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Tuesday, June 30, 2009

WMC AWOL In Bidding War For GM Auto Plant

Capital Times Excerpt: (Ed Garvey)
Where do you suppose Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce was while the governor fought to keep the Janesville plant open? We hear from WMC on just about every issue from taxes to elections, but heard nothing on this one. Why not, Jim Haney? Don't you care about Wisconsin and the 1,200 families in Janesville?
Like a coward soldier going AWOL during wartime, the WMC should be stripped of the “Manufacturers and Commerce” title within their name. And remove "Wisconsin" too - they are an embarrassment to the state.

Local Health Care Debates Without Paul Ryan?

Posted in the Janesville Gazette's “Latest News” Web Page newsbox on Monday was this link - Gingrich to appear at Wis. fundraiser for Walker 5:43 a.m. This "news story" was published under "BRIEFS" in the hard copy on page 5A.

Posted on page 3 of Monday's Gazette hard copy was a story mistitled, "Health Care Debate Comes to Janesville." Obviously, health care is a hugely debated topic this very minute, yet the two events held in Janesville are not true debates in that sense. The events are hosted by one of Wisconsin's leading health care advocates, Paulette Garin, and invite the general public to attend. Garin will present the various plans that are currently being discussed in Congress. The events are meant to be educational.

The main point here is that the Janesville Gazette took a simple and straight forward local event announcement not too dissimilar from Gingrich's scheduled appearance in Milwaukee (a GOP fundraiser getting news coverage!), and attempted to re-characterize and politicize the health care event before Garin has a chance to tell it. The newspaper literally carried out their own debate on their terms and attempted to trump Garin's viewpoint with quotes from Rep. Paul Ryan.
JG Excerpt:
A government approach means higher taxes, Ryan said. He proposes instead tax benefits that would help people buy private health insurance. He said his plan would also bring about universal health coverage, but it would be a totally private insurance system.
I've got to be careful around here when quoting Paul Ryan or the Janesville Gazette, because when I quote them accurately it's called either "out of context" or a "smear campaign." But does anyone really know what a "tax benefit" is? And how will a "tax benefit" pay for health care when oftentimes real hard earned cash isn't enough? As Sen. Bernie Sanders from Vermont said, "every dollar of premium that a private insurance company does not spend on health care is a dollar more in profits."
JG Excerpt:
Ryan said his plan would allow patients to make their own coverage and health care decisions.
How can the population have universal health coverage yet everyone has their own individual plan? Classic Ryan double-talk. Words put together to sound good but actually mean nothing.

So here's the rub. Given the complexity and urgency of health care reform, it is critical that media report on the subject fairly and accurately. On both accounts, the Gazette failed. But since the Gazette wrote up Garin's health care info events as "debates" and injected Paul Ryan's view into her schedule, why not man up on the challenge they presented and call Paul Ryan in to debate Garin on health care reform at one of Janesville's high schools? Instead of playing his surrogate against the health care advocate. I'm guessing here she would oblige.

"Healthcare for all is more a destination of clear thinking and the pursuit of human progress than a political position." -- from a friend

NOTE: This posting is the independent perspective of its author.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Janesville GM Had No Chance With Ryan And The Gazette

JG Editorial Excerpt: (June 26, 2009)
Here’s another way of looking at news that Orion will get the plant. Even if Janesville had been chosen, GM wouldn’t have rehired all those laid off; workers probably wouldn’t have earned the same pay, and there is no guarantee that the cars will sell well and the plant would stay open.
After spending the last decade never offering any sort of genuine editorial support for the local UAW while simultaneously enabling a willfully ignorant handful of morons to whipsaw the workers wages and benefits with cheap shots in their weekly anonymous "Sound Off" column, the Janesville Gazette NOW laments over the fact that the UAW conceded to wage reductions so low that they are frankly...not worth fighting over.

Those latest remarks from the Gazette follow closely in lockstep with all of their positions during the past two year run-up leading to the closing of the GM plant. Consider the time they attacked Sen. Feingold over his position on CAFE.
JG Editorial Excerpt: (July 9, 2007)
It might already be too late for the local GM plant. By voting for the Senate bill, Feingold turned his back on Janesville.
To which I responded...
If they soften the gas mileage requirements as per Paul Ryan, GM WILL NO LONGER BE AT THE FOREFRONT ON ANYTHING. ANYBODY can build a gas guzzler. If autoworkers really believe gas guzzling trucks and SUV’s are the future, stick with Paul Ryan. If anyone thinks that gasoline will never pop to five dollars a gallon or more within the next ten years, stick with Paul Ryan. Building EnergyStar Trucks and SUV’s will be the future market and to the contrary, Janesville can be the future if we don’t turn our backs on this reality.
Although it has been assumed that GM decided to build a fuel efficient small car in the states instead of China as a concession to the UAW, I believe there was another pressure point on GM to build here.

