates, and for improving our
intelligence gathering around the world. I also strongly support key
domestic programs, such as Byrne and COPS law enforcement grants, to
improve our security here at home.
* An independent voice for Wisconsin: Wisconsin has a long
tradition of independence and bipartisanship that Iím proud to carry
forward in the Senate. That includes continued efforts to work for
government reform, fiscal responsibility and protecting the privacy of
law-abiding Americans as we protect our national security.
This new year is a big opportunity to move forward on a lot of
important issues. Itís time to look beyond partisanship and break
the logjams that have prevented progress in the past. Working with our
new president, Congress should tackle the big issues Americans face
with the urgency they deserve. I am committed to working for those
changes, and to making sure that as Congress debates these issues in
the year to come, Wisconsinitesí voices are heard loud and clear.
(Sen. Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, represents Wisconsin in the
One word can
By TOMMY G. THOMPSON
December 30, 2008
is one word that can make the difference of life and death, and that
anyone can say at any time. That word is "yes;" to become an
organ and tissue donor.
For the nearly 100,000 people awaiting a life-saving organ
transplant in this country, saying "yes" to donation means a
chance to live or face certain death.
The wait for an organ transplant can be nerve-racking. Today, while
this newspaper is being circulated, 18 of those waiting will die
because not enough people said "yes" when they had the
chance. A single organ donor can save up to eight lives; a tissue
donor can improve the lives of 50 others.
Virtually everyone can be an organ and tissue donor. Think youíre
too old or too frail? Think again. One-third of donors are older than
50. Those who are aged 60 and older are considered optimal for tissue
All it takes is a minute to say "yes" to donation at your
local Department of Motor Vehicles, or signing up on your local stateís
donor registry. Millions have made the decision to say "yes"
and millions more are needed. You are needed.
I learned this personally when I was governor of Wisconsin, and
again as secretary of Health and Human Services. In Wisconsin, I
learned about a young woman named Kelly Nachreiner, who was only 16
when she became an organ donor after losing her life in an auto
accident. Two months later, her parents testified before the Wisconsin
Legislature in support of donation. The Kelly Nachreiner Bill that was
enacted shortly thereafter required driver education programs in the
state to include information about donation. That act became the model
for a national organ donation curriculum during my term as secretary
of the Department of Health & Human Services.
Kellyís image is one of 38 faces of donors that will be seen New
Yearís Day on the Donate Life float in the Tournament of Roses
Parade. These 38 donors are all ages, all types: just like you and me.
When you watch the parade from the comfort of your home, remember
Kelly and those she saved. Some of the 26 people riding the float that
day were saved by donors like her.
Three of those riding are DMV employees who might be there when youíre
ready to say "yes" to donation. In California, one gave his
kidney sight unseen to the other. Theyíre from different countries,
grew up speaking different languages and pray in different houses of
worship. But theyíre forever joined by a gift that saved a life,
because one said "yes."
Say the word. Sign up online, or sign up on your DMV renewal. But
make the decision today to give where it really matters: to each
Tommy G. Thompson has enjoyed a long and distinguished career in
public service. He was elected to four terms as governor of Wisconsin,
where he served until his appointment as secretary of Health &
Human Services in 2001. Under his administration, the Donation
Initiative emerged, which included the launch of programs such as
National Donate Life Month, the National Donor Memorial, the Organ and
Tissue Donor Breakthrough Collaborative and the Workplace Initiative
Partnership for Life. Thompson was also recently named one of 14
"Stars of Life" who has made an outstanding donation to
organ, eye, and tissue donation and transplantation. His name will
reside on a "Walk of Fame" on the Donate Life float when it
appears in the Rose Parade on Jan. 1.
justice unit investigates, prosecutes those who prey on elderly
By J.B. VAN HOLLEN
December 18, 2008
caregiver enters an elderly patientís room. Undetected, she swipes
the patientís credit card and sneaks upstairs to call her utility
company and pay off hundreds of dollars of arrearages with her
newfound plastic. She keeps the card and uses it to buy gas and
cigarettes. Stealing moneyís not enough. Later, sheíll take the
patientís identity, too, opening up another credit card in the
A nurse makes a mark in the checklist hanging next to the patientís
bed. Demerol administered. The nurse then pulls down his own shirt to
cover any evidence of the injection. He really should clean up his
office, he thinks, and throw out those used syringes and that bloody
towel. The patient in front of him groans, praying for pain relief,
hoping for sleep.
"Please, donít hit me again. Someone help me!" cries an
elderly resident who was grabbed and shoved to the ground by a care
worker. "She just lost her balance," explained the care
worker, failing to explain the painful swelling in the victimís arm.
"I was overwhelmed," a wound care nurse told
investigators looking into the death of a patient whose multiple
bedsores were left untreated for almost a month. The wound care nurse
admits the neglected patient was her most critical patient with
The terrifying examples above beg the question: Whoís watching
the people watching your loved ones?
The elderly, others needing care and their families place great
trust in care providers. Usually, that trust is well-placed. Caring
for the elderly and others in assisted living facilities is much more
than a paycheck to many health care workers. It is a calling, one
driven by deep compassion and inspired by human kindness.
But care providers as a class are not immune from human weakness.
Greed. Addiction. Stress. Anger. Too often, these things take over.
And those most vulnerable to victimization are those who depend on
others for their care.
The elderly entrusting their care - their lives - to others are too
often the victims of crimes such as fraud, identity theft,
pharmaceutical diversion and abuse and neglect. The effect of this
victimization ranges from the loss of dignity to the denial of care,
from financial loss to loss of life.
The stories above are based on cases prosecuted by my office since
I became attorney general two years ago. At the Wisconsin Department
of Justice, we have an entire unit of lawyers and investigators
dedicated to the investigation and prosecution of cases involving
elder financial and physical abuse. I have long believed that the
state should play a robust role in protecting those who are our most
vulnerable. We must ensure that our senior citizens are provided the
legal protections they have earned.
With the aging of the baby boom population and increasing life
expectancy, the potential for elder abuse will grow. Hospice, home
care and community-based facilities provide many new options to those
who might otherwise find themselves in a traditional nursing home
setting, options that can provide excellent service and care. Just as
with traditional nursing homes, however, all carry with them elder
abuse risk factors that must be monitored.
And we are doing that at the Department of Justice. One of my first
acts as attorney general was to expand our ability at the Department
of Justice to fight elder financial and physical abuse. Our
enforcement activities involve cases like the terrible stories Iíve
told above. They also involve cases where state funds have been
diverted by contractors more interested in lining their own pockets
than replacing the linens. Benefitting the taxpayers, the recovery of
these diverted funds more than pays for our unitís enforcement
Of course, its not about the money. Itís about protecting people
in need of protection the most.
(J.B. Van Hollen is Wisconsinís attorney general.)
service to community
being lost in political battle
By PAUL E. BUCHER
September 24, 2008
am responding to several letters to the editor, as well as to
editorials that have appeared in several local news publications. I
tried to respond directly to a false and slanted editorial that ran
Monday, Sept. 8, in another newspaper, but they simply refused to run
my response. I was not surprised. That is how they do business. I am
the attorney representing Chief Gary Bach.
It should come as no surprise that I believe many of the comments
and the editorial I referenced above was unfair, biased, slanted and
uninformed. At no time did the editorial or the letters I have seen
highlight Chief Bachís service to the citizens of the City of
Pewaukee. How soon we forget. Chief Bach protected the lives and
property of the citizens of what was then the town of Pewaukee and now
the City of Pewaukee, when he stood his ground at the end of the
driveway on that infamous day when James and Theodore Oswald
perpetrated unbelievable violence on our community. Who else would you
have wanted at the end of the driveway - with his .357 Magnum pointed
directly at the Oswalds - other than Chief Bach? I was the district
attorney at the time, and I will state now as I stated then - there
are few heroes in my life and the men and women who stood their ground
on Oak Street are included in that number. This includes Gary Bach.
Chief Bach was also diagnosed with cancer and has been dealing with
the significant effects that cancer causes to an individual. Simply
ask any person who is or has undergone chemotherapy about dealing with
the after-effects of cancer. It is a devastating disease that impacts
the body in a way that is hard to describe. In addition, the authors
of that editorial conveniently forgot to mention (possibly
intentionally) that Gary Bach received his latest evaluation as the
police chief of City of Pewaukee and received high reviews. In fact,
all of his scores were exceptional. Chief Bach was described as an
asset to the city. Why was this information not included? Is it
because they didnít wish to reveal the truth? Is it because the
merger between the city and village would be impeded if Chief Bach
were to voice his opinions and stand up for whatís right?
Individuals who hide behind these types of editorials should be
ashamed for publishing only half the facts and focusing on a biased,
Any individual worth his salt would know, upon reading the report,
that it was a political report designed to protect the mayor and
certain members of the common council.
Chief Bach has not been provided the tools necessary to fully
implement his ideas. The men and women of the City of Pewaukee Police
Department are some of the finest police officers around. Chief Bach
is extremely proud of the men and women of the (City of) Pewaukee
Police Department and firmly stands behind them. However, Chief Bach
deserves and demands the tools necessary to implement some of the
changes suggested from time to time. The recent political report
authored was clearly designed to provide protection to certain elected
officials within City of Pewaukee, but of course, Chief Bach is not
one of them.
We can throw Chief Bach "under the bus," but remember
that infamous day when the Oswalds intended to continue their violent
crime spree within City of Pewaukee, and Chief Gary Bach bravely stood
and said "no." Give the man the respect he deserves. Give
the man a fair hearing. Give the man an opportunity to turn the City
of Pewaukee Police Department around. Throwing Chief Bach under the
proverbial political bus to satisfy a few elected politicians within
City of Pewaukee is simply wrong. The answer does not lie in hiring a
new chief - the answer lies in providing the current chief with the
tools and resources needed to adopt the necessary changes within the
City of Pewaukee Police Department. Chief Bach desires to go back to
work. He does not wish to sit idly at home because various politicians
within City of Pewaukee believe itís in their best interests to have
him sit at home and be silenced. This is while the taxpayers pay his
salary. Return Chief Gary Bach to the helm of the City of Pewaukee
Police Department. Itís where he belongs.
(Paul E. Bucher is the attorney for City of Pewaukee Police
Chief Gary Bach.)
GOP plan would
take three-pronged approach to energy crisis
proposal a last-minute Ďshamí
By F. JAMES SENSENBRENNER
September 18, 2008
summer, on the floor of the House of Representatives, the lights went
out and the microphones were turned off - but not to preserve energy.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the Democratic
Congress made a clear statement in August when they refused to remain
in session to deal with the energy crisis. That message was one of
continued ignorance of any tangible solutions, and represented a
failure to attempt to bring down the price of gasoline and energy for
(On Tuesday), the Democratic leadership illuminated for Americans
what it means to have a one-track mind by bringing to the floor of the
House of Representatives HR 6899, the misnamed "Comprehensive
American Energy Security and Consumer Protection Act." Created in
the dead of night without any input from Republicans, the Democratsí
energy bill is a sham that does nothing about our nationís energy
crisis. Far from having an open debate and discussion on this critical
issue, the Democrats filed this 290-page bill the night before, and
then brought it up as the first order of business on the House floor
(Tuesday) under a closed rule.
Some lowlights of the bill include:
* No drilling for oil within 50 miles of statesí shores,
effectively eliminating 88 percent of our offshore oil reserves;
* No revenue sharing for states that do decide to opt in for
drilling more than 50 miles off their shores - providing little
incentive for them to permit oil drilling;
* No new refineries - the plan contains no provisions to cut red
tape and increase American refining capacity;
* No expansion of emission-free nuclear power, and no development
of advanced clean coal and coal-to-liquid technologies and resources;
* No lawsuit reform, to prevent frivolous lawsuits from radical
interest groups intent on stopping the environmentally sound
exploration of American energy solely for political purposes.
There is no doubt that something needs to be done now about our
energy crisis. It is almost criminal of Congress to put hard-working
citizens in a position where they have to decide between paying for
food and paying their energy bill. The energy solution we need is one
like my Republican colleagues proposed in HR 6566, the "American
Energy Act." Often referred to as the
"all-of-the-above" bill, HR 6566 would provide three main
solutions to solving our countryís energy crisis. The "American
Energy Act" would: increase American-made energy, improve energy
conservation and promote alternative energy technologies. In other
words, it would release us from dependence on expensive foreign oil,
and would no longer keep our rich energy resources under lock and key.
"The American Energy Act" is the most efficient way for
us to soon see relief at the pump, return to a strong economy and show
the world that the United States can depend on its own resources. This
is the bill that Congress should have voted on, not the Democratic
alternative, which provides Americans with the incorrect "none of
the above" options.
(U.S. Rep. F. James Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, represents
Wisconsinís 5th District.)
every vote counts
intended to protect eligible voters must be enforced
By J.B. VAN HOLLEN
September 17, 2008
Sept. 10, I made the difficult decision to bring legal action against
the Government Accountability Board to enforce state and federal law
designed to ensure election integrity. My decision has sparked
considerable public debate, both complimentary and critical of the
lawsuit. Public debate is part of a healthy democracy. And part of a
healthy debate is to engage it; to counter critics by emphasizing what
the lawsuit is about and to respond to positions that are based on
misunderstandings or hyperbole.
The suit I filed is about making sure this law is followed.
Compliance with the law isnít merely an option to be considered. It
is a mandate.
In the wake of the 2000 election, Congress passed the Help America
Vote Act of 2002. This law was passed to ensure that all eligible
voters are able to cast a vote and have that vote count. Since Jan. 1,
2006, HAVA has been the law in Wisconsin. Today, the Government
Accountability Board is charged with carrying out HAVAís
requirements. Among HAVAís mandates is that each state maintain an
accurate and regularly updated statewide computerized voter
registration system that is coordinated with other government
databases. By requiring an accurate statewide voter list, HAVA seeks
to ensure individuals who are not eligible to vote are kept off the
Tellingly, critics are not arguing that the law is being followed.
Instead, they argue that following the law may create difficulties on
Election Day. Some even suggest disenfranchisement.
I am deeply concerned with the rights of every eligible citizen to
cast a vote and have it count. Thatís why I have brought this suit.
The law does not impede the right to vote. It protects it. Our law
creates safeguards to ensure that every eligible voter can cast a
ballot on Election Day and have it count.
But disenfranchisement can occur by not following the law. The
right to vote includes the right to have oneís vote protected from
being diminished and diluted by ineligible, illegal or fraudulent
votes. Every unlawful vote disenfranchises those entitled to vote by
making lawful votes count less than they should. HAVA is one attempt
to protect the right to vote against unlawful voting.
Some have defended the Government Accountability Boardís refusal
to implement HAVA, saying their decision properly balances the ability
to vote easily with concerns about election integrity. This is a
strawman. First, it isnít difficult to vote in Wisconsin. HAVA and
other safeguards, such as same-day registration and provisional
balloting, ensure that every eligible voter who shows up to the proper
polling place can vote. Second, this balance has been carefully
considered by the Congress and the state Legislature, who made HAVA
the law of the land. Government agencies may not substitute their
judgment for that of the law. In fact, enabling our democratically
elected legislators to weigh public interests, make policy
determinations, and turn those policy decisions into legislation
carrying the force of law is exactly why we have elections to begin
Not only do the safeguards in the law fully counter concerns about
the potential disenfranchisement of eligible voters, but examining
what the lawsuitís critics are saying reveals they donít, for a
second, honestly believe that HAVA compliance will disenfranchise
eligible voters. Iíve heard no one say that the Government
Accountability Board is disenfranchising voters now by requiring HAVA
checks to be performed on those registering after Aug. 6, 2008. All I
am asking is that the Government Accountability Board treat
registering voters in a non-discriminatory fashion, as the law
requires. Maintaining an accurate statewide voter list disenfranchises
There is one class of people that vigorous HAVA implementation will
keep out of the polls: those who donít have the right to vote.
Although some have argued that fraud is rare, every ineligible vote,
whether through fraud or mistake, disenfranchises citizens. Every vote
counts, and the defense of eligible votersí right to vote should be
Moreover, one need look no further than recent newspaper reports of
fraudulent registrations and the Milwaukee Police Departmentís
Special Investigations Unit report on the November 2004 election to
know that unlawful voting, whether through fraud or mistake, is real.
A handful of votes can change the outcome of an election.
That is why this lawsuit does not cast a cloud over the election.
Indeed, it is the failure to follow the law that might do so. As the
United States Supreme Court stated earlier this year, the
"electoral system cannot inspire confidence if no safeguards
exist to deter or detect fraud or to confirm the identity of
As attorney general, it is my job to enforce the law. Some of the
critics in this case object to my action because they disagree with
the lawís mandate. But if the critics donít like this law, their
argument rests with lawmakers, not law enforcers.
I recognize that following the law will require additional work to
be done. But no effort is too great to protect our most fundamental
(J.B. Van Hollen is Wisconsinís attorney general.)
important in tough times
citizens struggling to stretch
their money, government cuts are a must
By MIKE HUEBSCH
July 10, 2008
last week, the Wisconsin state government took an important and
necessary step toward getting our own house in better financial order
by finalizing a plan to cut spending by $470 million over two years.
Because of the timing of the move and because of the highly detailed
nature of a state budget, this step received little fanfare at the
time. But by trimming government spending, rather than turning to
higher taxes to fix a $652 million shortfall, our state has made an
important choice that makes a real impact on the lives and livelihoods
of Wisconsin families, small businesses and seniors.
In this economy, it is simply necessary to cut the size and the
spending of state government. Politicians in Madison who say that it
doesnít need to trim back during difficult times send a clear
message to the taxpayers: The governmentís priorities are more
important than your priorities, and the government deserves your
hard-earned dollars more than you do.
At a time when families and small businesses are struggling, that
message is dead wrong. Budgets big and small are being stretched thin
in every corner of the state, from seniors on fixed incomes, to
businesses forced to lay off workers, to families hit hard by rising
food and gas prices. With people suffering in nearly every walk of
life, only the most out-of-touch politicians and bureaucrats would
continue to put the wants of the government ahead of the needs of the
Earlier this year, when our state budget was faced with a $650
million deficit, Assembly Republicans responded by fighting for less
government, not higher taxes, as the solution. The final budget repair
bill signed by the governor included $270 million in cuts - in
addition to spending cuts of $200 million approved in the original
budget last year - which were specifically outlined last week by the
Department of Administration. The lionís share of those cuts is put
on the Department of Transportation, to the tune of $103 million
(about 38 percent of the total figure), followed by $53 million in
medical assistance efficiencies and $25 million from the University of
Unfortunately, however, these cuts have placed an unfair burden on
the Department of Transportation, and more importantly, Wisconsin
drivers. The state transportation account is funded with the gas tax
and vehicle registration fees, and it goes to pay for essential
repairs that keep our roadways safe and our highways open for travel,
business and transport. When you consider the damage and strain
brought about by recent flooding, transportation dollars and the need
for a strong infrastructure are more important than ever before.
These cuts to the transportation fund, on top of repeated raids of
the fund by the Doyle administration to support unrelated programs,
have placed an unnecessary burden on Wisconsin drivers, and just to
protect other areas of the bureaucracy that shouldnít be immune from
Under Republican leadership, the state Assembly is doing its part
to cut back during tough times; we will be cutting $2 million to
further reduce the burden of government on the taxpayers of Wisconsin.
We have implemented a hiring freeze, held unfilled positions open and
suspended out-of-state travel to rein in unnecessary spending.
These spending cuts, both in the Assembly and throughout our state
government, are a good start. We should plan to make many of these
cuts permanent, to bring taxes more in line with the peopleís
ability to pay.
Itís worth reminding, too, that Democrats in Madison as recently
as one year ago were fighting tooth and nail for a proposal that would
have raised taxes in Wisconsin by more than a staggering $18 billion.
While that figure does make a debate over $270 million in cuts seem a
bit trivial, it really speaks to the importance of making the tough
decisions, in good times and bad, to hold the line on spending and say
"no" to tax hikes that would have had a devastating effect
in this economy.
(State Rep. Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, is speaker of the state
Good news in the
fight against crime: DNA backlog shrinking at state lab
By J.B. VAN HOLLEN
July 8, 2008
before I became attorney general, I knew that there was nothing more I
could do to promote public safety and support local law enforcement
than getting rid of the enormous DNA backlog at Wisconsinís crime
Just 18 months ago the Wisconsin Crime Lab was awash in an
ever-increasing backlog. When I took office, cases were coming in
twice as fast as they were being worked. This math didnít add up -
the impact was that cases that could be solved with modern technology
Recently the department marked two milestones showing great
progress in this effort to promptly process DNA cases.
