Tuesday, August 29, 2006

A few questions about Tom Reynolds

Why has he running again?

Does he have an idea about what he wants to accomplish? Is he going to tell us?

Is the only thing he can say to get people to vote for him a lie about Jim Sullivan's voting record?

Why doesn't he just go away?

And by the way, there are a couple more video excerpts from the Sullivan forum here. Keep checking back -- I'm trying to post one a day, probably through the end of the week, just in case folks in the 5th District are interested in the positions held by the only candidate in this race who apparently has any.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Sullivan forum, Part 3: Immigration

More video from the forum incumbent Republican 5th District State Senator Tom Reynolds was afraid to attend.

This time Democratic challenger Jim Sullivan talks about immigration. He supports a path to citizenship for undocumented aliens.

The video is here.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Stop them before they spend again

More money for road builders!

That is the loud cry from the legislative "Committee on Transportation Needs and Financing," which wants to raise transportation taxes by $698.2 million annually. Of that, $544.6 million, or 78%, would go to highway construction.

Just when you thought the Legislature couldn't get any sleazier, its members sell themselves again to special interests. This time (again) it's the road builders. JS has the story this morning.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

You can learn the darndest things in the darndest places

Who woulda thought the president's affinity for fart funnies would be of interest to the Sierra Club? Yet, there it was in the environmental organizations latest newsletter:

This week's issue of U.S. News and World Report noted that President George W. Bush loves a good fart joke. "He's also known to cut a few for laughs, especially when greeting young aides..." I guess that makes him the Commander-in-Cheese.

Thank God for a free press, eh?

Or maybe the Sierra Club thought it found the true cause of global warming

The Sullivan forum, Part 2: Alternatives to incarceration

Jim Sullivan, Democratic contender for the 5th District state senate seat, voiced his support during Wednesday night's forum spending more on alternatives to incarceration while at the same time keeping people safe in their homes and on the streets.

You may have heard by now that his opponent, incumbent State Sen. Tom Reynolds (R-West Allis) didn't show up.

Part 2 of the Sullivan forum video is here.

Book closed on county books talk

County Budget Director Steve Agostini says he doesn't know of any investigation into any county representations made to bond agencies.

And he would know.

Sullivan -- Roll the film

"I think it's not such a good sign when an elected official chosen by their consitutents to serve the public good refuses to go on the record and talk about where they stand on the issues." --
Democratic 5th District Senate candidate Jim Sullivan, referring to the absent Sen. Tom Reynolds. Sullivan appeared Wednesday evening at a packed-house forum sponsored by MICAH and SOPHIA.

A video of Sullivan's introductory remarks is posted here. More excerpts will follow in the coming days.

As promised, Reynolds (R-West Allis) did not show up for the event.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

State Sen. Tom Reynolds: he's ascared

Wednesday evening's debate between 5th District state senate candidates featured Democratic challenger Jim Sullivan, but not incumbent Republican Tom Reynolds, who was too ascared to attend.

Reynolds runs away

Scared State Sen. Tom Reynolds flees from the debate stage before tonight's event with Democratic challenger Jim Sullivan even begins. The two are competing for the 5th District Senate seat.

(We who live in the Milwaukee piece of the 5th District are absolutely unsurprised that we won't see Reynolds. After all, we never do.)

The roundup on the story:


Watchdog Milwaukee



Oops. Sorry. Missed one.

Spivak and Bice.

Scott Walker loves flooding

Scott Walker wants to over-develop the County Grounds. He also wants to spend $8 to $10 billion on freeway expansion, even though the state doesn't have the money and isn't likely to get it. All this adds a huge amount of space where water can't be absorbed. More spaces in Milwaukee County where water can't be absorbed means more flooding and sewer overflows for county residents.

So what does Walker do? He joins a press conference held to complain about spending $350,000 to replace playground asphalt with grass, which actually can absorb water and help prevent flooding and overflows. Only Walker's argument against this funding is so weak that he and his cohorts have to misrepresent its purpose. From the JS:

The Americans for Prosperity Foundation held a news conference at O'Donnell Park to attack a provision in the Interior Department appropriations bill that earmarks $350,000 for urban tree planting. Foundation President Tim Phillips and other speakers, including County Executive Scott Walker and several Republican political candidates, said they weren't opposed to trees but thought $350,000 was too much for 3,000 trees.