Last year most everyone felt the damage done by the oil speculators appeared irreversible. As a result, Janesville will probably never manufacture large-engined SUV’s ever again. With the loss of the SUV plant under its belt mainly from the crashing economy coupled with $4.50-a-gallon gasoline, who would think the only thing remaining that could possibly bring new production to Janesville would emanate from the most unlikely legislation – CAFE. With CAFE, Janesville at least stood a chance along with two other major GM facilities to gain small car production. Without CAFE, there was no impetus for GM to build small cars in the states to balance fleet mileage. They could build them in China.

So, back in July 2007, what course of action did the Janesville Gazette and the befuddled Paul Ryan take? They double-teamed Russ Feingold over the proposed CAFE standards and then played off the eminent demise of the Janesville factory as a victim of the legislation.

JG Editorial Excerpt: (July 9, 2007)
"This bill is a big problem for us," Ryan said of the local GM plant.

What's amazing is how the UAW blindly supports Feingold and other Democrats seemingly at every turn, while members of Local 95 jump at every glimmer of opportunity to bash the Republican Ryan.
Nothing could have been further from the truth. Ryan, completely out of touch, was gleefully leading the sing-along Gazette into a blind curve.

Sadly, Ryan and the Gazette weren’t the only ones to rail against higher fuel standards. Some local Democrats and UAW members literally embarrassed themselves standing against CAFE.
JG Editorial Excerpt:(July 9, 2007)

So, Mr. Sheridan, any comment on this?

"I can say I'm disappointed with our senators on this vote," he told the Gazette. "I don't know where they're coming from."
I was surprised by Sheridan's remark. Particularly since he has a long history in the auto manufacturing field. But when your source of information happens to be the false choices offered from the immovable and closed mindset of golden parachute executives, he may have had no choice. Corporate GM was as clueless as Paul Ryan.

In hindsight, we now know that tighter US fleet average standards did not bring about the demise of Janesville's SUV plant. And in fact, CAFE at the minimum gave Janesville a one in three chance to acquire new production. Had Ryan and the Gazette succeeded in fooling everyone back then, it would have had zero in zero chances.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Growth Plan's Flexibility Tested - Fails

Monday's Janesville city council meeting had one of those "who blinked first" moments during a discussion over what appeared to be a rather harmless zoning change request for a banquet hall on the west side of town.

The applicant's request for B3 zoning which would allow for "permitted use" of a banquet hall was not recommended by the city administration. They advised the council to modify the request to a B2 zoning designation which would allow for a less favorable "conditional use." No big deal, right? But who would think that a request to change zoning on an existing developed parcel would pose a test of both the city's Comprehensive Plan and the city council's flexibility and integrity? At first not me, but such was the case during Monday's meeting.

To see this relationship unfold we have to rewind slightly to a little over three months ago when city council members each presented their positions on the city's growth (Comprehensive) plan. During that meeting, several council members justified their vote in favor of the Comp Plan passage by insisting it was not set in stone because each zoning, annexation or development request would be judged case-by-case.

Possibly unaware of the banquet hall zoning connection to the Comp Plan, council members during Monday's meeting quickly moved to make a motion to approve the original request changing the parcel zoning from O1 to B3. After a short discussion among the council, they appeared to be on the verge of approving the B3 until the City Manager, Eric Levitt, interrupted and repeatedly warned the council members that changing the zoning on this particular parcel to B3 runs counter to the recently approved Comprehensive Plan and that doing so would set "a new and dangerous precedent." Well, if there ever was a time for the Janesville city council to demonstrate the flexibility they spoke about when they hastily approved of the Comp Plan several months ago - now was that time.

Although the city manager offered few details as to why the B3 request was not consistent with the growth plan, he did make it clear to the council that any deviation from the plan now could damage the plan's integrity. After a few more assurances by the administration that the zoning change applicant would not be charged additional money (from multiple applications), the city council surrendered to the manager's suggestion and approved of the rezone, but only to the Comp Plan-compliant B2.

However, in retrospect, this "growth plan set-in-stone awakening" at Monday's meeting clearly proved that months ago, several city council members spoke either prematurely or unknowingly when they claimed the Comprehensive Plan was not a rigid document but just a guideline that could be changed at any time. It also brings attention as to why the city manager failed to question, rebut, correct or even politely challenge the council member's claims during the city's run-up to approve of the Comp Plan. Yet he had no reservations now advising the council against exercising any flexibility they previously insisted the Comp Plan possessed.

This entire city council episode including the potential and serious implications it held with the Comp Plan received the following report in the Janesville Gazette.
JG Excerpt:-- Rezoned the former Moose Club at 120 N. Crosby Ave. so the owner can build a banquet facility in the basement.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Tax By Zone Should End Farmland Exploitation

The Wisconsin State legislature is finally moving to close a loophole that has given developers huge property tax breaks on land rezoned and revalued for residential or commercial estate purposes.

Under scrutiny are definitions and zoning designations of the use-value assessment law enacted in 1995 to help keep farms viable by giving them a property tax break. To my understanding of this latest provision inserted into the state budget, farmers and land owners of parcels zoned AG will see NO change in their property tax assessment formula because only land zoned AG will continue to qualify for the use-value (discounted) assessment.
In Fond du Lac, Wegner, the assessor, said there are two commercial lots that should be assessed at $636,100, but are valued at a total of $900 because winter wheat was planted on them.
Most Wisconsin urban and small town homeowners probably had no idea their property tax bill was inflated partly to help cover developer's carrying costs while they gobbled up and exploited farmland on the cheap. As many as 250,000 acres zoned for residential and commercial development in Wisconsin have been assessed less than a penny on the dollar in property taxes while their owners enjoyed increased land values and profits from sales and speculation.

