Wednesday, November 25, 2009

So was it Walker incompetence, or hypocrisy?

Yesterday we learned that Scott Walker was so busy running around the state campaigning in his endless quest for governor, that he screwed up one of his 2010 budget vetoes. So, was it simple Walker incompetence or hypocrisy?

As it turns out, one of his vetoes actually subjects sheriff's deputies and jailers to eight unpaid furlough days next year. This is after Walker attacked Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett for managing the city budget like an adult and making the tough choice of furloughing police for only 2 days. Last I checked, 8 is 4 times as much as 2 (but Walker groupies could very well try to debate that). Given his attacks, it would seem that his actions qualify for hypocrite of the year, but we should withhold on our decision until we explore it a bit more.

Walker swears that he didn't mean to furlough those law enforcement officers for 8 days next year, honest! I could see why he would try to sell us that message given both his recent political attacks and his claim of making law enforcement one of his priorities in his 2010 budget. So if we simply take Walker at his word, then it would seem that his screwed up veto was just incompetence. Obviously that is not exactly a quality that you would like to see in someone that wants to run the entire state.

The only problem with the "incompetence-only" defense is that this is not the first time that Walker has screwed around with law enforcement in Milwaukee County. Anna Landmark at One Wisconsin Now has revealed, that in every budget but one Walker has "proposed cutting jobs from the Sheriff's Department and/or the House of Correction." So Walker attacks Mayor Barrett for two furlough days when his actions caused 8 of them AND he has a consistent record of cutting law enforcement jobs? That sounds like a hypocrite to me.

So which is it, Walker incompetence or hypocrisy? This is a hard decision and I think that I am going to take a page from Slippery Scott Walker's playbook. I'm going to try and have it both ways – I will say that it is both.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Walker Keeps Driving Down a Shameless Road

It doesn't take long to discover that Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker is more than willing to use slippery rhetoric to position himself on all sides of any given issue. It has gotten to the point where you can simply fill in the blank on issues that he has been both for and against. Clearly, he will say and do anything to get a vote and win an election, no matter how shameless. The latest chapter in this tragic tale was just written the other day, when he tried to score political points by launching attacks over emergency repairs that are needed at the Zoo Interchange.

Walker was given undeserved headlines for making baseless accusations regarding the order with which the state has prioritized repairs for our busiest freeway systems. Walker alleges that this is an example of politics that "got in the way of good policy". Not only is this a breathtaking example of pot/kettle syndrome but even Walker admits in the story to having zero evidence to back the wild claim.

Responding to the wild Walker claims, Department of Transportation officials confirm that the priority list was based on a number of very objective pieces of information.

The pavement on the freeway was scheduled to be replaced in 2006-'10, and the corridor served as a major route for trucks and tourists, according to the DOT.

Plus, environmental work done in the north-south corridor in the '90s gave planners a head start in the engineering necessary to move the project from concept to construction. The work could begin in 2009, immediately after the Marquette job was finished.

By comparison, the environmental assessments and engineering necessary for the Zoo Interchange reconstruction put the earliest start date for that project in 2012. That would have left a two- to three-year gap, with no work done on the long-range freeway rebuild.

As in most cases, the wild Walker rhetoric does not match up with reality. In fact reality plus a quick history lesson fully exposes Slippery Scott's rhetoric on this particular issue. In 2007 State Transportation Secretary Frank Busalacchi released cost estimates and plans regarding the reconstructing of I-94 south of Milwaukee. Those plans included changes to the previous construction schedule on our highest priority projects. While Scott Walker is trying to score shameless political points on this issue right now, he was singing an entirely different tune in 2007 when the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported the following:

Busalacchi found support for his plan from Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker and area legislators who regard the north-south corridor as a vital pathway for commerce and a link to the dollars available in the Chicago marketplace.

So what has changed since 2007 besides Scott Walker's position on yet another issue? Who are we supposed to believe, the Scott Walker of 2007 that endorsed the plan or the current one that is trying to glom on to any perceived controversy just to score cheap political points? If you want to hear an even newer version of Scott Walker on this issue, just wait for him to answer questions by voters that most frequently use southern I-94. I wonder what he will tell them when they ask why he no longer feels that their area is the number one priority?

The one road that I wish would finally crumble apart is the totally shameless one that Scott Walker keeps traveling down in his endless campaign for higher office.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Totally Random: Milwaukee County Budget

I only have time for a handful of rather random observations after the Milwaukee County Board voted on Scott Walker's vetoes for the 2010 budget.

In the first line of the story, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel comments that Scott Walker "won half a loaf" regarding his vetoes. It may be a minor point but actually he "won" 38% of the "loaf" because 21 of his 34 vetoes were overridden by the board. Also it is wrong to claim that the board "backed Walker" simply because they didn't have enough of a majority to override some of his vetoes.

