Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Call 911: Mary Lazich Overdoses on Herself

I have a list of about 20 things long that I want to write about, but State Senator Mary Lazich is the golden goose of Wisconsin politics. I detailed her career train wreck a few weeks ago in this post, but her actions over the past day deserve comment.

Lazich is attempting to resurrect her political career by posing as a fiscal conservative, and has vowed to vote against the state budget unless it cuts an additional $400 million. She thinks this message of fiscal conservatism will resonate with groups like Citizens for Responsible Government, who she admittedly lied to earlier this session (see previous column).

She apparently thinks she is outsmarting CRG by holding out on the budget, when in fact she is doing the exact opposite. This budget contains lower overall spending than the governor's, includes a property tax freeze, elimination of the social security benefits tax, and a lower gas tax (albeit only by one cent). By holding this budget up, she is holding up principles dear to conservatives, and harming her majority in the process.

Of course, conservatives like lower spending, but there are political realities. Republicans hold a majority in the Senate because they hold a few seats that skew mildly Democrat. Lazich, in an attempt to prove how much of a budget hawk she is, is selfishly asking senators like Cathy Stepp, Joe Leibham, and Ron Brown to vote for a budget that could cost them their seats, and therefore the GOP majority in the Senate.

The language from Lazich's e-mail to Charlie Sykes is astounding. The self-centeredness evident is breathtaking. She apparently thinks that somehow she is the only legislator that cares about levels of spending, after she voted for the bill in Joint Finance. She wants everyone to believe that any vote she takes at 6 AM can't be trusted. If she truly believes spending in this budget was too high, she had every opportunity to change it in committee. In fact, according to Wispolitics.com, she oversaw the part of the budget that increased the most, the Medicaid budget. General spending in this area had to increase to undo a lot of Doyle's budget tricks that would cause deficits in the future, even though total spending went down.

In the end, nobody is fooled by this charade and Republicans in the state will be worse off for it. As I stated in my previous column, Lazich could be Dead Senator Walking next year.

UPDATE: Clearly, nobody at the Democratic Party of Wisconsin was going to be confused for Stephen Hawking, but this bonheaded release takes the cake. They actually support Lazich for opposing the budget, thinking she has realized what a bad budget it is because it "cuts" so many programs. I quote:

"What has changed her mind? It’s clear that in the light of day, even Senator Lazich now sees the budget for what it really is. Not only does the Republican budget shortchange our public schools, it cuts our universities, spends millions on special interests, and earmarks millions in pork barrel projects to legislators."

Reading must be at a premium over there because Lazich wants to cut $400 million more out of the budget, and said so in the Journal-Sentinel article. As a result, Lazich's opposition could end up costing many of the programs the DPW holds dear.

This brings up an interesting phenomenon with liberals that I have noticed a lot during the Bush II years. If you're in a room full of liberals, if you say you don't like Bush because you don't think he's conservative enough, you gain some kind of begrudging respect, even though you are announcing the fact that you are ideologically further away from those people than even Bush is. But the important thing to them is that you like to criticize Bush, who they cannot stand. State Senator Mike Ellis has plugged into this phenomenon, gaining support from the state's most liberal papers for criticizing other Republicans, even though he couldn't be more ideologically different than the editors of the Capital Times.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Bucks' "All White Stiff" Team

In honor of the draft tonight and the impending selection of Andrew Bogut, I would like to recap the history of Milwaukee Bucks white stiffs. Take a gander of the murderer's row of immobile caucasians that has graced the Bucks' roster over the past quarter decade:

Paul Mokeski
Randy Breuer
Jack Sikma
Larry Krystkowiak
Fred Roberts
Brad Lohaus
Frank Brickowski
Danny Schayes
Mark Pope
Joel Pryzbilla

Special awards to Mike Gminski and Mike Peplowski, who played fewer than 10 games as Bucks, but only because they were corpses at the time.

Monday, June 27, 2005

Mr. Irrelevant: Mike Ellis Battles Oblivion

Wisconsin Senate Majority Leader Mike Ellis is about to step into the most important role of his political career. If the Neenah Republican blows it, he will be another forgotten name in the back of legislative reference books. If he rises to the occasion, however, Ellis could emerge as one of the most significant figures in this state's political history -- a statesman poised for bigger things, perhaps even the governorship. -Wisconsin State Journal Editorial, June 25, 1995

Perhaps you recall the proud day that your family finally got rid of that outdated betamax video tape player, and finally moved up to an expensive, state of the art VHS player. If you do, then you probably also recall the last valuable contribution State Senator Mike Ellis made to state government. Once standing at the precipice of Wisconsin immortality, Ellis now wanders the halls of the Capitol a shell of his former self, struggling to maintain his media presence and legislative relevance.

Ellis, the GOP leader who lost Republican control of the state senate twice in the span of three years in the late 1990s, keeps himself in the public eye by catering to the media on the two issues it responds to the most – campaign finance reform and criticizing other Republicans. Ellis hasn’t written a piece of legislation not dealing with campaign finance reform since 1997, when he authored three bills that never received a vote.

Since most polls show that campaign finance reform in between “better restroom signs” and "tastier ketchup" in terms of public priorities, Ellis’ constituents continue to elect him solely for the privilege of occasionally reading about him in the Appleton Post-Crescent. In the last few years, Ellis has sworn off substantive legislating in favor of an agenda that serves his true constituency – himself and the handful of his old buddies in the Madison media market. A Lexis-Nexis search of the past decade shows that Ellis has appeared in the nutty liberal Madison Capital Times more frequently than either the Wisconsin State Journal or the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, mostly in articles written by the petrified Matt Pommer, who may often be seen hiding under Ellis’ toupee to get a scoop. Gag-inducing headlines such as “Ellis is the Real Leader (May 9, 2002), “Too Bad Ellis Isn’t Running for Governor,” (September 5, 2002) and "Why Not Governor Ellis?" in the Isthmus can be seen regularly.

So why would a pro-life fiscal conservative from the Fox Valley be so revered by Wisconsin’s “progressive” newspapers? Much of it has to do with Ellis’ reading right out of the John McCain “Playbook For Appearing Relevant.” Chapter one urges devotees to push for campaign finance reform – an issue whose only constituency is editorial boards, who gain a monopoly on political speech if “reform” were to pass. Ellis admits his love of this issue is a recent event.

In 1997, Senator Lynn Adelman authored a bill that achieved much of what Ellis is pushing for now – higher income tax checkoff, more public funding of campaigns, regulation of issue advertising, and a ban on fundraising during the state budget. In November of 1997, Minority Leader Ellis cut a deal with Democratic State Senator Gary George to kill Adelman’s bill when Majority Leader Chuck Chvala brought the bill to the floor for a vote. Clearly, Ellis’ devotion to clean elections occurred about the time he lost the majority, was dumped from leadership, and lost his access to reporters’ microphones.

Chapter Two of the McCain Wannabe book tells legislators to criticize Republicans for not being fiscally conservative. Ellis recently has made a career of criticizing the GOP for the “structural deficits” their budgets have produced, complaining about increased spending in those budgets, opposing property tax freezes on state and local government, and opposing new taxes. Ellis voted against the 2003-05 biennial budget for these reasons, and stands poised to vote against the 05-07 budget this week.

Ellis' rhetoric sounds good to a fiscal conservative, if anyone actually thought he believed what he was saying, given many of these concerns seem to be new to him. As majority leader in 1995, Ellis crafted and voted for a budget that increased general purpose spending by 17% over the biennium, and left the state with a $1.5 billion structural deficit for the 1997-99 biennium. As minority leader, Ellis voted for the 1997-99 budget, and then crafted the budget adjustment bill later that session as majority leader that increased spending by 7.4% over the biennium and again left the state with a $1.5 billion structural deficit (all numbers according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau).

In a recent Appleton Post-Crescent story, Ellis cited the structural deficit as a primary reason he was voting against the 2005-07. Total structural deficit in the new GOP budget: $863million.

In separate interviews in 2003, Ellis complained that he wouldn’t vote for any budget that increased the structural deficit, froze property taxes, or increased spending. Yet when Doyle introduced his 2005-07, which does all three, Ellis enthusiastically endorsed the plan.

