Filed under: Environment — Christian Schneider @ 2:09 pm
University of Wisconsin campuses have a well-deserved reputation for being safe havens for liberal thought. But at the UW-Fox Valley, something odd is happening – it appears a backlash is underway.
It all began in November, when Campus Dean Dr. James Perry suggested on his blog that the campus should have more “green” parking spaces. Apparently, the campus has set aside certain choice parking spots for students with Priuses (Prii?) or other “low emitting and fuel efficient” (LEFEV) vehicles. Dr. Perry suggested expanding the number of “green” spaces, to encourage more students to buy these cars, saying:
The Fox plan includes creating a sustainable a community [sic] to the best of our ability. I would hope that the number of spaces that have the ”green vehicle restriction” would actually increase, because these the vast majority of scientists support the need to reduce our global carbon emissions, not to mention reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.
Soon after this post went up, students caught wind of the plan to expand the green parking space program. (You know, students – the ones who actually have to drive to campus and fight for a parking spot.) Dozens of them started posting comments, just destroying Dr. Perry’s rationale for more handicapped-style “green” spots. Many of them pointed out the pure folly of trying to ascribe environmental sainthood to people merely because they drive a Prius. Here are some samples:
Also, just because my hypothetical Civic GX with its ridiculous gas mileage has a higher green score, that justifies me parking closer? Am I better because of it? Hey, if I have Solar Panels on the roof of my house does that mean I get to cut in line the cafeteria? If I use only biodegradable cups, does that mean I get to register for classes before everyone else? The comment you left at the end “Not everyone at Fox has a LEFEV. Those people just need to walk a bit further.” is essentially a statement saying “Suck it up and deal with the fact that those other people are better then you.” Perhaps I should sit at the back of the bus to campus if I don’t own a Green vehicle either.
Ignorant can mean both. The tone of your blog implied both.
While there isn’t no Prius available for $50,000, some (myself included) live at or below poverty levels and aren’t quite in the position to cough up enough money for a new or newish car. I don’t have $22,000+ or the means to fund a new car.
I’m sure that even students that are a bit financially better off than myself aren’t quite able to buy a fuel efficient vehicle.
Thanks, though, for the snide aside. Thought you’d be more in touch with the average salary in our current political climate.
It defeats the purpose to provide green parking when you are in turn forcing cars who have higher emissions to drive around a lot longer searching for a parking space.
If you are looking for a way to reward those who are green, find a fair way to reward not just those who are wealthy.
It should also be noted that the green spots are rarely full. Why should more be added? To further aggravate those who can’t park in those stalls, and never will be able to because of the inability to afford such a vehicle? Parking gets crowded at UWFox, and there is little need for these spots already. I don’t view these spots as beneficial as is, and would be quite frustrated to see even more go up.
I challenge you, Dean Perry, to do 1 thing: Count the number of green-vehicles, and count the number of non-green vehicles. The ratio doesn’t need to be counted to be known: very few to very many. Ask yourself: are more of these green spots truly necessary? The answer, I would hope, is evident.
“I would hope that the number of spaces that have the ”green vehicle restriction” would actually increase, because these the vast majority of scientists support the need to reduce our global carbon emissions, not to mention reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.”
Fair enough, but when people choose to live 20+ miles from where they work, it seems a little silly to reward them with a special “green” parking perk just because they can afford a newer more fuel efficient vehicle. I can probably drive a tank from where I live and leave a smaller carbon footprint than someone driving a Prius from Larsen or Winneconne.
How do we measure each person’s green footprint? Maybe that’s a task that we can request the campus to work on. Maybe we will only issue GREEN parking stickers to those who have the highest green footprints?
The lesson, as always, is that environmentalism is wonderful when discussed in the abstract. It’s great for picking up girls in bars. But it means an entirely different thing when it means having to walk your butt an extra half mile in the freezing Wisconsin cold.
