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.

Speaker Robin Vos is Right, But SO SO Wrong

In light of record numbers of early voters in Wisconsin ahead of the November 8th Presidential Election, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos declared his concerns around fairness in early voting:

“We’re probably going to have to look at it again to make sure that everybody in the state has the same chance to vote,” said Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester).

And I’ll agree with him on that. And he voiced concern about making voting consistent around the state:

Wisconsin hit record early voting Friday in the wake of a federal court order allowing expanded absentee balloting, and the GOP leader of the state Assembly called for restricting the practice to make early voting more uniform across rural and urban areas.

Now in one of the articles I read about Speaker Vos’ concern, he mentioned that the start of early voting was inconsistent from one municipality to another. And I can understand this concern…if Milwaukee starts early voting in late September and it’s neighbor, Wauwatosa doesn’t start until a week or ten days later that can cause confusion. So I wouldn’t oppose some rational consistency across the state for how early, early voting can start.

But the problem is Speaker Vos’ history around early voting. He and the WI GOP tried to use uniform early voting laws to restrict the availability of early voting in urban areas like Madison and Milwaukee and the courts found those laws to be unconstitutional. Things like limited hours and only one early polling place per city for instance. An insane idea in a city the size of Milwaukee for instance. Well here, see for yourself:

In July, U.S. District Court Judge James Peterson in Madison struck down a series of voting limits passed by GOP Gov. Scott Walker and Republican lawmakers. His decision, which is being appealed, flatly rejected claims by Republicans that they were trying to make early voting hours uniform, saying they were attempting to help themselves at the polls.

In July, Peterson ruled the restrictions on early voting were unconstitutional because they intentionally discriminated against minorities. “I reach this conclusion because I am persuaded that this law was specifically targeted to curtail voting in Milwaukee without any other legitimate purpose,” Peterson wrote. “The Legislature’s immediate goal was to achieve a partisan objective, but the means of achieving that objective was to suppress the reliably Democratic vote of Milwaukee’s African-Americans.”

Republicans put limits on early voting in 2011 and further tightened them in 2014. The restrictions limited early voting to weekdays between 8 a.m. and 7 p.m. — thus ending weekend voting that had long been popular among Latinos and African-Americans.

Peterson also found requiring early voting to occur at only one location was unconstitutional because it put a greater burden on voters in Milwaukee and other large cities, where many minorities live. It is much easier for a small town to accommodate voters with a single location than Milwaukee and other urban centers, he wrote.

So I am not confident that Speaker Vos actually has fairness in mind when he says we should revisit early voting. Alhtough I do agree that equal start times could be appropriate, one polling place per city. Hardly! Something along the lines of liquor licenses might make more sense…one polling place per something thousand population…then a small town like Antigo WI can get by with one polling place while Milwaukee might be allowed a dozen…and of course with daily hours and weekend hours to match the local lifestyles.

So let’s by all means revisit it but be careful about the what or how you try to make it fair!

Has Robin Vos had a change of heart on “divide and conquer?” I doubt it.

In advance of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s visit to Green Bay today, Republican Speaker of the Assembly Robin Vos took to the Right Wisconsin to blast Trump for not endorsing Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who’s facing a primary challenge for his seat in Congress.

Here’s just one snippet from Vos’ piece.

Politics is about addition and multiplication; not subtraction and division. As a party we need to do all that we can to unify

Of course, Robin Vos’ sudden desire for addition and multiplication versus subtraction and division is rich, given how supportive Vos has been of the “divide and conquer” strategy Gov. Scott Walker has used time and time again to screw Wisconsin’s public employees and middle class.

The fact that Robin Vos – who has used and directly benefited from a “divide and conquer” strategy – is now upset at the division and discord Donald Trump has sowed is both ridiculous and ironic, and I’m glad to see the Republican Party reaping what it has sown in the form of the hot mess that is Donald Trump’s candidacy for president.

Sanctuary Cities In Wisconsin.

Ok, if you have been paying attention to some of the shenanigans in the state assembly this past week or so, you saw that they passed a sanctuary city ordinance. What exactly does that mean? Well here check this out:

Wisconsin cities would face state financial sanctions if they block cops from asking people about their immigration status, under a GOP bill considered by lawmakers Wednesday.

The public packed a hearing room at the Capitol to testify on the bill by Rep. John Spiros (R-Marshfield) before the Assembly Committee on Urban and Local Affairs.

The bill comes amid a furious national debate over illegal immigration, spurred by both billionaire Donald Trump’s White House campaign and President Barack Obama’s attempt to overhaul federal policies without congressional action.

Is this really a burning issue in Marshfield? Or much of anywhere in Wisconsin? Who is really driving this and why?

Even the Walker administration cheerleading JSOnline has an issue with the distraction:

We’re not particular fans of local IDs or of the sanctuary city movement, by which communities adopt policies barring police from asking about the immigration status of those charged with crimes (although requiring police to check could drive undocumented workers further underground).

But these are ultimately local issues that should be hashed out in individual communities. Local authorities don’t need state legislators imposing their will on communities on non-state issues. The importance of local control been a mantra of Republicans for years. Someone like Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), who came out of local government should certainly understand that.