Despite some opposition from a few farmers about the new zoning proposal, it was less than four months ago when only a handful of brave farmers spoke in opposition of Janesville's hastily approved comprehensive growth plan to target 9,800 rural acres for development, rezoning and annexation - with 1,600 acres within current city limits. Where was further outcry against the city's disastrous plan to pave over the very essence of their livelihoods? Excluding the few who spoke out, I was astonished by the lack of concern shown by our local farmers.

Again, it is important to keep in mind that the current use-value assessment law will remain intact for farmers and land owners who have fought to maintain the land strictly designated for the intentional purposes of farming.

Let's not try to kid anyone here, tax assessments are based on market value, and zoning designations play a large part in establishing a baseline market value on property. Land meeting all of the conditions to achieve and keep the AG zone designation is rightfully discounted no matter what the use is. Besides adding more balance and fairness to everyone's share of the property tax load, this provision will encourage AG land owners and developers to think twice before they approach their local village or city council for annexation or a change in zoning from agricultural.

I applaud the state legislature on this provision and hope they have the courage and fortitude to follow through on closing the tax loophole. It will have a hugely positive impact on the quantity and quality of future growth, restore property tax fairness and strengthen the use-value assessment law against future exploitation. Removing this loophole has been a long time coming.

Please call or write your state legislator and tell them you support the Senate version of the state budget bill closing the use-value tax loophole.

Also, Wisconsin's Agricultural Assessment Guide

Monday, June 22, 2009

Partisanship A Poor Excuse To Support Sunshine

Saturday's Janesville Gazette contained their editorial supporting Assembly Bill 143. Titled "Call Lawmakers today and demand open budget process," the newspaper takes great offense to the direction taken by the legislature to fill the state's budget hole and their freedom to regroup in partisan caucuses in an effort to reach a consensus. Both Wisconsin state houses have Democratic majorities.

The paper also attempted to demonstrate what a local governmental body such as a non-partisan city council must do in order to stay in compliance of Wisconsin's Open Meeting Laws, while the state legislature has exempted itself from obeying the same rules.
JG Editorial Excerpt:
Just who, you might ask, enacted an open meetings law that rightly forces local councils and school boards to conduct business in the light of day but allows state lawmakers to shut out the public? Why the legislature of course.
Nearly every Janesville city council meeting ends in a closed door session allowing them to conduct business often involving thousands of tax payer dollars, in the dark of the night. This is legal because the Wisconsin state legislature granted them and all governmental bodies and their agencies thirteen statutory exemptions to do so. I don't recall the Gazette complaining about those closed door meetings. But the Gazette not too long ago did complain about the closed door negotiations between the Janesville school district and the local teachers union. Unfortunately, that position by the Gazette seemed to be more of a media based complaint for the lack of news content, than by any disposition of theirs to open government on behalf of the general public.

One point here is that local governmental bodies appear to have equal if not greater freedom to conduct business behind closed doors than the legislature does. The other point is the Gazette's activism for open government appears selective and driven by their partisan differences with the legislative majority instead of a genuine desire to turn on the lights within all levels of government, particularly those on their own turf.

For many reasons I have less trouble with our legislators and representatives meeting together as partisans behind closed doors than I do with the same legislators or government agencies meeting with private interests, so-called taxpayer groups, media or corporate lobbyists behind closed doors. Yet they are allowed to do so under collective bargaining or for competitive reasons among others. It's all legal because the legislature and courts say so. That's not to say I support any of it, it's just the pecking order of where I place my trust.

AB 143 doesn't solve the apparent split personality of Wisconsin's political climate, but it is a step in the right direction that might eventually lead to bipartisan legislative debates. If enacted, I only fear that it could be abused politically and wind up as a toothless law duping the public into believing government no longer operates in the shadows.

Rock Netroots companion piece to this posting.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Secret Government Deals Should Be Scorned - Regardless of The Merit

I’m getting way ahead of myself on this one after only five days have passed since the Janesville Gazette headlined their publicity piece last Sunday on the Rock County Development Alliance.

If you may recall, that article was a very lightweight info-ad masquerading as a news article on a new local government agency recently formed to lure prospective business owners and entrepreneurs into the county - I think.
JG Excerpt (Alliance Article)
Each week, the group is in either Milwaukee or Chicago making detailed presentations to potential brokers, developers and investors.

The alliance taps a bigger war chest of talent and money.

Most will not appear on any public radar screen. Discretion and confidentiality are an integral part of dealing with prospects.
Keep in mind that the above statements were drawn and parsed from government employees and followed with absolutely no sense of common curiosity by the newspaper's writer.