As of the end of May, the backlog that had been growing out of
control actually shrunk by almost 150 cases since I took office. By
increasing efficiency, we are keeping up with incoming cases and then
In May, as well, the crime lab completed 321 DNA cases. This is
more than any other month in the history of the state crime lab.
Remarkably, it is more than three times what was being done during an
average month in 2006. While this is great news and a definite
milestone in our plans to actively assist and manage the crime lab to
eliminate the DNA backlog, all this progress was made while Wisconsinís
newest DNA analysts were still completing their training.
The new analysts recently completed their year-long training. I was
very proud to welcome Wisconsinís newest, certified, trained and
prepared-to-go-to work DNA analysts to the active fight against crime.
Even better news for Wisconsin taxpayers is that this year-long
training program was paid for by federal grant dollars. To my
knowledge, no state has ever embarked on such an ambitious effort to
hire and train more than two dozen new analysts. While we were
training these analysts, senior crime lab analysts were able to
continue to work their cases virtually uninterrupted by training
responsibilities. Progress continued.
Importantly, all the work these analysts do, all the cases they
work, are at the request of local police and sheriffís departments
and Wisconsinís district attorneys, front-line crime fighters.
While many may see backlog numbers, intake cases and cases worked,
increased use and efficiency of laboratory robotics and new analysts
and increased lab space as mere statistics, what I see are the people
and victims of crime that law enforcement all over our great state are
working night and day to bring justice to.
The Department of Justice is duty bound to assist law enforcement
in fighting crime in ways they can not alone. Progress at the crime
lab is progress in the fight against Wisconsin crime. It is good news.
(J.B. Van Hollen is attorney general of Wisconsin.)
Waukesha was not
on grant for new firefighters
By LARRY NELSON
May 15, 2008
of the reasons I respect Pete Kennedy as a columnist is that he has
actually taken the time to interview or talk to me to get the facts
before he writes his opinion column. Unfortunately, that was not the
case in his Saturday Freeman column about a federal grant to help
staff the new fire station on the northwest side of the city where
Pete jumped to several conclusions that are simply not true.
Pete stated that "The city had counted on a grant for $500,000
to cover most of the $659,000 in new salaries." Waukesha never
"counted on" the grant. It was clearly stated when the new
fire station was voted on, and again when the grant was discussed,
that the cost of the new firefighters would have to be covered in the
2009 budget, and that even if we were fortunate enough to receive the
grant, the city would need to decide how to cover the cost in future
The majority of the common council had been through this process
before when we received a federal grant to start our school resource
officer program in our three public high schools. When the grant
ended, the vast majority of the Waukesha Common Council voted to fully
fund this program in city budgets due to its overwhelming success in
solving and preventing crimes in the city and its schools. This
example was discussed and it was crystal clear that voting for the new
fire station was committing to find the funds in future city budgets.
The most difficult job of local government is keeping taxes as low
as possible while continuing the high quality of city services that
have attracted record numbers of individuals and businesses that are
choosing to make Waukesha their home. Public safety is the No. 1
responsibility of city government. It is truly amazing that despite
the tremendous growth in Waukesha over the last 28 years, when the
city has almost doubled in size to become the seventh largest city in
the state, there hasnít been a new fire station built since 1980.
Contrary to Peteís assertion that "This is poor
planning" and "a colossal screw-up," the previous city
administrator, fire department, vast majority of the common council,
and I were proactive in supporting a new fire station and its staff
along with a police work station to help continue making Waukesha one
of the safest cities of its size. If a house or business burned down
or someone died of a heart attack on the growing northwest side of the
city because of a too slow response time, then there would be
community outrage that the city had waited too long to act.
The big unknown was not only if we would receive the grant but
there was no way to know when we would find out if we were successful.
City staff and I were not, as Pete said, "overly optimistic"
or guilty of "poor guidance and bad information." We were
honest and straight forward about the information and cost, gave
proper guidance and made the safety of our citizens our top priority.
Approving the fire station was not only the right decision but
after waiting 28 years to build a new station, the city is saving
taxpayers money by building it now because further delays would just
cost taxpayers more. Immediately upon finding out that the city did
not receive the grant, our new and extremely competent City
Administrator Lori Luther and I met to come up with a plan to explore
and research all our options for next yearís budget.
To expect us to have a comprehensive plan in less than a week is
ridiculous. Instead of waiting until September, which has always been
the time for creating a budget, we hope to present the common council
and the public with possible options as early as July for discussion
I doubt Pete Kennedy would have recently written about all the
positive things Iíve accomplished as mayor during my first two years
if he hadnít taken the time to listen to me explain the inside
details of what Iíve done. It should be a columnistís
responsibility to get the facts before writing his column and it is
disappointing that this was not the case here as Pete has done in the
(Larry Nelson is the mayor of Waukesha.)
reason for hope
for deployed personnel,
families back home vitally important
By MARK GUNDRUM
March 28, 2008
all is going well back in beautiful Wisconsin. My wife has kept me
informed of what a challenging winter it has been. But for a few
sandstorms, the weather here in Iraq has been tolerable thus far,
though it did hit 100 degrees earlier this week. I am sure I will be
very envious of Wisconsin weather come summer.
I have been in Iraq for about a month and a half now. Serving our
country in this capacity is one of the greatest honors an American can
experience. My work is primarily focused on helping the rule of law
take hold and, hopefully, one day thrive in Iraq. Because of my
background in the state Legislature and local government, I have also
been plugged in a fair amount on Iraqi governance matters as well.
Earlier this week, we convoyed into downtown Baghdad for a committee
meeting of the Baghdad Provincial Council (a near-equivalent to our
Most of my time is spent in Baghdad, though I did make a site visit
to Mosul for several days to assess the extent to which the rule of
law is taking hold there. We convoyed into town for some insightful
meetings with local Iraqi judges, the police chief and the jail
administrator. Because al-Qaida in Iraq and insurgents are still very
active in Mosul, we always had to make these visits unannounced and
keep them efficient and fairly brief.
America and Iraq are at such an important crossroads for the future
right now. There have been so many encouraging improvements in
conditions over the past year in Iraq. The Iraqi Army and police force
have begun picking up more of the security responsibilities that used
to fall on coalition shoulders alone. The national governing bodies -
the Council of Representatives and Presidency Council, as well as the
provincial governing bodies - like the Baghdad Provincial Council,
have begun functioning like governing bodies in other more established
democracies. Similarly, many Iraqi judges and other actors in the
criminal justice system here are beginning to demonstrate a commitment
to the rule of law. It is exciting to see decisions being made by
Iraqi officials based on debate, persuasion, justice and a commitment
to doing what is right, instead of out of fear for personal or family
safety - as was the case for more than three decades under Saddam
Husseinís regime and even just a year ago when terrorists and
insurgents controlled portions of Iraq.
But things must be kept in perspective. There are many forces
within (and some outside of) this country still actively committed to
undermining a free and sovereign Iraq. Mortar and rocket attacks, car
bombs, improvised explosive devices, suicide bombers, snipers etc.,
attacking innocent Iraqis and American troops are still a very real
part of life here. Corruption is still a concern throughout much of
Iraqís government to a greater extent than in most other more
established democracies. And fear, though less than perhaps at any
time in the last few decades, is still a concern for honest, upright
government officials here. Thatís why we are at such a crossroads.
The next several months will be quite telling. This is the time
when Iraqis, from the policeman on the street to the shopkeeper on the
corner to the highest government official, must take full
responsibility for their sovereignty and freedom and make the
sacrifices necessary to make it their own and make it permanent.
While here, I have been privileged to work with some amazing
American patriots. So many wear a uniform - Army, Navy, Air Force and
Marines. Many are not service members, but are civilian government
employees and contractors who have volunteered to come to Iraq because
they too want to serve their country in this capacity. Many of these
service members and civilians have made tremendous sacrifices to come
here and do their part for our country.
America is so great and strong, however, not just because there are
service members willing to go to far-off lands to fight for our
country - but because other great Americans - the ones who are back at
home, also step up to the plate and do their part by supporting
service members while deployed. That is something my family has been
very blessed to experience firsthand over the past few months.
Thank you to all those who have helped clear our driveway during
one of the worst winters ever, who have made meals for my family - so
my wife could use that time to tend to the needs of our six children,
who have bought groceries for our family, watched the children in
times of need and have helped in so many, many other ways.
Please remember to pray for the military spouses and children left
behind when a loved one goes off to serve. It takes a significant toll
on the family. Though many months of my deployment still remain, for
my family that toll has been lessened substantially thanks to the
great generosity of so many wonderful friends, family and neighbors.
Other service members may not be so fortunate. If you know someone who
is deployed, please consider offering to help their family in some
small way. The impact it makes for that family and the peace of mind
it helps provide the service member serving overseas is substantial.
Once again, my family and I wish to say thank you for all the
support we have received during these initial months of my deployment.
(State Rep. Mark Gundrum, R-New Berlin, is serving in Iraq with the
432nd Civil Affairs Battalion.)
executive weighs in on Great Lakes water compact
By DAN VRAKAS
February 7, 2008
Great Lakes are an invaluable water source, and it is crucial for
Wisconsin and other Great Lakes states to protect this important
natural resource. For me, it is imperative that these protections are
based on sound science and must minimize the possibility for politics
to interfere with water use decisions. As it sits right now, the
current draft of the Great Lakes compact uses overly broad and
undefined terminology which can lead to political wrangling as opposed
to accountable, consistent and science-based decisions concerning
water usage. I truly believe that this is not in the best interest of
southeast Wisconsin and the entire state.
A Great Lakes water compact that is good for Wisconsin can be
developed with minor revisions to the current draft. My proposed
revision simply strikes the controversial provision that requires the
unanimous approval of all governors from Great Lakes states for water
diversions to communities in straddling counties, which have some
streams and groundwater that flow into the Great Lakes. The default
under the compact would still allow for a vote of the governors, but
the threshold for allowing water to these communities would be by a
majority vote rather than the veto power of one governor.
There is no doubt in my mind that residents in southeastern
Wisconsin recognize that the quality and quantity of the regionís
deep groundwater aquifer is deteriorating. In an effort to address
this issue, Waukesha County has made significant financial and
technical contributions to the preparation of a long range regional
water plan, which is nearly complete. A key component in this plan is
the presentation of several options that analyze scientific and
financial factors, as well as address how best to provide a
sustainable water supply to southeast Wisconsin. I anticipate that
some of these options will consider extending Great Lakes water to
communities that are outside of the Great Lakes Basin and will require
the water to be returned to its rightful lake after use. The use and
recycling of water back to Lake Michigan is a very environmentally
sound concept for some communities in the region.
It might surprise you to know that under the current version of the
compact, two neighboring states to Wisconsin, Illinois and Michigan,
will have a tremendous ability to dictate how we use water in
Wisconsin, while we will have no say in how they use it in their
states. Under the proposed compact, Illinois is granted an exemption
that allows for the diversion of water from Lake Michigan up to 2.1
billion gallons per day. Chicago and its suburbs receive much of this
diverted water even though they exist outside of the Lake Michigan
basin, and it disappoints me to share with you that virtually none of
the water used by these communities is returned to the lake. By
comparison, the city of Milwaukee uses an average of 122 million
gallons per day, all of which is returned to the lake.
The state of Michigan can also extend Great Lakes water to any
community within state boundaries without the approval of the
governors due to the fact that essentially every community lies within
the Great Lakes basin. I am sure that you will be surprised to know
that Michigan has a long history of opposing water diversions across
the subcontinental divide and is very likely to utilize its authority
over Wisconsinís water use decisions. As stated in summer 2006 by
Noah Hall, a law professor at Wayne State University in Detroit who
helped to draft the compact, "The political conventional wisdom
in Michigan is very straightforward: Donít approve a Great Lakes
diversion, especially before an election."
Consequently, there is significant potential for political
involvement over water use when our states already compete for jobs
and economic development. This means that Wisconsin is playing both
the water and economic development game with one arm tied behind its
back. Michigan and Illinois can virtually veto our water use proposals
without fear of any repercussions. At face value, this provision
should raise some serious concerns among leaders in southeast
Wisconsin and throughout the state. I absolutely do not want our water
use and economic welfare held hostage to one governorís veto power.
Ideally, the best solution would remove all possibilities of
politics and base the water use decisions on Wisconsinís traditional
definition of diversion, which indicates that a diversion occurs only
when water is not being returned to the lake. Thankfully, this
Wisconsin tradition is not only science based, but is environmentally
(Dan Vrakas is Waukesha County executive.)
Waukesha is a
By SCOTT ALLEN
November 27, 2007
is Waukesha. Isnít it great?
Sometimes we need to look past our blemishes and focus on the
outstanding qualities that make Waukesha great.
Waukesha is more than a bedroom community holding workers at night,
although it has many great neighborhoods with excellent,
well-maintained houses. Waukesha is more than an industrial community
even though it has many international companies and some of
southeastern Wisconsinís largest employers. Waukesha is a
multi-dimensional community with many assets that we can celebrate.
Waukesha has many excellent restaurants and exceptional caterers.
Waukesha has an abundance of shopping establishments, from large
department stores to interesting boutiques. Its downtown is growing
and continues to attract development dollars. The city has captivating
streetscapes, beautiful parks and interesting architecture.
We have excellent schools, public and private. We have a great
variety of secondary educational opportunities, including the
technical college, a two-year feeder university and the oldest
four-year college in the State. Our community also has one of the best
libraries in the state.
There are also significant cultural opportunities and artistic
offerings in Waukesha. As a community we are stronger because we have
one of the areaís largest Hispanic community service agencies. We
have a strong and growing fine arts community. We are fortunate to
have in our community the Waukesha County Historical Museum, the
Waukesha Symphony Orchestra and the Waukesha Civic Theatre.
Some people are critical of the number of social service agencies
located in Waukesha. I see that as a reflection of the compassionate
and caring nature of the people of Waukesha. The people of Waukesha
freely give their time, their talent and their money to causes and
organizations that help other people.
Waukesha is blessed with many churches of many different faiths.
Our community is decorated with the beauty of several historic church
buildings and the friendly spirit of faithful people.
Waukeshaís people are health-conscious. Everyday you will see
people shuffling in and out of the YMCA. Everyday you will see people
walking or jogging along the Fox Riverwalk. Waukesha even has its own
organic and health food store.
While it is true that Waukesha has its share of challenges and
issues, we should recognize and take stock in all of our assets. We
sometimes look over the fence and think the grass is greener. In
reality, with everything that we have going for us, it doesnít get
much greener than what weíve got right here in Waukesha.
(Scott Allen is a former Waukesha alderman.)
means everyone prospers
world of innovation, government is a tool
for success and taxes an investment
By PATRICK SCHMITT
November 21, 2007
hear all the time that weíre in a "knowledge economy," but
what does that really mean? The old economy, with us from the end of
the Stone Age until only a few decades ago, was based on land, natural
resources and labor. The critical resource in our new economy is
Innovations come in an avalanche every day. Even a small change can
make tremendous profit. Increase productivity in an industry by a
tenth of a percent, figure out how to speed up a supply chain
slightly, design a faster search engine and you can make millions.
Thatís the knowledge economy - a world in which the products of
the mind count for more then anything else.
But the advantages given a business by knowledge decay rapidly.
Todayís proprietary innovation belongs to the whole world tomorrow.
Word of new knowledge spreads quickly - by Internet, by TV, even by
newspaper. The worldís not only flat, itís awfully small.
So while itís called a knowledge economy, itís even more a
learning economy. Competition has become an endless race, in which
everyone - America, China, Russia, India, Korea, Brazil and every
other country in the world - is struggling to get even a temporary
half-step in front of the other guy, because even a half-step can mean
billions. That race is run by creating new knowledge - by learning.
Learning is born in many places: in public and private research
labs, in hospitals and clinics, in corporations, in think tanks and in
colleges and universities. People in many countries around the globe
have recognized and reacted to this fact by directing their
governments to pour support into all these different groups.
The most effective governments in this new economy have understood
that relatively small investments in learning today can bring huge
profits tomorrow, increasing prosperity for everybody.
So a new economy, a learning economy, demands a new idea of
government. If we wish to succeed, we canít treat government as
either an enemy or a nanny. If prosperity is our goal, we need
government to be a tool to achieve that goal.
A new idea of government calls for a new idea of taxes. Rather than
seeing taxes as either theft or a charitable contribution, we have to
see taxes as investments. And as responsible investors, we always must
ask: What is the return on our investment?
When we find activities of our government in which there is little
or no return, or, worse yet, where the ROI is negative, we have to
innovate. We canít be afraid to experiment. We canít be afraid of
trying new things and having some succeed and some fail.
Our old ideas of politics, both liberal and conservative, were born
out of an older age and an economic idea that has little relevance in
a new millennium. Weíre seeing more change now in a year then our
ancestors saw in centuries.
We need a new politics, one that matches our new economy of
learning. We need a politics of learning, where we stress pragmatism
over ideology and new knowledge trumps fixed notions, where taxes are
investments and ROI guides us in asking tough questions and making
Rather than fighting over slices of an ever-smaller pie, we have to
turn our energy and our ingenuity to making the whole pie much bigger.
If we wish to prosper, we must throw away the old where it holds us
back and create the new. We have to take our place in the race that is
the learning economy and run just as fast as we can.
(Patrick Schmitt is campus executive officer and dean at the
University of Wisconsin-Waukesha.)
must be fixed now
provides example of statewide problem
By RUTH PAGE JONES
November 20, 2007
Friday, the Wisconsin Senate Education Committee held a hearing in
Madison on school funding reform. As a Waukesha parent, president of
Project ABC and interim president of Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent
Schools, I presented the following as testimony:
I am so pleased to be here today, so pleased that you have heard
our pleas for school funding reform and that you are finally getting
down to the hard work of developing a new funding plan.
As you look around this room today, you will see a grass-roots
movement come to life. The people before you came from Waukesha and
Oconto, Milwaukee and Madison, Florence, Birchwood, Kettle Moraine and
other cities, rural, urban and suburban. Many of us are parents and
grandparents with a strong commitment to Wisconsinís children and
our stateís future.
It is time to trash the current "Going Out of Business
Plan" that you crafted for schools 15 years ago. It is time, it
is past time, for a new "Kids First Business Plan" that
helps all kids in all communities.
Wisconsin has enjoyed a well-deserved reputation for excellent
schools, but that reputation is now at risk.
In response to the under-funding of schools, districts around the
state have already fired administrators, delayed maintenance projects,
slowed down textbook adoption, reduced technology and site budgets,
cut extra-curricular programs, increased class sizes and found
efficiencies to reduce costs in utilities and transportation. And now
in the last few years, for many schools, all that is left to cut are
classroom teachers. There is something drastically wrong with a system
that forces schools to fire great teachers who are successfully
Let me tell you about my own school district, Waukesha. Last year
the formula forced the firing of our elementary school guidance
counselors and librarians and the elimination of our gifted and
talented program, The district increased class sizes at every level
for the second time and cut back on our award-winning music program.
What logic dictates that a school must cut the very programs that make
My friend Maryís daughter is in a freshman English class with 41
students. Teachers are reducing three-page writing assignments to one
page so they have time to correct and provide quality feedback.
Four weeks ago, my 16-year-old son broke his foot playing soccer in
a gym class with 47 kids and just one teacher.
My friend Rondaís 7-year-old daughter started school this year
with 34 other 7-year-olds in one classroom. She can go to the library
once a week for an hour to look, but she canít bring any books home
because there is no librarian in her school.
My heart breaks for the bright but struggling 8-year-old boy
sitting in the principalís office for disruptive classroom behavior.
Last year he was an eager and engaged learner, benefiting from gifted
and talented programming, a helpful librarian, a teacher with a
manageable class size - and a guidance counselor to listen and advise.
In just one year, that support structure was slashed, and today with
no one to guide him into challenging work, he acts out and is sent to
sit in the principalís office. What a terrible waste of potential!
The funding formula will force Waukesha to cut another 60 teachers
next year, and on and on until you, the people we elect, fix this
mess. The Waukesha School Board may very soon be forced to take the
Florence vote - the vote to dissolve because the school district can
no longer guarantee an adequate education to its students.
