Archive for May, 2009

New student rep on liquor license committee

May 31, 2009

I was impressed to see that the Cardinal and Herald had updated their websites with some breaking news stories. Both papers ran unrelated alcohol-related stories. The Herald first ran an article on Johnny O’s and Mad Ave’s liquor license probations, as a result of underage drinking. The Cardinal ran a front page story on the possible revocation of the Kollege Klub’s liquor license, for the same reason. According to the Herald, Ram Head is still under review.

Most importantly, however, in terms of long term policy changes, is the appointment of a student to the Alcohol License Review Committee. Apparently the man for the job is 8th District Alderman candidate Mark Woulf. For those of you who forgot or didn’t care, Woulf was defeated by current Ald. Brian Eagon sometime around spring break/whenever the spring elections are. Nevertheless, he surprised many by making it to the second round after finishing in a strong second, well ahead of the Progressive Dane candidate Katrina Flores.

So it looks like Woulf has a couple high profile cases to deal with immediately. There will be plenty of pressure on him to voice student concerns loudly and to protest any type of disciplinary action against any bar, including the several bars mentioned above, some of which probably never deserved to exist in the first place (Bull Feathers was apparently a good FAC place once upon a time). Unfortunately he missed his first meeting due to family affairs. Probably no biggie, just make sure to make the student voice clear, but more importantly, loud. There is likely very little in Madison worse than being complacent in a bar closing.

911 worker gets additional training

May 31, 2009

The 911 center operator who responded to a call about a suspicious idling truck with monosyllabic indifference will be required to take more training so that the incident doesn’t repeat. I guess.

The internal investigation found that the operator, Nathan Waite, was “complacent” in his handling of the non-emergency complaint.

Quote of the day

May 31, 2009

“I can’t even buy a mocha, everybody wants to buy me a mocha. I stop at a restaurant everybody wants to buy me dinner, no matter where I am. San Francisco, Seattle, Detroit, Atlanta. No matter where I am…I represent, and on shows like this – logic.”

– Ted Nugent, talking to Glenn Beck in one of the rare instances in which the motor city madman is interviewed by somebody almost as deranged enlightened as himself. (Video here.)

Why Scott Walker won’t win

May 30, 2009

A lot can happen in 18 months. But one thing unlikely to take place is Scott Walker mounting a winning campaign for governor. Everything I’ve heard about Walker from state politicos is that he’s a formidable candidate in many ways. He’s a skilled fundraiser and networker and is extremely ambitious and hardworking. However, his performance as Milwaukee County Executive is likely too big of a black eye to overcome.

Nearly four months ago the state took over control of key services run by Milwaukee County, citing a re-occurring pattern of inefficiency and incompetence by the county government. While some on the right claimed the move was politically motivated, the state nevertheless had some good statistics lined up to defend its decision:

• The county’s poor performance in the programs includes answering only 5% of the hundreds of thousands of phone calls to the county’s public assistance call center every month.

• The county fails to process 30% of its benefit applications within the required seven days, with some families waiting weeks or months for food or health care.

• In 2007, 60% of county decisions to deny food or health care benefits were overturned within two months. That resulted in benefit delays and forced families to go through time-consuming appeals or a second round of applications.

• The county’s high food assistance error rate means nearly one in five deserving applicants were cut off from the program in fiscal 2008.

Granted, as somebody who’s never worked in county government, I wouldn’t be surprised if these numbers are actually not as bad as they seem. Here’s the problem for Scott Walker though: to people who have never worked in county government (99% of the state) those numbers look really bad. I can already see the 5% figure in an attack ad.

Moreover, the numbers seem to mesh with Walker’s radical anti-government mantra, evidenced most prominently by his refusal to accept federal stimulus money for a county with some of the worst poverty in the country. Not that Wisconsin has a stunning record of thinking of the welfare of inner-city Milwaukee, but Walker’s brand of Republicanism is far too ideological and includes what I would consider a somewhat vulgar, Gingrich-style rejection of poverty that belongs in the South, not in Wisconsin.

I would say that Walker’s hope is based on a continuation or worsening of the recession well into 2010 and the public opinion turning against the Democrats. Stranger things have certainly happened.