In fact, the money did not go for trees alone but was part of a $700,000 city program of replacing asphalt with grass and trees at schools, after a study showed it would help cut Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District overflows, said Eileen Force, Mayor Tom Barrett's spokeswoman.

So, Scott, are you for sewer overflows?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Wee bit of an update on Reynold's role

I've posted a small update on the Tom Reynolds' campaign smearing of Democratic challenger Jim Sullivan. You can find it here.

Reynolds, by the way, said JJ Blonien is not his campaign manager, but is just campaign consultant.

"The campaign doesn't pay him," Reynolds said.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Mystery budget?

Mark Green still won't say how he would balance the budget as governor. He'll only say that he might raise the gas tax, will give road builders everything they want ("I was there for you...and I will be there in the future," he told them) and will slash other (unidentified) programs to pay off the road builders.

It's not a mystery budget. It's just that Mark Green is clueless.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Paul Bucher's Catch and Release Program

Is Paul Bucher a good prosecutor? The statistics argue "no."

Waukesha County was way above the statewide average last year in the percentage of felonies and misdemeanor cases that were dismissed before trial, according to state statistics.

In other words, Paul "I Don't Suck" Bucher issued criminal charges badly and carelessly and a lot of cases ended up getting tossed.

In a nutshell:

Total statewide felony and misdemeanor dispositions: 111,267.
Number of those dismissed before trial: 22,739.
Percent dismissed: 20.4.

Total Waukesha County felony and misdemeanor dispositions: 4,504.
Number of those dismissed before trial: 1,244.
Percent dismissed: 27.6.

At what point does the term "suck" apply?

Here are a few more details. There were 37,809 felony dispositions statewide last year. In 6,422 of those cases, charges were dismissed before trial, for a dismissal rate of about 17%.

In Waukesha County, there were 1,351 felony dispositions, and 260 of those cases were dismissed before trial, for a dismissal rate of 19.2%.

Bucher really screws up on misdemeanors. Last year, the Waukesha County dismissal rate was a whopping 31.2%, a full nine percentage points above the statewide average. Way to go, Paul.

The numbers, please:

Statewide misdemeanor dispositions: 73,458.
Number of those dismissed before trial: 16,317.
Percent dismissed: 22.2

Waukesha County misdemeanor dispositions: 3,153.
Number of those dismissed before trial: 984.
Percent dismissed: 31.2.

I am speaking objectively here: that sucks.

Grabbing credit where it isn't due

The city, the governor, and the Wisconsin Department of Transportation worked hard to get a Canal St. bus route established. County supervisors and County Executive Scott Walker refused to provide the funding needed for this new county bus route. The city proposed using borrowed city money to fund the county route, but some aldermen balked using funds meant for city capital projects to pay for operating a bus route instead. In the end, Gov. Doyle and the Department of Transportation provided the money so the city didn't have to.

So who is taking credit?

County Supervisor Peggy West. (I've corrected the bad punctuation contained in the actual release.)

“It was time for the Valley’s 10,000 employees to have access to reliable transportation to
work,” states Supervisor West. "In addition with the opening of Canal Street to 35th Street and all of the exciting development going on in the Valley, the bus route will be a wonderful selling point as MVBP strives to bring more dynamic businesses to the Valley.”

So, Peggy, tell us again where you were when they were trying to find the funding for this route.

JS latest numbers a reason for gloom

Journal Communications reported last week that revenue for its publishing and broadcast divisions was up 10.3% for the reporting period compared to a year ago, but the JS continues to bleed at an alarming rate:

At the Publishing segment, revenues at the daily newspaper and the community newspapers and shoppers totalled $23.64 million, down 5.4% compared to $24.99 million.

Advertising revenue was $17.14 million, down 5.1% compared to $18.06 million. Circulation revenue of $4.17 million was essentially flat compared to $4.15 million. Other revenue of $2.33 million was down 16.2%, reflecting the loss of commercial printing due to the closure of the Louisiana printing plant.

At the daily newspaper, total advertising revenue was $12.35 million, down 4.7% compared to $12.96 million. Specifically, retail advertising was essentially flat, classified advertising revenue was down 16.0%, national advertising revenue of $0.89 million increased 48.1% and direct marketing revenue of $0.50 million was up 2.2%.

Within classified advertising, the help wanted, real estate, auto, and other verticals decreased 10.7%, 4.0%, 34.9%, and 22.7%, respectively. Circulation revenue at the daily newspaper was $3.96 million, up 0.7% compared to $3.93 million.

