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.

Impeach Governor Scott Walker!

No, not over Act 10 which gutted the rights of public employees and their unions, not over Act 14 that gutted the authority of the Milwaukee County Board, not the meddling in the Milwaukee Public School System, not Right to Work Legislation, not budget cuts to public schools, not budget cuts to the University of Wisconsin system, not the ineffective DNR, etc., etc., etc.

But Wisconsin Governor Walker should be impeached…now…for his total failure to protect the young people incarcerated at the Lincoln Hills School for Boys and the Copper Lake School for Girls and the total ineptitude and arrogance of the Wisconsin Department of Corrections. Since the closing of the Ethan Allen School for Boys in Wales just west of Milwaukee in Waukesha county, all minor males sent to the state for incarceration have been sent to Lincoln Hills near Merrill WI over 200 miles from Milwaukee.

There is a laundry list of mistreatment of inmates, lack of trained medical personnel and a chronic shortage of trained staff…resulting in overtime and overworked state employees. There is in fact little or no reason that this should exist and it can no longer be tolerated…and the blame goes right to the top…the office of Governor Scott Walker.

I suggest that you read this article from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. But here are some excerpts:

For years, officials knew or should have known about the thicket of problems at Lincoln Hills and its sister facility on the same campus, Copper Lake School for Girls.

“It all went on in plain view of the Department of Corrections, but nobody at the Department of Corrections knew how juvenile corrections worked or how Lincoln Hills operated or what was going on,” said Troy Bauch, who until recently was the union representative for workers there.

The sweeping criminal probe, now nearly 2 years old, is examining allegations of prisoner abuse, child neglect, sexual assault, intimidation of witnesses and victims, strangulation and tampering with public records. A separate internal investigation uncovered four incidents where inmates’ bones were broken.

The crisis at Lincoln Hills is rooted in systematic breakdowns, lax management, confusion over policies, a lack of communication and chronic staff shortages, a review of more than 1,000 pages of records and dozens of interviews by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel found.

Officials trained staff improperly, failed to preserve video evidence, didn’t document serious incidents, and often shirked their duty to report matters to parents, police and social service agencies.

The shortcomings intensified in 2011 when the Walker administration shut down two youth prisons in southeastern Wisconsin to save $25 million a year. The move put all of the state’s serious teen offenders in one facility — hundreds of miles from most of their families.

“The entire climate went from mildly hellish to the ninth ring of hell,” said Timothy Johnson, a former guard.

While a developing crisis quickly became apparent, no one moved to address it.

After nearly six years in office, Walker has yet to visit Lincoln Hills.

(emphasis mine).

There is absolutely no reason that young people should be treated like this while under the care and control of the State of Wisconsin…no matter what reason sent them to Lincoln Hills.

What is the governor’s most recent response to the issues al Lincoln Hills and the Milwaukee County Boards reluctance to continue to send juveniles there? Build a new prison in Milwaukee County as long as the county pays to run it.

Gov. Scott Walker is considering having the state help fund building a Milwaukee County juvenile corrections center, but the county would have to pay for running it.

Milwaukee County officials have sought a way to keep more teen inmates closer to home instead of sending them more than 200 miles away to Lincoln Hills School for Boys and Copper Lake School for Girls.

The two secure facilities share a campus north of Wausau and have been under criminal investigation for nearly two years for prisoner abuse and child neglect.

But nary a word about fixing the issues as Lincoln Hills…so why wait until the criminal investigations bring back the records of wrongdoing and indictments…IMPEACH GOVERNOR WALKER NOW!

WI State Senator Jennifer Shilling Will Not Challenge Walker for Governor

This apparently is of little or no interest to Milwaukeeans since the local media hasn’t touched it, but the rumored run for Wisconsin governor in 2018 by State Senator Jennifer Shilling is a non-starter:

State Sen. Jennifer Shilling says she has no plans to run for governor in 2018 and will spend the next four years focused on her role in the Senate.

“I am not running in 2018,” the La Crosse Democrat said Tuesday. “I’m really happy with the role that I have and the district I represent and serving in the state Senate.”

Shilling, who was elected last month to a second term as minority leader in the Senate, had been frequently included on the short list of Democrats expected to make gubernatorial bids. In numerous campaign mailers, the Republican State Legislative Committee labeled her a “Madison insider” intent on climbing the political ladder.