While I am talking about this "win/lose" approach, I would just like remind everyone that these decisions have quite an impact on real lives. So when Walker is quoted as bragging about "winning" on the veto to privatize housecleaning services, he is bragging about sending already lower-paid workers to the unemployment line. There is something wrong with looking at that as a "win" for anyone (other than the private contractors).

Walker provided more proof that his actions around this budget were (once again) more about his political future than about the well-being of Milwaukee County. The County Board barely finished the session and he was already trying to compare the Milwaukee County tax levy increase to that of the City of Milwaukee.

I was only able to watch the votes on vetoes 17-27 on the City Channel, but one thing was striking to me. The Walker Rubber Stamps on the County Board (Borkowski, Cesarz, Rice and Sanfelippo) just voted to sustain his vetoes and rarely made their case. The other supervisors often stood to make outstanding cases for their votes. It should be noted that of those Walker Rubber Stamps, Rice was the only one to slightly break ranks by voting against Walker three times.

Speaking of the Walker Rubber Stamps not defending their votes, the one time that I saw one of them say anything, was when Paul Cesarz decided to stand to advocate for parking meters on the lake. What does it say about him that (of the 10 votes that I saw), he stood only to advocate one of the most absurd measures in Walker's 2010 budget? Exactly what constituency was Cesarz standing to speak for, the parking meter lobby?

The adopted tax levy for the 2010 budget will be $263 million. Scott Walker and his CRG bullies were fighting tooth and nail against that evil number (or anything above $258 million). If he follows his pattern of behavior Walker will now proceed to use that same evil $263 million number as his own starting point for his budget next year. Apparently that increase won't be so bad after all, next year at this time.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Vetoes Targeting LGBT is All the Rage

It looks like Scott Walker isn't alone in issuing vetoes to make LGBT taxpayers second class citizens. One governor recently issued a veto targeting those "being gay dead".

Cue Colbert:

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Has Klauser Lost His Influence with Klauser?

Back in May I asked if former GOP big-wig Jim Klauser has lost his influence with the ever extreme Republican Party of Wisconsin. I asked the question because it seemed that the tea bagger types that increasingly control the RPW were not only ignoring his chosen candidate for governor but lobbing all sorts of insults at him in the process. But if recent right wing rumors are true, the new question should be whether Jim Klauser has now officially lost his influence with Jim Klauser.

The same right wing Walker groupies that were hating on Klauser for backing Mark Neumann, are now cheering the rumor that he is now removing his support from the very candidate he may have actually recruited. I have heard that Mark Neumann is not the easiest guy to work with and I know that his campaign has made some pretty dumb mistakes already, but is Klauser really flip-flopping on this? Word on the street is that he doesn't really like Scott Walker and that he was very much involved in finding an alternative to him. Whether that is completely accurate or not, we do know that he went on his very own media blitz for Neumann just before Walker's anticlimactic "special announcement".

If this is completely legit then maybe some introductions are in order: Teabaggers, allow me to re-introduce you to Jim Klauser. Jim, this is your new Republican Party. Now you may want to pick up that "Obama is the Anti-Christ" sign to make a better second impression.

Slippery Scott Doesn’t Want a Study

So Scott Walker vetoed a proposal to simply study the idea of treating Milwaukee County workers equally? From a totally cynical and hyper-political point of view (we are talking about Slippery Scott here) everyone understands exactly what he is doing. Both he and his various yes men have been trying to kill the idea based on their imagined figure of the benefits costing $4 million. An actual study on the subject would most likely confirm that they pulled that purposefully over bloated figure right out of nowhere. Then, heaven forbid, Walker may have to actually stand by his real reasoning for his actions.

As we already know, the City of Milwaukee decided 7 years ago to treat all of their worker's families equally. Seven years later, the city only expects equality to cost about $200,000 (if you really want to put a price tag on it). If the board overrides Walker's veto of the study, it will likely force him to confirm what we already know. His veto has nothing to do with numbers or financial matters at all and has everything to do with appealing to the right wing fringe dwellers and homophobes that make up too much of his base. A study would just prove their opposition is really about bigotry and Walker's is really about rank political maneuvering. I'm not sure that this veto came because Walker himself is a bigot, because frankly I am not sure that he really believes in anything other than advancing his own political career.

If this is really about the financial impact of benefits and not about anti-gay bigotry then why doesn't Walker and Company lead by example? Why don't they take their own families out of the Milwaukee County benefits system? Taxpayers would save money wouldn't they? That is the alleged goal isn't it? The last thing that we need in this kind of economy is offering more benefits to career politicians, isn't that right Scott? So lead by example and forgo the taxpayer funded benefits that you enjoy. Or do you think that you are just a little bit better than everyone else and their families? If you do, I wish that you would just get it over with and say it already.

