Bicyclists don’t need no stinkin’ tax breaks

From an article by Bill Berry in The Capital Times:

STEVENS POINT – As long as various groups are seeking relief from onerous and burdensome taxes, why don’t we have a tax break for bicycle commuters?

Many of us in this category have commuted to and from work for decades. OK, let’s be honest. We feel sorry for the poor souls trapped in motor vehicles. They look so forlorn and detached from the world around them. Bicycle commuters, on the other hand, have no choice but to be attuned and aware, with 2,000-pound monsters all around us.

Frankly, biking to and from work is the best part of the job. In a city like this one, a brisk morning ride through residential neighborhoods is a gift not to be underrated. There are birds and gardens and tidy lawns along the way. The bustling rail yards that bisect the city are full of sights and sounds. . . .

On second thought, forget it. We get enough benefits anyway. We’re not a bunch of fat-cat beggars looking to skirt our civic responsibilities. We’re doing our part, and we already know we’re getting a better deal by hopping on a two-wheeler. We already save money by biking. We arrive at work fit, awake and ready for the day’s tasks.

We don’t need no stinkin’ tax breaks. . . .

Walker road plan driving him crazy

From a commentary by Steve Hiniker, executive director of 1000 Friends of Wisconsin, in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Gov. Scott Walker’s proposed budget has more than enough pain to go around. Schools get hit with more than $800 million in cuts over the next two years. Recycling programs are not funded. Health care for seniors and the poor are slashed. Local road aids are cut. Some transit systems may not survive the proposed reductions. State revenue sharing is going down, putting more pressure at the local level to cover the costs of cuts to state aids – and without raising property taxes.

It’s called austerity.

Unless you happen to be a road builder.

Then this budget is called a bonanza.

While other programs are cut, highway expansion projects totaling more than $400 million get the green light. Highway expansion raids the general fund of more than $140 million, crushing any arguments that “highway users pay for the costs of roads.” In fact, the general fund and property taxes will pay about half of roadway costs in the future. So-called user fees are soon to be eclipsed by decidedly nonuser fees.

When you look at the increase in highway spending, it is also important to pay attention to where the money goes. Local road aids are cut, meaning that even though there is more money going for major highway expansion, there is less money for local units of government to fix those bone-jarring potholes that crop up every spring. Maintenance dollars for highways are down as well.

Walker has said that the highway expansion is needed for our economic recovery. The governor is putting a lot of faith – and capital – in having superhighways be the cornerstone of the state’s economic recovery. After all, he could have put the money in building better communities with better schools as a basis of economic development.

All of this seems bizarre when you consider that we are driving less than ever. We are in the fifth year of a steady decline in miles driven by each Wisconsin resident. The numbers of miles driven will likely decline even more as the cost of gas continues to climb above $4 a gallon. In fact, it is because we are driving less that the governor is proposing to raid the general fund for highways.

As people drive fewer miles with more fuel-efficient vehicles, they use less gas and the amount collected in gas taxes decreases. So in order to expand highways, non-transportation fund dollars need to be raised. This is why Walker is pushing transit aids out of the transportation fund and is raiding everything from general fund dollars to the environmental fund to pay for bigger roads.

But if people are driving less, why expand highways?

Drive Smart Wisconsin teaches fuel-efficient practices

From an article by Tom Content in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Rising gasoline prices will pack a punch to pocketbooks this year, leaving consumers less inclined to buy big-ticket items, economists say.

But a Milwaukee group wants to help consumers keep from overspending on fuel.


• A report by the Energy Information Administration said that, on average, a typical American household driving about 20,000 miles a year will see gas prices surge about $825 this year, based on the recent run-up in fuel prices to near record levels.

• A similar consumer hit is forecast for Canadian consumers in a recent economic forecast from CIBC World Markets, which found that the run-up in prices means that a greater share of household income is being spent on filling gas tanks than at any time except 2008. That will have consequences for sales of everything from big-ticket items like cars to every day items such as groceries, CIBC economists say.

“The rise in food and gasoline prices since the start of the year has effectively offset most of the benefit to (U.S.) consumers from the recent tax stimulus,” said CIBC economist Peter Buchanan in a recent report.

That’s where Drive Smart America, a business with a passion for getting great gas mileage, comes in.

Drive Smart America has trained drivers at Veolia Water Services, the Milwaukee Department of Public Works and other local fleets on smart-driving techniques that result in less wasted fuel. The business is led by Bradlee Fons of Pewaukee but includes experienced hybrid drivers who have been able to top the gas mileage charts.

Fons routinely gets more than 80 mpg in his Honda Insight hybrid – and has hit 100 in summer driving. On a recent drive in a minivan to see his son in La Crosse, Fons managed 33 mpg in a vehicle rated to get 24 on the highway.

The initiative is part passion, part business. The 6-year old Milwaukee Hybrid Group is changing its name to Drive Smart Wisconsin and hopes to stage more events like a tire pressure checkup held last year in Waukesha County. Fully inflated tires can be an important factor in improved gas mileage.

Westfield first in DNR green program

From an article by Jen McCoy in the Portage Daily Register:

Because the Westfield School District continues to demonstrate a high level ecological stewardship, it became the first school to enroll into a state program dedicated to superior environmental performance among businesses.

“For a school district to say, ‘We’re going to start managing our full environmental footstep,’ that’s a big step,” said Mark McDermid, cooperative environmental assistance bureau director for the Department of Natural Resources.

Westfield applied for and was accepted into Wisconsin’s Green Tier program, run under the DNR, which encourages businesses to move beyond regulatory compliance and promote superior environmental performance. About 30 businesses are in the program.

“We got recognized for what we already achieved, and we’re going to prove what we can accomplish in the future,” said Scott Peterson, district transportation director.

In 2008, the district began producing biodiesel for district transportation needs from oil donated by local restaurants and businesses. The biodiesel reduced emissions by about 70 percent compared with petro-diesel and saved the district at least $100,000. To further reduce waste, the district turns glycerin, a byproduct of the biodiesel production process, into earth-friendly hand and laundry soaps sold in area stores, such as Pierce’s in Portage.