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  • OPINION: When there's afternoon sports....

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) In Central Wisconsin, Rush Limbaugh is number one. During his three hour broadcast more adults in the Wausau-Stevens Point area listen to WSAU than any other radio station.

    Last summer, even though they missed the playoffs, the Brewers also won their ratings time slot. They had a 36-share… making them the most-listened-to nighttime broadcast on the radio.

    So what should we do when the Brewers have a weekday afternoon game that conflicts with The Rush Limbaugh Show?

    In past years we'd move the Brewers game to our sister-station, WRIG. Rush Limbaugh would air on WSAU without interruption. That solution doesn’t work this year. Since becoming WSAU-AM-FM, we are no longer allowed to split our broadcast between the AM and FM frequencies. Putting the Brewers on WRIG leaves the fans in Wisconsin Rapids, Marshfield, and Stevens Point without a way to hear the games.

    Here is how those situations will be handled this season:

    When the Brewers play on a weekday afternoon, we’ll carry their game live on WSAU-AM-FM. But we will tape delay The Rush Limbaugh Show, and will broadcast Rush once the Brewers broadcast is over.

    We’ll try out this new approach today, when the Badgers play an afternoon basketball game at the Big 10 tournament. The game broadcast begins at 12:15. When the game’s over, you’ll hear the 12-noon and 1pm hour of The Rush Limbaugh Show.

    Rush and our sports broadcasts are both very popular. This seems like the best way to handle weekday afternoon sporting events.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
    3.12.10

  • OPINION: Short-circuiting the process

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Rachel Campos-Duffy and Sean Duffy

    WSAU NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Dan Mielke is… average looking. He looks more like a farmer than a politician. Sean Duffy looks like he belongs on television… and he has been. More than ever, looks matter in politics. One of the reasons why Duffy is the preferred candidate among most Republican leaders is that he looks good. There are some, but not many, policy differences between the two. But Duffy would certainly be a stark contrast to David Obey, now 72 years old.

    Republican party leaders think he can give Obey a much tougher run than usual. And many believe that Duffy is the stronger candidate. Duffy has already attracted some national attention. And getting on the national party’s radar is the key to getting more campaign cash.

    One of the jobs of party leaders is to avoid primaries when possible. There are many cases of good candidates losing the general elections after facing a bruising, expensive primary fight. GOP Party leaders in Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District are trying to avoid that. They gave their endorsement to Duffy last weekend.

    Traditionally party leaders may work behind the scenes to pick candidates, but when a primary seems certain, party brass usually stays on the sidelines. I can understand who GOP leaders are not enthusiastic about Dan Mielke as a candidate. He lost by 26-percent two years ago. Still, Mielke is an improved campaigner, and he does have a core group of followers. They will ask whether Dan Mielke deserves a fair chance at the party’s nomination, and why party leaders are trying to short-circuit the process.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau
    3.11.10

  • OPINION: Gas tax redux

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) It’s a bad idea that refuses to die. The Wisconsin Transportation Development Association wants state lawmakers to return to an indexed gas tax.

    The TDA is a coalition of construction and road-building concerns. The more money that’s in the transportation trust fund, the more roads they get to build. Of course, they want as much money as possible in the fund.

    And I’m willing to debate how much money should be in the transportation fund. I’m willing to debate how that money will get there, via fuel taxes, registration fees, general fund revenue, or bonds. We can even debate what it will be used for, because there certainly will be a heated discussion about whether this money is just for roads or for other things (like high-speed train operating costs).

    What I’m not willing to debate is whether taxes should automatically go up without lawmakers taking a vote. That’s what indexing is. If the gasoline tax were tied to inflation it would automatically go up each April depending on the inflation rate. If you’re angry about a tax hike, you should at least have someone in office to hold accountable for it.

    And that accountability is specifically why the TDA wants an indexed gas tax. They know that lawmakers don’t have the political will to vote for a tax hike. And when lawmakers don’t have the political will for something, that means it’s bad policy.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
    3.10.10

  • OPINION: Was she sandbagged?

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) There are some people who considered Christine Van de Yacht to be a taxpayers' watchdog at Wausau City Hall, questioning policies and expenses within local government. Others see her as an abrasive and difficult personality. She readily admits there are some people who don't like her.

