Sunday, December 30, 2007

Where's Terry?

The South Side is wondering why Ald. Terry Witkowski is so quiet over airport expansion plans that will destroy an entire neighborhood in his district. He's invisible on the issue.

Witkowski has shown himself perfectly willing to swallow whole, without pause to chew or think, the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's argument that it must sacrifice 27th Street businesses in order to save south side homes and accommodate the proposed, unfunded $1.9 billion-plus-hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars in interest costs freeway expansion plan. (We mustn't think there are more than two choices, must we?)

On the airport issue, though, not a word.

The airport says it needs a new runway by 2016 to 2020. The folks at General Mitchell International Airport have produced newsletters that are remarkably uninformative about the devastating impact the plan would have on the alderman's district. The airport included this map in its fall newsletter, which reveals not much.The yellow area is the property the airport wants to acquire. The dashed line trapezoidy things are planned airport protection zones where development generally is restricted. All that looks fine and dandy until you lay the airport-produced map over a satellite shot of the same area.

Here's the neighborhood, as seen from space:

Here is the airport plan married to the Google shot. The match isn't perfect, but is close enough for demonstration purposes. I outlined the key areas -- protection zones and the land the airport wants.

And here are a couple shots of the neighborhood the airport wants -- one to show a larger view and another, closer, of the main residential area that would be affected. The plan actually calls for rerouting streets to make room for airport growth.

Terry, where are you?

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Good new taxes for Milwaukee, Milwaukee County

The city and the county need new revenue. That's pretty obvious. The city needs additional tax revenue to support all those additional police who don't seem to be making much of a dent in crime) partly because even if they arrest a thousand more bad guys, there is finite room in the county jail and House of Correction for those same bad guys and when a thousand come in, a thousand go out). The county needs more money for parks, safety and just about everything else.

To settle the matter right away, and because leaving the decision to elected heads of local government means there will be no decision (think $91 million in transit money), here is how the tax revenue would be distributed: 33% to the county, 66% to the municipality where the taxed purchase is made.

The taxes:
  • 5 cents per bottle for bottled water. Chicago just adopted this tax, and it is expected to raise $21 million for the city. If people can afford to spend money on water that comes in bottles that then end up as litter or as landfill contents, they can afford the extra nickel. Note to bottled water drinkers: the caps to the damned bottles do indeed count as litter when you throw them in the street, or on the parks. There seems to be two or three caps disposed of this way for every bottle littered.
  • A 1 cent tax on bags designed for "to go" food from fast food restaurants. This is nicknamed the "McDonald's tax" in honor of the predominant fast food litter variety in Milwaukee, and for the red and white garbage that has accumulated on S. 43rd St. since a McDonald's opened up a few years back south of Miller Park. This tax could help fund litter clean-up crews (and even garbage cans for the parks!) and special patrols that would levy heavy, heavy fines on the morons who don't like the fast food detritus in theirs car, so open the doors and put it on the streets.
  • A 1 cent tax on plastic shopping bags. What we really need is some elected officials courageous enough to ban the darned things, but while we are waiting for hell to freeze over, let's tax 'em to support the clean-up crews mentioned above and the parks.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Waiting on the gov

He did it for the Canal St. bus line. Now will Gov. Doyle ride to the rescue of the No. 9 bus line that carries Milwaukee workers to Waukesha County jobs?

Jim Rowen calls for him to either find the money for the route or to knock a couple of county executives' heads together and get them to find the cash.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

The troubles faced by local government

The book Local Tax Policy: a Federalist Perspective appears guaranteed not to make anyone's best seller list, but author David Brunori nails the Milwaukee dilemma cold. I'm not too sure about his championing the property tax as a solution, but a fair property tax system, in which everybody pays, would be a lot better than the homeowner screw job we've got going now.

An excerpt is below, and the rest of Chapter 1 is here. Light reading for the holidays.

Local governments across the United States are struggling to raise revenue to pay for public services. Increased demands by citizens for more, and better, public services; the ever-rising costs of providing services; and a plethora of legal and political restrictions on raising tax revenue have left many American local governments in dire fiscal straits. These revenue problems are not the result of economic downturn. Rather, the problems stem from structural deficiencies that pose a risk to raising revenue and meeting government service responsibilities far into the future...

The existence of local government that Americans are familiar with will be in jeopardy without a significant change in the way local government is financed.

Without reform to ensure stable tax revenue, local governments could be weakened to the point of irrelevance. That stable tax revenue must be within the political and legal control of local government institutions. Without such a revenue source, local governments will be incapable of efficiently and effectively providing services. More important, local governments will continue to cede financial and political control to the states.

The only revenue source capable of ensuring a strong and vibrant local government is the property tax. This assertion is intentionally provocative because a failure to address the problems associated with local government finance will have serious consequences. Essentially, without significant financial reforms, local governments will play a far-diminished role in public life—a consequence that is contrary to the best interests of both the American federal system and the American public.

This book expands on this belief by using basic, widely accepted theories, none of them particularly controversial, or even novel. Essentially, from both an economic and political perspective, local governments are a normative good. But local governments require a certain amount of autonomy over their fiscal affairs to carry out their responsibilities. The property tax is the only source of revenue that provides that autonomy. Unfortunately, public and political pressure have eroded the tax’s vitality for decades, and the tax no longer dominates local government finance. The problem for American cities, towns, and counties is that there are no viable alternatives to taxing property, at least none that can ensure fiscal and political autonomy. Thus, the property tax must be strengthened and revitalized if local governments are to continue to play an important role in American society.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Stupid is as stupid does

With ice on the Washington Park lagoon melting rather rapidly Friday, this idiot put himself and his dog at risk. A Parks Department staffer tried unsuccessfully to talk him off the ice. Shouldn't this degree of stupidity be at least a misdemeanor?

Friday, December 21, 2007

HNTB; Making the study fit the conclusion

It's no secret that HNTB is the Wisconsin Department of Transportation's favorite engineering firm and one of Gov. Jim Doyle's favorite finacial donors. It's also been suggested more than once that HNTB manages to ensure that its transportation studies (meaning "freeway widening" studies) arrive at pre-determined outcomes. Now, out of the great state of Minnesota, are stories that HNTB may have worked its magic to come to a conclusion that it's perfectly fine to develop commercial properties in the exact places that jets are most likely to crash if they don't quite make it to the airport. From the Minneapolis StarTribune:

A key part of the board's argument rested on a study that MAC (Metropolitan Airports Commission) had received from a consulting firm that had ties to airport officials and had received more than $50 million in contracts from MAC over the years. The consultant, HNTB Corp., was hired by MAC to study adjacent lands as part of the proposal to build the new runway. In a September 1997 memo to MAC, a HNTB official said the study would help "document a request for relaxation of land use requirements" in the safety zone.

"Make the case based on balance between probability of an accident and potential costs of severe regulation of land uses," the memo said.

HNTB did exactly that.

By April 2002, HNTB provided research that was beneficial to MAC, the developers and the surrounding communities. The report concluded that the risk of a fatal jetliner crash in the safety zones was very slight.

Nigel Finney, MAC's development director, said, "Our intent was always to do what we needed to do to run a safe airport."

Rought's aeronautics staff found flaws in the study -- the report did not correlate an airplane crash to the probability of death of people on the ground.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Air quality alerts

Anyone notice how many air quality alerts we've been having lately? They used to be a summer phenom, but now here they are in the dead of winter.

Today's air quality alert was for particulates, which can do real damage to your lungs. Milwaukee is pretty much expected to be declared a non-attainment area for particulate matter in 2009 by the EPA. The state says it won't do anything about the high levels of damaging pollution until the EPA actually lowers the boom.

We now officially live in state where the environmental standards are so horribly degraded that the Bush Administration's are higher. Whoa, now that's scary!