Obviously I don't expect Walker to give back his own benefits for at least two reasons: 1. He apparently thinks that he should be treated better than the average county employee and 2. This veto is not about finances at all, it is totally about Slippery Scott's endless political calculations and endeavors.

UPDATE: It looks like issuing anti-gay vetoes is all the rage. Now a sitting governor has issued a veto against "being gay dead".

Monday, November 16, 2009

Slippery Scott Selling Snake Oil

In their reaction to Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett's announcement for governor, the Walker campaign responded with a little juvenile alliteration. I decided that two can play at that game, so I'm giving some alliteration right back. Naturally I think that mine is of a much higher quality because it doesn't just focus on one issue but goes to the (hollow) core of Slippery Scott's campaign.

Slippery Scott

If you are the average teabagging Republican that hates the Reinvestment and Recovery Act (federal stimulus), don't ask Slippery Scott what he really thinks about it. One minute he may tell you why he is saying "no thanks" to stimulus money and the next minute you will find him basing most of his budget on it. This is only one example of Slippery Scott trying to be on all sides of every issue. You could also look at his various positions on economic development and creative ways to bring jobs to the region. The list goes on and on and you simply can't keep up with the many competing positions of Slippery Scott.

Slippery Scott on Spending

Scott Walker stands before the right wing fringe and rails against big government and spending. He has the gall to do this even though spending in his own proposed budgets over the years have increased some 35%. Just from last year to this year Walker proposes over 6% in additional spending which is more than twice the rate of inflation! A good portion of that increased spending happens because of him frontloading three years of borrowing into one year.

Slippery Scott on Taxes

Walker and company constantly trots out the same tired rhetoric about tax cuts being a silver bullet for everything. If that really is his actual position then why all of the hate for the federal stimulus which includes the biggest tax cut in history? Does Walker have a problem with those tax cuts for some reason? Are those tax cuts a little too targeted to working people for Slippery Scott's tastes?

While we are talking about taxes, you simply can't ignore the fact that while Walker rails against them on the stump, his own budgets over time have proposed an 18 percent increase in property taxes. Even for those Walker groupies that don't want to look at his whole record in this way, Slippery Scott is playing a shell game when you look at it from year to year. One year he fights tooth and nail against what ends up being the adopted budget (and it's tax levy increase) but the very next year he uses that very same figure as his starting point for his next budget. If he really thought that the dreaded figure was so bad the previous year, then why is he using it as his starting point this year? A very slippery shell game indeed.

Stopping Slippery Scott as a Sport

I would like to conclude with a proposed sport, particularly for the true believer teabagging types. Go ahead, try to pin Slippery Scott down. If you really are a true hater of the federal stimulus, then ask him if he is for it or against it. If he says (or more likely suggests) that he is against it, then ask him why he is relying so heavily on it in his most current proposed budget? If you really hate "big government" and you think that we should not spend one more single dime, then ask him why each of his budgets increased spending. If you are a CRG member and you really fought hard with him last year against the county board's adopted budget, then ask him why he is now using those same numbers as his starting point for his budget this year? What the hell were you fighting so hard for last year if he is going to use that same number this year?

My guess is that if you really try to pursue these questions and really try to get a real answer, you will soon discover what so many of us already know. Slippery Scott is simply trying to sell you snake oil. Now how is that for some juvenille alliteration?

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Timeout: Brandon Jennings

This blog is almost totally about politics but I had to share this video of Milwaukee Bucks rookie sensation Brandon Jennings. He scored 55 points last night against Golden State. This accomplishment is even more amazing when you consider that he didn't score at all in the first quarter. In the process he broke a Bucks rookie scoring record (previously held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar) and became the youngest player to score 50 points in a game (previously held by LeBron James).

Friday, November 13, 2009

Exclusive Video: First CRG Reading of Walker Budget

One of our super secret plants from within Citizens for Republican Government (CRG) smuggled this exclusive video out of CRG's first reading of Scott Walker's 2010 proposed budget. We decided to release it to the public now, just ahead of CRG's latest Walker pep rally. The best part is near the end.

Or maybe this is Sanfelippo and Cesarz, I'm not sure.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Walker/CRG Love Affair Continues

It looks like all of Scott Walker's whining last week about coverage for his front group Citizens for Republican Government (CRG) paid off today. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel didn't only give prominent placement to a story about their blind support of Walker but it even went as far to call them a "citizen group". I don't really have a problem with that description technically speaking but the least that the story could have pointed out is that this is a conservative right wing "citizens group" that backs Walker no matter what he does or says (even if it conflicts with their own stated positions).