And as you will hear today, the Waukesha story isnít the Waukesha
story, it is the Oconto story and the Sturgeon Bay story and the
Florence story and the Racine story. It will only get worse.
We ask you to develop a new funding system that meets the criteria
of SJR 27/AJR 35. We need it now! Please listen carefully as people
testify today from around the state. The people who follow me will
passionately and eloquently explain how the current "Going Out of
Business" plan is failing us all and they will share their ideas
for a new plan that puts kids first.
Properly funding public schools is the very best investment we can
make for the prosperity of everyone in our state now and in the
(Ruth Page Jones is a parent from Waukesha, president of Project
ABC and interim president of Wisconsin Alliance for Excellent Schools.
Video and audio testimony can be accessed at www.wisconsineye.com.)
Love her or hate
her, Hillary is key
race turns on issues, Dems canít lose;
if it turns on Hillary herself, GOP could win
By RICK CONGDON
November 8, 2007
article is for all you Democrats and independents out there. If you
are one of those extremist right-wing sorts, where logic or
open-mindedness is not important, please skip over this article
immediately and go read Ann Coulter or Jessica McBride instead. Trust
me, it will make you feel much better.
Thereís a lot of us non-Republicans in Waukesha County. In fact,
73,000 of us voted against George Bush and his failed administration
back in 2004. As always this was the third-largest number of
Democratic votes in any county in Wisconsin. Donít believe for a
moment that because we live in a county that is dominated by the
opposition that we are helpless to effect change in the nation.
Please take this quick quiz. Question: How many electoral votes are
allocated to Waukesha County? Answer: none. Electoral votes are
allocated to the states and not the counties. Question: How then are
we, Democrats and open-minded independents, doing in this regard?
Answer: awesome! A Democrat has won these electoral votes every
presidential year since 1988. We also elected a governor for the last
two terms and have had both of our senators be Democrats since 1992.
Question: Whatís our favorite color? Answer: blue - and we need to
keep it that way. More importantly, we need to have other states be as
smart as Wisconsin.
Now that youíve taken the quiz and realize we have the power to
change, letís make an honest assessment of where we are. Voters, of
course, last year rejected the Republican insanity by voting them out
of office in both houses of Congress. Further, the numbers favor us to
enlarge our majorities in 2008.
This is nice for us and bad for them. But you can bet your bottom
dollar and throw in the Supreme Court as well, that we need to capture
the White House if there is to be any real change in this nation that
we love so dearly. Of course, Bushís popularity has sunk so low that
the Republican candidates wonít even mention his name. His
administration has left us in a world of hurt and the entire GOP knows
So how then can we Democrats possibly lose next year? That leads me
to the main topic of this column, Hillary Clinton.
Let me first of all say that I am convinced that Senator Clinton is
more than qualified to be president. She is smart, experienced and
generally has the right ideas about where to lead the country. If she
is our nominee, I would be proud to work for her election. My problem,
however, is that, except for Dennis Kucinich, she is the least
electable of the Democratic candidates. But Democrats must win the
White House. We cannot afford to again snap defeat from the jaws of
victory as we have so many times before.
A recent poll showed that 76 percent of the people wanted to take
the nation in a new direction. That included half of those who called
themselves Republicans. To me that means that the people want
something new. If the Democrats nominate Senator Clinton, we will be
offering the voters someone who lived in the White House from 1993 to
Since January 1989 there has been either a Bush or a Clinton
serving as president. (George H.W. Bush also served as vice president
in the eight years prior to that.) So another Clinton presidency would
hardly be a breath of fresh air! Arenít we Democrats taking
unnecessary risks by nominating someone literally related to the past?
Senator Clinton would also be our weakest candidate because,
through no fault of her own, she has become a very polarizing figure.
People either love her or hate her with a passion. There are very few
"undecideds" with Hillary Clinton. If the election depends
on the issues, the Republicans will lose in a big way. If the issue
becomes the Democratic candidate herself, they just might win. If you
donít believe me, go ask John Kerry.
When Karl Rove left the White House earlier this year, he tried to
cheer up a despondent Republican Party. He told them that they could
still keep control of the White House if the Dems nominated Hillary
Clinton. For once, I agree with Rove.
In the weeks ahead listen to the rhetoric of the Republican
candidates. They are constantly comparing themselves to Clinton and
ignoring the rest. This is no accident. They are playing on the fears
of the millions of independents who could vote Democratic next year
but, for whatever erroneous reason, dislike Senator Clinton. These are
the people who will determine our next president. Thatís why
Republican strategy is based on the nomination of Hillary Clinton.
OK, Democrats. As you have been reading this guest opinion, those
right-wing types reading Coulter and McBride have been stirred into a
passionate political frenzy and are ready to campaign. Just for the
heck of it, read these columns yourselves and count the number of
times they use the word "Hillary." I rest my case.
(Rick Congdon is a former chairman of the Waukesha County
Small government or tax cuts?
By JIM BURKEE
October 26, 2007
Christian conservatives, led by Dr. James Dobson, have publicly
bristled at the prospect of an openly pro-choice Republican
presidential candidate like former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani,
raising the specter of evangelical support for a third party
candidacy. Evangelicals, said Gary Bauer, head of the Campaign for
Working Families, embrace "certain core issues for the Republican
party - low taxes, strong defense and pro life." Should the party
nominate someone "who is hostile to one of those three things it
will blow up the GOP."
But abortion is not the only issue that threatens to "blow up
the GOP." For on a much deeper level, Republicans will decide
this year whether the GOP will be, first and foremost, the party of
small government or the party of tax cuts. At the heart of the debate
is deep dissatisfaction within the ranks over the Republican Partyís
embrace of what the Cato Institute calls "Big Government"
Republicanism between 2001 and 2007. Over six years of party control
in Washington, the GOP added $3 trillion to the national debt and
incurred trillions more in future liabilities with programs like
Medicare Part D. At the time, Republican Congressional leaders like
Wisconsinís Jim Sensenbrenner argued that tax cuts would stimulate
economic growth, producing more than enough tax revenue to make up for
the loss of funding the tax cuts created. Increased debt, said
Sensenbrenner of the tax cuts he supported, would be "more of a
brake on spending than anything else."
About 30 years ago, when Sensenbrenner first took office, some
conservatives began making the case that by slashing tax rates we
could "starve the beast" - the beast being government, of
course. Reducing revenue, they argued, would create political pressure
to slash government spending. Where their conservative forefathers
wanted to keep taxes low by cutting government spending, these
Republicans reversed the order: Cutting taxes, they said, will lead to
What emerged by 2001 was a perversion of conservatism, a
you-can-have-it-all brand of governance that promised voters all the
rewards of small government - low taxes - with the largesse of big
government. Reality was, however, that after cutting taxes Republicans
increased the size of government more than any administration since
World War II, including Lyndon Johnson and the Great Society Democrats
of the 1960ís - while the federal debt exploded. The numbers are
irrefutable, says David Keating, executive director of the Club for
Growth: "No question about it." "Starve the beast"
Former Reagan adviser Bruce Bartlett, who originally championed the
idea, now acknowledges the failure. By 2005, when Republicans in
Congress had already added trillions more to the national debt, he
wrote, "I see zero evidence that deficits are putting any
downward pressure on spending." Economist William Niskanen, who
chairs the conservative Cato Institute, agrees: "Acceptance of
the Ďstarve the beastí position," he writes, "has led
too many conservatives and libertarians to be casual about the
sustained political discipline necessary to control federal spending
directly and to succumb to the fantasy that tax cuts will solve the
Which explains, in no small part, why Republicans lost control of
Congress in 2006 as the federal debt approached $9 trillion - $3
trillion more than it had been in 2001. By putting tax cuts before
spending cuts, Republicans didnít cut our taxes. They raised them,
tomorrow on our children.
For conservatives alienated by the GOPís Washington establishment
and its fiscal recklessness, there is hope with the leading crop of
The gulf on taxes between the current presidential candidates and
the GOPís Congressional leadership is quiet, but real. The House
Republican Conferenceís Web site does not reference "small
government" or deficit spending on its list of major issues, nor
does the National Republican Congressional Committee. Indeed, while
continuing to push Grover Norquistís Taxpayer Protection Pledge -
which does not reference small government or discipline on the debt -
many Republicans in Congress continue to perpetuate a "starve the
beast" myth that they themselves proved erroneous.
But the current presidential candidates seem to get it. Rudy
Giuliani, the current frontrunner, leads with "fiscal
discipline" on his Web site and boasts about cutting the size of
New York City government by 20 percent. John McCain does not reference
tax cuts on his issues page, but rather only "government
spending." Mitt Romney also prioritizes spending, while
discussing taxes in the context of tax reform. And Fred Thompson talks
not about slashing taxes, but "federal budget and
Romney, Mike Huckabee and Tom Tancredo have all signed Norquistís
pledge not to raise taxes. But Romneyís pledge seems to be
intellectually honest in that it links tax levels to government
spending: "If weíre serious about holding down taxes," he
argues, "we have to be serious about fundamental reforms to
government and to entitlements." Romney, who like other
candidates wants a line-item veto, pledges that until that point he
will veto any omnibus spending bill that does not meet a spending cap
he would impose.
Quietly, a new revolution is brewing in the Republican Party
between establishment Republicans responsible for perpetuating
discredited myths like "starve the beast" and a new
generation of Republican leaders committed to the very traditional
idea that spending your grandchildrenís money is immoral, and tax
cuts should follow government spending cuts, in that order. The
conflict has yet to openly erupt, and it may not fully do so.
Regardless, the current crop of Republican contenders should leave us
all very hopeful that conservatism is returning to the GOP.
(Jim Burkee, an Associate Professor of History at Concordia
University Wisconsin, is a Republican candidate for U.S. Congress in
Wisconsinís 5th Congressional District.)
The BIG READ
By DAVID BROSTROM
October 19, 2007
reading opens doors of opportunity, just as it helps build literacy
and camaraderie. With a record number of people attending the Waukesha
Public Libraryís "Fahrenheit 451" book discussion
Wednesday night, our inaugural BIG READ Waukesha surges forward. After
eighteen days of citywide programming, and hundreds of attendees, one
thing is certain - cultural collaboration works in Waukesha!
If you havenít caught a program yet, you have 13 more chances. I
recommend these special BIG READ programs at our library:
1) live poetry at 7 p.m. tonight, featuring renowned Pennsylvania
poet Barbara Crooker and four other outstanding Wisconsin poets
2) "Fahrenheit 451" the movie, at 6:30 p.m. Monday,
introduced by our resident movie expert, University of
Wisconsin-Waukesha professor Jane Crisler
3) author talk and book signing at 7 p.m. Wednesday with World War
II and adventure author Jim Campbell, who has written "Ghost
Mountain Boys: Their Epic March and the Terrifying Battle for New
Guinea, the Forgotten War of the South Pacific"
4) celebrate famous Wisconsin fiction authors Larry Watson and Ben
Percy at 1:30 p.m. Oct. 28
5) futurist David Zach visits Waukesha at 7 p.m. Oct. 29 to discuss
trends that impact our lives, and how he was dramatically influenced
by Ray Bradbury, famed author of "Fahrenheit 451."
Re-invigorating community pride and breathing life into our
non-profit, government and business partnerships are no small
achievements. Because of this essential cultural experiment, we now
know it takes 25 collaborative agencies, hundreds of planning hours,
and loads of volunteers and foot soldiers to pull it off. Federal
monies from the National Endowment for the Arts were used to attain
these lofty goals. I donít know how you feel, but my opinion is that
scores of opportunities remain out there, like ripe plums waiting to
be pulled off the tree.
Our two-dozen steering committee members sincerely hope you will
join us during our final two weeks of programs. To see the full
listing of BIG READ events, and to get your free copy of
"Fahrenheit 451," visit these two Web sites and the Waukesha
Public Library: www.waukeshareads.org or www.waukesha.lib.wi.us).
(David Brostrom is the associate director of the Waukesha Public
Override veto of
health insurance measure
By HERB KOHL
October 18, 2007
months ago, I argued in this forum that we needed to renew the
Childrenís Health Insurance Program, or BadgerCare as itís known
in Wisconsin. We did. An overwhelming and bipartisan vote in both the
House and the Senate propelled the bill through Congress and to the
presidentís desk. But instead of signing the CHIP bill, the
president vetoed it - only the second time this president has vetoed a
bill - arguing that this popular and efficient initiative covered too
many kids at too great a cost.
I couldnít disagree more; hereís why.
First, under this president, the number of families that canít
afford health insurance has ballooned. Since 2001, premiums for family
coverage have increased 78 percent, but wages havenít kept pace. Itís
not just families that canít afford the premiums, small businesses
canít either and many have been forced to drop health coverage for
their employees and their families. As a result, the number of
uninsured children grew by 710,000 to reach 9.4 million last year.
The compromise CHIP bill covers nearly half of these kids. Without
it, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that 3.8 million
children will continue to be uninsured. Thatís millions more
potential emergency room patients. And millions more kids who donít
have access to checkups and are denied a healthy start to a long,
successful and happy life. Thatís unacceptable.
President Bush has also suggested that the new CHIP program covers
children in households with incomes of up to $83,000 a year, Americans
who could afford private health coverage but would rather the
government pick up the bill. This claim is patently false.
The bipartisan CHIP bill keeps the program focused on low-income
children. No state currently covers children at $83,000, and the CHIP
agreement does not raise the eligibility level for CHIP or encourage
states to cover families up to $83,000. According to CBO, about 3.2
million of the 3.8 million uninsured children (appoximately 84
percent) who stand to gain coverage under the CHIP reauthorization
agreement would have family incomes at or below 200 percent of the
federal poverty line - or, in Wisconsin, about $38,000 a year for a
family of four.
Finally, the president believes CHIP costs too much. I agree, the
price tag is significant - $35 billion over five years - but it is
money well spent. By catching and treating childhood illnesses early,
we will save money that would be spent in emergency rooms and urgent
Quality health care is expensive, and increasingly so. But CHIP has
been an unparalleled success, and a model for health insurance
coverage. We shouldnít make CHIP a casualty of political posturing.
In the coming weeks, I hope our entire Wisconsin congressional
delegation will work together in a bipartisan way and vote to override
the presidentís veto.
(Democratic U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl represents Wisconsin.)
to avoid regional transportation
need options that cooperative effort can provide
By ALLEN STASIEWSKI
October 16, 2007
time for Waukesha County to join with other southeastern Wisconsin
counties to form a regional transit authority. We should, no we need,
to be a player in this process. It is possible to imagine a regional
transit authority without Waukesha County as a member. As southeastern
Wisconsin counties develop a fair, balanced and funded transportation
system for all its residents, Waukesha County would become more and
more isolated and irrelevant, dependent on automobile transportation
alone, into the future. A future with higher and higher gasoline
costs, increased costs for continuous highway expansion and
maintenance, increased traffic and fewer transit options for its
residents ... As national and state transportation grants are made
available to the transit authority, Waukesha County would be required
to fund county transit options on its own, relying more and more on
county and local taxes. As surrounding counties learn to deal with
sprawl, increased traffic and pollution caused by automobiles,
Waukesha County will be stuck with an ever-worsening mess. This
scenario would be bad for Waukesha residents and for residents of the
region as a whole.
Waukesha County politicians need to accept that fact that Waukesha
County demographics are changing. People everywhere are looking for
transit alternatives and residents of Waukesha County are no
different. Itís time for a new cooperative approach. Itís time to
deny the paranoia of the past and be a relevant part of the regionís
future. As citizens we must demand that our politicians put aside
their petty biases. Citizens of Waukesha County, not just automobile
drivers, deserve a place at the table. And when we get there, we must
work toward the creation of a balanced transportation plan.
Waukesha County Environmental Action League advocates that a
regional transit authority be created to develop a rational highway
maintenance and safety improvement plan with no new lanes and no new
highway expansions. We advocate that no wasteful new highway
interchanges be built on Interstate 94 and Interstate 43. Finally, we
advocate that the transit authority create a balanced and sustainable
regional transportation plan consisting of automobile, light rail,
heavy rail and bicycle and pedestrian components.
We know that these efforts come with a cost, but so does rampant
highway expansion. Every new lane of concrete and every new freeway
interchange, and there are two being planned in Waukesha County right
now, requires increased funding ... forever. As an example of the
folly of our current love affair with highways, recently, Waukesha
County Executive Dan Vrakas misguidedly proposed a plan to pay for a
new I-94 and Highway P interchange at a cost of $25 million. The
interchange wasnít proposed to improve the safety for drivers on
I-94. No, it was approved so that Pabst Farms developers and owners of
a new shopping mall proposed for the area could line their pockets
with cash. How many residents of Waukesha County would benefit from
this highway subsidy? And the irony of the situation is that the mall
developer has now pulled out of the project. Shouldnít expressway
interchanges be built based on good, solid, long-term planning and on
the needs of residents of the region rather than to cater to
developers along the freeway route?
It seems as if Waukesha County politicians and some media are
deeply paranoid of their neighbor to the east! A recent Freeman
editorial (Sept. 18) stated that "Waukesha County should maintain
its own identity" and that a "... regional transit authority
is not cooperation, it is assimilation" and that it would
"... erode the identities of Waukesha County communities."
These kinds of statements reek of county protectionism! Waukesha
County residents would be well served to stop listening to those who
create a culture of controversy and instead realize that Waukesha and
Milwaukee are linked through their common geography, economy, work
forces and transportation needs.
Itís important for all of us to realize that highways and the
automobiles we drive are heavily subsidized. We pay dearly for the
freedom to drive. And if we choose to pay these costs, that is all
right. But we shouldnít force everyone else to do the same!
Forward-thinking communities in this country are doing the right thing
and providing transit options for their residents. Many of us who live
in Waukesha County want a fair and balanced transportation system too
and the way to do this is for Waukesha County officials to help create
and then be an active part of a regional transit authority!
(Allen Stasiewski is vice president of the Waukesha County
Environmental Action League.)
financial literacy vital
for all students
improves quality of life in Wisconsin
By ELIZABETH BURMASTER
October 11, 2007
Wisconsin, we believe that personal financial literacy is vital for
all students to be successful.
An estimated 80 percent of Wisconsin students work while they are
in high school. Nearly one-third of students have personal checking
accounts and credit cards in their own names. Students today face
financial choices that have expanded well beyond what their parents or
grandparents dealt with as teens and young adults. From college
savings plans to investment funds, and various retirement accounts to
the wide range of borrowing options, students need to learn how to
make wise financial decisions so they avoid excessive debt and have
adequate savings to meet their dreams.
Last year, Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to
develop content and performance standards that define what students
should know and be able to do for personal financial literacy. The
standards address credit, debt and money management, planning saving
and investing and community and financial responsibility. They relate
income and education, address being a critical consumer and define
responsible risk management. They also address entrepreneurial skills
and knowledge and help young people understand how to be wise
consumers, savers and investors so they and their families are
As we strive to provide our students with the 21st century skills
they need to succeed, we want to ensure that their education reflects
the knowledge and skills that are critical for financial literacy. As
a companion to our personal financial literacy standards, we are now
working on a curriculum guide and best practices document, which we
expect will be published in early 2008. These materials will deepen
educatorsí ability to infuse financial literacy across the
As state superintendent, it is my privilege to sit on the Governorís
Council for Financial Literacy. The councilís mission is to advise
the governor on how government, private sector organizations and
community groups can improve the levels of financial literacy for
adults and students.
One of the major initiatives implemented by the council is Money
Smart Week, which is being observed through Saturday. Money Smart Week
is a collaborative statewide effort to provide easily accessible
financial education in communities throughout the state. The
workshops, seminars, programs, events and other activities will help
families, students, homeowners, businesspeople, employees and other
community members expand opportunities through improved financial
literacy. To find financial education offerings in your community,
visit the Money Smart Wisconsin Web site.
(Elizabeth Burmaster is the superintendent of the state
Department of Public Instruction.)
BIG READ offers
of opportunities to get involved
up a free book to get started
By LARRY NELSON
October 4, 2007
of the many benefits the city of Waukesha received from my attendance
at my first U.S. Conference of Mayors meeting in Washington, D.C.,
last January was the opportunity to meet Dana Gioia, chairman of the
National Endowment for the Arts. When he described the NEAís BIG
READ program, which promotes an entire community reading the same book
(and a month-long celebration of a wide variety of related
activities), it sounded to me like it would be a perfect fit for our
fun loviní great city of Waukesha.
