Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Walker stopping holiday tree lighting?

Dear Exiting Gov. Jim Doyle,

I am writing to respectfully ask you to delay the Capitol holiday tree lighting scheduled for this Friday. In light State of Wisconsin’s current fiscal condition, I want to address several concerns about the tree.

First, the holiday tree was selected in secret (i.e. I wasn’t asked), potentially behind closed doors (or at least doors that close) and someone might have been smoking in the room (hence it could have been smoked-filled). I think the public deserves a much more open process for tree selection. I know the tree is already cut, placed and being decorated, but talk radio in Milwaukee has already made this an issue, thus my hands are tied.

Further, to bind the will of the future governor by pre-selecting ornaments, lights and tinsel is ignoring the will of the voters who spoke loud and clear in the last election - they do not want a lame duck governor and legislature decorating the taxpayer tree. I, along with the newly elected legislature, should make this and all decisions next year regardless of how much sense that directive makes.

While returning the ornaments freely donated and created by Wisconsin school children for our tree might initially seem foolhardy, the future maintenance and storage of these decorations could potentially cost the taxpayers a smidge of a part of a fraction of a percentage of our operating budget. I need the flexibility in the final months of the biennium to see if we can outsource this to the private sector, as I plan to have most state workers on furlough by then.

Finally, there is the matter of the train running around the tree. It must be stopped. It goes nowhere. It does not go there fast enough. Not enough people are riding on it. It is a boondoggle. I ask that you use it to fund roads and to reduce the deficit. Send it to any other community. Just make sure it no longer reaches Madison.

I realize that waiting until I am sworn into office on Jan. 3, 2011 to make these decisions means that we will have a bare space in the rotunda for the holidays and that school children everywhere will be saddened. But these are extraordinary times that demand extraordinary measures…that is to say, my measures.

Thank you for your consideration of this request and for understanding that my sole motivation for sending this letter is to create 250,000 jobs in Wisconsin. And in the spirit of the holidays, April Fo….ah Merry Christmas!


Gov.-elect Scott Walker

I found this letter on the printer in 309 East. Yes, it is December 1 not April 1, but since all decisions are being moved up anyway...what the heck! Don't take it too seriously anyone, ok? It's the holidays!

Friday, October 22, 2010

The tooth fairy or GOP’s claim of an employer tax?

Question: Which is a more credible: The tooth fairy or the Republicans' claim of an employer tax increase?

Answer: The tooth fairy. More than 1.4% of people in Wisconsin see action from the tooth fairy.

I received an email recently from a woman who lives in Sturgeon Bay asking me, as co-chair of Joint Finance Committee, about a “new 11% employer tax” that her representative had vowed to repeal.

It is going to be tough to repeal something that does not exist.

From what I’ve been able to discern, her representative is talking about repealing combined reporting.*

The only problem is that combined reporting is NOT an employer tax. And it only impacts a tiny number of companies that had been dodging Wisconsin taxes.

What it does is close the Las Vegas Loophole. It ends accounting gimmicks that huge, multi-state corporations used to avoid paying taxes in Wisconsin. Some were splitting their corporations into separate entities or using a PO Box in a state that has little or no corporate tax to shelter their profits.

According to initial Department of Revenue estimates, only1.4% of companies in Wisconsin saw a tax increase due to combined reporting. Those few had been using Las Vegas Loophole game or other gimmicks to avoid paying Wisconsin taxes.

Because we closed this Las Vegas Loophole, the rest of Wisconsin businesses and families are no longer left to pick up the burden.

Republicans who want to get rid of combined reporting for their big corporate buddies had to give it a new name like “employer tax” because when middle-class, average people or small business owners hear combined reporting explained, they enthusiastically support it.

So when a politician talks about repealing combined reporting – or a falsely labeled employer tax – what they are saying is that they want huge corporations to be allowed to hide their profits out of state. And the rest of us in Wisconsin can foot their bill.

I supposed they’d like us to pay for it with money we get from the tooth fairy.

* Because we closed tax loopholes, in fiscal year 2009/10 these corporations paid $75.6 million in taxes under combined reporting. An analysis done in January 2009 by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated that corporate taxes overall for that time period would be $700 million. So combined reporting tax fairness accounts for 10.8% of that estimated number. We assume that must be where they got 11%.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

The Five Billion Dollar Lie

For the past year Republicans have been tossing out numbers in the billions of tax increases they attribute to the past budget. The numbers bounce around wildly, as if they are pulled from some hat. But a frequent fave is claiming we raised taxes by “$5 billion” in 2009.