Say what you will about the Wisconsin State Legislature: they stick with what works. And in the case of the looming state Medicaid deficit, they’re going right back to the same playbook that allows them to slink silently away from their problems without making any real decisions – while leaving us with larger deficits in the future.
According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the state is facing a $1 billion hole in its Medicaid program. For the purposes of scale: A billion dollars is a lot of money. The $1 billion shortfall makes up about 17% of the total amount the state spends on Medicaid in a year (although $1 billion is slightly less than the amount Tiger Woods is going to have to spend on a diamond ring for his wife to keep her around.)
Certainly, the state is taking this matter very seriously. Undoubtedly, our Legislature is combing through the state budget to find efficiencies, or cost-saving measures, or other state programs than can be cut in order to fund this program.
I’m sorry, I can’t keep a straight face anymore. In fact, what they’re actually doing is taking almost $200 million in payments and just pushing them off until the next biennium, so they’re off the books in this fiscal year. Then, POOF! The money just disappears! – Until next year, when they have to figure out how to fill that $200 million hole.
This is a textbook example of how the state has been running up huge structural deficits over the past decade. The Governor and Legislature decide they want a certain level of government, but have no way to pay for it. So they just keep pushing spending off into the future, until we end up with a $6 billion deficit when tax revenues slow down. Naturally, they wash their hands of any responsibility – blaming the deficits on the bad economy. (I wrote a 40 page paper demonstrating how it actually is their fault, and I think it’ll come in handy for you, especially if you’re an insomniac.)
Perhaps most entertaining is the quote from Governor Doyle’s Medicaid Guy, Jason Helgerson, on why the state is seeing deficits:
Jason Helgerson, who oversees BadgerCare Plus and other Medicaid programs, said the potential shortfall could be offset if the federal government extends the increased payments that states are receiving for their Medicaid programs under the federal recovery act.
“Every state in the nation is facing this,” Helgerson said.
Translation: “PLEASE, BARACK! WE NEED MONEY! PLEEEEAAAASE!!!!! PLEEEEEEEEEEEEAAAAAAAASE!”
Furthermore – it’s extremely doubtful that other states are facing the problems that Wisconsin now has to solve. After all, we’re the state that increased spending 6% at a time when we faced a $6 billion deficit. And we’re the state that has no rainy day fund to use when times gets tough. And we’re the state that allows drunk Santas to drive around, terrifying kids (which isn’t really relevant, but entertaining nonetheless.)
So here’s a test – call your bank and tell them you’re a little short on cash this month, so you won’t be making any mortgage payments until July. Congratulations – you just balanced your books, Legislature-style! Then call me from jail and tell me how the experiment went.
Filed under: Elections — Christian Schneider @ 10:55 am
In this week’s Isthmus, my friend and colleague Marc Eisen explores a very topical point: whether a Republican gubernatorial candidate can win in Wisconsin. After all, it has been since 1984 that Wisconsin has voted for a Republican presidential candidate, and since 1998 that it elected a GOP governor.
In his conclusion, Eisen posits that it may be ultra-liberal Dane County that decides the election. He says:
All this boils down to a curious brew in Wisconsin. Republican candidates who pull too hard to the right just can’t win a statewide election. They’re buried by the huge Democratic margin in Dane County…
Dane County’s hyper-Democratic turnout could be a dream killer for conservatives in 2010. What could counter it is a pervasive sense of economic insecurity next fall. Worried voters will look for candidates who they feel can turn things around. That alone could make conservatives triumphant.
But is that true? Do statewide democratic candidates rack up insurmountable vote totals in the City of Madison and Dane County?
When explaining statewide Wisconsin elections to people, I’ve always simplified things by arguing that liberal Dane County and Conservative Waukesha County cancel each other out. Then, it becomes an electoral battle between the City of Milwaukee and the State of Wisconsin. But am I right?