Well it will be a moot point (or maybe not since the state GOP likes to change direction on a moments notice) as the state senate is unlikely to have time to take it up in the http://www.jsonline.com/news/statepolitics/state-senate-unlike-to-take-up-sanctuary-cities-bill-b99673340z1-369431031.html:

A state bill to fine sanctuary cities for immigrants drew roars of protest Thursday, but it now appears set to die with a whimper.

An estimated 20,000 Latino and pro-immigrant demonstrators converged on the Capitol to protest the controversial legislation, which would impose financial penalties on local governments that block police from asking criminal defendants about their immigration status.

But a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau said GOP senators are unlikely to take up the proposal passed by their Republican colleagues in the Assembly.

“It’s not a high priority for any of our members,” Myranda Tanck said of AB 450.

The legislation was introduced in October but hasn’t even been discussed yet in meetings of the Senate Republican caucus — a bad sign for any bill at this point in the waning legislative session.

But back to how big a problem this really is. Here’s the list of sanctuary cities in Wisconsin…plus a county:

Wisconsin

•Madison, WI (Congressional Research Service) Update: In June, 2010, the city council passed a resolution reaffirming its policy.

•Milwaukee, WI (Added 10-13-15, Source: 10-8-14 DHS DDO Report citing Resolution 12-135)

•Milwaukee Co., WI (Added 6-10-12 Source article: County Board Resolution on Immigration on target, Opinion, Journal Sentinel News., 6-9-12)

Just the usual suspects…keep moving…nothing to see here!

GOP Candidates Continue To Sell Out Their Constituents!

As Zach mentioned yesterday there is a special election coming up to select a new state representative in the 99th district to replace Chris Kapenga who was recently elected to the state senate. There are four candidates in the GOP primary and nary a Democrat to be found (so much for Mike Tate’s 72 county strategy or contesting every election) so the winner of the GOP contest will be the nominal representative.

But it is interesting that three are kneeling at the altar of conservative dogma…particularly tax cuts…while important constituencies within their district are suffering…and complaining to Madison about it. Well first let’s start with the candidates”

Cindi Duchow is a Town of Delafield supervisor:

Duchow, 56, says she wants to reduce income and property taxes. “I’m ready to fight to save you every dime I can in Madison so that more money stays in your pocket here at home,” she says in a campaign statement.

Scott Owens of the Town of Genesee:

Owens pledged to eliminate corporate income taxes as part of a strategy to stimulate job creation and grow Wisconsin’s economy.

“I am running as a conservative who wants to go to Madison and continue the big bold reforms that were started by Gov. Scott Walker and Sen. Chris Kapenga,” he said in a statement.

Dave Westlake of Hartland:

His central campaign theme is that “less government leads to more favorable results.”

Among his priorities if elected to the office Westlake lists increasing penalties for fraud, reducing taxes and spending and stimulating job growth.

Spencer Zimmerman of the City of Delafield:

This space intentionally left blank…because he didn’t respond to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Of course lower taxes has been Governor Walker’s mantra and he has done exactly that via all his biennial budgets. But it is seriously hurting Wisconsin constituents and particularly Wisconsin education. I am ashamed that I haven’t written about this before…but recently 35 Wisconsin principals wrote a letter to the governor and the state legislature, calling them to task for cutting state support for public schools. Which schools? Are they from the progressive hotbed in Madison? From the long suffering Milwaukee Public Schools? NO, they are from small towns and villages spread across the red counties of Wisconsin…including Arrowhead HS, one of the largest and most successful schools in the state, and right smack dab in the middle of the 99th!

So I would hope the principals come out against further cuts and shame the candidates that would be willing to cause further damage to their schools by continuing to cut state revenues…and let the parents know what’s going on!!

Here are a few choice excerpts from the coverage linked above:

“Since the onset of revenue limits in 1992, our school districts have been reducing and eliminating programs and resources,” the letter states. “We are burdened by the cumulative effects of budget cuts resulting in increased class sizes, cut programs and deferred maintenance plans.”

Jefferson High School principal Mark Rollefson, who spearheaded the letter-writing effort, said one reason for the principals to collaborate on a message was that most people in local communities know their principals and likely trust them.

“High school principals attend a lot of musicals, FFA events, community functions, athletic events, concerts, PT conferences, graduation and much more,” Rollefson said. “As such, the community can relate to us. A letter to the Wisconsin governor and copied to legislators signed by 35 area principals may catch Madison’s attention.”

Letter-signer Gregg Wieczorek, principal at Arrowhead High School, hopes so. He said principals are the ones who have their finger on the pulse of local education.

“They have cross integration of parents, teachers, students — they kind of get the whole thing,” Wieczorek said. “Yet they’re not consulted. They’re not involved in the decision making or even the advising stage.”

Rollefson said the same goes for local school boards whose hands are “hogtied” because of so many mandates preventing local officials from making decisions.

“The federal and state governments control curriculum, testing, funding, calendar, certification and more,” Rollefson said. “Is it not time to trust the people to make decisions rather than Big Government? Is this not why we have a school board?”