So it was satisfying to see PolitiFact Wisconsin call out a candidate who used this fake number and put this claim to its “Truth-O-Meter” journalism test. This Pulitzer Prize-winning operation came up with a resounding answer: This number is FALSE.

And the researchers over at the Journal Sentinel, which staffs Wisconsin PolitiFact, didn’t stop there. Using analysis from the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau, and other sources, they broke the argument down step by step so readers get the full picture of how Democrats balanced the budget when confronted with a $6.6 billion recession time deficit.

To get to this phony number Republicans included more than $130 million in “enhanced collection measures,” which as the article noted is primarily the hiring of 30 more state Department of Revenue Employees. (Collecting unpaid taxes!) And, they note, there is no tax increase levied on residents, rather it would “lighten the load on those who are already paying up.”

Republicans also included a guesstimated $1.5 billion in property taxes, which as the Journal Sentinel notes, are levies set by local taxing bodies.

And how about the rest of that number: The $1.22 billion increase in the budget adjustment bill comes from tax fairness measures like combined reporting (making large corporations who hide profits out of state pay up) and the hospital assessment, which was supported by the Wisconsin Hospital Association and others because it leveraged $1.2 billion in additional federal revenue for Wisconsin.

And the remaining $1.92 billion bienniel budget number, well PolitiFact chalked that piece up to “taxes on cigarettes, high-income earners and capital gains investments.”

So back to what we’ve been saying all along -- we balanced the recession budget with:

  • No increase in payroll tax

  • No increase in sales tax

  • No increase in income tax for 99% of Wisconsinites (It went up only for the top 1% wage earners)

  • Even the state impact on property taxes was lower than the average of the last five years of Republican governors Thompson and McCallum.

Thanks for putting this lie to rest. Let’s see if Republicans will take note or continue to deal in falsehood and fear instead of facts.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Davis calls for “immediate end” to “ill-advised program” he approved

In a press release today Rep. Brett Davis calls for “immediate end” to an “ill-advised program” that he "learned" about today ... and just happened to vote for in 2007.

The program Rep. Davis says he recently "learned" about is the Wisconsin Department of Corrections paying for driver’s licenses or state-issued identification cards for prison inmates who are being released as part of their re-entry package so they have identification needed to apply for jobs, among other things.

Here is a quick refresher on its origins. The 2007 budget included a bipartisan Corrections package authored by Rep. Scott Suder and yours truly, which passed Joint Finance on a unanimous, bipartisan vote. It went to the Assembly floor in the budget (Act 20) where Rep. Davis was one of 23 Republicans who voted yes, putting the following into state statute:

301.286 State identification upon release from prison.

Before an individual is released from prison upon completion of
his or her sentence or to parole or extended supervision, the
department shall determine if the individual has an operator’s
license or a state identification card under ch. 343. If the individual
has neither, the department shall assist the individual in applying
for a state identification card under s. 343.50. The department
shall determine if the individual is able to pay all or a portion of
the fee under s. 343.50 (5) from the individual’s general fund
account. The department shall pay any portion of the fee the individual
is unable to pay from the individual’s general fund account.
History: 2007 a. 20.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

WORD FROM THE 78th: People over corporations

In my annual newsletter mailed to homes in the 78th Assembly District in May, I surveyed residents to get feedback on important issues. On a variety of topics, one theme came through loud and clear from my district: Corporations should not be given the same rights as real people and their power should be reigned in.

The recession, the financial market crisis, instability and greed on Wall Street and big-oil’s environmental disaster in the Gulf have taken a huge economic toll on our country. People are justifiably fed up.

Most telling was that the question garnering the largest negative response on the survey was: “Do you feel corporations should be able to spend unlimited amounts of money to influence the outcome of elections in Wisconsin?” 92% of respondents gave a resounding “No!”

And 88% of the people supported Democrats’ actions this past legislative session to close corporate tax loopholes, with just 5% against and the remainder undecided. Further closing of corporate tax loopholes was also the favored method among respondents for directing additional funding toward K-12 education. Constituents (75%) did favor tax credits for business, but only if they are used to create family-supporting jobs in Wisconsin.

Constituents agree that the most important issue facing our community is the economy. They want fair solutions that focus on curtailing the power of out-of-control corporations while rewarding honest business practices that help real people find good, family-supporting jobs.

Other details from the unscientific survey included:
● 83% of respondents support a clean-energy jobs bill that requires 25% of Wisconsin energy come from renewable sources by 2025.
● 79% are against U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to privatize Social Security.
● 81% support medicinal marijuana if recommended by a doctor.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Happy Bike to Work week, Steve Nass!

