March 31, 2005
Colorado runs away from TABOR as we run toward it
By Jay Bullock
Frank Lasee (now a blogger! Go say "Hi!" and leave polite comments) is planning to unveil his new and improved Taxpayers' "Bill of Rights" (TABOR) on April 15. This is, apparently, more for tax-day symbolism than for your standard Friday news dump.
The Washington Post (free registration required), though, tells us how the Colorado folks--prominently, even Republican Governor Bill Owens--are backing away from their own TABOR:
"Gov. Bill Owens (R) has been crisscrossing the country for years promoting the virtues of this state's strict constitutional limits on government spending. He has repeatedly urged other states to adopt restrictions of their own, based on Colorado's ‘Taxpayer Bill of Rights’ amendment, known here as TABOR.
“But this summer, Owens says, he'll be traversing his own mountainous state pushing the opposite message. Midway through his second term, Owens is working to persuade Coloradans to suspend the limits he championed and let the state government spend $3 billion more in tax money than TABOR would allow.”
Why the about-face? Think Progress has a good run-down of how low the Mile-High state has sunk:
*In Colorado, the ratio of teacher salaries to average private-sector earnings is lower than in any other state. Since the passage of TABOR, the high school graduation rate has fallen 6 percent.
*In Colorado, tuition has shot through the roof (.pdf). The state ranks 48th in the country in state funding for higher education per $1,000 of income.
*TABOR has severely limited funding for health care in Colorado. The number of the state's low-income children who lack health insurance has skyrocketed from 15 percent in 1992 to 27 percent in 2003, despite declines nationally.
*Over a 44-month period ending in December 2004, Colorado hemorrhaged 68,000 jobs, a decline of 3.0 percent. In every other Mountain state - none of which has TABOR - the median job growth has been 4.5 percent during the same period.
Other Republican governors besides Owens are also pushing tax raises in their states, in part, at least because of George W. Bush; the Post again:
"The federal cuts have been very difficult for states to manage," said economist Bert Waisanen of the National Conference of State Legislatures. "Governors have to run programs like Medicaid, No Child Left Behind, homeland security. But there is less and less money coming from Washington to pay the bills.”
Let me remind everyone that Wisconsin currently gets back less than 85¢ per dollar we send in to the feds. As I've noted before, NCLB underfunding leaves us $2 million short, as well.
Rich Eggleston over at Blog TABOR points us to a Green Bay News Chronicle commentary that drives this point home:
“The proposed Taxpayer Bill of Rights would take spending decisions out of the hands of government and put it in the hands of voters. Excuse me, but aren't those decisions the reason we have a Legislature? If we're going to make the decisions, who needs them? We could probably save more money by getting rid of 132 legislators than we ever could with a stupid law.
“Me, I call TABOR the ‘stop me before I tax again!’ law. It's our legislators admitting they can't do their jobs.”
So, here's my question: Why are some of our elected officials--apparently too weak to resist that taxin' jones!--pushing so hard for a measure being abandoned by those who have it? To most bloggers I meet, including myself, I say, "Don't quit your day job." Frank Lasee, though? Maybe he should consider it.
(Jay Bullock maintains the blog folkbum's rambles and rants.)
March 30, 2005
Blogging on TABOR
By Dustin Beilke
Perhaps setting out to prove that any fool can make a blog, Rep. Frank Lassee has started his own pro-TABOR Web log. It is full of the bogus numbers and wacko rhetoric that populate this “debate,” if you like that sort of thing. Lassee plans to introduce the latest version of TABOR on April 15.
If you don’t go for wacko, would prefer to know the truth about TABOR, and have read all the TABOR-related GarveyBlogs and FightingBob.com articles at least three times each, you might check out the new Blog TABOR from longtime Wisconsin Alliance of Cities communications guy Rich Eggleston. Eggleston has only posted a few entries so far, but already has amassed some good stuff, including quotes from people in Colorado and Kansas who have dealt with TABOR and found it, uh, lacking. If the wingers in our Legislature are capable of learning then these stories from other states could be called “cautionary tales.” But that is a big “if.”