Until it gets better here, don't think about your frying lung. (Didn't that used to be a Sally Field sitcom, "The Frying Lung?")

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Van Hollen's remarks grossly inappropriate

Atty. Gen. J.B. Van Hollen, a Republican, suggests that Dane County District Atty. Brian Blanchard should strike a plea deal with former Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen, a Republican, in Jensen's corruption case.

Van Hollen's comments are simply inappropriate. He should keep his mouth shut and let the prosecutors and defense lawyers and judges handling the case do their jobs without such heavy-handed, big booted interference.

Perhaps the attorney general is going to start opining on settlement discussions for the routine, everyday drug, fraud and battery cases that don't involve his partisan pals.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Milwaukee pays for Drexel Ave. interchange

In WisDOT's own words, buried deep in the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the unfunded $1.9 billion-plus-several-hundred-million-more-in-interest proposed North-South I-94 expansion project, is what was pretty clear all along: Suburbs gain, Milwaukee pays.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Dr. Laura Anderko, Part 2

On DDT and costs of environment-related health conditions:

A little late to matter

Hey, the JS finally got around to reporting on the Milwaukee Public Library's new policy of refusing to allow patrons to reserve electronic media.

It's not exactly a new issue --, the site formerly known as, reported on it Oct. 1.

The JS has a handful more readers than does -- had the JS reported on this matter before the budget was adopted, perhaps people would have come out to the public hearings and protested the policy change. Maybe it wouldn't have happened.

Alas, however, the JS didn't see fit to report on a proposed policy change that would affect thousands and thousands of people. There must have been something more important things going on -- maybe Brett Favre sneezing, Brett Favre coughing, three front page photos of Brett Favre, and Deanna's favorite recipes.

Friday, December 14, 2007

On plowing, part 2

Behind that pile of snow lying across the sidewalk is the curb cut for wheelchair use. Hmmm, anyone see anything wrong here?

"I'll harm your lungs today, and worry about it tomorrow"

The very area WisDOT where the Wisconsin Department of Transportation wants to expand freeways is likely to be declared a non-attainment area for particulate matter, according to a one paragraph in the agency's 367-page draft environmental impact statement for the North-South I-94 corridor.

The state will only address the issue of the lung-damaging pollutants after the non-attainment designation is official. More here.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Laura Anderko, Introduction

Dr. Laura Anderko, an environmental health expert at the University of Wisconsin - Milwaukee, gave a fascinating and sometimes unnerving talk last month at a Sierra Club meeting. One part of that talk is posted at the Citizens Allied for Sane Highways blog.

The piece below is more of an introduction. More will be posted as the editor finds time to edit.

WisDOT's truly horrid public hearing process

It's a public hearing, as long as you don't want to hear the public testimony.

Testimony behind closed doors, with employees posted to keep you out.

This is just wrong.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

On plowing

I'm not even sure who is responsible for plowing the road leading down the hill from the east end of Story Pkwy. to Miller Park and beyond, but this does not seem to be an adequate plowing job. That lane on the right is not a bike lane. Know anyone driving one-third of a car?

Three cheers for the Common Council!

The Milwaukee Common Council voted yesterday to opposed the expansion of North-South I-94 and to recommend transit instead.

More details here, along with details about WisDOT's sham public hearing process in Milwaukee tonight.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Proud to sign the media consolidation petition

One Wisconsin Now has developed an on-line petition opposing FCC Kevin Martin's efforts to ram a proposal to allow more media consolidation down the through his agency with minimal public input.

Please -- sign it, sign it, sign it. The press isn't free if only a handful of huge corporations run the major outlets.

If you haven't seen Bill Moyers' excellent, excellent coverage of the Martin proposal and the vast opposition to it, check it out.

And One Wisconsin Now has its own video on the issue.

Gotta have them guns

A bill is moving forward in the Assembly that would prohibit the governor, police chiefs and the adjutant general (who runs the National Guard) from regulating guns in times of emergency or enemy attack.

Since we don't know what the emergency will be, or what its impacts will be, why would the legislature want to reduce the options for responding?

Oh, yeah. Campaign contributions and money from the National Rifle Association.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Plowing for votes

It's too bad that the Department of Public Works made the mistakes it made during and after last Saturday's snow storm.

But it seems clear from the rush to plow since then that DPW is not planning to make the same kinds of mistakes again any time soon. The abuse heaped out by a couple aldermen during Friday's Public Works Committee seemed a bit over the top.

Could elections be drawing near?

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Comments due Saturday: Governor's task force recommends fewer highway projects

A Governor's Task Force on Global Warming work group is recommending a better transportation system --with less emphasis on highway-building-- for the state of Wisconsin. Public comments are due Saturday, Dec. 8.

More info at the Citizens Allied for Sane Highways blog.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Yeah, the plowing was bad

Yup, definitely, the plowing on Saturday was below average.

For a number of hours, there was no plowing at all.

Hubby and I headed to a Wisconsin Ave. bus stop about 1:30 p.m. to catch the ol' No. 10 to the Grand Ave. Nothing was plowed -- as the bus pulled away from the stop two blocks away, it fishtailed badly. When we got on, the bus driver said there was absolutely nothing on the roads -- no salt, no sand, no nothing.

The snow didn't come as a surprise and it was accumulating rapidly. Wisconsin Ave. is a hugely important route for emergency vehicles -- how could it not be cleared? How could it not be salted?

We left the Grand Ave. about 4 p.m. There still had been no plow on Wisconsin Ave., and there still were no salters in sight. Our bus got stuck in the snow on 16th St. We didn't move until another No. 10 came along and we got off the stuck bus and got on the non-stuck bus.

The less-than-stellar job done by the city has been pretty common conversation among its residents. It also was pretty obvious to anyone who looked, walked or drove in the city. So why did it take a press conference for the media to notice?

A "found" memo from State Sen. Roger "let 'em smoke" Breske

To: Wisconsin Deptartment of Commerce Secretary Jack Fischer

From : Sen. Roger Breske

Re: My proposed "Sin-Filled Wisconsin" initiative

I hope that you read the recent great Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, which despite the unfortunate headline, "The ashtray of the Midwest?" properly extols the economic development benefits of allowing smoking in taverns since our silly border states have unpatriotically -- and uneconomically -- banned the personal freedom of smokers in taverns. The article explains how in the border town of Hudson, Wisconsin, tavern "business has been boosted by the ban as smokers stream across [the Minnesota border] armed with their Marlboros, Pall Malls and Camels."

As everyone knows, this great country would not be what it is today without tobacco. Thanks to lucrative tobacco farming, the South was once the economic engine of America when real engines hadn't even been invented yet. Trace that history to today, when handfuls of Hudson, Wisconsin, taverns seem to sell more alchohol to patrons driving in from Minnesota because they can also smoke while they get boozed up for the ride home.\

Yes, there are naysayers. Take the liberal New York Times, which posted on its front page on the same day (a coincidence?) as the Journal Sentinel story, an article titled, "From Smoking Boom, A Major Killer of Women." Or cities, states and countries -- Madison, New York City, Minnesota, Illinois, Colorado, California, Ireland. Do we really believe these places are as American as Hudson and the rest of Wisconsin? And those studies that say tavern business increases when smoking is banned? Who in their right mind would believe a study with a conclusion like that?

As the new Commerce Secretary, you should come out smokin' and reap economic big benefits from our state due to our proud status as an outlier, or "ashtray" if you will, and consider related ways to attract commerce to Hudson and any other Wisconsin city.
Just a few ideas for what would be the "Sin-Filled Wisconsin Initiative," which would be a boon to the border economies and send a message to companies and employees across the world that Wisconsin is open for business:

* Homicide-Rights Zones. Allow domestic and contract hits to take place unimpeded by police action. Why should government be deciding who should live or die? (Same point we're making on smoking.) Sales of guns and rentals at sleezy motels will skyrocket.

