(WisPolitics) Milwaukee Notes

Milwaukee Notes
Quotes of the Week
Transportation forum
State MPS funding threatened
Ifill speaks at Marquette
Lt. gov. fundraising
5th SD fundraising
Kessler MPS proposal
High-speed rail debate
Neumann on Milw. jobs
Image assessment
Ryan on federal budget
'Green print' projects
Names in the News

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Milwaukee Notes

Automatic tolling should come some day ... not soon enough.
- Former state Transportation Secretary Tom Carlsen arguing that motorists in Wisconsin will someday be paying for roads through some form of "open road" tolling. He added that the "antiquated" gas tax for funding transportation should be raised. Carlsen was among the participants in a forum on Southeastern Wisconsin transportation Thursday. See more from the forum below.

Mayoral takeover is dead.
- Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc, after the Assembly closed a special session to consider a bill to change the administrative structure of Milwaukee Public Schools.

This bill is also before the Legislature right now. It's not going to go away.
- Gov. Jim Doyle disputing the argument that the MPS bill is dead due to the end of the special session. Watch Doyle's interview on Wisconsin Public Television's "Here and Now:" http://wpt2.org/npa/HAN829.CFM

MPS will not be able to survive as a viable educational system if children whose parents are involved in their education continue to send their children to suburban schools under open enrollment or voucher schools, neither of which currently needs to accept kids with special needs.
- Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, proposing an MPS compromise. See more in an item below.

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The Zoo Interchange, Wisconsin's busiest, needs to be rebuilt sooner rather than later while the state needs to boost the gas tax in the short term and move to automatic tolling in the long term to pay for growing costs.

Those were two themes emerging from today's forum on the future of southeastern Wisconsin transportation and the Zoo interchange. The event, before a crowd of about 100 people at the Medical College of Wisconsin, was sponsored by the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin and organized by UW-Milwaukee, MMAC and WisPolitics.com/WisBusiness.com.

Former state Transportation Secretary Tom Carlsen and Gretchen Schuldt, co-chair of Citizens Allied for Sane Highways, agreed that motorists would someday be paying for roads through some form of "open road" tolling.

Carlsen, DOT Secretary under former Gov. Scott McCallum, said while the gas tax mechanism for funding transportation is "antiquated," it needs to go up. "I think we need to raise the gas tax," he said in his keynote address, arguing it would be better than excessive transportation borrowing.

But, he added, "automatic tolling should come some day ... not soon enough."

Added Schuldt in a later panel discussion: "Tolls are inevitable." But she noted concern about "Big Brother" tracking car mileage.

Craig Thompson, executive director of the Transportation Development Association, also endorsed a gas tax increase to help fund projects like the expected massive Zoo reconstruction project.

"We need more money, and transportation is a return on investment for our economy," Thompson said, who also pushed a constitutional amendment to prevent diversions from the state Transportation Fund.

The panel also discussed sales tax boosts to pay for public transit and other needs, but some audience members endorsed user fees instead.

The discussion comes as southeastern Wisconsin is in the midst of a large scale and expensive transportation infrastructure upgrade.

The Marquette Interchange was finished on time and under budget, but now there's hundreds of millions being poured into the I-94 expansion between Milwaukee and the Illinois line, as well as emergency bridge replacement on the Zoo. On top of that is the federal-state high-speed rail and the KRM rail commuter line projects

“All (projects) need to get done. We can’t just pick and choose and say transit is necessary but then pick and choose. We can’t set a priority. All needs to get done, and that’s the challenge ahead,” said Kenneth Yunker, executive director Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission. The TDA's Thompson agreed.

But Schuldt said those were rosy outlooks, adding politics, funding shortages and taxpayer fatigue make prioritizing a necessity. She suggested the choices sometimes come down to better schools or better roads.

“We need to synchronize efforts and get all on the same page with cost factors to eliminate confusion,” added West Allis Mayor Dan Devine.

But the need for repairs on the Zoo interchange won general backing. Carlsen called the Zoo the "heartbeat of Wisconsin's economy." Said Carlsen, "We don't want it to go into cardiac arrest."

"There's no time to lose on this," said state Sen. Jim Sullivan of West Allis, who welcomed the group.

"The Medical College of Wisconsin’s No. 1 priority is transportation. We were disappointed with what happened with the budget last year. It is critical to get patients, faculty and students on our campus, especially when we serve over 1 million patients on our campus each year,” said Kathryn Kuhn, associate vice president of government affairs at the Medical College of Wisconsin. “We don’t want to wait until 2016; we need it now and need it done right.”

But it won't be easy. “It has been a perfect storm of design deficiencies in the last 50 to 60 years,” said Yunker.

