Sunday, April 30, 2006

Packers Draft...a Republican?

Does anyone else find it curious that the fact A.J. Hawk is a staunch Republican was emphasized in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel article on him?

It's not a big deal, I just wasn't expecting it.

Anyway, I think it was a great pick for the Packers. Hawk is going to be a strong impact player right away.

Now if I could only figure out why the Pack just spent $52 million on someone who hasn't played a full season since 2001...

Friday, April 28, 2006

What Happened to McCormick's Ethics Bill Assurances?

It doesn't surprise me that the state GOP decided not to bring the Ethics Reform Bill up for a vote.

What surprises me is that the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is reporting that the bill was killed "overwhelmingly" by a vote of all Assembly Republicans. Apparently only two from the Assembly GOP voted to bring it to the floor: Rep. Terri McCormick (R-Appleton) and Rep. Sheryl Albers (R-Reedsburg).

I mean, we all knew Speaker John Gard wanted it dead, but a vast majority of the GOP Assembly caucus? Evidently even Rep. Stephen Freese (R-Dodgeville) -- who earlier in the night threatened to leave his position as speaker pro term if the bill wasn't brought to the floor -- had a change of heart.

And it was just this past Monday when McCormick released a press statement claiming she personally received word from enough Assembly Republicans to ensure the bill would pass if brought up for a vote.

What happened?

Either Gard must be a pretty persuasive guy or McCormick was fed some big fat li(n)es earlier this week by her colleagues.

Side-Note: How fitting that a bill designed to strengthen the democratic process was killed in the most undemocratic of ways: behind closed doors.

Pandering to Nobody

A few quick thoughts on the big news of the day, which is that the state Assembly passed an amendment capping state revenue at the wee hours of the morning today (4:37 am, to be exact).

One, although local governments are technically excluded from the caps, I wrote yesterday about how in practice under this amendment they would be impacted.

Two, I think the likelihood of this amendment getting through the state Senate is very much in doubt. If we can take Senators Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) and Ron Brown (R-Eau Claire) at their words from just last week, they won’t approve of writing any sort of fiscal policy into the state constitution. Assuming they still feel that way, it would only take one more Republican defector to tank the amendment in the Senate.

Three, to be quite honest, I’m trying to figure out exactly why this amendment passed the Assembly. Those on the far fiscal right, whose idea it was to have an amendment in the first place, aren’t even happy with it.

Diehard TABOR proponents Rep. Alan Lasee (R-Bellevue) and Rep. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater), along with seven other Republicans, didn’t even vote for it. And the megaphones on the far fiscal right I’m sure will not like it. Owen at Boots and Sabers, who has made getting fiscal policy written into the constitution a mission, calls this amendment a "disaster." I can only imagine what Belling is going to call it.

So why did it pass? I guess the only reasonable explanation is to have a gimmick to talk about during the election season this fall.

But how successful of a gimmick could it be when those who really wanted to see an amendment passed can’t even stand the one that did?

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Assembly Rejects Revenue Amendment

By a wide 66-32 margin, the Journal-Sentinel DayWatch blog is reporting.

This was the one that would restrict state and local governments.

The Assembly is expected to vote on an amendment to only restrict state government later tonight. The GOP leadership is saying that vote is too close to call.

Local Governments: Feeling Used, Yet?

While it appears local governments may need to be pulled from the amendment to restrict public revenue in Wisconsin to allow it to pass, it looks like they may have been added to the ethics bill to help it fail.

Local government officials are upset about being added to an ethics reform bill that was intended to clean up the state capitol. Many justifiably fear the added oversight will deter people from wanting to run for local office, which is already a tough sell for most.

Local governments weren't in the original bill that passed the state Senate handily last November. They were added last month while the bill was in committee in the Assembly.

According to Mike McCabe of the Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, "[Assembly leadership] wanted this bill to die, so they added the locals and got them all fired up and generating calls in opposition."

Rep. Stephen Freese (R-Dodgeville), who is part of the Assembly leadership, denies the charge, although he says he wouldn't mind if local governments were removed from the bill.

Freese just wants to see the state get the complete value out of creating a full-time investigator. He exclaimed that without the locals: "We would be creating a brand new agency with an investigator (whose) only reason to exist would be to monitor 132 people."

Freese failed to mention that considering the number of legislators who have gone down on ethics charges in recent years, with many more implicated but not charged, it's a group that needs close watching.

It will be interesting to see whether the bill gets the nod from Assembly Speaker John Gard, whose opponent in the congressional primary this fall -- Rep. Terri McCormick (R-Appleton) -- upped the ante on him earlier this week by releasing a press statement that claimed the Assembly support is there to pass the bill if Gard just schedules it for a vote.

Who says you can't mix business with pleasure?

How Do You Define Irony?

One way is to have a lobbyist write an op-ed telling readers they should ignore lobbyists.

Cap on the State Isn’t Only a Cap on the State

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is reporting this morning that GOP members of the Assembly may need to fall back on an amendment that only restricts state government spending in Wisconsin in order to get something passed today.

The JS article repeatedly uses the word “spending,” although every other constitutional amendment proposed this year puts a cap on revenue. Since this fallback amendment hasn’t yet been made public -- with only hours to go before the vote -- there’s no way to know for sure what it really caps.

Assembly Speaker John Gard claims that if the fallback amendment passes, it wouldn’t be perfect but it nevertheless “would be a victory.” No word yet on whether the megaphones of the far fiscal right agree with that assessment.

But it’s a joke to think that by only capping the state government it leaves local governments alone. Anyone with the slightest understanding of public finance knows that local governments in Wisconsin thrive on state aide. Counties, municipalities, and school districts all rely on it.

If state government revenue or spending is restricted, it will inevitably limit the funds available for local governments -- not to mention increase the likelihood that the state will pawn off more unfunded (or underfunded) services onto local units.

The first reaction might be that local governments will simply raise revenues through avenues like property taxes to compensate for the loss.

While that may happen to a certain extent, there are statutory caps on property taxes already in place for local governments, which makes fully compensating for decreased state aide and increased state mandates highly unlikely.

And the Republican-controlled legislature could always work to tighten those statutory caps, if desired, to include such revenue streams as fees and assessments.

In other words, by passing a constitutional cap on state revenue or spending along with a couple other statutory laws, the GOP could still get the amendment of its dreams -- or at least the dreams of the far fiscal right segment of the party.

But, of course, even if a state cap passes one session of the Assembly, there’s no guarantee it’ll make it through the more moderate State Senate, let alone through a second session of both houses.

However it works out, one thing’s for sure: Our state Assembly is getting set to vote on some amendment today that takes the bold move of writing broad and restrictive fiscal policy into the state constitution.

But as I write this post, neither I nor anyone else in the public is aware exactly what that amendment will look like. Heck, there’s a decent chance the legislature doesn’t know either.

Does that sound wrong to anyone else?

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Terrorism Top Priority for Wisconsin AG?

Certainly something like terrorism can't be ignored by anyone -- but does that make it a top priority for the attorney general in Wisconsin?

J.B. Van Hollen seems to think so.

This sounds like the type of desperation coming out of the Walker campaign about a month before he withdrew from the gubernatorial race.

I hope this isn't the case for Van Hollen. Don't get me wrong, I'd much prefer Lautenschlager or Falk as AG...but I'll take Van Hollen over Bucher any day.

Dems Bringing Back HOPE

To counter the stream of TABOR-family amendments spewing out of the GOP caucus lately, the Dems will bring the HOPE legislation back to the floor of the Assembly tomorrow.

While HOPE was initially proposed by Democrats nearly a year ago, the Republican legislative leaders haven't allowed it out of committee.

Essentially HOPE is a property tax cut. It allows the first $60,000 of a home's property value to be exempted from school property taxes, which makes it an even tax cut across the board for all homeowners by shaving about $600 per year off their property tax bill.