If it is any consolation, it does seem that the rest of the nation is able to learn from our state’s TABOR-related embarrassments. The Think Progress Web site, a project of the national American Progress Action Fund, recently produced a piece poking fun at Lassee for his planned “symbolic” gesture of re-introducing TABOR on tax day. The article says more appropriate times for introducing TABOR would be Labor Day, national Cover the Uninsured Week, the first day of school for K-12 students, and the last day to pay tuition without a late fee for UW students, because of the devastation TABOR will unleash for the people who are most aware of those dates.
March 26, 2005
Many forms of reform
By Jason Haas
It is no longer necessary to speculate if Wisconsin still has clean government. The caucus scandal showed how deeply the obsession with fundraising and the accompanying abuse of power has infected the Legislature.
Things have continued to worsen despite this. While the 2004 state legislative campaigns saw previous record spending levels shattered, the 2006 races will be even more money-soaked, sold to the highest bidder.
Given the state Legislature's keen interest in raising money, it comes as little surprise that the state Senate rejected another campaign finance reform bill recently. While bill cosponsor Senator Mike Ellis has vowed to reintroduce the bill, special interest and corporate cash continues to flow into the pockets of the governor and the Legislature.
This bodes poorly for the future of our state Legislature. While the 2004 election cycle saw a record amount of money pour in, the 2006 races promise to shatter those records as well. Needless to say, candidates who are flush with cash thanks to the current system are unlikely to support campaign finance reform.
Keep pressure on your representatives to vote for campaign finance reform. Without hearing our demand for reform, the system is very unlikely to change.
(Jason Haas maintains The Dyskeptic Web log.)
March 24, 2005
Timing is everything
By Bill Kraus
The state Supreme Court decided (bringing to a merciful end the accuseds' attorneys two-and-a-half years worth of legal maneuvers) on March 23 that the legislators indicted on charges of breaking fundraising and campaigning laws would have to stand trial on those charges.
Exactly one week earlier on the floor of the state Senate, senators Mike Ellis and Fred Risser were telling their colleagues that the state's campaign system was "corrupt and corrupting" and that they were all at risk because money and the ability to raise it had become more important than any set of political assets.
Twenty of their colleagues chose to ignore these warnings.
I cannot help wondering what effect the reminder that came out of the court on March 23 would have had if it had been promulgated a week earlier.
March 23, 2005
By Ben Brothers
Republicans love to talk about guns, gays and God. It saves them the trouble of talking about actual issues. And true to form, all three are on the legislative agenda in Wisconsin this year. The Republican caucus wants to push through a concealed carry law, despite the fact that almost everyone opposes it, including 59 percent of registered Republicans.
But the more interesting "guns" issue is the one that almost everyone supports, and the one that offers the best opportunity for Democrats to advance a positive agenda. I'm referring to our latest constitutional amendment: "The people have the right to fish, hunt, trap, and take game subject only to reasonable restrictions as prescribed by law."
The Republicans want the discussion to be about guns, but hunting is not only about guns. The right to hunt means more than just the right to own a gun. It means the right to have places to hunt. It means protecting and preserving our forests and our lakes and our rivers. It means clean air and clean water. The right to hunt presupposes the right to a healthy, sustainable environment. If we want to keep the right to hunt, we need to preserve forever the wild lands of Wisconsin.
An essay by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus titled "The Death of Environmentalism" gathered headlines last year by arguing that the environmental movement has gotten off track. Global warming and rising oil consumption are important issues, but they are abstract issues whose solutions appeal to the head rather than the heart. They offer no political narrative.
Conservation, on the other hand, means something to everyone and it enjoys widespread support among voters of all ideologies and political persuasions. "Think globally, act locally" has been a slogan in the environmental community for a long time, but "think locally, act locally" offers more promise for political success. Conservation means the garbage dump at the edge of town is smaller, that the lake at the end of the road is cleaner, that the state forests support a healthy ecosystem that allows plentiful opportunities for hunting.
A lot of credit for the Democratic resurgence in Montana and across the Mountain West last year came because we successfully built alliances with sportsmen and hunters to oppose strip-mining and cyanide pollution and to support a whole range of public land access issues.