Other revenue at the daily newspaper of $0.68 million was up 40.2% compared to $0.49 million, reflecting growth in commercial printing and commercial delivery revenue.

At the company's community newspapers and shoppers operations, total advertising revenue was $4.79 million, down 6.0% compared to $5.10 million. Specifically, retail-advertising revenue was down 6.5%, classified advertising revenue decreased 4.2%, and other advertising revenue of $0.05 million was up 9.8%.

Circulation revenue at the community newspapers and shoppers of $0.21 million decreased 5.4%. Other revenue at the community newspapers and shoppers of $1.65 million decreased 28.1%, reflecting the loss of commercial printing due to the closure of the Louisiana printing plant.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

They will know we are Christians by our love, by our love

Will conservative nut Bob Dohnal, aligned closely with fellow conservative nut and religious zealot State Sen. Tom Reynolds, get penalty points in the Judgment Day book for saying "f*** you" to blogger Bill Christofferson?

Wouldn't you like to know what Reynolds thinks of such language?

Christofferson warned Dohnal that lying about Jim Sullivan, Reynolds' Democratic challenger in the 5th District, could put Dohnal at legal peril. Dohnal came up with this adult response: "Oh Boy, you frighten me so much I am peeing in my pants."

Nyah, nyah, boo, boo. So there, Xoff!

Don't you wonder whether Reynolds approves of the way that Dohnal is spreading the lie that Sullivan voted twice? Don't you wonder what Reynolds has to say about the whole entire sleaze attack that his campaign manager, JJ Blonien, engineered?

Reynolds has been silent thus far, but you can ask him about it all on Wednesday, Aug. 23! Reynolds and Sullivan face off in a candidates' debate from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at
Unitarian Universalist Church West, 13001 W. North Ave, Brookfield.

Should be fun.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

It's not nice to fool bond rating agencies

Word is that some Milwaukee County officials are sweatin' bullets over a new financial book review. Sources say allegations have been made that the county tried to pull one over on one or more bond rating agency by moving trust fund money into a general revenue account to make it appear to the rating agency (ies) that the county had more general revenue (the most easily spent kind of money) than it actually did. When the rating agency dog 'n pony show was over, the money was put back into the trust fund, according to the allegations.

If the allegations are true, this is a very big deal. Making a good presentation to bond rating agencies is a critical piece of government business because the presentation directly affects the government's bond rating, which in turn directly affects how much interest on debt the government pays. Cheating on the presentations and presenting materially false information would be frowned on by many including, potentially, prosecutors.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Congratulations, Town of Summit, on your property tax increase!

Aurora finally won approval to build a hospital in the Town of Summit. Have another serving of sprawl.

This hospital will need police protection. It will need fire protection, and those firefighters will need to be trained in fighting fires involving hazardous materials. The hsopital may even require the development of some sort of mass transit service, since many hospital employees are of the very low-paid variety and may well not have cars. (Plus, if they work for Aurora, many probably don't have health insurance, either.)

Here's the punch line: Aurora hospitals don't pay property taxes. Not. One. Cent.

That's one reason Aurora can afford the lawyers to force communities to accept its hospitals where people don't want them. The folks in and around Summit who didn't want this hospital in the first place now get to subsidize it by ponying up for services Aurora requires but isn't required to pay for.

Congratulations, Town of Summit.

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Big pharma scores off old people

The Center for Economic and Policy Research reported today that pharmaceutical companies are making tons of money under the new Medicare drug plan.

"The excess profits from just a small number of drugs account for a very large portion of the doughnut hole," said Dean Baker, author of the center's new study. "The excess profits for the drug industry as a whole will be close to $50 billion in the first full year of Medicare drug benefit program."

Baker found that drugs cost more than they need to under the Medicare plan because Congress prohibited Medicare from negotiating drug prices directly with the pharmaceutical industry, as is done by the Veterans Administration.

Well, hey! Why not prohibit the VA from negotiating drug prices as well? It would be a win-win for the right wing loonies in charge right now! Step 1: Start wars with the wrong countries to satisfy defense contractors and others in the military-industrial complex gang. Step 2: Help out big pharma by overcharging all the soldiers wounded in those wars for the meds they need!

