So Raise The Damn Gas Tax All Ready!

Wisconsin continues to debate how to increase funds for transportation (in Wisconsin that translates to build more freeways) as gas tax revenues continue to fall as cars get more fuel efficient or don’t use gasoline at all. Instead the governor continues to put highway construction on the credit card or extends the completion dates for major projects (which increases their costs through inflation and often overlooked, loss of utility and increased travel times for users) to balance the transportation budget.

There have been a number of discussions in the legislature around increasing the gasoline tax, vehicle registration and just recently, converting state freeways into toll roads.

Of course Governor Walker continues to stick to his no tax increase pledge by threatening to veto any gas tax increases if they aren’t balanced by tax cuts in other areas. This brings up a number of points. If gas increases are balanced against other tax cuts, those paying increased gas taxes aren’t necessarily the people getting the new offsetting tax cuts. I can’t imagine that will make drivers very happy.

And second, how is reducing other taxes to balance gas tax increases not essentially the same as using general funds to pay for transportation? And isn’t using general funds for transportation now verboten? I am sure many of you can either correct me on that or support my statement.

So about those toll roads…that is a very very slippery slope. Somebody is going to have to spend the initial capital to build the infrastructure to measure and collect tolls. Where’s that money going to come from? Wisconsin already doesn’t have the funds to fix the roads, build new ones, etc….how can it add tolling facilities? (this all assumes the federal government would permit the conversion of freeways to tollways…not unlikely under the President Trump regime)

But the talk is that private investors would pay for the new infrastructure…and then reap benefits from the tolling. And how many years would it take to implement? If we look at the Zoo interchange, years maybe decades. Hmmmm. Who controls the fees and determines the profit margins when private enterprise controls public utilities?

But if you are going to be ‘Open For Business’, you had better have first rate infrastructure, not just a low tax rate…businesses need to get their employees to work on time, need to get their raw materials to their businesses, and need to get their finished products to market. Subpar streets, roads and highways don’t work for them.

So for the quick and dirty, the current Wisconsin gas tax is 30.9 cents a gallon. Take a quick 5.1 cent increase and gas tax revenue jumps 16.5% and takes a lot of stress off of the transportation budget. Increase it 10.1 cents and it’s an increase of 32.7%. When I first suggested this gas in Milwaukee was around $2.00 a gallon and even now at $2.29, a 5 or 10 cent hike isn’t going to be that discernable.

You want some simple background into the issue, please read Ernst-Ulrich Franzen’s article on the resignation of the Secretary Mark Gottlieb from the Wisconsin Department of Transportation…he apparently got tired of speaking truth to power.

GOP Led Senate Finds Another Way To Avoid Doing Their Job

In their first approval of a nominee of President Obama since retaking the majority in the Senate, the Senate Banking Committee led by Alabama Republican Richard Shelby confirmed Adam Szubin to a post in the Treasury Department.

I am not sure what the total elapsed time from appointment to confirmation was but hearings were held mid-September 2015. But here are some of the doozy reasons that the majority party couldn’t confirm him earlier:

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., had delayed action on Szubin’s and all other nominations before his panel, stubbornly refusing to act until winning his re-election primary last week. It’s the panel’s first confirmation vote since Republicans regained control of the chamber last year.

Seriously? The chair had to wait until he finished campaigning? Or was it a case of waiting until the people could voice their opinion at the polls?

The committee approved Szubin’s nomination on a 14-8 vote that reflected sweeping GOP opposition to President Barack Obama’s controversial nuclear deal with Iran, which involves the lifting of sanctions on the longtime U.S. adversary.

And because the Republicans don’t like the Iran deal, they held up an appointment at Treasury?

“I think he’s a nice man, and he’s obviously well-educated and qualified for a lot of jobs, probably that,” Shelby said after the vote. “But the policies he’d have to carry out, a lot of us oppose them.”

So because you don’t agree with policies, you don’t let the man have the job? You do understand how this works? SOMEONE in Treasury is carrying out these policies whether Mr. Szubin is there or not…but wouldn’t it be nice to make sure the person in charge is identified and qualified…which the committee actually admitted?

Naw…just the continued flat out obstruction of the President’s administration again and again and again.

Unbelievable.