Regarding the content of the actual story, I'll simply defer to Milwaukee County First who provided a complete beat down to the story, to Walker and to CRG. I would only add a few of the following points.

1. Government Spending/Growth

The first time that CRG held a Walker (campaign) rally they promoted it by lying to people in a robo call suggesting that Walker's budget was going to cut spending. Maybe they didn't actually look at Walker's budget or maybe the truth simply doesn't matter to them. Walker's current budget increases spending. That continues a Walker pattern of rhetoric not matching reality.

Walker Proposed Spending in HIS BUDGET for 2003: $1,100,274,125
Walker Proposed Spending in HIS BUDGET for 2010: $1,481,577,120

That is a 35% increase in spending

And for those 2 or 3 Walker groupies trolling this site that don't like looking at Walker's entire record here is another group of numbers that show Walker's increased spending.

Walker's proposed spending for 2009: $1,426,815,877
Adopted spending for 2009: $1,394,100,657 (Board)
Walker's proposed spending for 2010: $1,481,577,120

Sorry, no matter which way you slice it, Scott Walker has continually proposed increasing spending in Milwaukee County while at the same time complaining about spending. Furthermore, his current budget front loads three years of increased borrowing into one year and increases government by 6% which is twice the rate of inflation. Apparently for CRG and other Walker Groupies, increased spending and bigger government is A-OK just as long as long as it is Scott Walker that is doing it.

2. This time next year

If CRG is going to fight tooth and nail about the tax levy amount that was passed by the County Board then I sure hope that they fight Walker tooth and nail next year at this time when he uses that very figure as his starting point for his next budget. I wont hold my breath, because CRG continues to be breathlessly in love with Scott Walker.

Maybe I Asked the Wrong Question

Based on his statements and actions, back in August I asked if Scott Walker was trying to be Wisconsin's Sarah Palin. While I still think that a strong case can be made to support that observation, recent developments make me wonder if I should be asking a different question.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported yesterday that Scott Walker was begging Sarah Palin for her endorsement while she was in Wisconsin promoting her latest parinoid conspiracy theory.

Given the "strengh" of the Palin endorsement in a Republican district in New York state, maybe Walker isn't really trying to be Wisconsin's Sarah Palin after all. Maybe he is simply trying to be Wisconsin's Douglas Hoffman.

UPDATE: The Chief and Heartland Hollar both have interesting takes on this subject.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Questions About Duffy Fundraiser

Earlier today, Heartland Hollar made some very interesting points about a fundraiser at the posh Milwaukee Athletic Club for Republican candidate for Congress, Sean Duffy. It appears that the head of the "independent" right wing group Americans for Prosperity (AFP), Mark Block, is throwing the party. What is particularly interesting is that Mark Block's contact information regarding the event lists a phone number that is also associated with yet another right wing "independent" group, the MacIver Institute. So the head of one nonprofit uses the contact info for yet another nonprofit to promote a partisan fundraiser? I think that Heartland Hollar may be on to something and someone should start asking a few questions.

We are already well aware of Mark Block's past shenanigans which included a record fine and a ban from Wisconsin politics until 2004. Now we have Block, the head of a nonprofit, throwing a fundraiser for a partisan candidate and using a phone number for it that is connected to yet another nonprofit. Perhaps someone should be asking Block if this is really the best way to promote this partisan event. Perhaps someone in the media or maybe even a District Attorney should start asking some questions just to make sure. Who knows, maybe there is some good explanation as to why this is no big deal.

The candidate that Block is throwing the fundraiser for, Sean Duffy, is currently a District Attorney, so we can probably rule him out as the person to ask the important questions about the fundraiser. We can also rule Sean Duffy out because he is the same DA that passed the buck when One Wisconsin Now asked him to investigate Michael Gableman's apparent use of a state phone to raise campaign funds. Earlier this year OWN brought up an entirely new line of questions related to Duffy's refusal to investigate Gableman's calls. Naturally Duffy never answered or addressed any of those questions so we can't expect him to give any reliable answers regarding the fundraiser today.

Since the event is being held in Milwaukee, perhaps the Milwaukee County DA could render an opinion on the situation or perhaps the Milwaukee press could ask a few questions about whether any important lines are being crossed with this fundraiser.

You Know Palin is Extreme When Fox News Correctly Fact-Checks Her

One Wisconsin Now was the first to provide actual audio from the Sarah Palin/Wisconsin Right to Life event last Friday. In her comments she presented her latest crazy conspiracy theory. Not only is the government planning to kill your grandmother with Palin's imagined "death panels" but now they are slowly moving God off of our coinage. As OWN pointed out right away, moving the "in God we trust" off the center of a specific coin was done in 2005, and approved by a Republican Congress and a Republican president by the name of Bush. Wow, that is a pretty wild and twisted anti-Christian conspiracy theory Sarah!

