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Curmudgeon's Corner

cur-mud-geon: anyone who hates hypocrisy and pretense and has the temerity to say so; anyone with the habit of pointing out unpleasant facts in an engaging and humorous manner

Cigarettes and Taxation...

Healthcare, Political, Taxes, U.S., Wisconsin

I have not smoked a cigarette since July 5, 1985 but smoked three packs per day at the time I quit...for the last time.  With that disclaimer stated, if I were still a cigarette smoker, I'd be looking for alternatives. 

What are the alternatives?  The first, and the one I finally chose after numerous failed attempts, is to quit using cigarettes.  Another, is to cut back on the amount of cigarettes smoked.  Yet another is to find someplace where cigarettes are still 'affordable'. 

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Statewide Smoking Ban?

Economy, Healthcare, Political, Taxes, Wisconsin

Wisconsin will soon find itself again debating the pro and con of a statewide ban on smoking.  Nothing would get smoked in any public building or business establishment in Wisconsin if the chief proponent, Sen. Risser (D), has his way.  He and Sen. Decker (D), who is the Senate Majority Leader appear to be somewhat at odds over this legislation.  Both like the idea but Decker wants Risser to compromise and let bars and taverns either skate free or at least get a phased time period over which the ban would become effective.  Risser says 'no way' will he do that kind of compromise.

This debate gets very confusing (and very emotional) in that some cite the need for the state to protect us from destroying our health, while some simply say they can't tolerate smoke and don't want anyone to smoke anything, anywhere.  Yet others find this to be a property rights issue, while others lay claim to the fact that cigarettes are a legal product that generate significant amounts of tax revenue (as discussed yesterday).

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Spring Election Races Interesting...

County Board, Germantown, Political, Village Board

The morning Journal Sentinel carried the listing of races that we'll be deciding during the February 19th and then the April 1st elections this year.

I noted that the 7th District of Washington County has no one running for the Supervisor spot.  Interesting.  Maybe a write-in candidate will appear on the horizon.

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Fire Chief EMT-Certification Required?

Germantown, Village Board

The Public Safety Committee met again Wednesday evening and, according to the Journal Sentinel that quotes Trustee Al Vanderheiden, Chairman Langer wanted a couple of things decided.

He proposed the hiring of two part-time firefighters as a way to cut down on over-time.  His motion died for lack of a second.  Apparently that wasn't too popular an idea.  Would that solution have saved money for the citizens or was it more intended to punish the Chief and Captain Matt Karpinski who is the 'part-time firefighter' who has earned more than $35,000 in the past two years.

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A Little Of This & A Little Of That...

Germantown, Political, Wisconsin

Patrick McIlheran has accurately portrayed the new group supposedly trying to keep the Supreme Court race on an even keel, but there is some question as to whether they are going to do that or are simply going to electioneer against the conservative person in the race.  So far, they don't seem to like the fact that Justice Butler's voting record as a Justice is being discussed in what, to me, seemed an even-handed fashion.  Catch that here.

Community Columnist Gary Kraeger also has dealt very ably with a similar area in his column reviewing the transgressions of Justice Annette Ziegler.  Catch that here.

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Real Life Fire Department Thoughts...

The following Blog is a copy of a comment posted to the earlier discussion of whether or not the fire chief should be required to be EMT-certified.  It seems to have, as its objective, the creation of lemonade from lemons, and strikes me as worthy of consideration.

Should we require the Fire Chief to be EMT certified?  Perhaps.  What we should REALLY do is make EVERYONE on the fire department be cross trained as BOTH fire fighters AND EMTs.  In an era when cost-effectiveness seems to hold precedence over life-safety, how can we justify having so many people on the fire department NOT cross-trained?

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Health Care Consolidations Finalized...

Healthcare, Political, Taxes, U.S., Wisconsin

As we've all known for some time would occur, a couple of significant mergers, for us at least, have now been made complete.

Aurora and Advanced Health Care are now one entity.  And, ProHealth Care and Medical Associates are now one.  We've heard and read the assurances but we all know that things will change.  If things were not going to change, then why would each of the two acquirers have acquired?

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Fire Chief Seems To Be Left Twisting In The Wind...