On the issue of freezing property taxes, Ellis has been consistent. He only favors a freeze on local governments when enough state spending is provided to make the freeze virtually meaningless. Ellis’ answer to higher property taxes has always been more state spending to offset property tax reductions, which runs contrary to his hard line position on reducing state spending. Instead, he urges cuts in programs that could be politically suicidal for vulnerable members of the senate GOP caucus (eliminating 5-year old kindergarten, for instance). In fact, much of the 17% state spending increase in 1995-07 that Ellis supported was to fund two-thirds of school districts, and assuredly contributed substantially to the structural deficit problem the state is in today. After that budget vote, Ellis criticized Tommy Thompson for vetoing a roughly 4% freeze on local governments, calling it “a bad veto, intellectually.”

Ellis has also been critical of tax increases, while he as leader supported a 3.5 cent gas tax increase to fund transportation projects. In May of 1995, when Senator Carol Buettner and Representative John Gard proposed a 50 cent per pack cigarette tax hike, Ellis called it a “courageous, constructive and pragmatic” plan. Ellis has also authored a school financing plan that would impose a state property tax to pay for education, at a rate that would be a significant property tax increase for many citizens throughout the state.

Today, Ellis continues to suck up to the sycophantic media by serving as their lobbyist and pulling down the party he once led. Once a brilliant and constructive legislator with a bright political future, he is now resigned to a life as a curmudgeonly back bencher who stays alive only by sucking the life out of the same group he once led. His obstructionist vote against the budget this week is his means to remain relevant. By voting no, he ensures that the press calls will still come, even though his usefulness has long passed. Ellis’ recalcitrance is an affront to Republicans across the state hoping to see long-lasting GOP majorities – after all, losing those majorities is what he knows best.

One day, Ellis will walk out of the Capitol as an elected official for the last time, remembered for what could have been and forgotten for what was.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Paul Barrows Joke of the Day

"I used hard-earned sick leave and vacation time with the appropriate approvals." - Paul Barrows

Just because he was hard while he earned it doesn't mean it is hard-earned. Hey-O!

"That's just a subtle way of saying that this guy is a freeloader," Pines said. "I find that to be offensive and bordering on pathetic racial stereotyping, and that is a phrase which I have carefully chosen to say. He is one of the most prominent African-American men in state service. It's hard for me to believe that that (factor) isn't a part of this uproar." - Lester Pines, attorney for Paul Barrows

Can I have "how quickly will Barrows play the race card" for $1,000, Alex?

This might give some insight as to why Barrows wasn't fired - John Wiley was shaking in his boots at the prospect of being seen as insensitive to minorities. At the UW, "diversity" is the principle that trumps all others, above even teaching students. I'm sure all the African-Americans struggling to piece together a livelihood to feed their families are glad they aren't in Barrows' shoes right now.

In the meantime, Barrows continues to live out Dr. King's dream of boning grad students and getting paid $200,000 a year to do nothing.

Budget Day Four: A Ridiculously Hot Air Defense of the Freeze

Under a perfect government, citizens would be engaged, knowledgeable, and active. Citizens would be involved in local decisions regarding taxation, public services, and criminal ordinances. The closer government was to the individual, the more active they would be in its affairs.

News flash: Our government ain’t perfect. People of Wisconsin are busy taking their kids to soccer practice. They hold down jobs where they work long hours and some hoochie that works half as hard as them is trying to get them fired. They sit up in freezing tree stands in the woods for days, to shoot anything that moves for sport. They spend every waking hour sorting though their CD collection, to find just the right song to sing when they reach the finale of "American Idol." Okay, that last one is just me.

Any economist will tell you that being a politically active voter takes a lot of time, and time is a “cost.” Most people’s lives hum along nicely, and the cost of being politically aware isn’t worth the benefit. Being part of a political party reduces these costs significantly – rather than researching candidates’ positions and voting records, people can generally tell whether they line up with the candidate on most issues based on party affiliation. Beyond that, few citizens pay the cost it takes to be politically knowledgeable, because they have family, work, and recreational duties that offer them more immediate benefit. Any good campaign’s first job should be to reduce the cost of information about both candidates – positive information should be disseminated about your candidate, and negative information about your opponent. Voters should be contacted as often as possible, thus reducing the cost to voters of researching candidates.

The most popular Assembly members can be identified by maybe 15% of their constituents. State senators, maybe a little more. People think Russ Feingold and Jim Doyle have the same job. A minority of people know the difference between state and federal governments, and laws and issues intertwine between the two. Citizens think the state government sets and collects property taxes. Nearly half the people of the state haven’t even considered voting.

With citizens tuning out government, big government lobbyists see an opening. They know they can lobby for higher taxes, more spending, and pet projects while the public is laying on the couch, motionless, for hours at time, sucking down pork rinds and watching naked women eat bugs on “Fear Factor.” Okay, me again.

When bills come before the Legislature to spend money, lobbyists line up at public hearings to testify. They haul in the elderly to support more Medicare funding, they haul in the disabled to support more funding for human services, and they take children out of school to come to the Capitol to support education funding (I am 100% for private school vouchers, but proponents also take part in this despicable act.)

The one group you will not see testifying at any hearing is the group that pays for all these programs – the taxpayers. Taxpayers are just regular folks, and don’t have any lobbyist to call them to warn them to come to hearings. Even if they did, they would have to make complicated long-term arguments about how services can better be provided by the private sector, when opponents of tax breaks have been coached in the language of making “investments,” and how “programs pay for themselves.” The action that provides the most immediate benefit, usually in the form of more spending, is generally the one that gets the most attention. Again, information costs to your average taxpayer are usually too high to get involved, and taxpayers that do pay attention are too thrifty. Generally, it wouldn’t make much sense to spend a lot of money on an expensive lobbyist to save you a few bucks on your income or property taxes.

Throw in a system that is rigged against the taxpayer, and you find out why Wisconsin is perpetually in the top ten taxed states. Sixty percent of the state budget goes back to local governments in the form of aid, presumably to hold down property taxes. So when the state needs to cut spending, if they cut aid to local governments, the “Road Salt Mafia” of local officials will threaten a property tax hike to make up the lost revenue (Madison seems to have ceded control of the city council to a roving gang of 60 year old men with gray ponytails and sweatbands). This leaves only 40% of the state budget to absorb all the cuts, which is difficult to do when the state faces two and three billion dollar deficits, as it has in the last two budgets. If a taxpayer complains to the locals about high property taxes, they hear that the state isn’t giving the locals enough money, so it’s the state’s fault. If the same taxpayer complains to the state about high property taxes, they hear that local governments set property tax rates, so it’s the local governments’ fault. In the end, you get no accountability, a lot of finger pointing, and higher property taxes.

Given this system, who is looking out for the taxpayer? It has to be our state legislators, which brings us to the property tax freeze issue. When the state is in a situation where they slow the increase in growth to local governments (school districts are 45% of all the state’s general expenditures), and those governments expect more, the state has to step in and prevent local governments from shifting the burden to property taxpayers. In order to reduce information costs to taxpayers, the onus is on legislators to serve as their lobbyist, to give them the best government they can afford.

Governor Doyle’s budget used tricks and gimmicks to send an additional $850 million to school districts. Legislative Republicans crafted a plan that sent $458 million in additional funds to those school districts. If the amount that these school districts get to spend per pupil were to remain at current law, school districts would merely make that $400 million difference up in the form of higher property taxes. That’s why Republicans had to hold down the per pupil increase, to avoid this shift. In fact, if Doyle vetoes the lower per pupil spending amounts and doesn’t fill in any additional state revenue, this shift will occur, as it did in the previous budget.

The economic downturn that precipitated cuts in the state budget were brought on by people losing their jobs, making less money, and spending less on goods and services. Raising taxes on these very people is not the way to turn our state’s economy and does not address the state’s overspending addiction.

In the long term, Wisconsin needs to move towards a system that promotes local accountability and local involvement. The government that raises the dollar should be the government that spends the dollar. Citizens need to be able to walk in, talk to their local representatives, and really make a difference in how they are governed, rather than having to navigate a dizzying maze of bureaucracy. The state should phase in a plan to wean local governments off state income tax money, and lower income tax rates at the state level. Local governments should then be given the ability to raise additional funds if their constituents see fit. The state shouldn’t be in a position where they have to bail out both local governments and local taxpayers when things go bad.