According to Ryan Luck, project construction chief for emergency bridge replacement for WisDOT, the temporary repairs on the Zoo Interchange are contracted for $15.3 million. Construction has occurred primarily during the evening hours. However, ramps have been shut down on weekends.

According to Luck, there are two more closures projected for May and demolition on June 14. WisDOT is evaluating a long-term solution for the Zoo Interchange. Some have speculated the long-term plan could cost $2.3 billion, which would make it the most expensive project in state history.

“When the taxpayer invests money, they want it used wisely, and we need the confidence of the public to invest in this infrastructure,” Luck said later on the general topic of long-term infrastructure costs.

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DPI Superintendent Tony Evers has signed a notice that allows him to withhold up to $175 million from Milwaukee Public Schools unless the district takes corrective actions.

According to the agency, Evers can withhold or defer the money in order to compel MPS to follow up on corrective actions required to address its failure to meet "No Child Left Behind" standards. The agency has been battling with the district over its progress under the standards, and MPS maintains that it is already complying with goals set for it by DPI.

"Using the only tool allowed under state law, I am acting to ensure federal funds are used effectively to improve MPS," Evers said in a statement. "No one can or should be satisfied with the current progress in MPS to improve. I look forward to full cooperation to implement all required changes, with an increased sense of urgency, as I continue to work with MPS leaders."

MPS Superintendent William Andrekopoulos said he was "shocked" by the move, which he called unfortunate.

"It’s a significant detraction from all of the good work we have been doing and continue to do, with the constant and supportive interaction of DPI staff,” he said in a statement.

*Read the DPI release:

*See the MPS relese:

*See a letter to DPI:

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Longtime political journalist Gwen Ifill told Marquette University journalism students that she remains optimistic about the future of journalism – but that audiences must learn to distinguish true journalists from entertainers or opinion bloggers.

And she urged young journalists to be objective.

“The reason we exist is not to stand in judgment but to air what happens,” she said.

Ifill, author of “The Breakthrough: Politics and Race in the Age of Obama,” spoke Thursday afternoon at Marquette University In Milwaukee. The free lecture and book-signing was part of Marquette’s Centennial Celebration of Women.

Ifill is moderator and managing editor of PBS’ “Washington Week,” and senior editor of “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer.” She is a previous political correspondent for NBC News, and has been a reporter for the New York Times, Washington Post, Baltimore Sun and Boston Herald American. Ifill has covered six presidential campaigns, and also moderated the vice presidential debates during the 2004 and 2008 elections.

Her book, published after Obama’s historic election in fall of 2008 as the first African-American to win the presidency, explores Obama’s political success in winning over both black and white voters, but looks at the overall history of black politicians in America.

But although Ifill’s Thursday lecture was titled, “Politics, Policy and Reality: What’s really going on in Washington,” she did not talk about Obama or politics, but instead focused on her experience and her belief in objective journalism.

“At PBS NewsHour, we approach the news with a fairly simple premise,” she said. “We assume that you can decide what you think, if we give you the information to work with. We’re not to be confused – and never could be, I suppose – with cable television -- because you’ll never know what we actually think or that we actually reach any personal conclusions at all. But we believe that you are hungry to know, that the rigors of daily life have not managed to entirely obliterate the need for information what happens beyond the ends of our noses, beyond our neighborhoods.”

Ifill talked of her own experience breaking into journalism in the 1970s as a woman and as an African-American, at a time when, she said, both were barriers.

She credited her father, a preacher, for instilling in his children that they should never take no for an answer.

“That came in handy when editors in various places where I’ve worked tried to kick me to the curb,” she said. “Now most of them – all white guys – take credit for my career.”

Asked about criticism by some bloggers that Ifill would not be neutral while moderating a vice presidential debate during the 2008 election because she was writing a book about Obama, Ifill said she prepared months in advance and deliberately focused on readying questions equally for both candidates Joe Biden and Sarah Palin, despite the media frenzy over Palin at the time. In addition, she said, she signed the contract for the book at a time when she didn’t even think Obama would win and that she hadn’t even written the chapter on him because the election hadn’t happened yet.

After the debate aired, she said, questions of her neutrality were dropped.

Ifill told a student who asked whether the public no longer trusts the media that it’s up to viewers and readers to seek out unbiased news sources.

“Let’s get into the definition of the media,” she said. “People don’t know what the ‘media’ is because it’s Oprah and it’s Jon Stewart. I really think it is on you. There are a million places to go now for information – notice I don’t say news. You have to be discerning.”

Ifill’s book reports that Obama worked hard, during his presidential campaign, to keep the focus on his merits, not his color – and that at least to some extent, he succeeded in that. But she concludes that the question of race continues to be an issue for his presidency, as it does for all black politicians, who, she says, are inevitably chided for either being “too black” or “not black enough.”