Wisconsin has always been at the forefront of progressive thought, and after suffering from deforestation and drought and environmental destruction during the Gilded Age, Wisconsin stood at the heart of the conservation movement. UW President Van Hise wrote the definitive text on conservation in 1910, while John Muir and Aldo Leopold are the founding fathers of the environmental movement in the early half of the 20th century.
Millions of us enjoy our forests and rivers and lakes every day of the year, and Wisconsin's natural beauty is a heritage and a treasure that belongs to all of us. Preserving that beauty for our children is a challenge that local parties and progressive groups all across the state can take up.
Make the progressive agenda real and offer the voters a true and honest choice. When we reclaim Wisconsin's progressive tradition we will reclaim the support of Wisconsin's voters. And future generations of Wisconsinites will experience the same thrill that Muir did when he spoke of Wisconsin and said, "Young hearts, young leaves, flowers, animals, the winds and the streams and the sparkling lake all wildly, gladly rejoicing together!"
(Ben Brothers maintains the badger blues Web log.)
March 22, 2005
Wingnut nanny state
By Stacie Rosenzweig
Surprise, surprise. The Republicans are outraged again. This time, state Assembly Rep. Daniel LeMahieu is shocked and appalled that adults receiving health care from University Health Services at UW-Madison could actually obtain emergency contraception. So shocked and appalled, in fact, that he wants all UW health clinics to stop prescribing oral contraceptives of any type. (So, you 30-year-old married mothers of two who rely on hormonal contraceptives to keep your normally disabling cramps in check so you can attend class? No pills for you.)
You know what, Mr. LeMahieu? I'm outraged, too. I wonder when it is you decided to adopt the tens of thousands of women attending the UW system. Because you seem to take issue with the fact that so many of them were raised to make independent decisions and take responsibility for their own health. I am outraged that you would insult the parents of these women, and, of course, these women themselves, by trying to decide what is best for them.
I am not a UW student and am not receiving medical services from its clinics but, as a Wisconsinite, I may decide to enroll someday. And, guess what? My parents raised me just fine and they did not raise me with puritanical attitudes about family planning, either.
They -- and I -- don't need help from you.
March 21, 2005
A real investigation
By Herman Holtzman
Have you heard that Major League Baseball officials announced they are investigating Congress because of reports of disturbing congressional ethical behavior and recent highly publicized allegations of widespread budget abuse? Does that sound like a great idea to you? Unfortunately, it was a pre-April Fools joke told by syndicated columnist Rick Horowitz.
Seriously though, am I the only one who thinks that now that we have the Peoples’ Legislature in place we should undertake an investigation of the fundraising practices of the Wisconsin state Legislature and the governor? We should appoint a committee on campaign finance reform and invite all legislators and the governor to testify about their responsibility to serve the people who pay their salaries and benefits.
That committee’s assignment should include the ultimatum that if its members cannot pass a comprehensive campaign-reform bill this year that includes full disclosure and full funding of election campaigns every member of the Legislature must resign. We have waited too long.
March 18, 2005
A question and an answer
By Bill Kraus
Q: So, Governor, would you please comment on an election system which is characterized by endless campaigns (The Hillary Condaleeza Show is already being previewed), selling candidates and ideas with 30-second TV commercials like they were lite beer, letting anyone with money and an issue or an interest weigh in on any campaign without disclosure or control or retribution, condemning candidates to spending most of their waking hours dialing for dollars to get enough money to beat their opponents and beat off all the outsiders who are weighing in on their campaigns, and pouring huge amounts of money ($1.2 billion in 2004) into chasing (buying?) votes.
A: Hey, it works for me!
March 17, 2005
Bush's law costs Wisconsin millions
By Jay Bullock
The good folks at the National Priorities Project have run the numbers for No Child Left Behind in Bush's proposed budget. They find not only that the budget underfunds NCLB (which is old news), but that the budget would result in cuts in constant-dollar allocations to nearly every state.