Regarding an unrelated story, the Gazette published an editorial on Wednesday attacking Sen. Judy Robson for inserting a nursing school into the state budget during late hours.
JG Editorial Excerpt: (on Robson)
We abhor such secret decision-making and late-night earmarking, regardless of the merits of the decision.
That's a pretty heavy blanket to keep on when the heat is turned up. Lets' hope their high-ended criticism of government officials dealing under a perceived cloak of secrecy isn't meant for Judy Robson alone - regardless of the merits.

But as far as Robson was concerned, she was right to budget for the nursing school. All the data points to this. Nobody, including the UW dismisses the rising urgency of more nurses in the health care field. So the need is right and the timing was right too. Yet, the legislators were right to remove it from the budget, but not because she did it “in the dead of night” as the Gazette put it, but only because – of the economy. The only thing wrong with the $47 million nursing school is the economy, but that's not her fault.

History tells me that two years from now, the so-called "governmental watchdogs" at the Gazette will be seething when the UW finally presents their feasibility study along with the engineering, design and technological reports for the new nursing school. Chances are high that the price of a "properly planned" school as they prefer to call it will make Robson's $47 million request look like small potatoes.

Still, it's wasn't fair for the Gazette to paint Robson's legislative work as underhanded or buried in secrecy. It was all out there for everyone to see.

We can't say the same for the activities of the Alliance group.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

New Wiki Based Political Candidate Tracker

From the folks at Open Congress comes a new source of information on your favorite candidates for public office. You can see a full list of all the potential challengers in your district, fundraising information for each, as well as a summary of recent electoral trends. All of the information is fully referenced.

It's a wiki, so the whole project is crowd-sourced. The idea is that if a lot of people contribute a little bit of knowledge, the RaceTracker will become a one-stop shop for local citizens to learn more about electoral politics in our area and become better voters. People can begin there journey into this knowledge base by checking out the blog.

Best of all, RaceTracker is free, open-source, non-partisan, and collaborative. Add what you know to the wiki, citing a news source, and help build public knowledge about Congress. You can check out the Racetracker Page here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Local Alliance Needs Some Sunlight

Sunday's Janesville Gazette contained an article titled They use one voice about a local governmental? economic development group working out of the Rock County Building to attract businesses here in Janesville.

Janesville, as most folks in the area are aware of, has suffered huge jobs losses in the past year with the closing of the GM plant. Obviously, Janesville needs all the help it can get to boost payroll activity, so some governmental interaction and cooperation is crucial at this important time.

But after reading the article and then cruising the Rock County Development Alliance Web Site, it became obvious that many important details were lacking regarding governmental accountability and transparency.

In the Gazette article, they refer to flying under the radar and working backroom deals as if it's the right thing to do. Secondly, there is an underlying premise projected here that simply because it's published and they're openly talking about it...well, that makes everything okay and acceptable. It doesn't.

But before I can sink my teeth into the questionable ethical aspects of their work, I am overwhelmed with a mountain of questions about the group that I can't believe a journalist did not ask.
JG Excerpt:
Each week, the group is in either Milwaukee or Chicago making detailed presentations to potential brokers, developers and investors.
Venable and Otterstein are both government employees. Who pays their wages when they are working under the umbrella of the Alliance? Who pays their dinner, lodging and travel expenses to trade shows around the state? Is the Alliance a non-profit organization? Is it a governmental agency? I assume it is but I'm not sure. The Gazette article did not clarify this and the Web Page lacks this information.

Is this a county taxed operation? Or is it paid for from taxes of participating locales. Where is funding coming from? Is this part of a $450,000 federal grant the county and Forward Janesville received a little while ago? If so, where is the breakdown of expenditures and future allocations?

How do individuals separate their governmental duties from their Alliance duties? The Alliance address is the Rock County Court House Building - under whose power and authority do they operate under? Do we assume the Rock County Board? If the Alliance is a multi-governmental body – who pays for what? Are local business owners involved? Who are its members? And what connection do they have in city, county and state government? What connection does the Alliance have to the local business elite? Where is the transparency?

Why doesn’t their Web page list their funding sources and all participating members?
JG Excerpt:
The alliance taps a bigger war chest of talent and money.
Whoa! That may be a good enough explanation for a Gazette journalist, but clue me in - I'm not smart enough. Whose talent and whose money? Is it a secret? An why is it a secret? State, federal, private? A combination? Explain? Are quid-pro-quos involved?

Look, it’s one thing being an informational and marketing kiosk for the county, that's a capable and necessary part government can play in attracting jobs. But it’s an entirely different thing when government employees participate in backroom deals greasing the way and blurring the lines between public and private while projecting an unfettered access to tax payer money. They should come clean on this.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Information Portal Creates "Newspaper" Category?

For nearly everyone, I realize this particular little observation won't compete with the Letterman/Palin dust-up or help uncover a secret plot of world domination.

Perhaps it's just a coincidence. Perhaps it's only me. But after my last posting titled, Media: Republicans Absent From State Budget Solutions, it appears like the folks at the Wheeler Report made some adjustments. At the very height of media reporting on state budget debates, Monday's "Budget" category diminished to a single statement. Instead, they created a "Newspaper" category which by the way, posts all the same type of linked content on media reports and opinions about the state budget previously listed under "Budget."

