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Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2008

Rural Pols Drive Up Milwaukee Taxes

School choice funding penalizes city taxpayers

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The first comprehensive long-term study of the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program was released this week and it confirmed what we’ve known all along—that city of Milwaukee taxpayers are shouldering the burden of the program, while it reduces taxes in other parts of the state. According to the University of Arkansas report, in 2007 non-Milwaukee property taxpayers saved $42.3 million and Wisconsin state taxpayers saved $29.3 million. But Milwaukee taxpayers had to fork over an extra $47 million to fund the program. The state allocated $7.4 million to help cover the costs, but city taxpayers were still carrying the burden of the choice program.

The report also found that test results of public school students and voucher school students were comparable.

It also confirmed another longtime observation—that taxpayer money is going to religious schools. Almost 80% of choice schools are religious. The report noted that the choice program helped to stop the declining enrollment at religious schools, especially Catholic schools.

So looking at these results, it should come as no surprise that rural legislators, especially religious conservatives, are the ones pushing for the choice program, which only operates in the city of Milwaukee. These legislators get the benefit of lowered taxes while sticking it to city taxpayers.

Virtual Schools Get a Reality Check: As of this writing, the addition of an enrollment cap and other requirements for virtual schools were still in play. And Gov. Jim Doyle has said that he’d veto any bill that was passed that didn’t include these elements. After reviewing the data on the choice program, which operated without much accountability or oversight for years, is it any wonder that legislators want to study and regulate virtual schools before sending more taxpayer money their way?

Ouch!: Some Assembly Republicans in Wisconsin are attempting to derail the Great Lakes Water Compact by working with the president of the Ohio Senate to rewrite rules that were carefully negotiated over the course of four years. But few support the move—even in Ohio, where in late 2006 the state House voted 82 to 5 to pass it. But the compact may be rewritten in the Ohio Senate, and it’s not getting good reviews there. A Cleveland Plain Dealer editorial blasted Ohio Senate President Bill Harris’ willingness to work with compact opponents, saying, “How can Harris not understand that if the lunatic fringe is allowed to hijack the process of protecting Great Lakes water, there is no chance it will ever win the necessary approval of all eight states, Ontario and Quebec?”

Let’s hope that two potential members of Wisconsin’s “lunatic fringe,” Assembly Speaker Mike Huebsch (R-West Salem) and state Rep. Scott Gunderson (R- Waterford)—the two lawmakers who want to redraft the compact—put the region’s interests above their own personal gain.

It’s Official: If you want to be an escort in Waukesha—or run an escort agency—you’ll have to get a license to do so. They cost $250, and if you get caught peddling without one you’ll be fined $1,000. Local aldermen approved the plan because more escorts were operating in Waukesha, thanks to new licensing requirements in Brookfield and Pewaukee.

It’s Not the Flu: If you’ve been wheezing or coughing lately, it may not be the common cold. The Department of Natural Resources (DNR) issued an air quality advisory this past weekend—and extended it until Tuesday—for all areas of the state. Once normally associated with warm, hazy weather, air quality alerts are becoming more common in the wintertime, thanks to particle pollution—you know, the fine dust that’s emitted by heavy industry, coal plants and auto exhaust. People with respiratory or cardiac problems, the young and the elderly are advised to take it easy. And everyone else is advised to cut down on driving and using outdoor equipment. In its announcement, the DNR didn’t note what coal plants and heavy industry should do to make the air safer for all of us, though.

Crunching the Numbers: About 37% of the state’s voters went to the polls last Tuesday, and Milwaukee’s voters took considerable interest in local races. On the East Side, where outgoing Alderman Mike D’Amato left his seat up for grabs, 12,919 voters went to the polls, and will send Patrick Flaherty and Nik Kovac to the general election in April.

Other races favored incumbents. Alderman Tony Zielinski handily won the primary in Bay View, where 9,599 voters participated. Alderman Ashanti Hamilton won his primary and will face Orlando Owens in the general election; 9,194 people voted last Tuesday. In jailed-but-still-technically-innocent Alderman Michael McGee’s district, 9,226 individuals voted—more than twice the number who voted in last year’s recall election (3,929). McGee came in first and will face Milele Coggs in April. South Side Alderman Terry Witkowski’s district cast 8,869 ballots; he won 62% of them. Yet constituents in a nearby district, Alderman James Witkowiak’s, cast only 2,765 ballots. Witkowiak will face former Alderman Angel Sanchez in the general election.

Yet Another Wedge Issue: Social con- servatives attempted to drive up rightwing voter participation by putting an anti-gay-marriage amendment on the ballot in 2006. Now they’re trying to boost the right-wing vote by putting another wedge issue on the ballot—affirmative action. According to a press release, state Sen. Glenn Grothman (R- West Bend) and state Rep. Gary Tauchen (R-Bonduel) are drafting “a constitutional amendment to finally end Wisconsin’s odious practice of giving preferences based on race and sex.” The language has to be approved by two consecutive sessions of the state Legislature before earning a spot on the ballot, so hopefully their less bigoted colleagues will stop the measure before it stirs up more racial and sexist animosity.

You’ve Been Warned: The Milwaukee Common Council passed an ordinance that prevents trash, rubbish or garbage collection between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. in residential areas. But city sanitation operations involving solid waste and recycling material are exempt. The measure, sponsored by East Side Alderman Robert Bauman, is intended to cut down on noise in the wee hours.

What’s your take? Write: editor@shepex.com.

A Glimpse of Spring: The slight thaw over the weekend turned the snow to puddles. Photo by David Bernacchi

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