Wisconsin's decline, in real dollars, will be more than $2 million next year. Overall, our share of NCLB will be underfunded by $164 million. One teacher runs you about $75,000. That's more than 2000 teachers we could have in classes.
Chris Correa does more research so that I don't have to. He gives us the per-pupil cost, not of the real-dollar cuts, but of the total underfunding per state. Wisconsin's $164 million underfunding translates to what looks like a paltry $169.03 per pupil.
Let me put that in perspective: The district where I teach has about 105,000 students. In other words, NCLB underfunding costs my district alone $17 million. The last several years we've been closing schools and laying off hundreds of teachers because we've been running deficits to the tune of $15-$20 million. How many kids are missing out on their Music or Phys. Ed. classes because we're giving up Title I money to NCLB requirements?
(Jay Bullock maintains the folkbum's rambles and rants Web log.)
March 16, 2005
Clearly ignoring the Hispanic community
By Robert Miranda
A resolution calling for Milwaukee County government to pull its marketing contract from the monopoly known as Clear Channel radio has caused a stir in Milwaukee.
The resolution seeks to have hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars taken from the corporation because it failed to make amends to Milwaukee’s Hispanic community following Mark Belling's racial slur last October.
Clear Channel, in a letter dated March 14, 2005, states that it has worked closely with Hispanic leaders to repair the damage caused by Belling. Belling used the term “wetback” in describing southside voters.
Clear Channel representative Cindy McDowell, VP Market Manager for Clear Channel, may assume that working with the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin is akin to working with the entire Latino community in Belling's listening area. However, most of the community's leadership voted to support the call to have Belling removed from his position.
Southeastern Wisconsin's Hispanic leaders point out that Clear Channel has fired other radio talk show-hosts in other parts of the country for using offensive language over the airwaves. They also point to Clear Channel’s “zero tolerance” policy against such language. The leaders of the southeastern Wisconsin Hispanic community feel Hispanic listeners and community members are on the wrong side of a Clear Channel double standard.
Peggy West, the area's representative in Milwaukee County government states that Clear Channel’s work with the Hispanic Chamber was an act designed to divide the community’s leadership. That Clear Channel ignored the community’s demand to have Belling removed from WISN-AM radio by providing the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Wisconsin with free radio time and billboards to promote its convention later this year sounds like a buy out to me. How about you?
Meanwhile, the County Board resolution is being challenged by Mark Belling’s base of rightwing fans who are complaining that Belling is being denied his right to free speech. They have even gone so far as to state that they will boycott the county’s public golf course if the resolution passed. Really!
Where, however, is the Democratic Party in all this? Clearly, this resolution will be vetoed by Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, a Republican candidate for governor. Why haven’t the Democrats acted to push for the passage of this resolution? Having Walker veto the measure gives the Democrats an opportunity to show Hispanic voters that Republicans do not support Hispanic concerns.
In a tight gubernatorial race, one would think that Hispanic votes could play a key role in squeaking out a victory for the Democratic candidate.
Every vote counts, right?
March 14, 2005
Revealing an old scandal
By John Stauber
Yesterday's New York Times has a "must read" front page article on the Bush administration's widespread propagation of "fake news," video news releases funded by tax-payers, filled with political bias, and aired by TV networks and stations as news stories.
At the Center for Media and Democracy in Madison we have been reporting and speaking out on this particular media corruption for more than a decade, but this New York Times article is the first major expose' in the mainstream press. This long Times piece still only reveals the tip of the iceberg, since most of each year's thousands of fake news stories are from corporations, not government agencies.
We first described the widespread use of fake TV news VNRs -- video news releases -- in our 1995 book Toxic Sludge Is Good For You. We explained how more than 20 VNRs were created by the Hill and Knowlton PR firm as part of their campaign to sell the first Gulf War. Ten years ago the airing of fake news was widespread, today it is much worse.
At the Center for Media and Democracy we are committed to organizing with others in journalism and in the media reform movement to stop fake news. Cleary this unlabeled use of VNR's violates both FCC standards and the ethics code of broadcasters, but without public outrage and mobilization neither institution has had the inclination to act, nor will it.