To show just how wild this latest Palin theory is, even Fox News has been forced to debunk it! Who knows, maybe they are somehow a mere pawn in this wildly imagined conspiracy.

Thank the Vets, then give them healthcare

I served for most of the 1990's in the Army National Guard. Unlike most that currently serve, I was never called upon to serve in actual combat. That being said, I always knew that it could be a possibility and had to make various decisions just in case that call would ever come. Since the beginning of our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq I have often considered how hard times must be for our veterans that are not only serving during two wars but all-too-often serving in both of them repeatedly.

For all that they sacrifice and all that they give we should not forget about fighting for them after they come back home. I read a report yesterday about a shocking study released from Harvard Medical School which estimates that 2,266 veterans under the age of 65 died last year because they did not have health insurance. That translates to six preventable deaths per day, which is more than twice the number killed in Afghanistan.

Although many veterans are eligible for care from the Veterans Administration, those that were not injured in combat and those whose incomes exceed a certain limit are often ineligible for coverage. Like too many other Americans, many veterans are working people that get caught right in the middle of the health care gaps in our current system. They make too little to afford the ever increasing costs of private health insurance but make too much to qualify for Medicaid and means-tested VA care. This is really a tragedy when you add this on top of the extra high levels of suicide and homelessness among vets.

Maybe the next time that we talk about "thanking a veteran" we can also make sure that they have proper health care when they come back home. That would be a real-life "thanks" that would last long after the flags have flown and the parades are over. That is a "thanks" that I wish we could deliver to them right now on this Veteran's Day.

ht: Think Progress

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy Birthday Sesame Street!

Enjoy the celebration, and thanks for the recent clip about the trashy "Pox News"!

Who Would Run on a Tea Ticket in Wisconsin?

National establishment-type Republicans have reportedly been worried for months that the Tea Bagging frenzy that they started may actually damage their plans for the 2010 midterm elections. If recent events are any indication, then they certainly have reason to fear such a development. In New York we now have a Democrat coming to Congress from a district that has gone (moderate) Republican for many years. Rather than trying to get a win in a safe Republican district the Teetotalers, fueled by the new GOP leadership (Palin/Limbaugh/Beck) decided to take down the Republican themselves. Now those same extreme elements are actually forming a third (Tea) Party in Florida to compete with Democrats and Republicans. This made me wonder which of our "favorite" Wisconsin Republicans would run on a hypothetical Tea Party ticket here?

In my own personal view, I don't think that a Tea Party would work in Wisconsin because you already have an extreme right wing party here otherwise known as the Republican Party of Wisconsin. The Sconz blog made a similar observation in a posting yesterday but it can't be repeated enough. The RPW has been fully and completely radicalized over the last number of years and I have a very difficult time thinking of any moderates that still remain. I'm not sure exactly when this happened but I would probably peg it sometime toward the end of the Thompson era and the beginning of the Bush nightmare.

If there still was a traditionally "Republican Party" in the State of Wisconsin, I wonder which members of the current extreme version would bolt and actually run on a Tea Ticket. Here are 2 ½ people that immediately came to my mind as I pondered this question:

  • Leah Vukmir would have to be on your list of top Tea Party recruits. After taking a look at her comments in the media or even just following her Twitter feed for a while, she is already there ideologically speaking. Whether it is her official membership in the "tenther" movement or her supportive comments to an extreme right wing blogger Tweeting racist jokes about the President, she already has the extreme Tea Party platform down pat.
  • Half of Scott Walker would probably try to join the Tea Party while leaving the other half in the RPW just to play it safe. Heck, I think that Walker would even consider pulling a "David Clarke" if he thought that it would help him win a statewide election. The half of Scott Walker that would join the Tea Party is the same half that was more than happy to throw out the red meat to the extremes at any number of events that he has already attended. The half of Scott Walker that wouldn't join is the half that realizes that he eventually has to appeal to more than just the extreme right wing base.
  • J.B. Van Hollen has already demonstrated that he would abuse the court system when someone says something that he doesn't like. He has shown that he would toss out career crime fighters while promoting political cronies to official and very sensitive positions. He has also shown that he is more than willing to abuse his office for political gain and to advance a hyper-extreme agenda in Wisconsin. Why wouldn't he jump into a Tea Party ticket since it is much closer to his own personal extreme world view?

Those are just the first 2 1/2 that popped into my mind but there are many more in the RPW that would fit much better into a Florida-style Tea Party. Unfortunately that is also the reason that a Tea Party is probably not going to happen here. Quite simply it already exists, and it goes by the name Republican Party of Wisconsin.