I want to thank Jane Ameel and David Brostrom from our
award-winning public library for their leadership and for assembling a
diverse group of 25 Waukesha organizations and businesses who are
participating in THE BIG READ. All of the details of the fun October
BIG READ activities can be found at the Web site www.waukeshareads.org.
We picked Ray Bradburyís "Fahrenheit 451" because we
thought it would appeal to people of all ages and its themes of
censorship and oppression are unfortunately as relevant today as when
the book was first published 50 years ago. As I reread the book
recently, I was amazed to realize Bradburyís wall TVs predicted flat
screen televisions and his seashell listening device seems a lot like
the iPod devices.
Waukesha should be proud that we successfully competed against
scores of other communities and were awarded a $10,000 NEA grant that
has paid for thousands of books and promotional items. If you donít
have a book yet, head over to the library to get your free copy as
well as a reading guide and BIG READ brochure. When youíre done
reading the book, I encourage you to pass it on to a family member,
friend or neighbor. Our goal is to make Waukesha known as a community
Highlights of the BIG READ include:
10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Waukesha Fire Station No. 1 open house and
4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Art Crawl with many BIG READ events
10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Sam Weller, Ray Bradburyís authorized
biographer, speaks at the Waukesha Public Library. First come, first
2 p.m. to 4 p.m., spelling bee for fourth-, fifth- and
6 p.m. to 8 p.m., trivia contest for seventh- and eighth-graders
and adults at the Waukesha Civic Theatre. The trivia contest also
features a secret celebrity emcee.
noon to 1 p.m., Bring your lunch and join me for a book discussion
at the Waukesha Public Library
Be sure to check out the Web site or pick up a brochure at the
library to find out about other events and become part of Waukeshaís
first BIG READ.
Itís not a coincidence that my most successful former students
are the ones who were big readers outside of class. Join us in making
the BIG READ a new and successful Waukesha tradition.
Remember what Ray Bradbury said:
"You donít have to burn books to destroy a culture. Just get
people to stop reading them."
(Larry Nelson is mayor of Waukesha.)
for new Waukesha Wal-Mart
By LINDA CHIVERS
September 27, 2007
am a homeowner who lives just off of West Avenue, between Sunset Drive
and the site for the proposed Wal-Mart Supercenter. I believe that
this development will substantially decrease property values and
quality of life for those of us who live in this neighborhood. My
parents were the original owners of this house and someone in my
family has lived in it for the last 48 years, so I know the history of
the area and what itís like today.
My biggest concern is the traffic issue. West Avenue is already
well traveled and Sunset has even more traffic. I do not believe West
could handle the amount of traffic that will be generated by a store
of this size. The developers of the Godfrey property say that will add
1,000 cars a day to Sunset. Itís already almost impossible to make a
left turn out of any of the businesses on Sunset. Another 1,000 for
that store and as many or more for the Wal-Mart will create serious
congestion. Since most of us exit the subdivision onto Sunset, it
could easily become difficult to get out of the subdivision. And what
about when one of the frequent, long trains comes through on Sunset
and even now backs traffic up past the intersection of West and Sunset
so that cars waiting to turn onto Sunset from West have to sit through
lights because they have nowhere to go?
The Wal-Mart will be open 24 hours a day and I assume semis will be
bringing merchandise in regularly. Does this mean we will have to
listen to truck traffic all day and all night? The apartments along
West Avenue have deteriorated substantially over the last couple of
years, much to the concern of the homeowners in the area. The
apartments have parking lots, which in the past were sufficient for
the tenants, however, there are now more people living in the
apartments than they are set up for, subsequently, West Avenue is
lined with cars with overnight parking permits. This makes it very
dangerous to pull out onto West from the side streets, since you canít
see past the cars. More traffic on West and more semi traffic will
make this even more dangerous. More traffic on West will also make
those apartments even less desirable places to live, which means that
they will continue to go downhill, endangering the property values of
There is also the flooding issue. The intersection they want to
build on was on the news a couple years ago because of the flooding
there. It seems to escape our leaders' attention that rains totaling
several inches in very short periods of time are happening all over
the county and cities that have never been flooded before are being
destroyed. People who live miles from a river are being flooded out,
and we have a river running right through our city. It is not a matter
of if, but a matter of when this city floods, and I think that should
not be far from anyoneís thoughts.
There are also issues regarding noise pollution, light pollution,
trash (Iím sure weíll all have plenty of plastic bags to pick up),
and the threat to locally owned businesses - whose profits stay in our
community instead of being spirited off to a corporate office - and
who actually have a commitment to the community since they live here.
There already is a Wal-Mart Supercenter not many miles from here.
There are also several other large retail stores, hardware stores,
pharmacies and grocery stores, along with many smaller stores. Has
anyone considered that there might actually not be any justification
for adding two more mega stores? If there isnít enough business to
support all these stores, some stores will close, leaving us with
empty white elephants (as if there isnít already enough empty
office, retail and warehouse space in any and every part of this city.
And if Wal-Mart doesnít get the numbers they want, theyíll just
close it up and walk away.)
One last thing, about all these jobs Wal-Mart will bring, I donít
think Waukesha has any shortage of $7-an-hour jobs that nobody can
(Linda Chivers is a Waukesha resident.)
Republicans to pass K-12 funding, property tax relief today
By MIKE HUEBSCH
September 18, 2007
youíve been following the budget deadlock in Madison, youíve
probably noticed a frustrating lack of progress being made between the
two sides. The budget is now more than two months overdue, and
significant funding deadlines are getting close for public schools and
Right now, local school boards and town, village, city and county
boards are starting to form their own budgets for 2008. These budgets
depend on state funding in the form of kindergarten through 12th-grade
aid and the shared revenue program, and what they donít receive from
Madison they have to make up in their property tax levies. According
to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, if the state budget is
not passed in time to meet those deadlines, it will mean a $589
million property tax hike for Wisconsin homeowners, an average of
about $200 for the median value home.
A budget impasse in Madison tosses an expensive monkey wrench into
this system, and local property taxpayers will be holding the bill if
our government fails to act. After two months of delay and political
rhetoric, itís clear that we need to take real action.
Once again, Assembly Republicans are leading the charge. (Today),
the state Assembly will be in session to pass record funding for our
local schools, full funding for county and municipal governments and a
renewal of the property tax freeze for the next two years. We were
elected to get a job done, and weíre doing exactly that. We are
putting politics aside and giving real property tax relief to
This will come in the form of two bills. The first bill, AB 506,
will provide local school districts with more than $12.3 billion in
state aid over the next two years, the highest level in state history
and more than $543 million more than was in the previous budget. In
the spirit of good faith and compromise, this bill includes Gov. Jim
Doyleís own proposed funding levels, except for certain areas where
we went higher to adopt the Senateís proposals. Our legislation has
already received the support of the Wisconsin Association of School
Boards and Wisconsin School Administrators Alliance. For shared
revenue, we recanted on proposed cuts to counties and four Wisconsin
cities included in our budget, funding local governments at the same
level as current law. I expect bipartisan support for this critical
funding in the Assembly, and Doyle and the Democrats should have no
reason to stall on their own proposals.
The other bill we will take up today, AB 507, restores the property
tax freeze. Here, again, we are working on common ground: We are using
the same property tax freeze that Doyle signed into law in 2005.
But the result is certainly more important than the details: Our
actions today will save Wisconsin homeowners nearly $600 million.
Democrats have been fighting tooth and nail for more than $18
billion in tax hikes as part of our next state budget, and theyíve
forced schools and local governments into a holding pattern while they
take turns giving speeches about how Wisconsinís taxes arenít high
My fellow Republicans and I will continue to work for a government
we can really afford. Today we are going to pass legislation to avert
a real $600 million property tax hike, and weíre going to give the
Senate Democrats and the governor an opportunity to do the exact same.
Only time, and their actions, will tell if they think their speeches
and games are more important than passing their own education funding,
and providing real relief for Wisconsin families.
(Mike Huebsch, R-West Salem, is speaker of the state Assembly.)
When it comes to
Doyle says ĎPay me firstí
can't afford to waste time
or money because of poor policy
By TED KANAVAS
August 23, 2007
already know Gov. Jim Doyle is interested in getting more of your tax
dollars. His budget proposal for the next two years included new taxes
and fees, as well as tax and fee increases on almost everything we
come in contact with during our daily lives. Our houses, our cars,
things we buy on the Internet, the governor wants more of your money
for these things and others to pay for his expensive, big-government
plans. There is no end in sight for his ability to spend our
In the past, though, you could at least count on the governor to
give you your money back when he owed you some. Apparently, that
changed when the governor got re-elected last fall. For the first time
in recent history, the governorís Department of Revenue decided to
process income tax returns where the taxpayer owed money before the
returns where the taxpayer had paid too much and deserved a refund.
From the number of calls my colleagues and I got from people who
did not get their refunds on time, this was more than an isolated
incident. A Milwaukee newspaper recently reported that the department
processed hundreds of thousands of returns from people who owed taxes
before processing ones from people who were owed refunds. In past
years, the department has processed refunds first. By mid-July, the
department had processed more than 289,000 returns from people who
owed taxes, compared with about 170,000 such returns at this point
last year, records show.
Why is this tardiness a problem? First of all, taxpayers count on
getting these refunds in a timely fashion. People on fixed incomes
cannot afford to wait an extra month for their already limited funds
to be returned to them. I heard from several seniors who were put into
serious financial difficulty because the governor took his time
sending them their money back.
The governorís Department of Revenue should not be holding onto
money that doesnít belong to it. To make sure the revenue department
gets the refunds out in a timely manner, we passed a law that requires
refund checks issued after July 17 to include 9 percent interest. This
long-standing deadline had no effect on how the department handled tax
returns this year. To make matters worse, Governor Doyle has no idea
how much his new "pay me first" policy cost the state in tax
revenues, according to published reports.
What we do know is that in addition to holding up peopleís
refunds unnecessarily, this new policy wastes money paying interest to
taxpayers unnecessarily. I support the government giving us more of
our money back, I just donít want to see it happen because
administrative inefficiency and/or incompetence causes the department
to miss deadlines that were clearly set before the process started.
As long as we are talking about inefficiency that borders on
incompetence, the department has no idea how much it paid in overtime
to catch up on the backlog. So, the governor wasted money coming and
going when it comes to giving us back our own money.
Who is responsible for this? According to the department, multiple
mid-level employees are responsible for this costly problem. Who is
getting disciplined for this needless waste of taxpayer money? No one,
according to the person in charge. The governor must think he has
enough of your tax money to cover a little waste.
It isnít like the department was expected to do something out of
the ordinary here. The governor and the people who run the Department
of Revenue decided that this year, for the first time, the taxpayers
did not come first. The first year after the governor got re-elected,
he decides that it is more important for him to get paid than it is
for hard-working taxpayers to get their money back. I wonder how that
would have gone over before people had to decide who to vote for last
(State Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, represents the 33rd
District, which includes portions of Waukesha, Washington and Dodge
to let strong schools slip
By STAN JOHNSON
August 13, 2007
thing Iíve learned in my six years as president of the Wisconsin
Education Association Council is that it takes all of us - teachers,
staff, parents and communities - to make sure every kid has a great
July 31 was my last day in this job I have loved. As my turn at the
head of the class ends, I want to take one last chance to say thank
In partnership, we teach children how to read and write and how to
do math; how to love language and how to develop their natural
curiosities about science, art, music, literature and history. We feed
kids, and get them to and from school safely every day. We clean up
after them and help them when theyíre sick. We help them with their
homework after school, and make sure they have activities to keep them
safe and encourage their involvement in our communities. We provide
further learning opportunities in Wisconsinís outstanding technical
college system. Everyone takes the time and makes the effort to care
about children and education.
You canít put a price on education, or on making sure everyone
has access to opportunity. Some of our elected officials think you can
put a price on it, and they keep lowering the price like the next
generation is just one more thing you can buy in a big-box store - but
you and I know you canít.
As a result, Wisconsin has some of the best schools in the world.
As I leave WEAC, Iím proud of what we have achieved together. You
have shown me that you are just as dedicated to making sure every kid
has a great school as I am.
Our work isnít done, though. I know you will welcome WEAC
President Mary Bell just as you have me, and together we can continue
to confront the challenges that face public schools and technical
colleges. The achievement gap is unacceptable. The state-imposed local
school revenue caps are unworkable. The qualified economic offer law
that holds down teachersí pay is a slap in the face and is driving
talented educators away.
Together we can confront these challenges to create great schools
throughout Wisconsin. Nobody matches us when it comes to how much we
care for our kids; how passionate we are to succeed, and how seriously
we take our responsibility to our kids. Great schools benefit
everyone, and weíve shown that weíre committed to the children of
Wisconsin. Thank you, again, for joining me and believing that every
kid deserves a great school.
(Stan Johnson recently completed six years as president of the
Wisconsin Education Association Council.)
common ground to address
transportation infrastructure problems
By PAT GOSS
August 9, 2007
weekís collapse of a major bridge in the Twin Cities brought into
focus just how polarized the debate over infrastructure investment has
become in this country. Canít we all find some common ground to get
things done anymore?
It seems the blame lies all over the political spectrum.
On the right, President Bush last month labeled the U.S. House of
Representativesí transportation spending bill for the upcoming
fiscal year as "an irresponsible and excessive level of
spending." This despite the fact that the $40.2 billion included
in the bill for federal roads and bridges is completely in line with
spending levels authorized by the transportation legislation the
president proudly signed in August 2005 while declaring how important
transportation was to this country.
Now, the president is threatening to veto the transportation
funding bill because of an impending deficit in the Highway Trust
Fund. This source of funding for federal highway and bridge
improvements is running on fumes because the federal gas tax has not
been increased since 1993. Inflation has eroded the buying power of
those revenues by an estimated 30% during that time.
Yet President Bush and his allies have taken a hard-line stance
against tax increases. One of those allies, Minnesota Gov. Tim
Pawlenty, was elected in 2002 on a "No New Taxes" platform,
which he reinforced by vetoing gas tax hikes in 2005 and again earlier
this year. He now says he is willing to support an increase in the gas
tax, which has been stuck at 20 cents a gallon since 1990, to address
his stateís aging transportation infrastructure.
On the left, environmental groups have spent at least the past 20
years litigating to prevent construction of a new bridge not far from
the I-35W bridge that collapsed last week. The St. Croix River
crossing between Stillwater, Minn., and Houlton was built in 1931 and
has one of the lowest bridge sufficiency ratings on the Minnesota
state system. Following a series of lawsuits during the 1990s, a
mediator brought all parties to the table in an attempt to resolve the
legitimate transportation and environmental issues surrounding this
These discussions, over four years, resulted in a compromise
solution that minimized the environmental impacts while constructing a
bridge that would meet the long-term transportation needs of the
fastest growing regions in both states. The Sierra Club chose to
circumvent these negotiations and recently filed yet another 11th hour
lawsuit against the project. Itís estimated that the price tag for
this project rises $1 million for each month it is delayed.
Litigate and delay is a common tactic. For years, environmental
groups fought the improvement of Highway 12 between Middleton and Sauk
City in Dane County. Between 1985 and 1996, there were 2,010 crashes
along this 17-mile stretch of highway, resulting in 30 fatalities,
according to the Wisconsin Department of Transportation. Since the new
four-lane road opened in November 2005, there have been no fatalities.
Clearly, there has to be a middle ground between these two
extremes. A growing economy and increasingly mobile society will
result in added demand for transportation. We canít simply say no to
everything - whether itís roads and bridges, power transmission
lines or other needed public infrastructure.
Conversely, these investments cost money and donít happen
overnight. A long-term plan to systematically maintain and improve
transportation infrastructure requires some degree of funding
certainty, which currently does not exist in Wisconsin. Despite their
philosophical differences, our political leaders must find common
ground that provides the revenues to allow these projects to move
The WI Transportation Builders Association represents a broad range
of companies that design, build and maintain all modes of
(Pat Goss is the executive director of the Wisconsin
Transportation Builders Association.)
better tax climate
By RICH ZIPPERER
August 8, 2007
have all heard the reports and know about the problem: Wisconsinís
seniors are leaving our state in search of warmer climates and lower
taxes, and too many of those seniors who stay are forced to sell their
homes to make ends meet. Magazine reports regularly list our state as
one of the worst places to retire, and with proposals to raise taxes
abounding in the state Capitol, it may seem there is little reason for
optimism. But what you probably havenít heard about are proposals
that have passed the state Assembly that have the potential to remake
how Wisconsin treats its seniors.
The problem is real. In economic terms, when seniors leave, they
take with them their consumer dollars and the brain power they add to
our economy. Studies have shown that it is the seniors with the most
disposable income who are leaving in the greatest numbers, so it is
little wonder that the Sun Belt states with booming senior populations
have experienced economic booms as well. This issue is about more than
simple economics, however, because with every senior who leaves,
Wisconsin is also losing years of life experiences, wisdom and the
intangible importance of having generations of families living in the
Some say that there is nothing that can be done about this flight
of seniors out of our state, and that our cold climate puts us at a
natural disadvantage. I disagree. While we will never have the sunny
weather of Arizona, with our lakes, rivers and wilderness, our great
hometowns, and our abundance of sports and cultural activities,
Wisconsin should be a destination for seniors in their retirement, not
a departure point. The Assembly budget takes the steps needed to make
that a reality once again.
The first step to address this issue is to put in place a true
property tax freeze to help seniors hold on to their biggest asset,
their home. The Assembly budget does just that. By making home
ownership more affordable, more seniors will be able to stay in their
homes right here in Wisconsin.
However, with a tax burden near the highest in the nation, even a
strong freeze wonít solve the problem by itself. That is why the
Assembly budget also includes a tax cut on retirement income. This
provision is not the type of tiny, narrowly targeted relief that many
taxpayers have justifiably begun to expect. This is real,
across-the-board tax relief that will impact more than 360,000
seniors, more than 14 percent of all taxpayers in the state. And you
donít need to look to the fine print to see if you are eligible for
this relief. If you are age 65 and over, and you pay state income
taxes, you will receive tax relief.
What does this mean for Wisconsin seniors? In tangible terms, it
means an $8 million tax cut in 2009, a $24 million tax cut in 2010,
increasing to approximately a $320 million tax cut by 2030. Thatís
real money in the hands of Wisconsin families instead of in the
control of state government. And by staying in Wisconsin, seniors will
be able to spend more consumer dollars in our marketplace, invest more
in our hometowns and continue to add to our stateís work force.
While this broad-based relief will help seniors all across the
economic spectrum, it will undoubtedly provide the most benefit to
those who are still working to make ends meet. With Social Security by
itself not able to meet all of the needs of todayís seniors, more
and more people are working to support themselves and their loved ones
well into their supposed retirement years. The retirement income tax
cut will provide welcome relief and encouragement to those seniors
struggling to get by.
Realizing the harm that comes from losing so many seniors, other
northern states have begun to act. Some states, like Pennsylvania,
already exempt all retirement income. Other states, like New York,
have created significant exemptions for retirement income. In fact,
all of our neighboring Midwest states provide a full or partial
exemption of this income. These states recognize the importance of
seniors to their families, their communities and their economies. To
stay competitive, Wisconsin must act.
Combined with the strong property tax freeze contained in the
Assembly budget, the retirement income tax cut provides Wisconsin
seniors with a reason to be optimistic about their ability to afford
to retire in the community they love, close to family and friends, and
in a home full of memories. Letís make that optimism a reality, and
letís hope we can get the Governor and the State Senate to agree.
(State Rep. Rich Zipperer, R-City of Pewaukee, represents the
could show the way to lower costs,
better coverage in health care
By RICK CONGDON
August 7, 2007
start with some random facts: 1) According to the World Health
Organization, the United States has the 37th best health care system
in the world. 2) Of the 36 nations ahead of us, most - if not all -
provide universal coverage at government expense. 3) Our system is by
far the most expensive. 4) Huge percentages of Americans are either
uninsured or under-insured.
Now letís follow up with some random political perspectives: 1)
Every one in Washington talks about this issue. 2) No one in
Washington does anything about this issue. 3) Wisconsin has a history
of being innovative with programs like Wisconsin Works, and workers'
compensation. 4) These programs were the result of the political art
of compromise. 5) The political art of compromise only appears to be
Somewhere in Madison there are meetings of Democrat and Republican
legislators attempting to pass a budget. At the heart of their
radically different approaches is the Democratsí new initiative
called Healthy Wisconsin. This proposal, which is part of the Senateís
budget, provides universal health care to Wisconsin residents and is
financed by a 10.5 percent tax on the employer and 4 percent on the
employee. The Republicans are adamantly opposed but offer no solution
to the problem.