Germantown, Political, Village Board

Germantown citizens have learned through the press that the sole employee to not receive a cost of living increase is Chief Pollpeter.  Every other employee has received that adjustment, and for many it came on top of an 'adjustment' to bring Germantown's compensation structure more in line with neighboring communities. 

It seems a stretch of the imagination that there could only be one outlier so far as satisfactory performance, but that is what we're asked to believe.  I could believe that there is only one employee with whom the Board and Administrator are at odds at this time, since it seems that has been going on since the beginning of this administration if not longer.

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Can We Learn From Mequon's Approach To Its Fire Department?

Germantown, Political, Taxes, Village Board

The morning Journal Sentinel carried an article written by Tom Kertscher that immediately struck me for its bearing on the issues we've been witnessing in Germantown.

The Mequon Common Council President has decided that he'll become a paid-on-call firefighter for the city.  The mayor doesn't like the implications and the city attorney recommends that the alderman steer clear of all issues.  The mayor was quoted as saying, "My personal belief is that you must recuse yourself from every discussion-public and private-dealing with the Fire Department."

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Smoking Ban In Wisconsin...

Germantown, Political, Wisconsin

The 'stop smoking' movement has done a great job in getting its point out.  So great, in fact, that most of us simply accept the idea now that all smoking in indoor public places will ultimately be banned.  Trade associations have rolled over and are now asking only that all their members be penalized as a single group so that all will be treated 'equally'.  Restaurants are willing to bite this bullet so long as all their competitors will have to do so, too.  It appears that taverns and bars are also falling into lockstep.

This is such a great example of the 'slippery slope' I continually talk about.  One seemingly innocuous thing leads us sheep to the next seemingly innocuous thing.  One day we awaken to find that the sum total of every little innocuous thing has added up to a significant occurrence.  (I could cite pre-WWII Germany, but that would probably be too emotional.)

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Incandescent Light Bulbs & Freedom...

Economy, Political, Potpourri, U.S., Wisconsin

How in the world can one combine freedom and light bulbs in the same context?  Well, let's see.

We are being told that incandescent light bulbs are being eliminated in favor of a nationwide conversion to the use of compact fluorescent lamps.  Those are, so far, considerably more expensive to produce (although subsidized by tax money to make them seem less expensive), are not capable of generating the kind of lumens to which we're accustomed, the color of light is different from what we're used to seeing and they have no where near the flexibility we find with incandescent bulbs.

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Health Care Cost 'Crisis'...

Education, Germantown, Healthcare, Political, Potpourri, Taxes, U.S., Wisconsin

Seemingly everytime we pick up a newspaper or periodical we see that health care costs have risen again.  The only real question anymore is 'How Much?'.  Of course, if we still have health insurance, the premium rates continue to go up and up.  What in the world can we do about this?  Would statewide mandatory insurance coverage do the trick?  Can we somehow legislate lower insurance premiums?  Are the drug companies really the culprits?  Maybe we simply need to move to Canada or Europe.

Recent studies show that our national health care spending increased in 2006 by 6.7% to $2.1 trillion.  That means that one out of every six dollars spent in our national economy goes for health care.  The 'good news' in this staggering number is that this is actually slower growth than we saw for 2005.  Apparently we're going in the right direction, even if too slowly.

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Smoking Ban Revisited...

Political, Potpourri, Village Board, Wisconsin

I was listening to Jay Weber on WISN 1130 this morning and he had a proposition to resolve the smoking ban issue that had been mentioned to him by Jerry Bott at the same station.

Why not give every restaurant and tavern owner sixty days during which time they would need to decide if they were going to welcome smokers or go non-smoking entirely?  Each would then be able to cater to those whom they would naturally attract.  The doors would carry a big sign telling people which way this establishment had gone.

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Frankenstein Veto On Spring Ballot...

County Board, Germantown, Political, School Board, Village Board, Wisconsin

Wisconsin citizens get the opportunity to vote on whether or not the 'Frankenstein Veto' should be eliminated by constitutional amendment.  This was made possible when the Assembly gave its final approval yesterday. 

The question will appear on the April 1st ballots.

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Another Healthcare Puzzle Piece Falls In Place...