UPDATE: Heartland Hollar is pointing out that Paul Ryan, F. Jim Sensenbrenner, and Tom Petri are bringing a major teabagger target to Wisconsin. Heartland Hollar wonders what Wisconsin teabaggers think of them apples?

And The Chief has a telling statement from the "lord of the teabaggers".

Analysis of the House Health Reform Bill

Over the weekend the U.S. House of Representatives passed landmark legislation to finally reform health care in a meaningful way. I just read an analysis of the legislation by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities that I think is a must read. Although I encourage you to read the entire analysis, here are the highlights:

About those deficits

The analysis cites Congressional Budget Office (CBO) numbers stating that the bill's cost will be more than fully offset by reducing deficits by $129 billion over ten years. In short, the bill's revenues and spending reductions would grow faster than the cost of the coverage provisions. The CBO estimates that the bill would actually reduce deficits in years after 2019 as well.

Expanding Coverage

CBPP finds that under the House bill that 96 percent of non-elderly legal residents would have health insurance by 2019. The bill would reduce the number of the uninsured by 36 million (or two thirds) by 2019. The House bill would cover 7 million more of the uninsured than the bill that the Senate Finance Committee approved earlier this month.

Slowing Health Care Costs

The bill would take a number of steps to increase efficiencies, particularly within Medicare, to lower costs while improving quality. The CBO estimates that the bill would significantly slow Medicare's growth rates because of these various measures.

Reforming Health Insurance Market

It would bar insurance companies from denying coverage because of preexisting conditions and it would limit how much an insurance company can charge simply based on an applicant's age. It would also set minimum standards for what insurance companies can offer including an annual cap on out-of-pocket costs and a ban on annual or lifetime benefit limits. The House bill would also establish a national insurance exchange in order to make a wide range of options available to individuals and small businesses. That exchange would include a public option (among many other options) that would help create real competition in the insurance market and reduce costs for consumers.

Other Important Measures

  • Expanded Medicaid Eligibility for the lowest-income people
  • Premium and cost-sharing credit for those with low and moderate incomes
  • Shared responsibility requirements for both individuals and employers
  • The elimination of Medicare Advantage overpayments
  • A surcharge on very high-income households

Reading this kind of an analysis makes me wonder just how much we could have saved by reforming health care a long time ago. Not just savings by individuals and employers but also government entities both large and small. We know that the massively increasing health care costs are a major factor in the budget problems being faced by government on all levels. For example, how much different would the Milwaukee County budget look right now if real health care reform was enacted in this way years ago? Hopefully we can look back on this landmark legislation in a few years and objectively look at the facts. Until then we can only hope that our representatives in Congress don't fold to political bullying from the extreme right and instead opt for real solutions and real reform.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

First Class Taxpayer, Second Class Citizen

I borrowed the title of this blog from a sign that I saw in a photo from the national equality march last month. I remember seeing that sign and thinking that it really just says it all. Members of the LGBT community are certainly expected to pay the same taxes as their straight counterparts, yet they and their families are treated as second class citizens in many respects. Thanks to the actions County Supervisors Christopher Larson and Marina Dimitrijevic, Milwaukee County LGBT workers and their families have moved a little closer to equality. Today the full Milwaukee County Board voted 13-6 to draft domestic partner revisions to the county health plan.

Naturally Scott Walker, personnel director David Arena, and at least Supervisors Sanfelippo and Cesarz all publicly read from the same talking points before the actual vote. They are willing to pretend that this is a financial issue but I don't think that anyone really believes that it is that cut and dry with these particular officials.

The ever tasteless Sanfelippo said that it was "almost a slap in the face to our employees" because he is asking them to take pay cuts and furloughs right now. I have a clue for the clueless supervisor: a portion of "our employees" are LGBT people and your comments are a "slap in the face" to them. So not only does Sanfelippo want LGBT county employees to give up pay and work time but he also wants them to give up any hope of providing the same benefits for their families as the rest of "our employees". He says that "we have to draw the line somewhere" and apparently he is drawing that line at "the gays".

As I said, the aforementioned naysayers in Milwaukee County Government pretend that this is a financial issue and resist the benefits publicly for that reason. David Arena supported his boss by putting out what appear to be hyper inflated numbers. He said that it would cost $3.9 million a year, but the City of Milwaukee, which has had domestic partner benefits for seven years, plans to spend only $216,000 on them next year (0.3% of the $75 million that the city pays in overall health care costs for employees).

Just to put some of these numbers into some context, there were 78 children of Milwaukee County workers that were born or adopted into the benefits system last year. By comparison, in the City of Milwaukee after seven full years of offering domestic partner benefits, they only have 30 workers that are taking advantage of them.