Maybe Iím the only person in Wisconsin who believes there can be
a meaningful compromise and still address the medical crisis. Hereís
First, letís acknowledge itís a good thing for everyone to have
insurance. A recent poll shows that two-thirds of the people in
Wisconsin are in favor of universal coverage as proposed by Democrats.
If we had this, hospitals would stop losing money on the uninsured.
That cost is passed on to the rest of us. The hospitals would also
lose their argument that, because this amounts to charity, they
shouldnít pay property taxes. If the hospitals paid their fair
share, that also lowers your property taxes.
Medical providers would also be using only one set of claim forms
with one set of rules of eligibility. Since the administrative costs
would go down, that should also lower the cost of your medical
Second, the Republicans criticize the plan because of the added
burden to the small employer. They are absolutely correct! For the
life of me I cannot understand why we look to our employers to pay for
our own health care. One of the reasons for our horrible trade
imbalance is the added cost of health care built into the American
product. Other nations subsidize their business by providing health
care. American businesses canít compete.
Imagine how many corporations would want to move to Wisconsin if
they knew they could operate without this cost. Imagine how many jobs
would flow to our state and how many new and richer taxpayers we would
have. And that would lower your taxes. Unfortunately, the fatal flaw
of Healthy Wisconsin is that it provides significant disincentives to
those who would even start a new business.
Third, letís put the responsibility for oneís health primarily
on the individual and only secondarily on the government. Any
insurance plan should include a relatively high deductible - say
$1,000 or $2,000 per person plus co-pays after that. The patient
suddenly becomes a consumer spending his own money and is far less
likely to have unnecessary procedures and far more likely to ask the
cost. This will further drive the cost of health care down. Because of
this high deductible, letís adopt the Republicansí proposal last
year for tax deductible health savings accounts.
Fourth, the state of Wisconsin provides health insurance to every
legal resident in the state funded by the general revenue funds. The
government already provides health insurance to its employees such as
Republican legislators. Now everyone can have it. This plan would have
incredible buying power in negotiating for medical care and could
pretty much dictate what the cost would be. The cost of medical care
would then go down along with the cost of its insurance.
The Republicans would say this would raise taxes. Personally I am
tired of this thoughtless and repetitive mantra designed to avoid
long-term planning. Itís a "one size fits all" excuse to
do nothing and still get re-elected. As a businessman, I know that
sometimes one needs to spend money in order to make or save money. In
the real world, thatís called investment. Business people also know
that sometimes the cost of overhead goes up and we need to charge more
for our product or services to reflect that. The Republican
legislators apparently donít understand these concepts. Perhaps this
explains why they needed to seek work in government in the first
Fifth, letís find further ways to compromise. Part of this
package could include medical malpractice reform. This would lower a
doctorís cost of malpractice insurance. It would also lessen his
incentive to order unnecessary testing done only to avoid liability.
Perhaps we could mandate that providers tell us their prices so we
could make more informed choices about non-emergency care. All this
would lessen the cost of our health care.
This is only an outline of a compromise. Itís not perfect and I
know it lacks in detail. But I also know that to continue doing
nothing will only intensify this national disaster. Wisconsin now has
the opportunity to lead but can only do so in a bipartisan fashion. So
if you donít like my proposal, speak up; Iím willing to
(Rick Congdon is a former chairman of the Waukesha County
plan would extend care, reduce costs
By JON ERPENBACH
July 10, 2007
it comes to the exploding health care crisis, Wisconsin families,
businesses and local governments can no longer afford the status quo.
Health care spending in Wisconsin has ballooned to more than $42
billion. Every year we see double-digit hikes in our premiums.
Employers and employees, both public and private, shell out more
than $18 billion for health care premiums.
But hereís the good news: Under the state Senateís
"Healthy Wisconsin" plan, that $18 billion number falls to
Thatís $3 billion more in the pockets of families and businesses
Think about the economic power we could generate with families and
business in charge of $3 billion more of their money instead of
sending it to out-of-state drug kingpins or insurance companies.
The plan, which the Senate passed in its version of the state
budget, makes an historic investment in the stateís future by
guaranteeing affordable early screening, standard health care and
prevention to ensure healthier families and future generations.
Most importantly, the benefits you pay for will be there when you
need them. No longer will the people of Wisconsin be held hostage to
the whims of some insurance bureaucrat hiding in a cubicle in
Connecticut, New York or even Illinois.
Wisconsinites get the health care we all need and we save money
from day one. Under "Healthy Wisconsin," $1.3 billion in
local government savings is targeted back for property tax relief and
improved local service.
All Wisconsin residents have the right to the same health care
benefits as members of the state Legislature. These are the same
benefits enjoyed by numerous county and city officials, including
The Senateís "Healthy Wisconsin" reform plan says if itís
something elected officials deserve, itís something our constituents
Under "Healthy Wisconsin," all Wisconsin residents and
employees under 65 are guaranteed health care coverage, regardless of
pre-existing conditions. Coverage will be paid for by a payroll
deduction similar to Social Security of $370 a month for the average
employer and $140 for the average employee. The payroll deduction will
be 4 percent of Social Security wages for employees and 10.5 percent
for employers. Sole proprietors will pay 10 percent.
"Healthy Wisconsin" gives employers who want to offer
care, but are unable because of the outrageous premiums levied against
small businesses, the ability to provide coverage. It also levels the
playing field so huge businesses relying on government programs to pay
for their employeesí health care do not gain a competitive advantage
on the backs of the taxpayers.
Wal-Mart, the worldís largest private employer, leaves Wisconsin
to pay nearly $3 million a year for the health care of more than 1,200
of its employees and their dependents through the stateís BadgerCare
program, enacted under then-Gov. Tommy Thompson to help families in
poverty. Wal-Mart has four times the employees on this state
assistance than any other business in Wisconsin and more than the next
seven employers combined.
If you work hard, pay taxes and play by the rules, itís wrong for
you to go without decent affordable health care.
"Healthy Wisconsin" reduces costs, improves quality and
puts consumers back in control. You and your doctor are in charge with
"Healthy Wisconsin," not some big insurance company or
bureaucrat. You choose your doctor and you choose your provider. You
are in control.
Businesses around the state are big winners from "Healthy
Wisconsin." At a standing-room-only press conference, I was
joined by Deb Carey, the president and founder of the New Glarus
Brewery. Carey talked about how important it was we take this
important step and enact "Healthy Wisconsin." She called it
part of a "common sense revolution."
Mike Rayome, the human resources director from Graphic Packaging in
Wausau, ran the numbers and found his 800-person company saved $4.4
million under our plan. "I was just shocked," Rayome said,
"You have to consider whatís best for the state of Wisconsin
and put partisan politics aside."
And for southeastern Wisconsin, Mike Brady, who serves as benefits
manager for the city of Milwaukee, said health care costs for the city
and its 7,000 employees would drop under "Healthy
Wisconsin." Currently, the city pays $90 million for employee
We held numerous public hearings and traveled across Wisconsin to
develop "Healthy Wisconsin," seeking expertise from and
earning the support of business leaders, community members, local
elected officials, farmers and health care professionals in every
corner of the state.
The goals of this plan are well known. And the benefits speak for
(State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, is serving his third
term in the Legislature and is chair of the Senate Health and Human
takeover of health care the wrong approach
would pinch stateís working class families
By BILL KRAMER
June 29, 2007
is little debate that the current system of financing Americaís
health care faces incredible challenges. Those challenges manifest
themselves as anxiety throughout Wisconsinís homes. Our current
system, that couples our health care to our employment, has seen
rising costs that have squeezed our family budgets.
The system, however, that once shielded families from the costs of
health care - and by extension, health insurance - is now on full
display for too many families who are now feeling those costs and
their upward pressure.
In response, Senate Democrats, led by state Sen. Jon Erpenbach,
D-Madison, introduced a massive government takeover of Wisconsinís
health care system. In ironic measure, it is a government takeover of
a system recently ranked as one of the countryís best in delivery of
The proposal imposes a 14.5 percent payroll tax on businesses -
both large and small - and employees to fund universal, social
coverage. Four percent is to be taken from employee paychecks and 10.5
percent taken from the employer based on his sum-total payroll. This
will amount to a $30 billion tax increase on Wisconsinites in just the
next two years and will indeed require regular and methodical tax
increases to cover the demonstrable projected cost increases.
While it would be easy to antagonize the acerbic reaction to
Hillary Clintonís health care proposal from the early 1990s -
invoking all the fears attendant to losing oneís doctor and choice
of care - on a more fundamental level, this weekís proposal from the
Democrats in the Senate is bad economic policy.
A significant concern should be the effect on our younger, working
families who are already feeling the challenges of balancing work,
family, home ownership, planning for retirement and paying taxes.
Under our current system - with all its faults, whether it is
transparency, lack of portability or challenging bureaucracies - most
familiesí health care costs are largely covered by one personís
policy: mom and children covered by dadís insurance or dad and
children covered by momís insurance.
But under the proposed government administered system in the state
Senateís version of a $66 billion state budget, both working adults
would be subject to this tax burden.
We should be similarly mindful of the collateral effect of this
policy on middle-class familiesí long-term interests such as
planning for their childrenís college, their ability to pay property
taxes and their own retirement.
Remember that all workers already pay roughly 13 percent of our
wages into Social Security, a government run retirement entitlement
that no one is under any delusions will be available - if not outright
bankrupted - by the time our younger generations are ready to retire.
While we may lament the current structure of American health care,
it still reserves unto itself inherent freedoms of choice and
mobility. This proposal both expropriates wages and individual care
options become functions of government.
This policy initiative is neither serious nor substantive - at
least it shouldnít be. The costs, both socially and economically,
are too high. The best health care decisions are those made by you,
your family and your doctor - not by politicians in Madison (or
Washington, D.C.). The key to containing cost isnít government
intervention, but rather, your intervention.
(Bill Kramer of Waukesha is state representative for the 97th
state Assembly district.)
priorities reversed on health care plan
would keep costs down, help state
businesses and employees
By JACK E. LOHMAN
June 29, 2007
Assembly Republicans are absolutely wrong to oppose the state Senateís
Healthy Wisconsin plan, but I suspect they know it and would rather
confuse the public to give them cover to kill the bill. Their
insurance industry contributors will love them for that!
And we wonder why Wisconsin is the third-highest cost state in the
nation for health care? Thank the moneyed interests and the
politicians who open their pockets.
The health care proposal by the state Senate Democrats is a very
reasonable plan. It will replace the 15 percent employers currently
pay for premiums with a 10.5 percent tax on wages. And a 4 percent
employee tax on wages will offset much of what they now pay and still
leave them with a net 15 percent savings. Of course the Wal-Marts of
the world will have to start paying their share, and sending their
employees to our taxpayer funded BadgerCare will no longer be an
The public and most business leaders are behind this plan. The
stateís Republicans and insurance industry are not. But some of the
business associations oppose it because they both have insurance
industry members and they sell insurance policies to their members. So
much for an unbiased debate on that side.
The state Senate health care plan will decrease corporate costs and
attract companies and jobs to Wisconsin. Not the reverse as the
Republicans erroneously claim. It leaves some services for the
insurance industry to provide, but not at the same level of profit
they are accustomed to, so their opposition is understandable.
This plan will eliminate the issues of changing jobs with
pre-existing diseases, and paying for COBRA between jobs, so itís a
win-win for the stateís economy.
The Canadian horror stories the Republicans spew are simply untrue.
More than 80 percent of Canadians prefer their system to ours, and
their medical outcomes are better than ours. It is admittedly
underfunded and they have wait times for non-urgent procedures, but
the state Senate proposal is not underfunded as the Republicans will
quickly charge. In a survey of 18,000 Canadians only twenty - TWENTY -
purposely traveled to the United States for care that was non-urgent.
We enjoy the best physicians, hospitals and technology, but our
method of providing health care is the most inefficient in the world
because 31 percent of our costs are total waste created by the
insurance bureaucracy. This is money that should instead be spent on
patient care, and the Democratic plan fixes that.
But we have politicians who receive massive campaign contributions
from the insurance companies who want to retain the status quo. And
some even want to switch to a high deductible system having tax
write-offs which will benefit the wealthy but poorly provide for the
Like the early HMO system that failed, health savings accounts will
go down in flames when patients who defer care until it is untreatable
start costing more rather than less.
All of this brings up a major problem in Wisconsin politics. And it
is bipartisan. When these issues are being debated, wouldnít it be
nice to know that the politicians on the opposing side are not taking
cash from the industry being affected? Campaign finance reform must be
the Legislatureís next agenda item, but that too, is not a
Perhaps killing the health care bill is what we need to guaranty a
Democratic win in the state Assembly, too. And while I am an
old-version Republican, sometimes your own kidsí hands must be
slapped before they learn.
The Republicans have simply not gotten the message yet. Maybe they
will in 2008.
(Lohman is a retired business owner from Colgate and a founding
member of www.BusinessCoalition.net.
He authored "Politicians - Owned and Operated by Corporate
America" and can be reached at email@example.com.)
district out of budget woes
should get tough with union,
redistrict, close schools - for starters
By CHRIS LUFTER
June 15, 2007
to some misleading comments made in Pete Kennedyís column last week,
the Waukesha Taxpayers League would like to set the record straight
regarding our position on school funding and the Waukesha School
The WTL has acknowledged that the budget reductions year after year
are starting to take their toll on programs. The budget shortfalls
have been brought about by two things - salary and benefits increasing
faster than the allowed revenue and the unwillingness of our school
board to negotiate tough with the unions. There is a tendency to point
fingers at transportation, utilities etc. for the growth in the
budget, but reality is that salaries and benefits account for
three-fourths of the budget. For more detail on salary increases in
the Waukesha School District, see our salary study on our Web site, www.waukeshataxpayersleague.com.
The solution for the budget problem isnít an easy one and lies at
the state and local level.
Currently, there is a movement throughout the state that involves
teachers unions, school boards, student groups and like-minded
citizens groups to push for a solution by 2009. This reform is
centered on figuring out how much it should cost to educate a child,
then requiring the state and local property taxes to pay for it.
Additionally, new taxes would be passed on to agricultural land and
businesses. Most, if not all, plans look to eliminate the current
funding formula and the referendum provision.
The funding formula is a three-legged balancing act - the qualified
economic offer, revenue caps and two-thirds funding. The QEO caps
salary and benefit increases to 3.8 percent (this does not actually
limit salaries and benefits to 3.8 percent). The revenue caps allow
spending to increase by 2 percent with adjustments for
increased/decreased enrollment (also not representative of actual
budgetary increases). The two-thirds funding requires the state to pay
two-thirds of educational costs statewide. This doesnít mean that
every district receives two-thirds. Why? The state constitution
mandates that educational funding shall be as close to equal statewide
as possible. This is the mechanism that removes $1.30 from the
Waukesha School District for every $1 it receives. Since two-thirds
funding began, the percentage of state aid to the Waukesha School
District has doubled to 45 percent of the budget. The state is now
experiencing problems maintaining two-thirds funding. In order for the
state to increase school spending above the current level of 40
percent, the state will need to seek new or increased tax revenues.
Keeping all that in mind, the WTL believes that the QEO and revenue
caps need to be brought in line with each other. The state also needs
to pass legislation that would give school boards more freedom in
negotiations and arbitration. One such example is Assembly Bill 110.
This would allow school boards to unilaterally change insurance
carriers as long as the coverage is the same without going to
arbitration. Rep. Bill Kramerís proposed amendment would allow the
savings to go back into the classroom and not back into the QEO
calculations as currently required while leaving the insurance
coverage the same.
These reforms do not need a joint resolution at the state level to
make them happen. If the supporters of educational reform by 2009 were
truly serious, they would do it now. Putting the fix off for two years
and waiting additional time for it to be implemented is disingenuous
at best and does nothing for children.
Acknowledging that the solution from the state is probably not in
the near future due to two very different agendas, the fixes must come
from the local level. The WTL would like to see our school board
successfully negotiate with the union a substantial insurance
concession and a slowdown in the salary table so that salaries cannot
increase as fast as they have been. If they cannot successfully
negotiate the changes, the school board needs to seriously consider
taking the union to arbitration. The Wisconsin Association of Schools
Boards recommends the arbitration process if a school board is
eliminating staff to pay for salary and benefit increases.
Our school board has talked about other money saving items and has
yet to act on them. Of highest priority, the district needs to close
two schools - Pleasant Hill and Saratoga elementary schools. The board
must redistrict with the sole intention of reducing transportation
costs. This needs to include using the taxpayer-funded city Metro
system to the maximum extent possible. Currently, the school board has
allowed a school to operate with less than 200 students while other
schools are experiencing a space crunch. Redistricting isnít a
popular thing for parents but neither is wasteful spending at the
expense of programs and staff.
Other ideas that need to be researched with the intent to do them
are: outsourcing custodial, maintenance and groundskeeping, reducing
administration in our high schools, combining the curriculum and
instruction director with the iQ Academies director, requiring all
non-bargained employees to contribute to their insurance plans, and
working with other school districts to reduce costs. By getting
creative, the school board can come up with reasonable cost reductions
that students will never feel.
The WTL would like stronger leadership coming from the Waukesha
School Board. All debate has come from special interest groups,
including us. The school board needs a plan other than cutting
programs until a referendum is passed. The leadership plan must
include tough negotiations, elimination of inefficient tax dollar
spending and working with our state representatives on sound
legislation to protect students and taxpayers. Until true leadership
exists from our school board, we doubt a referendum will ever pass.
(Chris Lufter is president of the Waukesha Taxpayers League.)
all students can reach standards
English proficiency must not be a barrier to learning
By MARGARET SPELLINGS
June 12, 2007
No Child Left Behind Act has raised the academic bar for all children,
including 5 million limited English proficient students. It is
important that their assessments help them clear it ("Fedsí
language rule leaves Waukesha schools in limbo," May 22).
The issue is how to get all students to read at grade level,
regardless of their ethnicity or country of origin. That is the
promise of NCLB. The law calls for schools to "help limited
English proficient children meet the same challenging standards as all
children are expected to meet."
It is heartening to see our children meet them. Nationwide, reading
scores for LEP fourth-graders increased by 20 points from 1999 to
2004, more than three times their peersí average, according to the
National Assessment of Educational Progress. Achievement gaps in
reading and math between white and Hispanic 9-year-olds have shrunk to
record lows. Seventy percent of Wisconsinís Hispanic third-graders
scored proficient on the Wisconsin Reading Comprehension Test in 2005,
compared to just 45 percent in 1998.
Of course, reasonable allowances can and should be made for
test-takers. LEP students may be exempted from the reading test if
theyíve attended U.S. schools for less than 12 months. States may
provide accommodations such as additional time, oral translation, or
the use of a bilingual dictionary. It should be added that districts
will not lose federal funds because of studentsí test scores, as
your piece implied.
Your article also points a finger at the U.S. Department of
Education for disallowing Wisconsinís native language assessment for
LEP students. But Wisconsin dropped the test on its own. A separate,
alternate test for LEP students was found by two independent peer
reviews to have problems with its quality and standards. We offered
technical assistance to help Wisconsin correct them. Moreover,
Wisconsin is a participant in the LEP Partnership, which provides
workshops to help states improve reading and math assessments for LEP
Yes, taking a test can be frustrating. But nothing is more
frustrating than being denied a good job because of poor reading
skills. I believe that LEP students, two-thirds of whom were born in
the United States, can achieve at high levels with the right
leadership and guidance. And Iím confident that Wisconsin and its
schools can provide it.
(Margaret Spellings serves as secretary of the U.S. Department
device will pay off in many ways
By TED KANAVAS
June 8, 2007
you had an opportunity to significantly advance the research for a
cure for Alzheimerís, Parkinsonís, multiple sclerosis, Huntingtonís,
attention deficit disorder, brain tumors and other neurological
disorders, while expanding Wisconsinís private economy at the same
time, would you take it? Of course you would, any of us would.