* Sex Sales in Smoky Saloons. Minnesota does not allow prostitution anywhere or smoking in saloons. Why don't we allow both in saloons? Think of the gigantic surge in emloyment! Sex sells, and it employs. Las Vegas is one of the fastest growing areas of the U.S. for a reason.

* Spitoon City. I miss the good old days, when a man was free to discharge his annoying phlegm into a nearby, publicly located spitoon. Isn't that what freedom's all about? Does Minnesota have any spitoons still? I think not. These should be paid for by the state and installed across Wisconsin. I'm sure the cigarette companies would be glad to sponsor them if we leave room for ads.

Let's create this Sin-Filled Wisconsin Initiative before our neighboring states reconsider their liberal actions. Let's show our neighbors and the world that Wisconsin doesn't appreciate nosy civil libertarians, scientists, doctors, sick people and healthy people trying to take away our constitutional freedom to smoke in public places. We're better than that. We're Wisconsin.

Monday, December 03, 2007

Good reasons for opposing the I-94 north-south expansion project

WisDOT's public comment period runs through Dec. 31 and public hearings on the draft environmental impact statement start tonight.

Full schedule, comment contacts and reasons to oppose the expansion project are posted here.

The latest in bike stereos

I was so proud of myself when I found a little pair of bicycle speakers maybe six inches long and a couple inches high. They let us listen to the Brewers on the radio or music on an ipod as we pedaled along. The sound quality ain't perfect, but at least we didn't need earbuds and could still hear what was going on around us, traffic-wise.

Little plastic speakers, however, apparently are not the cutting edge of bike stereo cool. The New York Times carried a piece last week about New York kids adding to their bikes stereos on steroids.

Stephan Sonnylal, 17, worked on his yellow Mongoose motocross bicycle, bearing a 200-pound system, which features a 50-CD changer bearing a map of Trinidad. It puts out 3,000 watts of power and has three 10-inch speakers, a bank of midrange speakers and two tweeters. It cost $800, he said.

Clint Hasnoo, 17, has a 1,600-watt system with four midrange speakers.

Nick Ragbir showed off his new bike, equipped with a sleek 1,500-watt system with the stereo and speakers encased in clear plastic custom boxes. The car battery and the console are mounted on the handlebars, and the four midrange speakers are mounted in the center of the bike frame.

My ears ring just thinking about it. The Times said one of the units weighed 200 pounds. It might be good exercise moving that thing on a bike, but how do you keep it from being stolen?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Van Hollen's WMC conflict

Annette Ziegler is scheduled to hear a tax case partially funded by her political benefactor, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. WMC spent more than $2 million to help get her elected.

The JS reports:

Ziegler is in the midst of an inquiry over conflicts of interest and recently dropped out of an unrelated case after a lawyer raised objections to a campaign contribution she received. But Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen, who represents the state Department of Revenue in the tax case, has not asked Ziegler to step aside.

Ol' J.B. has a bit of a conflict himself. WMC was a major, major financial angel in his campaign. The conservative group spent $2.5 million to run ads in support of Van Hollen
(and against Democratic candidate Kathleen Falk) during the campaign, according to the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign. WMC officials also donated $1,750 to Van Hollen's campaign, according to WDC.

Here's the picture: Attorney General Van Hollen, who greatly benefited from an WMC's support and cash during his campaign, failed to ask Judge Ziegler -- who also benefited from WMC's support and cash during her own campaign -- to recuse herself because of her obvious conflict of interest from a tax case partially funded by that very same generous-to-its-friends WMC.

Would WMC stay so friendly with Van Hollen if he had pushed for Ziegler's ouster from the case?

This stinks.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Wow! Peace at hand!

A warm glow of good feeling toward all of humanity flowed over me when I read this morning's headline" "Israel, Palestinians aim to reach peace deal in 2008."

Not because I believe the headline, but because it's always so nice to start the day with a good laugh.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

The D'Amato announcement

Ald. Michael D'Amato announced he will not seek re-election to his east side aldermanic seat and political junkies wonder:

Why, Michael, why?

And then political junkies think:

Well, hell, it will be a great race.

The candidates already are lining up and include D'Amato aide Sam McGovern-Rowen, Sura Faraj, Patrick Flaherty, Nicholas Kovac and Andrew Twist. Kovac and Faraj previously planned a joint campaign to challenge D'Amato, according to

Meanwhile, former Ald. Fred Gordon has filed to run for Ald. Michael McGee's seat in the 6th District.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Ald. Bauman gets it

Ald. Robert Bauman is proposing that the state skip expanding I-94 North-South and concentrate on developing the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee commuter rail extension and high-speed rail instead.

Details here.

Immigrants and hate speech

The JS ran a wire story today about the descent of the immigration debate into "hate speech." It seems the downward plunge in the civility level of discourse is not limited to immigration -- "hate speech" may be too strong, but "coarse," "crude" and "mean" seem to appropriately describe what has been going on in the local blogosphere lately. This is occurring more on the right, I think, but there have been some humdingers out there on the left, as well.

Rather stunningly, the paper did not localize the issue at all. Is this the result of the new, smaller JS staffing levels or does the issue hit a little close to the corporate / radio talk show home for the paper to take on at home?

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The buyout and newspaper delivery

Yup, my husband took the buyout from the JS. We expected him to lose the 50% newspaper subscription discount, but did not expect the delivery folks to cancel by delivering only 50% of the Sunday newspaper, which they now have done on both Sundays since his employment ended.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Asthma and freeway pollution

Video: Environmental health expert Dr. Laura Anderko discusses the impacts of freeway pollution on children's health.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Look out for excess pavement

This will be on if I can ever get the @$& site working again:

Freeway plan increases runoff, paves over floodplain
Milwaukee County hit hardest

Nov. 20 -- The proposed $1.9 billion I-94 north-south expansion project would increase paved-over freeway land in the corridor by almost almost 50% in Milwaukee County, according to the draft Environmental Impact Statement for the project.

The amount of impervious I-94 freeway land would increase from 10.3 million square feet to 15.4 million square feet, a 49.7% increase, according to the EIS.

That is more than the combined pavement increases in Racine and Kenosha counties in Wisconsin and Lake County in Illinois, the other counties affected by the proposed expansion project.

"The amount of storm water runoff is expected to increase proportionately to the increase in impervious surface (that is, pavement)" according to the EIS.

The project overall would increase freeway-related pavement from 37 million square feet to 46.4 million square feet, a 25.4% increase.

Some of the Milwaukee County land to be filled -- about 174,000 square feet -- is floodplain, or land that is susceptible to flooding. Increasing the amount of land that cannot absorb water raises flooding risks.

Runoff from the hard surfaces of freeways is generally highly contaminated.

Chemical pollutants from cars can poison water, vegetation and associated aquatic life.

The document does not specify any steps the state would take to reduce pollution from the increased runoff. It states only that "best practices" are under consideration that would decrease pollution from current levels.

It also does not specify any steps the state would take to reduce potential flooding.

The Milwaukee Metropolitan Sewerage District is involved in major, expensive flood control and water quality efforts in the Milwaukee area. MMSD spokesman Bill Graffin said district officials say WisDOT has not been in touch with them about the North-South project.

Monday, November 19, 2007

WisDOT gets weird on race

This is from WisDOT's draft environmental impact statement for its proposed $1.9 billion North-South I-94 expansion plan.

“...the study-area freeway system connects Chicago to Milwaukee, both of which are ‘minority majority’ communities.”

Excuse me? What's this supposed to mean? Is it relevant? Why? How many majority white communities are connected by that freeway? Is that number, which is bound to be astronomically higher than two, relevant? If so, why wasn't it quantifed in the EIS?