For more on fake news and the decline of journalism, listen to today's "Democracy Now!" with Amy Goodman. Science reporter Laurie Garret, a personal hero of mine, is on for the entire hour discussing the decline of journalism. I join her for the last half-hour discussing the scandal of fake news.
Later today the entire show will be available on the "Democracy Now!" Web site.
March 10, 2005
The reformers' dilemma
By Bill Kraus
In an era of invincible incumbents, money-driven campaigns, and power concentrated in the hands of legislative leaders and governors who have the keys to the vault, the reform movement has little or no leverage on the political process.
But there is a lever available. It's called Initiative and Referendum. And it's a terrible idea.
But if the people begin to think that they no longer have a seat at the table, that the interests and the money have supplanted them, watch out.
It could be a terrible idea whose time has come.
March 9, 2005
By Stacie Rosenzweig
Apparently, there is going to be a serious shortage of skilled manufacturing workers in the United States in a decade or two. While I’m sure this is better than a serious shortage of skilled manufacturing jobs -- or a “what, me worry, we’ll send these jobs overseas” complacency from the employers -- it’s still cause for concern, I suppose.
According to a spokesperson from the National Association of Manufacturers, one reason for the potential shortage is that schools and parents stress four-year degrees as vital to success. As much as I hate to admit it (as someone who never for a second thought of doing anything other than attending a four-year college out of high school), NAM is right.
I grew up in Illinois, but took teacher training in Beloit and taught for a year in Racine. And in every school I attended, visited, or worked in, four-year college was considered the ultimate goal. The military, two-year colleges and trade schools were considered alternatives for those students who couldn’t make it academically. And forget about going to work right after high school.
I do think well-intentioned parents, guidance counselors and citizens tend to value certain jobs above others, regardless of how honest the work or necessary the task. We push four years of high-school English and three of math — as we should — but discourage achievers from taking even a semester of auto mechanics, electronics, cooking or any other course that might lead to a high-paying career in a field that will need workers. That’s sad.
We have an opportunity to help our young people train for careers -- let’s not squander it by telling them that the skilled trades are somehow less honorable than other pursuits.
(Editors' note: Stacie Rosenzweig maintains The Vast Dairy State Conspiracy Web log.)
March 5, 2005
D.C. fever dream
By G.A. Custer
My friend J.P., a conservative banker, was unexpectedly hospitalized while visiting Washington, D.C., recently.
After he returned I visited him during his continuing convalescence and he explained what happened:
“It started with a private tour of the Treasury. It was all going well until our guide was called away for a few minutes. I heard a lot of noise coming from down the hall so I checked it out. I opened the door to an enormous room with a large machine running nonstop. People were sleeping on the floor, in the corners and all over the room.
“There was one particularly tired looking gentleman who I guessed to be the foreman, and I asked him what was going on.
“‘We’re creating wealth,’ he said. ‘Wealth’ I asked? ‘Sure we’re printing $100 bills for the new ownership economy.’
“’They are printing $100 bills 24/7 so that all the new owners have something to buy stuff with.’ ‘That’s crazy,’ I said, ‘You can’t simply print money to create wealth, not without having some relationship to value.’ ‘Sure you can,’ he said, ‘How do you think we are paying for the war in Iraq?’
“’That’s counterfeiting,’ I shouted. ‘No, it is okay if the president says it is okay,’ he responded.
“It gets worse. He told me not to worry, that with the increase in efficiency and cost cutting it would all work out. ‘When we gave the Treasury tours before we used to have handouts, brochures, post cards and all the rest,’ he said. ‘We figure it cost an average of $2.34 visitor. Now we just give them a souvenir sheet of $100 bills; it only costs 28 cents a sheet and the people love them. With savings like these we can cover the tax cuts and wipe out the deficit in no time.’
“As I walked out the foreman said, ‘Just wait until we get the new super-fast printer we are going to need once we have the personal social security accounts.’
“At that point I must have fainted. The next thing I remember is waking up in the hospital.”
“G.A. Custer” is a pseudonym. The author works close to the Wisconsin Legislature and wishes to remain anonymous.