Moving taxation decisions to local governments will make city, town, and village meetings more vibrant and involved. In the meantime, the state should limit funding shifts to property taxes via a freeze. Political participation needs to be worth the cost, once again.

I now must go sit on my ass and watch “The Real Gilligan’s Island.” Break out the pork rinds.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Budget Update Day Three: Cut My Pay - As Long As it Goes Up 6%

One quick unrelated observation:

Nobody can credibly say that Paul Barrows wasn't living up to his former job title - Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs. In fact, he should be paid more for doing his job so well, by having affairs with as many students as he could.

This morning, as expected, the Assembly approved the budget on a primarily partisan vote. The vote took place at 5 AM after an all night session highlighted by tons of Democratic amendments, which I talked about yesterday. The vote was followed by the usual hyperbole, including this gassy release from Minority Leader Jim Kreuser. If hyperbole had a street value, we could full the budget deficit just on post-budget releases. One observation - Leah Vukmir's move to the right (she voted "no" on the budget) should perhaps concern Senator Tom Reynolds. Can anyone say "primary?"

If you’re enough of a political/techno geek to make your way to this blog, then you no doubt have seen the title topic covered in numerous other posts. The issue of what is a cut and what isn’t is as old as budgets themselves, and all depends on your point of view.

As you have heard by now, the Legislature’s budget provides $458 million in new money for local school districts, which is roughly $400 million less that Governor Doyle proposed. The Legislature tries to alleviate a shift to property taxes by limiting increases in spending by school districts to $120 and $100 per year, respectively, while the increase would be nearly $250 per pupil in Doyle’s budget. Whether you see this as a cut or not depends solely on your political perspective.

Republicans, of course, point out that the $458 million is the single largest increase of any budget item, and it is applied to an appropriation that already makes up nearly 50% of the entire state general fund budget. In a tough budget, you can’t say children aren’t a priority with a straight face after an increase like that, says the GOP.

Democrats correctly counter that it is $400 million less than the governor proposed. They say that the per pupil increases amount to a 1% allowable spending increase, while school districts' built-in costs (salaries, benefits, debt service, fuel, plasma TVs), go up between 3% and 4% in the best case scenarios, and if per pupil spending is capped at 1%, “devastating” cuts must be made.

While trotting out the kids to make their point about school spending is easy, to ignore the irresponsible way in which Doyle reached the $850 million increase cheapens the Democrats’ rhetoric. To ignore the damage Doyle’s budget tricks would do to the state budget is like ignoring that the Hulk is large, green, and may have a bit of a temper problem. To raid funds, use one-time money, and to take out a mortgage to plug budget holes puts the state in an impossible situation two years from now, which will likely result in tax increases or further cuts to services. In a way, this is why Doyle’s budget is such a politically great budget – his liberal constituency doesn’t care where the money comes from or what long term damage it could do to the state – they just want to make sure the money is there now, consequences be damned. In a campaign, a soundbite about Republicans cutting education is a lot more effective than Scott Walker or Mark Green trying to explain the structural deficit during a debate. Teaching the average voter about school financing is akin to teaching a monkey how to play the harmonica.

Some Republicans voted against the budget in the Assembly because they believe it spends too much. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the amount of taxes collected by state government generally goes up without any legislative action at all. As people earn more income and buy more products, the government collects more in revenue without having to change tax rates. In some ways, increased government spending is a sign of a healthy economy, because people are making more money, buying more Britney Spears CDs, and the government is collecting more as a result. The problem occurs in these good times when the government spends all the money it is taking in, thereby artificially increasing base spending on programs. When the economy slows down due to lower incomes, more people out of work, and fewer people purchasing goods, suddenly the state can’t support all the inflated spending and has to pull back on the increases seen in the good times.

That is what has happened in the last two Wisconsin budgets. For the 2003-05 biennium, there was a $3.2 billion budget hole to fill. For this budget, the number was near $1.6 billion, due to stagnant income growth. This creates a Catch-22. When incomes drop, the government takes in less money, but at the same time, more people need government services because they are out of work. Afraid to raise tax rates, Jim Doyle can actually claim to have held spending down to a reasonable level, because he has been forced at gunpoint to, due to dwindling new revenues. Everyone knows that given good economic times, Doyle would be spending money like, as Jonah Goldberg put it, “a pimp with a week to live.”

The best way to fix this conundrum would be to hold down government spending during the healthy economic years, which has been too tough a task in past budgets for the governor and legislature. Having a couple extra hundred million dollars left over and unspent is too tempting for politicians seeking re-election, thus it pumped into school aids, shared revenue, and other programs in the name of “property tax relief.”

Tomorrow, I’ll talk about the property tax freeze in the budget, and why it is necessary.

FOLLOW UP FROM YESTERDAY:

On Tuesday, I made the point that Democrats push debate late into the night, so they can then go to the press and say it was passed "under the cover of darkness" or "in the middle of the night." Xoff, Wispolitics.com's Democrat blogger, said I was claiming the Democrats were trying to "dupe" the press.

After a quick Lexis/Nexis search of the words "middle of the night" over just a year or so, here's what I came up with. Now tell me with a straight face that this isn't a media tactic. Sometimes the Dems say it themselves, sometimes the reporters take it upon themselves to drop it in the story:

THE RISE AND FALL OF GARY GEORGE; A BRILLIANT CAREER, IN ASHES - August 7, 2004 Saturday

BYLINE: Todd Richmond Associated Press

“Last summer, he left his fellow Democrats fuming after he voted for a
Republican-drafted state budget that included $3 million for a Hmong cultural center in George's district. The measure was slipped into the budget in the middle of the night.”


HEADLINE: Hmong Cultural Center Idea Revived in Wisconsin Legislature for Debate
BYLINE: By Steven Walters Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“The vote continued a controversy that began in June, when state Sen. Gary George (D-Milwaukee) cut a middle-of-the-night deal with Republicans, who control the Legislature, that would have spent $ 3 million for the Hmong center at a site on Milwaukee's south side.”


HEADLINE: Senate approves marriage bill; Doyle critical, but doesn't vow veto (add-on section about Hmong Cultural Center)

BYLINE: AMY RINARD Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

“The center was added to the state budget bill as a middle-of-the night deal earlier this year to win the vote of Sen. Gary George (D-Milwaukee), who supports the center.”


HEADLINE: GAYS LOSE ROUND 1; ASSEMBLY OKS MARRIAGE BAN AFTER ALL-NIGHT FILIBUSTER

BYLINE: Anita Weier The Capital Times

“Democrats accused Republicans of trying to delay a debate and vote until the middle of the night, but then launched a colorful and very long filibuster of their own.”


HEADLINE: Senate Democrat opposes tax cap; Lawmakers battle for position in veto override

BYLINE: NAHAL TOOSI Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

"No promises. No pressure," Marotta said. "We don't make deals like the
Legislature does. We don't cut deals in secret in the middle of the night that result in pork."


HEADLINE: Concealed-Weapons Bill's Passes, but Wisconsin's Governor May Veto

BYLINE: By Steven Walters Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel

“MADISON, Wis.--Assembly Republicans during an overnight session rewrote parts of the concealed weapons bill to attract more Democratic votes, and it worked in a way that raises questions about whether Gov. Jim Doyle's promised veto of the bill would stand.

Minutes after the changes were made, seven Assembly Democrats joined 57 Republicans at 2:40 a.m. Thursday in voting for the bill that would allow those 21 and older to obtain permits authorizing them to carry handguns, stun guns, non-switchblade knives or billy clubs.

The middle-of-the-night concessions "make a lot of folks in this (Assembly) feel more comfortable" with repealing the ban of concealed weapons passed in 1870, said Rep. Scott Gunderson (R-Town of Norway).”

...And there were more. Imagine if I would have searched for "late night" or other terms.

One last note on this - the idea that Gary George's budget vote was a deal "cut in the middle of the night" is ridiculous. To believe that, you have to believe that Senate Republican leadership somehow scheduled the most important bill all session without having the votes to pass it. This is absurd. I would bet my life that the deal with George was cut well ahead of time, they just didn't get to it because of the 120 or so Democrat amendments. But you can see how this delay tactic works like a charm.