That is the question being put to the Legislature. The state has a
unique opportunity to bring a piece of equipment to the Medical
College of Wisconsin that could be instrumental in advancing research
in all of the above diseases. Whether we choose to spend money to do
that or not, those are the kind of decisions facing the Legislature
The 7 TESLA (7T) magnet, one of only four in the world, is a
cutting-edge brain imaging device that could be located in the
neuroscience core of the Medical College of Wisconsinís
Translational Research Center. Needless to say, the possibility of
having this piece of equipment in Wisconsin would provide short- and
long-term benefits to the public health of our state and the nation.
The 7T magnet will be used not only by the medical college, but by
other research institutions around the clock for research into
In addition to that direct benefit, it would also act as a magnet
(if you will pardon the pun) for federal research grants, which create
jobs and spin-off technologies. Prominent scientists will relocate to
Wisconsin to be near this technology. The ripple effect on our
burgeoning biotechnology economy will be the shot in the arm that
Wisconsin needs. One of the things Wisconsin is well-known for
nationally is being on the cutting edge of biotechnology. The
University of Wisconsin-Madisonís status as a world leader in
biotechnology is a source of pride for everyone who lives in
Wisconsin. Southeastern Wisconsin recently fought and won for GE
Healthcareís expansion in the area. This will have a similar ripple
effect by attracting other businesses to the area that are related to
The more of these magnets or hubs we can attract to Wisconsin, or
encourage to expand once they get here, the more our economy grows.
Growth in sectors of the private economy other than manufacturing and
agriculture helps our state economy expand in nontraditional areas.
This expansion helps create building blocks for a thriving economy
that attracts and retains bright people in Wisconsin.
Of course, there is a cost to the state for this technology. As a
member of the Building Commission, I recently voted in favor of
spending $10 million to secure the 7T magnet for Wisconsin.
I am generally opposed to new spending in this budget since the
state is already operating with a $2 billion budget deficit. However,
I see the 7T magnet project as an investment rather than the usual
increased state spending. The revenues generated should far outpace
the original investment.
The state budget, like your household budget, is all about
priorities. There are plenty of other places in the budget to cut
spending and I will be voting for many budget cuts as the process
continues. However, the opportunity to invest in our economy and, more
importantly, the health of people in Wisconsin, is too great to pass
(State Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, represents the 33rd
needs health insurance
By PATRICK SCHMITT
May 10, 2007
Congress talks about health care policy, everyone agrees on two
points: the first is that health care costs are spiraling out of
control and the second is that every potential solution to this
problem is expensive - very expensive. As health care prices have
surged, so have the number of uninsured Americans, now more than 46
Without health insurance, many families must forgo routine
checkups, crossing their fingers that their children will stay
healthy. If their son or daughter catches a cold, they will wait to
see if their symptoms will go away. But when those symptoms linger or
get worse, many must take their kids to the emergency room for help.
If a common cold turns into pneumonia, what would have been a simple,
cheap fix if caught early, mushrooms into a complicated, lengthy and
For almost a decade, the State Children's Health Insurance Program
(SCHIP) has enabled many working parents to care for the health of
their children with regular checkups, which often catch illnesses
before they grow serious. However, as the number of uninsured
Americans has grown, this successful program has been stretched to its
limits. Further, without Congressional action, this efficient,
cost-saving program will expire at the end of the year. We can't let
It is time for Congress to put our country on a path to insuring
all of its children. Simply funding SCHIP at its decade-old level
won't do. Currently, more than 1.5 million children are at risk of
losing their coverage over the next five years. Congress must provide
the funding necessary to prevent any loss in coverage.
Congress must also do a better job of helping the states cover more
children. Eleven states, including Wisconsin, have expanded SCHIP
coverage to adults with children. Wisconsin's program, called
BadgerCare, has used the SCHIP funds to extend coverage to hundreds of
thousands of children and parents since its implementation in 1997.
Currently, over 66,000 individuals are served by BadgerCare, which has
won praise from policy makers and beneficiaries alike for its
efficiency and ease-of-use.
SCHIP has been an unparalleled success and a model for health
insurance coverage that both Democrats and Republicans can be proud
of. That is why we need to work in a bipartisan matter to reauthorize
SCHIP before it expires at the end of September. We must give SCHIP
enough money to maintain coverage for those whom it already serves and
we must work to reach the millions of uninsured children now left
The initial price tag may seem steep, but in the long run it will
save money. By catching and treating childhood illnesses early, we
will save money that will undoubtedly be spent on emergency care. More
importantly, we will give our children a healthy start to a long,
successful and happy life. That's something everyone in Congress
should agree on too.
(Herb Kohl is a U.S. senator from Wisconsin.)
The soft skills
more often seek these abilities
By PATRICK SCHMITT
May 9, 2007
had its 40th anniversary this year, and the mission of the campus
during that time has remained much the same: to offer the first two
years of a University of Wisconsin education, focusing on what is
generally known as "the liberal arts." In recent years, the
reputation of the liberal arts has gone up and down. Weíve seen a
tremendous focus on professional and technical education. At the same
time, weíve heard questions raised as to whether we need to educate
people in the liberal arts at all.
To answer these questions, we need to know what we mean by
"the liberal arts." The liberal arts is a broad, deep,
comprehensive study, including such subjects as history, philosophy,
languages, the arts, and the social sciences, as well as a firm
grounding in the natural sciences and the mathematics necessary to
understand both the natural and the social world.
What does this education do for a person, outside of the knowledge
specific to each subject? What synergies are created by studying these
subjects, and what outcomes can we expect to see?
An education in the liberal arts is the best way of giving students
what are sometimes called "the soft skills." These are the
skills that weíre hearing from employers that they really want in
their employees, and that, all too often, theyíre not finding.
Communication is the most fundamental of the soft skills - the
ability to communicate in both speech and writing, as well as the
ability to listen. If you canít talk and write clearly, and canít
listen, you canít be effective in an organization.
Good communication leads directly to the second skill. Employers
are looking for people who can work effectively in teams. For this,
employees need to know how to get along with a diverse group of
people, and how to give orders and how to take orders. They also need
the ability to analyze problems in a team environment.
Analyzing problems leads into the third of the soft skills, and in
some ways, the most important: critical thinking. Critical thinking is
not just the ability to solve problems. I heard a speaker recently
point out that our students know how to solve problems - theyíve
been busy solving problems from kindergarten on. What the liberal arts
can teach students is how to understand what the problems are and how
to set up the best ways to solve them.
A strong liberal arts education is the best way weíve ever found
to teach these skills. The president of Oakton Community College said
in a recent New York Times article that "You donít prepare
someone in this time of rapid change for a single job. You prepare
them for a working life. The old academic skills are the new
vocational skills." And "the old academic skills" are
precisely what the education we give at UW-Waukesha is good at.
The soft skills are good not only for preparing people for a life
of change in their work, theyíre also the best at preparing people
for living and working globally. "The world is flat," we
hear a lot nowadays. The soft skills are essential for people who live
and work in an era of globalization.
The soft skills are a lot harder to provide than people think.
UW-Waukesha has been doing an impressive job for 40 years giving both
its students and the businesses who employ them the skills necessary
for success. Here at the university, weíre looking forward to
another 40 years of service and success in providing a great education
for a changing world.
(Patrick Schmitt is the dean/CEO of the University of
for school funding shortfalls
is in hands of local districts
By MARY LAZICH
April 19, 2007
her open letter to Sen. Ted Kanavas and me on March 1, Peggy Bull says
the school system is disintegrating daily, "the fault of a policy
from Madison that creates a budget deficit each year." Like Bull,
I care deeply about the quality of our school system. However, to
affix blame to Madison is categorically unfair. In fact, Madison has
been extremely generous in its funding of public schools in Wisconsin.
Education is the key to personal success and individual personal
success is the key to our countryís success. During the 2005-06
legislative session, area legislators voted for the single greatest
increase in public education funding in Wisconsin history. When Bull
writes that we have to "stop this annual gutting of our
schools," she is sadly mistaken. The Legislature always increases
funding for education. Not one legislator in Madison has ever taken
action to gut our schools.
A report by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute ... reveals
statewide kindergarten through 12th-grade spending averaged $9,228 per
student during the 2000-2001 school year. That amount is above the
national average of $7,985 per student and above the regional average
of $8,602 per student.
Historically, Wisconsinís education generosity has been
consistent and growing. State support through general school aids for
K-12 education grew from $2.2 billion in 1993-94 to slightly more than
$5.3 billion in 2006-07, increasing by $3.1 billion in just 13 years.
These increases in spending on public education, ranging from 1
percent to 33 percent per year, stand out in stark contrast to the
rate of inflation that was between 1.6 percent and 3.4 percent in
recent years. Elementary and secondary school aids constitute
approximately 90 percent of state funding for K-12 public education,
consuming a larger portion of state tax dollars than any other
Wisconsinís teacher-pupil ratio is higher than in other states.
According to the WPRI report, Wisconsin school districts employ 11.6
percent more teachers than the national average and 13.9 percent more
than the surrounding states. Wisconsin had 1.73 teachers for every 25
students compared to the national average of 1.55 in 2000. Wisconsin
had more than twice the national average of instructional
coordinators, 43 percent more school librarians, 40 percent more
support staff and 3 percent more principals and assistant principals.
A closer examination of the money once it leaves Madison and
arrives in the coffers of the local school district is rather
enlightening. The WPRI report notes that a significant area of K-12
spending was employee salaries and benefits. Wisconsin school
districts paid benefits totaling 36.4 percent of salaries and wages,
higher than the national average of 25.5 percent and regional average
of 28 percent. The report also revealed that the higher benefits could
be compensating for lower pay. Average teacher pay and benefits during
1999-2000 in Wisconsin were 7.2 percent above the national average;
however, the average Wisconsin teacher salary was $41,153, or 1.4
percent below that national norm. Overall, average worker earnings in
Wisconsin were 14.8 percent below the national average, revealing that
teachers do considerably better than most Wisconsin workers.
Expensive fringe benefits have a tremendous effect on local school
district costs. The nonpartisan Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance analyzed
the impact and found that total general operating expenditures for all
school districts in 2001-02 equaled $7.17 billion. Salaries and
benefits together equaled $5.08 billion, or 71 percent, of all general
operating expenditures. Within the benefits category, health and other
insurance types totaled about $840.3 million, or 57.5 percent of
benefits. Employee retirement accounted for $350.8 million and Social
Security and related taxes accounted for $271.3 million.
Although state law requires public employers to pay half of
employee retirement contribution, close to 100 percent of these
expenses was actually paid by school employers, rather than by
employees. School districts and the state have and will continue to
face increasing pressure from the rising cost of health insurance that
can have a direct impact on the type, quality and amount of offerings
in the classroom.
Bullís concerns about school district cuts are best addressed to
her superintendent and school board members who rightly have local
control over allocating education funding. The state has certainly
done its part by generously fueling the education tank. How the
education vehicle is then operated and maintained is up to local
school administrators. The claim that our school districts are
disintegrating is hyperbole. Blaming the Legislature for school
decisions made at the local level is wrong.
(State Sen. Mary Lazich, R-New Berlin, represents the 28th
District. She can be reached by e-mail at Sen.Lazich@legis.wi.gov,
by mail at Sen. Mary Lazich, State Capitol, P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI
53707 or by phone at (800) 334-1442.)
important to you?
funding situation puts community on shaky ground
By JOSEPH COMO JR.
March 27, 2007
a lifelong resident of Waukesha, Iím very proud to call Waukesha my
home. My wife and I have two children currently enrolled in the
Waukesha School District, and we are actively involved with their
education, Scouting, church and the community in general. As owner of
a business located in Waukesha, I hire talented local employees and
pay business taxes. As vice president of the Waukesha School Board, Iím
passionate about providing an excellent education for the children of
Great schools are the cornerstone of a thriving community: keeping
the crime rate low, providing qualified labor for local businesses,
preparing the next generation of leaders, improving property values,
etc. As a citizen, parent, employer and school board member, Iím
deeply concerned about the state of public education, how it will
affect our community and the lack of understanding of the situation.
* The problem - funding: In 1993, to control rising property taxes,
the state enacted the qualified economic offer and revenue limits. By
law, school districts are required to pay an additional 3.8 percent to
teachers in salary and benefits each year while capping additional
revenues at 2.2 percent annually. This creates a 1.6 percent deficit
each year, FOREVER. This amounts to approximately a $3 million to $4
million deficit for the Waukesha School District each year, FOREVER.
Do you plan to spend more than you take in each year for your
household or your business? How does this make sense?
The good news is that my personal property taxes (for the school
district) have gone down substantially while living in the same house
- $2,410 in 1993 and $1,454 in 2006. Take a close look at your taxes -
it went down for you, too.
* The reality: There are only two ways for a school district to
close this gap created by state law - decrease expenses (through
program reductions and employee contracts); or increase revenues (with
the referendum being the only practical tool given to school
* Managing the gap: For the past 14 years (since 1993), the
district closed this state-mandated gap through program reductions,
refinanced debt and a successful 2001 referendum. This referendum
temporarily hedged the gap between expenses and revenues. Over the
past six years, program reductions totaled $9,804,455 and an
additional $3,422,400 is scheduled for next year, for a grand total of
* 2007-08 program reductions: secondary class size average
increases to 29, elementary average class size increases to 28,
eliminate elementary guidance counselors, eliminate
gifted-and-talented staff, eliminate elementary librarians, reduce
band and orchestra, eliminate technology resource teachers, reduce
special education staff, eliminate energy program manager (which saved
more than $4 million in the last few years). All of these reductions
hurt our students.
* Why program reductions?: There is very little control at the
local level as federal and state government continue to create and
change laws without determining the fiscal impact on schools. These
are referred to as unfunded mandates. There are too many to count, but
Iíll give you one example - special education. Back in the 1970s,
the federal government promised to pay 70 percent of the costs of
special education. Today, the federal and state government combined
pays only about 33 percent while the remaining amount comes from the
districtís general operating fund.
In addition to numerous unfunded mandates, there are laws that
really restrict the ability of the school board to properly govern.
Perhaps the QEO and revenue limits were necessary back in the early
1990s to control property taxes, but these laws are the primary reason
for continuous program reductions in the Waukesha School District.
* Beyond restrictions: Employee contracts are the only other manner
in which expenses can be reduced. I have many constituents who ask me,
"Why doesnít the district provide less expensive health
coverage to teachers?" The answer also lies with the QEO, for
every dollar that is saved in health coverage, it goes to increase the
teacherís salary. Yes, this is true for up to a 3.8 percent
salary-and-benefits package. Typically the next question is, "Why
donít you offer the teachers less than a 3.8 percent package?"
Teachers cannot strike or arbitrate their contract if they have a 3.8
percent offer. However, they can go to arbitration if the offer is
less. Unfortunately, arbitration laws are written such that school
districts are at an extreme disadvantage. Thatís why you donít see
districts taking this approach.
The only other "practical" tool made available is the
referendum. This community spoke loud and clear in 2005 - donít
raise my taxes! Program reductions of more than $8.3 million are a
directly attributed to the failed referendum.
I challenge this community, each and every person, to truly ask
what is important to you. Do you want excellent schools leading to
increased property values, low crime, great employees and leaders etc.
or something less?
Next month, the school board will be formulating the reductions for
2008-09 to assist this community in planning. Several board members
already stated that we can no longer just chip away at athletics and
co-curricular activities, but rather need to eliminate them. What will
13,000-plus students do if these programs are eliminated? This is not
a scare tactic; this is reality.
So I ask myself, "Am I insane?" or is this an insane
situation that Iím just trying to alert the public to? Excellent
education is the foundation of every great community. Letís keep it
that way in Waukesha.
(Joseph Como Jr. is vice president of the Waukesha School
structure, lack of productivity increase in schools, accountability
gap all factor into troubling equation
By GENE SMILEY
March 19, 2007
his column of March 3, "Full speed ahead down wrong path,"
Pete Kennedy argued that cuts to the public school systemís budget
have gone too far. I think it would be instructive to look at the
roots of those current budget problems to place them in context.
First consider the Hortonville strike of 1973-74 - a bitter and
prolonged strike where the school board fired all the striking
teachers. Concerned about such illegal strikes and under pressure from
the Wisconsin Education Association Council, the Wisconsin Legislature
passed the mandatory binding arbitration law, which required that
arbitrators take the wages and benefits of surrounding school
districts into consideration when choosing between the school boardís
offer and the teacher unionís offer. In practice, this led to
arbitrators considering the salaries and benefits of the highest
paying school district in the area, setting off a spiraling rise of
salaries and benefits in school districts around Wisconsin. This, of
course, led school boards to be more generous in their offers, further
exacerbating the problems. The rapidly rising real salaries (wages and
benefits) in school districts led to rapidly rising property taxes for
the local school districts. Without effective competition, school
boards simply passed on the rising real costs to the taxpayers because
the electoral process is an extremely ineffective and slow method of
reflecting the voices and preferences of the voters - the property
The rising real wages and benefits of public school teachers have
continued even after the qualified economic offer and budget
limitations in the 1990s. The percentage increase in teacher salaries
applies to the schedule of salary steps for teachers. However, each
additional year of experience moves a teacher up a step, providing an
additional salary increase. The completion of additional hours toward
an advanced degree or completion of an advanced degree also moves a
teacher up a step, providing additional salary increases. So generally
the percentage salary increase will be significantly more than the
reported percentage increase in salaries - except for teachers who
have reached the maximum number of years on the salary step scale.
Thus, the reported percentage increases understate how much the real
budgets must increase.
Now, real increases in wages and benefits would be no problem if
they were accompanied by productivity increases. Productivity
increases could keep the tax burden the same at the same time that
real wages and benefits were rising. Consider the worries about the
demise of the manufacturing sector in the United States. Manufacturing
as a percent of total economic activity (gross domestic product) has
not declined over the last 30 plus years, but the percentage of the
labor force engaged in manufacturing has consistently declined over
this period. This is because manufacturing - like agriculture - has
shown a remarkably consistent trend of productivity increases,
allowing fewer and fewer workers to produce as much or more than was
previously produced. This trend is, in fact, seen in all the developed
If productivity had increased in the public schools, then the
higher and higher real wages and benefits of teachers, staff and
administrators could have been absorbed without increasing the real
total costs of education and the real property tax bills for public
education would not have increased. Unfortunately, that is not the
case. There is no evidence of any significant increase in productivity
in the public schools at any time in the last 30 years.
Accountability in public education is also notably lacking. All
teachers who have, say, the same number of yearsí experience, the
same number of hours of education past the bachelorís degree and the
same advanced degrees will receive exactly the same wage and benefits.
It doesnít matter whether a person teaches English, woodworking,
science, math, computer science, or any other subject - they all
receive the same rates of pay, even though it may be far harder to
recruit someone to teach, say, science than English. As a result there
is no effort to judge public school teachers on merit. Whether one was
a "good," "average," or "poor" teacher
is completely irrelevant to determining salary increases. Iíve heard
it said that the presumption is that every teacher who makes it past
the short probationary period is, by definition, a "good"
teacher. Therefore, judging teachers by merit is irrelevant and
The end result of these factors was a significant increase in the
real costs of public school education and in the public school
property tax burden on taxpayers, year after year, from the late 1970s
through the mid-1990s. And, the publicís growing unhappiness and
increasing complaints about this were finally heard in Madison. If a
school system allows costs (primarily personnel costs) to continue to
rise at a more rapid rate in real terms than they can pass on to the
communityís taxpayers, then they have to cut programs and personnel.
It is a straightforward and simple proposition - though it is also a
painful and controversial process.
(Gene Smiley, a Waukesha resident, is professor emeritus of
economics at Marquette University.)
hit by reduction
in child support enforcement
By HERB KOHL
March 14, 2007
support payments are often the only rope holding a child above the
poverty line. Now imagine that the successful federal program binding
that rope is cut, so severely that one Wisconsin community must resort
to holding a raffle to fill the hole left in their budget. Hard to
imagine? But thatís exactly what happened when the president signed
a law that slashed federal funding for child support enforcement. The
child support enforcement program collects outstanding payments and
funds other activities aimed at getting child support to the families
who need it. The cut left thousands of Wisconsinís children, relying
on child support payments for basic necessities, dangling by a thread.
I fought against that legislation because I thought it would hurt
Wisconsin families. Now we are seeing its toll. A Feb. 15 article in
the Ashland Daily Press detailed the negative impact the child support
enforcement cuts will have on state and county budgets. The numbers
are disturbing. Nationally, more than $8 billion in child support owed
by non-custodial parents will go uncollected over the next decade.
