For years, we have heard the constant refrain: BIG OIL IS THE DEVIL. Big oil is gouging us at the pump. Big oil is killing single mothers, whose budgets are already stretched thin. Big oil caused that rash you have. Big oil is crouched under your couch, hiding your remote control whenever you walk out of the room.
Four years ago, Governor Doyle was going to solve this problem – he was going to stick it to Big Oil and tax them more, then say they couldn’t pass the tax on to consumers, who are already being punished at the pump. Apparently, Doyle made this public proclamation without bursting into laughter, as everyone knows it’s impossible to know exactly why oil companies raise or lower their prices.
Then, suddenly, in this budget, something strange happened. Assembly Democrats changed the “oil franchise fee” to allow Big Oil to pass it through to drivers. So while Democrats had vilified oil companies for years, now suddenly they were doing them a HUGE favor and sticking the new tax to consumers, instead of Big Oil.
Think of it this way: Assembly Dems were lured into Big Oil’s smoke-filled love van. Big Oil gave them some Strawberry Boone’s Farm that someone’s older brother had bought them, then Big Oil put on “Led Zeppelin IV” and they began the awkward makeout process, high-school style.
Suddenly, Assembly Democrats + Big Oil = TLA.*
So at the end of the day, they join “forces” with the designated bad guys to agree to one thing: raise the tax, and make the consumers pay. Is this what the Assembly considers “bipartisanship?” And more importantly, what time did Big Oil have to get the Assembly Dems home before their parents grounded them?
*If you don’t know what “TLA” means (True Love Always), then you obviously never carved this into a tree in honor of a 13 year old girl. I mean, when you yourself were 13, not when you were 35.
When historians look back at the crafting of the 2009-11 biennial budget, one motion will go down as perhaps the most representative amendment adopted by the Joint Finance Committee. At roughly 11:30 at night, the committee passed their omnibus transportation motion, which will one day go on the Mount Rushmore of bad legislation.
The motion contains 28 items, known only to the motion’s drafters until it was handed out late on Thursday evening. None of the provisions in the motion were known during the public hearing process, and not a single one can plausibly be linked to closing the state’s budget deficit. In fact, many of the pork items, intended to avoid public scrutiny, spend more money in districts represented exclusively by Democrats.
If you read the motion itself, you will find items like:
Requiring a report on how to build high speed passenger rail between Madison and Minneapolis, with stops in Eau Claire and LaCrosse.
$430,000 for County Trunk Highway X in Chippewa County. (Represented by Democratic Senator Pat Krietlow)
$1.25 million for the reconstruction of Manitowoc Road in the Village of Bellevue. (Represented by Democratic Senator Dave Hansen, who served on the Joint Finance Committee.)
$900,000 for various “transportation enhancements” for the City of Racine. (Represented by Democratic Senator John Lehman and Democratic Assemblyman Cory Mason, both of whom serve on the Joint Finance Committee.)
$250,000 for the Town of La Prairie for a bridge replacement. (Represented by Democratic Senator Judy Robson, who serves on the Joint Finance Committee.)
$100,000 again for the Village of Bellevue for a “beautification project.” (Represented by Democratic Senator Dave Hansen, who serves on the Joint Finance Committee.)
$20,000 for the Village of Footville in Rock County for a pedestrian path. (Represented by Democratic Senator Judy Robson, who serves on the Joint Finance Committee.)
Allowing delivery trucks to exceed allowable weight restrictions, as long as they are driving to or from A) A distribution center or warehouse in Kenosha County, or B) a manufacturing plant or warehouse in Racine County. (Represented by Democratic Senator John Lehman, who serves on the Joint Finance Committee, and Democratic Senator Bob Wirch.)
Requiring DOT to construct a new I-90/94/39 interchange in Dane County (Represented by Democratic Senator Mark Miller and Democratic Assemblyman Mark Pocan, who together co-chair the Joint Finance Committee.)
Requiring DOT to conduct a Highway 12 reconstruction study for the stretch leading to Whitewater (Represented by Democratic State Senator Judy Robson, who serves on the Joint Finance Committee.)
Requiring DOT to conduct an environmental study for reconstruction of Highway 13 in Marshfield. (Represented by Democratic State Senator Julie Lassa, who serves on the Joint Finance Committee.)
Requiring DOT to conduct an environmental assessment on the Wood County Bridge. (Represented by Democratic State Senator Julie Lassa, who serves on the Joint Finance Committee.)