Healthcare, Potpourri, Wisconsin

Have you ever heard of Progressive Healthcare?  No one else had either until the press release today announcing the achievement of a joint operating agreement between Columbia St. Mary's and Froedtert & Community Health.  Progressive Health will "financially integrate, govern and lead" Columbia St. Mary's and Froedtert & Community Health.

The new entity will have co-Presidents, Leo Brideau of Columbia St. Mary's and Bill Petasnick of Froedtert & Community Health.  (I don't recall too many co-Presidencies working out for any length of time.  Maybe this is simply part of the transition plan.)  The agreement is to be finalized in 2008.  (This provides a lengthy window which might indicate that there are some nitty-gritty issues yet to be handled.)

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Virtual Schools Being Strong-Armed...

Education, Political, Taxes, Wisconsin

Virtual schools have come under a very concerted attack by the teachers' union (WEAC) and now the Democratic-led Senate (Sen. John Lehman [D-Racine]).

Virtual schools must be doing a good job to have inspired this kind of attack from the establishment that 'owns' education.  Only the fear of exposure of new ideas seems to provoke such heavy-handed attacks.

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A Conversation With the Village Attorney...

Germantown, Political, Village Board

I received a call from Attorney John DeStefanis midday on Friday, and returned his call in the early afternoon.  He serves as Germantown's Village Attorney.  He had called to give me some information that might help me better understand the situation concerning our fire department and our our village trustees.  I had referenced his opinion as reported in the Journal Sentinel article covering what I thought to be a similar issue in Mequon.

I have been critical of Trustee Langer continuing to serve as Chair of the Public Safety Committee even though he has now ended his service as a paid-on-call firefighter in Germantown.  Mr. DeStefanis pointed out that there were two distinct issues involved.  Those issues are whether or not the 'offices' are compatible when two positions are held by the same person, and it addresses the potential for conflict of interest.  He pointed out that state statutes permit one person to serve as both a trustee and a firefighter simultaneously.  This is not incompatible so long as the position as firefighter wasn't created expressly for the person, that the person not earn greater than $15,000 per year, and that the person's selection as a firefighter was not vested in the government body on which he or she serves.  The Village Board does not hire firefighters, the open position was not created by the Village Board, and any selection process is made by the Police and Fire Commission, and not the Board.

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MATC Makes News Again...Bet They Hate That

Education, Germantown, MATC, Political, Taxes

Tom Kertscher writes about MATC and its new business incubator program in the January 20th Journal Sentinel.  It seems that the only press MATC can get is 'bad' press.  And they seem to get better and better at that. 

The article goes into the MATC's two urban business centers.  They have taken over old industrial building space and have rented that space in small increments to new businesses at very low rent cost.  The idea of business incubators, as the name suggests, is to enable them to mature in a protected environment until they're self-sufficient and can move out into the real world bringing jobs to the community.  Few of these businesses have reached the point of self-sufficiency which is not uncommon with new businesses.  Many more fail than succeed no matter where they start.

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Healthcare Consolidation & Collateral Damage...

Healthcare, Wisconsin

The phrase 'collateral damage' is most often associated with military battles when things adjacent to a target get 'broken'.

There is the potential for collateral damage in the world of healthcare, and we see that playing out today between Aurora, Wisconsin Physician's Service (WPS), Health EOS, and employers and employees.  As Aurora has managed to acquire and/or merge its way to the size that it is, it has become a very dominant healthcare entity.  It participates in networks (as well as stand-alone relationships), and network access is sold by Health EOS among others.  Health EOS, a preferred provider organization, is the product of consolidation/acquisition, as well.

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Tax Rates Up...Tax Collections Down?

Economy, Political, Taxes, Wisconsin

Have we finally gotten to the point where the lines on the graph cross?  Is it possible that politicians in Wisconsin have increased taxes and fees to the point that state revenue collection suffers?

There are ample examples of tax rate cuts actually increasing the amount of taxes collected.  It happens at the federal level and at the state level.  There are also many examples of the reverse.  Governor Doyle will probably not address this during his 'State of the State' message on Wednesday of this week.  He'll talk about the the economic slowdown and the need for belt-tightening at the state level.

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For Whom Does A Conservative Vote?

Economy, Political, Taxes, U.S., Wisconsin

For the first time that I can recall, there does not seem to be a clear stand-out in the Presidential primary races over whom a conservative can be excited.  True, there have been those over whom we got excited and elected, and we were disappointed.  But, this time around, I am having real difficulty coming to a conclusion.