UPDATE: Here's Doyle's release today blasting the budget. Notice anything, say, in the first line?

“Today, in the early morning hours when no one was watching, Republicans in the State Assembly forced through a budget that does not represent Wisconsin’s values."

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Budget Update Day Two: Christmas in June

So we’re finally to the much anticipated day that the budget is on the floor of the Assembly. This day is Christmas in June for the minority party (Democrats), as this the day they set their agenda for the upcoming elections by making the majority party (Republicans) vote against popular budget amendments.

The budget is essentially a negotiated compromise between the two houses (when the houses are controlled by the same party, the Joint Finance Committee is where the budget is negotiated) – it makes it extremely complicated for one house to unilaterally make any changes, because the budget then has to back to the other house for agreement on the amendments.

The minority party leverages the inflexibility of amending the budget against the majority. This means they load up amendment after amendment, knowing the majority members have to vote against all of them, even though they may agree in principle. In the last budget, Senate Democrats offered 118 amendments, while Assembly Democrats offered 55. Wispolitics.com reported on Monday that Assembly Democrats have prepared 150 amendments for floor action today. These amendments are under no obligation to be funded, relevant, or sane, and they constitute a wish list for Democrats on virtually every issue.

It is certain that you will see amendments from the Democrats that will kick in another $400 million for education, that will raise the state minimum wage, that will lift the caps on teacher salaries, that will declare Brett Favre the King of Wisconsin, and promote dressing bunnies up in cute little Mr. Peanut costumes. Republicans will vote against all of them, because the agreement between houses can’t be broken. Thus, you will see an ad during campaign season that says “Representative Debi Towns voted against cutening bunnies,” when in fact Representative Towns may be squarely pro-cute bunny. She herself might actually have a bunny at home fitted with a top hat, cane, and monacle. In fact, the elections board has reported that Towns has received $8 from bunny-related interests this biennium.

The only recourse Republicans have in this charade is to add up the total spending increases proposed by the Democrats, and hope to drill them with voting for more spending during the campaign. Since Democrats are under no obligation to fund their amendments, it’s easy to add up the total cost to come up with some completely ridiculous number.

This game by the minority (played by Republicans, too) is especially effective due to the media’s craving for a storyline. After a hundred or so amendments, budget deliberations often go deep into the night, which then allows the Democrats to say the budget was passed “under the cover of darkness” or “while you were sleeping.” The truth is, it is the Democrats who drive the debate into the wee hours of the morning, specifically so they can use the time as a talking point. If the Republicans had their way, they would walk on to the floor, talk for about 5 minutes, and pass that bad boy out. Democrats, on the other hand, need to look like they are putting up a fight, so they essentially filibuster to punish the Republicans. Needless to say, after today’s debate, Democrats will talk for hours, then accuse the GOP majority of trying to pass the budget while nobody was paying attention. For an example of this, see Senator Judy Robson’s release from Monday, June 20th, where she exhumes this old line before the budget even hits the floor.

This procedure goes for pretty much any bill that makes Democrats look bad – they will delay, then make the GOP look like they passed it late in the evening. The press generally swallow this line whole.

A similarly related tactic, although one not used during the budget, is for the minority party to delay action on a bill and then complain that the Legislature is wasting people’s time by doing such a bill. In fact, it is the very legislators hell bent on wasting everybody’s time that have to do so to complain that the Legislature is wasting time.

For instance, take the resolution banning gay marriage that passed last session. Given no resistance, that bill would take about ten minutes to pass, since it had the votes all along. The outcome of that bill was predetermined, as is the case with most bills. Democrats, however, need the “wasting everyone’s time” talking point, so they have to filibuster, offer amendments, delay, and generally by obstructive to make sure enough time wasting occurs, so they can then blame it on Republicans.

Tomorrow, I’ll look at some of the reaction to the floor action and at some more specific programs in the budget that deserve attention.

UPDATE: "Big Ups" to Xoff for directing all these intelligent people my way. You are all fine people. Except you, over there.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Budget Update Day One: Statistics a Go-Go

Now that you enjoyed your weekend watching Tiger choke like a dog, Robert Horry drive a stake through the Pistons, and getting an Old Spice gift pack for Father’s Day, it’s time to get back to business.

The state budget is the single largest bill that comes from the Legislature all session, and is perhaps the least understood. As a public service, I am going to try to provide my read on the budget and budget process without putting people to sleep.

Most of the information I will use is provided by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, and is available to the public on their website. The LFB is the gold standard in state accounting, and is trusted by the Legislature. The LFB is run by Wisconsin’s version of Alan Greenspan, Bob Lang, who has enormous glasses that enable him to see the state’s revenue picture two years into the future. In fact, Lang may not realize it, but if the sun hit his glasses in just the right way, he could be incinerated on the spot. Like an ant, get it?

First, I’ll start with a general budget overview. The total state budget, rewritten every two years, amounts to about $54.3 billion. Of this amount, about half of that is raised through what everybody thinks of as “general” taxes – income, sales, and corporate taxes. The other half of the budget is provided by federal money, program revenue (money from fees, e.g. hunting fees), and segregated revenue.

Both Governor Doyle and the Legislature have written their versions of the budget for the 2005-2007 biennium, and both budgets are stitched together worse than Meg Ryan. Legislative Republicans, though, boast that their budget spends less, borrows less, and uses fewer budgeting tricks than Governor Doyle’s. Let’s take a look:

According to the LFB, the Legislature’s whole budget spends about $355 million less than Doyle’s. However, when one looks at just the general fund budget, where there is currently a deficit, the Legislature’s budget actually spends $88 million more than Doyle’s. Republicans will argue that this is because the Joint Finance Committee had to use general revenue to fill in some of Doyle’s questionable budget tricks, such as borrowing money for medical assistance and raiding the Patient’s Compensation Fund for Medicaid. Over the two-year period, the Legislature’s budget increases spending 6.4% for all funds and 9.9% in general tax revenue.

Bonding is also a large potion of the budget. When the state bonds for things, it essentially takes out a loan, and pays it back over anywhere between two and 20 years. Obviously, the state must pay back more than they borrowed, since interest must be paid (too bad Gary George is in prison – he could have gotten the state a good deal on a payday loan). The way bonding is reported is actually somewhat deceiving – it is listed as “revenue” in the budget, rather than a liability, since the state gets the cash up front. Bonding is a wicked temptress - it allows the state to prop up spending for programs without raising taxes, and pushes the liability off to the future. Generally, the state bonds for capital projects such as roads and buildings.

The total level of bonding is a concern, since it puts the state into debt. The Legislature’s budget adds about $1.4 billion in bonding to the state’s debt, which is about $600 million less that Doyle’s budget. While this doesn’t do the state any short-term favors, it will help Wisconsin in the long term by cutting down on its “mortgage,” so to speak.

You may hear the Legislature talk about the state’s “structural” deficit, or that the state “keeps two sets of books.” This is because the state budgets on a cash basis, not an accrual basis, meaning that future liabilities are not acknowledged. How programs are funded is almost as important to the future of the state as the level of funding provided. For instance, Doyle’s budget provided $832 million of “one time” funding for ongoing programs, which leaves a funding hole in the next budget. If I get a subscription to Cat Fancy Magazine and my grandmother gives me a check that covers just the first month, I either need to work extra at Krispy Kreme or cut spending on something else to pay out of my pocket next month. For the state, raiding other funds is like grandma’s check (although it smells a lot less like Aqua Net hairspray), in that it will need to either raise taxes or cut spending in the next budget to fund its programs.

The Legislature’s budget doesn’t eliminate the use of one time money, but it does reduce it significantly over Doyle’s. The Legislature provides $486 million in one time cash, which is $412 million less than Doyle provides. This allows the state to reduce the amount it will need in the next budget to balance the budget from $1.3 billion to $863 million, which is still a significant number, and will be dealt with in the 2007-09 budget. In case you didn’t feel old yet, consider that the 2007-09 budget is now on the clock. This structural deficit is likely the reason Republican Senator Rob Cowles voted against the budget in committee - Cowles has made reducing the structural deficit a priority, right behind concealing his bald spot with a horrific combover that appears that he combs his hair with a pork chop.

