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fox cities news, appleton, wi fox cities news, appleton, wi
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    3/21/2008
    Getting serious: What programs can we cut?

    “May the ghosts of a million tightwad German ancestors haunt us.” I love it – the hex placed on all of us by Patrick McIlheran.

    And again, McIlheran: “In the long term, state spending is outstripping the taxes Wisconsinites are willing to pay.”

    Yeah, for sure. So here’s the very basic premise: This is not the time to raise taxes.

    That means somebody’s got to stick his (or her, as it were…) neck out, fend off the rotten tomatoes and eggs, and get the conversation going.

    In a piece last week, I suggested we begin by eliminating 4-year-old kindergarten. Yup, some folks don’t like it. This is not easy work! Nevertheless… more ideas:

    • How about summer school? Non-essential summer school, that is. Offer classes only to seniors serious about getting their diploma, but missing critical credits.
    • As long as we’re talking about schools and being controversial, how about the SAGE program that provides for classes with no more than 15 students? Or simply allow a district not to have to offer SAGE everywhere – wouldn’t that make sense?
    • Ok, we’re on a roll. A reader suggested lowering the QEO – the maximum wage and benefit increases for school districts. Oh my. Heads will roll and the seas will part. But it’s a darn good suggestion and would have a significant impact on state and local budgets moving forward. (**See below.)
    • How about this? The Tomah Journal Sunday detailed the phasing out of retiree health benefits – for teachers hired for the 2007-08 year and beyond. (Most) any savings at the district level is a savings at the state level. Yeh!
    • Another reader suggestion: Eliminate the ethanol subsidy of $.20/gallon and the farm tax exemption. I don’t know anything about these programs, but am glad to throw them in.

    I talked with Todd Berry, President of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, on the Jerry Bader Show this week. Now this is an informed guy. In talking of possible places to look for cuts, Berry spoke first of

    • public sector fringe benefits that have, over the years, become exceedingly and abundantly rich. **Obviously we’re talking union negotiations here; see the QEO suggestion above.

    Berry also mentioned that obvious programs to cut include those most recently expanded, i.e.,

    • BadgerCare and BadgerCare Plus. And I piped in to suggest Wisconsin Medicaid eligibility be closer to the average in the country, as opposed to Wisconsin covering more folks than required – or than is typical in other states.

    And there’s more. Here are a few ideas from states struggling just like we are (from a couple of recent Stateline articles – here and here):

    • 14,000 pink slips sent to California teachers  3,000 state employees were let go in New Jersey, 1,200 in Rhode Island
    • 7,000 mentally ill and elderly in Maine could be dropped from Medicaid
    • Medicaid recipients in Vermont may face a higher co-pay
    • Arizona is considering eliminating child-care subsidies for 3,200 children in low income families
    • College students in Iowa and Pennsylvania must find student loans at private banks; state lending agencies have suspended programs.
    • Florida slashed $512M from public schools and juvenile justice programs in March. (The cutting isn’t over – the state is projecting a $3.7B deficit for fiscal year ending June, 2009.)
    • Massachusetts and Kentucky are considering legalizing casino gambling. Hmm, we’ve already tried that…
    • Massachusetts and Kentucky are considering raising the cigarette tax. (been there done that…)
    • New Jersey and Pennsylvania considering tolls on state roads, or privatizing turnpikes
    • Illinois and California raising user fees in parks
    • South Dakota abandoned attempts to make more families eligible for SCHIP
    • States will lose $15 to $50B (depending who calculates) in Medicaid money over next 5 years.
    • Mississippi is asking for a hospital tax to capture the same federal dollars Wisconsin is after.
    • Maryland may delay expansion of families covered by Medicaid.

    No one’s saying this is easy. But pretty much everyone is saying we’ve got to do something. And the smart folks are saying we darn well better cut the smoke, mirrors, fund raids, borrowing, and any and all political-speak and get this job done. Serious business – and you and I must be a part of it.


    COMMENTS

    I'm sorry that 4 out of 5 of your own suggestions for cuts target education. It is clear that education is not a priority for you. We disagree but still education is more a matter of priorties.

    However, the health care cuts you highlight are different. I think the provision of health care for the poor is one of the moral issues that drives the deep division in the country. It comes down to one's core beliefs - which people are much less willing to compromise.

    But I DID ask you for a list and I thank you for honoring that request with time and research. I delude myself into thinking that if an opinion is sincere and well-informed (as yours is), I can keep an open mind. But I'll keep reading. Maybe I'll discover an opinion that we share.

    fox cities news, appleton, wi
    Tina Haffeman (Thu Mar 20 22:41:25 2008)

    Education IS a priority for me - so is feeding my family nutritiously and obtaining the wisest health care possible.That doesn't mean I don't scrutinize my purchases very carefully in those areas. It is incumbent upon all of us to do the same with education - and all government functions.