Saying she was flattered to be considered as a contender, Shilling did not rule out a future run.

AG Schimel Should Go To Jail

Yeah, I know that’s a provocative headline and no I don’t really think that Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel has done anything that deserves incarceration.

But I am embarrassed that I haven’t written about this subject before. Four people have died while incarcerated in the Milwaukee County Jail in 2016. The jail run by County Sheriff David Clarke. Now deaths by inmates in custody in county jails do happen from time to time…but four is a pretty egregious number in less than a year. And two of them are particularly troubling. One male inmate with mental health issues died from dehydration after having the water turned off in his cell. The other was a newborn who didn’t survive the night when jail personnel ignored the mother’s statement that she was going into labor. By the time they checked her in the morning the baby was dead.

But as far as the public can tell nobody is investigating it. A recent law was passed in Wisconsin that requires that investigations of civilian deaths in police custody or by a police officer be carried out by an outside law enforcement agency. Unfortunately when this bill passed it intentionally excluded deaths of inmates in county jails. So the investigative agency for these four death in the Milwaukee County Jail are being carried out by the Milwaukee County Sheriff’s Department, the same department that runs the jail.

There have been a number of calls for outside investigations from the media and the families involved. There have been a number of calls for Sheriff Clarke’s resignation by elected officials. But nothing is moving forward as far as we can tell.

So I would request that AG Schimel send a team to Milwaukee and visit the jail and investigate these four deaths in particular and the general overall handling of the jail. And if anything is amiss to bring charges against those responsible. It’s been long enough without action and the Wisconsin Dept of Justice is the appropriate agency.

Side note to the state legislature: Fix the loophole that allows deaths in custody at county jails to be investigated by the jailors!

Federal Court Blocks WI Gerrymandered Districts But Now What?

Some transitory good news came out yesterday when a federal court voted 2 -1 to block the gerrymandered Wisconsin legislative districts.

Here is a synopsis:

A dozen voters sued in July 2015, arguing the maps unconstitutionally discriminated against Democrats by diluting their voting power. They called it the worst example of gerrymandering — a term for dividing districts to gain an unfair advantage — in modern history.

Attorneys for the state countered Wisconsin is trending Republican and argued there’s no legal way to measure gerrymandering. They added that partisanship should be expected when one party draws legislative boundaries.

Of course the GOP will appeal this to the US Supreme Court so nothing is going to happen in the short term…and the outcome may totally depend on who is sitting on the court given the Trump presidency.

But what should the Democrats in the state legislature be doing in the meantime? They should be drafting and presenting a bill that requires that future redistricting be handled by an independent agency with the consent of the legislature similar to provisions in Iowa. Something that seems to be going swimmingly in Iowa right now!

Will it fly in Wisconsin? Probably not…particularly given our recent experience with the destruction of the Government Accountability Board and the new better partisan election commission….the GOP will stop it dead in its tracks. But it should be brought up anyway…and the GOP made to defend their position once again in the light of day under the dome…and be forced to say they are against one person one vote and equal representation.

But that won’t happen either as the minority will just wimp out and hope the US Supreme Court saves their posteriors…

What, exactly, is wrong with the Democratic Party of Wisconsin?

Last week I posted a piece about how I thought DPW Chair Martha Laning should resign. The feedback both here and on Facebook was predictable, and ran along lines we’ve heard previously.

It goes like this: the chair doesn’t really have much power, the systemic problems the party faces are beyond the chair’s control, if we want to really change the party we need to deal with both the systemic problems and the power brokers behind the scenes, etc. But here’s what we don’t know, and what we haven’t been able to find out over the last several years.

If the chair doesn’t really have much power, then exactly what does the chair actually do? How does the person in this position spend their day? And how do the 15 other staff currently listed on the DPW website spend their day? With 16, presumably, full time staff people on the job, we currently have 640 hours a week of staff time devoted to advancing the cause of electing democrats across the state.

And if the chair of the DPW and her staff don’t really have much power, then who does? Do they have names? Are they at the helm of organizations that run parallel to the DPW? If so, what organizations, and how do the people that staff these organizations spend their day?