March 4, 2005
The difference between adversaries and enemies
By Bill Kraus
One of the reasons for the decline in civility, the rise in partisanship, and the weakening of the Arena Phenomenon is the demise of the Salad Bar Tavern.
The Salad Bar was a badly misnamed watering hole a block from the Capitol. (Did anybody ever eat there? I doubt it. Did they even serve a salad there? I'm not sure.) At day's end legislators from both parties, reporters, and members of the administration would adjourn from the day's exchanges of insults and worse and talk with (as distinguished from "talk to") one another.
Everything said or overheard at the Salad Bar was off the record.
It was a socializing place.
The Salad Bar disappeared sometime in the 1980s and its acerbic proprietor, Ted Cosmides, somewhat later (one legislator said that the reason he patronized Ted's place was because he would never hear the phrase "have a nice day" there).
When it disappeared, its clientele dispersed to many places, which was bad. These other places were characterized by being politically segregated, which was infinitely worse. What was lost in this dispersal was the frail sense that no matter how much we disagree it is possible to concede that those with whom we disagree have a point of view that deserves a hearing and some respect.
March 3, 2005
Pass the mic
By Herman Holtzman
As the People’s Legislature “goes regional” with meetings in locations throughout the state, I have one piece of advice based on my experience with the first highly successful event on January 4: Pass the mic.
It is the democratic thing to do for an effort that exists to enliven democracy. Even more important, leveling the playing field between the session leader and everyone else could lead to a finished product that more accurately reflects the opinions and experiences of those in attendance.
A case in point was the January 4 People’s Legislature campaign finance reform breakout session where we produced a working statement that called for “public financing for campaigns.” Some in the audience called for the word “full” or “complete” to be added before “public” in keeping with the speech delivered earlier in the day by Lieutenant Governor Barbara Lawton and, I would estimate, the opinion of the overwhelming majority of those gathered in the room (including the editor and publisher of this Web site).
The leader of the session and holder of the microphone explained why he disagreed with the rest of us and moved the discussion along without passing the amplifier to anyone else. If he had given the microphone to me I would have explained some of the advantages of full public funding, and why the reasons it is working so well in Maine and Arizona are relevant in Wisconsin. Not being able to do so was personally frustrating and, I believe, denied the group the ability to make a fully informed decision about the statement it produced.
In the regional meetings, any contentious issues should be discussed fully, and there should be the opportunity to distribute literature pro and con before the meetings so the members can be fully informed and vote intelligently.
Don’t get me wrong; it was a great meeting. With attendance far exceeding expectations and a large proportion of people from all parts of the state we were able to produce a coherent statement that could clean up our present corruptible state government. I just think subsequent People’s Legislature events will be even better if organizers come up with a way of sharing the microphone. Better yet, how about getting rid of it altogether?
March 2, 2005
Not quite courageous
By Kristian Knutsen
In his Capital Times column on Tuesday, John Nichols asked, “What is the issue on which congressional Democrats – including so-called “progressives” from Wisconsin – are least likely to take a courageous stand?”
His answer? Freedom of speech. The issue was the recent House vote in favor of the “Broadcast Decency Enforcement Act.” Included in the bill’s provisions is a $500,000 first-time fine for individuals deemed in violation of FCC indecency standards. Among the congressional representatives “who sided with Big Brother were Wisconsin Democrats Tammy Baldwin, Ron Kind, Gwen Moore and Dave Obey,” Nichols wrote.
Lee Rayburn, a talk show host on the Madison Air America affiliate also discussed this issue on Tuesday, citing a Rolling Stone article that reported “for the price of Janet Jackson's 'wardrobe malfunction' during the Super Bowl, you could cause the wrongful death of an elderly patient in a nursing home and still have enough money left to create dangerous mishaps at two nuclear reactors. (Actually, you might be able to afford four 'nuke malfunctions': The biggest fine levied by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission last year was only $60,000.)”
Rayburn concluded that due to the arbitrary and capricious manner in which the FCC approaches broadcast indecency, the law is “censorship and a violation of my civil rights and a threat to my livelihood.”