    I appreciate any and all comments - ! - but would ask all who disagree with my suggestions for cuts, to suggest others. Or suggest tax increases, and specifically from where those increases should come. We have a very serious fiscal problem in our state - and must solve it with very difficult decisions.

    fox cities news, appleton, wi
    Jo E. (Fri Mar 21 03:47:23)

    Lets also look at the Technical College spending. Why FVTC needs a $30,000.00 plus new electronic sign on HWY 41 at the OO eixt (which is the number 2 accident zone in the Town of Grand Chute according to todays' Post Crescent) come to mind.
    fox cities news, appleton, wi
    Bruce Sherman (Fri Mar 21 08:30:57 2008)

    Jo
    how about a 50% cut to the department of Concrete, and the entire elimination of the department of Tourism

    why people would want to cut education when there is sooo much waste in other non-essential areas of government is beyond me

    fox cities news, appleton, wi
    Jeff (Fri Mar 21 08:55:34 2008)

    Hi Jo: Your list and Mr. Berry's is a great place to start. The complaint the Respondent made about QEO really isn't really valid since Boards and WEAC are routinely settling Contracts at 4.2-4.6%, clearly above the 3.8%.

    Mr. Berry's suggestion about ALL public sector fringe benefits is also valid since the total percentage of payroll has clearly gotten out of hand. Something is dramatically wrong when the "Folks" paying the bill are receiving benefits/compensation below the people working for them. We've clearly lost our way! GLS

    fox cities news, appleton, wi
    Glenn L Schilling (Fri Mar 21 10:36:53 2008)

    Let's cut Real ID. The cost of this unfunded federal mandate to Wisconsin is nearly $22 million.

    Senate Democrats transfer money already allocated for the implementation of Real ID to the general fund. However whatever costs are incurred will have to come out of the DMV budget.

    ACLU of Wisconsin says let's stop fooling around and reject the federal Real ID mandate outright. If Wisconsin joins the other states that have already rejected it, it is more likely the Congress and next President will drop this ill conceived Bush Administration idea.

    fox cities news, appleton, wi
    Chris Ahmuty (Fri Mar 21 11:03:26 2008)

    Did anyone else notice that the Senate Democrat version of the "budget repair" bill actually included new programs? They have floated a car rental tax to pay for the much maligned KRM rail line.

    For the record, I support the rail line--this country needs more passenger rail in the interest of sustainability--but a budget REPAIR bill is not the time to be pitching MORE projects.

    Also for the record, both plans (Assembly Rep and Sen Dem) increase taxes (we really should expect that as an inevitability by now), so neither side of the aisle has the right idea, but one is obviously worse than the other.

    fox cities news, appleton, wi
    Adam Delikowski (Fri Mar 21 11:16:42 2008)

    Jo, excellent blog today.
    Info on SAGE---- One teacher--$60,000 divided by 15 students is $4,000 per student.

    One teacher---$60,000, three ed. assistants (para-proessionals) $18,000 X 3= $54,000 $60,000 plus $54,000 divided by 60 students is $1,900 per student.

    There you go----adult (teacher) ratio/student ratio remains 15 to 1. And I just saved you over 50% in labor costs. The para-professional rate I figured was $100 per day. For a 7 hour day that is over $14 per hour.

    Lets get creative in education. David

    fox cities news, appleton, wi
    David (Fri Mar 21 14:54:27)

    This is going to be a short reply because I haven't got all the details. My pitch is for those getting the free lunch on property taxes to start paying tax on land.

    This is an idea that has caught on in Minnesota. The deal is that tax on land is not currently progressive but tax on property (buildings, huge parking lot lagoons at abandoned shopping malls) is progressive. This means that a property which goes unimproved or undeveloped for 30 years (like the downtown Penney's in Appleton) pays the tax rate from 30 years ago based on old assessments. Taxing the land rather than the property removes the free lunch from property owners who let their holdings go fallow and produce eyesores simply because that's the way the code is written.

    I'm not sure this is accurate Lon. Vacant properties are assessed according to their use. If the building isn't generating revenue, but the land has increased in value, the assessment should reflect both those realities. Would have to check with DeAnn Brosman. JE
    fox cities news, appleton, wi
    Lon Ponschock (Fri Mar 21 19:25:52 2008)

    I am appalled by some of these suggestions. You state that you would like other options of things to cut in order to balance the budget, here is a break down of the top 10 most expensive budget items:

    TABLE 3: TEN LARGEST GENERAL PURPOSE REVENUE PROGRAMS FY09 Budgeted
    General and Categorical School Aids: $5,483.3
    Medical Assistance and Related Programs: $1,574.4
    University of Wisconsin: $998.1
    Shared Revenue and Tax Relief: $916.2
    Corrections: $873.3
    State Property Tax Credits: $593.1
    Debt Service: $525.7
    Community and Social Service Aids: $244.5
    Wisconsin Works and Economic Support: $150.3
    Wisconsin Technical College System Aids: $135.7
    Top Ten Program Total: $11,494.6
    Debt Service for Pension Obligation Bonds: $200.6
    All Other Programs: $2,105.2
    GPR Total:$13,800.4

    I am a little confused by some of these categories- I have not been able to find good information about what "debt service" is and why it is so costly. Additionally, it seems that a lot of money is being given back in terms of tax relief and tax credits- Does this mean that the state is using our money as an interest free loan for a year and then giving it back? The tax credits seem to come from lottery revenue.... if someone wants to spend theri money on the lottery, the state should keep that money and apply it to something useful (such as some of the programs you suggest cutting) The total of these three categories is (2,035 or more than 2 billion dollars).