If it's related, this recent change probably won't accomplish what I think they're trying to achieve. Particularly if it is meant to restore a perception of balance to the reality of the bias, partisanship and intent of the mainstream media's "objective" reporting.

As someone who spends a great part of his 'bloggin' time deconstructing local newspaper media reports, I find the Wheeler Report to be among the best online portals for aggregating political news in Wisconsin. It is out of this respect however, I find their attempt to reframe state budget news rather puzzling.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Media: Republicans Absent From State Budget Solutions

The following is a 3 day sampler of newspaper article titles and special interest groups weighing in on Wisconsin state budget issues (excluding legislator's press releases or their op-eds) posted at the Wheeler Report ending Friday, June 12, 2009.

WI Insurance Alliance. Commends Assembly Democrats on budget changes.

WI Care Rental Alliance. Assembly Dems make bad idea worse.

La Crosse Tribune. Assembly Dems: We have the votes to pass state budget today.

Janesville Gazette. Editorial. Democrats earn applause for three changes.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Democrats vote for student cap in Milwaukee's school-choice program.

Wisconsin State Journal. Doyle open to excluding liability proposal from budget package.

Appleton Post Crescent. Democrats revive regional transit authority provision for Fox Cities.

Various Disability/Religious groups. Memo to Assembly Democratic Caucus: Restore property tax provision to Joint Finance budget.

Cooperative Network. Assembly Democrats modify oil tax in cooperatives favor.

1000 Friends of Wisconsin. Democratic caucus action offers tremendous economic growth opportunities for Wisconsin.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Assembly Dems OK smaller Milwaukee County sales tax hike, budget pork.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Assembly Democrats' vote could raise gas prices.

Wisconsin State Journal. Assembly Democrats don't want nursing school.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Assembly Democrats work late into night on budget changes.

Various Groups. Memo to Assembly Dems on modifications to the oil tax.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Democrats vote to add tax on oil companies.

WI Civil Justice Council. Employers applaud Assembly Democratic (Caucus) action (on removal of liability provisions).

WI Assoc. for Justice. Reaction to Assembly Democratic Caucus action on auto insurance.

WI Insurance Alliance. Commends Assembly Democrats.

Only one article listed in the budget category at the Wheeler Report had the word "Republican" or referenced a Republican legislator in its title, published by the Capital Times. --- Editorial: A balanced and Republican budget plan.

Just a coincidence?

Early Wisconsin Poll Numbers By DailyKos

Some interesting numbers were posted in the Daily Kos/Research 2000 Wisconsin Poll

DailyKos Wisconsin Poll Article

The DailyKos Wisconsin Poll was conducted from June 8 through June 10, 2009. Because a total of only 600 voters were interviewed statewide by telephone, I'm not going to read too much into the numbers. But Ryan's "no opinion" numbers seem to be high considering he just spent over a million on his last campaign with many ads placed outside his district. Plus, he has been getting plenty of national exposure on the Fox News Channel. At the same time, it does look like democrats (22%) are more tolerant of Ryan than he is of them.

POLL QUESTION: If the 2010 election for U.S. Senate were held today for whom would you vote for if the choices were between Russ Feingold the Democrat and Paul Ryan the Republican?Ryan draws only 64% of Republicans!! in a race against Feingold. It looks like Ryan's slip is showing.

Of course, the Kos poll results were based on hypothetical questions, but just for kicks, I would have liked to see poll numbers on Thompson/Feingold and Ryan/Kohl for senate.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Bailed-Out GM Asking For Cash From Bailed-Out States?

The worst of the worst.
Chicago Tribune Excerpt:
Bredesen said the state doesn't have "a lot of spare money available to make large upfront payments." The governor wouldn't specify how much money GM was asking for, but said that hundreds of millions of dollars would be "the low end of the range."
But who could blame GM for demanding a huge cash hand-out from Bredesen when.....
Chicago Tribune Excerpt:
The Bredesen administration has landed other high-profile automotive deals through its aggressive corporate tax incentives, including a new $1 billion Volkswagen AG plant in Chattanooga and the relocation of Nissan Motor Corp.'s North American headquarters from California to suburban Nashville in 2006.

USA Today Excerpt:
Former Milwaukee mayor John Norquist says once a city starts offering subsidies, developers come to expect it. "You'll have one or two connected developers with their hands out doing all the deals," he says. "The little guy — the plumber who builds five houses — can't afford lawyers and lobbyists."
Tell me about it. In Janesville, we know all too well about the run-away welfare perks one or two wealthy local developers and business groups are handed regularly.

I for one am tired about hearing that GM originally planned to build the new small car in China but instead decided to build it in the U.S. only as a union concession. After reading the Trib article, I'm convinced they have no loyalty to America or our workers. We should slam the door on GM and consider the $25 billion in bail-out money a cheap price to pay to get rid of them. The last thing America needs is to twist the arm of someone to make them stay...when they've signaled they'd be happier with General Mao. It's not about politics or the skilled workers, it's always about the $$$.