Whither MKE County: Time For A Dedicated Park District

By now all of you have read at least one article about the perceived risk of having the county executive sell Milwaukee County park land without input from the county board or the general public. The recent changes in state law that allow the county executive to sell non-park land without notice and without competitive bids begs the question of what is and what is not park land. The current interpretation of the law leans toward: it ain’t park land if it’s not zoned park land by each and every municipality that hosts a county park(s).

But in cased you missed it here’s something from the Shepherd Express, UrbanMilwaukee, and the good old Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

And even more recently we have the closing of the Mitchell Park Domes for reasons of safety for both patrons and employees as the deferred maintenance from both the Scott Walker and Chris Abele administrations has come home to roost so to speak. The Domes have gone from a weekend of closure to an unknown length of time or maybe permanently depending on who is doing the talking…and repairs have been guesstimated at up to $75 million.

And if you haven’t heard about that try these: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel or Senator Chris Larson.

So maybe it’s time to take the county park system out of the hands of Milwaukee County and create an independent park district with its own dedicated funding…basically with the half percent sales tax that Milwaukee County voters approved years ago…I don’t know exactly what form that would take but if they have tax levy authority it should include an elected board…not an appointed one.

The value of the park system as a whole can not be overstated. Beyond the pure beauty the green areas bring to the county…add the recreation value…the tourism value…the business/employee recruitment value…the environmental impact…etc etc…the park system is a resource that we can not afford to squander.

Sheriff Clarke Sues County Exec Abele Over First Amendment?

Well here’s a good one…Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke is accusing Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele of infringing on the good sheriff’s 1st Amendment rights of free speech by trying to cut millions of dollars out of the sheriff departments budget last year. Really…I mean…really?

Well I guess if you take Citizens United to an absurd conclusion that all money is free speech…then maybe the sheriff has a point…except it isn’t his money…and from what I can see he is blathering all over the airwaves and in print as much as ever…so I don’t know what’s being infringed. But on with the story:

Milwaukee County Sheriff David A. Clarke Jr. scored a huge victory late last year when county supervisors overrode plans by Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele to cut the sheriff’s budget by $4 million.

But Clarke was not done with his longtime political foe. The sheriff has now sued Abele over that budget fight.

Clarke’s claim: His First Amendment rights were violated by the county exec.

“We’re asking a judge to enjoin the county executive from using the budget process to retaliate against any county official for speaking out on matters of public concern,” said Michael. A. I. Whitcomb, the private attorney representing Clarke.

In other words, the sheriff is asking a judge to issue an order telling Abele to follow the U.S. Constitution.

Well at this point this is as absurd as it seems but here is a little more of the rationale behind it:

In his November veto message, Abele said he could not support raising property taxes by 1.4% “to validate the sheriff for his repeated incendiary comments and his out of touch views on criminal justice and our society.”

So yeah this is a little bit personal but I think the sheriff dost protest too much…considering stuff like this:

In the past, Clarke has accused the county exec of having “penis envy” and being an “expert on immaturity.”

If you follow through on this link there is plenty more such talk from both sides.

But here is a bit of the logic from Sheriff Clarke’s suit:

“Executive Abele violated Sheriff Clarke’s First Amendment rights by vetoing the County Board’s amendment that added $4 million for the Office of the Sheriff in the 2016 budget in retaliation for Sheriff Clarke’s speech criticized by Executive Abele in his veto,” Clarke’s suit said.

Yeah well except it seems to me that would need an actual infringement of some sort but Sheriff Clarke is still all over the airwaves on Milwaukee radio and I even saw him on Fox News spouting off about something while I was in Thailand recently. So his ability to speak his mind has not been inhibited in anyway.

But maybe this is the kicker from Sheriff Clarke:

He also said the remarks were made in his capacity as a citizen and not as a part of his official duties

What? Then why do most of his written pronouncements come out on official stationary of the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department or in public service announcements produced by his department and why is he in full uniform and regalia whenever he appears at a press conference or on Fox News? When he is acting as a private citizen he should look and dress like one!

I expect the courts will toss this for the frivolous lawsuit that it is and not waste another dime of the sheriff’s department budget…i.e taxpayer dollars!

Commission on the Future of the Family

Wednesday was the first meeting of our occasional governor’s new Wisconsin Commission on the Future of the Family, created “for the purpose of identifying issues and barriers relating to the overall wellbeing of families in the State, developing policies that lift individuals out of poverty, and developing and recommending polices for implementation to better serve Wisconsin’s families throughout the future.”

