July 28, 2014

Panel examines funding and governance of tech colleges

A legislative committee examines Wisconsin Technical College System funding and governance responsibilities. Lawmakers hear from experts at the state Capitol on “viable options to lowering property taxes.”

Joe Murray with the Wisconsin Realtors Association cites recent polls showing property tax is the “most onerous” tax for Wisconsin residents. He says, “According to a poll conducted by American Strategies conducted for the Wisconsin Realtors Association this February, 60 percent of Wisconsin voters feel that property taxes are too high.”

A Marquette Poll recently asked residents which tax would they cut if given the chance. Among homeowners, 48 percent said property taxes, 31 percent said income taxes, and 19 percent would cut sales taxes.

Morna Foy is president of the tech college system. She says they are now seeing less state investment in the system, while experiencing an increase in demand for their services. 

Since the mid ’90s, the tech college property tax levy has increased by 156.5 percent. Todd Berry, president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, says funding for the tech schools should be considered in the larger context of state tax reform.

Berry adds, there must be more cooperation among the different areas of education in our state. “We have a K-12 system; we have a tech college system; we have a higher ed system; we have no department of education; we have no secretary of education; we have no czar of education in the governor’s office.” So, he says, “whatever cooperation or collaboration is going on is voluntarily, largely, and of course turf will always be an issue.”

Berry says there needs to be optimally designed education and its administration in Wisconsin in order to use the system most intelligently and strategically.

Andrew Peterson is president of the System Board. Touting the significance of tech colleges, he says over 84 percent of their graduates remain in the state. He calls it the “reverse brain drain.”

State Representative John Nygren (R-Marinette) is chair of the Joint Council Legislative Study Committee, which met Thursday at the Capitol. He says the ever-growing tech college property tax levy has contributed to Wisconsin’s high property tax burden relative to other states — a burden, he says, on families and senior citizens living on fixed incomes. It also negatively impacts economic growth and home ownership in our state.

Nygren believes the goal of the study committee should be to explore ways to reduce the tech college tax levy while protecting the critical link between tech colleges and communities, employers, economic development associations, and K-12 schools.

Walker, Burke tied in new Marquette poll

Mary Burke and Governor Scott Walker (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson, file)

Mary Burke and Governor Scott Walker (PHOTO: Jackie Johnson, file)

Republican Governor Scott Walker is slightly ahead of his likely Democratic challenger Mary Burke among registered voters in the latest Marquette Law School Poll. Though, Burke leads by one point among likely voters.

Poll Director Charles Franklin says the numbers haven’t changed much from the last poll in May. 

Walker gets the support of 46 percent of registered voters and Burke receives 45 percent. Among registered voters likely to vote, Burke leads Walker 47 46 percent — a statistical dead heat. “Really no meaningful change from the May poll to this poll in July,” says Franklin.

Among independents Walker narrowly leads Burke, 45 percent to 44. In May Walker was ahead among independents by a higher margin, 49 percent to 40.

The poll was conducted July 17-20 and included 804 registered voters. The margin of error is 3.5 percent on the full sample, 4.3 percentage points among likely voters.

Burke for Wisconsin Communications Director Joe Zepecki released a statement following the release of the poll. He states, in part:

“Wisconsin voters know we need a new direction, and are responding enthusiastically to Mary’s comprehensive plan, based on her success in the private sector, to grow the economy and create more good paying jobs.  …  Walker’s barrage of attacks are about one thing – distracting voters from his abysmal record on job creation as his vote, job approval and favorability continue to slip.”

Milwaukee lifts cap on taxi limits

Milwaukee lifts its cap on the number of taxis that can operate in Wisconsin’s largest city. 

It’s a victory for individual taxi drivers in Milwaukee and smartphone-based businesses that want to compete with existing cab companies; so says Larry Salzman, an attorney with the Institute for Justice.

A coalition of cab drivers joined the law firm in filing the lawsuit that resulted in Tuesday’s Common Council unanimous vote. “The bottom line is that the taxi cartel doesn’t have a right to be protected from competition.” Salzman says, ” This new law embraces the right of all drivers to earn an honest living by getting into business for themselves. That’s good for drivers; that’s good ultimately for taxi owners; that’s great for consumers.”

Salzman explains this type of “freedom” offers transportation options for consumers and it’s good for transportation entrepreneurs of all types, whether that means individual taxi owners or some of the alternative services like Uber and Lyft, which offer peer-to-peer ride-sharing services via a mobile app.

Some long-time taxi drivers have threatened to file suit. “There are some old owners who would like to see their monopoly preserved,” he adds, “and they’re undoubtedly unhappy about this ordinance; but taxi owners, the large taxi cartel owners, don’t have a right to force the government to protect them from competitions. So, they have no legal claim.”

The Institute for Justice stands ready to intervene and “protect the driver’s right to earn a living,” Salzman says, if existing cab owners ultimately do sue to “preserve their monopoly.” New drivers must follow all the same rules — background checks, car inspections, and they must have insurance on their vehicles. 

Last year a circuit court judge ruled Milwaukee’s cap was unconstitutional. Tuesday’s Common Council’s vote complies with that order. Mayor Tom Barrett is expected to sign the measure which would take effect in September. In lifting its cap, Salzman says, Milwaukee becomes one of the freest cities in the nation for drivers looking to enter the taxicab market.

Another call for blood


(Jackie Johnson file photo)

(Jackie Johnson file photo)

The American Red Cross has an urgent need for blood and platelet donors of all types to help prevent a blood shortage and ensure an adequate blood supply.

According to the communications director at the American Red Cross, someone in the U.S. needs a blood transfusion every two seconds, and every day the Red Cross must collect 15,000 donations to meet the needs of patients.

Platelet donors and those with O-negative, B-negative, and A-negative blood types are especially needed. To schedule an appointment, call 1-800-Red-Cross or visit RedCrossBlood.org.

Wisconsin company creates Weird Al’s new video

Whiteboard animation

Whiteboard animation by TruScribe

Weird Al’s newest video has a connection to the Badger State.

A Wisconsin company is responsible for making the newly-released Weird Al Yankovic music video, as the parody artist releases eight videos in eight days.

“When we got the call from Al and his company, we asked the same question: ‘Why? Why’d you pick us?’”

Eric Oakland, chair and chief innovation officer of TruScribe, says it took ten months to create this whiteboard animation video for Weird Al’s Mission Statement, which debuted on Monday.

The Fitchburg company has made a lot of long-form training and marketing videos for corporations using popular buzzwords — many of which are included in Weird Al’s parody, including “synergy” and “administrate.” Oakland says, “When a parody artist picks you to kind of epitomize the parody, you gotta have a little humor about it.”

Oakland says his entire staff of 18 — all Weird Al fans — had to keep this a secret for nearly a year. “Yeah, the hardest part was when he invited out to a concert in Milwaukee and we got to go back stage and be at the concert and everybody got photos with him. They wanted really badly to be able to share those with their friends online.” He says everyone knew that waiting, keeping the secret and being able to share it on when the time was right would be more rewarding than the instant gratification.

AUDIOAs for making a “behind the scenes” video, Oakland says that would be “awesome.” :20

Mission Statement is sung to the tune of “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes” by Crosby, Stills & Nash. It’s the final music video in a string of releases on the new Mandatory Fun album.