By Doug Hissom Special to Published Nov 28, 2007 at 5:20 AM
What's the most important issue facing the state these days? According to a recent poll by St. Norbert College, it's high taxes and government spending. No surprise there, really. The two have been at the top of the list likely since government was invented. About 35 percent of those surveyed think the tax structure is the problem. Some of those 35 percent upset about the budget say that government is spending money too much on the wrong things and too little on the right things.

In second place is government ethics. About 11 percent say this broad category is their top concern. Over half of the comments in the category say Gov. Doyle is the biggest problem while partisanship and politics was second. It appears that people are still smarting from the state budget process.

The economy concerned 9 percent of the survey. Unemployment and the need for more good-paying jobs got their emotions going. A category that is usually out of the view of our urban eyes -- the loss of family farms -- popped up here.

While dominating a few weeks of negotiating during the state budget negotiations this summer and fall, universal health care hit the top of the charts for another 9 percent of those surveyed. Quality and price were also cited.

Lack of education funding was on the top of the mind for most of the 8 percent who chose that category as the biggest concern. Overcrowding, teacher pay, dropouts and cost were also mentioned.

And here's another pocketbook issue -- gas prices. About 5 percent say prices are too high and we need alternative fuels.

Crime's always a biggie in an election year, but surprisingly not in this survey, checking in with 3 percent. Perhaps if the questions were asked solely in Milwaukee that issue would be near the top with taxes. One respondent said there were too many prisoners in the state.

The environment continues to drop, with about 2 percent saying that pollution, energy and water use should be at the forefront of the state agenda.

And in the stuff pundits look at more closely than issues, Gov. Doyle was given a satisfactory grade less than a year after his re-election. The survey says Doyle gets the nod for doing a good job from 54 percent of the folks asked. About 44 percent said they weren't happy with Doyle the summer before the 2006 election, which had the GOP drooling that he was one of the most vulnerable incumbents in the country, but in just a year he seems to have repaired that image.

Part of that is due to the Legislature stalling the budget for more than a 100 days. And it seems to have taken the brunt of the negative perception as survey respondents show serious disdain for the folks who work under the dome. About 50 percent say they are dissatisfied with those doing the will of the taxpayers and a mere 41 percent are relatively content with their actions.

St. Norbert's surveyed 401 people in the last week of October and the first week of November, for a survey with a margin of error of plus or minus 5 percent.

It's Logging Season Along the Milwaukee River: Clear-cutting along the Milwaukee River has apparently been en vogue recently as cases in Glendale and a long-running dispute in River Hills are ending up in court and negotiated settlements.

The case in River Hills involves the tony Milwaukee Country Club and its leaving the banks along the river devoid of some quarter-mile of trees in order to build a new tee box for its golf course and open up some views of the river. The cutting of some 20 mature trees happened last year.

Fueled by persistence from club neighbors Fred and Ann Vogel, the Friends of Milwaukee Rivers has gotten involved in the issue as well, asking that the village adopt stronger shore land protection measures. The Village Board -- with several country club members making up a majority on the board -- has found that the club has not violated shore land protection, despite the fact that the Friends noted that erosion has already started on the river banks. In a closed session meeting last week the board adopted a plan that would allow Vogel and the River Hills Environment Committee to work out an agreement with the country club.

In Glendale, the issue is more intense. The Friends of Milwaukee's Rivers and Midwest Environmental Advocates earlier this month filed an intent to sue Heartland Development and ACT Planning and Development for clear-cutting five acres along the Milwaukee River near Estabrook Park in Glendale using the Clean Water Act. Again the issue is shoreline erosion.

New Life for South Side Clinic: A venerable South Side institution, the Johnston Health Clinic, 1230 W. Grant St., will go under yet another transformation according to the latest plan by the city. The former hospital, a mainstay of South Side health care, has most recently been operated as a clinic by the city, which has been looking to get out of the business.

"When we had broken bones from the playground that's where we used to go," says Ald. Jim Witkowiak, a South Side native.

Under a proposal up for vote this week, the city would declare the property surplus and sell it for $1 to Mercy Housing Lakefront, Inc., operators of homeless dwellings that offer on-site social service counseling. Mercy is currently active in the Chicago area.

Witkowiak says he welcomes the new owners as does the neighborhood. Most of the homeless and low-income people that will be served by Mercy are from the neighborhood and not imported from other parts of town, the alderman assured. About 90 units will be created. Mercy will also invest several million dollars into the clinic, he says.

It's the latest chapter for Johnston, a fortress-like structure with terrazzo floors and sturdy construction, although it needs substantial upgrades. When the city first indicated it wanted to get out of the clinic business on the South Side after federal funds were to run out at the end of last year, a proposed clinic swap with Aurora and the 16th Street Community Health Clinic didn't materialize, but Aurora helps fund doctors at the clinic. The city has one other such facility, the Isaac Coggs Clinic, which had financial issues that threatened its existence, but now has expanded to the Northwest side. New management came in and stabled the ship.

Damage Control: It looks like another popular North Side club will close its doors after a weekend shooting. A gunfight between two men and some armed guards outside Club Escape, 6263 N. Teutonia Ave. resulted in one death. There were estimated to be 400 people in the club.

Ald. Ashanti Hamilton called for the club owner to turn in its license. Instead, owner Thomas McNeal and manager Craig Berry issued an unsigned press release, stating, "This sort of violence cannot be tolerated, nor can we allow common thugs to destroy the economic development in this city by making the cost of doing business unbearable for business owners. ... I have sought out counsel who will contact Ald. Hamilton office along with the mayor and the Police Department to determine just how to best protect my customers in the future."

Doug Hissom Special to
Doug Hissom has covered local and state politics for 20 years. Over the course of that time he was publisher, editor, news editor, managing editor and senior writer at the Shepherd Express weekly paper in Milwaukee. He also covered education and environmental issues extensively. He ran the UWM Post in the mid-1980s, winning a Society of Professional Journalists award as best non-daily college newspaper.

An avid outdoors person he regularly takes extended paddling trips in the wilderness, preferring the hinterlands of northern Canada and Alaska. After a bet with a bunch of sailors, he paddled across Lake Michigan in a canoe.

He lives in Bay View.