Fred Thompson came and went.  His delay at the onset followed by the lackluster performance after he entered the race pretty well assured he wouldn't be a viable contender.  Too bad, because I thought his positions were closer to mine than those of anyone else.

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Governor's Solution To Expected Shortfall?

Economy, Healthcare, Political, SCHIP, Taxes, Wisconsin

Governor Doyle advised his audience last evening during the 'state of the state' message, that we were going to have to make some tough decisions and cut spending.

Then he proceeded to propose a new program called BadgerChoice that would have subsidies of $100 Million in the next budget cycle (beginning in 2009) and that would provide healthcare coverage for employees of firms under 50 employees.  Republicans were quoted as saying that a lot could be done to stimulate the lagging economy with $100 Million, but the governor would apparently rather spend that money on this program. 

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Tax Rebates = Income Redistribution

Economy, Political, Taxes, U.S., Wisconsin

We are apparently going to have a 'tax rebate' program that will send some $150 Billion into the economy in the May-June timeframe.

People who didn't pay taxes but had at least $3,000 of earned income will qualify for a rebate check.  People who had up to $75,000 of earned income will qualify.  People who had earned income of about $87,000 and up will receive nothing.  The higher income people will actually be paying taxes so that lower income people can get money back from the government.

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KRM: Keep Rail Money

Light Rail, Political, Taxes

KRM stands for the Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee rail commuter system and is used whenever the cognoscenti is looking for cute short-hand.

This thing just won't go away; not because it is an idea whose time has come, but because those who want it will keep hammering us over the head until we submit to their brilliance.  This system would supposedly make us the equivalent of a Denver, or San Diego or Minneapolis, or any other metropolitan area that has built such a system to rid itself of commuters on four wheels.

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Plethora Of Points...

Economy, Education, Political, Potpourri, Quality of Life, Taxes, U.S., Wisconsin

Earmarks...

The Republicans are fighting amongst themselves over whether or not to try to control their budget 'earmarks', and if so, how to proceed.  The party's elected members met over the week-end and failed to take any real steps to end earmarks.  The President is expected to address earmarks in his State of the Union address this evening.  It is reported that he will tell Congress that he'll veto any appropriation bills for 2009 that have greater than 50% as much in the way of earmarks as the same bill in 2008 carried.

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Aurora Pulls Out...

Germantown, Healthcare, Wisconsin

Aurora Health Care has withdrawn its proposal to SynergyHealth.  That proposal would've seen an affiliation between the two health systems.  I suspect it was withdrawn because Aurora knew it would not be selected by the SynergyHealth Board during its deliberations this week, and preferred to not be seen as a 'loser' in this quest.  Remember that a large group of that system's doctors had taken a public anti-Aurora position last year.

That leaves, apparently, the proposal from Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare and the proposal from what has now become known as Progressive Healthcare (the new entity being formed by Columbia St.Mary's and Froedert & Community Health).

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What About A New Elementary School?

Education, Germantown, School Board, Taxes

It may seem to be a little early to begin the discussion about the proposed elementary school that would be built if the April 1st referendum question about the $16.5 Million bond issue is approved, but we're going to do so anyway.  April 1st will be here before we know it, and this is a complex issue that deserves some thought and discussion.

I note that the Board has hired the Robert W. Baird organization to assist with the dissemination of information about the referendum, but I thought it would be good to get questions from those of you who are interested regardless of your position today or on April 1st.

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Congressman Sensenbrenner Has It Right...

Economy, Political, Taxes, U.S., Wisconsin

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner has been outspoken in his opposition to the tax rebate checks being proposed.  He voted against the bill that passed in the House of Representatives.

He has been speaking out on radio as well as in a Small Business Times Blog that appeared yesterday.  His position is that there should be no checks sent for several reasons:

  • First, the checks, if finally issued, will not hit the pockets of recipients until late-May to June, long after the impact in the marketplace would be desireable.
  • Second, past rebates of this nature have been proved to have had little beneficial impact on the economy since the bulk of the money didn't find its way into the economy.
  • Third, some $10 Billion of the total amount would be sent to those who paid little or no taxes in the first place.

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