    For those who are unfamiliar with her story, Van de Yacht was a former Wausau alderwoman. She purchased the Golden Gurnsey Dairy property, which had been partially rehabilitated using federal block grant money. Local officials, who have wide lattitude over how block grants are spent, are not allowed to buy property that's been cleaned up with those dollars. The potential for conflicts of interest are too great.

    It seems likely that Van de Yacht didn't know the rules, or didn't know the property she bought was cleaned up with federal dollars. Any other explanation is non-sensical. A federal grant can't be hiden or covered up. It doesn't seem like she tried to get away with anything.

    But it is equally clear that federal block grant rules were violated. Van de Yacht was investigated by the city ethics board. They found that the rules had been broken, and recommended she be censured. The ethics board's finding was never voted on by the full city council, as Van de Yacht resigned from office before the council took action.

    A city council member may not know all the rules for federal block grants. Council members are part-time elected officials. They are not experts on the volumes of state and federal rules that come with some programs. City staff, who are the paid professionals to write and administer grants, know the most about these federal programs. It's entirely possible that city staff knew that Van de Yacht was about to break the rules and didn't tell her. She was disliked by some people at city hall. They may have kept silent until after she purchased the property, and then revealed her violation.

    For someone to be so unpopular at City Hall that they might be sandbagged says something about their personality. But this goes beyond staffers dislike a city council member. If there are city employees who knew but kept silent, they should be investigated. Their silence could have put future block grants at risk. Cities depend on those block grants to clean up polluted property. Being shut off from that money would be devastating for future economic development projects. If someone at city hall put grant money at risk to settle a score with someone they don't like, that story should be told.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau
    3.9.10

  • OPINION: The Wisconsin Way vs. The New Hampshire Way

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) ‘The Wisconsin Way’, a political action group, wants to change the way we pay for state government. Their proposal is to cut property taxes by 25-percent across Wisconsin. They’d make up the difference by raising the state sales tax, putting tolls on the highways, and putting user fees on almost everything else.

    At its core, this may seem like just dividing the pie a different way. Your tax bill might come out the same. You’ll get a lower property tax bill. You’ll pay more when you buy things. But be careful… this plan would represent a huge change in state policy.

    The issue is local control, and how much of it we’d lose if we pay more sales tax dollars to Madison. Dollars that are collected through your property tax are controlled by your town board, city council, or school board. They’re your neighbors. And if you need something done in your town or your schools, you speak to them and voice your concern.

    But try getting something… anything… changed at the state level. Even if you approach your state representative, they’re one voice of many, fighting for a small slice of the state budget. And there are huge policy areas that your state rep doesn’t have direct control over. If you have an ideal or a change, good luck dealing with the DNR, the DOT, State Consumer Protection, Department of Public Instruction, etc.

    As more of the costs of government fall to the state, we’ll see more regulation, less control, and more inefficiency.

    Consider a completely different model. New Hampshire has no state income tax. There’s no sales tax either. So there’s virtually no money on the state level. (The only sources of state revenue are a small corporate profits tax, highway tolls, and taxes on liquor sales.) Cities, towns, and schools get almost no state aid. That’s not where the money is.

    The drawback is that property taxes are high in New Hampshire. The big advantage is that there’s tremendous local accountability. When an alderman votes to set the budget and mill rate, there’s intense scrutiny from local residents. But if people want something done in their town, it gets debated at town meetings where local residents decide.

    I lived near the resort town of Wolfeboro, New Hampshire. It was a property rich town on Lake Winnipesaukee that had very good schools, parks with manicured lawns, and a fancy community recreation center. People in town said they wanted those things, and they were taxed accordingly. By comparison, property taxes were high. A half-hour to the south was Gilmanton, which had the lowest property taxes in the state. Their town had gravel roads, no municipal sewer system, and one schoolhouse that dated back to the turn of the century. Aldermen who proposed tax hikes would be voted out of office by their neighbors.

    More local control isn’t perfect, but it is better. When you lose local control, one day you’ll look around and realize that overall taxes are very high and you have very little say in how it’s spent.

    I prefer the New Hampshire way to “The Wisconsin Way’s” proposal.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
    3.8.10

  • TRAIN BLOG: The whiney kid

    Posted by Chris Conley

    TRAIN BLOG (WSAU) Never has something so good come from being a brat.

    It was the first day of summer vacation, and I was 8 years old.