To compensate for the lost revenue, the HOPE bill would close loopholes that allow businesses to avoid paying Wisconsin taxes by doing such things as establishing out-of-state subsidiaries.

HOPE also wouldn't decrease local control or harm public services. It's a straight-up tax cut for every homeowner in Wisconsin.

A release by Rep. Spencer Black (D-Madison) on the return of HOPE can be found here.

Gard Still Can't Get the Votes

After two straight days of being in partisan caucus, John Gard says he still can't muster enough GOP support to get the revenue amendment (whichever version we're on now) through the Assembly.

Perhaps it's time the far fiscal right takes a hint.

More on Tire Slashing Sentencing

WisPolitics just expanded its article on the tire slashing case sentencing to explain a little more behind the story. It seems Judge Brennan wanted to set an example with the case, which is why he opted for jail rather than the plea agreement.

Here is what Brennan told the defendants at the sentencing: “Voter suppression just has no place in our country."

He's right. But unfortunately for Brennan's justification, the young men weren't on trial for voter suppression. It was misdemeanor property damage.

If Brennan wanted them tried for voter suppression or civil rights violations, which he said they also committed, perhaps he should take that up with the DA's office -- not the defendants at sentencing.

And in an interesting twist of irony, it was Brennan who lambasted the Wisconsin Supreme Court in a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel op-ed last fall for taking a "worrisome turn" toward judicial activism.

Someone better grab a mirror for Judge Brennan.

The Revenue Amendment Count

We're up to six and counting. I figure we'll be up to at least 8 or 9 by the vote tomorrow.

In case anyone’s interested in keeping track, here’s the list:
  1. Original Revenue Amendment (February 9, 2006)
  2. Substitute Revenue Amendment 1 (April 4, 2006)
  3. Substitute Revenue Amendment 2 (April 11, 2006)
  4. Gottlieb Revenue Amendment (April 21, 2006)
  5. Lasee Revenue Amendment (April 26, 2006)
  6. Substitute Revenue Amendment 3 (April 26, 2006)

And this list doesn’t even count the pre-2006 tries at TABOR.

Tire-Slashing Case Plea Agreement Ignored

According to WisPolitics, the plea agreement made between prosecutors and the four young men accused of slashing the tires of GOP vans in Milwaukee on election day in 2004 has been ignored by the presiding judge.

The sentences doled out range between 4 and 6 months in work-release jail for the defendants.

I'm surprised someone who is considered such a reasonable judge like Michael Brennan would make a move like this.

None of these young men had any prior records, nor could they be considered in the least threats to society or to re-offend. To me, it's those cases where jail is appropriate -- not when a plea agreement was reached that didn't involve imprisonment.

So what was Brennan's motivation for the relatively rare move of ignoring a plea deal?

UPDATE: See here.

A Health Care Plan that Deserves Excitement

Rather than spending hours trying to find an acceptable version of TABOR, at least one Republican Assemblyperson used yesterday to announce a plan that addresses a serious issue in Wisconsin and around the country: health care.

State Senator Russ Decker (D-Schofield) and Rep. Terry Musser (R-Black River Falls) just proposed a comprehensive health care plan for Wisconsin that provides near-universal coverage and effectively reduces the cost of health care in the state.

According to an article in the Capital Times, the plan was developed in consultation with the Wisconsin AFL-CIO, local governments, businesses, and medical experts from around the state.

It’s a plan that’s worth getting excited about.

The title of the plan—the Wisconsin Health Care Partnership Plan—is almost identical to the title of another piece of reform legislation announced by Rep. Jon Richards (D-Milwaukee) and Rep. Curt Gielow (R-Mequon) last summer.

And the two plans do have similarities. They both use funding through equalized assessments on employers and employees. And they both also seek to provide health care coverage to nearly everyone in Wisconsin (although the Richards/Gielow plan is arguably more universal because it ties participation to citizenship rather than employment like the Decker/Musser plan).

The two plans, however, are not the same.

The biggest fundamental difference between the two plans is that the Decker/Musser plan is a single-payer model, which would be more effective at controlling health care costs than the multiple-payer model employed in the Richards/Gielow plan. (See here for why.)

Additionally, the Decker/Musser plan provides comprehensive health care to recipients that covers “all medically necessary” care, whereas the Richards/Gielow plan guarantees only preventative care coverage and uses a tiered system to cover additional care.

Expect the health insurance industry to blow a gasket over the Decker/Musser plan, but everyone else in the state should be singing its praises. And that means conservatives, too.

Rather than continue to bash government employees for the health care benefits they receive, every conservative in the state will now get to enjoy those very benefits—and at a cheaper cost for everyone involved.

The Decker/Musser plan would effectively reign in health care costs by pooling recipients under a single-payer, thereby increasing the negotiating power of the payer in relation to the provider. Additionally, administrative costs will be significantly reduced by doing away with the overly-complex multiple-payer system.

These savings for governments and business alike are very real. Fond du Lac County Executive Allen Buechel, for example, estimates that the Decker/Musser plan could save his county $3.5 million per year—and that’s with providing essentially the same health care to employees that the county currently offers.

Other governmental and business leaders have jumped on board with the plan, too.

Near-universal comprehensive coverage. Less strain on government revenue. Cheaper for businesses.

What’s not to like?


Useful Links: See here and here for info on the Decker/Musser plan; and see here and here for info on the Richards/Gielow plan.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Roberts May Delay Senate Investigation...Again

Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) is considering delaying a Senate investigation into the Bush Administration's handling of pre-war intelligence until after the midterm elections.

Where have we heard this story before?

Oh, right. It was in February 2004 when Roberts first delayed the investigation until after the elections that year.

This is unbelievable.

Number of Middle Class Uninsured Skyrocketing

The number of middle class Americans without health insurance is increasing rapidly, a new report by The Commonwealth Fund concludes.

According to the study, more than 40% of US citizens who make between $20K and $40K per year went at least part of 2005 without health insurance. This percentage is up dramatically from 28% in 2001.

Some other notable conclusions in the report:
  • Over 32 million Americans without health insurance are in families where at least one member is employed full-time (that's 67% of the total number of uninsured)
  • 20% of working adults are currently paying off medical debt (most of them more than $2000)
  • 60% of uninsured adults with chronic illnesses skip medication doses to save money
  • Uninsured patients are significantly less likely to engage in proactive measures such as screenings than insured patients
None of this is very surprising. And I don't know what's worse, the information itself or the fact that it's not surprising.

Why isn't letting fellow Americans go without necessary health care considered unpatriotic?

A Right Wing Dilemma

Situation: You're faced with a decision to either allow the commemoration of war heroes or restrict government spending and land allocation for the memorial.

What do you do? WHAT DO YOU DO?

Well, if you're chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Charles Taylor (R-N.C.), you block the memorial. Single-handedly, no less.

The memorial is being planned for the spot in rural Pennsylvania where Flight 93 went down on September 11. The hope is to commemorate those victims who took the flight down as the first heroes in the war on terror.

But it turns out Taylor is a wealthy landowner in North Carolina who doesn't want to see the federal government take any more land that, well, people like him could take.

Plus, he's worried the families of the victims won't be able to come up with the $30 million they're supposed to front for the project. Up to this point, they’ve only managed to raise $7.5 million. He'd just hate to see the government get stuck with the majority of the $60 million tab.

Can you imagine the reaction if Taylor was a Democrat?

The Washington Post has the full story.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Vouchers and Revenue: The Two Biggest Issues Facing America’s Families?

The Coalition for America’s Families (CFAF), a well-funded conservative advocacy group whose name is hardly applicable, has jumped out of the woodwork to start a statewide radio ad campaign that simultaneously attacks Jim Doyle and urges support for an amendment to restrict public revenue in Wisconsin.