Let’s take a look at Dane vs. Waukesha Counties in the 2006 gubernatorial election, between Jim Doyle and Mark Green:
% of total
As can be seen above, Doyle out-polled Green by 40,518 votes in the two counties. (Doyle won Dane County by 91,359, and Green won Waukesha by 50,841.) That margin accounts for 1.9% of the total statewide vote. Doyle eventually won statewide head-to-head with Green with 53.7% of the vote.
Yet there’s an important point to be made here: 2006 was a heavily democratic year. With the War in Iraq still on the minds of voters in the state, Doyle beat Green handily, Republicans in the Wisconsin Senate lost 4 seats (and their majority), and the State Assembly, in which the GOP had once held a double-digit lead in seats, came within a hair of switching to the Democrats. (It eventually did in 2008.)
If the polling that we’re seeing now is correct, 2010 looks to be more ideologically balanced than the last two elections. Perhaps Republicans may even have an edge, with the economy still in bad shape and voters turning against sweeping health care reform.
So let’s look at a more balanced election, and how the two counties match up in non-Democratic avalanche years. Take the last Attorney General election, in which Republican J.B. Van Hollen narrowly edged Kathleen Falk:
% of total
In this more balanced matchup, it is clear that the two counties essentially did cancel each other out. Between them, Falk ended up with a net gain of a scant 3,425 votes – or less than .2% of the statewide vote.
So if we do see a more ideologically balanced election, this seems to be more representative of what we’d be looking at. Dane and Waukesha Counties duel to a draw, and Milwaukee and Wisconsin face off to pick the victor.
In the 2010 gubernatorial election, this is made even more interesting by the fact that the two most likely candidates are both local government officeholders in Milwaukee (Scott Walker and Tom Barrett.) So, depending on how they split the vote in their home territory (and Walker should do much better than GOP candidates of years past, seeing as how he’s won 3 countywide elections there as a conservative), it will most likely come down to that last fish fry in Osceola.
(And yes, I am aware that Mark Neumann is still in the GOP field for governor, but there’s a better chance of Liberace showing up and playing at my next birthday party than there is of Neumann winning the GOP nomination.)
Filed under: Taxes — Christian Schneider @ 9:31 pm
Last weekend, I took the kids to see the Wes Anderson animated adaptation of Roald Dahl’s “The Fantastic Mr. Fox.” (Trailer here.) Basically, the movie follows the cunning machinations of Mr. Fox (voiced by George Clooney), who ropes all the other animals into troublesome situations solely so he can save them, ultimately looking like the hero. In a speech near the end of the film, Mr. Fox explains to his wife that his plots are the one way he can feel popular and needed to the rest of the animals – so they think he’s “Fantastic.” (My kids both gave it a hearty thumbs-up, which warms my wannabe-hipster heart.)
It will surprise no one that I immediately thought about state government with regard to Mr. Fox’s schemes. In fact, they are almost mirror images of each other. No single entity creates more problems – that it then expects credit to fix – than our state government. As Homer Simpson once said, beer is the cause, and solution to all of life’s problems. The same can be said of the State of Wisconsin.
State government has created a tax structure and regulatory climate that strangles business growth and entrepreneurship – but the Doyle Administration happily takes credit for bringing 17 jobs to River Falls. (Just keeping my hair look like it’s carefully messed up employs at least five people in Wisconsin.) Because of the nearly $200 million “combined reporting” tax increase passed in the last budget, businesses now need to come to the state for handouts to stay put.
The state has created a child care subsidy system in Milwaukee that is rife with fraud and criminal behavior, as it treats children simply as cash registers to be looted. As a result, many of the people working in positions of trust are, at best incompetent, and at worst, criminal. Two children die after being left alone in child care vans – including a four month old infant – and two more children survive being abandoned in hot vans. Naturally, rather than addressing the root causes of having day care workers that can’t count up to “four,” the Legislature passes a bill requiring alarms be installed in vans. Press releases bragging about passage of the bill are issued – sadly, only two children too late. Needless to say, there will be more problems in the program that have nothing to do with van alarms.
