Posts Tagged ‘Wisconsin budget’

Tobacco priorities in Wisconsin

July 12, 2009

Wisconsin is by no means the exception. After all, the Badger State only adopted the 5th highest cigarette taxes in the country when the budget raised the tax on a pack of smokes by 75 cents. New York City (independent of New York state) has more than $4 of taxes on every pack.

All across the country, state governments are looking to the sorriest, poorest bastards for tax revenue. Health care programs are a popular excuse. It’s easy to market because the two issues are related. The government is going to make people healthier – and its method of doing so will also make people healthier by deterring smoking. The paradox is that if people’s smoking habits are actually affected by cigarette taxes, then the revenue generated from the tobacco taxes decreases and the government has to find something else to tax. However, a good counter-argument is that decreasing rates of smoking will naturally be accompanied by decreasing rates of smoking-related illnesses, ahem, health care costs. Smoking is still considered the leading cause of preventable death in America, therefore, such a case cannot be overstated.

However, if prevention is the priority, isn’t it puzzling that the same budget that raised tobacco taxes cut funding for tobacco prevention programs by 55 percent?

Well, if you’re Gov. Doyle, the reasoning is simple. We had to cut. Taxes = money for government and Funding = money spent by government. But in terms of effectiveness which one is better?

I would say the most crucial aspect of tobacco education came in elementary school, when teachers made it clear that smoking was not only bad for you, but somehow vaguely evil. Hey it worked. I don’t smoke and I know practically nobody who smokes regularly. Many people still have that logic buried deep in their subconscious and regard smoking as something sinister, something that only a low-life who does not value his own life would do. I’m convinced that that process is more effective than any independent smoking prevention program.

However, there are slightly more adventurous people in our generation. People who tried a cigarette and enjoyed the effect – smoke them occasionally when they’ve got an booze buzz going. They know that cigarettes aren’t instantaneously addictive, but they also know that because of changing attitudes toward smoking, they have no desire to become regular smokers. Smoking is no longer simply a lifestyle choice, it is a guilty pleasure. That’s where the cigarette taxes come in. The taxes prevent these casual smokers from indulging in their guilty pleasure to the extent that they would years ago. You might try to bum a cigarette off somebody at a bar or take a couple drags off of somebody else’s, but do you really want to spend $8 for a whole pack?

Hence, the education, the smoking bans, and the taxes represent a three-pronged attack against cigarette smoking. The education has long since diminished our levels of smoking in comparison with Europe, where, at least in France, smoking was until recently considered about as unhealthy as taking your espresso with a cube of sugar.

Once the smoking stigma developed in the younger generations, especially generation y, it was only a matter of time before the smoking bans drove tobacco use even further down the social ladder. Smoking is no longer a cigarette held lazily in a hand with a beer, but an awkward obligation to stand outside in the cold and get “your fix.” That creates solidarity among smokers but only if there are indeed other smokers around.

The taxes are simply the death-knell to an already battered industry.

UW gains right to unionize, but questions linger

July 1, 2009

A major accomplishment of the state budget was a provision that allows UW faculty and staff to unionize.

However, some staff members are already raising questions about getting forced into unions they don’t want to be part of:

Several unions say they plan to petition a state agency to bring some 4,000 to 5,000 academic staff into their folds; whether they want to or not.

Some academic staff — employees like librarians, advisers, financial aid officers, researchers and many others — say they should have a voice on whether to join a union, a concern shared by the System.

“This is not the right they fought for,” said David Giroux, spokesman for the System. “Already we’ve begun hearing from academic staff members who are really concerned.”

It’s important that university faculty and staff have the right to collective bargaining. Especially in light of neglect from the state legislature in recent years, faculty can counter the brain-drain syndrome in Wisconsin if its interests are expressed through an unfiltered voice of the university. Until recently it has usually been the administration appealing to the government for more funding for professor salaries and research. A faculty and staff union could more effectively put a face on what Wisconsin is in danger of losing.

However, that won’t be as effective if UW employees don’t have their own union – that focuses specifically on the interests of UW faculty and staff. This could be a great opportunity for professors to have a voice at the table with administration and lawmakers when determining policy for state higher education.

State dictator wields veto pen

June 29, 2009

Looking through the list of Gov. Jim Doyle’s vetoes of the state budget is revealing. Wisconsin’s legislative system resembles a constitutional monarchy much more closely a republican government. The governor, although no longer able to essentially re-write bills by crossing out letters and reworking sentences, can still drastically change bills without the legislature’s approval. It’s incredible.