Scott Walker said that they shouldn't even consider new benefits and if anything that they should be more bold in benefit cuts. If he really believes that then why doesn't he start with his own benefits? Does Walker carry any members of his family on the Milwaukee County benefit plan? If he does then he should lead by example because his family isn't any better than any other employee of Milwaukee County. But then again we already know that he is not one to hold himself to the same standards that he expects from other public employees.

Thursday morning I sent a request to David Arena asking if he, Walker, Sanfelippo and Cesarz all carry their respective spouses on the county benefit plan. I have not heard from him today and don't know if I ever will but the point is very clear. They apparently believe that LGBT families should be treated as first class taxpayers but second class citizens. Thankfully, (so far) a veto proof majority of the board disagrees.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

A few points about Walker’s Whining

The other day Scott Walker apparently wrote a letter or something to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. He wanted to gripe about the coverage of the County Board's public hearing on Monday. Apparently the newspaper was not supposed to report on the official county event because (in Walker's view) the paper didn't give his pep rally with CRG enough attention last month.

In the statement Walker reportedly asked, "Why is it that a group that is organized to represent taxpayers is dismissed, but groups that advocate more government spending are praised by many in the media and in politics?"

I just have a small number of quick points to make about Walker's whining:

  1. Since Walker is so worried about fairness in the media, I can only assume that he sent a similar statement to talk radio stations asking them to give more time to the kinds of citizens and advocates that made up the vast majority at the hearing Monday night.
  2. Did Walker really complain about "groups that advocate more government spending" when every one of his own budgets have increased spending? Milwaukee County Government spending has increased IN WALKER's OWN PROPOSED BUDGETS 35% over his time as county executive.
  3. Sorry Scott but right wing taxpayers are not the only taxpayers in Milwaukee County. CRG certainly represents the right wing taxpayers, but they certainly don't represent all taxpayers. I would venture to say that there were a good number of taxpayers at the hearing representing themselves quite nicely.
  4. Exactly what is the problem with there being a strong union presence at this official hearing? They are Milwaukee County (taxpaying) citizens. The actions that the board takes will have a dramatic and direct impact on them and their families. Good grief, you are trying to either drastically cut their pay and/or send them to the unemployment line. Why wouldn't they advocate for their jobs and why is that a bad thing anyway?

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

This Time Next Year

Prepare yourselves; I'm going to make a bold prediction in this blog posting!

In today's Milwaukee Journal Sentinel story about the County Board's public hearing last night they mostly highlighted the appeals made by people in the community. But toward the end of the story a few observations are made that I want to pick up on here. They report that "under the finance committee's action, the tax levy would increase about $1 million, or 0.4%, to $258 million.

If the finance committee's numbers become a reality in the budget that is eventually adopted, we will no doubt hear a lot of yelling, screaming and carrying on from Scott Walker's office during the process. He will surely veto various items, get them overridden and it will just be a replay of every year since he was elected.

With all of the Walker protesting and whipping up a right wing frenzy about the $258 million, does anyone have a guess about what the suggested tax levy will end up being in any proposed budget that Walker might offer next year at this time? Here comes my bold prediction:

If Walker is still County Executive next year, he will use the same $258 million number as the starting point in his own budget. He will use that number as his tax levy starting point even though he will spend the rest of this year and most of next year decrying the number and vilifying the County Board because of it.

Those of you that are familiar with this game, know that my prediction is not really all that bold at all. If you have really been paying attention, you already know that this is the same thing that Walker has done almost every year since 2002. He fights the board about modest increases in the tax levy but then he quickly forgets those impassioned protests the very next year when he then uses the very same number as the starting point in his next proposed budget. Rinse and repeat the process the next year.

So this is certainly not a bold prediction to people that have closely observed the situation, but it can't be said enough. Too many blindly accept the Walker talking points and don't actually look at what he is really doing. If Walker is going to lead a right wing jihad against that $258 million this year then why is he so willing to use that number as his own starting point next year at this time?

Sanfelippo is a Major League Prick

I'm sorry, but sometimes there is just no other way to say things. Sometimes you can't sugar coat things and you just have to speak the truth. Milwaukee County Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo is a major league prick. I don't just say that because he is a Walker puppet on the county board and I don't just say that because of his record of voting against a program that has been a godsend for my mother. I say it because in my experience it is simply the truth.

Monday the Milwaukee Journal highlighted a clash between Sanfelippo and Supervisor Patricia Jursik. Apparently Jurisk took exception to comments made by Sanfelippo at the CRG rally for Walker's campaign budget. I wasn't in the rally and I don't know what Sanfelippo said or didn't say, but I do know that his comments in his clash with Jursik prove the point that I'm trying to make here. He sarcastically commented that "perhaps your memory is going out" and he told her that "your are full of crap and you know it".