Without a significant ideological shift in the state electorate, Walker will be sunk by the simple attack that he has not proven himself as an executive and has spent his career campaigning for himself and an ideology.

Scott Walker launches campaign website, question of patriotism looms

May 30, 2009

And the bastard didn’t even stay in-state, complains blogger Michael Horne.

The Milwaukee County Executive contracted a web service from Ohio to design this snazzy new website. I had never actually bothered to listen to Scott Walker talk before watching the 5 minute intro on his website. Didn’t make me quite ready to volunteer my services to Sara Mikolajczak.

However, signing up for MyScottSpot account became much harder to resist after this tear-jerker:

“In 1976 a patriotic young Scott, determined to purchase a flag for Plainfield City Hall, went door to door soliciting donations from his neighbors.”

Interestingly, the biography does not clarify whether little Scotty (the age of 9) was a Wisconsin patriot or a U.S. one, and whether the flag he was fighting for was Old Glory or Old Sconz. I expect this to become the predominant wedge issue in the 2010 Wisconsin gubernatorial election. I guess the whole fraud thing might be a problem too.

God officially in recession

May 30, 2009

And apparently He’s going to have to sell some assets.

The Madison Archdiocese announced its intention to sell the Catholic Multicultural Center on Beld St.

The center provides free meals three days a week, has a food pantry and a parish nurse, as well as offering adult education and employment assistance.

Soglin comments: “Hopefully the church will gift the building to neighborhood organizations who have a different set of priorities. I am sure that Madisonians of all faiths and of no faith will join together to continue secular needs of the community.”

Amen. There is no crueler irony than the recession crushing organizations meant to help those who’ve hit hard times.

Interestingly, when browsing through the budget legislation the other day, I noticed a clause specifying the tax-exempt status of buildings leased out by religious organizations that are providing low income housing or housing for the disabled. Hence, if part of the center is leased out to somebody/something completely unrelated to the church’s charitable activities, the church’s profits are tax-free.

Why the beer tax is a good idea..

May 30, 2009

Because it’s not high enough to affect beer consumption in this state. While such reasoning may baffle the CNI zealots, it is perfectly rational to (very) modestyl tax one of the most popular products in the state to generate some much-needed state revenue.

Madison’s own Fred Risser, the longest serving state senator in Wisconsin history, proposes raising the beer tax by 15 cents per 6 pack, meaning a customer would pay 18 cents rather than the current 3.6 cents per sixer, which, as you may have guessed,was put in place in 1969. Terese Berceau, also supports the tax (video) but uses what I see as misleading health justifications rather than fiscal ones. Granted, the money collected by the tax is supposed to be used to increase enforcement of drunk driving laws, which would be a worthy long-term goal regardless of the economy and the budget. But, just for the record, the beer tax would be a good way to fund just about anything. Why do specific taxes like these always have to fund specific initiatives?

Anyhow, Risser’s got the right idea. That octogenarian knows his district well enough to know how best to get the citizens paying taxes. The tax is large enough to make a difference in times of deficit but not big enough to deter purchase of beer. The tavern lobby should not oppose this plan because it will have an absolutely negligible effect on their business. Beer is simply too popular and too important in the lives of those who enjoy it and buy it. To those who only buy it occasionally, the tax is even easier to ignore. 15 cents! That means that if you drink a six pack every day you will spend $1 more a week.

Unfortunately a plan this sensible is unlikely to come up for a vote any time soon. Risser is currently the only senator to have signed on to the measure. If it did, you can expect a knee-jerk anti-tax reaction from the campus papers, in particular the Herald editorial board, which tends to subscribe to supply-side arguments to the point of paradox. For instance, in defending the bus fare raise, the board described the fee hike as necessary to avoid tax hikes, just as “enhanced interrogation” is necessary to avoid having to torture people.

College Dems website bad, College Republicans don’t have website

May 29, 2009

I was orginally planning on discussing the unfortunate state of the College Democrats website, whose blog has not been updated since March 11, 2009. But then, just for shits and giggles, I visited the College Republicans site and found that, as far as I can see, it has been defunct since my freshman year of college. Visitors are encouraged to volunteer for the congressional campaign of Dave Magnum, and Mike Hahn, who I believe is currently in Iraq, is listed as the organization treasurer. But I guess I was naive to expect anything better.