Many may recognize CFAF from its role in the school voucher debate a few months back. It’s the group that picked-up and distributed statewide the ridiculous ad by Charlie Sykes and Mikel Holt that alleged Jim Doyle was akin to racist governors like Orville Faubus and George Wallace because he didn’t want to blow the cap off the voucher program.

(And, if you haven’t seen them already, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has published a couple of good articles in the last two days, here and here, that demonstrate exactly why blowing the cap off the voucher program would’ve been a really bad idea.)

CFAF is certainly no stranger to running anti-Doyle ads. Last year at about this time the group drew some heat for publishing an anti-immigration television ad and another TV spot that blatantly mischaracterized Doyle's support for domestic partner benefits.

The radio ad CFAF is pushing now is about par for the course.

First, it makes it seem like the revenue amendment is about limiting property taxes, which is just not true. This amendment is about restricting nearly all government revenue. There’s a big difference.

Second, it makes it seem like Jim Doyle and “the teachers’ union in Madison” are the only opposition to the revenue amendment in the state. As this list makes clear, that’s hardly the case.

Third, as you’ll notice from the list above, Jim Doyle isn’t on it. To be sure, Doyle has refrained from publishing a formal statement on the revenue amendment because he has nothing to do with its passage—aside from voting on it like every other citizen in the state if it ever makes it to the voters (which is highly unlikely, particularly in its current form).

Mark Green, on the other hand, is trying his best to use his support for the amendment as proof that he’s willing to go all the way with the far fiscal right in the state. Charlie Sykes was hoping that this support from Green would provide some necessary leadership to drive the amendment through the legislature.

Unfortunately, the problems with the amendment have nothing to do with leadership—they stem from ideology. More specifically, Sykes & Co. are on the extreme right while the majority of the state GOP is moderate. No amount of leadership is going to change that.

Nevertheless, welcome back to the public debate, CFAF.

We’ll just go ahead and assume that America’s families haven't faced any other issues this year besides school vouchers and restricting governmental revenue...oh, and let's not forget campaigning for Mark Green.

Side-Note: The new anti-Doyle radio campaign by CFAF also makes this post by Brian Fraley look even more ridiculous.

UPDATE: As usual, I wasn't the first to cover this issue. Xoff had a post on it late Friday. I need to quit tuning out so much over the weekend--it leaves way too much ground to cover for a Monday morning.

Friday, April 21, 2006

TABOR and Its Bride Give Birth!

TABOR and the Bride of TABOR are now parents!

Rep. Mark Gottlieb (R-Port Washington) has just released the details of his "simplified" constitutional amendment to restrict public revenue in Wisconsin.

The amendment does the following:
  • Limits increases in state and local revenue to 90% of a three-year rolling average of the percentage change in state personal income.
  • Requires excess state revenue to be deposited in a "budget stabilization fund" that can only be touched when annual state revenue is below the limit or in cases of property damage that exceed 0.5% of state revenue for one year.
  • Requires that revenue in the "budget stabilization fund" exceeding 4% of state revenue in any given year go towards tax relief.
  • Allows state revenue to be increased beyond the limit only through a statewide referendum.
  • Gives the state legislature the ability to define "revenue" by law, but doesn't allow revenue from taxes, licenses, or fees to be excluded.
  • Allows local governments to exceed the revenue by local referendum or "by vote of the electors at an annual meeting" if permitted by the state legislature.
A handful of quick comments on the new amendment:

One, its just as restrictive as its parents, regardless of its size. 90% of personal income growth isn't going to be all that much different from inflation plus population growth or 2/3 of new construction.

Two, there are no exclusions for municipalities whose annual revenue is less than $1 million, as was the case in the Grothman/Wood amendment.

Three, there is still no emergency fund allowed for local governments, and the Gottlieb amendment puts far more restrictions on how the state emergency fund can be used than the Grothman/Wood amendment did.

Four, like its parents, all of the control is still in the hands of the state legislature--substantive local control is nowhere to be found.

Five, there is nothing preventing the state from dramatically reducing its aid to local governments, pocketing the proceeds, and leaving the local governments no choice but to make up the loss of funds through increased property taxes.

Six, there are no protections for local governments against unfunded (or underfunded) state mandates.

Seven, this amendment is expected to go to the State Assembly next week without any public hearings or input.

And I've just been thinking about this for about ten minutes. I can imagine what others will come up with in the coming days.

The far fiscal right needs to deal with the fact that there's no responsible way to write broad fiscal policy into the state constitution. These obsessive attempts at it are starting to get ridiculous.

It's Still a McDonald's

You can make the outside look any way you want, it isn't going to change that.

Or the crappy food.

(New look for the McDonald's in Brookfield, WI.)

Here's the front-page Journal-Sentinel article on the face lift for the fa(s)t food giant.

I can't believe anyone would feel more comfortable eating at McDonald's just because the exterior has changed. Whatever gets you through the day, I guess.

Scott Walker Scores...Against His Own Team

In an unsurprising move, the actuarial firm Mercer Human Resource Consulting is claiming it’s not at fault for the Milwaukee County pension deal from 2000. The county is suing the firm for $100 million for not accurately projecting the cost of the deal.

What is eye-opening is that in filings with a federal court this week, Mercer cites statements made by Scott Walker during his 2005 budget address to help bolster its defense.

In the address, as usual, Walker bashed the Ament administration and county employees for supposedly putting Milwaukee County in such a dire fiscal position. Mercer is now using these statements as proof the deal was orchestrated solely by the Milwaukee County government, not the firm’s actuaries.

Well done, Scott. Hope those comments scored some good political points for you.

It probably took Mercer days to wade through all the Ament and county employee bashing Walker has done over the years to find that perfect quote. I bet it was like kids in a candy shop.

Despite the help by Walker, Mercer’s defense still appears relatively weak. In its filings with the court, Mercer did not deny the fact that its actuaries chose not to speak up and tell the county board at committee hearings the plan would not be cost-neutral.

As one of the Mercer actuaries explained later, he decided to stay silent while then-County Personnel Director Gary Dobbert told the board the plan would be cost-neutral because he “didn’t want to make Dobbert look stupid.”

In fact, and this is the real kicker, another one of the Mercer actuaries did essentially tell the board at a meeting that the plan would be cost-neutral.

According to the meeting transcript, Mercer actuary Glenn Soderstrom told the board: “There is some degree of uncertainty, but I am convinced I will never come to you and tell you, ‘Supervisor, please pony up $20 million next year.’ You would have the right to kick me in the rear end on that account because I think we would have warned you about the potential and surprises.”

As it turns out, the supervisors haven’t had to pony up $20 million because of the non-cost-neutrality of the plan. It’s actually been more like $64 million…and counting.

LATE UPDATE: Jim at Watchdog Milwaukee provides some excellent commentary on this story here.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Great Post on TABOR and Taxes

On the off-chance that a reader of this blog doesn't also read "folkbum's rambles and rants," Jay has a great post up on TABOR-like legislation but even more broadly on Wisconsin taxes in general.

It's well worth the read.

Journal-Sentinel Peddles GOP Spin

How's this for a front-page article title: "Doyle Veto a Win for Trial Lawyers."

The bill vetoed by Doyle would've allowed health care providers in Wisconsin to maintain secret files on quality, files that could not be accessed for evidence in medical malpractice suits. Unless, of course, the providers wanted to use them for their defense.

Based on reading the article, you'd think that it was trial lawyers themselves who were arbitrarily suing the health care providers simply for keeping records that documented medical errors.

Here's the second line of the article: "The governor vetoed a bill that would have prevented lawyers from subpoenaing information on health care quality when suing hospitals, nursing homes and other health care providers."