You’d think that with such high aspirations, the commission would be stocked with people who have dealt extensively with the issues of families in poverty, and the issues that affect family cohesion: social workers who deal with family trauma and domestic violence, those who work with families facing eviction, people familiar with food stamp programs, maybe even someone with academic credentials in poverty research.

This being Scott Walker’s Wisconsin, you’d be wrong.

These are the commission members, with my comments.

Eloise Anderson, chair. Ms. Anderson does have experience, having been Scott Walker’s head of the Department of Children and Families, and with 20 years of state service in child welfare. Her policies since coming on board with Mr. Walker, however, particularly in implementing testing for recipients of Food Share benefits, suggest that she has lost whatever impulses she may once have had to lift people out of poverty.

Dr. Sarah Campbell, an Appleton pediatrician. Fine, she’s a children’s doctor, which gives her contact with families. But I don’t see any special expertise in dealing with poverty or troubled families.

Delvyn Crawford, a “fatherhood specialist.” Mr. Crawford says that his is a program to help men of all cultures, races, religions and backgrounds learn how to strengthen their relationships with their children and with their wives or the mother of their children, and to care for themselves. He does work with the population of Milwaukee, and claims to “provide resources for fathers that’ll help them with employment, child support arrears, license recovery, substance abuse, housing, entrepreneurship, and etc.” However, most of his work consists of presentations,especially with music, media, and motivational speaking, not counseling. “Providing resources” could mean laying out brochures. One of his other businesses, Gutter Enterprises, is a Christian faith-based outreach organization.

Rachel Campos-Duffy, mother of 7, former reality TV star, wife of Congressmen Sean Duffy. Ms. Campos-Duffy is the national spokesperson for the LIBRE initiative, the Koch-brothers funded organization advocating for economic empowerment of Hispanics, and does parenting and relationship segments on the Today show. Her book is called Stay Home, Stay Happy: 10 Secrets to Loving At-home Motherhood. It’s not clear what part of her experience would enable her to contribute to a conversation about the needs of people in poverty, although her husband (another former reality TV star) did complain that his $140,000 congressional salary was not enough to live on.

Mikel Holt, associate publisher and a writer for the Milwaukee Community Journal, the largest African-American newspaper in Wisconsin. Mr. Holt has long experience in Milwaukee, is a member of the Black Alliance for Education Options, and signifies strong support for voucher schools. I’ve looked at some of his writing (he has a column called Signifyin’); Mr. Holt certainly has a feel for some of the major issues of Milwaukee.

Jim Kacmarcik, owner of Kapco, Inc. in Grafton, a metal stamping and fabrication firm. Mr. Kacmarcik also is quite a philanthropist. But I see nothing in his history to show any special expertise in family issues.

Archbishop Jerome Listecki. According to the announcement from the governor’s office, Archbishop Listecki “recently called for an urban initiative to address the issue of poverty, unemployment, crime, and violence in Wisconsin. The main goals of the initiative would strengthen Wisconsin families, offer young men and women positive role models, and establish a coordinated effort between members of the local community and law enforcement.” Sounds good doesn’t it, but any initiative championed by Listecki would put up barriers to men and women making the decisions about their own reproductive lives that could help lead them out of poverty.

Alicia Manning, director of new citizenship programs for the Bradley Foundation. Again, I question the expertise in dealing with family issues. Additionally, the citizenship programs at Bradley Foundation are not dealing with civic engagement per se as much as moving society away from what the foundation describes as “contemporary forces and ideas that regard individuals more as passive and helpless victims of powerful external forces [rather] than as personally responsible, self-governing citizens.” The new citizenship programs support projects that “reinvigorate and reempower” traditional institutions (church, neighborhood, school, family); projects that “encourage decentralization of power and accountability away from centralized, bureaucratic, national institutions back to the states, localities, and revitalized mediating structures where citizenship is more fully realized.” This sounds like a deregulated libertarian paradise, where parents can discipline their kids and school them as they wish. It also suggests a notion called “responsibilization,” which we hear from conservative commentators regularly. “Why aren’t the poor more self-regulating? Why aren’t they more responsible for themselves?” It’s a notion that completely disregards the daily chaos of life in poverty.

Jeff Pralle. property manager and real estate broker from Onalaska. Really? Why is he on this committee? Expertise in eviction? He did contribute to Mr. Walker in 2014 directly and also supported the realtors PAC. So there’s that.