With session over Rep. Steve Nass is waging warfare against a nasty new demon threatening life as we know it in the Badger state.
Shield the children’s eyes. This new malicious entity … is a bike box.
What is wrong with colored pavement or markings at a busy intersection that are basically an advance stop line for motorists with a waiting area in front for bicyclists during red lights? They’ve been highly successful in Europe at minimizing conflicts between cyclists and cars. And the city of Madison just installed pilot project to test them out in a few locations, as the Wisconsin State Journal reported last week.
“It’s basically about liberal extremists in Madison who hate cars and think everyone should bike to work,” Nass told the State Journal here. “It is basically making it difficult to use an automobile.”
It’s odd – Rep. Nass didn’t seem to mind using a circuitous route to work which was a far greater inconvenience than a bike box could ever cause.
Isthmus’ Jason Joyce summed it up well on The Daily Page: “This is what happens when you let the Vicki McKenna show determine your legislative agenda. Steve Nass says the bike boxes, which received mostly positive response last week with a decent amount of apathy tossed in, are a liberal plot. Worse, they encourage bikes to get in the way of cars when the light turns green. I guess that means cars might have to yield occasionally. The horror!”
Yet Nass told the State Journal he plans to introduce legislation in January to ban such boxes. When one of my constituents, Rosemary Lee, phoned his office to complain – she was told by a staffer that state resources might be used. The call got more heated, according to Lee and she says the staffer told her that if she wants bike boxes, she should move to Europe.
FYI, we’ve been assured by the Madison Mayor’s office that not only was the vast majority of this pilot funded by the private company that makes the pavement markings – no state or federal money was used to test this creative idea.
I’m sure this news will make Rep. Nass so happy that he’ll take to the streets on his bicycle with the huge numbers of Madisonians who will be celebrating Bike to Work week next week, June 6 to 11.
If he does so, he’s welcome to use the City of Madison bike boxes.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Big Pharma won’t win

You win some and you lose some. And anyone who thinks we “lost” on medical marijuana in Wisconsin is wrong. Dead wrong.

This legislative session, we made more progress in passing a medical cannabis law than ever before. In December of 2009 we had a fantastic public hearing that showcased this topic. If you were there, you know what I’m talking about. We packed the largest hearing room in the State Capitol – there was a line out the door of people waiting to testify. In the end, 104 people either registered in favor of the bill and only six logged their opposition.
104 vs. 6 -- we win.

The media took notice of the bill as well. Not only did 10 newspapers endorse the bill with none opposing the bill, but we got more press coverage statewide on this issue than ever before.
10 vs. 0 -- we win.

Four organizations registered in favor of the bill with the Wisconsin ethics board and only two registered against. 4 vs. 2 -- we win.

A Facebook page sprung up in favor of the bill and generated more than 10,000 fans in under two months. To this day, there is still no organized grassroots group working to kill this bill. Activism vs. Apathy -- we win.

Today, Senator Jon Erpenbach, the bill’s other co-author, and I sent a letter to supporters of the bill. We pledge to keep fighting. People’s lives are literally at stake. While the bill did not pass this session, that’s not gonna stop us from advocating for compassionate care for seriously ill patients.

Today, we got a glimpse of what motivates the bill’s key opponents. In today’s Badger Herald, a UW campus newspaper, Wisconsin Medical Society’s Mark Grapentine stated:
“We don’t believe anything you can just grow in your backyard … is really the best way to go in terms of advancing the science.”

So there you have it, if Big Pharma isn’t making it, they oppose it. Sadly, this just proves that medicine is a business just like any other. The only difference is, if I ignore one of my prospective clients for my small business, they’ll just go elsewhere. When the State Medical Society turns a blind eye to the will of seriously ill patients, they don’t have easy alternative options.

Apparently, the State Medical Society is completely ignoring the litany of evidence – anecdotal and scientific -- showing that cannabis provides life saving appetite growth to seriously ill patients and alleviates pain with fewer side effects of other pain killers.

Medical cannabis with a doctor’s guidance is less dangerous than a doctor prescribing addicting OxyContin. Just ask Rush Limbaugh. Or Vicodin. Just ask Brett Favre.

I’m no stranger to tackling tough issues in the political arena. And I don’t quit. Together we will win!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Ticket to a GOP circus

Around 3 o’clock this morning something became crystal clear in the Assembly. We saw the true colors of Republicans who have been obsessively focused on punishing their former colleague, now Independent lawmaker, Jeff Wood.