That figure, from the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office, is
misleading, because it assumes that every state will be able to step
in and make up for half of the funding cut. If cash-strapped states
are unable to fill the gap, it is estimated that nearly $17 billion
will go uncollected and never reach the families that need it.
Wisconsin has been hit harder than most. Why? Amazingly, the answer
lies in the success that our state has demonstrated in its child
support program. While the national program collects $4.10 for every
federal dollar spent - a success by any measure for a federal program
- Wisconsin collects, on average, about $6. The federal government
rewarded the efforts of Wisconsinís child support agencies with
incentive payments, allowing for even greater investments in our
program. The cuts target these incentives - penalizing our state for
I have heard directly from Wisconsin child support enforcement
agencies on how these cuts will affect them. I was stunned that La
Crosse County officials held a raffle to help support their child
support agency. I applaud their hard work and initiative in their
effort to care for the children who need these child support payments.
And I applaud Governor Doyleís efforts to help fill the gap. But it
is not enough.
I recently introduced bipartisan legislation to reverse these
extremely harmful cuts and restore federal funding to child support
enforcement. I hope to work with my colleagues in the Senate, on both
sides of the aisle, and with the rest of Wisconsinís congressional
delegation to get this legislation passed.
Restoring these cuts is the right thing to do. It will help our
state; it will help our counties. Most importantly, however, it will
help hardworking, single-parent Wisconsin families. I believe we can
do better. I believe we can, and should, continue to reward a
successful program. It is our responsibility in Congress to do what we
can to help the families of Wisconsin, and I hope my colleagues will
join me in supporting legislation that will do exactly that.
(Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., has represented Wisconsin in the Senate
A naturally good
stewardship fund needs legislative support
By SPENCER BLACK
February 26, 2007
July 1990, we held a small ceremony next to the Albany wildlife area
to celebrate the first purchase of the Warren Knowles-Gaylord Nelson
Stewardship Fund. That acquisition protected 194 acres of wetlands and
forests including the habitat of an endangered plant and springs
feeding the Little Sugar River. That was the first parcel of land
protected by the stewardship fund, but certainly not the last. Since
1990, the fund has protected almost half a million acres of the best
of whatís left of outdoor Wisconsin.
When I developed the stewardship fund, I was guided by the belief
that we have an obligation to future generations to be wise stewards
of our natural resources. The stewardship fund is a major investment
by the people of Wisconsin to preserve our stateís natural heritage
by expanding our state parks and forests, preserving habitat for
endangered species and wildlife and providing new opportunities for
I was also guided by the legacy and advice of former governors
Gaylord Nelson, a Democrat, and Warren Knowles, a Republican. They
worked together to develop and pass the stewardship fund. Todayís
politicians could learn from their example. The fund is appropriately
named in their honor.
Gov. Jim Doyle has wisely included a provision in his budget bill
to reauthorize the stewardship fund for another 10 years. Doyle is
honoring not just the work of governors Nelson and Knowles, but also
Tommy Thompson, who signed the fund into law, and Governor McCallum,
who approved its expansion.
Development pressures and changing land ownership has made the fund
more important than ever. Without the stewardship fund, many of the
best remaining natural areas in our state would be lost. By protecting
these areas, we are helping to ensure that Wisconsin citizens and
visitors in the future will still have the opportunities to enjoy
outdoor recreation and the beauty and solitude that still remain in
Skyrocketing land prices, especially in rapidly developing areas,
have seriously eroded the buying power of the stewardship fund. Doyle
has prudently adjusted the fund in his budget bill to maintain its
Areas protected by the fund include the 40,000-acre Turtle-Flambeau
Flowage, the Lower Wisconsin Riverway, with its magnificent sandstone
bluffs, sandbar islands and biologically rich shore lands; and tens of
thousands of acres of our northern forests. The fund has been used to
protect the last undeveloped section of the Wisconsin Dells, helped to
lengthen the Ice Age Trail, build bike trails, save some of the last
wild lakes in northern Wisconsin, expand state forests and parks like
Devilís Lake, Potawatomi and the Kettle Moraine, and assist
communities all around the state to save open space and create new
We have an obligation to future generations to protect the scenic
beauty, recreational opportunity, biological diversity and wildlife
that make Wisconsin so special. The Legislature should reauthorize the
stewardship fund so that our kids and their kids will continue to be
able to enjoy Wisconsinís magnificent natural heritage.
(State Rep. Spencer Black, D-Madison, represents the 77th
Assembly District. He is the legislative author of the Warren
Knowles-Gaylord Nelson Stewardship Fund.)
events honor environmentalist Aldo Leopold
By NEAL KEDZIE
February 20, 2007
Leopold is Wisconsinís best-loved environmentalist, and most of us
know him as the author of "A Sand County Almanac." Leopold
was a renowned scientist and conservationist professor at the
University of Wisconsin-Madison for many years, and his work,
including the publication of his book on game management, established
him as father of the profession of wildlife ecology in America. In
2004, I sponsored and shepherded through a bill designating the first
full weekend of each March as Aldo Leopold Weekend in Wisconsin.
Many of Leopoldís accomplishments are not even known by those who
now benefit most from them. For example, Leopold was instrumental in
the creation of Wisconsinís archery-only deer hunting season.
Sportsmen across the state had been pushing for a bow hunting season
prior to 1931 when permission was granted to allow bow hunting during
the gun deer season. At that point, Leopold and other influential
archers across the state joined forces with the Wisconsin Archery
Association to petition for a separate archery-only season, a move
that was made in 1934, when Wisconsin became the first state in the
country to allow such a season.
That same year, Leopold and other conservation activists worked to
create the Conservation Congress, which consists of 360 citizen
delegates, who are interested in hunting, fishing, clean water and
other resource issues. The group meets once each spring in meetings
open to the public to discuss ideas and listen to the will of the
people. It is my hope that in time, Leopold observations in Wisconsin
will rise to the magnitude of Earth Day celebrations. Over the past
few years the list of Wisconsin communities who have participated in
Aldo Leopold Weekend has grown to 20. Events range from annual reading
events during the first weekend in March where people come together to
read aloud and discuss Leopoldís "Sand County Almanac," to
organized hikes through scenic conservation areas and even fly-fishing
With the high concentration of lakes, moraines, marshes and other
gorgeous natural resources in our area, I believe organizing a number
of similar events in our area during the first weekend in March is a
wonderful addition to those already paying homage to Leopold. There
are a few area events already in the works for this year. First,
Retzer Nature Center in the town of Waukesha will be holding a reading
and a dramatic first-person portrayal of Leopold and an outdoor
Leopold Land Exploration, showing how the ideas of Leopold are put
Also March 3 is a book discussion of "A Sand County
Almanac" at the Lake Geneva Public Library. The winners of
"Nature and Me," a Leopold-inspired illustration and poetry
contest, will also be announced at this event.
The Department of Natural Resources is sponsoring a hike to view
the spectacular vistas of the Scuppernong River Habitat Preservation
Area. This area is one of more than 400 state natural areas found in
Wisconsin. It features a wet prairie habitat. Those attending the hike
will hear about how Leopold and other prominent conservationists
created the stateís natural area program.
An evening walk or snowshoe at Kishwauketoe Preserve in Williams
Bay is scheduled at 7:30 p.m. This is the second year the
Walworth/Jefferson chapter of the Ice Age Trail Foundation is
organizing a hike in recognition of the Aldo Leopold Weekend.
Finally, the Nature Conservancy will also be holding a guided hike
tour through Lulu Lake Conservation Area. The hike will include a
discussion of the Nature Conservancyís conservation goals, work
protecting the unique fish and plants of the Mukwonago River Watershed
and their work combating invasive species that threaten the native
species in the area and throughout Wisconsin.
To find additional events in Wisconsin and around the country,
visit the Aldo Leopold Foundation Web site at: http://www.aldoleopold.org/Weekend/weekend_events.htm
I recognize that the date is nearing, but Iím hoping we can still
put together additional events and then watch this celebration grow
over the years into a major annual event for our area. If you or your
group are interested in sponsoring an event, or you would like more
information on the events listed in this column, please contact my
Capitol office at (800) 578-1457 or by e-mail at: Sen.Kedzie@legis.wisconsin.gov.
(State Sen. Neal Kedzie, R-town of La Grange, represents the
11th District, which includes portions of Waukesha, Jefferson,
Walworth and Kenosha counties.)
Ready for an
health group is nationally recognized, locally focused
By DAN VRAKAS
February 8, 2007
all the recent local and national news coverage regarding the lack of
communities across the country that are deemed "ready" to
handle significant emergencies, I want you to know that the Waukesha
County Public Health Division was left off the list. Residents in this
great area should be proud to know that through the Milwaukee/Waukesha
County Consortium for Emergency Public Health Preparedness, it was one
of seven agencies across the country to be recognized by the National
Association of County and City Health Officials for being ready to
handle large scale public health emergencies.
The consortium, which consists of 14 public health agencies in
Milwaukee and Waukesha counties, received this prestigious honor
through the Project Public Health Ready initiative that NACCHO
conducts in partnership with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention. Out of approximately 3,000 public health departments
operating in the United States, only 42 local departments or regional
partnerships across the nation have received the award since the
initiativeís start three years ago.
The Milwaukee/Waukesha County Consortium for Emergency Public
Health Preparedness won the award because it effectively demonstrated
that member agencies are prepared to work collaboratively to handle
bioterrorism events, new epidemics, natural disasters and other public
health related emergencies. All this was accomplished by drafting and
continually updating a comprehensive preparedness plan, developing a
competent work force to handle public health crises and conducting
preparedness exercises and other complex simulated drills.
So, you might be asking yourself, what does this mean to me? It is
important to understand that public health emergencies do not stop as
you leave one community and enter another community. Influenza and
other communicable diseases do not strike Milwaukee County residents
and then knock on our doors in Waukesha County and wait to be invited
in. They simply roll on through, infecting all the vulnerable people
in their path. For this reason and this reason alone, it is critical
for public health practitioners to work together prior to any
If planning efforts and winning the award havenít convinced you
that the consortium is ready, then it might surprise you to know that
this important collaboration has had an opportunity to exercise its
plans twice in the last few years. The consortium activated an
incident command center to combat monkeypox in 2003 and the pertussis
outbreak in 2005. In both cases, public health professionals in
Milwaukee and Waukesha counties were able to expertly manage each
crisis and maintain day-to-day operations by working together toward
mutually agreed-upon goals and by effectively leveraging member agency
I believe that the consortiumís receipt of the Project Public
Health Ready award is extremely well deserved and is reflective of the
effort, dedication, creativity and cooperation that consortium experts
demonstrate to ensure that public health professionals across
jurisdictions are ready to assist residents in a time of need. I
sincerely hope that you are as pleased as I am with this major
(Dan Vrakas is the Waukesha County executive.)
should apply equally to
pursued under ethics reform banner
By BRIAN W. BLANCHARD
January 29, 2007
criminal law in Wisconsin provides that the accused be tried in the
county where the crime occurred, absent unusual circumstances specific
to the case. This fundamental principle of criminal law is included in
both state and federal constitutions. Under this rule, if four people
from different counties rob a store in Lafayette County, all four
participants in the crime are tried together in Lafayette County.
Lafayette County is where the crime and investigation occurred, where
the witnesses and physical evidence are located, and where the impact
of the crime on the community is best determined.
Under the banner of ethics reform, proponents of the current reform
legislation seek not only to exempt state public officials from this
fundamental rule, but give them the benefit of trial in their county
of residence, their home county. This is not reform. This is a form of
immunity from prosecution.
Unlike the four store robbers, four public officials who misuse
their offices to the level of criminal conduct will each have the
benefit of being tried in their respective "home" counties.
If they are elected public officials, this is where voters have
elected them and where there is an immediate potential for conflicts
of interest between investigators and prosecutors on one side, and any
targets of the investigation. Four investigations, four preliminary
hearings and four trials will be held instead of one. But not so fast.
Before any of these things can occur, some investigative body will
first have to determine where each public official
"resides," something not always easily determined.
Why discard the fundamental current principle of criminal law in
favor of a rule of venue that creates barriers to investigations and
prosecutions, that is untested by the courts, and that is contrary to
our state and federal constitutions? Proponents of the rule argue that
public officials "deserve" to be tried by judges and jurors
who are their constituents. This argument fundamentally confuses the
electoral process and the criminal process. How we elect our
representatives is different from how we hold them accountable for
alleged wrongdoing. This argument also overlooks the fact that the
vast majority of public officials and employees at issue are not
elected at all. They are state employees without a
"constituency" other than the citizens of Wisconsin.
Supporters also argue that if the venue rule is not changed, too
many prosecutions will occur in Dane County. This would be unfair, it
is argued, because Dane County is historically Democratic and
therefore Republican officials would be disadvantaged. This argument
is also flawed, because experience refutes it. Recent prosecutions of
public officials in Dane County demonstrated that they were undertaken
and conducted without favor or bias, and with scrupulous judicial
respect for the many due process protections available to all criminal
There is no policy-based justification for treating public
officials who engage in crime different from any other accused
citizen. Proposed ethics reform legislation should not disturb
criminal venue law. There are already enough large impediments to
achieving justice promptly in public corruption cases. As best we are
able, public corruption cases should be investigated and resolved as
other criminal cases are handled. Enacting a new venue proposal for
public misconduct would give the public reason to believe that the law
is not blind, but instead saves its best protections for the powerful.
(Brian W. Blanchard is the Dane County district attorney.)
schools a top priority
in education will always pay off in society
By BILL BAUMGART
January 25, 2007
I was first contacted about writing a guest opinion, I thought,
"What a great opportunity to share my strong feelings about
public education." Then I realized I need to be aware that
everyone will not feel the same as me nor for the same reasons and I
must be cautious lest I alienate them. But I was asked for my views,
so I will give them.
I believe education of our youth is the most valuable thing we as
adults can provide to them. Similarly it is a great responsibility we
hold. For the youth it gives them the future. They, of course, must
decide how to use it. Often overlooked is the value that is returned
to us as providers. If we have done well, we will have real
contributors to our society in our future: our doctors, nurses,
community leaders, engineers, lawyers, writers, ethical politicians
and journalists. And we will provide the teachers for that next
generation so this responsibility can go on.
None of this comes free. There is a cost and I agree it is
substantial. But if you look at it as an investment, you will find a
return on your money. There is the development of the future as shown
in the preceding paragraph. There is also the concrete value of your
community and the property you hold. It is accepted that the quality
of life and property values are directly related to the education
provided in that community. We all can think of areas where we would
rather not live and raise our children, but you would also find that
in many of those you could afford to buy a house. There is a direct
correlation between the quality of local education and property value.
Why else is an evaluation of the schools always a prime part of buying
My concern is that as a society we seem to be less interested in
the education we are providing than we need to be. When our founding
fathers were putting this country together they considered an
education for all to be a cornerstone of our democracy. They saw it as
a differentiator from the rest of the world. And it was! As we moved
through the 18th and 19th centuries, widely accessible education was a
major factor in making America a world leader in manufacturing,
technology, economics, medicine and on and on. Other regimes used the
political strategy of limiting education to gain power while
oppressing the population.
But what has happened to this fervor for education? We find other
countries passing us in a number of categories while we struggle with
impossible funding systems in Wisconsin and throughout the country. As
you look around Waukesha County you will see district after district
cutting budgets. They are increasing class sizes; eliminating programs
that businesses clamor for such as technical education, consumer
education, personal finance and business education; reducing
graduation requirements; closing libraries, reducing guidance
counselors at a time when they are greatly needed; and eliminating
school nurses. Once programs are eliminated, they donít come back
Wisconsin earned the reputation as a state with superior education,
excelling at measurements like being among the leaders in the nation
in ACT scores, graduation rates, students proceeding to college and
teachers produced out of colleges. We are in serious danger of
dropping out of the top rankings. I, for one, donít want to see us
follow the example of other states that went from "first to
I was recently at the state education convention for school board
members and school administrators. In the opening session the
wonderful music was provided by Kettle Moraine High School. Awards
were presented to teachers, principals, the business official and
superintendent of the year. Waukesha County shined. But more and more,
we are spreading teachers and leaders too thin. With constant cuts in
staff and administration plus new mandates at the state and national
level, less and less time is available to develop and deliver
innovative and valued curriculum.
And consider the stress staff must feel every year at this time
when they wonder if theirs is the position that will be gone next
year. No organization gets the best out of their people when they live
under such a cloud.
We need to decide education is critically important and overhaul
the way it is funded. The current system, which allows expenses to
increase by about 4 percent or more and restricts revenue increases to
approximately 2 percent, is flawed. You donít even need a basis in
economics to see that eventually this will lead to disaster. Some
districts in the state are already flirting with bankruptcy. How much
is a house worth on the market when that happens? This is certainly
not what our forefathers saw as the future.
Education is an investment in the future. Though it comes at a
cost, how will it compare in the future with the cost of ignorance?
(Bill Baumgart is president of the Waukesha School Board.)
politicians deserve our gratitude
was an adversary, not an enemy
By RICK CONGDON
January 16, 2007
is not a dirty word. The word itself comes from the Greek meaning
"citizenship." I believe politics to be the art of people
getting along - usually by compromise. It is also the grand arena for
what John Stuart Mill called the "Market Place of Ideas."
Politics is really how we persuade each other on the best way to
collectively live. Politics is the opposite of anarchy and chaos.
Politics is a very good thing.
A "politician" is not a derogatory term. (At least until
they reach the state Legislature) our local politicians are usually
very sincere citizens working for the common good. They are good and
honest people who are doing their best to represent us. Their
financial compensation is quite minimal, the work mundane and the
exposure to criticism infinite.
We reward our local public servants with ridicule and mistrust. We
want to read their e-mails and monitor their private communications.
We threaten them with an open meetings violation if they dare get
together for a beer. Any missteps in their private lives are instantly
publicized and openly analyzed. If we donít agree with every
position they take, three or four of us will form a "taxpayers
group" and start a recall. Our local office holders are clearly
the most criticized and under appreciated group of people around. Is
it then the least bit surprising that so few citizens are running for
local office in Waukesha County this spring?
So I would like to express a perhaps radical opinion and act on it
immediately. I think we should thank people for publicly serving us.
Whether they are high or low profile, whether we agree with them or
not, these people are doing what they feel is best for our community
and deserve our respect and gratitude.
Please donít question my Democratic credentials, but the first
person I want to thank is former District Attorney Paul Bucher.
Although I flatter myself in viewing Paul as a friend, Iíve known
him mostly as an adversary. He was the district attorney and I did
criminal defense work. He tried to put the bad guys away while I tried
to make sure the good guys werenít also put away in the process.
Paul was an active Republican Party operative. I, most assuredly, was
not. It was not uncommon years ago that Paul would be the county
coordinator for some statewide Republican candidate while I had the
same role for the Democrat counterpart. For the record, Paul was an
extremely effective political organizer.
So more often than not our relationship was adversarial. But as
lawyers, we can tell the difference between an adversary and an enemy.
We know that the very genius of our court system is to be adversarial.
Weíre supposed to have different opinions. That does not make us
enemies. It just gives different points of view when searching for the
truth. That synergy, however, is often lost in politics and
unfortunately we end up with way too many enemies.
It has been said that Paul had a lot of enemies. But I think that
Paul just had several opponents who could not appreciate that he was
only doing his job - albeit with rather strong opinions. About a year
ago, Paul and I had a legal and political dispute over a Republican
candidate voting in a district where he did not reside. The public
dialogue got rather ugly and harsh words were spoken on both sides. A
week or two later we happened to be at a Kiwanis meeting where we
instantly shook hands and joked about it being "just
politics." That is the difference between adversaries and
Paul was an honest and sincere public servant. I knew that any time
I had professional or political dealings with him that I could rely on
his word. I also knew him to be sincerely dedicated to law enforcement
and extraordinarily gifted as an advocate in the courtroom.
Paul Bucher is not perfect and heís made his share of mistakes.
This is one trait he and I have in common. But he tried, in his own
way, to keep my neighborhood free from crime and did so in a
competent, ethical and zealous manner. That canít be all bad.
Paul, I never once voted for you and often disagreed with how you
ran your office. But I sincerely want to thank you for everything youíve
done for Waukesha County. Your work was very much appreciated!
Now, getting back to my point. I think that we should all respect
those who serve us, irrespective of their inability to agree with our
own personal wisdom. Just for the heck of it, try thanking a local
politician for his or her public service. In todayís political
climate, this can be a little counter-intuitive but it just may
improve that climate.