So much for blogging

If this is true:

"It doesn't take billions of dollars to influence public policy," said James Allen Smith, a historian at Georgetown University who writes on public policy and philanthropy. "It can be done with tens
of millions or even a strategically placed few hundred thousand."

Where does that leave the rest of us?

Monday, August 14, 2006

Green's 70% plan promises a whole lot more than he can deliver

Mark Green's unoriginal and not particularly workable 70% education plan (70% of school district spending must be spent directly in the classroom) includes a promise to "let local school districts maintain control of all decisions as they work to reach the 70 percent threshold."

Cool, Mark, but the federal government isn't going to waive its numerous and voluminous education mandates, so you are promising something you simply cannot deliver.

DPI was to receive more than $550 million in federal funding in 2005-06 for administration and school aids. It was to get another $48 million in federal aids for libraries, organization and individuals.

If your 70% plan led to violations of requirements governing use and reporting of federal funds those funds, would you be willing to forego the money? Then what?

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Wasserman running for Darling's seat; Walker's rumored departure

Learned Saturday at the Grand Slam event for the Hank Aaron State Trail .....State Rep. Sheldon Wasserman (D-Milwaukee) is absolutely, positively, fer sure, running for the state senate seat now held by Alberta Darling (R-River Hills). Just ask him.

Heard at the Grand Slam and around town... rumors that County Executive Scott Walker (rumor 1) will leave office as early as December to take a job with (rumor 2) the Department of Homeland Security. That would open the door for a special election and a run by (rumor 3) State Rep. Jeff "Steal the Airport" Stone (R-Greendale).

Best Grand Slam typographical error of the day: City pedestrian and bicycling guy Dave Schlabowske was supposed to be the Bike Tour Leader, but his name tag officially proclaimed him to be the "Bike Tour Leaker." Oops.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Another Bucherism

Paul, Paul, stop, you're killin' me!

You funny guy, you know the state's top attorney can't be a functional illiterate!

The latest and greatest coherency faux pas from a Bucher for AG press release:

Although there is a forum scheduled in Madison, I have already been unable to attend that...

This is a game, right? Find the Bucherism? Is there a cash prize at the end for the person who finds the most of them?

Vote for Bucher.
"I don't suck"*
*Does not include basic English

Breeding suspicion

There seems to be no better way to breed suspicion than to announce loudly that you've got a great plan and then to say to a particularly interested group, "But I can't tell you about it."

An American Legion official claims that's exactly what the Veterans Administration and the city are doing regarding potential city involvement in developing part of the green space on the VA grounds. These are hallowed grounds for vets. They have a huge interest in what happens there.

David Kurtz of the American Legion says that city officials have repeatedly maintained that the VA directed them not to discuss the matter with veterans organizations. A VA official denied it, but a city official avoided the question when asked directly.

There is no reason to disbelieve Kurtz, although who came up with the bright idea to shut out the veterans is unclear. What is clear is how damaging that decision has been. The city essentially has been left in a position of saying: "Have we got a deal for you -- just trust us." Vets, many of whom spent a large part of their lives being lied to by various units of government, have no reason to do so. They are left instead to wonder what there is about the plans that no one wants to talk about.

The city's plans may be the finest in the world -- who knows? But the VA and the city, by refusing to communicate with a key constituency, have made the task of winning support for this project -- no matter how great it turns out to be -- that much harder.

Hey, everybody! Bucher doesn't suck!

You gotta hand it to the guy for his new campaign slogan:

Vote for Bucher.
"I don't suck."

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Speaking of non-point pollution

The Environmental Protection (giggle) Agency is now accepting comments on a proposed rule that would allow factory farms to dump as much crap into rivers and streams as farm operators feel neccessary. Just another example of the Bush Administration keeping us safe and free from good health and a decent environment. From the National Resources Defense Council:
Factory farms, also known as "concentrated animal feeding operations," raise 
thousands of animals in close quarters and generate about 500 million tons of
manure every year, roughly three times the waste that humans produce. Often
factory farms dispose of these huge quantities of waste by over-applying it
onto their land, from which it can run off and pollute surrounding waters.

Animal waste contains nitrogen and phosphorus, the main culprits in creating
algae "blooms" that rob water of the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life
need to survive. In addition, animal waste pollution can reduce water quality
and cause many illnesses.