It is not about good policy. It is not about clean government or the integrity of the Legislature. It’s not even about the Assembly officially punishing Rep. Jeff Wood.

The Republicans hope to orchestrate a spectacular three-ring circus.

Wood made everyone aware around 9 pm Thursday night that he planned to pull the expulsion resolution against himself from committee to the floor for a vote. Both sides went into caucus to talk. Dems came back around 10:30 pm.

But Republicans found ways to drag session out – standing informal, caucusing – for six hours. Then after delay upon delay, they cried foul – we simply could not resolve this in the middle of the night!

If their agenda was to punish Wood, they could have done so last night. The Democrats voted to pull the motion from committee so we could take it up, deal with it and move on to other important matters. There is a lot going on right now that is of vital importance to Wisconsin’s economy, our families and our future. But Republicans voted against taking action on Wood saying they didn’t like the early-morning timing they themselves had forced and that they wanted Rep. Steve Nass, who requested the expulsion proceedings, present.

First – this is not about Rep. Steve Nass. We offer our condolences to Rep. Nass right now on the loss of his mother. Having another chance to speak against Jeff Wood cannot be what is foremost on his mind at this difficult time. As Republicans have publicly agreed – this is about the institution and how we are going to discipline members. And Nass himself made it clear when he chose not to attend a committee hearing on the Wood investigation that his presence is not necessary for action.

“There wasn’t any need for me to be there,” Nass told the media after missing the hearing. “It was very clear cut…The resolution is very, very clear…”

Nass is right – his resolution against Wood is clear.

And now another thing is clear. It’s clear what the Republicans real motive has been all along.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

The Comeback Country

Interesting article from the April 19, 2010 Newsweek titled The Comeback Country. It lays out how all the negative speculation meant "bleak is the new black," then challenges that assertion, calling the US economic recovery a "remarkable turnaround."

"But the long-term decline of the U.S. economy has been greatly exaggerated," writes Daniel Gross. "America is coming back stronger, better, and faster than nearly anyone expected—and faster than most of its international rivals."

Worth reading.

Friday, January 22, 2010

The cost of a promise

One thing I’ve learned in my years on Joint Finance is that words have a price. It’s easy to say things and make promises that sound good without realizing -- or at least without explaining -- what kind of hit it would mean to the state budget in extremely tight financial times.

One such vow in the newspaper a few months back caught my eye. Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker told an editorial board that if he were to ever run this state, he would eliminate Wisconsin’s tax on retirement income. Here’s what the resulting
article in the La Crosse Tribune stated:

“[Walker] also promises to eliminate Wisconsin’s tax on retirement income, which he says hurts investment in Wisconsin because wealthy retirees flee to more tax-friendly states.”

So what would be the cost to keep wealthy retirees from fleeing? In such matters, the best answer comes from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. There is a detailed three-page answer you can read here, but it boils down to this:

A loss of $460 million per year.

That's $920 million we'd need to replace in a biennial budget. To put that in perspective, that is almost the equivalent of running the entire state Department of Corrections for one year.

So how would he cover that cost? Walker doesn’t say.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The Governor's Black Friday

Governor Doyle must have been in a serious Friday funk last week. His office put out two press releases Friday that completely struck out.

First, the Governor’s office put out a release announcing the filing of the state Race to the Top application. The state put together a solid application hoping to be one of the lucky 15 states to get some federal, one-time dollars for education. That is a good thing.

What isn’t so good is the Governor’s Don Quixotic obsession with the mayoral takeover of the Milwaukee Public School district. Somehow a positive press release about bipartisan state efforts to get millions of dollars for education devolved into the Governor’s obsession with mayoral takeover of MPS.

In the second to last paragraph of his press release, he buried an attack on Democratic lawmakers for not lining up to jump the cliff with him on his, thus far, inadequately proposed plan for Milwaukee public schools. Does the Governor really believe he has lined up enough Republican votes for passage? Not from what I hear.

Governor, remember it was you who launched an inadequately laid out plan without the forethought of allies or a direction you were going. If there is fault to assess, that is where you should look. Perhaps you need to reassess the launch and execution of your “plan” for mayoral takeover.

Also of note was the media release sent out at 4:34 pm on Friday announcing the Recovery jobs report. Yes, I will say it again: The Governor announced 44,000 jobs retained or created through recovery dollars at 4:30 pm on a Friday, the black hole of media times to get coverage. Doh!

It’s time to get back to the legislative Democrats’ #1 priority – jobs. I think the Mayoral takeover plan in its current form is on self-induced life-support.