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?