So while the Legislature’s version of the budget isn’t a perfect document, it lives up to its promise to spend less, borrow less, and use fewer accounting gimmicks (although there are still plenty present).

The budget is scheduled to hit the floor of the Assembly tomorrow, when I will talk about some of the chicanery that occurs during the voting.

Side note: It was nice of Stan Johnson, president of WEAC, the state teachers' union, to take last week off and reprise his role of lead singer of the band Cameo on NBC's "Hit Me Baby One More Time." Johnson and his bandmates performed his hit "Word Up," wearing his signature red codpiece.


Friday, June 17, 2005

Heavy Blogging

I always think it is entertaining when bloggers alert their readers to the fact that they won't be posting anything for a couple of days. I have no allusions that anyone actually reads this site, so I don't think it is necessary.

I will, however, alert you to the fact that I will be blogging heavily next week. As you may know, the state budget will likely be before the legislature next week, and each day I will try to cover a different aspect of the budget in understandable terms. I will try to do a running play by play to the best extent possible. So make sure to tune in to see what's going on.

An Ode to College Republicans

In college, politics was the furthest thing from my mind. I probably knew generally that I was a conservative, but the only way I was ever going to obtain a copy of any Milton Friedman book was if it came with a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon. If you asked me who Hayek was, I probably would have guessed he was the guitar player from Soundgarden with the long beard.

There are, however, a crop of dedicated, attentive young Republicans on campus, who fight adversity on a daily basis. These young minds are crucial to the future success of the party, and do the dirty work that few others are willing to do. During campaigns they distribute literature, make phone calls, enter names into lists, and stand on University Avenue with “Bush/Cheney” signs. At Madison, they might as well be holding signs that say “I never EVER want to get laid.” And yet they forge on, Ayn Rand novels in hand.

I have attended College Republican events. Walk into one, and you may think you have mistakenly wandered into a “Napoleon Dynamite” convention. The only “diversity” among this group is found in disagreements about whether Reagan or Bush should be the next face on Mount Rushmore. Given the cross-tabulations of politics versus age and race, you might have better luck finding a date at a Dungeons and Dragons convention than a minority CR.

Today’s CRs were born during the Reagan years, started t-ball during the Bush years, and grew into young adults during the Clinton years. Many were just starting high school when the Clinton impeachment proceedings were taking place, and may, even at a young age, have been turned off by the moral relativism displayed by Clinton apologists during that time. As they grew into adults, they chose not to blame others for their typical teenage angst, instead channeling it into rigorous self-dependence, a philosophy they now apply to society as a whole.

Many CRs eschew social interaction with liberals, comfortable to split hairs about Bush's Social Security plan than to defend capitalism. There are many, however, that revel in confrontation, and the university student body and administration provide a virtual gold mine of opportunity. If Ann Coulter ever appeared in Maxim, many of them would spontaneously combust.

College Republicans are unfazed by the paucity of their life experience, and move forward with inflexible moral certitude. They have not yet faced the gut wrenching quagmire of thinking their girlfriend is pregnant and wondering what to do (trust me, this has never happened to a College Republican). They have yet to be flat broke and have to care for a sick child or elderly parent. I personally have found that there aren’t any opinions I hold any stronger than those I have personally had to confront, and many of these students have a strong moral base that will serve as a guide when these situations occur.

Campaigns have become more and more dependent of financial resources. More and more attention is paid now to raising and spending money than ever before. What gets lost in the system is the tireless work of those who volunteer to do what nobody else wants to – walking the streets dropping off literature, driving around putting signs up, making phone calls, and other tasks. It is the College Republicans who often make these things happen, and in return all they ask is the occasional free pizza from time to time. College Republicans set lofty goals – they want more self reliance, lower taxes, expanded freedom, and to finally see a woman without her clothes on. As we move to the future of the Republican Party, these are the true believers that deserve our support and our thanks.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

When Religions Lobby

Are you disappointed that when you’re sitting in church praying for the poor, the handicapped, the needy, and for Paris Hilton to have a horrible wood chipper accident, and the issues of photo identification for voting and product liability reform don’t come up? Are you concerned the church isn’t doing enough to promote the percentage of recycled materials in newspapers, or to support a mandate on public schools to require teaching the history of organized labor?

If you answered yes to all of the above, your prayers are answered in the form of the Reverend Sue Moline Larson, director of the Lutheran Office for Public Policy in Wisconsin. Ask any Lutheran who she is and what she stands for, and you will likely get a blank stare.

Larson got the director’s job with the LOPPW in 1993, after serving as co-pastor of the Bristol Lutheran Church in Sun Prairie. Since she assumed the position, she has been a strong advocate for hunger relief and debt forgiveness around the world. What might disturb the majority of her flock, however, are her actions relating to policy here in Wisconsin.

Speaking as a representative of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, Larson is a registered lobbyist with the State. In addition to the issues referenced above, her lobbying effort includes, but is not limited to:

Supporting creating a state holiday to honor Cesar Chavez
Supporting allowing illegal aliens to pay in state tuition at the UW
Supporting full public financing of Wisconsin elections
Supporting encouraging the use of hybrid-electric vehicles by state employees
Opposing expanding the school choice program in Milwaukee
Opposing freezing property taxes and the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights
Opposing classifying possession of ecstasy as a felony
Opposing changing reporting requirements for rent-to-own contracts
Opposing allowing school districts to refuse to hire felons
Opposing conscience clause legislation, which would allow medical professionals the option to refuse to participate in abortion-related activities
Opposing creating a tax credit for medical insurance premiums
Opposing increasing penalties for patronizing prostitutes
Opposing the carrying of concealed weapons
Opposing changing the requirements for the siting of nuclear power plants
Opposing lowering the drinking age for active military soldiers to 19 years old

I’m no Bible scholar, but I missed the part where the Lord lectured about the siting of nuclear power plants. Just which sermon was it that Jesus voiced his opposition to product liability? Was the burning bush not adequately flame-retardant? Did Jesus encourage the use of hybrid-electric vehicles right after he expressed his preference for Bo Bice to win American Idol?

The Lutheran Office for Public Policy isn’t the only religious group that purports to speak for a denomination while lobbying state government. The Milwaukee Jewish Council for Community Relations was formed in 1938 as an organization to promote Israeli statehood, lobby against anti-semitism, and work with other religions to find commonalities. The Jewish council is subsidized by the Greater Jewish committee, yet has exploited a clause in their charter that allows them to advocate for "social justice," meaning liberal social policy. Some Jews believe that the Milwaukee Jewish Council is now merely a front for the Democratic Party, while the political views of most Jews are much more mixed.

The Jewish Council has actively lobbied against freezing property taxes, against the carrying of concealed weapons, and for expanding mandated health coverage for insurance plans. The Jewish Council consistently takes a pro-abortion stance (against conscience clause legislation for health professionals, against prohibiting public funding of abortions, for providing sexual assault victims with abortions), despite various Jewish sects’ opposition to abortion and contraception.

For the most part, the Wisconsin Catholic Conference stays true to Catholic teaching, but does veer off into liberal politics where church teaching allows. The Catholic Conference lobbies heavily in favor of issues that benefit them directly, such as school choice and student transportation, and vigorously supports anti-abortion legislation and anti-same sex legislation. They have, however, lobbied against concealed carry and for expanding mandated health insurance coverage, and they have opposed legislation that would allow employers to take into account an employee’s criminal record into account when making a decision to hire or fire that employee.

Conservatives are lectured frequently about keeping church and state separate. Liberals love to spin conspiracy theories that conservatives meet in clandestine locations and plot evangelical takeovers, with Pat Robertson leading the charge. Religions that lobby for liberal causes, however seem to be relatively ignored.

It is clear that religions have an interest in caring foor the poor and the needy. What is new, however, is religion's reliance on government to serve those ends. It appears that some religious leadership is done lecturing their own members on the need for kindness and charity, instead opting to force citizens via governmental mandate to fund programs they see as promoting "social justice." One of the reasons we are in the moral state we are is that citizens are moving away from traditional religion, and becoming more reliant on government. If we truly want to see a society that is more caring and compassionate, the answer is more religion, not less.

