August 27, 2016

Mark Belling
Pete Kennedy
Jessica McBride
Owen Robinson
Tim Schilke
James Wigderson
Gary Wickert
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Putting the economic recovery package to work for Wisconsin


February 26, 2009

With 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 include motorcycles.

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 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.)


Reckless spending will 
only run up deficit
People need money most, not the government


February 19, 2009

The 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 more money.

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.)


Incarceration will always 
be a tool to protect society
Use stimulus to update prison system, 
then turn it over to private sector


January 27, 2009

Wisconsin 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 lenient judiciary.

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 well.

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 citizens.

(David A. Clarke Jr. is sheriff of Milwaukee County.)


New hope, and new challenges, 
in a new year
Wisconsinites must be heard on economy, health care, security


January 5, 2009

A 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 U.S. Senate.)


One word can save lives


December 30, 2008

There 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 donation.

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 other.

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.


Special state justice unit investigates, prosecutes those who prey on elderly


December 18, 2008

A 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 patientís name.

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 bedsores.

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 efforts.

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.)


Chiefís service to community 
being lost in political battle


September 24, 2008

I 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, slanted report.

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
Demsí proposal a last-minute Ďshamí


September 18, 2008

This 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 hard-working Americans.

(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.)


Making sure every vote counts
Law intended to protect eligible voters must be enforced


September 17, 2008

On 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 list.

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 with.

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 no one.

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 vigilantly protected.

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 voters."

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 political freedom.

(J.B. Van Hollen is Wisconsinís attorney general.)


Cutting taxes even more 
important in tough times
With citizens struggling to stretch 
their money, government cuts are a must


July 10, 2008

Late 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 taxpayers.

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 Wisconsin System.

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 deeper cuts.

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 Assembly.)


Good news in the fight against crime: DNA backlog shrinking at state lab


July 8, 2008

Even 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 laboratory.

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 remained unsolved.

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 some.

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 counting 
on grant for new firefighters


May 15, 2008

One 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 city budgets.

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 and decisions.

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 past.

(Larry Nelson is the mayor of Waukesha.)


Conditions in Iraq give 
reason for hope
Support for deployed personnel, 
families back home vitally important


March 28, 2008

Hope 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 state Legislature).

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.)

Waukesha County executive weighs in on Great Lakes water compact


February 7, 2008

The 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 responsible.

(Dan Vrakas is Waukesha County executive.)


Waukesha is a great community


November 27, 2007

This 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.)


Embracing a learning economy 
means everyone prospers
In a world of innovation, government is a tool 
for success and taxes an investment


November 21, 2007

We 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 know-how.

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 tough decisions.

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.)


School funding must be fixed now
Waukesha provides example of statewide problem


November 20, 2007

On 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 educating children.

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 them successful?

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 future.

(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


Love her or hate her, Hillary is key
If Ď08 race turns on issues, Dems canít lose; 
if it turns on Hillary herself, GOP could win


November 8, 2007

This 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 it.

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 2001.

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 Democratic Party.)


Which comes first: 
Small government or tax cuts?


October 26, 2007

Recently, 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 smaller government.

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" didnít work.

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 problem."

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 presidential contenders.

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 spending/budgetary reform."

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 builds momentum


October 19, 2007

Community 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: or

(David Brostrom is the associate director of the Waukesha Public Library.)


Override veto of childrenís 
health insurance measure


October 18, 2007

Six 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 care clinics.

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.)


Waukesha County canít afford 
to avoid regional transportation
Residents need options that cooperative effort can provide


October 16, 2007

Itís 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.)


Personal financial literacy vital 
for all students
Knowledge improves quality of life in Wisconsin


October 11, 2007

In 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 economically secure.

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 curriculum.

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 multitude 
of opportunities to get involved
Pick up a free book to get started


October 4, 2007

One 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

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 that reads.

Highlights of the BIG READ include:


10 a.m. to 2 p.m., Waukesha Fire Station No. 1 open house and dedication

4 p.m. to 10 p.m., Art Crawl with many BIG READ events

Oct. 13

10:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., Sam Weller, Ray Bradburyís authorized biographer, speaks at the Waukesha Public Library. First come, first seated.

Oct. 14

2 p.m. to 4 p.m., spelling bee for fourth-, fifth- and sixth-graders

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.

Oct. 15

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.)


Nothing super about plan 
for new Waukesha Wal-Mart


September 27, 2007

I 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 our homes.

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 live on.

(Linda Chivers is a Waukesha resident.)


State Republicans to pass K-12 funding, property tax relief today


September 18, 2007

If 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 local governments.

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 Wisconsin homeowners.

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 enough.

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 taxes, 
Doyle says ĎPay me firstí
Citizens can't afford to waste time 
or money because of poor policy


August 23, 2007

We 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 hard-earned money.

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 November.

(State Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, represents the 33rd District, which includes portions of Waukesha, Washington and Dodge counties.)


Wisconsin canít afford 
to let strong schools slip


August 13, 2007

One 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 school.

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 you.

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.)


Letís find common ground to address 
transportation infrastructure problems


August 9, 2007

Last 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 project.

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 forward.