If the Janesville plant has a strong enough foundation for stamping, the UAW should consider building their own vehicle at the Janesville plant. There has to be investors willing to build the future American car right here in Janesville. We've got the workers, the transportation and the infrastructure. There's certainly a market for it, considering the domestic market has just about collapsed.

JS Online Excerpt:
The only one they want to know is how much cash are you going to put in up front - we don't care about tax credits, we don't care about any of those other things," he said.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Health Care: Reform We Can Believe In?

Judging by President Obama's long-winded response to a question asked by former congressional candidate Paulette Garin, it appears Obama prefers to tweak the broken health care system instead of bringing about sweeping changes most folks expected.
Wispolitics Excerpt:
Paulette Garin, a health care advocate and former Dem candidate in the 1st Congressional District, asked Obama to reconsider a single-payer system, adding that she is concerned that a public and private system could end up with government subsidizing private insurance.
The single payer plan is the only viable health care plan alternative that I've heard of that is fully funded. Unlike other plans like Congressman Ryan's expansive new government entitlement 'Patient's Choice,' which is designed to self-destruct on the savings of a corporate tax incentive, single payer is not a deficit growth gimmick, it is funded by a payroll tax.

Obama In Green Bay (and Garin)

Top Ten Reasons
for Single Payer Health Care.

Latest News from HealthCare-Now!

Big Oil Will Likely Pass Tax To Customers

WSJ Excerpt:
Allowing oil companies to pass along the new 2 percent tax to consumers at the pump removes any questions about its legality, said Rep. Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse. Shilling, who sponsored the change, said oil companies could choose to absorb the tax or pass it along up to 4 cents per gallon.
Absorb the tax? Not likely.

Before it could have its day in court, Wisconsin Democrats caved in to Big Business interests on the tax of gross receipts from oil revenues. The failure to implement the no-pass-through provision proved what many have come to know and fear - that big business and corporations pay zero to very little taxes in the state of Wisconsin. And if you try to make them pay - they'll sue.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

NRB Seeks To Exempt Waterfront Properties From 50% Rule

Capital Times Excerpt:
Owners of existing homes would no longer need county variances to make improvements if they plan to spend more than 50 percent of the property's value.
Restricting how much money a property owner can invest in their home or property is totally bizarre. The 50% rule has to be one of the most asinine anti-investment and redevelopment laws ever. State officials need to eliminate it on ALL properties.

Wisconsin Delegation To Meet GM Execs Today

Today's Janesville Gazette contains a brief article about a meeting to be held today between four members of Wisconsin's congressional delegation and GM executives to discuss the future of the Janesville auto plant.
JS Online Excerpt:
The meeting is scheduled to take place at the Washington office of U.S. Sen Herb Kohl. Kohl, Sen. Russ Feingold and Reps. Tammy Baldwin (D-Madison) and Paul Ryan (R-Janesville) are expected to attend, along with Troy Clarke, head of GM's North America division and Tim Lee, vice president of manufacturing.
I don't know if Ryan realizes that the delegation's purpose is meant to restore manufacturing jobs in Janesville - not China. After spending his entire congressional career legislating policies that have deleveraged the American worker and pushed jobs overseas, it would appear Ryan's presence at this meeting could have an adverse effect on the mission.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

GOP Stars Call For a More Unified Demogoguery

Monday's Gazette contained an interesting article titled Ryan calls for unity among Republicans.

The part that was most interesting were comments made by Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels. They were...
JG Excerpt:
Daniels said conservatives need to be single-minded about addressing their political arguments to young voters, who voted overwhelmingly for Obama in the last election. He cited as one example the "terrifying deficits" in the Democratic budget and "the threat that poses to every young person in this country."
For Republicans to be more single-minded than they have been over the past 30 years and demogogue the other party with words like "terrifying" and "the threat" they pose?

What a welcome change! How do I join, where do I sign up?

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Business Will Challenge Tax That Can't Be passed Down?

Saturday's Janesville Gazette contained the newspaper's expected WMC and WEDA collaborated editorial rant supporting the misguided "anti-business" publicity campaign against the state of Wisconsin. This partisan driven editorial was apparently also the paper's attempt to muster public support in favor of government sponsored capital hand-outs and bidding procedures to 'woo' business development.
JG Editorial Excerpt:
Two local Democrats, Sen. Judy Robson of Beloit and Rep. Mike Sheridan of Janesville, earn credit for the DOZ proposal. But they are part of the Democratic majority in Madison that is backing billions in new taxes. Many of these target businesses and won't help Wisconsin's economy thrive.
A tax targeting business? That's constitutionally impossible according to Stan Milam's column on the very same page titled "Will Democrats take stand against oil company tax?" In it, Milam repeatedly parrots the notion that a provision in Wisconsin's oil tax proposal prohibiting companies from passing along the cost (of the tax) onto the consumer is unconstitutional.
JG Excerpt: (Milam)
Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Madison, says he's not sure the tax and the prohibition on passing along the costs is constitutional. Mind you, this is after Pocan's committee approved the provision.
Milam's column creates a revolving contradiction with the editorial perception that businesses pay taxes and are now targeted to pay more. But he does re-enforce the notion that most taxes meant for business are rarely challenged by business in the courts because companies are free (constitutional?) to bury the cost burden in punitive price hikes on consumers or wage and benefit cuts on workers. So, are businesses truly taxed if they pass the cost down to the next in line?

