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.

Gov. Walker’s solution to funding transportation projects? Borrow, borrow, borrow!

It looks like our “fiscally responsible” Governor Scott Walker’s “plan” for funding transportation projects in Wisconsin is simple: kick the can down the road by borrowing $500 million.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel received an early look at the plan, which the DOT will submit Thursday and the governor will use as he crafts the budget bill he’ll send to lawmakers in February. Walker will tour the state Thursday to tout the proposal, including two stops at projects that his administration wants to keep on track at a cost of more than $500 million over two years: I-39/90 from the Illinois state line to Madison; and Highway 10/441 in the Fox Valley.

But Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said that the Walker administration plan would forego permanent answers in favor of a “political solution” that would lead to longer delays on ever more expensive projects. Doing maintenance on outdated highways is akin to putting a new roof on a house that has been condemned, he said.

“I’m concerned that his solution does nothing more than kick the can down the road for two years,” Vos said.

The DOT proposal would also authorize $500 million in new borrowing, down from $850 million in debt approved in the current budget. That amount of new bonds is expected to ensure that in the coming years no more than 25 cents out of every dollar in the state transportation fund is used to pay off debt, state officials said.

While supporters of Gov. Walker love to talk about how he’s gotten the state on solid financial footing, the fact is Wisconsin is no better off than when Gov. Walker was elected – he’s just done a better job than his predecessors when it comes to evading the consequences of his irresponsible fiscal decisions.

“Because Scott Walker Asked”: how the right wing gave to Scott Walker’s campaign without giving to Scott Walker’s campaign

Eaerlier today The Guardian posted a comprehensive article outlining the depths of the efforts by conservatives to help reelect Gov. Scott Walker after it became clear Gov. Walker would face a recall election after he “dropped the bomb” on public employees via the infamous Act 10. While I encourage you all to take the time to read The Guardian article for yourselves, here are just a few snippets.

Scott Walker was under pressure. It was September 2011, and earlier that year the first-term governor had turned himself into the poster boy of hardline Republican politics by passing the notorious anti-union measure Act 10, stripping public sector unions of collective bargaining rights.

Now he was under attack himself, pursued by progressive groups who planned revenge by forcing him into a recall election. His job was on the line.

He asked his main fundraiser, Kate Doner, to write him a briefing note on how they could raise enough money to win the election. At 6.39am on a Wednesday, she fired off an email to Walker and his top advisers flagged “red”.

“Gentlemen,” she began. “Here are my quick thoughts on raising money for Walker’s possible recall efforts.”

Her advice was bold and to the point. “Corporations,” she said. “Go heavy after them to give.” She continued: “Take Koch’s money. Get on a plane to Vegas and sit down with Sheldon Adelson. Ask for $1m now.”

Her advice must have hit a sweet spot, because money was soon pouring in from big corporations and mega-wealthy individuals from across the nation. A few months after the memo, Adelson, a Las Vegas casino magnate who Forbes estimates has a personal fortune of $26bn, was to wire a donation of $200,000 for the cause.

Adelson’s generosity, like that of most of the other major donors solicited by Walker and crew, was made out not to the governor’s own personal campaign committee but to a third-party group that did not have to disclose its donors. In the world of campaign finance, the group was known as a “dark money” organisation, as it was the recipient of a secret flow of funds that the public knew nothing about.

One of the checks made out to the group, for $10,000, came from a financier called G Frederick Kasten Jr. In the subject line of the check, Kasten had written in his own hand: “Because Scott Walker asked”.

Donations by conservatives to the Wisconsin Club for Growth following a visit to those conservatives by Gov. Walker is a common theme throughout The Guardian‘s report, which cites a meeting between Gov. Walker and John Menard followed shortly thereafter by a huge donation ($1 million) by Menard to the Wisconsin Club for Growth.

Another example of the pattern is the casual comment Walker dropped into an email to his fundraiser dated 14 June 2011: “Also, I got $1m from John Menard today”. Eight days later a check for $1m is cut on a corporate check of Menard Inc, the billionaire John Menard’s home improvement chain Menards, and made out not to the governor’s campaign committee but to Wisconsin Club for Growth. There the donation remained a secret until the publication of the Guardian’s leaked files.

And Gov. Walker seemed to understand exactly what he was doing when meeting with conservative donors.

The email trail shows a pattern of behavior developing: Walker meets up with big corporate donors and encourages them to contribute unlimited sums of money through WCfG in secret, then shortly after the checks start to flow. In June 2011, the emails show, the governor had dinner with the CEO of the largest privately owned trucking company in the US, Schneider National, in the hope of getting him and his peers to donate $250,000.

“Stress the donations to WiCFG are not disclosed and can accept Corporate donations without limits,” Walker’s talking points said.

In what seems to me to be the most damning example of “pay to play” politics, Harold Simmons, the owner of NL Industries, one of America’s leading producers of lead used in paint until lead paint was banned, donated $750,000 in secret to the Wisconsin Club for Growth at the height of the recall elections against Gov. Walker and a number of Republican State Senators. As the report notes, the Republican controlled State Senate passed (and Gov. Walker signed into law) changes to Wisconsin state law that attempted to grant retroactive legal immunity to lead manufacturers from any compensation claims for lead paint poisoning. NL stood to benefit financially from that immunity, likely to the tune of millions of dollars paid out to victims.

It’s worth noting that Harold Simmons was no stranger to campaign finance shenanigans, having been reprimanded by the Federal Election Commision for exceeding legal limits on campaign contributions, which is behavior Walker supporters here in Wisconsin have been convicted criminally of engaging in.