New blog to follow freeway / transportation issues

Freeway expansion.

Transit, or lack thereof.

Global warming.

Gas prices.

Oil stuff.

There will be lots of cross-posting.

For those interested in these particular intertwined topics, a dedicated blog at

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Enabling Scott Walker

County Executive Scott Walker got away with one in his op-ed in the JS today.

Walker (or his staff) wrote the following:

Transportation: Our budget maintains all of our transit routes.

Here is the simple truth: the new county budget does NOT maintain all of the routes.

Much of the Route 11 is gone next year; part of the route 80 is gone; part of route 53 is gone and part of route 80 is gone.

As capper points out, the 11 serves the Marcia Coggs building and the Martin Luther King Community Center. The cut will be devastating to a lot of people.

Walker, truthfully this time, also says that para-transit fares won't increase from $3.25, but that's only because the Coounty Board rejected Walker's proposed 75 cent fare increase (which Walker forgot to mention).

While rates may not be going up, Walker and the JS have either ignored or not realized that the county para-transit system is broken -- seriously broken.

Where's that JS I-team when you need it? Hell, where are the newspaper's folks who have a clue as to what is happening in the community? Did they all take the buy-out?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

It's gonna be a lot more than $1.9 billion

Buried deep, deep in the environmental impact statement for the North-South I-94 reconstruction and expansion project are two short sentences that give lie to the agency's $1.9 billion cost estimate.

"All construction costs presented in this document have been calculated to account for inflation between 2006 and the end of the multi-year construction that WisDOT has scheduled to begin in 2009. WisDOT and FHWA assumed a 3-percent annual inflation rate."

What a crock. Inflation in road construction has been soaring for several years. The American Road & Transportation Builders Association reported in October that the cost of highway and street construction materials was up 6% from September 2006 to September 2007.

"Over the last three years, annual highway and street construction material prices have increased nearly 32 percent," the association said.

Three percent. Yeah. Right.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Big changes coming at the County Board

Supervisors Richard Nyklewicz Jr. and Roger Quindel each have announced they will not seek re-election to the County Board.

Nyklewicz represents the south side and Quindel represents the northwest side of the city.

The departure of these two stalwarts could well change the leanings of the County Board, which has more and more opted to take on County Executive Scott Walker rather than kowtow to him.

Good candidates -- step forward! (Please.)

No funding plan for I-94 project

Secretary of Transportation Frank Busalacchi and, presumably, Gov. Doyle, want to spend $1.9 billion on unneeded freeway expansion along North-South I-94 without having a clue where the money will come from:

This is from WisDOT's own press release:

The estimated cost for the reconstruction with eight lanes is $1.9 billion.

The costs will be covered with a mix of state, federal and bond funds.

"As with the Marquette Interchange, WisDOT, Governor Doyle, the Legislature and the state's Congressional delegation will continue to work together to identify the funds needed to complete the project," Busalacchi said.

Hey, Frank. Not good enough. We need to know where the money is coming from before you spend it.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Are Gov. Doyle's global warming concerns real?

Those religious conversions are so amazing, aren't they?

Not so long ago, Gov. Doyle was endorsing construction of a carbon-producing, global warming-enhancing coal-fired power plant in Oak Creek.

His Department of Transportation is widely expected to propose freeway expansion all over the Milwaukee area. Bigger freeways means more people in cars taking more trips creating more greenhouse gases.

But yesterday, Doyle, five other midwestern governors and the premier of Manitoba signed an agreement agreeing to slash greenhouse gas emissions in their states and province.

Pretty impressive -- except that the major goals aren't due to be reached until long after Doyle and the others are out of office. According to the JS:

Among the platform's goals:

• All new coal-fired power plants built after 2020 would be required to capture carbon dioxide and ship it to an underground storage site.

• 30% of the region's electricity would come from renewable energy sources such as wind turbines and landfill gas by 2030.

• One-third of the region's gas stations would be selling the E85 blend of ethanol by 2025. (E85 has its own environmental problems, reduces fuel efficiency and probably won't do much to replace oil -- other than that, it's great.)

¦ Energy efficiency measures would be tapped to enable the region to reduce overall electricity demand by 2% a year beginning in 2015, Doyle said.

Is Doyle serious about his eco-conversion? Time will tell, of course. A good clue will come when WisDOT releases its recommendations for reconstruction of North-South I-94. If it includes freeway expansion, you can take his eco-agreement, crumple it up, and throw it in the recycling bin.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Walker's parks vetoes

County Executive Scott Walker vetoed budget increases for the parks. This despite a rapidly deteriorating parks system that will only get more expensive to fix the longer it is neglected. Here's a pic -- taken a week ago -- of the shoreline of the Washington Park lagoon. Is this really the legacy Walker wants to leave?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

LA shelves plans for schools near freeways

The Los Angeles School District is dropping plans to build two schools near freeways because of concerns over the impacts on kids' health.

The San Jose Mercury News reports:

LOS ANGELES—The nation's second-largest school district has dumped plans to build two new campuses near a freeway after concerns about the impact of air pollution on youngsters.

The Los Angeles Times says the L.A. Unified School District has halted plans to put a high school and middle school within 500 feet of Interstate 10.

More than 60,000 students already attend schools near freeways and five new campuses are being built.

Those buildings will have air filters to strip out road toxins but health experts say filters can't remove ultra-fine particles linked to asthma and bronchitis.

Let's hope the Wisconsin Department of Transportation, which is finishing up the Environmental Impact Statement on the reconstruction and potential expansion of North-South I-94 shows the same kind of concern about the kids who attend school right next door to the freeway. Still...would you wanna bet money that WisDOT will pull freeway expansion money away from its contractor cronies just because kids will sick?

Monday, November 12, 2007

Despite wins, we still lose

This is not a knock on the County Board -- it did what it could to reverse the worst of County Executive Scott Walker's proposed transit cuts.

When all is said and done, though, Milwaukee County will have less transit service next year than it has this year, and people will have to shell out more money for it.

Not good.

Friday, November 09, 2007

The cable bill

AT&T won its battle in the Senate and the world won't stop turning.

Whether we have one supplier of hundreds of channels of schlock or two suppliers of hundreds of channels of schlock is not the vital question of our time. AT&T's win means there very likely will be two, as the Assembly is almost sure to ratify the Senate vote.

Yup, there are flaws in the bill. (And the boxes AT&T has planted around town to support its U-verse service are an environmental and aesthetic insult to us all. If this is how AT&T is going to treat its customers, they are in real trouble.)

The whole issue, though, is not even a pixel in the big picture of big media / telecom scary stuff. If you want to worry about AT&T, worry about its slavish devotion to the Bush Administration, its willing participation in illegal wiretapping, and the Bushies' efforts to see that AT&T and other telcos go unpunished for their crimes.

If you want to worry about the media landscape in general, worry about Federal Communications Commission Chariman Kevin Martin's rush to allow further media cross ownership and consolidation. Cross ownership occurs when a single company owns a newspaper and radio or television station in the same market.

If you think that the loss of public access cable television stations would homogenize media too much in Milwaukee, Martin's proposal -- ignored in the Milwaukee media market dominated by cross-owning Journal Communications-- would increase that threat exponentially.

The real danger of allowing AT&T into town is that U-verse will provide just one more eye-glazing opportunity to watch Leave it to Beaver reruns for the 700th time instead of engaging in and protecting our communities and civic lives.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Huge transportation referendum defeated in Washington

The Washington state referendum lay dead on the ground, a knife sticking out of its back.

There were many suspects. Was the killer the collective vote of those who didn't want to spend $7 billion on roads?

Inspector Wisconsin gazed worriedly down at the corpse. $7 billion was a lot less than the massive highway spending binge the Wisconsin Department of Transportation wanted to launch -- and in only one small area of the state. If $7 billion brought out the long knives, what would a larger freeway-widening package for the Milwaukee area bring out?