So the argument that businesses are targeted or pay too much state tax doesn't hold water. But Doyle and the Democrats may have actually stumbled upon some tax language that may work as it is intended. Otherwise, why bother to challenge it?

I'm not trying to pretend I know the legal structure on which the proposed oil tax is founded. But judging from Milam's subjective reactions to it, it appears the oil tax - unlike all other taxes - will work as intended. If not, let the courts decide. It's definitely worth the effort and a challenge may open up the right doors to make it work. How will we know if we don't try.

Republicans and their supporters can't have it both ways. They can't say Wisconsin businesses are overburdened with taxes, yet are willing to go to court the moment it occurs they are expected to actually pay one of them.

NOTE: Milam's column is not available on the open Web.

It is my belief that the federal government, acting as the premier equalizer, should prohibit states, counties and local jurisdictions from using cash, legislated tax credits, rebates or any other creatively inspired capital derivative as a bargaining weapon against each other in the quest for private venture economic development. We should stand together as a united country with each state and region participating in a cooperative economic meritocracy based on the people's ability to improvise and innovate, available resources along with transportation, housing and education, to land private business start-ups and expansions - not to be decided by the wealth of participants in a capital-based bidding process.

Of course, the current practice involving capital bartering for economic development under governmental ordinance and oversight is nothing new. It has been going on for decades. It is the status quo. And those encouraging and advocating for these short-term solutions to our deep and long-term problems are only fueling the status quo continuum. Once it takes root it is like a train rolling downhill with no brakes. Those jumping onboard are not slowing it, their weight is only increasing the power of the virtual impact that awaits. It is a defacto morality that works in tandem with campaign finances, government corruption and corporate cronyism.

We must not allow cities or regions, big or small, to suffer economically merely because they were unable to muster a capital hand-out to the wealthiest entities among us. It should be a crime. The cash hand-outs and tax credit derivatives legalized in our state houses under the guise of an economic incentive package should anger each and every one of us.

I realize many will think these statements are from an impossibly hopeless idealist, but I call it the only way forward to a sustainable and prosperous future. Nothing is impossible.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Corporate Motors Failed - Can Government Succeed?

David Brooks, in my view, is a respectable writer and part-time talking head who I find myself agreeing with only about 30% of time.

In his OP-ED titled The Quagmire Ahead, Brooks believes President Obama's bureaucratically smart and financially tough plan to help resurrect GM is not built to overcome the corporate culture that sits at the core of G.M.’s woes. He lays out six points explaining why he thinks the plan will only make things worse. I respectfully disagree on all counts except one.
Brooks Excerpt:
First, the Obama plan will reduce the influence of commercial outsiders. The best place for fresh thinking could come from outside private investors. But the Obama plan rides roughshod over the current private investors and so discourages future investors. G.M. is now a pariah on Wall Street. Say farewell to a potentially powerful source of external commercial pressure.
But outside investors generally bring with them a small army of number crunching efficiency experts whose primary activity is boosting profits by cutting corners on product. Sometime down the road perhaps, but that is the last thing GM needs right now.
Brooks Excerpt:
Second, the Obama plan entrenches the ancien rĂ©gime. The old C.E.O. is gone, but he’s been replaced by a veteran insider and similar executive coterie. Meanwhile, the U.A.W. has been given a bigger leadership role. This is the union that fought for job banks, where employees get paid for doing nothing. This is the organization that championed retirement with full benefits at around age 50. This is not an organization that represents fundamental cultural change.
Ahh - but this is the beauty to the so-called Obama plan. The UAW will no longer be just a “worker” entity with risk-free contractual obligations from GM, they will now have a genuine risk taking role in GM as an “investor.” If you want to change the mindset of any worker, give them an actual share in the profits and losses of what they produce. The only problem I have with this is why should labor make any concessions at all? If they are to be held responsible for the failures of GM and Chrysler – why is Ford surviving? Wall Street collapsed and burned through nearly $600 billion in six months without any union management to blame. How was that possible?
Brooks Excerpt:
Third, the Obama approach reduces the fear that impels change. The U.S. government will own most of G.M. It would be politically suicidal for the Democrats, or whoever is in power, to pull the plug on the company — now or ever. Therefore, the current managers can rest assured that they never need to fear liquidation again. There will always be federal subsidies for their own mediocrity.
I really don't believe Obama or Congress, any congress, wants to own General Motors for any duration beyond this crisis. It’s impossible to predict the future, but if GM can't compete under these terms, no amount of Federal subsidies will save them. People are already fed up and only days have passed by.
Brooks Excerpt:
Fourth, the Obama plan dilutes the company’s focus. Instead of thinking obsessively about profitability and quality, G.M. will also have to meet the administration’s environmental goals. There is no evidence G.M. is good at building the sort of small cars the administration demands. There is no evidence that there is a large American market for these cars. But G.M. now has to serve two masters, the market and the administration’s policy goals.
This point is complicated to rebut. Like most corporations, GM has always had several masters to serve including stockholders. ALL automakers will have to meet the government's environmental goals. And we can't forget about the "two fleets" rule, which requires domestic automakers to meet EPA average fuel mileage standards. Smaller cars play a huge role in meeting those goals. Even without that, there is a market for high fuel economy cars and there's plenty of evidence that demand is about to explode. We are only just another oil crisis or gas tax away from it.
Brooks Excerpt:
Fifth, G.M.’s executives and unions now have an incentive to see Washington as a prime revenue center. Already, the union has successfully lobbied to move production centers back from overseas. Already, the company has successfully sought to restrict the import of cars that might compete with G.M. brands. In the years ahead, G.M.’s management will have a strong incentive to spend time in Washington, urging the company’s owner, the federal government, to issue laws to help it against Ford and Honda.
What’s wrong with lobbying to move production back to the states? Are we on some kind of a suicide mission? Isn’t the whole point to this exercise about job creation and redeveloping a sustainable manufacturing sector once again in America? We still have trade agreements to honor and I just can’t believe Congress would enact laws to discriminate against brands. Besides, that window of opportunity closed years ago when government could have had an impact against the foreign invasion over 40 years ago. Instead, the U.S. government led the way knocking down competitive barriers and trade restrictions.
Brooks Excerpt:
Sixth, the new plan will create an ever-thickening set of relationships between G.M.’s new owners — in government, management and unions. These thickening bonds between public and private bureaucrats will fundamentally alter the corporate culture, and not for the better. Members of Congress are also getting more involved in the company they own, and will have their own quaint impact.
This is one I truly worry about. On the local scale here in Janesville, it has become fully acceptable to mix private ventures with public money. In fact, the city administration rarely makes a move for private economic development without meeting behind closed doors to negotiate some kind of a TIF District or a TIF bridge loan, resource hand-out, land give away, soft leases, or impossibly unrepayable forgivable loans. On the state level, the handing out of mobile and portable business tax credits are assumed to be the only thing standing in the way of economic prosperity for all. The problem is it's always the same no matter what form a public/private partnership takes - the losses are always socialized.