(Waukesha attorney Rick Congdon is a former chairman of the
Waukesha County Democratic Party.)
legislators should waive right to unneeded benefit
By TED KANAVAS
December 8, 2006
week, I learned that since being elected to the Wisconsin Senate in
2001, I have accumulated 439 hours of sick leave. That was news to me;
I didnít know legislators accrued sick leave. Since that time I have
drafted legislation to eliminate this benefit for all state elected
officials. My bill includes eliminating this benefit for all state
legislators, the governor, the attorney general, members of the
Wisconsin Supreme Court, and all other state officeholders.
Some legislators have said publicly that they have earned a sick
leave benefit and they intend to use it. Legislators do not account
for hours of a typical 40-hour work week like other government
employees. We donít punch a clock. Because of that, it appears this
"sick leave" benefit was created to accrue time that would
go toward giving legislators a retirement benefit, free health care,
for a period of time after leaving the Legislature.
Issues like these serve to highlight the real disconnect between
those who are serving and their constituents. People are
understandably upset that legislators are receiving a benefit that
most people do not feel they deserve or have earned. In the end, the
real issue is the nature of public service. Do we want legislators who
treat their service as a permanent job where they need full-time
salaries and benefits? Or should people run and serve for a short
period of time and return to private life? I believe the latter is
much healthier for Wisconsin.
As the author of legislation to permanently end this benefit, I
intend to lead by example. I will not claim any sick leave after my
term of service ends. Earlier this month, I wrote a letter to the
Senate chief clerk waiving my right to receive the sick leave benefit
upon retirement. All legislators should do the same.
As a state, we need to encourage our legislators to continue to
work in the private sector as they serve. Understanding the real world
outside of the shadow of the Capitol dome is essential to good
government and policy making. In addition, being in the district
listening to real people keeps legislators grounded. Letís begin
that process by ending this "sick leave" benefit.
(State Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, represents the 33rd
Lean and healthy
makes best use of tax dollars
By DAN VRAKAS
October 29, 2006
communities have sound government underpinnings, and I am proud to
announce that Waukesha County government is in excellent fiscal
health. We are one of about 40 county government agencies out of more
than 3,000 across the nation to hold the coveted AAA/Aaa bond rating
status, which is reflective of our exemplary financial management
practices and allows us to lower borrowing costs. In addition, we are
ranked 71 out of 72 counties throughout the state for having the
lowest county property tax rate, and of the bottom five counties, we
are the only one that does not and should not have a county-imposed
Critics routinely debate the best way to measure tax performance,
but I believe our residents compare this yearís tax bill with last
yearís tax bill. When I ran for this office, I told citizens I would
freeze their county property taxes. Instead of simply freezing them, I
made some tough budget decisions to lower taxes that will result in
the lowest tax rate in 40 years. If my 2007 proposed budget is passed
by the county board in its entirety, the average homeowner will see a
tax decrease, which will represent the most significant reduction
since we have had a county executive form of government.
Government exists to serve residents with varying needs, and
Waukesha County does an exceptional job at balancing service
priorities with the taxpayersí ability to pay for them. Many people
think lowering taxes means cutting services, but I want to assure you
that my budget maintains service levels and makes justice and public
safety, as well as protecting at-risk and vulnerable citizens, my top
priorities. It also demonstrates my commitment to maintaining our
infrastructure, which helps fuel economic expansion and contributes to
our significant growth in equalized value.
Budgeting can be a difficult undertaking for organizations and
families, especially when there are some costs that can be extremely
difficult to manage. Take energy costs for example. It is hard for me
to imagine that there are residents in our great county that have not
been burdened by rising energy costs. As we tighten our family budgets
to pay our utility bills and to put gas in our cars, government must
do the same. Next year, the county expects the following cost
increases: 9.5 percent in electricity, 14.5 percent in natural gas and
an estimated 16 percent in vehicle fuel.
In addition to these increases, rising health care and other
personnel costs continue to have a major impact on the budget. In
2007, health insurance costs will increase by 6.7 percent, which is
well below the national average and has been achieved by instituting
co-pays, deductibles, wellness programming and preventative care
strategies. Other significant budget costs include Communications
Center enhancements as recommended by the Association of Public-Safety
Communications Officials study and budget reductions that result in
smaller federal and state revenues.
If I would have crafted my proposed budget with a "business as
usual" mind-set, our inflationary cost-to-continue increase would
have been $3.3 million. Instead, I reduced it to $1.1 million by
rethinking our spending habits and changing how we do business to
bring about greater efficiencies and cost-savings. Beyond reducing the
amount of take-home vehicles available to sheriffís department
staff, I also eliminated a number of positions, which includes
abolishing 1.5 positions by merging the risk management and purchasing
divisions. I also proposed installing Light Emitting Diodes or LED
traffic signals, which is estimated to save us $20,000 a year in
electricity costs, and sought to privatize housekeeping services by
expanding a contract with an outside vendor, which is expected to save
In addition to changing our business practices to reduce overhead
expenditures, my administration has been working vigorously on
developing strategic partnerships with positive, long-term operational
impacts that can enhance service offerings and generate new revenue
streams, such as: sharing University of Wisconsin-Extension
horticultural and agricultural agents with Jefferson County; expanding
medical examiner and coroner service contracts to include Washington
County; establishing an often-requested dog exercise area at Minooka
Park with the Waukesha Kennel Club and the cities of Waukesha and New
Berlin; and exploring an opportunity to provide contracted emergency
government services to Ozaukee County residents.
Please be assured that throughout my administration I will continue
to propose sound business policies and practices, such as requiring
new employees to make a contribution toward their Wisconsin Retirement
System account. This ordinance, which I introduced and signed into law
earlier this year, will result in long-term cost-savings for the
county. I will also continue to be an advocate for the
UW-Waukesha/UW-Milwaukee merger to provide more opportunities for
people to earn four-year degrees, which helps boost the economy.
This is a great time for Waukesha County government and its
residents, and I am humbled by the opportunity to serve as your county
(Dan Vrakas is the county executive of Waukesha County.)
Itís not your
fatherís GOP anymore
By RICK CONGDON
October 29, 2006
Ronald Reagan first ran for president, he was asked why he left the
Democratic Party. His answer was classic Reagan. "I didnít
leave the Democratic Party, it left me." But if Reagan were alive
today, he just might think that the Republican Party has now left him
When I was young, my father and I held many discussions about
politics. Dad held traditional Republican values about individual
rights and fiscal responsibility in government. Even as a young
Democrat, I had to appreciate the logic of that philosophy. But if we
look at what is going on with the Wisconsin Republican Party today,
its clear to see that they are no longer my dadís GOP.
One of those tenets was that the best government is that which is
closest to the people. Republicans used to believe government should
be as decentralized as possible to attain a more democratic result.
Now, our Republican state legislators and candidates for those offices
(including every single one from Waukesha County) are calling for a
constitutional amendment that dictates from Madison how much local
officials can raise for revenue irrespective of their own needs.
Their candidate for governor wants to tell your local school board
how much of its budget should be for administration expenses and how
much for teachers' salaries. Apparently, he believes Madison
politicians know what is best for the Waukesha, Arrowhead or Kettle
Moraine School Districts. Apparently, he doesnít trust the local
people we elected. In the private sector, this is called
micromanaging. In old-time Republican thinking, this would be called
heresy. In my dadís GOP, "Big Government" was a bad thing
and what must be spent on government must be done in a fiscally
responsible way. But it was Tommy Thompson and the Republican
Legislature that let the government become bloated. It was the
incoming Jim Doyle who sold airplanes and reduced the stateís labor
force by several thousands to reduce the size of government.
In my dadís GOP, there was a serious commitment to keep our tax
burden at a minimum. I admit that the present Republican Party talks a
lot about taxes. But it's just talk. Several times during the 16 years
of Thompson/McCallum, the Wisconsin Republicans also had control of
both houses of the Legislature, yet they never made any major tax
decrease. When you listen to todayís Republican candidates, they
complain about Wisconsinís poor tax ranking and blame Doyle, but it
was worse in the Thompson years.
In the 1960s, Republican leaders Everett Dirksen and Gerald Ford
criticized President Johnson for not balancing the federal budget.
"A billion dollars here, a billion dollars there, and pretty soon
youíre talking about real money," was Dirksenís most famous
But the Wisconsin Republicansí present candidate for governor
spent several years in the state Legislature voting the state into
fiscal crisis. He then went to Congress to support George Bushís
budget deficits. Now, after heís helped create the biggest budget
deficits in the history of the country, he comes back to Wisconsin to
lecture Gov. Doyle on how to balance the state budget. If this
"real money" wasnít from my tax dollars, it would be
In my dadís GOP, there was a strong belief that government should
stay out of our private lives. Barry Goldwater was a stickler for the
rights of the individual over too much government interference. (Iím
pretty sure Dad voted for him, but Iím also pretty sure Momís vote
cancelled him out.) In a 1994 Los Angeles Times article Goldwater
said, "... I believe that a woman has a right to an abortion.
Thatís a decision thatís up to the pregnant woman, not up to the
pope or some do-gooders or the Religious Right."
In Wisconsin, of course, almost all the Republican candidates for
office believe the government should take away that individual right.
Last August, Sen. Chuck Hagel, R-Neb., appeared on Fox News Sunday
and said, "Where is the fiscal responsibility of the party I
joined in Ď68? Where is the international engagement of the party I
joined - fair, free trade, individual responsibility, not building a
bigger government, but building a smaller government?" This
comment, unfortunately is very true in Wisconsin.
It appears to me that the Republicans have abandoned many of their
past core values. But one thing seems quite ironic to me. As todayís
Republicans abandon these values, we Democrats seem to be accidentally
absorbing them and making them our own.
Now itís the Democrats fighting for local governments to control
their own affairs. Now we have actually reduced the size of state
government. We are now leading the way to balanced budgets and fiscal
sanity. We Dems are standing up for individual rights that others
would take away.
I think Iíll call my dad soon and tell him whatís going on here
in Wisconsin. Maybe heíd like his sonís Democrats.
(Rick Congdon of Waukesha is chairman of the Waukesha County
Budget makes the
most of taxes
to make Waukesha a great city
encouraged to speak up about 2007 proposal
By LARRY NELSON
October 26, 2006
a mayoral candidate, I was asked what I thought people wanted more -
lower taxes or continued high quality of city services. My answer was
that most people want both, without totally understanding the
conflicts and difficulty of that challenge. However, in the seven
budgets that Iíve been involved in as an alderman and now mayor, the
vast majority of Waukesha citizens whoíve spoken at budget hearings
and/or contacted me have been in favor of city programs and services,
against cuts, and in some cases, wanting expanded services as Waukesha
has grown into the seventh largest city in Wisconsin.
Before discussing the proposed 2007 city budget, itís important
to remember what was done in the 2006 budget. To meet the state
Legislatureís tax freeze, almost $1 million in city services were
cut, including eight staff positions. We were saved from having to
make further cuts due to the leadership of City Administrator Jim
Payne, who led the city to switch to a self-funding insurance program,
which saved taxpayers $750,000 last year.
I believe the city administratorís proposed 2007 budget will
continue the quality of life in Waukesha that caused Money magazine to
name Waukesha the 36th best small city to live in the United States
(and No. 1 in Wisconsin).
There are three ways to analyze a city budget: the tax levy,
assessed tax rate and equalized tax rate. Critics tend to focus only
on the tax levy, which usually goes up the most. The proposed 2007 tax
levy does go up 5 percent, but half of that, 2.5 percent, is for debt
service. That debt service includes finishing fixing the West Avenue
landfill, including tearing down the unsafe apartment buildings (a
state and federal mandate), building a new Fire Station No. 1 (given
the summer flooding of the old station, a wise decision), completing
the wildly popular new Horeb Springs Aquatic Center and expansion of
our award-winning library. All of these long-term projects have
received widespread public support.
The proposed assessed tax rate of $8.41 per thousand is up 25 cents
from last yearís $8.16, a 3 percent increase. It is important to
remember that the 2006 tax rate was a 20 percent tax rate decrease
from the 2005 rate of $10.26. The equalized tax rate (which shows what
your tax rate would be if your house was reassessed every year) is
rarely reported by the media or budget critics. Yet it is significant
that the equalized tax rate is $7.87 per thousand, which is down 27
cents from last yearís $8.14, a 3 percent decrease. The proposed
budget does include $1.2 million in cuts. Given that in our last
contracts our city administrator was successful in negotiating that
all city employees pay a percentage of their health insurance costs
for the first time, the goal to negotiate creative changes in our
health insurance coverage saving taxpayers $500,000 is a realistic
One of the important proposals in the 2007 budget is to build a new
fire station on the northwest side of the city and in 2008, to move
two of our existing stations to reach the common council goal of a
seven-minute fire/emergency response time for the present and future
city of Waukesha. Since this is the first fire station proposed in 26
years, and the heroic actions of our first-rate fire department at the
historic church and Nelson House fires showed why weíre the safest
city in the county, I hope the council and community will support
these long-term proposals.
As to the question of whether Waukesha taxes are driving
individuals and businesses away, letís look at the facts. In 2004,
the number of Waukesha homes with assessed property values of $300,000
to $700,000 was 188. In 2006, that number has skyrocketed to 1,251, a
665 percent increase in homes whose costs help pay for expanded city
services. Itís not a coincidence that the 2006 Parade of Homes
featured two beautiful new Waukesha subdivisions, Rolling Ridge South
and Fox Lake Village.
In the first six months of the Nelson administration, Gander
Mountain and Menards have chosen to leave the town of Brookfield to
build bigger and better stores in Waukesha. The city created a new tax
incremental finance district that attracted a for-profit acute care
Lifecare hospital that will be a laboratory for the latest GE
Healthcare products. Our continuing population growth and economic
development with new businesses, along with the 14-year private/public
partnership that just celebrated the completion of our terrific Fox
Riverwalk, are why I believe Waukesha is entering its second golden
age (the first being the springs era).
The final factor in considering the proposed 2007 budget is the
current excellent bond rating that saves taxpayers money every time
the council approves a long-term budget. Moodyís, the agency that
determines the cityís bond rating, has said our reserve fund and
whether we tax enough for a city our size, will determine whether our
bond rating will go down in the future. In other words, cutting beyond
the $2.2 million in last yearís and this yearís proposed budget
could cost taxpayers more money in the long run.
Voters who elected me in April were extremely positive about my
nine-point vision plan to move Waukesha forward and continue our
historic renaissance. I appreciate The Freemanís editorial support
for the Riverwalk but challenge them to recognize the smart use of
city tax dollars that made it and other great programs and services
happen. Compare the fiscal responsibility and good government in
Waukesha to the fiscal problems in the state Legislature and Congress.
The Waukesha Common Council is the body that actually debates and
decides on the 2007 Waukesha city budget. Whether you agree or
disagree with my opinions, I invite all interested citizens to attend
the 7:30 p.m. common council meeting Nov. 21, in the council chambers
at City Hall. There will be a budget hearing where you, the citizens
of Waukesha, are not only welcome but encouraged to share your
opinions on any 2007 Waukesha budget issues. The involvement and
caring of Waukesha citizens contributes to our small city ambiance
that helps make Waukesha a great city.
(Larry Nelson is the mayor of Waukesha.)
fight is a constant battle
By BETH LUNOW
October 16, 2006
October, it seems, we begin to see a lot of information pop up
regarding breast cancer. For one month out of the year, companies,
for-profit and not-for-profit, large and small, align themselves with
organizations that raise money for breast cancer research by creating
a portion of their products to be pink and donate the proceeds.
While it is good to see efforts that increase breast cancer
awareness, we canít afford to let the education of the disease get
lost among the cause-marketing flurry. Breast cancer does not take a
vacation the other 11 months of the year.
So before making pink an October fashion statement, the facts need
to be shared. Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer
among women, and this year alone, more than 212,000 women in the
United States will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer. Nearly
41,000 of them will die from the disease. So where can people get
The American Cancer Society is seen by millions of people as their
primary source of information about breast cancer.
Should breast cancer become a part of your life or the life of a
loved one, you can turn to the American Cancer Society. They offer
many programs and services that not only educate, but empathize as
The society also is working to reduce breast cancer in other
The American Cancer Society plays a leading role in cancer research
Since 1972, the American Cancer Society has funded more than $290
million in breast cancer research grants. They also take active roles
in helping pass laws and put public policies in place that secure
investments in research and prevention, give greater access to care,
and improve quality of life for breast cancer patients. In fact, the
American Cancer Society is responsible for instituting strong quality
standards for clinics to provide mammographies and ensure patients
receive timely and accurate information.
However, there is still a number of people that are not getting the
education and care that is needed to deal with breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society is dedicated to reducing disparities in
breast cancer diagnoses and deaths among minority and medically
underserved populations by educating those communities about the
disease and improving access to critical cancer screening and
A positive trend is taking place. Earlier this year, the United
States celebrated news of the first decline in the actual number of
cancer deaths since 1930. However, the decline in breast cancer
mortality has not been experienced equally among all sectors of the
population. Racial and ethnic minorities and medically underserved
populations have higher rates of breast cancer mortality, are less
likely to be diagnosed early or receive optimal treatment, and have
lower survival rates. Factors contributing to this gap include
poverty, little or no health insurance, lack of access to health
information and services, language barriers, and low literacy rates.
The American Cancer Society continues to play a key role in
achieving success fighting breast cancer. But, the fight is not over
and it wonít be easy.
Numerous studies have shown that early detection saves lives and
increases treatment options. The five-year survival rate for breast
cancer is 98 percent among individuals whose cancer has not spread
beyond the breast at time of diagnosis.
Through your generous donations and our programs and services,
research funding and advocacy efforts, the American Cancer Society
will continue to battle breast cancer every month of every year until
it is a thing of the past.
(Beth Lunow is the state vice president for the American Cancer
tranquility for traffic
development doesnít fit Delafieldís character
By GERRY HOLTON
August 19, 2006
community has something that makes it special, something that makes it
home to its residents. To those of us in Delafield and the surrounding
Lake Country, it is clear that what makes our community unique is its
open space, tranquility and natural beauty. Delafield has long
recognized this. For many years it has followed a carefully crafted
master plan, which was designed to accommodate community growth and
development, while retaining the unique character of our community.
Now, Bob Lang and Lauth Development seek to toss out the master
plan and construct a 2 million-square-foot shopping center on 84 acres
at the southeast intersection of Highway C and Interstate 94 and
immediately adjacent to Lapham Peak State Park. This land, which is
primarily agriculture, is set aside in the master plan for low-density
residential development and limited office uses.
We must not let this happen.
Since the project was announced, it has become very clear that Lake
Country residents share this sentiment. They care deeply about the
future of our community, and believe strongly that the nature and
character of Lake Country should be preserved.
I have had the great privilege of working with neighbors,
businesses and concerned residents from throughout the Lake Country
communities as part of CARE - Conserving A Rural Environment for Lake
Country LLC. We are a grass-roots organization committed to preserving
the rural and residential character of our community and region
through education and advocacy.
With each new revelation about the proposed development, it has
become ever more clear the community-changing impact the Lang-Lauth
development would have on Delafield. It threatens to destroy the very
essence of what makes our community so special.
This is not just an issue for the immediate neighbors of this
project. The size and scope of the proposed development mean that it
will have a dramatic impact not only on Delafield, but on surrounding
communities. Because of its enormous size, it will create massive new
traffic and require significant infrastructure improvements for roads,
sewer and water. In addition, the Lang-Lauth development threatens the
environment of Lake Country, destroying an important forest, and
potentially impacting wetlands and the neighboring Lapham Peak State
CARE is not saying this land shouldnít be developed. Lang, or any
other property owner, has the right to develop his land. But, we
believe the land should be developed in a manner consistent with
Delafieldís master plan. The vision of one developer shouldnít
outweigh the vision of the community.
When communities permit this to happen, too often it leads to
uncontrolled development and sprawl which threatens the long-term
vitality of our communities by destroying green space and taxing storm
and sanitary sewer systems as well as the water supply.
We believe a more sensible - and sustainable - approach is to
conserve a rural lifestyle - one we want to pass on to our children
and our childrenís children.
I encourage you to learn more about the proposed project. We have
developed a Web site to provide further information - www.careforlakecountry.org.
Our name says it all - we CARE for Lake Country. We hope you will,
(Gerry Holton is a Delafield resident and spokesman for
Conserving a Rural Environmental for Lake Country.)