On Thursday, she said she doesn’t believe people who claim to be colorblind.

“It’s the first thing people see when they meet you,” said. “The problem when talking about color is not that we don’t see it. It’s that we attach meaning to it.”

By Kay Nolan
For WisPolitics.com

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Milwaukee Ald. Tony Zielinski raised $87,287 for his lieutenant governor campaign during the second half of 2009, giving him the early financial edge in the Democratic primary.

Zielinski reported $130,575 cash on hand, well ahead of Madison businessman Henry Sanders of Madison and state Sen. Spencer Coggs, D-Milwaukee.

Sanders, who ran unsuccessfully for a Madison-area state Assembly seat in 2006, reported $19,268 raised and $16,735 cash on hand. Coggs reported $2,300 raised and $3,940 in his campaign fund.

On the Republican side, Ben Collins, who owns a defense technology company, reported $147,235 raised and $142,000 cash on hand. His totals include $60,110 that he gave his campaign.

State Rep. Brett Davis, R-Oregon, reported $104,827 raised and $105,871 cash on hand, while Superior Mayor Dave Ross reported $34,153 raised and $22,832 cash on hand.

Rebecca Kleefisch, a former Milwaukee TV anchor and wife of GOP state Rep. Joel Kleefisch, filed to run in the Republican primary after the last reporting period closed and will not have to file any campaign finance reports until this summer.

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State Rep. Leah Vukmir, R-Wauwatosa, raised $117,220 during the last half of 2009, the best fundraising total turned in by any of the top state Senate candidate.

But her opponent state Sen. Jim Sullivan, D-Wauwatosa, had a slight edge for cash on hand.

Vukmir reported $84,212 in the bank at the end of the year.

Sullivan raised $43,864 during the period and had a warchest of $94,310 in what will likely be the state's most expensive Senate race this fall.

"The strength of any campaign can be measured by the support a candidate receives from the people they intend to represent," Vukmir said in a statement. "I am proud to have earned the support of so many individual donors who know that Wisconsin is on the wrong track and that it is time to set a new course."

Their race is one of six in the state Senate that insiders are watching this fall.

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Rep. Fred Kessler, D-Milwaukee, has proposed new legislation aimed at bridging the gap between advocates and opponents of a mayoral takeover of Milwaukee Public Schools.

Under the bill, the school board would retain authority over school operations and the hiring of the district superintendent, but all district schools receiving public funds would be required to be licensed by a new city Office of School Standards and Licensure. The mayor of Milwaukee would appoint the chair of the new office.

In addition, the bill would ban private choice schools and suburban schools under open enrollment from discriminating against eligible MPS students based on special education needs.

Gov. Jim Doyle and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett have been pushing for legislation to give superintendent appointment to the mayor, but the change is opposed by some Democratic lawmakers who represent the district. The two sides have been unable to reach a compromise so far.

See the press release: http://wispolitics.com/1006/100202_Kessler_MPS.pdf

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BizTimes.com, which broke the story (http://www.biztimes.com/daily/2010/1/27/#wisconsin-to-get-810-million-high-speed-rail-between-milwaukee-and-madison) last week that the Obama administration has allocated $810 million to develop a high-speed rail line to connect Milwaukee to Madison, has become ground zero for commentary and news about the hotly contested issue.

The Web site has featured a series of blogs commenting about the high-speed rail project this week, and the commentary will continue next week.

Many readers are sounding off about the project. Here is a sampling of the lively discussion:

* “Mobile work force???? This train is another example of wasteful government spending. I'm all for the ‘common good’ but I fail to see the common good in any of this. Tell those that commute to take the Badger or Greyhound Bus instead of having us throw more money out the window for all of those empty seats!”

*”As for the 'business' leaders, every last one of them profits from this for their company and good for them taking care of their stock holders. It's what the stockholders pay them to do. But it is NOT in the common interest of the taxpayer. Not by a long shot. Come on people; use your heads; not the heads of those who give you promises without substance.”

* “May I respectfully submit that many of you are missing the larger point. This is a business competition issue. Europe already has plenty of high-speed trains. They're building high-speed trains as fast as they can throughout China. America needs them to remain competitive in a global economy. It is not optional. It is a must. This is bigger than Milwaukee-to-Madison ... Open your minds to the possibilities and think about public transportation in the 21st century. If we don't, America's standing in the global economy will continue to shrink.”

* “I live in Oslo, Norway part of most months as my partner Nick runs a global business from here. If people in Wisconsin could see what a train system---between cities and within cities - provides to residents and business alike, we'd all be dancing in the streets. Wisconsinites need to think bigger and longer term.”