    I would usually spend the first few weeks of summer vacation at my Grandma’s house in our old neighborhood in Brooklyn. The trip would start with a train ride from Fairfield to Grand Central Station. Then a walk through the big station to the escalators down to the subway. You’d take the Number 7 train one stop towards Times Square. Then a long walk through the underground passageway to the old Independent Subway station at 42nd Street. Wait for the F-train, and take it for the long ride to Kings Highway. Grandma’s house was a three block walk from there.

    Most summer vacations would start with me, my mother, and my younger sister making that train trip. We’d all spend a few days in the old neighborhood. Then mom and sis would go home, and I’d stay behind at Grandma’s place.

    But on the morning of our trip, my mother had a bad summer flu. She was sick in bed, and my trip to Brooklyn was going to be delayed.

    I whined. I cried. I tied everything an 8-year-old boy does to guilt their parents, including the classic line “If you really loved me….” My father would have none of it. “Get dressed,” he said. And he took me to the train station, and dropped me off.

    8-years-old is young to navigate a train trip from Connecticut to Brooklyn. But I knew the way, and off I went. Two hours later I was at Grandma’s house.

    And from then on, I could visit Grandma even on weekends when my family wasn’t with me. A few years later, I could go into New York by myself for all kinds of things.

    I look at my children now, and there’s no way I’d turn them loose like that. They’d be terrified, and they’d get lost. They also wouldn’t whine like I did.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
    3.6.10

  • OPINION: Changes at WSAU.com

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Starting this afternoon, you will notice some changes to our web site, WSAU.com.

    Most obviously, the WSAU home page will change. What will be different?

    • We’ll be able to display more news stories on the homepage, and the homepage will ‘scroll’ through our top stories. It will be easier for you to see what stories we’re covering.
    • We will add new podcasting capabilities. Newscasts, weather, sports, business news and our Center Stage feature will continue to be available as podcasts. Starting Monday, we’ll be able to make more of our on-air content available from the WSAU Wisconsin Morning News, WSAU Feedback, even high school play-by-play.
    • We will be able to display breaking news clearer than ever before. Urgent stories, weather warnings, and important programming alerts will display in a large red banner at the top of our home page. That banner will be linked to more information on those stories.
    • It will be easier to find WSAU’s blog and station events. They’ll be right there on the homepage.
    • We will have a bigger and better events section, where we’ll post sporting events and station events in our area. Eventually this will expand so community groups can post their events too.

    And these changes will help prepare our web site for live, steaming video from our studio, which is coming in the near future.

    In the meantime, you may notice that the WSAU web site doesn’t display correctly on your internet browser. We’ll have most of these cosmetic problems worked out in a day or two.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau
    3.5.10

     

    Here’s a separate newsblog item:

    Nancy Pelosi has been a bad Speaker of the House, but she has been good at lining up votes. I suspect she will be able to line up the votes needed for healthcare reform.

    She’s in a bit of a box, because her members have to pass the Senate bill as-is. But there are committee assignments to be offered, campaign cash to be dangled, the threat of facing a primary back home to be wielded. Madame Speaker has been good at using the tools at her disposal. And when she wins someone’s vote, that support tends to be solid.

    I’m not sure if Rep. Bart Stupack (D-Michigan) will cave over the abortion language. I’m certain some of his 12-member coalition will fold, or Pelosi will get the additional votes she needs from Blue Dogs who voted against the bill the last time.

    Whether the voters have a memory long enough to last until November is up for debate.

  • OPINION: Show us the contract

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) There’s a tentative contract agreement between the Wausau Teachers Union and the Wausau School District. I’d love to tell you what’s in it. We don’t know. Both sides have agreed not to release any details until after the school board’s vote on Monday.

    This is an outrage.

    What if the contract was tilted heavily towards the school board, with deep teacher cuts that would increase class-size? Wouldn’t parents want a chance to object before the final vote?

    What if the contract was a sweetheart deal for teachers, with a big pay raise that will drive taxes higher? Shouldn’t taxpayers have a chance to sound off before it’s a done deal?

    In reality, the contract is neither. But the public should still have a chance to hear the details and tell the school board what they think.

