September 6, 2009

Investigative reports, news and updates

The LRB has compiled a list of online tools for tracking the environment and disease.

The LRB has compiled a list of online tools.

Environment and health:

Online tools help keep tabs on water, air, land, disease

Wonder how clean your drinking water is, or whether Wisconsin government has ever listed your favorite lake as contaminated?

The Legislative Reference Bureau, a nonpartisan agency serving the Legislature, has compiled a list of online tools for monitoring the environment. If you want to know about pollutants in the Wisconsin air, water or land or instances of possible pollution-related diseases, such as cancer or birth defects, you can find the Web sites in the Reference Bureau’s latest report. The site also contains health advisories, information about contaminated sites and other reports.

Campaign contributions:

Doyle campaign contributors favor DNR control by governor

The Wisconsin Democracy Campaign, a nonpartisan government watchdog, reports that interest groups that tend to favor keeping the governor in control of the Department of Natural Resources have donated $4.14 million to Gov. Jim Doyle’s campaign since 2003, while those in favor of making the environmental agency independent have donated only $17,175— a $241 to $1 ratio.

Doyle’s opposition to a legislative proposal to return control of the DNR secretary to a citizen board instead of the governor has left some surprised, especially considering the position he took before becoming governor. When former-Gov. Tommy Thompson and the Legislature originally changed long-standing control from a citizen board to the governor in 1995, then-Attorney General Doyle opposed allowing governors to hire and fire DNR secretaries.

Media reports quote Doyle as previously calling gubernatorial control over the DNR secretary, “a wholesale attack on the way we protect the environment.”

In his campaign for election in 2002, Doyle said he favored giving control back to a Natural Resources Board. Legislation that would do just that passed committees in both houses this week.

Government transparency:

Department of Justice to host free seminars on public records and open meetings

Attorney General J.B. Van Hollen and the Department of Justice will host seminars on public records and open meetings this fall to educate government officials and the public about their rights and obligations under state law.

The seminars are free, but advance registration is required. Seminars will be presented by video conference in Eau Claire, Green Bay, La Crosse and Rhinelander on Sept. 25, as well as in Milwaukee on Oct. 8 and Madison Oct. 9. To register or learn more, visit the DOJ Web site or call 608-267-1307.

The economy:

Tax collection down last year, legislative agency says

Preliminary tax collection figures show the economy is doing about what state officials predicted, according to a new Legislative Reference Bureau report. It found that 2008-09 tax revenue was down 7.1 percent from the previous year but only down .02 percent from what state officials had projected.

Wisconsin brought in about $12.1 billion in collections, including $44.8 million less in general sales and use tax than expected, $7.5 million less in cigarette taxes and $3.7 million less from insurance company taxes. However, the state also saw $38.7 million more than projected in individual and corporate income tax revenues and an additional $14.5 million from the franchise tax.

Final tallies for the 2008-09 fiscal year will be available in mid-October. More information about the Department of Revenue’s totals, and a chart comparing actual revenue to estimated revenue, is available in the Reference Bureau’s latest report.