I can almost guarantee you that the bulk of the 14,000 members of the DPW statewide couldn’t answer these questions, and neither can I, even though I’ve been asking them since well before Mike Tate left office.

It’s time for some answers. It’s probably time for a radical restructuring of the entire edifice of both the party and its allied entities, but we won’t know what’s needed until there’s some stark transparency about what’s going on now.

Kansas: The Canary in the GOP Goldmine

Governor Sam Brownback of Kansas was the poster boy of supply side economics…cutting taxes to stimulate the Kansas economy in a pure experiment of Reagan economics. Only it hasn’t worked out the way he and the GOP planned…in fact it has turned out exactly as you would expect when you cut tax revenues: record deficits and little business growth:

In February 2015, three years into the supply-side economics experiment that would upend a once steady Midwestern economy, a hole appeared in Kansas’ finances.

To fill it, Gov. Sam Brownback took $45 million in public education funding. By April of this year, with the hole at $290 million, Brownback took highway money to plug it. A month later, state money for Medicaid coverage went into the hole, but the gap continued to grow.

Today, the state’s budget hole is $345 million and threatens the foundation of this state, which was supposed to be the setting for a grand economic expansion but now more closely resembles a battleground, with accusations and lawsuits flying over how to get the state’s finances in order.

The yawning deficits were caused by huge tax cuts, championed by Brownback and the Republican-dominated Legislature, that were supposed set the economy roaring. They didn’t.

To those of you who live in Wisconsin, some of these things may sound familiar to you…although WI hasn’t yet sunk this deeply into the trickle down sink hole. But there are already complaints around funding for education from around Wisconsin and they are just getting going. But here’s what we can expect if things don’t change here:

“The finances are making it hard to meet the needs of our kids,” he (Steve Jameson,the principal of Columbus Kansas’ Park Elementary) said. “The climate makes it hard to recruit good teachers. If you hear the legislators bashing you all the time, the governor bashing you all the time, you can choose to go to another state.”

And this Reagonomics is exactly what Donald Trump is promising on a national level and economists are warning about trillion dollar increases in the deficit if he reduces tax revenues…something like we are seeing in the test bed of Kansas:

It was a risk Brownback ran when he overhauled the state budget based on an interpretation of fiscal conservatism that dramatically cut personal income taxes.

The state would thrive, he pledged, because the tax cuts would help keep businesses and smart, young Kansans in the state, not fleeing “to Houston, or Dallas, or Chicago or somewhere else.”

“It will pave the way to the creation of tens of thousands of new jobs, bring tens of thousands of people to Kansas, and help make our state the best place in America to start and grow a small business,” Brownback wrote in 2012. “It will leave more than a billion dollars in the hands of Kansans. An expanding economy and growing population will directly benefit our schools and local governments.”

Well it hasn’t been happening…so what do you do in this situation? Repeal the tax cuts? Hell no:

Unwilling to scale back the income tax cuts, the state did increase the sales tax. Now Kansas has the second-highest sales tax in the nation, and such reliance on sales taxes has saddled the state with additional problems: Deflation is dropping the prices of goods and the taxes the state collects on them.

Kansas has the second highest sales tax in the nation? Kansas? Wha?

Is this where Wisconsin is heading now that the GOP has solidified it’s hold on the state capitol? Is this the path that Donald Trump will lead the nation down? Pay attention to the ailing canary in Kansas. Supply side is an interesting theory but we can’t afford to live there.

But you know, how could anything go wrong?

“We’re going to continue to grow the economy,” Brownback has said in response to questions about each new revenue shortfall.

Bruce Murphy’s Take On AG Schimel’s Hearing Loss:

Earlier this week I commented on Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel’s total tone deafness related to his Department of Justice investigation into the shooting death of Sylville Smith at the hands of the Milwaukee Police Department. I am not the only one feeling this way…witness today’s article by Bruce Murphy over at Urban Milwaukee:

Then there’s the fact the state investigation is using retired Milwaukee police officers in the Smith probe. The AG told the media he doesn’t see a conflict in using MPD officers: “Milwaukee PD has about 2,000 sworn officers as I understand. The likelihood that there would be some relationship between a particular patrol officer, who’s going to be much younger than an experienced detective… is small. And if there is any relationship at all, that officer, that investigator would not be permitted to have any role in the investigation.”