Or was the killer the anti-transit crowd? That could easily be the case -- those people were delusional and had great difficulty connecting and staying connected to reality. They refused to acknowledge, for example, that oil supplies are finite, that global warming is real, and that sprawl is unsustainable. The Washington state referendum was looking for $11 billion for transit, more than it would put into roads. Did roads' tough friends retaliate? Did their delusions push them too far?

Inspector Wisconsin squatted near the corpse, his knees popping as he settled on his heels. He removed his fedora, turning it slowly in his hands. The twilight mist felt cool against his skin.

Could transit be killed in Wisconsin? Could the killer strike there next? Transit was already weak in please-keep-the-headquarters-here-Miller country, and getting weaker by the day and by the year. Roads had powerful friends everywhere, while transit was like an old man living out his days in a run-down rooming house. It had plenty of friends, sure, but not the people with the money who could make a difference.

Inspector Wisconsin rose, and sighed. The referendum was dead -- nothing he could do could bring it back to life. A new referendum would come along in a few years, maybe better than this one, maybe not. It would live or it would die, but it wasn't Inspector Wisconsin's problem.

He had his own case back home, and maybe he could prevent a death -- he still had hope, at least.

It was about that old man in the rooming house, transit. The people who were supposed to take care of it weren't doing their job. It could be deliberate or it could be simple neglect, but transit was slowly, slowly starving too death. Transit's friends couldn't stop the slide.

Inspector Wisconsin put his hat on his head and tightened the belt on his rain coat. He had eaten pizza last week on a stakeout and there was a cheese stain on the bottom of the right sleeve. A wave of homesickness washed over him.

Inspector Wisconsin moved from the harsh brightness of the streetlight into the evening shadows, the first step on the journey home.

He hoped it wasn't too late.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

The Shadow People

It is significant and magnificent that the U.S. Census Bureau estimates added 30,000 people to Milwaukee's population total.

Milwaukee's population, like all large U.S. cities, has a significant number of undocumented immigrants living in the shadows, very much unwilling to be noticed by nose counters or other government agents.

Congrats and kudos to Mayor Tom Barrett's team for using demolition records and energy bills to compile the data to convince the Census Bureau to incease its Milwaukee count.

The city's population is up, and congressional representation is based on population. Can we please have another congress person now?

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Bush's tailspin

The Kurds in Iraq are killing Turkish troops on the border. The Turks, allies of the United States, may take military action against the Kurds, whom the US under George I urged to rebel against Saddam Hussein and then abandoned to be slaughtered by him.

Gen. Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, who occasionally is an ally in the War on Terror (whatever the hell that really is) when he is not allowing terrorists to train in his country, has supsended his country's constitution, shut down non-governmental media and rounded up and detain hundreds of activists and lawyers.

George Bush II's campaign to bring democracy to the Middle East isn't going so well in the past few weeks. It's hard for George to keep friends and influence people when they are busy exploiting his incompetence and enjoying his ineptitude.

Monday, November 05, 2007

The transit battle

It's not over, because County Executive Scott Walker still has his veto pen, but the County Board restored some bus routes today during 2008 budget deliberations.

Details here.

And video from last week's public hearing.

A Vanity Fair must-read

Yeah, well, I'm a month behind, but the story "Billions over Baghdad" in October's Vanity Fair is a must-read look by two long-time investigative financial journalists, Donald L. Barlett and James B. Steele, at the mysterious case of the disappearing billions of American aide in Iraq.

One stunner from the story:

There is no true method of calculating the human cost of the war in Iraq. The monetary cost, grossly inflated by theft and corruption, is another matter. One simple piece of data puts this into perspective: to date, America has spent twice as much in inflation-adjusted dollars to rebuild Iraq as it did to rebuild Japan—an industrialized country three times Iraq's size, two of whose cities had been incinerated by atomic bombs. Understanding how and why this happened will take many years—if understanding comes at all.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

The Pabst Farms Interchange

The environmental assessment for the Pabst Farms interchange finally arrived!

The feds signed off on the EA back in 1995 and 1996. The document, in other words, is pretty damned old. If the project is delayed, as the JS suggested today and the Daily Reporter suggested three weeks ago, the EA will be even more outdated and stale.

For those of you concerned that WisDOT did not seek public input into interchange plans, relax. It did -- it's just that the public input occurred as long as 17 years ago. WisDOT held its first public meeting on the project in 1990 -- the EA says the final reconstruction alternatives would be presented at a public meeting to be scheduled in "early 1995."

The EA, which also addresses potential reconstruction of other Waukesha County interchanges, contains this howler: "The proposed improvements would not affect the type or volume of traffic in the study area." The agency says that any traffic increase would be the result of new development, not bigger interchanges.

Waitaminute. The build-out of Pabst Farms depends on construction of a new interchange so all those single-occupant cars can get there -- the interchange, not the development, is the first link in the chain leading to new traffic and congestion.

WisDOT officials have to know that. Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas and Pabst Farms spokesman Thad Nation have pretty much said as much. From the Daily Reporter:

County Executive Dan Vrakas said finalizing that interchange deal could help Pabst Farms’ effort to find a new developer for the project. Nation agreed with that point.

From the JS:

Norm Cummings, Waukesha County director of administration, said construction of the interchange is crucial for mall developers.

WisDOT's refusal to recognize the negative impacts of construction the interchange is a gross dereliction of duty. We can all wait for the agency to fix this particular gross error, but we likely will be waiting a long, long time.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

MPS budget hearing -- c'mon down!

I'm violating my very wise general policy not to blog on matters concerning Milwaukee Public Schools or the Milwaukee Board of School Directors (my employers) in order to invite everyone to speak yer mind Thursday, Nov. 1, on the proposed 16.4% school tax levy increase.

The School Board will hold a public hearing on the matter at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium of the central services building, 5225 W. Vliet St.

The proposed budget was released Friday, but most people didn't find out about the proposed tax hike until yesterday, when the JS ran a story about it. The School Board was scheduled to vote on it last night, but just five or six people turned out to comment on it. Ald. Michael Murphy asked that at least one more public hearing be held, and School Board members agreed.
The district's proposed levy-supported funding is up about 2.6%, but the proposed levy is up way, way because the district's state aid is dropping by about $19 million due to declining enrollment and a funding formula that equates property value to wealth (Milwaukee's property value went up, so presto, the district is rich compared to a year ago!). On top of that, the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program private school tax is rising from $49 million to $54 million. That particular tax burden is a gift from the state that is only visited upon Milwaukee property taxpayers.

That's the short version of why the levy increase. The long version, with descriptions of spending proposals and how they changed since spring (when the Board adopted a preliminary budget), is here. It's item 5d, or Vd in Roman numeral terminology, on the agenda.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Taylor a hit at county budget hearing

State Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) was a hit at last night's county budget hearing at Washington Park. Taylor, who is challenging County Executive Scott Walker's re-election bid, spoke about the importance of preserving transit and the parks.

Here's the video and, of course, there are more transit videos here.

More DPW follies

It's bad enough that maybe 1/3 of DPW's truck driver / operators are missing in action daily, and the city's Department of Public Works is just getting around to dealing with the problem (sick leave use started going up nine years ago -- sort of a Katrina-like response, no?)

DPW Commissioner Jeff Mantes' reaction to the City Hall foundation project, though -- "it was in a previous budget, so it's not news" -- makes one wonder what the coffee at DPW has been laced with. (Memo to Mantes: Jeff -- news is not what you, as DPW commissioner, know about what DPW is doing.)