Claiming to respond to a 2005 court decision, the EPA recently proposed a new
rule that would allow the factory farm industry to essentially police itself.
Under the proposal, factory farm operators would themselves decide whether they
discharge pollution and whether they need a permit that limits their pollution
and requires them to monitor and report on their discharges (currently,
thousands of factory farms that should be operating under a permit do not have
one). The proposed rule would not even require a factory farm operator to show
authorities how the facility will ensure that it does not pollute. The EPA also
would not require factory farms to control pathogens -- disease-causing
bacteria and other micro-organisms -- in their waste even though technologies
exist to reduce pathogens by up to 99 percent.

The EPA is accepting comments on its proposed rule through August 14th.

== What to do ==
Send a message, before the August 14th comment deadline, urging the EPA to
strengthen controls of factory farm pollution and not to allow the factory farm
industry to police itself.

== Contact information ==
You can send an official comment to the EPA directly from NRDC's Earth Action
Center at http://www.nrdc.org/action/. Or use the contact information and
sample letter below to send your own message.

Att'n: Docket ID No. EPA-HQ-OW-2005-0037
Environmental Protection Agency
Mail code 4203M
1200 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20460
Email: ow-docket@epa.gov

Google see government as biggest privacy threat

Mega-corporation Google thinks the United States Government is a threat to privacy. From the Washington Post.

Web search leader Google Inc., which stores vast amounts of data on the Web surfing habits of its users, sees government intrusions rather than accidental public disclosures of data as the greatest threat to online privacy, its chief executive said on Wednesday.

CEO Eric Schmidt told the Search Engine Strategies industry conference here that Google had put all necessary safeguards in place to protect its users' personal data from theft or accidental release. His remarks followed last weekend's discovery by online privacy sleuths that AOL, a key Google search customer, had mistakenly released personally identifiable data on 20 million keyword searches by its users.

But Schmidt said a more serious threat to user privacy lay in potential demands on Google by governments to make the company give up data on its customer's surfing habits.

"You can never say never," Schmidt said during an onstage interview with Web search industry analyst Danny Sullivan.

"The more interesting question is not an accidental error but something where a government, not just the U.S. government but maybe a non-U.S. government would try to get in (Google's computer systems)," Schmidt said.

Google won kudos earlier this year from privacy advocates for going to court to block a U.S. government request for data on Google users. Schmidt warned that such intrusions could occur again.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

US Senate opens door to foreign snooping

US senators apparently felt so bad about not immediately giving the our own government all the power it wants to snoop on phone calls and Internet traffic within the United States' borders that it turned a piece of that power over to foreign governments instead.

The Senate went ahead and quietly ratified the Council of Europe's Convention on Cybercrime. The Electronic Frontier Foundation

After substantial pressure from the White House, the Senate
ratified the sweeping Convention on Cybercrime treaty.
Ratifying the Cybercrime treaty introduces not just one bad
Internet law into this country, but also invites the
enforcement of all the world's worst Internet laws.

The treaty requires that the U.S. government help enforce
other countries' "cybercrime" laws -- even if the act being
prosecuted is not illegal in the United States. Countries
that have laws limiting free speech on the Net could oblige
the FBI to uncover the identities of anonymous U.S. critics
or monitor their communications on behalf of foreign
governments. American ISPs would be obliged to obey other
jurisdictions' requests to log their users' behavior without
due process or compensation.

ZD Net's Declan McCallah explained the bad things that would happen if the treaty did not get fixed (and it didn't). If Russia ratifies,

President Vladimir Putin would be able to invoke the treaty's powers to
unmask anonymous critics on U.S.-based Web sites and perhaps even snoop
on their e-mail correspondence. This is no theoretical quibble: The
onetime KGB apparatchik has squelched freedom of speech inside Russia
and regularly muzzles journalists and critics...

No wonder that U.S. Internet service providers are worried about
becoming surveillance arms for despotic regimes. One lobbyist told me
the industry doesn't believe the Bush administration's assurances that
the treaty's awesome powers will never be misused....

In a letter to the Senate, the American Civil Liberties Union spelled out some problems. "France and Germany have laws prohibiting the advertisement for sale of Nazi memorabilia or even discussing Nazi philosophy, activities that are protected in the United States under the First Amendment," the letter said. "These countries could demand assistance from the United States to investigate and prosecute individuals for activities that are constitutionally protected in this country."

Other potential problems with the treaty include requiring that participating nations outlaw Internet-based copyright infringement as a "criminal offense" even if it's not done for a profit, and prohibiting, in some cases, the "distribution" of computer programs that can be used for illicit purposes.