Emetia Riddle-Williams, case manager for Salvation Army of Beloit. Well, at least Ms. Riddle-Williams is a social worker. And she’s in Beloit, so she knows something about families in poverty. Score a point for her.

I question the value of proposals and policies coming out of this commission. First, there is a clear lack of relevant experience in its membership, with only two people with social work experience, and only one who has worked with public agencies. The membership also lacks relevant expertise. There is no one with identifiable experience with troubled teenagers, juvenile justice, gay and lesbian parents, child care, or children with disabilities (unless the pediatrician can supply expertise there). Other than the single social worker from Beloit, and perhaps the newspaper publisher from Milwaukee, what insight can these commission members give into the problems of poverty experienced by more than 40% of Wisconsin’s children? Perhaps most critical of all, the makeup of the commission is shockingly one-sided. It would appear that Scott Walker envisions future Wisconsin families to be Christian, Republican, and libertarian. The membership suggests an approach where people in poverty are expected to become “responsible” members of society without the social and material resources which allow that; re-empowerment when you’re off the power grid, so to speak.

The state already has an organization, the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, which has focused on improving conditions for families and children for more than 100 years. Its very mission “is to ensure that every child in Wisconsin grows up in a just and nurturing family and community.” That sounds a lot like the goal of the commission. The Commission on the Future of the Family also has the opportunity to take advantage of the Wisconsin Idea. The Institute for the Research on Poverty, an acclaimed center of interdisciplinary research on poverty located on the UW-Madison campus, conducts research on Wisconsin poverty, intergenerational transmission of poverty, building human capital, family complexity and poverty, and economic self-sufficiency.

Yet neither WCCF nor IRP is represented on the Commission. Why not? Why not engage with the expertise that is ready, willing and able to advise the state?

The sad answer is that Mr. Walker is not looking for advice, or even information. He is interested in window dressing. Perhaps there are bills now being drafted that will come out in the commission’s name. Actually having expertise on the Commission on the Future of the Family would ruin that plan.

What a waste of an opportunity.

 

Scott Walker spent less than 1 hour per day doing his job during his presidential campaign

If this isn’t the very definition of “government waste” then I don’t know what is.

Gov. Scott Walker spent an average of less than one hour per day doing state business during his short-lived presidential campaign, according to records released to FOX6 News.

Over his 71-day campaign, Walker’s official monthly calendars include 57 hours of state business, or an average of 48 minutes per day. Many days, the governor’s only Wisconsin-related agenda item was a brief morning teleconference with his staff.

Walker’s office released the records to news outlets late Friday afternoon, when few people would be paying attention to them.

In contrast, Walker blocked off 809 hours over the same time period for other purposes, an average of 11 hours and 24 minutes per day.

While the fact that Gov. Walker got paid his six figure salary to do less than hour of work a day for months should infuriate all those so-called “fiscal conservatives” who comprise his base, no doubt those same so-called “fiscal conservatives” will come up with a myriad of excuses to explain away a textbook example of government waste at its worst.

Wisconsin starts wasteful drug testing for public benefits recipients

What a waste of taxpayer money…

Starting November 9th anyone using Transform Milwaukee, the Transitional Jobs Program, W-2 services, and the court ordered Child First Program– will have to test clean for drugs. If they are drug users, they’ll be entered into a drug treatment program or lose their benefits. But if they relapse in treatment more than once– they’ll lose their benefits.

This plan by Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans in the Legislature to test recipients of public benefits is a horrible idea, both from a dollars and cents perspective and because it’s likely not Constitutional, as Republicans in Florida have found out.

Democrats join Republicans in approving $350 million in borrowing for WI DOT concrete machine

As reported by the CapTimes, all four Democrats on the Legislature’s Joint Committee on Finance joined six Assembly Republicans in voting to pull out the state’s credit card and charge $350 million for road projects throughout Wisconsin. The four Democrats who voted with Republicans to pull out the state’s credit card to the tune of $350 million are Chris Taylor, Gordon Hintz, Lena Taylor, Jon Erpenbach.

As James Rowen rightly noted at The Political Environment, we’re never going to get transit, clean air or social justice if our state’s elected officials (and more importantly our state’s Democratic elected officials) keep funding the WisDOT concrete machine with education and health care dollars or other people’s borrowed money.