Rename the stretch of highway between Highway 8 and Highway 53 in Barron County the “Donald Schneider” highway, after the former Senate Chief Clerk.
You get the idea. And that’s just for starters – the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel listed some of the pork projects passed earlier in the evening here. After the early round of voting, one thing is clear – don’t expect to see your roads fixed if you live in a district represented by a Republican.
Oh, and for good measure, they threw in giving driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, and reducing the amount of time a driver’s license can be suspended for failing to pay a forfeiture, for good measure. Neither of which has had a public hearing.
In the early rounds of the “debate” on Thursday night, Democrats urged quick passage of all their motions, saying we “need to get around to the business of fixing the budget.” Ten bucks to any member of Joint Finance that can explain to us how any of the provisions rammed through in Motion 615 closes the budget gap by one cent. Instead, they appear to be “stimulating” their own chances of re-election.
Last year, I wrote a research report explaining how the minimum markup law on gasoline forced consumers to pay too much at the pump. A month ago, the law was declared unconstitutional by a federal court. Now, we’re seeing gas prices fall, to the benefits of consumers.
These gains may be short lived, however, as Governor Doyle’s new budget imposes a previously-rejected “oil franchise fee” on gasoline. There is no serious person that believes this tax won’t be passed on to consumers at the pump.
It goes without saying that people in America think their politicians lie. In fact, it’s a concept ingrained in the very fabric of our culture. Books, plays and songs have been written as encomiums to political dishonesty – it’s almost as central a concept to our government as Congress itself.
Yet when politicians fib, it’s usually in broad terms. They say things like, “I’m going to lower your taxes,” or “I think it would be a bad idea to let criminals out of prison,” or “my, what a pretty baby!” But it Wisconsin, we have an odd example of a politician being dishonest with the people that elected him on a very specific issue.
On February 23, 2009, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel exposed the fact that Governor Jim Doyle is swiping the $10 fee Wisconsin has been collecting since 2008 to implement the federal “Real ID” act, in order to “balance” the state budget. So here we have a fee being collected for one purpose, and being used for another – to the tune of $12.5 million.
Bruce Redenz at Badger Blogger decided to do what everyone should do when a story of misuse of public funds occurs – he contacted his state senator, Jon Erpenbach. Erpenbach, apparently thinking he was talking to someone without an internet connection, sent this reply via mail:
When the State of Wisconsin collects money through taxes or fees, all of the money that is collected is put into General Purpose Revenue (GPR.) Money is then used in budgeting and dispersed to different programs from the GPR.
The ten dollar driver’s license renewal fee that you have mentioned is one of those that is put into GPR. Since the money goes to the GPR we are unable to pinpoint a specific program that the money supports, except to say that it supports many programs that we as a society have decided to support.
This is 100% false.
As everyone who has anything to do with state government knows, the Real ID fee attached to driver’s licenses is deposited in the transporation fund, which is a segregated account. Segregated accounts exist specifically because they don’t intermingle funds with the General Fund. The Legislative Fiscal Bureau pointed this out clearly in their 2007-09 budget summary, when the fee was passed (see page 4 of the .pdf document.) The fee is categorized as “SEG-REV,” which indicates it is revenue to the transportation fund, which, of course, never touches GPR. The fee was collected for a certain purpose and was never intended to be used for “many programs that we as a society have decided to support.”
There are really only two explanations here. Either Jon Erpenbach has no clue how state funds are collected and dispersed, or he’s purposely using false information to mislead his constituents. Neither explanation inspires confidence in a state senator who is trying furiously to sell us a $15 billion state government health insurance takeover. Apparently, his standard for facts is whatever he can think of at the time.
On the one hand, stealing funds from the transportation fund is commonplace – it’s part of what has driven the state into a $5.9 billion deficit. People could argue whether state money is in one account or the other is mere semantics. But this is Erpenbach’s whole argument in support of the transfer – and it’s based on a mistruth. Erpenbach wasn’t just asked this question by a reporter on the spot – he had time to research it and think about how he wanted to portray this issue to his constitutents. And he still got it dead wrong.
Imagine the constituent service people get who don’t actually know anything about state government.