    The school board will vote on the contract Monday. School board members should vote ‘no’ on ratification so the public can review the agreement. Then the school board can take a vote a month from now after letting their constituents weigh in.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau
    3.4.10

    - - - - - - - -

    UPDATE - The Wausau Daily Herald agrees. They are running a front-page editorial on Friday: http://tinyurl.com/ydtbreu

  • OPINION: Dysfunctional government

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Businesses that are dependent on government, beware.

    There are many corners of our government that are dysfunctional… good luck getting them to perform the most basic functions. Like shifting sands, the rules can change at any moment. What you’ve been expecting to happen may not happen at all.

    And if your issue is something that’s low-profile, or doesn’t have the potential to score political points, prepare to be on the back burner.

    Here are just three examples from the world of horse racing. It’s a back-burner industry because so much gambling is done at casinos and through lotteries than at the horse track. But it’s still a highly regulated business, and nothing happens without government say-so.

    • Consider the case of Jerry D. Campbell. He’s a horse owner in Michigan. Michigan’s last thoroughbred track closed a few years ago, so he spent his own money and built his own racetrack. Pinnacle Race Course opened two years ago near Detroit. Their first year they raced during the summer and early fall with spectators watching under a giant tent until the grandstand was built. Last year, with construction complete, they raced four days a week from June to October. This year, with Michigan facing a budget crisis, the state budget eliminated the gaming inspectors, racing stewards, and regulators that oversee horse racing (even though they are funded through taxes on the money that’s bet). Pinnacle Race Course was told to cut their 2009 season in half, and that they could race only six days for all of next year. They are planning to go to court. Imagine spending millions to build something, only to find out your operating schedule is cut back to a week.

    • The New York Racing Association has been waiting eight years, and counting, for the State of New York to award a license to operate slot machines at Aqueduct Race Course. The license for the only legalized slot machines in New York City is incredibly valuable. Politically connected investors have been falling over themselves to woo state politicians. Governor George Pataki (R) couldn’t get democrats in the state legislature to award the license to investors who were seen as his political supporters. When Elliot Spitzer (D) was governor, he awarded the license to investors who were unable to pay the up-front fee. Now, with David Patterson (D) as a lame-duck governor, lawmakers want to delay the selection further so the not-yet-elected governor has something valuable to lavish on his supporters. Meanwhile, Aqueduct’s main grandstand is a half-completed construction zone, waiting for a slots parlor that may never be built. The racing association’s budgets assumed that slots money would be flowing years ago. New York State is losing out on millions of tax dollars each month.

    • Long-shuttered Hialeah Race Course came back to life last fall with hopes of opening a casino and getting its thoroughbred license restored. State law allowed the track to operate a money-losing quarter-horse racing season to qualify for the casino and thoroughbred license a year later. But a ruling from that state’s attorney general says the law violates a long-standing agreement with Indian tribes. Hialeah has already run two months of racing at a loss, and now needs a ‘repair bill’ to pass the Florida legislature for its license to be valid.

    You may not care about horse racing. Fewer and fewer people do. But there are lots of other business ventures that are dependent on government’s blessing… farming regulations… power plant permits… state environmental rules for factories…

    Government paralysis is becoming more widespread. Woe to the business that needs the government to do something before they can operate.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
    3.3.10

  • OPINION: Free breakfast?

    Posted by Chris Conley

    Egg and Cheese "Pizza," Raisin Bran, Milk and Fruit Punch

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Kids who get reduced-price lunches in the Wausau School District will now get free before-school breakfast. The school district announced the policy change yesterday. Only one-third of the kids who get discount lunches eat breakfast at school. The District would like to increase those numbers.

    But the entire underlying premise hasn't been examined, and may be flawed. The policy is based on the assumption that kids are arriving at school hungry. And, for a small group of kids, that may be the case. But there's no reason to jump to that conclusion. Other explanations for low participation in the school-breakfast program are far more likely.

    Before we go spending tax dollars to serve more corn flakes, english muffins and orange juice, lets consider some other possibilities. Maybe kids aren't eating breakfast at school because they're eating at home. Or because school already starts earlier than most parents' jobs, so getting them to school early for a meal is inconvenient. Or because breakfast is the cheapest meal of the day, even poor parents can afford it. Or because kids prefer the sugar-cereals they can get at home which are off-limits in a school cafeteria. Or because most school buses arrive too close to first-bell for kids to eat breakfast. Any of these, or a combination of all of them, explains why there's minimal interest in school breakfast.