So on to the College Dems…

If anything, this is the best time of the year to have an active blog going for a student organization. When it’s impossible to have regular meetings with free pizza, or even social functions with free beer, a blog is the best method to keep in touch with the group loyalists.

Looking at the posts from several months ago, it’s relatively easy to locate the problem. First off, the only people posting are a couple people at the top of the organization. Lavilla Capener, the communications director, Andrew Voss, the co-chair, and Paul Axel. They’re probably over-worked and have their minds on other things.

All they need to do is get a few enthusiastic people to post regularly – just some organization gossip, some tidbits about what’s happening on a state or local level, and even links to national news. Is there anything that mobilizes a base better than a killer youtube video of Joe the Plumber discussing his new book? The only thing I can think off would be the re-instatement of the draft.

A good blog, if anything, would foster intra-organization debate. People become interested in each other by discussing, arguing, interacting, and therefore have an incentive to go to the meetings and hang out with other members.

Prison reform included in budget

May 29, 2009

The State Journal runs a story on the 67 page budget-cutter that passed the Joint Finance Committee last night and cuts roughly $1.5 billion from the budget originally proposed by the governor.

The losers: Education and local governments. Both were subjected to 2.5% cuts, some of which I described in my earlier post. The winners: anybody who wasn’t explicitly mentioned in the report.

Winners: Advocates of prison reform! Doyle’s early-release plan, which will allow non-violent felons to earn 1 day of early release for every 2 days of good behavior, was approved on a predictably party line vote of 12-4, just like most of other aspects of the bill. Those convicted of violent felonies will be able to earn 1 day for every 3 infraction-free days.

This is without a doubt the most important long-term policy included in the budget, and unsurprisingly, it doesn’t get a mention in the State Journal. In fact, the best article on the subject came out of ……Chicago.

Republicans, including the young and obnoxious Robin Vos, decried the plan as “pro-crime.” Vos himself predicted that “more people will be victims of crimes because of what you are doing.” Good luck on that bet buddy. He’s essentially taking the lead of GOP commander in chief J.B. Van Hollen, who earlier had said that “opening up prison doors is indefensible.” It’s incredible how backwards some of these guys are. The sooner the Republicans retreat on this issue the sooner they can salvage some hope of becoming a 21st century party.

While this movement towards sensible sentencing is a great moral victory and should prove to be good policy, the corrections spending is still set to be out of control for the foreseeable future. The Dept. of Corrections will be operating at an estimated budget of $1.3 billion for each year of the biennium. Just think what will happen if these reforms don’t get pushed through. The budget will balloon another 20 percent and more prisons will have to be built.

DEVELOPING: Major deficit reduction plan passes Finance Committee

May 29, 2009

The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee just approved an omnibus provision that seeks to address the additional $1.6 billion shortfall (in addition to the $5 billion deficit established last year) that’s surfaced in the first half of 2009 as the recession presses on and state revenues are depleted. The motion passed on a 12-4 party line vote in committee. That reminds me, I’ve really got to figure out how party distribution works on joint committees – how can the numbers be that lopsided? In Assembly and Senate committees the ruling party usually has a one or two seat advantage. If any of you leg geeks out there knows, please enlighten me.

According to the WisPolitics Budget Blog, the GOP did not hesitate to put on a show. Rep. Robin Vos attempted a filibuster by reading the names of attorneys out of the yellowpages, insisting that attorneys would be the “biggest beneficiaries” of the budget. When that was struck down by the chair he then proposed reading the entire bill. Rep. Mark Pocan told him to chill.

I’ve only had a chance to skim the legislation but from the looks of it the most serious cuts come in education and state wages. The two percent wage cut discussed earlier is going to cut nearly $73 million from the budget, and Doyle’s plan to require employees to take eight days of unpaid furlough is going to save the state $96 million. Note, UW faculty and staff is included in this requirement.

Across the board cuts in state agencies will bring in another $78 million.

Health care is one of the few areas that will be seeing spending increases.

The dozens of pages detail hundreds of spending cuts.