Seems to me these suits are brought by citizens who were harmed during a medical procedure. Vetoing this bill was a victory for those individuals and their families.

But conservative proponents of the bill--and other legislation like the "pain and suffering" cap--don't want to make it out like an issue between the providers and the patients. It's a much easier battle to fight when it's providers facing off against the supposedly greedy and powerful "trial lawyers."

And the biggest newspaper in the state took the bait--hook, line, and sinker.

UPDATE: Looks like Xoff beat me to the punch on this one. I guess I'll need to set my alarm clock earlier next time. His post is more in-depth than mine, so be sure to check it out if you haven't already.

Days of Reckoning for the State GOP

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel is fronting a story today about the turmoil surrounding the proposed amendment to restrict public revenue in Wisconsin.

In addition to the Harsdorf/Brown proposal, there appear to be a number of other competing ideas floating around the GOP legislative circles. What's notable is that they're all significantly less extreme than the amendment proposed by Glenn Grothman and Jeff Wood--and the two co-authors are plenty mad about it.

In a press release on the Harsdorf/Brown proposal, Wood denounced a statutory cap as "absolutely meaningless," while Grothman said fellow state senators Harsdorf and Brown "are in favor of nothing" because they don't support the more extreme avenue of writing fiscal policy into the state constitution.

But Grothman and Wood surely aren't the only ones who are upset about these competing proposals.

I seem to remember a fiery post by prominent fiscal conservative blogger Owen at "Boots and Sabers" a couple months back that considered just such a scenario. In it, Owen concludes (emphasis mine):


The best thing for the GOP leadership to do is put a strong version of the TPA up for a vote. If it fails, then so be it. We, the base, can focus our anger on those Republicans who voted against it. If the leadership tries to play us for a bunch of morons by passing a watered down TPA that isn’t worth a politician’s promise, then there will be hell to pay.


It seems to me the state GOP is heading into some days of reckoning. Not only will we find out in the next few weeks which proposal comes out ahead--in the fallout we'll also likely discover exactly who the GOP base is in this state.

And it may not be the ones with the megaphones.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

The Harsdorf/Brown Plan: Setting the Stage for a GOP Battle

Now that State Senators Sheila Harsdorf (R-River Falls) and Ron Brown (R-Eau Claire) have proposed a statutory cap on local property taxes and state government spending, the constitutional amendment to restrict public revenue in Wisconsin is all but dead.

Nevertheless, it’ll be interesting to watch the moderate and extreme segments of the GOP duke it out on this one. So far there is near silence on the right side of the blogosphere about the Harsdorf/Brown proposal and the impending doom of the revenue amendment. I imagine we’ll at least get something from Owen once he gets back at the helm over at “Boots and Sabers.”

Although the details aren’t out on the Harsdorf/Brown proposal, based on the press release it is noticeably less stringent than the revenue amendment. It’s clearly a moderate Republican version of limiting government, while the revenue amendment represents the extreme version.

Senate Majority Leader Dale Schultz (R-Richland Center) released a very cautious press release today that praised both the revenue amendment and the Harsdorf/Brown plan, despite the fact that the two are very different. Clearly Schultz wanted to acknowledge both plans without ruffling any feathers or letting the public think there is heated contention within the ranks.

But ruffled feathers can’t be avoided for long. If the far fiscal right segment of the GOP rejects the Harsdorf/Brown proposal and sticks to its guns on a comprehensive constitutional amendment, which I think is likely, this could turn out to be the major battle for the heart of the Republican Party in the state.

I think the moderates would take it if it simply came down to numbers, but the far fiscal right has some vocal and ferocious fighters like Charlie Sykes on its side, along with cash spouting from places like Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce and Americans for Prosperity.

What the moderates need to ensure victory over the extremists is a unifying figure to take charge on their side. I wonder who could possibly fill such a role?

UPDATE: Rep. Jeff Wood (R-Chippewa Falls), co-author of the revenue amendment, has released a press statement expressing his extreme disappointment in the Harsdorf/Brown proposal. In it he calls a statutory cap "absolutely meaningless" because it can be modified or suspended with subsequent legislation.

Let the games begin...

White House Still Unshaken

The media is touting Scott McClellan’s departure as press secretary as further evidence of a White House shake-up.


This is supposedly the second major move by the White House, and it’s also the second of little importance. As Michael Crowley notes on McClellan’s resignation: “Scott McClellan's departure will mean approximately zero for the course of human history.”

As press secretary, McClellan’s job was to do nothing more than peddle the official White House line and serve as a punching bag the handful of times the White House press corps got up the nerve to call him on his peddling.

The next person to fill the press secretary role—whether it’s Pentagon spokesperson Victoria Clark or Fox’s Tony Snow (which Josh Marshall astutely notes really would be more of an interdepartmental transfer)—will simply do the same peddling and get the same level of media gruff for it at certain times.

The other allegedly big move came a couple weeks ago when Andy Card resigned as chief of staff. While that may seem significant, he was replaced by Josh Bolten, who has worked in the “inner circle” of the Bush Team for just as long as Card—since Day 1.

Plus, the biggest issues facing the White House right now are Iraq and Iran, while the biggest hole in Bolten’s resume is said to be his foreign policy experience. So in an attempt to bone up on his knowledge, he’s visiting with Washington power circles and current White House aides—hardly the makings of fresh ideas.

And with George “I’m the Decider” Bush’s unwillingness to consider canning Rumsfeld (or any other cabinet-level official), it further suggests we are in for more of the same on the foreign policy front. Just in time for a heated confrontation with Iran!

UPDATE: Josh Marshall adds some sound insight: "I think the real story here continues to be that things are so bad at the White House, the level of denial and secrets to be kept, the self-bamboozlement and bad-faith so profound, that they just can't manage to bring in any new blood."

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Could We Break $3.00 Soon?

The Journal-Sentinel DayWatch blog is reporting that gas prices have hit $2.99 at many stations in the Milwaukee area this morning.

The website has the details.

This is the first time gas prices have jumped up to the $3.00 per gallon range since last August and September. At least then there was a hurricane to blame.

The Efficiency of a Single Payer System

Typically doctors come out against calls for a single payer system for health care. The American Medical Association is one of the main organizations that tanked the idea back in the 1930s and 1940s. And ever since they have been fighting it tooth and nail.

But that might be starting to change.

Wall Street Journal (that liberal rag) columnist Dr. Benjamin Brewer--who also runs a private medical practice in Illinois--has an op-ed today that strongly advocates for a single-payer system. In it he writes:


It took me a while to conclude that a single-payer health system was the best approach. My fear had been that government would screw up medicine to the detriment of my patients and my practice. If done poorly, the result might be worse than what I'm dealing with now.

But increasingly I've come to believe that if done right, health care in America could be dramatically better with true single-payer coverage; not just another layer -- a part D on top of a part B on top of a part A, but a simplified, single payer that would cover all Americans, including those who could afford the best right now.


Brewer's conversion is based on the fact that administratively, a single-payer system would be far more cost effective for docs than the multiple-payer system we currently employ.

In a recent count done by Brewer and his staff, they concluded that the patients they see come from a total of over 300 different insurance plans. This complexity requires Brewer to employ four administrative staff members--two for billing and two to collect insurance information.

Under a single-payer system, Brewer thinks he could get down to one administrative employee without a problem.

He notes: "It would be simpler and better for the patient, and for me, if the patient could choose a doctor, bring their ID card with them, swipe it in a card reader at the time of service and have the doctor get paid on the spot with electronic funds transfer."

It's only a matter of time before more and more doctors start to come to the same conclusion. With administrative costs gobbling up around 1/3 of our total health care costs, they won't be able to afford not to concur.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Mark Green's Tightrope Walk Begins

A report in the Cap Times today claims that Mark Green didn't actually back the revenue amendment at the rally in South Milwaukee today.