From a similar article from Madison.com:

“We do not support recent budgets and the underfunding of public education,” read the letter signed by Machell Schwarz, principal of DeForest Area High School; Brian Sniff, principal of Marshall High School; James Hickey, retiring principal of McFarland High School, and Jim Pliner, principal of Oregon High School, along with 31 others.

Budget cuts have meant smaller school staffs and less autonomy for local school boards, the principals said.

“Citizens trust these locally elected officials to set policy and support education in our communities. These respected school board members have far less control over local decisions than they did in the past,” they wrote.

The “business model” schools are forced to adopt results in “haves and have-nots” among school districts, the principals said.

If the principals were really smart they would now take their complaints to the voters and parents in their respective school districts and explain the lack of support coming from Madison…they probably can’t directly challenge the candidates or involve themselves in the campaign in their official roles…but they certainly can make the facts known. And maybe the voters can shame the candidates in supporting education instead of knee jerk reactions to ‘tax cuts’.

Quick Take On Opens Record Issue

Since the Independence Day holiday there have been dozens of articles throughout the state about the jaundiced attempt b the GOP to negate Wisconsin’s Open Records laws. If you need a quick and effective overview, try this one from George Stanley, editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

But one thing that is missing from this entire discussion: I own those documents, communications and memos. As do you and every citizen of the State of Wisconsin. They are not the property of elected officials nor government employees to withhold,

Next Assault On Clean Government: Disable The Government Accountability Board

Having learned nothing about Wisconsin’s concern with clean and open government from their open records debacle this past week, the Republicans in Madison decide to renew their efforts to disable the GAB:

“Now that the state budget is complete, it’s time to double down on finalizing the necessary reforms for the (Government Accountability Board) so the bill can be ready for consideration this fall. Those reforms will include a means to change the way the GAB operates. The agency leadership needs to be accountable to the GAB board and the board needs to be accountable to the Legislature and the citizens of Wisconsin.”

Let’s parse out that last quote:

agency leadership needs to be accountable to the GAB board : check

board needs to be accountable to…the citizens of Wisconsin : check

board needs to be accountable to the Legislature… : bzzzt – wrong answer. The GAB needs to continue to be a non-partisan independent board in order to insure accurate and fair elections in the State of Wisconsin!

This Should Be The First Bill After The Budget.

Immediately after the state budget is passed…and even before the governor completes his vetoes…the next bill to get fasted tracked through the legislature…should ban all non-budgetary items from the biennial budget…flat out period…and every Republican legislator who sits on the Joint Finance Committee should be a co-sponsor. If they really mean what they said yesterday about an open and transparent government…this is the next step!!

First Open Records Request That Wisconsin Media Needs To File On Monday.

After another blatant attempt to hide their intentions and activities by trashing the Wisconsin Open Records laws, the GOP legislators are walking it back…originally it wasn’t totally apparent whether they were ‘changing’ it or totally removing it. Reports had quoted a variety of electeds following either path, but now according to the Wisconsin State Journal, it looks as though that provision will be removed from the budget bill entirely!

So what should the Wisconsin media do first thing Monday morning? File an open record request for all information and work product relating to the insertion of this despicable amendment to the state budget.

Polls, Democracy and Right To Work:

Over the past several days a number of proponents of the Right to Work legislation currently sailing through the Wisconsin legislature have been touting polling figures provided by the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute. As a matter of fact, Mike Nichols, the president of WPRI was touting them just this morning in his op-ed piece in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel supporting RTW.

These figures are discussed on the WPRI under the title Wisconsinites Support Right-To-Work Legislation. Their poll suggests that 62% of Wisconsinites would vote in favor of RTW. And since the poll is so overwhelming in favor, well naturally proponents say the legislature needs to pass this bill.

But it’s just a poll. And although politicians like to use polls to get a feel for the climate…they aren’t always reliable. And just because something polls strongly still doesn’t make it the right thing to do. But since the majority of those polled support RTW…well my gosh we should just have it.

Except when the poll runs gob smack into democracy. Unions weren’t thrust upon the earth in a cataclysm of epic proportions. They came into being over a period of decades with the blood and sweat of several generations of American workers.

And the union in the factory…or at that construction site…wasn’t created by royal decree. It came about because workers requested an election…and workers voted for/against the union…and the fors won. And there is a union. And guess what? That election was actually certified. And the majority ruled.

But now we are being told that democracy in the workplace be damned. When someone decides they don’t want to belong to a union…a union voted on by the majority of his or her co-workers…well he or she doesn’t have to belong…or pay dues…but by golly they get the same pay and benefits of participating union members.

But the lesson here…despite what President Obama arrogantly stated years ago…elections matter…and as the GOP has arrogantly gloated since the 2014 mid-terms…elections matter…except when they f*cking don’t. Union elections don’t f*cking matter when you don’t want them to.

So my personal lesson here is I don’t like the results of the 2014 elections…so I’ll just use those state highways but I am not going to pay my taxes. I’ll use the state parks…and not pay my fees. I’ll use the university…and not pay my tuition. State trooper hands me a speeding ticket…not paying it…etc…etc…etc.

Oh I know I can’t actually get away with that…but that’s the lesson I am being taught here.