Union Bashers Finally Get Their Dream Car
World's Cheapest Car Coming To U.S.
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Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Gazette Helps Perpetuate Anti-Business Perception

On Saturday, the Janesville Gazette published a front-page article titled, Where are Wisconsin business Incentives? The article’s writer, a Gazette staffer, draws upon the business community’s increasing willingness to undermine the basic foundation of free market capitalism by gravitating towards governmental subsidies, tax credits and assistance, yet successfully paints opposition to this highly manipulative and misguided alliance between government and free enterprise as anti-business.

With aid from the WMC, business lobbyists and political consultants, the story eventually jumps off a cliff by blaming government for injecting politics into business decisions.
Hess said site consultants often are put off by the highly political, highly charged nature of Wisconsin government.
This article also conveniently came on the toes and heels of two very recent and possible developments for Janesville. One, a proposal labeled the Development Opportunity Zone (DOZ) promoted by the local quasi-chamber of commerce, Forward Janesville, relies heavily upon government's involvement to warp the tax code in favor of the group’s membership interests. The second development, assumed from a stream of regurgitated news reports and misconstrued sound bites, has the closed Janesville GM plant designated as either a contender for new model production or as a contender to be considered as a “standby” facility. A decision is expected from GM in a couple of months on these contentions. In the meantime, pressure mounts from corporatists in favor of the state government to intervene with increased cash and tax credit “incentives” to tilt the auto manufacturer's decision.
Janesville’s advantages include the ongoing discussions with the state of Wisconsin about the plant, Lee said.

“Wisconsin has been working very diligently with General Motors,” Lee said, referring to the local/state task force that has laid a menu of arguments and incentives on the table, hoping to lure GM back.
By any reasonable account, it appears that the Janesville plant's chances to re-open are very slim. Yet the Gazette it seems, has deliberately painted an overly optimistic picture of the plant's chances to re-open, while making sure everyone thinks its only chance is predicated on the state government's (Democrats) business friendliness. If Janesville is not chosen by GM for new production or as an official standby facility, we can expect the Gazette and their minions to turn the GM decision into a political blame game in the upcoming elections.

* Update * Today's Gazette editorial wastes no time blaming Doyle and Democrats for the perceived local optimism, then enlists an auto "expert" with more tempered views, reshapes his views, re-injects politics and finally says it's "best to temper our views."

One day after GM files bankruptcy, Chinese firm buys Hummer.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Confusion Abounds In List Of GM Standby Facilities

Today’s Web Gazette contains a story titled, Janesville GM Designated As Standby.

JG Excerpt:
GM spokesman Chris Lee said Monday Janesville is one of three plants designated as "standby" locations that will be considered for a small car production in the future. The other plants are in Orion, Mich. and Spring Hill, Tenn.
However, the June 1st edition of GM News states that only three plants remain designated as standby production facilities. They are Orion MI, Pontiac MI and Spring Hill TN. In fact, the name "Janesville" does not even exist in the GM News release.

Also, in an article posted today from CNN Money, the information does not declare the Janesville plant as a standby facility but does report it as a "contender."