Mantes' insistence that the project wasn't worth attention was bad enough, but his assertion that this exact project has been in the city budget for several years is somewhat ludicrous. First, the project wasn't mentioned in the 2007 budget. Second, the previous descriptions of the project are vastly different than the description contained in the 2008 proposed budget.

The 2002-11 capital improvements plan (posted with the 2006 budget) described it thusly:

City Hall Hollow Walk Replacement: Funding in the 2006–2011 Capital Improvements Plan totals $12.7 million for the replacement of the hollow sidewalks around City Hall. Due to the expected construction timeline of the City Hall Restoration Program, the walks could not be replaced until restoration of the building is nearly complete or completed. Initial funding for this project will occur in 2008. This project addresses the structural deterioration of the hollow, vaulted sidewalks around City Hall and includes funding for the necessary structural analysis, removal of the hollow walk, foundation repairs, membrane water proofing, and sidewalk and hollow walk replacement.

(In 2004 the project price tag was put at $6 million. Darned that inflation!)

In the 2008 proposed budget, even the project name is different:

City Hall Foundation and Hollow Walk Repairs: This project will commence upon completion of the City HallRestoration Project. Ongoing investigation has found significant foundation settling, particularly on the threesides of the northern half of the building. City Hall was built on a foundation of wood pilings as was common inthe late 1890s. Some of the pilings have been deteriorating, a substantial contributor to the settling that has occurred. Work to repair and underpin the existing pile caps and install monitoring wells is necessary to correct this condition. In conjunction with the foundation work, the sidewalks, hollow sidewalk areas, and the associated interior walls will be repaired and restored. The 2008 proposed capital budget includes $1.2 million to conduct a detailed evaluation to determine condition changes since the last analysis in mid-2004. Considerable project risk exists due to the large portion of the foundation that is buried and not directly observable. After work is complete, the building’s foundation is expected to perform its support function into the long-term future.

OK, the word "foundation" is in both descriptions. Guess that's what Mantes meant. Emphasis, scope and "significant" settling must not count.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

The Riverwest Neighborhood Network News' scoop on DPW

The Riverwest Neighborhood News Network scooped the world on the Department of Public Works' 33% absence rate for some key personnel.

"The industry benchmark would be about half of that," Budget Director Mark Nicolini said.

RNNN links to the video of the city budget hearing where the issue was discussed.

It's painful to watch if you pay property taxes, or even want your recycling picked up when it is supposed to be.

As Ald. Mike D'Amato put it, "the people only got a third of the service they bought."

"What's worse," D'Amato said, "paying twice for a service you get or paying once for a service you don't get?"

Wow. Where do we go for our DPW property tax refunds?

The 33% absence rate includes scheduled vacations, but there is indeed a problem: sick leave useage increased 3% since 1999, DPW Commissioner Jeff Mantes told the Common Council's Finance and Personnel Committee, "which does create some issues with respect to being able to fill particular jobs on a given day."

Mantes said there are as many three-day absences as single-day absences. "We've got many absences occurring in conjunction with holidays or weekends and that alone would lead us to believe there is probably some abuse of certainly a valid benefit," he said.

"Either we've got a very unhealthy work force or there's some abuse taking place," he said.

"How big a problem is it?" Ald. Michael Murphy asked.

The main issue with driver workers, he said.
That 3% sick leave increase equates to 12 worker absences every day.

"We've been running at the point this past year of not being able to fill all the jobs that are necessary," Mantes replied.

As the RNNN reports, recycling pick-ups and street sweeping are the first to get dumped when the workers don't show up.

"We look at which jobs can we, maybe, knock off on a given day that aren't necessarily as visible or critical," Mantes said.

The absence problem was so bad in the summer of 2006 that DPW had to "knock off" some work about 66% of the days, Mantes said.

Mantes promised that a revised sick leave policy would take effect in 2008, a mere nine years after sick leave use began to climb.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Doyle, the legislature and the state budget

Y'know how it's always said that watching legislation get crafted is like waching sausage getting made?

With the state budget, we didn't even get to see how gross it really was. Everything was done in secret and in the end members of both houses of the legislature voted on a massive bill they hadn't read.

All in all, it's not a very good budget for those of us living in urban areas. It passed only because it was too late to do anything but vote for it.

The budget does not include a shared revenue increase, which is essential for cities. The budget is an absolute bonanza for road-builders, but again shortchanges transit (it provides more than Gov. Doyle proposed, but that's not saying very much at all). The piddling funding levels it provides for handicapped and disabled transportation bring shame to the state. Hey, guys and gals, oil just hit $92 a barrel and we're at war over the stuff. You might try re-thinking your philosophy some day.

The budget takes school aids away from poor districts and sends them to rich ones. It does not provide a solution to the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program funding mess, a state-imposed rip-off of Milwaukee homeowners that increases their property taxes for schools, but that does not provide the per-pupil student aid for private school students in the program that helps offset property taxes for other publicly-funded schools. It's a unique financial burden visited upon only the residents of Milwaukee.

The Legislature, which rejected the governor's proposal for the state to fund at least some of the Choice students, decided that giving $7 million to Milwaukee to offset the $54 million Choice tax was good enough for city taxpayers.

Whadda joke.

Judy Robson lost her job as Senate majority leader over this, and deservedly so. The Senate Dems played a long, painful game of "giveback" to the Republicans during budget negotiations that just hurt to watch. Despite repeated cave-ins, the Dems couldn't give enough away to satisfy the Republicans. It's just too bad Robson's colleagues couldn't do their gut-check before the citizens of the cities of the state of Wisconsin had this particular lead weight wrapped around their necks.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Another small transit win

The County Board's Finance Committee rejected County Executive Scott Walker's proposal to raise paratransit fares by 75 cents, from $3.25 to $4, according to County Board spokesman Harold Mester.

The committee also recommended preserving the route sections that Walker wanted to eliminate:
Route 80 south of Mitchell International Airport; Route 49 to Green Bay Ave. and Brown Deer Road; and Route 40 to a park-and-ride lot on Ryan Road.

The full County Board is holding a public hearing on the 2008 county budget next Monday, at 7 p.m. October 29 at the Washington Park Senior Center, 4420 W. Vliet Street.

Here's another little video to remind us why transit and paratransit is important. More here.

What's good for the aldermen...

The line story in the JS today is that aldermen did not fully report the details of their campaign contributors, such as their employers and occupations, but mainly silence on the part of the paper during the years Scott Walker did the same thing over and over and over again. That story is from 2003, but Walker was pretty consistent in his omissions, except when he ran for governor.

The JS: We treat Walker differently because we can.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

We're No. 1 (in increasing income segregation)

Surprise, surprise, surprise.

The Milwaukee area's segregation by income grew faster than in any other region in the country from 1970 to 2000, according to a new Brookings Institution report.

The report says:

Geographic isolation may reduce job opportunities for the poor and lack of exposure to higher-income families may affect skill acquisition among disadvantaged youth.


In addition, if neighborhoods affect the life chances of people who live in them, then inequality today could perpetuate future inequality via continued income segregation and polarization.

The study, "New Housing, Income Inequality, and Distressed Metropolitan Areas," also finds that the Milwaukee region, shamefully, ranks #1 among distressed regions in residential isolation of families in the bottom fifth of the income distribution.

Distressed regions are defined as those with little or no economic or population growth. In those areas, the report said:

When the rich want to segregate themselves from the poor, they move into new high-income
neighborhoods. Unlike in supply-constrained metropolitan areas, it is less expensive for the rich to buy new housing than to gentrify existing housing. Unlike in rapidly growing metropolitan areas, this new housing construction would not occur solely because of population growth, because there is little or no population growth in distressed areas. Unlike in the other two types of metropolitan areas, in distressed areas, market pressure for income segregation leads to new housing construction in excess of what would be expected given population growth alone. This new construction may, in turn, accelerate the decline of older urban neighborhoods.