According to the report: "While Green announced his support for a constitutional limit on taxes and spending, he stopped short of endorsing a controversial proposal now before the Legislature."


On February 15, less than one week after the amendment was announced, Green released this statement:


In a letter to State Senator Glenn Grothman and State Representative Jeff Wood, gubernatorial candidate and U.S. Congressman Mark Green relayed his support for the Wisconsin Taxpayer Protection Amendment (WTPA) and offered two suggestions to the legislators to “strengthen our shared goal of protecting Wisconsin’s taxpayers.”

“Our tax burden is blocking economic development and pushing our citizens to move elsewhere -- especially our seniors and college-educated young people,” Green wrote. “The passage of WTPA will put us on a path to finally remove the “tax-hell” moniker that has inhibited our state for far too long.”


So now Green supports a constitutional limit on spending and taxes in Wisconsin, but just just not the current amendment he released a statement supporting two months ago. Follow that?

And the tightrope walk begins...

UPDATE: Paul Soglin has a good analysis of Green's full speech from today.

The Big Rally on the Far Right

The right side of the blogosphere is getting all giddy about Mark Green announcing a fiscal plan this morning in Milwaukee. Charlie Sykes even seems to think it'll turn around the fortunes of the proposed amendment to restrict public revenue in Wisconsin.

Not a chance.

The amendment is dead in the water. And holding a rally in Milwaukee (or Green Bay, which is planned for later in the day) isn't going to change that.

To be sure, the main Republican legislative opposition to the amendment comes from out-state. Convincing the Republican legislators in southeastern Wisconsin is the last thing that is needed. Groups like CRG and AM radio talkers like Sykes already have them so scared of appearing anything but anti-government that they'll fall right into line come vote time. It's either that or go the way of Mary Panzer.

But the majority of moderate Republicans in the state aren't buying the line, which is precisely why out-state GOP legislators don't fear in the least voting against the amendment. And that's why they won't bat an eye at this rally.

As for Mark Green, this is clearly an attempt to shore up some solid support in southeastern Wisconsin by jumping into bed with the far fiscal right.

I wonder if by doing so, however, he'll jeopardize some of his moderate Republican support in other parts of the state. He may be putting himself on the very tightrope between the moderate and extreme factions of the GOP that sunk TABOR and is in the process of tanking the revenue amendment.

Not to mention setting himself against the wide host of groups opposing the amendment that range from local government to the health care industry to religious groups.

National Popular Vote Campaign Moving Along

The Colorado Senate just passed a measure to join the interstate pact aimed at circumventing the Electoral College for presidential elections (see here for background).

This is the first state vote on the interstate pact since it was announced at the end of February.

If the campaign continues at this rate, the 2008 presidential election could look a whole lot different.

"Public Property Beyond This Point -- No Trespassing"

So that explains it.

I grew up a few blocks from Klode Park in Whitefish Bay--a suburb just north of Milwaukee--and always wondered about signs at both sides of the beach that read: "Private Property Beyond This Point-No Trespassing."

Are the owners expected to care for the beach, I wondered? How do they know when their beach ends and their neighbor's beach begins? With all that beach and so few "owners," it seems like such a waste, I thought.

It turns out the signs are wrong.

According to a Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel front-page story today, the beaches beyond the signs are actually public, not private. Evidently there's a 1923 Wisconsin Supreme Court ruling that gives the people who own houses at the top of the bluffs overlooking the beach "exclusive privileges" to the space between the waterline and their actual property line.

I can imagine the arrangement had (and has) benefits for both the "owners" and the village. While the owners get to pretend they actually own the beach and thereby maintain its exclusivity, the village is able to side-step taking responsibility for what might happen on those stretches of the beach.

As a kid I ignored the signs, anyway, as many people do. But that's not the point.

Those signs made me feel like I was doing something wrong by shrugging them off (which is perhaps part of the reason I did it), when now I don't think I was doing anything wrong at all.

And I remember on at least one occasion being reprimanded by a police officer for walking on the beach beyond the signs (I pretty much ignored that, too...but, again, that's not the point).

This issue is just begging to be revisited by the Wisconsin Supreme Court today.

At the very least, as the JS article suggests, the signs should be changed to read: "Public Property Beyond This Point- No Trespassing."

Let the Apologies Begin

I'm glad Casper over at "Ask Me Later" said it.

In relation to the discovery of the two missing boys at the McGovern Park lagoon in Milwaukee, Casper wrote on Saturday: "Autopsies may reveal more information, including some level of foul play. But if it does come out that the bodies have been in the water since the day they disappeared and no other signs of trauma are present, a resounding chorus of apologies to the black community for accusations of possibly withholding information that could lead to finding the boys is in order."

Autopsies have now come out stating that there was, in fact, no foul play. It was a tragic accident without any sort of community cover-up.

Let the apologies begin.

While people are at it, some also need to apologize for insinuating that witnesses being afraid to talk helped lead to the beating death of another Milwaukee boy last month.

And apologizing is not enough. There also needs to be some self-examination on the part of these people to try to figure out why they were so quick to assume and believe there was a cover-up of either of these incidents in the black community.

This inner-city "Stop Snitching" campaign is turning out to be nothing more than a bunch of hype. What's sadly ironic is that those who most adamantly lashed out against it are the ones who have hyped it the most.

Friday, April 14, 2006

Expanding Benefits for Some, Trimming Benefits for Others

Not a big surprise who represents the "some" and who represents the "others." But this is still worth noting.

From the Wall Street Journal (via Jonathan Cohn at "The Plank"):


At a time when companies are scaling back health benefits for other retirees, former top executives at many corporations are receiving partial or full lifetime medical coverage on top of pensions valued at millions of dollars, a Wall Street Journal analysis of dozens of recent securities filings indicates. . . .

The trend spans industries, and it is common at airlines, which have been among the most aggressive in scaling back retirement benefits for the rank and file. Continental Airlines, for example, provides health care "at no cost" for retired Chairman Gordon Bethune and his dependents, the company's proxy statement notes. . . .

Citigroup Inc. promised to pay the premiums and out-of-pocket expenses for both health and dental care for Chairman Sanford I. Weill and his wife now, and it will continue to provide those benefits for the rest of the Weills' lives, the company's proxy statement says. . . .

If current trends continue, the disparity between what a company's regular employees and its top executives receive in retirement is likely to widen. Most companies have set a ceiling on what they will pay for retirees' health coverage and are passing on cost increases to them. When the premiums get too high, retirees who can't afford the cost will drop out or won't sign up.


I suppose since salaries were already grossly different between employees and executives, it was only a matter of time before benefits like health care and retirement followed suit.

Cohn astutely makes the connection between rising health care costs for employees and the need for universal health care. I'll go a step further and say the universal model needs to involve, at least partially, a single payer system.

But, as Cohn notes, that's a topic for another post...perhaps two or three.

The Effect of a Thompson Gubernatorial Bid

Now that Tommy Thompson has stated he will make an announcement about his political future at the state GOP convention next month, fervid discussion about the impact of a Thompson gubernatorial bid has ensued.

For the Dems, the disadvantage of Thompson tossing his hat into the race for governor is clear—he would be a far tougher opponent for Jim Doyle than Mark Green.

However, the effect of a Thompson gubernatorial bid on the GOP is less straight forward. While it would be great for moderate Republicans in the state, it would be a major setback for the vocal far right that has been controlling the direction of the state GOP in recent years.

Since Thompson left the governor’s mansion, the far right fiscal wing of the GOP (or "the fire-breathing tax-limiting fiscal conservatives," as esteemed member Charlie Sykes calls them) has made some significant headway into the Wisconsin GOP establishment.