In his role as state dictator, Doyle provided mixed results.

He prevented illogical passions from bogging down sentencing reform by vetoing an unfair provision of the budget that would have made future offenders ineligible for the “early release for good behavior” program that was set up to reform our backwards corrections system and save the state big money.

For all the whining from right wingers about a tax and spend governor, Doyle actually came down on the side of business on a variety of measures in the bill. For instance, he vetoed a fee for construction landfills, writing that it was unfair to require owners of landfills and that the provision may have unintended consequences for construction during a time when infrastructure projects are meant to be a key for economic development. He also vetoed a $15 sticker for out-of-state boaters, expressing concerns of a deterrent effect on tourism. I would classify this as bullshit –$15? It would only be a problem if those who fail to get stickers got huge fines.

He reduces funding for the film tax credit from $1.5 million to $500,000. Barbara Lawton is going to be pissed.

He strikes one digit from a grant to the Pleasant Prairie Incubator Technology Center to reduce funding from $700,000 to $70,000. Ouch.

Doyle signs budget – highlights for Madison

June 29, 2009

“Unfortunately we must now all make sacrifices due to reckless behavior on Wall St. and in real estate markets.”

Doyle, in a 73 page budget message, outlined the successes and failures of the budget. He commends lawmakers for being the first legislature since 1977 to pass a budget before the beginning of the biennium – meaning that this is the first time in over 30 years that Wisconsin has met its own deadline. The budget covered a variety of hot topics, including domestic partnership benefits for UW employees, sentencing reform in state prisons and a drastic cigarette tax increase.

Highlights for Madison:

Provides group health insurance and retirement survivor benefits to domestic partners of state employees and UW faculty and staff

Provides the faculty and research assistants of UW the right to collectively bargain

$15 million to strengthen the UW System’s ability to retain faculty

$250 million program to revenate the Charter St Heating and Cooling Plant to eliminate use of coal

$20.3 million for financial aid programs for low income Wisconsin residents

$8.2 million to support bio-tech, nanotechnology research at the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery (UW-Madison)

Other general highlights:

Allows certain inmates to earn positive adjustment time for good behavior

Increases income taxes 1 percent on single inviduals making over $300,000

Increases the cigarette tax from 75 cents per pack to $2.52 per pack

The long term capital gains exemption is lowered from 60% to 30%

Mandates that insurance companies cover autism

Covers dependents up to age 27 in group health policies.

Adds $823 million in transportation funding for highways and local transportation

Creates “regional transit authorities” in the Chippewa Valley, Chequamegon Bay region, Dane County and the Southeast

Region

Budget goes to Doyle – Veto time

June 28, 2009

Time to pull out the gubernatorial sharpie – it’s veto time. By “veto” I am of course referring to Wisconsin’s new and improved version, which allows governors to veto certain spending provisions in a bill while approving the rest of the bill. “New and improved” in the sense that the governor can no longer re-write entire bills by vetoing single words or even single letters, as they have in the past. Until voters struck down the “Vanna White Veto”, Gov. Tommy Thompson used to re-write entire bills by vetoing individual letters and making new words out of what was left over – “republican” government. Doyle didn’t have the chance to veto letters, but he certainly went ahead with words. But then the pesky voters changed the constitution again:

With the approval of the referendum, Doyle and future Wisconsin governors will no longer be able to create new sentences by crossing out words or numbers from two or more existing clauses.

But Doyle is still the man with the pen.

Even after the decision to limit the “Frankenstein veto” governors will still have the ability to remove single digits to create new figures or delete whole clauses from paragraphs to change their meaning.

It’s hard to predict what Doyle will go after in the budget. He was unsatisfied with the capital gains tax hike, but he has to recognize that it was necessary after the oil tax fell through. Hence, it will be hard for him to fiddle with the numbers on that. His proposals on agency cuts and furloughs for state employees pretty much went according to plan – there may be some minor changes, including earmarks, that he’ll try to eliminate. Doyle stayed out of the conflict over extra cuts that legislature Democrats proposed for the Department of Justice, so it would be interesting to see if he restores any of them with some last minute edits – I certainly wouldn’t count on it. He’s unpopular enough already – the last thing he wants to do is give J.B. Van Hollen another round of free media.