How much winking and nodding do you think is going to go on between our feds and foreign feds to arrange domestic spying that would be illegal under US law?

Running or run on?

And the award for the longest first sentence in a poorly-written news release goes to the Paul Bucher for attorney general campaign for this windy wording:

Republican Attorney General Candidate Paul Bucher repeated his call for primary opponent JB Van Hollen to participate in a series of statewide debates so the public can have a vigorous and honest debate on the candidates’ issues and records, after Van Hollen unveiled a new radio advertisement Tuesday that misleads the voters about Van Hollen’s stand on illegal immigration and pumps up his undistinguished record as a federal prosecutor with meaningless sound bites.

The release, issued Tuesday, goes on to quote Bucher:

The public is sick of career politicians who hide behind misleading advertising spots and try to buy their way into office using personal cash and a home loan.

Haven't heard a whole lot of complaining about candidates taking out home loans to fund their own campaigns, but maybe I hang out in the wrong places.

The Official Secrets Act is back

Congress may be on its way to making a (yet another) huge error. The Official Secrets Act, with all its potential awful ramifications, is back, introduced this time around by Sen. Christopher Bond (R-Mo.) and that walking brain fossil, Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), among others.

This bill contains the exact same language that Bill Clinton vetoed in 2000, meaning there is a good chance it won't get vetoed this time around if it gets through Congress.

The bill would subject those convicted of leaking to up to three years in prison.

Yes, the government should be allowed to torture people and be protected by law from people finding out. Yes, the government should be allowed to authorize illegal snooping, and as long as that illegality is stamped "classified," exposing it should be a crime. What a crock.

This is a really bad bill that would result in witch hunt after witch hunt. It should be killed.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

A fund-raising idea for Milwaukee County

This is a sure-fire winner, a brilliant idea to solve the county's budget woes. It comes from my brother Larry, who is OK even though he lives in Illinois.

Milwaukee County can sell naming rights to months. Not all the months, mind you -- just the ones that aren't really named for anything but numbers that mark their places in a yearly rotation that doesn't even exist any more.

Take, for example, "September." It's a very nice month, with mild temperatures and fall colors. The word "September" refers to the seventh month, which is pretty silly because it is actually the ninth month. Let's say instead of being called "September," the ninth month instead is called "Potawatomi Bingo Casino."

What would that be worth to the Potawatomi?

October, which is the tenth month misnamed for the eighth month, might become known in Milwaukee County as "Miller Beer." Thus, the World Series would be held in the month of Miller Beer, which also would make for some natural advertising tie-ins.

"November" in this election year could be known either as "Republican" or "Democrat," depending on the highest bidder. And "December," in keeping with the solemn holiday spirit, could be re-christened "Playstation 3."

Maybe next year the months could be re-auctioned.

Since no one really owns the naming rights to months, this could be used to raise funds for all sorts of financially-strapped governmental units. There may be some confusion if the ninth month is "Potawatomi Bingo Casino" in Milwaukee County and "Modine Manufacturing Co." in Racine County and "Give Me Your Water" in just part of Waukesha County, but we'd manage somehow, and it would give an economic development boost to the calendar printing industry.

No downside.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Green's budget plan becomes clearer: it's all about roads

Mark Green has been working hard to avoid giving out any details of his budget non-plan which has since morphed into a "statement of principle." In today's JS, however, he makes his top priority very, very clear (italics added):

Doyle's Republican opponent, U.S. Rep. Mark Green of Green Bay, has blamed Doyle for hurting the transportation fund by diverting money from it to boost aid to schools. Green has said he would never do that; Canter would not say whether Doyle would repeat that strategy in a second term.

Green's campaign said Green would support diverting tax money from vehicle sales to the transportation fund. But spokesman Luke Punzenberger would not say if Green would support raising the gas tax or vehicle registration fees, or if he would support implementing tolls.

Mark Green is apparently willing to sacrifice a lot of state programs on the altar of the transportation fund and road builders. But every dollar he is committing to the transportation fund is a dollar that would be taken away from other state-supported programs. When will he tell us what he would cut?

Friday, August 04, 2006

Ah, the smell of cooked books in the morning

WisDOT yesterday released projections showing a $384.6 million increase in the cost of 27 projects from what was projected just six months ago, in February. In the previous six-month report, projected costs rose just $3 million.