Over the span of decades, Wisconsin has become a national embarrassment, as drivers with six, seven, and eight DUI arrests continue killing citizens on our roads. For generations, the Legislature does nothing (in fact, in some areas of the state, driving with a beer cozy in one hand is part of the road test at the DMV.) Finally, shamed into doing something, the Legislature bickers for nearly two years before passing a watered-down bill that only makes drunk driving a felony on the fourth conviction. ”Problem solved!” – until you’re run down by someone with three previous arrests.
The Governor cut aid to the University of Wisconsin System by $250 million in the 2003-05 budget, then increased tuition by over 30% to make up the difference. This punished low income students seeking an education on a UW campus. The state then doubled their UW financial aid program (up to $55 million) over the next five years, declaring tuition to be “affordable.” Needless to say, tuition would have remained more “affordable” had Doyle not looted the UW several years earlier and jacked up tuition to backfill to hole. Problem created, problem “solved.”
These examples merely scratch the surface of the problems state government creates in their zeal to spend more money to fix them. (My favorite example: the state employee retirement fund invests hundreds of millions of dollars in tobacco companies, then the state spends millions of dollars on programs trying to get people to stop smoking. Also, see: Interchange, Zoo.)
Take, for example, this article that appeared in the Wisconsin State Journal last weekend. It details the travails of Jason McGuigan, who was gunned down in 2003 over what appears to be a bad gambling debt. The answer to the scourge of gambling, according to some anti-gaming groups, is to spend $15 million in taxpayer money to treat problem gamblers.
Of course, this is the same state government that recently balanced a large chunk of its budget hole by granting Native American casinos in Wisconsin expanded Las Vegas-style gambling in perpetuity. Even lifetime anti-gambling crusader State Senator Fred Risser laid down like a sleeping dog to the Indian gaming interests as they sought complete autonomy to expand their casinos without any Legislative oversight. Somehow “problem gamblers” aren’t really that much of a concern when it means a few million extra bucks in revenue for the state.
Also, keep in mind that the state still runs a lottery, which vacuums out the pockets of Wisconsin’s underclass in order to give them false hope that they will one day strike it rich. So while the state spends billions on services to serve the poor, they have no problem picking their pocket to support increased local spending programs. (Lottery proceeds go to property taxpayers to lower their bills – which allows local governments to spend more without citizens burning down the capitol building in protest.)
(Interesting side note: State law bars the use of lottery funds for “promoting” the lottery, but advertising is allowed “only to inform potential participants of the lottery’s existence.” Basically, ads are only supposed to be educational, not entertaining. Someone should probably explain that to this dancing badger:)
In the past decade, the state lottery has made Wisconsin’s low-to middle class a whopping $4.5 billion poorer. Of course, that’s never the headline – credit is only claimed by elected officials when more state spending is spent to help these very people with their money troubles. As it turns out, the state is really the one with the troubling gambling problem – clearly, state bureaucracies couldn’t run without it.
That is why thought is rarely given to preventing problems before they happen – because there’s no credit to be claimed for avoiding disasters. Legislators need us to feel that they’re taking proactive action on something. There’s no photo-op for Governor Doyle if taxes are low and small businesses are allowed to operate free of government intrusion. No newspaper is going to write a headline that says “Area Man Keeps Job He’s Held for 20 Years Because Employer Pays Less in Taxes.”
Until politicians are willing to accept that government isn’t the beginning, middle, and end of all our problems, state government will continue to be the friend that drinks too much, barfs in the back of your car, then expects credit for cleaning it up. There’s simply no incentive to get it right the first time – since there are always self-congratulatory press releases waiting on the back end.
(Double secret side note: It has come to my attention that this is the second time I’ve cited a Roald Dahl book in reference to state government. You may recall my column in which Willy Wonka explained the state budget. Next up: How Judy Blume’s “Are You There God, It’s Me, Margaret?” explains Hamid Karzai’s intransigence.)