Simmons, who died a year after Walker won his recall election, was a prominent funder of rightwing causes who, along with Donald Trump, was reprimanded by the Federal Election Commission in the 1990s for exceeding legal limits of political campaign contributions. He bankrolled with $3m the notorious Swift Boat smear campaign against John Kerry in the 2004 presidential election that erroneously questioned the current secretary of state’s Vietnam war record.

While the bought and paid for conservative majority on the Wisconsin Supreme Court may have ruled that Gov. Walker and groups like the Wisconsin Club for Growth broke no campaign finance laws here in Wisconsin, the coordination that conservatives engaged in for the benefit of Gov. Walker and Republicans in the State Senate and Supreme Court certainly doesn’t pass the smell test.

Scott Walker proposes sales tax “holiday” gimmick

It’s never a good sign when your “fiscally responsible” Republican governor (and “fiscally responsible” I mean not fiscally responsible at all) proposes a sales tax “holiday” gimmick, presumably as a means of boosting the economy.

Sales tax holidays are common across the southern United States – 17 states from Texas to Virginia have them, with the majority of them falling around the time students return to school, according to a July report by the Tax Foundation. Only a few states in the northern half of the United States have them – Iowa, Ohio and Connecticut – though six more states have no sales tax at all.

The holidays are popular with many consumers for offering at least the promise of some relief around one of the major seasons for family spending. But the measures are also panned by policy experts for doing little to boost the economy.

The recent Tax Foundation report found that sales tax holidays do not promote jobs growth but instead merely shift the timing of consumer purchases and complicate the process of collecting taxes from stores. Some retailers may also raise prices during the holiday, reducing consumer savings, the report found.

As has been noted elsewhere, the sales tax “holiday” gimmick proposed by Gov. Walker is nothing more than a blatant attempt to pander for votes leading up to what is certain to be a reelection campaign.

Governor Walker Steps Up To The Plate

I am a few days late on this…but I need to give credit where credit is due.

Governor Scott Walker announced that $4.5 million in state and federal funds will be made available to Milwaukee for help with job training, business development and repairing/removing foreclosed homes. This all is coming in the wake of the riots in the Sherman Park neighborhood of Milwaukee on August 13 and 14, 2016 after Sylville Smith was shot and killed by a Milwaukee police officer.

Now, $4.5 million isn’t a great deal of money when compared to the poverty and joblessness in Milwaukee’s minority neighborhoods…and at this point it is essentially just seed money. But it is the right thing to do and I thank Governor Walker for his efforts here. Although he will be hard pressed to do so, hopefully he can find additional funds in the next state budget.

Here is a break down on the funds:

The initial response, which does not need the approval of lawmakers, includes:

•$1.5 million in federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families money to work with city officials to run employment programs for those in need of jobs.
• $2 million to help the City of Milwaukee to demolish 50 foreclosed properties owned by the city and renovate 60 more. With matching dollars from the city, the money will help employ 200 young and unemployed area residents who will work on the homes as well as clean up all vacant lots, alleys and other blighted properties in the city.
• $1 million to Milwaukee businesses to help them train workers in the city.
• An effort by the Department of Workforce Development to send out mobile teams into distressed neighborhoods, where they’ll set up job centers in churches and community centers to give the unemployed better access to work.
• Work by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to see whether the state can use existing jobs programs to help businesses that were damaged or destroyed during the burning and looting.

Hopefully there will be full transparency in how these funds are used…and we will see this as just the start of a concerted effort to solve the problems facing Milwaukee.

Where Was Governor Walker On Sunday?

Actually Governor Scott Walker was in Glendale (a Milwaukee suburb just north of the city) on Sunday attending a Support The Blue Day rally. I don’t have an issue with that.

But considering the events in Milwaukee Saturday night and his proximity to Sherman Park what he didn’t do is an issue.

He didn’t meet with Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett…although according to the media he did talk to him about activating the National Guard per Sheriff David Clarke’s request…but I have found nothing about an actual meeting.

Likewise the media suggests he talked with the sheriff about the National Guard as well…no meeting.

Nor a meeting with the Milwaukee Police Chief Edward Flynn nor Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton nor any other elected officials or community leaders.

He didn’t visit the Sherman Park neighborhood and observe the devastation nor the people from the neighborhood, city, county and neighboring areas that were cleaning up after the riots and holding person to person dialogues in the streets and parks.

As a man of faith he didn’t stop to join a variety of prayer circles organized by both city and suburban churches.

And he didn’t hear what the people most affected were saying about the events or their hopes or their needs.

He didn’t promise to bring some of his 250,000 jobs to Milwaukee’s northside. He didn’t promise state financial help to a beleaguered city of Milwaukee. He didn’t promise additional state aid for education in Milwaukee. He did not offer to find federal grants or aid to help rebuild Milwaukee’s crumbling inner city.

He didn’t for a single moment display any sense of leadership…

Which Friend, Relative or Contributor Will Gov Walker Appoint to Head the State Patrol?

Stephen Fitzgerald, father of WI State Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and former Assembly Speaker Jeff Fitzgerald, announced his retirement from his post as Superintendent of the Wisconsin State Patrol. Although a distinguished law enforcement officer there were some serious concerns about nepotism and favors when Governor Scott Walker appointed him to head the state patrol. So the open question now, can Gov Walker top this appointment in terms of favoritism for Mr. Fitzgerald’s replacement?

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!