The WI Transportation Builders Association represents a broad range of companies that design, build and maintain all modes of transportation infrastructure.

(Pat Goss is the executive director of the Wisconsin Transportation Builders Association.)


Seniors deserve better tax climate


August 8, 2007

We 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 same communities.

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 98th District.)


Prescription for compromise
Wisconsin could show the way to lower costs, 
better coverage in health care


August 7, 2007

Letís 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 extinct.

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 a start.

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 services.

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 place!

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 compromise.

(Rick Congdon is a former chairman of the Waukesha County Democratic Party.)


Residents need ĎHealthy Wisconsiní
Senate plan would extend care, reduce costs


July 10, 2007

When 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 $15 billion.

Thatís $3 billion more in the pockets of families and businesses across Wisconsin.

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 district attorneys.

The Senateís "Healthy Wisconsin" reform plan says if itís something elected officials deserve, itís something our constituents deserve, too.

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 health care.

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 themselves.

(State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, is serving his third term in the Legislature and is chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.)


Government takeover of health care the wrong approach
Proposal would pinch stateís working class families


June 29, 2007

There 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 quality care.

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.)


Republicans have priorities reversed on health care plan
Plan would keep costs down, help state 
businesses and employees


June 29, 2007

The 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 option.

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 mainstream Wisconsinite.

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 Republican priority.

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 He authored "Politicians - Owned and Operated by Corporate America" and can be reached at


School board must lead 
district out of budget woes
Leaders should get tough with union, 
redistrict, close schools - for starters


June 15, 2007

Due 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 District.

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,

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.)


With leadership and guidance, 
all students can reach standards
Limited English proficiency must not be a barrier to learning


June 12, 2007

The 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 students.

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 of Education.)


Investment in brain-imaging 
device will pay off in many ways


June 8, 2007

If 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 these days.

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 neurological disorders.

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 GE Healthcare.

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 up.

(State Sen. Ted Kanavas, R-Brookfield, represents the 33rd District.)


Every child needs health insurance


May 10, 2007

When 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 million.

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 expensive treatment.

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 that happen.

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 behind.

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
Employers more often seek these abilities


May 9, 2007

UW-Waukesha 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 Wisconsin-Waukesha.)


State wrongly faulted 
for school funding shortfalls
Control is in hands of local districts


April 19, 2007

In 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 program.

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, by mail at Sen. Mary Lazich, State Capitol, P.O. Box 7882, Madison, WI 53707 or by phone at (800) 334-1442.)


Whatís really important to you?
School funding situation puts community on shaky ground


March 27, 2007

As 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 this community.

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 districts).

* 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 $13,226,855.

* 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 Board.)


Consider roots of school 
budget problems
Salary structure, lack of productivity increase in schools, accountability gap all factor into troubling equation


March 19, 2007

In 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 taxpayers.

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 countries.

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 unnecessary.

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.)


Wisconsin hard hit by reduction 
in child support enforcement


March 14, 2007

Child 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 its success.

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 since 1988.)


A naturally good idea
State stewardship fund needs legislative support


February 26, 2007

In 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 outdoor recreation.

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 our state.

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 purchasing power.

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 parks.

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.)


Conservation conversations
Upcoming events honor environmentalist Aldo Leopold


February 20, 2007

Aldo 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 demonstrations.

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 into practice.

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:

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:

(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 emergency
Public health group is nationally recognized, locally focused


February 8, 2007

With 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 outbreak.

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 resources.

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 achievement.

(Dan Vrakas is the Waukesha County executive.)


Standards of criminal law 
should apply equally to 
public officials
Special venue arrangement 
pursued under ethics reform banner


January 29, 2007

The 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 defendants.

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.)


Making our schools a top priority
Investment in education will always pay off in society


January 25, 2007

When 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 a house?

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 quickly.

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 worst."

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.)


Always working under scrutiny, 
politicians deserve our gratitude
Bucher was an adversary, not an enemy


January 16, 2007

"Politics" 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 enemies.

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.)

Sick leave sickens public
All legislators should waive right to unneeded benefit


December 8, 2006

Last 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 District.)


Lean and healthy budget 
makes best use of tax dollars


October 29, 2006

Strong 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 sales tax.

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 20 percent.

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 executive.

(Dan Vrakas is the county executive of Waukesha County.)


Itís not your fatherís GOP anymore


October 29, 2006

When 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 as well.

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 quote.

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 funny!

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 Democratic Party.)


Budget makes the most of taxes 
to make Waukesha a great city
Residents encouraged to speak up about 2007 proposal


October 26, 2006

As 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.

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.)


Breast cancer fight is a constant battle


October 16, 2006

Every 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 educated?

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 well.

The society also is working to reduce breast cancer in other capacities.

The American Cancer Society plays a leading role in cancer research and advocacy.

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 treatment.

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 Society.)


Trading tranquility for traffic
Massive development doesnít fit Delafieldís character


August 19, 2006

Every 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 Park.

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 -

Our name says it all - we CARE for Lake Country. We hope you will, too.

(Gerry Holton is a Delafield resident and spokesman for Conserving a Rural Environmental for Lake Country.)