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E-mailers’ budget tips flood McCallum’s site


May 7, 2002

If some people had their way, there would be “for sale” signs in front of the Governor’s Mansion.

In the public buildings that remain, thermostats would be dialed down by at least 2 degrees. And the “big shots” who govern from these buildings would see no pay raises this year.

These are a just a few of the hundreds of cost-saving suggestions e-mailed by residents to Gov. Scott McCallum since Jan. 31.

The governor’s office has received comments via e-mail for years, but in response to the $1.1 billion budget deficit, it tried something different.

A page was added to the governor’s office Web site where people are encouraged to submit “ideas on how to reduce the state budget or your local budget.”

The response was immediate. “We started getting 20 to 50 an hour,” said Debbie Monterrey-Millett, a spokeswoman for McCallum. “It was crazy for a while, but it was nice to hear from people with ideas.”

The Post-Crescent of Appleton asked to review e-mail records, as allowed by the Wisconsin Open Records Law. Many of the more than 1,200 e-mails were unsigned and few of the people who did sign their names indicated where they live. The responses ran the gamut.

Some people used the opportunity to vent.

“Raise taxes and quit playing games with our lives! You are a bunch of dopes! You are ruining our state!” wrote Jim Ferber of Milwaukee.

Others had suggestions on how the state could save money.

“Retire me! I cost you over $62,000 per year. If I were replaced the new employee would cost the state about $47,000 per year,” wrote Kenneth Dicks.

“Eliminate the Wisconsin State Patrol,” wrote Shawn Reilly.

“Require all state employees to have their pay direct deposited,” wrote Edward Hermansen.

Roger Zee suggested the state sell the Governor’s Mansion. Jane Smith suggested a wage freeze for “big shots,” and David Ellison said the state should turn down the heat in public buildings.

“People can always wear warmer clothing,” he wrote.

Paul Lauer of Woodvillecalled for fairness in the property tax code and said there should be breaks for small businesses. Lauer wrote: “If you politicians keep harming us in an effort to protect your ‘special interest lobbying groups’ and your ‘taxpayer funded job’ you will someday have a mountain of the ‘proverbial feces’ hit the fan!”

Jeremy Shepherd, a policy assistant in the governor’s office, directs the incoming e-mail traffic.

He said every e-mailed suggestion gets a response and e-mails are categorized and forwarded to appropriate policy teams.

This spring, Shepherd provided daily reports to McCallum, who used the responses to help gauge the public’s thoughts on the budget problem.

“He likes to know what people are thinking,” Shepherd said.

The governor’s proposed cuts to state-shared revenue drew a heavy response, Shepherd said. He said a majority of the e-mail responses were against cuts, but responses from people who telephoned or corresponded via mail were more balanced.

Contacted about his suggestions, Lauer said he thinks e-mail communication with government is a good idea, but there is a potential for abuse.

“Does one really know who is sending the e-mail?” he said. “Will the governor or our public decision makers be misled with spammed canned protest or support e-mail? But then, do you really know who is sending regular mail? Or even telephone solicitations?”

Lauer said e-mail should not replace one-on-one communication between people and the business of the state.

“Was I heard?” he said. “Only the governor knows for sure.”

On the Net: Gov. Scott McCallum, www.wisgov.state.wi.us.

By Ben Jones, Gannett Wisconsin Newspapers. Copyright © 2002 to Gannett Wisconsin Online.


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