Can anyone say "Pabst Farms"?

The Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has managed to delay for years a promised study on affordable housing. While saying it couldn't afford the study, SEWRPC instead has spent tens of thousands of dollars on developing a new logo and commissioning a book about itself.

Maybe it's just time for a regional planning commission that takes regional planning seriously.

Good and ugly

The quick-don't-read-it state budget is out, and its transportation component has some good and some real ugly stuff. The good: a desperately needed boost in funding for the Milwaukee County Transit System and a prohibition on freeway expansion adjacent to historic Wood National Cemetery. (The Republican take on expanding this stretch of freeway has been 'We respect our veterans so much we will hang freeway lanes in the air directly above their graves.')

The ugly: Approving expansion of North-South I-94 and the Zoo Interchange before there are budgets or studies completed or funding sources identified for either of the reconstruction projects. The Zoo Interchange studies have barely even begun.

Let's change that around just a little bit and try to imagine the state agreeing to agree to build a huge light rail project even though we don't know what it will cost, how it will be funded, or what the environmental impacts will be.

It would never happen.

These advance expansion approvals are some of the most fiscally irresponsible actions Doyle and the legislature have taken in a long time. Another transportation expenditure in the budget comes pretty damned close, though. There is a nice $182 million for starting reconstruction of North-South I-94. Isn't it nice of the legislature to commit the state to this project before telling us what the total price tag will be?

Monday, October 22, 2007

A remarkable sight

It was one of the more remarkable political moments in a while -- Milwaukee aldermen absolutely ripping Democratic state senators for abandoning city interests during budget negotiations, with Ald. Mike D'Amato calling them out by name.

That was last week. As this week gets underway, and Gov. Doyle and his Republican co-negotiators have to reveal more about their budget deal than they put in their press releases, here's betting that a lot more people will be furious.

What do you think is more likely to be included in the budget? Additional money for Milwaukee County's starving mass transit system that thousands and thousands of people rely on for basic transporation, or approval of Zoo Interchange reconstruction before even a single environmental study is done, before there is a budget, and before there is a funding source?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Can Walker walk away from this one?

Scott Walker is "irate" that a Community Corrections Center inmate was able to stay out of custody undetected long enough to shoot and kill Douglas Mitchell.

Milwaukee County residents should be irate, too, not only about the senseless loss of life, but also about the long-standing, clear evidence that much about the House of Correction, which includes the CCC, is simply broken.

There needs to be an independent look how this entire facility is staffed, funded, and functioning. Scott Walker, who presided over much of its deterioration, should not be the one to conduct the review.

And the JS, which apparently is the official newspaper of the Scott Walker re-election campaign, really needs to do a bit more than reprint his talking points.

Capper over at folkbum has done a nice job of covering House of Correction issues.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Thanks for the opportunity, but are you absolutely crazy?

Hey, everybody!

You will be able to pay your Milwaukee property taxes with a credit card! Gee, golly, gosh, oh my, isn't that exciting?

And all you have to do to take advantage of this stupendous offer is cough up a 2.5% "convenience" fee! That's an extra $75 on a a $3,000 tax bill, or $150 on a $6,000 tax bill.

What is the extra convenience that the payer of the $6,000 bill gets that makes it worth twice the convenience fee? Is it legal, or should we call the vice squad?

No, thanks, City Hall. We'll pay by mail, for the price of a 41-cent stamp.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Not even Google can help

OK, what is this thing besides really gross?

When we moved into this house 14 years ago, one of the first things we did was take down an old, dying apple tree that was spilling rotten fruit into the neighbor's yard. We also had to evict huge ant colonies that really liked to eat the apples. Once the tree was gone, though, they took over our garden, which was right near the tree stump. These ants would drill a tiny hole in a tomato, then hundreds of them would use the hole as a doorway into the tomato, which they would eat from the inside out. I remember picking tomatoes, which -- hollowed out be the ants -- would collapse in my hand. I would be left holding a tomato skin, and my hand would be covered with the ants that had been inside. Ick, ick, ick -- it was like something out of a horror movie.

This weekend, my husband discovered that the old apple tree stump was finally giving up the battle and could easily be broken apart and pulled out. Deeply at home in the rotted wood were these things -- lots of 'em. Gross, gross, gross, gross. Ewwwwwwwwwwwwwww.

Anyone know what it is? Besides disgusting, I mean? My Google searches haven't worked.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

A partial victory

The County Board's Finance Committee voted to preserve a bunch of transit routes County Executive Scott Walker wanted to cut.

Not a total victory, not by a long shot. There are still more route cuts and rate hikes on the table.

Details on the route preservations and video of an MPS student who did an outstanding job representing her classmates and the district here.

Washington Park, Milwaukee and McCarty Park, West Allis

One park in central Milwaukee, one in a southern suburb. The pictures were taken one day apart. 'Nuff said.

Washington Park

McCarty Park

Washington Park

McCarty Park

Washington Park

McCarty Park

Transit budget hearing today

The County Board Finance Committee will hold a hearing on County Executive Scott Walker's 2008 proposed transit budget at 10 a.m. today.

Lest we forget what it's all about.

And there are 29 more transit stories here.

Of all Walker's cuts

This one is a puzzler.

County Executive Scott Walker has decided the small unit that works to keep the worst sexual offenders away from the community doesn't need the staff it has, so he cut a paralegal in his budget proposal. If his cut stands, the paralegal will go away, but the work that person does won't, so lawyers will be doing the paralegal's work and their own work and both likely will suffer as a result.

Does that make the community safer? District Attorney John Chisholm sure doesn't think so.

Story, with links to Chisholm's letters of protest, here.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

DeBruin eyes higher transit fares for Waukesha County residents

Waukesha County is considering assessing Milwaukee County transit riders who dare travel west over the county line on the Brookfield Square bus route an extra 25 cents.

County Supervisor Lynne DeBruin said today she will introduce a measure that would -- should Waukesha County go ahead with the "slap Milwaukee" tax -- instruct the Milwaukee County Transit System to look at ways of doing the same to Waukesha County residents riding transit east over the county line.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Waukesha transit tax for Milwaukee County residents

The Waukesha County Board is considering levying a special transit tax on Milwaukee County resident who dare to ride the bus over the county line. For those unfortunate wretches, the transit fare would be an extra 25 cents.

And that's just just the fee to cross the county border. Imagine if a Milwaukee County resident wanted to get to Pabst Farms (like that's going to be possible on a bus) -- a $10 transit tax for such a tony destination?

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Relax, HNTB is running WisDOT

HNTB, WisDOT's favorite contractor and a big, big Doyle campaign contributor, is running into a few problems in Minnesota. This is from the St. Paul Pioneer-Press:

Reconstruction of the Wakota Bridge, on the crucial Interstate 494 artery that spans the Mississippi River between South St. Paul and Newport, is years behind schedule and faces millions of dollars in cost overruns.

It was originally budgeted at $120 million and was expected to open next month.

But a design flaw by engineering firm HNTB caused cracking in part of the bridge, prompting an overhaul that cost about $19 million more and tacked on 14 months to the project.

Wakota is actually two bridges side by side - a westbound span and an eastbound span. The westbound span has been open for months, and must carry traffic both ways until the eastbound span is complete.

Meanwhile, MnDOT has been locked in a dispute with Lunda Construction over how much it would cost to finish it.

At one point, Lunda wanted $62 million to finish the second span - a significant increase over its original bid of $24.5 million. Lunda officials have attributed it to rising costs.

Don't you feel better now, knowing HNTB is scarfing up all the southeastern Wisconsin freeway design projects?

Down in Jacobus Park

Last Sunday was a beautiful, beautiful day.

Jacobus Park was a great place to spend it.