In my previous post about Wisconsin’s drunk driving laws, I referred to Wisconsin’s lenient statute with regard to DUI penalties. While the NCSL chart listed all drunk driving offenses in Wisconsin as civil violations, this isn’t entirely accurate. Just to be clear, here is the actual criminal penalty statute for drunk driving in Wisconsin:
(am) Any person violating s. 346.63 (1) The drunk driving law)
346.65 346.65 (2)(am)1. (First Conviction)
1. Shall forfeit not less than $150 nor more than $300, except as provided in subds. 2. to 5. and par. (f).
346.65 346.65 (2)(am)2.(Second Conviction)
2. Except as provided in pars. (bm) and (f), shall be fined not less than $350 nor more than $1,100 and imprisoned for not less than 5 days nor more than 6 months if the number of convictions under ss. 940.09 (1) and 940.25 in the person’s lifetime, plus the total number of suspensions, revocations, and other convictions counted under s. 343.307 (1) within a 10-year period, equals 2, except that suspensions, revocations, or convictions arising out of the same incident or occurrence shall be counted as one.
346.65 346.65 (2)(am)3.(Third Conviction)
3. Except as provided in pars. (cm), (f), and (g), shall be fined not less than $600 nor more than $2,000 and imprisoned for not less than 30 days nor more than one year in the county jail if the number of convictions under ss. 940.09 (1) and 940.25 in the person’s lifetime, plus the total number of suspensions, revocations, and other convictions counted under s. 343.307 (1), equals 3, except that suspensions, revocations, or convictions arising out of the same incident or occurrence shall be counted as one.
346.65 346.65 (2)(am)4.(Fourth Conviction)
4. Except as provided in pars. (f) and (g), shall be fined not less than $600 nor more than $2,000 and imprisoned for not less than 60 days nor more than one year in the county jail if the number of convictions under ss. 940.09 (1) and 940.25 in the person’s lifetime, plus the total number of suspensions, revocations and other convictions counted under s. 343.307 (1), equals 4, except that suspensions, revocations or convictions arising out of the same incident or occurrence shall be counted as one.
346.65 346.65 (2)(am)5.(Fifth Conviction and Beyond)
5. Except as provided in pars. (f) and (g), is guilty of a Class H felony and shall be fined not less than $600 and imprisoned for not less than 6 months if the number of convictions under ss. 940.09 (1) and 940.25 in the person’s lifetime, plus the total number of suspensions, revocations and other convictions counted under s. 343.307 (1), equals 5 or more, except that suspensions, revocations or convictions arising out of the same incident or occurrence shall be counted as one.
346.65(2)(f)(If a Minor Is In the Car)
(f) If there was a minor passenger under 16 years of age in the motor vehicle at the time of the violation that gave rise to the conviction under s. 346.63 (1), the applicable minimum and maximum forfeitures, fines, or imprisonment under par. (am) for the conviction are doubled. An offense under s. 346.63 (1) that subjects a person to a penalty under par. (am) 3., 4., or 5. when there is a minor passenger under 16 years of age in the motor vehicle is a felony and the place of imprisonment shall be determined under s. 973.02
Lawmakers in Wisconsin now appear serious about getting tough on drunk driving in Wisconsin, following the death of 39 year-old Jennifer Bukosky, her unborn child and 10-year old daughter at the hands of three-time convicted drunk driver Mark Benson. Even Governor Jim Doyle has proposed making a third drunk driving offense a felony. Other lawmakers have proposed confiscating offenders’ cars after a third offense, as well as sending drunk drivers directly to prison (Benson killed Bukosky and her children during a period before he was supposed to report to jail after his third conviction.)
When crafting a tougher new law, the sensible thing for legislators to do is to see what other states have done to crack down on drunk driving. The National Conference of State Legislatures has provided a chart that details every state’s criminal drunk driving statute. When you look over the list, Wisconsin stands out in how light we are on drunk driving offenders. In the overwhelming majority of states, first non-accident offenses are at least a misdemeanor (although, admittedly, “misdemeanor” means different things in different states.) Exceptions from first-time misdemeanors include New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Louisiana, and New Hampshire – although subsequent offenses usually ratchet up the penalties in those states.
Generally, it is the third, fourth, and fifth offense (usually within a period of a few years) that moves the offense up to a felony in most states. Yet in Wisconsin, the first non-injury offense is a civil conviction. Injury-related DUI offenses constitute either a Class D or Class F felony. Second through fourth offenses are criminal misdemeanors that carry time in the county jail, with a fifth offense moving up to the felony level. (And, as we hear about at least once a year in Wisconsin, if you lose your license, you can always drive your tractor to the liquor store.)