Curious, aina? Inflation in road-building has been an issue for at least two years, but it didn't hit Wisconsin projects until just before state budget requests are due to be submitted to the governor.

What is that cooking smell? Could it be WisDOT books?

Curiouser and curiouser: the inflation rate varies widely by project. For example, there is absolutely no cost increase projected in the controversial Highway 23 widening between Fond du Lac and Plymouth. The project in February was expected to cost $95.6 million, and in August is still projected to cost $95.6 million. This puppy is still in the planning stages -- WisDOT says $2.1 million has been spent on design work thus far.

The expansion of US Highway 41 from DePere to Saumico, on the other hand, is expected to cost $51.8 million more than WisDOT thought just six months ago. (This project also is in the early stages -- $2.9 million has been spent on design work thus far.) This expansion project was projected to cost $364.7 million in February and now is expected to cost $416.5 million. That's a supersized 14% increase. "Cost increases are due to higher prices for construction materials and / or refinements in the estimated quantitities needed for the project," WisDOT explains in the report.

There is a huge amount of wiggle room in that explanation. In a few short words, WisDOT folks offer an explanation that means one of two very different things: "This cost increase is beyond our control" or "Our earlier estimates were a crock." Can a 14% correction to that crock be a "refinement"?

These books aren't just cooked. They are burned to a crackly crisp.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Put the thieves in charge

State Rep. Jeff Stone (R-Greendale), State Rep. Mark Honadel (R-South Milwaukee), and State Sen. Jeff Plale (D-South Milwaukee, but an R in his soul) were the three thieves who tried to steal county-owned Mitchell International Airport and turn it over to private interests so the neighborhoods around Mitchell would have no say in how airport expansion should be carried out.

Milwaukee County taxpayers would get screwed blue in the deal as well, but oh, well, why worry about them when there are business interests to suck up to?

That plan died a well-deserved ignoble death in the Legislature last session, but a Special Joint Committee of the Senate and Assembly has been established to study the matter further. The chair of the committee is -- ta dah! -- State Rep. Jeff Stone. Other legislative members include --ta dah!-- Mark Honadel and -- double ta dah -- Jeff Plale. The legislative part of the committee is rounded out by State Rep. Fred Kessler (D-Milwaukee) and State Rep. John Townsend (R-Fond du Lac).

Citizen members include a represenative of labor, Milwaukee Ald. Terry Witkowski, and a member of the Waukesha County Airport Commission (an airport that would not be affected by the Stone-Plale-Honadel proposal) but no one representing Milwaukee County government, which is a little odd, considering that the county owns Mitchell International.

The deck is nicely stacked.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

The Steve King story

Hoo boy. Who would have thought that Steve King, who is bringing us all the Doyle-Nixon commercial, was so intimately involved in Nixon's dirty doings himself? Xoff has the scoop. It's a must-read.

Mark Green scurries away from the hard part

When the hard part came, Mark Green scurried away into his little hidey-hole.

Green this week unveiled a real silly document he called a budget plan that did nothing but show he, too, can dream the impossible dream. When people started asking basic questions about the plan, Mark Green couldn't or wouldn't answer.

Green's campaign manager, Mark Graul, now acknowledges Green's plan isn't a real plan at all, but is rather "a statement of principle."

"We don't have the budget office available to us to do line item by line item of what that will be," Graul said.

I like that. Lisen up, everybody. If elected governor, I will ensure the Packers win the Super Bowl.

That's my plan. Wait, it's not a plan! It's a statement of principles. After all, I don't have the Packers playbook to go line by line of how to win.

But wait! How else do the counties compare?

The JS this morning says that Milwaukee County has non-pension retirement liabilities far larger than those of other large counties.

All that is lacking in the story is any sort of context. How does the ability to pay compare across those counties? How does the size of county government and the number of county employees compare across those counties? Are the costs across counties truly comparable at all?

The paper says the unfunded liabilities are 108% of a year's county budget. That sounds really scary and all, but is it? The unfunded liability won't be paid out in a single year, so why even trot out the 108% number?

Milwaukee County's position may well be as bad as this story suggests, but it's impossible to tell from this story.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Our reps want to protect kids from Amazon.com and tutoring

Not a single member of the state's House of Representatives delegation -- not a single Democrat, and not a single Republican -- had the brains last week to vote against a bill that could prohibit libraries and schools from allowing kids to visit Amazon.com on the web. The bill also likely would prohibit minors from visiting that highly dangerous site, Tutor.com.