This is not the first time former Milwaukee officers were used in such a state investigation. They were also used in the 2014 investigation of Milwaukee officer Christopher Manney who shot and killed Dontre Hamilton in Red Arrow Park.

At the time, Bies [Garey Bies (R-Sister Bay)] told Fox 6 he trusted the state agents to be impartial, but thought their ties to the Milwaukee department could make the public suspicious: “I would’ve thought that whoever made those assignments maybe would’ve considered those issues and… made a better decision and put a different investigator on.”

In short, perception matters. As it turned out, many in Milwaukee have never accepted the decision that determined Manney wasn’t criminally culpable and there have been periodic protests since then. But the stakes are far higher in the Smith killing, which touched off a near-riot. Whatever the decision that’s made, it’s critical that it looks as fair as possible, with no perception of favorable treatment.

But how “independent” does the investigation look when you have Milwaukee officers investigating a fellow member of the force? Under the circumstances, you have have to ask why Schimel hasn’t simply looked for other retired officers — whether from the Madison, Racine or any other city — to conduct the Smith probe.

But Mr. Murphy goes me one better…and it’s because they have been spending a lot of time following political contributions around the state. But if a perception of bias by the former MPD officers doing the investigation doesn’t bother AG Schimel, why would this:

But questions have arisen about Schimel’s links to Milwaukee police. For starters, he has been a frequent recipient of campaign donations from the Milwaukee Police Association. The police union gave him five donations of $500 between May 2014 and October 2015, as Gretchen Schuldt has reported for Wisconsin Justice Initiative.

What can possibly go wrong here?

An Open Letter to British Petroleum

I am sorry for your loss…your gasoline station at Sherman Blvd and Burleigh in Milwaukee is apparently a total loss.

But here’s what you should do next:

I don’t know if the station operator was a lessee or franchisee…but whoever gets the insurance money…take it and throw down a few BP dollars and find them a new station…somewhere else.

Begin immediate plans to raze the rubble and build a bright new state of the art gasoline station. Sherman Park deserves it.

Perform a search for a new operator from the immediate neighborhood. And then provide him/her with an apprenticeship or internship or whatever you want to call it…at one of your most successful stations…and pay them.

When the new station is ready for occupancy put them in place. Provide them with management assistance for however long both of you deem appropriate.

Sell it to them on a land contract at under market rates.

Invest in this neighborhood. You can afford it. You can earn respect. You can earn a reputation as an investor in the economy and neighborhoods.

You can earn your investment back.

You can help return stability and normalcy to a shattered neighborhood.

You can help at least one minority owner begin to build some personal wealth.

You can help that owner provide neighborhood jobs…I don’t know how many that would be in a modern gas station…but it would be solid, visible, worthwhile jobs.

Are you up to the task?

Governor Walker Appoints WHO to the WI Supreme Court?

Now the odds on my disliking a Supreme Court justice appointment by Governor Scott Walker is probably 100%. But could he have chosen a more unqualified candidate? Could it be any more blatantly partisan? He selects an almost unknown lawyer with no judicial experience with plenty of partisan activism, who wanted to keep is application a secret…WTF?

Gov. Scott Walker on Friday named a little-known Waukesha lawyer with no judicial experience to the state Supreme Court, putting Daniel Kelly on the bench and keeping in place the high court’s 5-2 conservative majority.

Kelly — who in his application called affirmative action and slavery the same morally — will replace retiring Justice David Prosser on Aug. 1, the start of the court’s new term.

Kelly, 52, initially applied for the appointment in secret, but his name became public in June, when Walker’s team narrowed the field of candidates from 11 to five.

Kelly took just one question from reporters after Walker announced the appointment in the state Capitol, but he declined to discuss his writings opposing affirmative action and gay marriage.

“The primary and only job of a Wisconsin Supreme Court justice is to apply the law as it is written and the oath that I will take will guarantee to you that my personal political beliefs and political philosophy will have no impact on that whatsoever,” Kelly said. “Those things simply have no place inside the courtroom.”

Kelly was an adviser to state Supreme Court Justice Rebecca Bradley’s campaign this year and served as an attorney on Prosser’s campaign during a recount after he narrowly won re-election in 2011.

This has turned into an utter and complete joke…by anybody standards! Governor Walker now has negative credibility!