This new approach is also dangerous in that it ascribes the moral high ground to certain political issues. Religions now argue that funding elementary education at less than their preferred amount runs contrary to Christian teaching. Somehow, we got to the point that expanding mandated mental health coverage (which would increase insurance costs, making it less affordable to those who need it) becomes the moral position, rather than a public policy decision. Marquette University recently felt this backlash when they boldly stated that reinstating the "Warrior" nickname was somehow not in the Jesuit Catholic tradition, an assertion that Catholics across Wisconsin seemingly reject.

Wisconsin Lutherans are a relatively conservative group. Some questions: who authorized Reverend Larson to take a hard line liberal position on behalf of the state's one million Lutherans? Is she funded with collection plate dollars? Does she answer to anyone? Does she realize the bills and topics she has taken it upon herself to support and oppose on behalf of all Lutherans match up perfectly with the likes of the radical pro-abortion crowd, fringe environmentalists, vote fraud perpetrators and the Democratic Party?

Reverend Larson is either totally ignorant of the fact that her ultra liberal crusade misrepresents tens of thousands of Lutherans in Wisconsin, or she is so arrogant that she doesn't care. Perhaps she doesn't realize that most Lutherans believe the church has more important issues to focus on than hybrid electric vehicles, product liability lawsuit reform or setting the public school curriculum. Yet she continues to advocate for her own personal left wing social engineering agenda while clothing herself in the banner of the Lutheran Church. Seems like the same level of arrogance and hypocrisy that caused Martin Luther to protest nearly 500 years ago. How ironic. I guess the good news is that her policy influence under the dome is roughly equivalent to that of the custodian whose only job is to change the Capitol's lightbulbs.

I actually intercepted an e-mail from Our Lord Jesus Christ to Reverend Sue Moline Larson, which might explain some of her actions:


From: Christ, Our Lord Jesus [mailto:Jesus.Christ@yahoo.com]
Sent: Friday, June 10, 2005 10:03 AM
To: Reverend Sue Moline Larson
Subject: Important Business in Wisconsin

Dear Reverend Sue:

It’s been a while – how are things going down there in Wisconsin? Things up here in Heaven are great. Liberace and Kurt Cobain started a food fight in the cafeteria the other day that is still the talk of our dorm. We have an intramural basketball game against Hell next week that everyone is gearing up for – I hear Mohammed Atta has a mean jump shot, although he has trouble going to his left.

In more serious news, I was reading through the paper, and noticed there’s some pretty bad stuff going on down there on Earth, that might need a little intervention from yours truly. I see thousands of people dying from the Tsunami in Asia (you guys don’t say “The Orient” anymore, right?), I see AIDS devastating Africa, and I see ethnic genocide taking place around the globe. Most importantly, there is one issue that takes precedence over all of these, and I am personally enlisting you to take care of it.

Could you make sure that Wisconsin elections are publicly financed? There is clearly no better use of taxpayer money than to use it to run campaign TV ads. Those politicians are working too hard on the campaign trail, raising money, so we need to use general tax revenue to do that work for them.

I appreciate your help on this, and on your past efforts to get Cesar Chavez his own holiday in Wisconsin. Your work will not go unnoticed. I’m off to a house party – Tupac and Biggie are having a big throwdown down the block. Einstein got wasted last time and joked about how he stole that whole “theory of relativity” from the back of a Bazooka Joe comic strip.

Also, good luck to you on figuring out that whole stem cell deal - we are having a ball up here watching you guys sort it out. Get it - the whole "take a life to save a life" trick? What will my Father come up with next?

Christ out.

-JC

P.S. – Bob La Follette is sick of Ed Garvey trying to pimp his name to benefit his own image. He said he’s added him to his “spam” list.

Monday, June 13, 2005

Luoluo, We Barely Knew Ye

So apparently there is a new strategy at the UW - every time an overpaid middle manager leaves, they must issue a press release blasting their state for their "lack of commitment" to public education (which currently totals $1 billion per year).

See today's release by Luoluo Hong, who is leaving for Arizona:

Her decision to leave UW-Madison, Hong says, was influenced by the state of Wisconsin's lack of commitment to higher education, which manifests itself in a continuous struggle for fiscal and staff resources, and by difficulty recruiting staff because the university currently is not able to provide benefits to domestic partners.

"In my three years here, I have seen a complete turnaround from what I thought higher education was all about in this state, " Hong says.


Oh, yeah - that, and "I imagine that my convertible top will be down all the time and I'll be wearing open-toed shoes just about every day," Hong says.

A quick trip to the Arizona Legislature's budget writing website shows the total annual general fund budget for the University of Arizona System to be $813 million (keep in mind, they have two enormous schools, Arizona and Arizona State). If $976 million per year is a "lack of commitment to higher education," what is $150 million less than that for a larger system?

You may ask - what was Luoluo Hong's salary while at the UW?

$113,834

So another poor, cash-stricken middle manager is on her way, offended by her lack of compensation from the state's taxpayers. I guess Luoluo didn't want to "Hong" around.

Friday, June 10, 2005

"That's Why America Hates Democrats"

Who said this? Was it Pat Buchanan? Was it Ralph Reed? Ann Coulter, maybe?

None of the above - try potential Democratic presidential candidate Mark Warner from Virginia, (registration required for the link), expressing the condescending attitude he has encountered from the blue states. Warner has made his mark in Virginia as a moderate, willing to take on traditional big government programs. An excerpt:

Warner — who is thought to have presidential potential because of his bipartisan accomplishments as a governor in the South — said that his party's positioning on social issues had left rural and small-town voters with a "sense of some Democrats' belittling their lives, their culture and their values." He said he experienced that sentiment during a trip to California, where he felt that some people were condescending because he came from Virginia." 'You little Virginia Democrat, how can you understand the great opportunities we have?' " Warner said in characterizing the attitude he encountered. "I came out saying, 'That's why America hates Democrats.' "

I'm not in the business of giving advice to Dems, but this could be your guy if you want to win in '08. But for the same reason I like him, he has absolutely no chance in a Democratic primary. Kind of like Guiliani in the GOP primary - not a chance in hell.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

Doyle Picks a New Student Regent

Yesterday, Governor Doyle appointed Chris Semenas from UW-Parkside as the student representative on the UW Board of Regents.

The curious thing, however, is this release, which appeared out of nowhere last week while the Legislature was debating the UW budget. In it, Semenas gives Doyle the same treatment the Governor would have to pay $30 at a disreputable massage parlor to get.

The question is: did Semenas do this release before he knew he would be appointed, or after? Did the sycophantic release have anything to do with him getting the appointment?

Hmmm.....

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Random Weekly Observations I

Here's some stuff that didn't necessarily fit in a column:

Remember getting candy bars at halloween that are packaged as "fun size," but are actually half the size of regular candy bars? Exactly what is so fun about getting half a Three Musketeers? This is absolutely the way the Legislature should pitch its smaller increases in school aids in this budget, though. Now! School aids in a new, fun-sized package! Everyone will love it!


I find it interesting that it is primarily female legislators speaking out against a bill that would ban the UW from distributing the morning after pill. After all, who benefits the most from the increased availability of birth control? That's right - ugly men. In fact, I propose a new lobbying group, "BUM" (Booty for Ugly Men), and I make myself the President. We will make sure every woman can act as irresponsibly as possible with no consequences.

Speaking of birth control, feast your eyes on this beauty of a press release from Planned Parenthood. It contains this unspeakably obnoxious statement:

Without access to birth control, the average woman would have between 12 and 15 children in her lifetime.

Of course, that number has to refer to the number of children women would have if they maintained their current behavior with birth control available. Do they honestly think that after the 8th kid, a woman wouldn't say, "You know, maybe this whole consequence-free sex thing isn't working out for me"?


Fashion tip: If you are an ugly woman and bleach your hair blonde, you will be an ugly woman with blonde hair. If you are a pretty woman and bleach your hair blonde, you will be a pretty woman with blonde hair.

Accordingly, if you are an ugly man and grow a beard, you will be an ugly man with a beard. If you are a good looking man with a beard, you are most likely Lorenzo Lamas, and don't need my fashion tips.


If they ever make stem cells in jellybean form, I will likely live to be 500 years old. Like Yoda or Papa Smurf.


