- Associated Press - Monday, April 8, 2019

The Journal Times of Racine, April 15

Lottery winner? Your municipal bills should be paid first

Despite mounting evidence that bipartisan action by Wisconsin’s elected officials is wishful thinking on our part, we’ll keep advocating for it. Because we believe that’s what Wisconsinites want, and we believe that taking bipartisan action is the right thing to do.

Today we again advocate that Republicans in Madison take note that Gov. Tony Evers’ budget does contain ideas the GOP can get behind. One in particular has to do with Wisconsin Lottery winnings.

Lottery winners looking to splurge may have to scale back if they’ve failed to pay property taxes, parking tickets or other city bills under a provision in Evers’ budget proposal, the Wisconsin State Journal reported April 8.

The provision, requested by the Department of Revenue, would allow cities and counties to enter agreements with the agency that would allow it to collect municipal debts from residents who win more than $600 in the state lottery.

In addition to parking tickets and property taxes, debts could include things like fees for ambulance rides, outstanding utility payments for municipalities that run their own utilities, and “any payment that would be owed directly to a municipality,” said DOR spokeswoman Patty Mayers.

The change would expand an existing program that allows the state to collect back state taxes and child support payments from lottery winnings, and is similar to an existing program that allows municipalities to collect outstanding citizen debt from state tax refunds.

That debt can be substantial.

Madison Finance Director David Schmiedicke said the city is trying to collect some $7.6 million in outstanding debt through the existing state program, $7.3 million of which consists of fines levied by the municipal court for violation of various city ordinances.

In Dane County, there was some $7.8 million in delinquent property taxes on the books going back to 2007, according to the treasurer’s office.

As the State Journal report pointed out, with the Legislature controlled by Republicans, nothing in Evers’ budget proposal is a sure thing, and legislative leaders have said they intend to craft their own budget.

We’d like to see Republican leadership get behind this particular Evers proposal. Municipalities should be able to collect what they are owed. Those fines are bills that need to be paid.

We also don’t believe that anyone will be deterred from playing Powerball by the possibility of having some of their winnings going to their delinquent property-tax bill.

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Janesville Gazette, April 10

Seat belts should be standard on buses

The school bus crash in the town of Beloit that injured four students last week should have parents and school officials demanding all school buses come with seat belts.

This bus didn’t have them. The students probably escaped more serious injuries because the bus never topped 22 mph, according Beloit Turner School District Superintendent Dennis McCarthy.

This crash is proof that it takes more than a skilled bus driver to safeguard students. In this case, the bus driver suffered a medical emergency and lost consciousness. Knowing such emergencies can happen to anyone at any time, equipping buses with belts seems like a small price.

Installing seat belts would likely be a years-long process for the Beloit Turner School District. The Janesville School Board decided in 2009 to phase in seat belts by requiring them in new buses. The district contracts with Van Galder Bus for bus service and pays Van Galder an additional $9,200 for each bus to have seat belts installed. Today, 13 of the district’s 27 standard-sized buses have belts, while belts are on 15 of the district’s 16 small buses (costing $3,400 for each bus).

A school bus operates for about 20 years, which means all Van Galder buses serving Janesville should have belts within about 10 years.

Whether students are actually buckling up on Janesville buses is another question. “While the seat belts are installed on some of the buses, it is very difficult for a bus driver to mandate and check continued use of the seat belts throughout their routes,” Janesville School District communications specialist Patrick Gasper said.

Ensuring students use their belts will require students, bus drivers and parents alike to treat seat-belt safety for buses like they do for passenger vehicles. The carefree days of parents shuttling their unbuckled kids around town are long gone. Indeed, children can’t even ride in the front seat anymore and, in Wisconsin, must sit in a booster seat until they’re 8 years old.

Society’s view of seat belts has evolved, but less so for school buses. We suspect many safety-conscious parents, who would never dare let their child ride in a car without a belt, would not be alarmed to learn their child rides a bus without belts.

This kind of attitude must change. Seat belts should come as standard for school buses, not an add-on.

Some people might argue children aren’t in as much danger when traveling in a large, heavy bus, but the crash in Beloit suggests otherwise. If children can get injured traveling in a bus at 22 mph, imagine what could happen at 40 mph or faster.

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