As a result, bipartisan legislation such as the ethanol bill has gone up in flames. TABOR and now the revenue amendment have been fiercely pushed. State Senate Majority Leader Mary Panzer was ousted and replaced with the more fiscally conservative Glenn Grothman. And the election of Scott Walker in traditionally Democratic Milwaukee County was certainly a major victory, while the birth of groups like Americans for Prosperity and Citizens for Responsible Government has helped to provide a centralized and financial base for operations.

There remains, however, an obvious tension in the state GOP between the far fiscal right and those who consider themselves more moderate Republicans. The strife is best highlighted in the continuing debate over whether to constitutionally restrict public revenue in Wisconsin.

Staunch fiscal conservatives—who dominate AM talk radio around Milwaukee and the right side of the Wisconsin blogosphere—view the revenue amendment as the preeminent legislative issue. But as the legislative woes of the amendment make clear, moderate Republicans disagree.

And as the authors try to make the amendment more moderate, if only in perception, they are beginning to lose support from the more extreme in the GOP ranks. This is the same tightrope walk that defeated TABOR, and it looks like it’s bringing down the revenue amendment, as well.

The far fiscal right, unsurprisingly, holds a great deal of contempt for Tommy Thompson. Many refer to him as “the King of the RINOs (Republican in Name Only)” because he proudly used government to address state issues, which is contrary to the far fiscal right’s view that a Republican should govern by diminishing the influence of government.

The problem for staunch fiscal conservatives is that Thompson remains an extremely popular figure among the majority of Republicans in Wisconsin.

A poll by Strategic Vision last month showed that Thompson would win handily if he joined the Republican gubernatorial primary. Taking into consideration only Republican respondents, Thompson came away with a whopping 63% of the vote, while Mark Green had only 14% and Scott Walker (who was still in the race at the time) was left with just 7%.

This suggests that while staunch fiscal conservatives have had a strong impact on charting the course of the state GOP agenda in recent years, in terms of numbers they are still notably smaller than the moderate wing of the party.

If Thompson were to actually enter the race for governor, it would be a major setback for the staunch fiscal conservative wing of the state GOP. Once Thompson trounced Green in the primary, it would demonstrate that most people who affiliate themselves with the Republican Party in Wisconsin aren’t all that keen on reducing the size and influence of government in the state. And if Thompson would get back into office, it would effectively put the control of the party’s direction back into the hands of the moderate wing with Tommy at the helm.

Granted, Mark Green doesn’t exactly have a strong record as a staunch fiscal conservative. But what separates Green from Thompson is political power.

Green has relatively low name recognition in the state right now, and he had even less when he started his campaign. If he wants to get his name out there, at least in a positive light, it’s easiest to do so by riding the wave of the party—which, at present, is being chartered by the vocal far right fiscal conservatives—to keep from capsizing his political aspirations. The same is also true for Scott Walker.

Thompson, on the other hand, has enough broad moderate Republican support in all parts of the state to change directions without worrying about rocking the boat too much.

The concern among the far fiscal right that directions would be changed if Thompson joined the race is palpable. As fiscal conservative ringleader Charlie Sykes concluded in his recent op-ed about a possible Thompson gubernatorial bid: “There’s been a changing of the guard, even if Tommy hasn’t yet gotten the memo.”

Although it’s not necessarily likely Thompson will join the gubernatorial race, it would be great for the moderate majority of Republicans in the state, while it wouldn’t be at all good for the far right in the GOP.

It would also make for one heck of an interesting next seven months and beyond for state politics.

Witness Snitches

There was a witness and she did snitch.

Here's the full story.

I expect we'll get some acknowledgement of this from the right, which was breathing down the neck of the inner-city of Milwaukee for supposedly ignoring this incident, and subsequently letting it happen, as part of a "stop snitching" campaign.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Gingrich a Believer

I caught Newt Gingrich on the "Today Show" this morning. He was having a conversation with Matt Lauer about the recent revelations the US is preparing for a military strike against Iran.

One part in particular jumped out at me.

When Lauer asked him about the possibility of using tactical nuclear weapons against Iran, Gingrich responded that he thought the goal of a nuclear attack should be regime change--although he added that such a goal could be accomplished just as easily using conventional weapons.

Does that sound as crazy to anyone else as it does to me? Regime change by an air assault? That's just wrong on so many different levels.

This line by Gingrich--who has close ties to Rumsfeld--just bolsters even more Sy Hersh's claim that the "regime change by bombing" belief is also held in White House and Pentagon circles.

Scary stuff.

Side-Note: I'll put up the video of Gingrich's statement once it makes it up on the "Today Show" website.

Sen. Mike Ellis Makes Three

Although I haven't been able to find a direct statement from Senator Mike Ellis (R-Neenah) to confirm it, there are a number of people who have added him to the list of Republican state senators opposed to the amendment to restrict public revenue in Wisconsin.

At a listening session on the amendment held in Ashland on Tuesday, State Senator Bob Jauch (D-Poplar) quoted Ellis as saying: "You don't have to muck up the constitution to cut the budget."

If Ellis is in fact opposed to the amendment, that would mean there are at least three Republican state senators who have spoken out against it. The other two are Sen. Dan Kapanke (R-La Crosse) and Sen. Luther Olsen (R-Ripon).

I imagine the goal now for proponents is to muster enough votes in the Assembly to pass the amendment there and then turn to Sen. Glenn Grothman to do some arm-twisting in the Senate in hopes of getting enough votes there. Assembly Majority Leader Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem) promised yesterday that the amendment would get a floor vote in the during the April 25-27 session.

But with the in-fighting that's taking place within the Assembly GOP ranks, I can't imagine passage there is going to be easy. Rep. Frank Lasee (R-Bellevue) and Rep. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) have both pledged to vote against the current form of the amendment, which they claim isn't restrictive enough.

At the same time, Rep. Sue Jeskewitz (R-Menomonee Falls), despite voting for the amendment in committee yesterday, said she will not vote for the amendment in full session if it remains in its current form; however, Jeskewitz--contrary to Lasee and Nass--seems to think it should be made less restrictive. She is demanding to know more about the effects of the amendment on local government before she votes for it again.

With the Senate opposition and the Assembly in-fighting, it's pretty clear at this point that the amendment is going to fail, just like TABOR did last year. I just wonder whether conservatives will learn a lesson with this or just come back for more again next year.

What do you suppose they could propose restricting in next year's version of the amendment? Last time it was spending, this time it was revenue. Perhaps next time it could restrict thought. Governments would not be allowed to have any more ideas than the average of the three previous years plus population growth. And if they want to think any more than that, they're going to need to ask the voters first.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Revenue Amendment Narrowly Passes

The Assembly's Ways and Means Committee narrowly passed the revenue amendment today in a 7-6 vote.

Rep. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) joined the five Democrats on the committee in voting against the amendment.

Such a close vote doesn't bode well for the amendment in the full Assembly. But, again, the real test is in the Senate.

Strong Poll for Wisconsin Dems

Wisconsin Public Radio and St. Norbert College teamed up to do a poll of Wisconsin voters between March 29 and April 9.

Here are some highlights:
  • In a statewide gubernatorial match-up, Jim Doyle leads Mark Green 43% to 35% (with 14% undecided)
  • 40% of respondents said they have never heard of Mark Green
  • In a statewide AG match-up, Peg Lautenschlager leads Paul Bucher 40% to 27% (with 22% undecided)
  • In a statewide AG match-up, Peg Lautenschlager leads J.B. Van Hollen 40% to 23% (with 25% undecided)
  • In a statewide AG match-up, Kathleen Falk leads Paul Bucher 35% to 25% (with 29% undecided)
  • In a statewide AG match-up, Kathleen Falk leads J.B. Van Hollen 37% to 21% (with 30% undecided)
  • Doyle's approval rating (57%) is 7 percentage points higher than the Republican-controlled state legislature (50%)
Overall, a strong poll for Wisconsin Dems.