For more of the ongoing debate, including a poll, go to http://www.biztimes.com.

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The latest disturbing employment numbers played into the hand of the one Milwaukee-area gubernatorial candidate who does not work in the county this week.

New statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show that the Milwaukee area saw the nation’s third-largest percentage drop in employment. According to the report (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/metro.pdf) the Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis market saw a 5.7-percent drop in employment from 2008 to 2009. Only the Detroit and Las Vegas areas fared worse, according to the report.

Referring to the new numbers, former GOP U.S. Rep. Mark Neumann quickly pointed at his Republican primary opponent, Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker, and the Democratic candidate, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

“This is the latest in a series of grim reports about the thousands of jobs that have disappeared from the Milwaukee area,” Neumann said. “The creation of good-paying, secure jobs is the No. 1 issue in the race for governor this year. This new report begs the question that my opponents should have to answer: where did all the jobs go on their watch? Based on this dismal record in the Milwaukee area, why should the people of Wisconsin now believe that either of my opponents knows how to create jobs as governor?"

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The Milwaukee Community and Economic Development Committee has approved a resolution to create a task force to assess the perceptions and image of greater Milwaukee and help to identify funding for ongoing branding in the future.

Milwaukee Alderman Terry Witkowski, primary sponsor of the resolution, says the task force will help establish an entity that is responsible for creating and maintaining Milwaukee’s image.

“Although a brand identity is important for tourism and conventions, in this global economy, a first-class city like ours needs a stable and recognizable identity for doing business,” Witkowski said.

For years, reports have shown that nationally people have mistakenly believed that Milwaukee is in Minnesota or identified Milwaukee as Minneapolis, Witkowski said. In the most recent study, many people failed to respond on questions about their perception of Milwaukee, presumably because they have no perception of or knowledge of Milwaukee, Witkowski said. For more, read the BizTimes story: http://www.biztimes.com/daily/2010/2/3/#new-task-force-to-assess-milwaukees-identity

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U.S. Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, locked verbal horns with Treasury Secretary Tim Geithner during a hearing of the House Ways & Means Committee this week.

Ryan said the Obama administration’s proposed budget is “amazing” because it does not do enough to decrease the federal debt. Geithner responded that the administration inherited $1.3 trillion in debt from the moment President Barack Obama stepped into the Oval Office.

Earlier this week, seven House Republicans voted against a proposal they had co-sponsored to create a bipartisan commission to address the federal government’s fiscal crisis. To view the animated exchange between Ryan and Geithner, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mERhPhnln9A

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The Milwaukee County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a second round of energy performance contracts for Milwaukee County, providing $6 million in Guaranteed Energy Savings Performance Contracts for energy-efficient upgrades at numerous County-owned buildings.

Based on recent energy audits, the infrastructure upgrades will be performed at several Milwaukee County locations, including indoor pools, the Milwaukee Public Museum the Criminal Justice Facility, the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, senior centers, Wilson Park Indoor Ice Arena, community centers and the Milwaukee County Sports Complex.

The upgrades include indoor pool covers, new lighting and solar-thermal hot water heating systems. The resolution calls for hiring Honeywell, Ameresco and Johnson Controls Inc. to provide Phase 2 Guaranteed Energy Savings Performance Contracting at selected County facilities.

“The $6 million goes directly into improving our county’s infrastructure. Many of our older, poorly maintained buildings will be retrofitted with the most energy-efficient upgrades. This saves taxpayers money, reduces the County’s energy use, and also preserves our county’s assets for future generations to come,” said Supervisor Marina Dimitrijevic said. “All of these energy savings are guaranteed, which is a great deal for Milwaukee County taxpayers, and some of the projects include significant water conservation as well.”

Milwaukee County’s Green Print requires that 20 percent of all county buildings must undergo technical energy audits to analyze potential energy savings.

Supervisor John Weishan Jr. chided Milwaukee County Executive Scott Walker for failing to champion the upgrades.

“Despite the county executive’s unwillingness to take a leadership role on implementing the Green Print, we have still been able to move forward with some of the initiatives of this important legislation,” Weishan said.

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CAMERON DAVIS, senior adviser to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator for Great Lakes Restoration, will deliver the keynote address at Marquette University's “Water and People” conference on Feb. 26. CURT MEINE of the Center for Humans and Nature and TODD AMBS of the Wisconsin DNR will also speak at the conference. See details: http://wispolitics.com/index.iml?Article=184313

STEPHAN THOMPSON has joined Milwaukee County Executive SCOTT WALKER's guv campaign as the deputy campaign manager. He'll assist campaign manager KEITH GILKES with day-to-day operations.

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