For a full list of Wisconsin’s criminal drunk driving penalties, click here.
(In addition to being a civil conviction, Wisconsin law is even lighter on drivers with blood alcohol content between .08 and .1. For a summary of the .08 law, click here.)
While higher criminal penalties are one way other states go after repeat drunk drivers, they aren’t necessarily the only option.
25 states have opted for mandatory ignition interlock systems for some drunk drivers. Wisconsin is one of 20 states that allows ignition interlock devices to be installed “at judicial discretion,” which is weaker than some states that make the interlock devices mandatory in some or all cases. Several studies show drunk driving recidivism rates drop between 50 and 95 percent when ignition interlock devices are utilized. While some fear that these devices are too easy to circumvent (such as by having someone else blow into the tube for them), newer technology is arriving that makes that more difficult. For instance, some new devices include breath pulse codes, hum-tone recognition, and “blow-and-suck patterns.”
Four states have taken the lead on ignition interlocks by making them mandatory for all convicted drunk drivers, even first-time offenders. New Mexico was the first state, with a law passed in 2005, to require ignition interlocks for all offenders. The state has seen a 28 percent decline in alcohol-related fatalities since the new law went into effect.
Since then, three more states-Arizona, Illinois and Louisiana-have passed similar laws that mandate an ignition interlock for every convicted drunk driver. Oregon and Washington require ignition interlocks for all offenders who want to have their driving privileges reinstated. Colorado, Kansas and New Hampshire make them mandatory for repeat offenders and those convicted of so-called “high BAC” offenses. Sixteen states require them in some circumstances, while 20 states and the District of Columbia allow interlocks at the discretion of the courts.
Five states at some point have employed either special license plates for drunk drivers, or required a sticker be affixed to their license plate. The effectiveness of these programs seems to be mixed, as Oregon let their pilot program lapse without reauthorizing it, and Iowa repealed the law altogether. According to NCSL, five states considered new license plate laws in their 2008 sessions.
27 states have passed laws creating enhanced penalties for driving drunk with children in the car. (In 2003, one Louisiana woman was found passed out in her car with five children, ages 4 to 9, in the car with her.) 16 states have increased the penalties for refusing chemical blood alcohol tests.
A new Wisconsin law could employ any number of these strategies. But it must be done right, and it has to pass the common sense test to which it will undoubtedly be subjected to by the public.
Milwaukee recently decided to further its quest in becoming yet another municipality to allow electric cars on streets with speed limits at 35 mph or less. The first such vehicle that seems to be a candidate is the Canadian manufactured Zenn. This car is a very good idea. It will be able to travel up to 35 miles on a full charge, which takes about 8 hours to complete or just 4 hours to get a nearly full charge. According to the manufacturer, it costs only 1 or 2 cents per mile to operate whereas a conventional car costs 8 to 12 cents per mile. It maintains a car frame with all of the convenient features of a car such as air conditioning and power windows. The Zenn is great for the environment giving off no harmful emissions at the automobile level.
But there is one problem I can foresee. The Zenn cannot travel faster than 25 miles per hour. Since it is allowed on streets with speed limits up to 35 miles per hour, I do not personally look forward to getting stuck behind a Zenn while driving on busy streets in Milwaukee. While it is true that disobeying the speed limit causes many accidents, it is also likely that driving too slow causes accidents as well, especially on hectic streets in Milwaukee.
It is my humble opinion that 25 mph is too slow of a regulated speed for the Zenn and should not be allowed on city streets with stated speed limits of 35 mph. For some people, driving in Milwaukee is stressful enough. Looking out for unreasonably slow cars is one more headache I would like to avoid.
Since I posted my column detailing my plan for changing the structure of Wisconsin’s minimum drinking age, I’ve had the chance to chat with some friends who have offered some good suggestionsÂ to tweakÂ it.
As I explained in the commentary, the federal government threatens states with the loss of federal transportation dollars if they don’t adhere to the minimum drinking age of 21.Â This amounts to blackmail on behalf of the feds – states can have a minimum age under 21, but it would cost them 5% of their federal transportation aid in year one, and 10% for each year afterwards.
I think there’s a way we can allow 19 and 20-year olds to be responsible, drinkingÂ adults, and fill in the federal revenue that Wisconsin will inevitably lose.Â Here’s the plan:
1.Â Maintain the absolute sobriety standard for drivers under 21.Â Penalties can even be increased for 19 and 20-year olds.