I was stopped at a stoplight the other day, and saw four cars in a row with Kerry/Edwards bumper stickers still on (remember them?) Enough, people - you don't like Bush, we get it. Having one of these stickers still on your car virtually guarantees that I will drive within 3 inches of your bumper.


Attorney General Peg Lautenschlager’s comical attempt to personally prosecute North Woods Shooter Chai Vang has sparked more ideas for character rehabilitation for the AG. It has been announced that Lautenschlager will re-open the 1925 Scopes Monkey Trial later this month. Lautenschlager also has plans to exhume the skeleton of Jeffery Dahmer to collect on some old parking tickets.


A few weeks ago at a public hearing on school choice, a State Senator tried to resurrect the term "Afro American." Does this make me a "Mullet American?"


Dane County Supervisor Rob Fyrst announced yesterday that he will run for the one office all children aspire to, State Treasurer. People declaring their candidacy for treasurer a year and a half before the election is a sure sign that the end is nigh. My suggestion: Rob adopts the motto "Fyrst Blood" and shows up all of his events wearing a Rambo-type headband and a big buck knife with a compass in the handle. He could stand on the podium and mow down the press corps with an uzi to show that he means business. "Nobody is going to screw with the unclaimed property program on my watch!"


On the Coalition for American Families website, the group claims that it "will not waiver in its support of policies that help every family thrive." Maybe they need to not "waver" in support of buying a spell checker for their computer. I would argue bad spelling is a significant threat to America's families.


The whole "no blood for oil" line seems to be holding up well, considering oil is now at record high prices. If we really did go to war for oil, I would expect not to have to put my gas on layaway. Next up - Bush invades Iowa for their ethanol.


The Federalist Papers, seminal documents in American history, were written by James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay. You think John Jay ever felt inferior being lumped in with those heavyweights? Isn't he kind of like the member of Destiny's Child that nobody can ever name? (Next to Beyonce' and Kelly Rowland, of course) Jay did end up as the first Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, but he clearly didn't look as good as Beyonce in a skirt.


Any CD store that doesn't make you feel like a complete moron for buying a Pearl Jam CD probably isn't worth a damn.


Co-worker: "I think Michael Jackson is going to get off."

Me: "Isn't that why he's in trouble?"

(Please, hold your applause)

911 is a Joke (For White People Now, Too)

Good Morning America broadcast a story the other day about how poor emergency services are getting around the U.S. They highlighted a dying student who waited almost an hour for an ambulance to arrive (although they concede he probably would have died anyway, due to a heart condition). Suburban areas are blaming high population growth for poorer emergency services.

While this may be news to white people, didn't Flavor Flav have this covered about 15 years ago?

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Wisconsin Festivals: The "Self-Inflicted" Olympics

A trip to Madison’s “Brat Fest” this weekend called to mind Wisconsin’s great tradition of festivals. The great people are the best reason to live in Wisconsin, but festivals seem to bring out some real beauties. All summer, underdressed people will gather across this state, soak in nuclear levels of sun rays, and declare war on their arteries by consuming enough fat calories to power a Monte Carlo. Many attendees have blood alcohol levels that rival their ACT scores.

Every summer, I look out at these crowds and wonder if the mass of people in attendance is representative of actual people living in Wisconsin, or merely representative of people who attend festivals.

It’s not as though there is any great surprise awaiting individuals at these events – every alcohol-soaked event morphs into another over a short period of time. If you can't make it to Summerfest this year, close your eyes and think about what it was like last year - because it will be exactly the same.

For many people (i.e. people with jobs), the alcohol soaked crowds at Wisconsin festivals come as somewhat of a shock. As one surveys the throngs of leathery skinned Rubenesque beauties who adhere to a strict regimen of skin care by Marlboro, one has to wonder how far people are willing to go to make their lives more difficult. Generally, wouldn’t a person’s inclinations lean toward making their life easier? Why do people behave in such destructive ways?

It’s almost as if these people are in some sort of competition to voluntarily make their lives as challenging and difficult as possible. Call it “The Self-Inflicted Olympics.” In this competition, scoring is as follows:

Have children with someone you’re not married to – 4 points for the first child, 6 for each subsequent child.

Don’t graduate from high school – 4 points.

Have so many children you qualify as your own school district – 20 points.

Obtain a tattoo, piercing, or hairstyle that makes you virtually unemployable, except at a tattoo or piercing parlor – 3 points

Wear clothing that shows off your dragon tattoo, no matter what part of your body it inhabits or how old you get – 3 points

Wear any combination of jean shorts, sandals with socks, or any Dale Jr. paraphernalia to a job interview – 2 points

Smoke – 3 points

Get so fat that you think you deserve credit for dieting 4 hours per day: 4 points

Ignore every piece of publicly funded anti-drug propaganda you have been bombarded with your entire life and decide that cocaine or heroin looks like a good lifestyle choice: 6 points

Routinely drink so much that you think you have a shot with the Hooter’s waitress: 3 points

Cheat on your spouse: 4 points

Cheat on your spouse with someone ugly: 6 points

I propose literature to be distributed in schools that lay out these options for those young minds that are intent on ruining their lives forever. If you gather more than 6 points, there is a 95% chance that your future home will have a license plate, and you will live in constant fear of burning your baby daddy's next pork chop. It has been scientifically tested - trust me.

The most appalling aspect of all these categories is that it costs absolutely nothing to adhere to them, yet people around the nation are intent on ignoring them.

These are our Wisconsin friends, for better or for worse. Build a funnel cake stand and have a flat keg of Old Style on hand, and they will come. May God bless them all.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Only Mike McCabe Deserves Free Speech

I will cover more about the sham campaign finance reform interest groups in a later column, but today's article in the MJS ("Ad rips budget's benefit for gays") really deserves mentioning.

Note the section about Mike McCabe, Executive Director of the "nonpartisan" Wisconsin Democracy Campaign:

Mike McCabe, executive director of the non-partisan Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, decried the ads. McCabe's group monitors issue ads.

"The public should be suspicious and skeptical when they're bombarded with ads from groups with motherhood-and-apple-pie-sounding names telling them what they should think about the state budget," he said.

This is perfectly consistent with McCabe's view that only he and the sycophantic pro-campaign finance reform editorial boards should be able to express their views on issues. Let's look at the "Wisconsin Democracy Campaign," which is supposedly above pure politics:

Mom and Apple Pie Name: Check

TV Ads Influencing Public Opinion: Check (The WDC announced their own issue ads in January of 2005, although there's a better chance of you seeing a yeti at Starbucks than one of these ads on TV.)

Shady Political Angle: Check (see previous post about McCabe's failed campaign for State Assembly as a Democrat).

Citizens that collectivize, pool resources, and express a point of view deserve the right of free speech, regardless of whether they agree with the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign.

Friday, June 03, 2005

"Devastating" Cuts Hit UW System; Thousands Dead

UW System chancellors have made very good livings shilling for more funding for the system. Their daily routine is essentially this: fundraise, cry to the Legislature, get their Lexuses washed, repeat.

In making their pitch to the Legislature, they often paint a picture of UW campuses as bustling communities of learning, where fresh faced students try to quench their insatiable thirst for knowledge by spending hours studying biochemistry and philosophy. In their spare time, this diverse group of students is likely volunteering at hospitals for puppies and searching for the meaning of universal justice.

Such a picture of life at the UW raises one question: Have the administrators actually ever met a UW student?

Generally, "diversity" at the UW means one thing - it is a place where people who like to smoke pot, drink heavily, gamble excessively, and hook up with co-eds below their standards can all live together in harmony. For most co-eds, the only "searching" that takes place is searching for their pants when they wake up and don't know where they are. The UW is a place where sleeping until noon is actually a dating strategy - so you have an excuse to ask the hot girl in class to borrow her notes. It is a place where you can string along your college experience for years and years, to allow for more time for sitting in coffehouses, stroking your goatee and reading Kurt Vonnegut. It is a place where you can make a political statement based on what body part you do or don't decide to shave.