Reading about his inappropriate comments to Supervisor Jursik released some left over anger that I still have personally for Joe Sanfelippo. I hesitate addressing such an intensely personal issue but reading his comments yesterday opened that wound again and I feel strongly compelled. My mother has struggled with mental illness for as long as I can remember. For the last number of years the Targeted Case Management program at the Behavioral Health Division has almost singlehandedly brought a sense of stability to many aspects of her life. Unfortunately every single year the effort is made to privatize the program even though that move would cost the county more and would remove all stability for the clients. Every single year she has to fight to save the program that has been such a tremendous help to her and many others. That fight includes her calling her own supervisor, who is unfortunately Joe Sanfelippo.

Last year my mother was gearing up for the same old fight to save the program but this time she ended up not being able to be as active because my grandmother was dying. My mother fought for the program as much as should could while spending every single waking moment at my dying grandmother's bedside. She was there for the entire last week of her life. Obviously she was not able to worry nearly as much about the program during that time. The same day that my grandmother died, my mother went home only to hear a message left on her voice mail by her County Supervisor Joe Sanfelippo. He informed her that her program was officially put back in the budget (no thanks to him) and he then chastised her because he claimed that she called his office 16 times that day. First of all his accusation was absurd and totally inaccurate but it was also extremely hurtful on the very same day that she lost her mother.

Later, after being confronted about his inappropriate call, Sanfelippo denied what he said on her voicemail. Unfortunately his denial doesn't go very far since it was captured on a voicemail that several other people listened to at the time.

So this just brings me back to my main point. Some may be surprised at Sanfelippo's inappropriate comments toward his fellow County Supervisor, but very few people in my family are shocked. Unfortunately we already know that he is a major league prick.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Someone Should Own the Incompetence

Last week I couldn't believe what I was reading regarding the threats by Scott Walker to lay off nearly 200 workers because of some last minute deficit that suddenly surfaced. Not only did it suddenly surface but it surfaced right in the middle of the budgetary process. As if that fact wasn't enough, the details were even more breathtaking. Suddenly Walker announced that Milwaukee County had a $3.6 million deficit to close. Based on the reports last week almost the entire amount arose because of a screw up by John Chianelli, the alleged administrator of the Behavioral Health Division.

Apparently John Chianelli didn't bother to run the new reimbursement formula for Medicaid for most of the year. According to the reports, Chianelli didn't notice that the changes were going to be problematic until August. To make matters worse, even after learning this information, it was not revealed until last Tuesday to the board and everyone else. This is breathtaking because this screw up has threatened the operations of the entire county. It has threatened the budget and the jobs of some 200 hard working employees. Capper at Cognitive Dissidence already called for Chianelli to be fired last week. I can't say that I blame him for arriving at that conclusion. There is certainly a track record here to judge Chianelli's work. Consider some of the following:

  • According to an October 17, 2008 report, the Behavioral Health Division had 113 fully funded positions that were left vacant last year. Those are positions that were fully funded by the board but were simply not filled. That same year (through October) the costs of overtime at BHD were more than any other division (over $3.6 million). So where did the money go for those funded but vacant positions? Did that large number of funded but vacant positions contribute to those massive overtime costs?
  • Both last year and this year John Chianelli has proposed privatizing several programs at BHD that would end up costing the county more.
  • Speaking of privatization, the privatized security service at the BHD was over budget by over a half a million dollars last year and was already over budget last month for the current year.
  • As I wrote a few weeks ago, there also appears to be some sort of disconnect between Chianelli's budget and that of his boss, the County Executive.

The above points are just a sampling but there are also things that should still be verified and tracked down. Word on the street (specifically Watertown Plank Road) is that other curious staffing moves are being made out at BHD. Some allege favoritism for friends while nothing but vindictiveness for those that challenge the broken status quo. I can't personally verify it at this time but if even half of those things are completely legit, then the above list is only the tip of quite a large iceberg.

The bottom line is that someone must own the incompetence that has been demonstrated at the Behavioral Health Division. Scott Walker appointed John Chianelli to his current position and who knows, maybe Chianelli is just doing Walker's bidding out there. But if he is acting completely on his own then Scott Walker must hold him accountable. If he is unwilling to do so then Scott Walker is essentially volunteering to take ownership of that incompetence himself. And goodness knows that he has plenty of that all on his own.

UPDATE: Capper again addresses this issue in a new blog post. He also broadens the discussion a bit more.

UPDATE 2: This isn't really directly related but you may want to take a look at my "bold prediction" for this time next year!