    But what's the big deal about giving breakfast for free if there's a federal grant to cover it? Here's why: the federal grant starts out in our paycheck, yours and mine. Our employer pays an accountant to make the proper deductions and to send that money to Washington. Congressional aides and White House staffers put together a budget. Congressional leaders debate it and vote on it. A portion is given to the U.S. Department of Education. They debate how much will be devoted to school lunch grants. (They may get some advice from nutrition experts, or commission a study on the issue.) States and school districts then apply for federal grants. They collect income data from the families in their district, process the paperwork, and determine how many kids are eligible for the program. They submit that number to Washington, and they get a grant.

    Wanna bet all that costs more than the 30-cents the kids are charged for breakfast?

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau
    3.2.10

  • OPINION: I'm just not into it

    Posted by Chris Conley

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) Vancouver looks like a great city. And the Winter Olympics looked like a feast for the eyes. And like most people, I recognize the personal fulfillment that the athletes experience at their moments of golden triumph. And all of that is fun to watch on tv.

    But I had a hard time getting into these games. I find it difficult to have a cheering interest in sports that I don’t follow… and I can’t suddenly turn on my emotions when I watch downhill skiing, bobsledding, or figure skating once every four years.

    That’s why NBC produces those athlete profiles. They want to hook people like me, as if my emotions will be turned on or off after "meeting" an athlete who's about to compete. If I’m still not emotionally invested, maybe patriotism and a cheering for the red-white-and-blue will get my juices flowing. In hockey, it did. In Nordic skiing, and most of the other sports, it didn’t.

    I follow the NFL season from August to January. Even after the Packers are eliminated, I still have an opinion and an interest in who wins the Super Bowl. Part of it is I know good football when I see it. I don’t know good ski jumping or good ice dancing. And I don't want to invest the time to learn about triple-axels or the art of passing in short-track speed skating.

    Still it seemed like a successful Olympics. TV ratings were high. There was a lot of talk about the games. Aside from the tragic practice-run crash on the luge track, there wasn’t any big scandal to upstage the competition. We can all take a deep breath until two years from now, when we’re supposed to care about beach volleyball, shot-put throwing, and gymnastics.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager-Midwest Communications, Wausau
    3.1.10

  • OPINION: Does the process matter?

    Posted by Chris Conley

    barack-obama

    NEWS BLOG (WSAU) "The public cares about results. The public doesn't care about process." That's what President Obama said during last Thursday's health care summit. The context is whether health care will be passed via reconciliation in the Senate.

    This is a case where the Barack Obama is wrong. His miscalculation may be fatal to what's left of his first term and his presidency.

    There are no absolutes in politics. Generally when it's something the public wants, the process doesn't matter. When it's something the public doesn't want, the process goes under the microscope. And if the public thinks the process isn't above-board, opposition solidifies and becomes entrenched.

    An example: The senate got President Bush's first-term tax cuts passed using reconciliation. Most people like tax cuts. The tax cut debate was primarily a debate among politicians. Some wanted those dollars to stay in Washington. Others wanted to send money back to the American people. Most people like tax cuts, and don't care how they get them. This is a case where process doesn't matter.

    But health care is different. 78% of Americans already have coverage. Some people are reluctant about running up huge deficits for the 12% who don't. Some who have coverage are wondering if they'll be taxed on their Cadillac plans. Others are scared that their taxes will go up and their coverage will get worse. Enough people have enough questions that they prefer the imperfect status quo to comprehensive change. Against that backdrop, the process absolutely does matter. People might reluctantly accept policies they disagree with if the process is legitimate. But if people see the negative consequences of health care, and are reminded that it happened with 51 votes instead of 60 in the Senate, the backlash will be tremendous.

    And again, the White House strategy on health care escapes me. The latest word is that reconciliation won't happen for another 4-6 weeks. Translation: they don't have the votes in the house yet, and it will take about a month to round up the support that's needed. But time is working against this bill. As more time goes by, more people become skeptical. And as more backroom deals to get votes are made, public distaste for the process goes up.

    Process does matter when the policy is unpopular. And politicians who push unpopular policies through nine months before an election tend to be unpopular at the ballot box.

    Chris Conley
    Operations Manager, Midwest Communications-Wausau
    2.28.10