2.Â Allow 19 and 20-year olds to pay a fee to take an alcohol education class.Â Upon completion of the class, these individuals get a license which allows them to purchase and consume alcohol.Â Obtaining the license could be conditional upon approval of the individual’s parent.
3.Â Revenue generated from the fees would go to pay for the classes, supplement the loss in federal revenue, and perhaps fund things like increased public transportation on campuses.Â Whatever level the fee is set, students will pay it.
4.Â Only Wisconsin residents will be eligible for the drinking license, to prevent underage drinkers from crossing the border into Wisconsin only to get drunk.
5.Â With a license, 19 and 20-year olds would be limited in the amount of alcohol they can purchase.Â For instance, they would be unable to purchase kegs, as it would be too easy for them to distribute that alcohol to non-license holders or underage drinkers.
6.Â Stiffen the penalties for underage drinking and possessionÂ (18 and younger).Â Unless, of course, you have a fake Hawaiian ID that says your name is “McLovin.”
7.Â Bars and restaurants who are comfortable with the current 21-year old framework would continue to be able to deny service to 19 and 20-year olds.Â They probably wouldn’t, as they would welcome the revenue.Â Plus, people under 21 drinking in bars is preferable to drinking in an uncontrolled house party.Â Bars have policies in place to make sure patrons aren’t overserved, and they can take actionÂ if theyÂ cause trouble.
Here’s the rationale:Â If you think that there aren’t 19 and 20-year olds out there drinking and driving right now, you’re kidding yourself.Â In fact, the only teaching those people about the dangers and effects of alcohol is their parents, if that.Â Under this plan, every one of those drivers would get classroom instruction ahead of time, instead of what they get now – nothing.
Of course, as soon as the first 19 year oldÂ gets killed in an accident, Mothers Against Drunk Driving would be wailing about the relaxation in the law.Â Except that these accidents happen now – and under the plan, a lot more of these 19 year olds would be getting instruction as to the consequences of drunk driving.Â Which is a lot better situation than what we have now.
Furthermore, I believe courts already mandate alcohol education programs for repeat drunk drivers.Â Those programs could be expanded and funded with the new license fee.Â The framework is already in place to provide this new driver education program.
As I mentioned in the column, the main issue here is trust.Â The federal government doesn’t trust states to make their own decisions about appropriate drinking ages.Â As a result, we trust our young adults with virtually unlimited rights except the right to drink.Â Maybe there’s a better way to loosen our alcohol laws – but it’s certainly worth the discussion.
I’m pretty sure I’m the only one in our office building that eats the Pearson’s Nut Rolls out of the vending machine in the basement. I can see where people would think they’re gross, but I’m a sucker for nougat.
Anyway, yesterday I noticed the price of said nut rolls has jumped from 70 cents to 80 cents. That would be a 14.2% increase in one day. Then I noticed a piece of paper taped to the top of the vending machine that explained it:
The surge in energy prices has made processing and transportation from our suppliers significantly more expensive.
So, the vending company is passing on the increase in gas prices on to me, a loyal salty nut roll consumer. This is an outrage. Businesses should be able to recoup their operational costs on the backs of customers. Isn’t Governor Doyle proposing banning the vending company from passing the gas price increase on to my snacks?
You can see the whole vending company letter here.
George Will takes on Wisconsin’s minimum markup law on gas in this column today. He says:
Pelosi and others who just know, evidently intuitively, the “fair” price of gasoline must relish what has happened in Merrill, Wis., where Raj Bhandari owns a BP gas station. He became an outlaw when he had what seemed, to everyone but the state’s government, a good idea. He gave a discount of 2 cents per gallon to senior citizens and 3 cents for people who support local youth sports programs.
But Wisconsin’s Unfair Sales Actrequires retailers to sell gasoline for 9.18 percent above the wholesale price. The state’s marvelously misnamed Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection has protected consumers from Bhandari’s discounts by forcing him to raise his prices. Some customers now think he is price gouging.
Some Wisconsin legislators are considering changing the Unfair Sales Act to allow retailers to discount gasoline to benefit things those legislators think should be benefited. In Madison, Wis., as in Washington, D.C., it is considered eccentric to think that government should butt out, let people buy and sell as they please, and let markets equilibrate.