UPDATE: Xoff has a good explanation for why this poll should be ignored. It's tough to ignore good news like this, but after reading Xoff's reasoning, I agree that the WPR/St. Norbert poll doesn't necessarily present an accurate picture.

Bush Caught Lying...Again

The Washington Post has an article today that Bush and the White House knew that the trailers found in Iraq after the fall of Baghdad had "nothing to do with biological weapons."

Yet, two days after getting Pentagon reports that stated this fact unequivocally, Bush made the public statement: "We have found the weapons of mass destruction."

And the White House then persisted in making this blatantly false claim to the public in relation to the supposed mobile biological laboratories for months after that--not to mention how many times the claim was trumpeted on media outlets like Fox News.

How many times does Bush need to be caught lying before something is actually done about it?

Apparently nothing so far has been as important as sexual favors in the Oval Office.

Revenue Amendment Authors Picking a Fight

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel has an article today about the new provision restricting local government employee compensation that was just added to the revenue amendment. I suspect it's exactly the type of article the authors want.

The JS notes how quickly unions and other groups that represent local workers in Wisconsin denounced the addition of the compensation limit, although these groups have been denouncing the amendment as a whole since it was announced in February.

It seems likely that this late addition is at least slightly motivated by an attempt to change the debate about the revenue amendment. If the authors can successfully make this amendment about the need to stop unions from taking more money and benefits, rather the total effect it will have on the state as a whole, proponents will be in a much better position to argue their case.

Many conservatives have long held contempt for unions and the broader notion of collective bargaining--despite the fact that unions have throughout history fought for employee rights that are cherished by union and non-union workers alike in this country today: safe working conditions, fair wages, a 40-hour work week, etc.

Unions are often perceived by conservatives as selfish, greedy, and antithetical to the free market (side note: I just noticed the irony of this line). And this conservative perception has undoubtedly sunk into the general public perception of unions at least to a certain extent.

This makes a battle against unions a much easier one for proponents of the revenue amendment than a battle against all of the segments of Wisconsin society that have spoken out against the amendment (and there are quite a few).

As amendment co-author Rep. Jeff Wood (R-Chippewa Falls) noted about the addition of the compensation provision: "I'm expecting all hell to break loose."

Why would Wood want "all hell to break loose" on the eve of the first vote on his amendment? If this was truly a debate Wood was concerned about, why not release the provision earlier and subsequently leave more time to pacify the negative reaction?

A reasonable answer is that he wants the negative reaction because where it's coming from is an easy target for him. This allows proponents to shift the focus from the other groups that oppose the amendment--which range from the League of Women Voters to the Wisconsin Catholic Conference--and put it on a group that already is questionable in the eyes of many in the public.

Not to mention the compensation provision has the added effect of dividing the opposition by offering a carrot to groups that represent the management side of local government--groups that certainly wouldn't mind restricting the power of unions at the bargaining table. Although it definitely isn't enough to end all of the concerns these groups have about the amendment, it does give them something to be happy about while further angering the union opposition.

Adding the compensation provision is a crafty move by the amendment authors, but it is still too little, too late. Although the amendment will likely pass the Ways and Means Committee in the Assembly today, the mounting opposition from Republicans in the State Senate suggests it won't get far beyond that point.

Plus, while you can distract the public from the widespread opposition to the amendment, there's no way you can erase the overwhelming size and strength of the opposition.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Rush to Vote

Rep. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) just released a press statement lamenting the fact that Rep. Jeff Wood scheduled a Ways and Means Committee vote on the revenue amendment for tomorrow, but failed to send out the new version of the amendment in time for the Legislative Fiscal Bureau to review it for the committee members prior to the scheduled vote.

According to the press release from Nass: "The new version of AJR 77 may be the most conservative version to date, but we as legislators have an obligation to know what we are voting on before casting our vote in either committee or on the floor."

What jumped out at me was the phrase "most conservative version to date." It sounds like Nass had some assurances by Wood that the amendment was good to go when the vote was scheduled.

I'm glad to see Nass is at least maintaining the committee should have time to review it first before voting. He is urging Wood to reschedule the vote for April 24 to give the committee members time to review the new version of the amendment.

I checked the Assembly committee calendar, but couldn't find anything listed for the Ways and Means Committee tomorrow. It looks like the authors want to do this quickly and without many people noticing.

Other Ways and Means Committee members include: Eugene Hahn (R), Suzanne Jeskewitz (R), Samantha Kerkman (R), Thomas Lothian (R), Pat Strachota (R), Don Pridemore (R), Terese Berceau (D), Bob Ziegelbauer (D), Barbara Toles (D), Gary Hebl (D), and Jason Fields (D).

UPDATE: Rep. Frank Lasee (R-Bellevue) has joined in strongly urging Rep. Wood to delay the Ways and Means Committee vote (see here and here). Still no word on whether Wood will agree.

Revenue Amendment: Take Three

Rep. Jeff Wood (R-Chippewa Falls) has just released a third version of the revenue amendment. I haven't had a chance to look through it all in detail, but a few notable changes do jump out.

One, the authors eliminated the ability of the state legislature to exclude state service charges from the revenue limits. The inclusion of this ability in the second version is a major reason Rep. Frank Lasee (R-Bellevue) withdrew his support for the amendment last week. No word on whether Lasee is back in now that it's been changed again.

Two, there appears to be a significant change in the definition of "revenue." The definition now reads that "moneys received from the issuance of bonds" may be excluded from the revenue limits. If bonds are now excluded from the revenue caps, this would be a major loosening of the amendment--something I can't imagine will sit very well with Lasee & Co.

Three, the authors deleted the sentence at the end of the amendment that read: "This section takes precedence over any other provision of this constitution that conflicts with this section." Understandably, this sentence brought a lot of flak from people on both sides of the aisle. But simply eliminating the sentence doesn't change the fact that this amendment potentially conflicts with other aspects of the constitution, such as the equal funding for education provision.

The authors have also managed to get the amendment down to 8 pages by tightening up some language and simply eliminating some necessary definitions.

Nice work, guys. Now if you just trim 7 more pages off, it'll actually be a reasonable length for an amendment.

UPDATE: AFSCME just released a press statement on the new version of the revenue amendment, pointing out a provision that would supercede the Municipal Employment Relations Act instituted in 1978.

The new provision in the amendment reads: "No local governmental unit may be required under state law to increase its annual compensation for any employee or group of employees by a percentage that exceeds the allowable percentage increase in the revenue limit for that local governmental unit under this section."

Reveue Amendment Rejected By Another GOP State Senator

The La Crosse Tribune has an article today about how state legislators from the La Crosse area are almost unanimously opposed to the proposed amendment to restrict public revenue in Wisconsin. At a public hearing on the amendment held yesterday at UW-La Crosse, only Rep. Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem) supported it.

Notable opposition came from State Senator Dan Kapanke (R-La Crosse), who said he prefers more local control as a means for determining revenue. Kapanke has a background in local government, which seems to be a characteristic of many of the GOP legislators who oppose the amendment.

Kapanke is the second Republican state senator to make a statement against the amendment, the first being Luther Olsen (R-Ripon) who rejected the amendment last month for the negative impact it would likely have on business in the Dells area.

Assuming all Democrats in the state senate vote against the amendment (should it even come up for a vote this year), only three Republican votes in opposition would tank the amendment. Kapanke and Olsen make two.

Not Buying "Wild Speculation" Line

The White House tried to dodge questions about taking military action against Iran yesterday, referring to such inquiries as "wild speculation." Thankfully, the media isn't buying it.