I believe noted intellectual "Jonah" said it best when Playboy named UW-Madison as the 7th best party school in the U.S. He said:

"There's a bar in this town to suit every taste. There are building parties every weekend. Wander around until you find something, then walk in and grab a cup. Everyone is open, friendly and drunk. It's not a small group that parties a lot, it's an entire town that parties all the time." --Jonah

The UW System has done one thing brilliantly - tell everyone how great it is. Without question, it is a top-tier public education system. But is it really the best in the nation? Should taxpayers pay the bill so the UW can attain some subjective, amorphous concept of what “the best” is? Does anyone believe that one gets a better education at the UW Madison merely by stepping on campus? Doesn't the student's effort and desire to learn play a more significant role in the quality of their education? Most importantly, why does the evil robot in Star Wars III cough – does he have robot chest congestion?

In the most recent U.S. News and World Report, UW-Madison ranked as the 32nd best undergraduate university in the nation. When one looks at the methodology of the rankings, they have little to do with student performance. 75% of a school’s score are tied up in peer grading (essentially asking professors who is most prestigious), student retention (how many return for their second year), faculty salaries (the average full professor at Madison makes $96,200 per year), and financial resources (amount spent per student).

Cuts to the UW System have little to do with student performance. In fact, only 26% of the nearly $4 billion biennial UW budget goes to actual instruction of students. 20% goes to research. The rest goes to administration, building costs, hospitals, food service, etc. Last budget, the Legislature cut the UW by $250 million, and students likely can’t even tell the difference. Despite increases of 18% in tuition per year the last two years, UW-Madison is currently second to last in the Big Ten in resident undergraduate tuition, so students continue to get good value for their dollar.

When all funds are added up, the UW System has averaged a 5.5% increase per year since 1994-95, well above the rate of inflation. During that time, the number of students has increased .68%. So the UW is getting more money to educate virtually the same number of students. In fact, the state still invests almost $1 billion per year of general purpose tax revenue in the UW System, making it the third largest single program the state funds, behind K-12 education and Medical Assistance. 52% of all state full time employees funded with general tax revenue are UW employees (there are 18,327 total of these FTE UW employees funded with general revenue).

UW adminstrators are in a tough position. They have to fight against "devastating" budget cuts, but when those cuts come, they can't ever admit that those cuts had a deleterious effect on education at the UW. That isn't consistent with the "We can beat up any other public university system" message they have been touting for years.

Many of the facts that they use to show the lack of respect that they have been getting from the state are misleading. They often cite the fact that the UW System has been dropping as a percentage of state general purpose expenditures. While proportionally this is true, the UW has continued to receive adequate increases year after year. They are only dropping proportionally because the state has upped spending to other programs, most notably K-12 education, by a much higher percentage. Thus, you can increase aid to the UW by a healthy percentage, but if you increase aid to a larger program by a greater amount, the UW will appear to be losing ground, when that isn't the case.

They also make the case that state aid is declining as a percentage of the UW budget. This is misleading for the same reason as above - other revenues to the UW System have been increasing at a much higher rate. Tuition has increased by an average of 8% per year for the last 20 years, federal gifts and grants are up, and sales of UW merchandise are all up. Thus, state aid makes up a smaller piece of the pie.

In the end, the UW’s pleas for more state funding are about as convincing as the Tom Cruise - Katie Holmes romance. In the wild, this would be known as the biennial “Dance of the Chancellors,” where UW administrators flood the State Capitol, crying poverty (and no doubt collecting a healthy per diem to make the trip).

Hurricanes are devastating. Tsunamis are devastating. Professors at UW Madison actually teaching 35% of the hours taught on campus, rather than the 31% they currently teach? Not devastating.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

The Cap Times' Wage Rate Shenanigans

Okay, I fully expected the Cap Times to write a slanted, misguided editorial on the minimum wage deal struck by Governor Doyle and the Legislature.

But notice the photo they choose to use to represent the "typical" minimum wage earner. This young lady, most likely working her way through school to earn a better living (as almost all college students do) is wearing an Abercrombie and Fitch sweatshirt. A visit to the A&F website confirms that similar sweatshirts sell for $59.50.

Needless to say, there will be no telethon for this young woman.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

The Long, Strange Trip of Mary Lazich

I once saw an episode of "COPS" where a woman approached one of the officers to complain that her neighbor had not yet paid her the $20 she owed her for a bag of "weed" that had exchanged hands.

This is the first image I recalled last November when State Senator Mary Lazich spoke with Citizens for Responsible Government and told them that she had voted for State Senator Scott Fitzgerald for the position of Senate majority leader via secret ballot. CRG is known for their ability to mobilize in the Southeast portion of the state and erase the political careers of politicians with whom they disagree, or who they distrust.

The problem is, Lazich did not vote for Scott Fitzgerald (widely seen as the pro-Taxpayers' Bill of Rights, or TABOR) candidate, as the pro-TABOR CRG found out through its own informal poll. What followed was a ridiculously clumsy appearance by Lazich on WTMJ Radio's Jeff Wagner show, on which Lazich said her statement was "a lie on my part." Apparently, Lazich thought it wise to deceive the one group that could remove her from office for deceiving them.

CRG naturally began ridiculing Lazich, including suspiciouly prurient photos of her with an expanding nose, and her milking a cow (if cows don't have horns, we really have a story). Talk immediately circled about the possibility of a recall for Lazich, although by state law she was not eligible for recall for a full year, since she had just been re-elected. Lazich resigned the Assistant Majority Leader post she had negotiated with new majority leader Dale Schultz in exchange for her leadership vote, but remained on the prestigious Joint Finance Committee.

Lazich was no stranger to controversy before the majority leader vote debacle. In 2004, she told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that she "flatly refused" to support the Taxpayers Bill of Rights. Lazich reasoned through some tortured logic that TABOR was actually too generous for local school districts, and that the teachers' union should be 100% in favor of the constitutional amendment to cap taxes and spending. This is like telling parents they should be voluntarily in favor of sending their kids to sleepovers at the Neverland Ranch.

After harsh criticism from the conservative base, including local talk show hosts, Lazich immediately switched positions. Within a week, she issued a press release blasting then-majority leader Mary Panzer for her failure to bring TABOR to a vote.

When her vote against Fitzgerald for majority leader was made public, Lazich immediately tried to placate conservatives by calling for TABOR to be brought up in the first month of 2005. Six months later, the chances of TABOR being brought to the floor are roughly the same as the chances that Lindsay Lohan will return one of my four daily calls.

Lazich then inflamed her relationship with CRG further, when she took credit for inviting a TABOR expert from Colorado to speak to the Senate Republican Caucus. As it turns out, Lazich's involvement in the visit was limited to the fact that she knew that "Colorado" was a state. CRG immediately pounced, nailing Lazich with another lie that will surely end up on a piece of literature in early 2006.

In the subsequent months, Lazich has attempted to further reach out to conservatives by positioning herself as a budget hawk, calling for deep cuts in state spending to balance the budget. In her strained effort to move to the right, she recently engaged in an embarassing exhange of letters with Department of Administration Secretary Marc Marotta, (who apparently has too much time on his hands these days) criticizing the Doyle administration for overspending. Needless to say, the media were underwhelmed by Lazich's endless letters, nary a word was reported statewide, and Marotta was able to refocus his efforts on sending letters to Model Airplane News.

Lazich has also climbed on the bandwagon of some red-meat conservative issues such as photo ID for voting and allowing people to carry concealed weapons. Rumor has it she will soon be taking credit for Pat Tillman, the sports bra, and frozen custard.

Not content to only enrage conservatives, Lazich slipped up during a Legislative Fiscal Bureau budget briefing when she referred to nursing home residents as "coffin bound." While she reportedly was trying to make the case that nursing homes are necessary and provide services to those who need them the most, she provided a catch phrase that has managed to find its way into every Democratic press release in the last 3 months.

Rumor has it that people are lining up to run against Lazich in a January 2006 recall election. Her district contains three excellent, highly qualified Republican Assembly members, who all have substantial campaign machines in place. Scott Gunderson would likely jump at the opportunity to beat Lazich, who beat him in a 1998 special election primary to fill Lynn Adelman's old seat (Think "Count of Monte Cristo" in Muskego).

What has happened to Mary Lazich is an important lesson to legislators who put personal ambition before serving their constituents. There's nothing better than a legislator that doesn't need the job. Regardless of party affiliation, the public can sniff out desperation in a elected official like a bloodhound. When clinging to office takes precedence over sound philosophy and public service, something has got to give.