The havoc the bill would wreak on schools, libraries and kids was not intended -- but c'mon, who says members of congress aren't allowed to read what they are voting on? Maybe they were confused because they don't understand the technology -- and these are the folks we are supposed to let decide things like net neutrality? Scary, scary scary.

This was the legislative process at its worst. A poll-driven piece of legislation, the Deleting Online Predators Act, that was rushed through the House before anyone stopped to think at all about what it said. The bill would prohibit schools and libraries that receive federal funds from allowing minors to access commercial chat rooms or social networking sites.

As CNet News reports:

Even though politicians apparently meant to restrict access to MySpace, the definition of off-limits Web sites is so broad the bill would probably sweep in thousands of commercial Web sites that allow people to post profiles, include personal information and allow "communication among users." Details will be left up to the Federal Communications Commission.

House Republicans have enlisted the Deleting Online Predators Act, or DOPA, as part of a poll-driven effort to address topics that they view as important to suburban voters in advance of November's elections. Republican pollster John McLaughlin surveyed 22 suburban districts and presented his research at a retreat earlier this year. DOPA was
part of the result.

The Joliet Herald News reports:

Blocking access to chat rooms and networking sites also would block helpful sites such as Tutor.com and AskAwayIllinois.com, a chat-based reference service, librarians say. Some libraries use Web logs to communicate with the public and staff. Children doing homework at the library often use chat rooms to collaborate on projects, (Library Administrator Julie) Milavec said.

ecommerce times chimes in with:

"It is a bad piece of legislation," says Bernadette Murphy, a spokesperson for the American Library Association. She told the E-Commerce Times that DOPA's implementation would limit access to distant learning, blogs and even e-mail.

"Basically anything that allows a two-way conversation, such as posting to a blog or sending an e-mail, falls under DOPA," she said.

Specifically, the act would ban any site -- it doesn't identify particular Web sites such as MySpace.com by name -- that would permit users to create online profiles and enable communication between them.

CBS' Larry Magid, who has a strong background when it comes to the Internet, safety, and kids, wrote:

While nearly everyone agrees that Internet predators should be "deleted," this bill doesn't address that issue. Unlike the Adam Walsh Child Protection and Safety Act of 2006, which the President signed into law on July 21, DOPA does nothing to strengthen penalties or increase prosecution of criminals who prey on children. Instead, it punishes the potential victims and educational institutions chartered to serve them, by denying access to interactive sites at school and libraries.

It would be like trying to protect children from being injured or killed by drunk drivers by ruling that kids can no longer walk, ride a bike or even ride in a car or bus to school.

Aside from punishing potential victims rather than the perpetrators, the bill doesn't even address the issue where it matters.

If children are going to get into trouble online, chances are it won't be at school. They'll be home, they'll be at a friend's house or they could even be completely away from adult supervision using their mobile phones. Schools and libraries are relatively protected environments where adults are never far away and, for the most part, computers are in public locations that make it difficult for users to hide what they're doing.

Under the bill, the Federal Communications Commission would establish the final definitions of chat rooms and social networking site, butDOPA lays out some pretty stringent guidelines. The bill says the FCC must consider the degree to which a site:

(i) is offered by a commercial entity;
(ii) permits registered users to create an on-line profile that includes detailed personal information;
(iii) permits registered users to create an on-line journal and share such a journal with other users;
(iv) elicits highly-personalized information from users; and
(v) enables communication among users.

The Wisconsin delegation on both sides of the aisle let us down on this one. An 'F' on reading comprehension for Tammy Baldwin, Mark Green, Ron Kind, Gwen Moore, David Obey, Thomas Petri, Paul Ryan and F. James Sensenbrenner.

Green: no plan

The biggest question Mark Green wasn't asked about his alleged budget plan: what would he cut?

The JS reports this morning:

Green's plan includes a previous pledge to cap tax revenues at the previous year's level and to use anything extra to reduce the deficit or cut taxes.

Mr. Green, what happens if state Medicaid costs go up, as they will? What happens if the cost of housing increasing numbers of state inmates goes up, as they will? What happens if the costs to heat state buildings and to put gas in state vehicles continues to rise, as they very likely will?

Nobody likes taxes, but Green has a responsibility to tell us how he would balance the budget, not just that he would. It's called being responsible.