To put it lightly, Bush has lost his credibility on such assurances. But even more importantly, he didn't deny that military action was a consideration--he just called the accusations of it speculative.

Mark Thompson at Time Magazine doesn't think it'll be long before "wild speculation" becomes "informed speculation" and ultimately "a real live war plan for Bush's approval."

Dan Froomkin of the Washington Post has a rundown of the media response to the Bush Administration's line.

Howard Kurtz thinks there are two possibilities here. One, the White House wanted to get info about nuking Iran out in the media to scare it into negotiations. Two, those in the administration who fear Bush might actually go through with it want to tank the plans early by leaking them to the public.

I doubt these leaks are intended. After all, how exactly is it a show of strength to leak information that draws a hostile outcry from both the media and the public? (Not that the White House has cared what the media and the public think in the past.)

Needless to say, this is a developing story that's worth following closely.

So Much for No Snitching

The floodgates appear to be busting wide open for Milwaukee police officers involved in the Jude case.

This is finger-pointing at its best. Take note of how it's done, kids.

Monday, April 10, 2006

A Nuclear Strike on Iran

This excellent article by Seymour Hersh in the current issue of The New Yorker makes a strong case that a nuclear strike against Iran is currently being discussed as an option by the Bush Administration.

Here's a handful of key (and troubling) quotes from the article:

"There is a growing conviction among members of the United States military, and in the international community, that President Bush’s ultimate goal in the nuclear confrontation with Iran is regime change."

"A government consultant with close ties to the civilian leadership in the Pentagon said that Bush was 'absolutely convinced that Iran is going to get the bomb' if it is not stopped. He said that the President believes that he must do 'what no Democrat or Republican, if elected in the future, would have the courage to do,' and 'that saving Iran is going to be his legacy.' "

" 'This is much more than a nuclear issue,' one high-ranking diplomat told me in Vienna. 'That’s just a rallying point, and there is still time to fix it. But the Administration believes it cannot be fixed unless they control the hearts and minds of Iran. The real issue is who is going to control the Middle East and its oil in the next ten years.' "

"One former defense official, who still deals with sensitive issues for the Bush Administration, told me that the military planning was premised on a belief that 'a sustained bombing campaign in Iran will humiliate the religious leadership and lead the public to rise up and overthrow the government.' "

"The attention given to the nuclear option has created serious misgivings inside the offices of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, [a former high-level Defense Department official] added, and some officers have talked about resigning. Late this winter, the Joint Chiefs of Staff sought to remove the nuclear option from the evolving war plans for Iran—without success, the former intelligence official said."

"The Pentagon adviser said that, in the event of an attack, the Air Force intended to strike many hundreds of targets in Iran but that 'ninety-nine per cent of them have nothing to do with proliferation. There are people who believe it’s the way to operate'—that the Administration can achieve its policy goals in Iran with a bombing campaign, an idea that has been supported by neoconservatives."

" 'Force protection is the new buzzword,' the former senior intelligence official told me. He was referring to the Pentagon’s position that clandestine activities that can be broadly classified as preparing the battlefield or protecting troops are military, not intelligence, operations, and are therefore not subject to congressional oversight."

"Other European officials expressed similar skepticism about the value of an American bombing campaign. 'The Iranian economy is in bad shape, and Ahmadinejad is in bad shape politically,' the European intelligence official told me. 'He will benefit politically from American bombing. You can do it, but the results will be worse.' An American attack, he said, would alienate ordinary Iranians, including those who might be sympathetic to the U.S."

"The government consultant with ties to the Pentagon also said he believed that the oil problem could be managed, pointing out that the U.S. has enough in its strategic reserves to keep America running for sixty days. However, those in the oil business I spoke to were less optimistic; one industry expert estimated that the price per barrel would immediately spike, to anywhere from ninety to a hundred dollars per barrel, and could go higher, depending on the duration and scope of the conflict."

"Iran could also initiate a wave of terror attacks in Iraq and elsewhere, with the help of Hezbollah. ... The adviser went on, 'If we go, the southern half of Iraq will light up like a candle.' The American, British, and other coalition forces in Iraq would be at greater risk of attack from Iranian troops or from Shiite militias operating on instructions from Iran. (Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, has close ties to the leading Shiite parties in Iraq.) A retired four-star general told me that, despite the eight thousand British troops in the region, 'the Iranians could take Basra with ten mullahs and one sound truck.' "

The whole article is long, but well-worth the read.

UPDATE: I also want to note a Washington Post article from yesterday that similarly argues the White House is making plans for a possible military strike against Iran. It doesn't have quite the detail or nuance of Hersh's piece, but it provides a solid overview of the situation.

Circumventing the Electoral College

Tired of watching the presidential election go to candidates who don't get the most popular votes? Or how about watching presidential candidates campaigning only in key "battleground" states while ignoring the rest of the population?

If so, a group called National Popular Vote may be of interest to you.

Rather than try to pass a constitutional amendment abolishing the Electoral College, which would be unlikely to happen, NPV is trying to get states to allocate their EC votes to the candidate with the most popular votes in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia, rather than the candidate who simply wins the most popular votes in that individual state. If NPV is able to get states whose EC votes add up to 270 on board with the plan, it will effectively end the Electoral College.

While some people in small states may complain that circumventing the EC would lessen their stature in elections, the fact is most of the country is already ignored in presidential campaigns.

As Jonathan Chait from The New Republic points out: "Presidential candidates almost never campaign in the mountain West--it was huge news when Bill Clinton made a stop in Montana in 1992. In fact, campaigns ignore most of the country. Candidates spend precious little time in California, Texas, the Deep South or New England (outside of New Hampshire)."

By making presidential elections about the popular vote rather than the EC vote, everyone's vote in every state would count regardless of whether the popular vote in each particular state was close.

The plan was announced in late February and so far five states have introduced legislation to make it happen--Illinois, Colorado, Missouri, California, and Louisiana. No word on whether Wisconsin will join the group, but I'm doubting it's likely since it appears Wisconsin may be one of those exclusive battleground states in 2008.

Neverthelesss, I think the plan is a good one and something Wisconsin should join.

New Report Confirms It – Wisconsin a Great Place to Live

Competitive Wisconsin, Inc. just released its annual report card for Wisconsin.

In the report, the group explains that Wisconsin benefits from some very desirable attributes that make it an attractive place to live. At the core of these attributes is public education.

According to the summary of the report: “The state’s educational system continues to produce high performing graduates and skilled workers.” As evidence, it notes that Wisconsin ranks among the highest in the region in standardized test scores (second only to Minnesota) and also ranks ten percentage points higher than the national average for high school graduation rate.

Wisconsin is also strong in terms of health care—ranking five percentage points above the national average in terms of citizens with health insurance coverage. The Badger State also fairs better in relation to the national average and most other Midwestern states on unemployment, poverty, home ownership, and crime.

Predictably, conservatives are ignoring the positive aspects of the report.

Mark Green has already released a press statement focusing on one aspect of the report that shows 12.2% of personal income goes toward state and local taxes. This figure is down from over 13% in the mid-1990s, but it is slightly higher than the 2000-2001 figure of 11.9%.

Apparently in an election year that 0.3% increase over five years means it’s outrage time.

Green doesn’t mention Wisconsin’s strong showing in public education, nor does he comment on the high health insurance rates, high homeownership rates, low crime rates, low poverty rates, or low unemployment rates. In fact, Green actually contradicts the findings of the report in the end of his statement by referring to education in Wisconsin as "inadequate."

Since Wisconsin spends most of its public revenue on education and health care for its citizens, it's no surprise the state ranks so high in those categories.

I guess to connect the dots between taxes and strong social services is too politically threatening for a Republican these days. Apparently it's more of a political winner for the GOP to either ignore the positive attributes of the state or take it an extra step by making false statements about the quality of our state services.