    Debt service is so "costly" because the State of Wisconsin's budget has been out of balance for more than a decade. Our bond rating is the 2nd or 3rd worst of all 50 states. Debt service is so "costly" because the state has borrowed a lot.
    So, in that you're so appalled, what programs would you cut? Or for whom would you raise taxes? It has to be one or the other. The state can't continue on the course it has set. JE

    fox cities news, appleton, wi
    Milwaukee Social Worker (Sat Mar 22 23:05:02 2008)

    How about we eliminate funding for any new state highway construction. That's at least 637 million saved over 2 years from the "minor" projects that cost less than 5 million dollars.
    fox cities news, appleton, wi
    Ron Peck (Sat Mar 22 23:25:00 2008)

    So, we’re getting what we asked for, Jo.

    First deregulation and free-market think, then starve-the-beast corrections. It all began with the 1994 takeover by the Neocons and crested with the 2001 Bush tax breaks. What should have occurred is a reduction in government, not the 10% increase in its size.

    So this great transfer of wealth occurred, and instead of giving it back we want to cut benefits to the poor. It all trickled down to the states and here we are. Wanting to cut health care and education and senior benefits. Great progress.

    At the federal level we do indeed need to eliminate the DOE, but with Bill Gates and others wanting more H1 visas because we don’t have enough talent in the states, cutting education at the state level is not the answer. Waste, yes.

    We must eliminate obsolete and useless “departments,” not decrease salaries and benefits. We must freeze hiring and reduce government through attrition. Eliminate the Dept of Tourism? Yes. Cut roads to nowhere? Yes.

    But more than anything, Jo, we must eliminate our pay-to-play political system. We want government to reduce spending when the special interests that fund the elections want exactly the opposite. What is it about money do we not understand?

    The best place to start is public funding of campaigns at a cost of $5 per taxpayer per year. Then these jerks will start voting for the taxpayers instead of their pocketbooks.

    fox cities news, appleton, wi
    Jack Lohman (Sun Mar 23 05:06:02 2008)

    This is a late response to your comment on my question about what to cut from Wisconsin’s budget. I find it hard to believe that you must choose between 4 year old kindergarten and feeding your family (nutritiously) but I understand you would like to cut taxes. You ask me what I would do so I have to tell you that I feel my taxes are fair for the services we receive in Wisconsin. But we currently need more revenue and these are tough economic times. Could we start by asking Microsoft, Merck, and Sears why they pay no Wisconsin taxes? An AP article from the Post Crescent, Dec. 20, 2007 quoted an independent, nonpartisan institute as saying those particular corportate tax loopholes cost Wisconsin $643 million. That would be a start.
    fox cities news, appleton, wi
    Tina Haffeman (Sun Mar 23 17:59:09 2008)

    I have a real problem with suggestions to balance the budget on the backs of the poor, the elderly and our school children. I agree that something has to be done about education costs. In my district when a teacher retires they receive a full year's salary and paid health care until they are 72. To me that's obscene and should be stopped. I know we have to make some cuts. The only problem with a lot of the suggested cuts is that the local municipalities and school districts would then raise our property taxes to pay for what the State cuts. We need more income. I know I can only cut my own budget so much before I have to add more income. Why shouldn't all the people of Wisconsin have to make some sacrifices to solve this problem? Why should we put the burden on only certain groups. I think one starting point should be to raise the sales tax to 6.0% or 6.5%. All the states around us have a higher sales tax. We have so many tourists and people who come thru Wisconsin. Why shouldn't we be receiving more income from those people? We receive great services here in Wisconsin. Unfortunately, most people want to keep those services but want someone else to pay for them. It can't be that way. Hey, how about those legislative per diems...they don't deserve them!!!!!

    The state not providing 4 year-old kindergarten - that's balancing the budget on the backs of the poor, the elderly and the school children - what? It was only a very few years ago there was no such thing as 4 year-old kindergarten. Why do we all of a sudden need it?
    Talk about balancing a budget on the backs of schoolchildren - those very high benefits our public sector employees garner. Shouldn't there be some give and take there? It's for the children? Right.... (I'm sorry it's taking so long to post - I'm on holiday with my family and am out during the days.) JE

    fox cities news, appleton, wi
    Ellen (Mon Mar 24 12:30:37 2008)

    Let's see. They're struggling to balance the budget yet they just voted themselves a 6.3% increase in salary?

    According to WDC, Huebsch and other legislative leaders - Assembly and Senate Republicans and Democrats - voted 8-1 to increase legislative pay 6.3 percent to $50,438 in 2009. Add to that an average $8,771 in food and lodging expenses a year.

    See WDC's blog report here.

    fox cities news, appleton, wi
    Jack Lohman (Mon Mar 24 17:43:48 2008)




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