Scott Walker's administration, though, doesn't accommodate families that want to spend a beautiful day in September in Jacobus Park. They are welcome, as long as they don't have to go to the bathroom. The pavilion was locked on this beautiful September day.

The bathrooms in wading pool building were locked, too, much to the distress of a mother we
saw and even more to the distress of her desperate young daughter.

And then there is the pavilion itself...

These pictures were taken through the windows of the locked pavilion doors.

Peeling paint and a broken entryway. Re. the latter, can anyone say "liability"?

The county's liability generally is limited to $50,000, making it very easy to ignore potentially hazardous situations.

Yo! Scott! Letting gutters get clogged like this will end up costing a lot more than keeping them clear in the first place.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Dumb and dumber

Big box stores on the Pabst Farms site? And the state might build a freeway interchange to accommodate that?

That is not just bad public policy -- it's crazy.

The most distressing part of this whole interchange deal is the absolutely shamelessness with which WisDOT is treating its budget as a giant slush fund for road-building. When an agency just has $20 million lying around to throw at a given project, that agency is out of fiscal control.

Equally appalling is the state's disregard for its most urgent transportation needs: we can fight about what those are -- certainly shoring up the ailing Milwaukee County Transit System is one of them -- but we can probably all agree that a freeway ramp to a high-end retail center isn't one of them.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Walker signaling end of the 'county' in 'County Grounds'?

Found this little tidbit in Scott Walker's 2008 budget proposal. The italics are mine. It certainly would appear that Walker is willing to at least consider the County Grounds under someone else's ownership.

County Grounds/Milwaukee Regional Medical Center Master Plan: Milwaukee County will work with other members of the Milwaukee Regional Medical Center (MRMC) and community leaders to determine an overall vision for the County Grounds. Milwaukee County played a critical role in planning and developing the MRMC, which is one of the premier economic engines for the region. Today, key questions have surfaced regarding the County’s role as a member of the MRMC and its overall presence on the County Grounds. The Director of Administrative Services is authorized and directed to initiate discussion with the MRMC members regarding their current planning efforts and how those impact the issues the County is facing as it determines its future on the County Grounds, and to report back to the Finance and Audit and Economic and Community Development Committees during 2008 regarding those discussions.

Scott Walker: Selling a heritage.

Quite the campaign slogan, isn't it?

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

But the paper kept shooting itself in the foot!

The JS is bleeding, which its top management finally acknowledged with its buyout offer for employees with seniority.

It will be interesting, when all the pink slips are counted, what the already bloated editor-to-reporter ratio will be. That paper is so top-heavy, it's a wonder that it didn't tip over long ago.

On the whole, though, it's bad news that a locally-owned newspaper is scaling back. There is so much beyond the paper's control -- changing demographics, the Internet, the Internet and the Internet.

Unfortunately, the paper did not take command of those things it could control, including customer service. Why would a representative of a newspaper tell a subscriber who called to report that he didn't get a newspaper that the paper would be "re-delivered," immediately suggesting that the subscriber is lying about the non-delivery? Yet the "re-delivery" language is standard in the JS lexicon.

And here's a story that, while totally insignificant in itself, says so much about the JS unerring aim when cutting off its own circulation: my sister dropped her subscription because she wanted the newspaper Monday through Friday and the JS insisted on delivering on the weekend, while refusing to give her the newspaper on most weekdays. She called so often she actually got on a first-name basis with one of the circulation folks Downtown, but nothing worked. She finally dropped her subscription.

A month or so ago, the JS called her. Please, the representative said, please, please let us prove we have fixed our circulation problems. Please, please, please let us give you two full weeks of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel absolutely free!

How could she turn that down? She ageed.

And delivery was perfect.

On each of the four days she got the newspaper at all.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Sometimes you have to see it

How bad are County Executive Scott Walker's proposed route cuts? Take a look.

It must be a coincidence that the 31 will no longer go to the Medical Complex or to Mayfair, right?

Friday, September 28, 2007

Scott Walker's budget

Yup, as expected, it sucks.

A $2.6 million cut in drug treatment services, a $4.2 million cut in community services for adults that are offered by the Behaviorial Health Division. Nine interns that do legal research for the courts would be gone.

And those popped up in a two-minute review of the budget -- can't wait to find out what else is lurking there.

Hey, maybe it's a good idea that Mayor Tom Barrett wants to add all those cops to the city budget after all, since Walker seems pretty intent on pushing people who are sick into the criminal justice system by taking away the services they desperately need.

But wait. Even when some of those people get themselves arrested, which is bound to happen, there still won't be any more room in the county jail for them.

They'll still be out on the street, maybe being rousted but not arrested by all the cops wandering around. Perhaps the police could round 'em all up and dump 'em in one part of town in sort of a jail without walls. They could mount a legal challenge, but with the judges losing their research interns, cases will get so backed up that it could be years before the unserviced mentally ill get their day in court.

There's a good chance they would not be able to leave their little jail without walls, either. After all, Walker also proposed big route cuts and fare increases in transit services.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Scenes from a rally

The video below is from Wednesday's pro-transit rally outside County Executive Scott Walker's office. More transit stories here.

No water for Waukesha until...

...every property in that city installs a $950 GardenAngel or the $4,500 Water Angel. Both recycle water already used in a household so that the water can be used again to water the lawn.

Scott Walker's reckless comments

County Executive Scott Walker provoked District Attorney John Chisholm's ire yesterday by opining that some activities associated with pension buybacks were potentially criminal, according to the Journal Sentinel.

Walker suggested the dastardly deeds could be uncovered during a pending investigation to be conducted by Chicago lawyers and then the DA's office here could follow up. Walker apparently feels that the Chicago lawyers are the big boys and the local prosecutors are some what lesser lawyers. Chisholm did not take kindly to Walker's statements or implied insults.

Chisholm said Walker's public comments were inappropriate and could compromise a potential criminal investigation.

"It could create grave concerns, to say the least," Chisholm said. "You can muck it up pretty easy, if you don't go about it in the proper way."

Chisholm said if Walker has any information suggesting criminal involvement regarding the buybacks, he should turn it over to the district attorney's office. The DA's staff is fully capable of handling such a case, Chisholm said.

Walker presented no indication that he has any actual evidence of criminal wrongdoing. Instead, it appears he is simply suggesting criminal activity by a relatively few, easily-identifiable individuals who received or were involved with the pension buybacks.

Much of the buyback activity occurred while Walker was in office, after he promised to clean up the pension mess.

Can Walker be charged with criminal irresponsibility? He would face ever so many counts.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

That sound is the other City Hall brick falling...

You knew it had to happen, didn't you?

When city officials said the City Hall restoration project would cost a mere $70 million, you knew, right? Because it always happens.

Well, it's happened.

$70 million is not enough.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Happy (not really) city budget proposal day

Mayor Barrett presents his proposed 2008 budget to the Common Council today. He's got to do this, but all that he is putting forward is a guesstimate of a budget, since the state budget issue isn't resolved.

Barrett will fund more cops, even though we keep adding cops and it doesn't seem to make much of a difference and the cops aren't really accountable for spending their money wisely or well. He will propose fewer firefighters on trucks, and the firefighters' union will pitch a fit.

Libraries, streets, Health Department -- something important is going to be on the chopping block so we can devote ever-more money to cops who will arrest more people and take them to an overcrowded County Jail where the jailers will have to release some people to ease overcrowding. We will have more cops, but no more room to hold alleged criminals so all those extra cops will NOT result in more criminals off the street. The returns on hiring more cops already have diminished to about zero -- is this really worth starving libraries and not repairing streets?

Whatever happens today won't be as ugly as what happens Thursday, when County Executive Scott Walker presents his guesstimate of a budget that deliberately makes unacceptable cuts to crucial county services so he can force the County Board to do his job and preserve some of those services and then blame the supervisors for doing it.