Category Archives: Politics

Paying for Premiums

Yes. Do it.

Gov. Scott Walker made the case on Monday for a requirement in his two-year budget proposal that would make some K-12 education funding contingent on districts’ compliance with Act 10.

Under Walker’s spending plan, teachers would be required to pay at least 12 percent of their health costs in order for a district to receive per-pupil aid increases of $200 in the first year of the budget and $204 in the second.

Remember that 12% is still FAR below the average for all workers. It’s even far less than the average for government workers. Here are the numbers:

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Tell me again that 12% is out of line?

“More than enough” Money for Transportation

Yep. And since there’s “more than enough,” can we refund the surplus in the form of a tax cut?

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said Monday there is “more than enough revenue” to fund transportation projects without increasing the gas tax or vehicle registration fees.

Reports last week indicated the governor might be willing to consider raising registration fees, but Walker told reporters at the Capitol he doesn’t have “any interest” in doing that. He said he has explicitly stated his opposition to a gas tax hike because lawmakers have raised the possibility.

“I don’t know of anyone in the Legislature who’s talking about vehicle registration fees,” Walker said. “For us, I think there is more than enough revenue out there. I’m willing to work with them.”

Finish the job and repeal prevailing wage

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

Another battle in the long war to repeal Wisconsin’s Prevailing Wage Laws was launched this month when Sen. Leah Vukmir (RBrookfield) and Rep. Rob Hutton (RBrookfield) reintroduced a bill in the state Legislature to repeal the prevailing wage law for state projects. The bill faces an uncertain future in the face of massive opposition from powerful special interests.

Wisconsin’s prevailing wage “law” is actually a series of laws that were passed during the Great Depression with the goal of protecting local workers from losing their jobs to migrant workers who were willing to work for lower wages. The law essentially requires that any businesses that work on a public project of any size must pay the prevailing wages for the area in which the work takes place.

The prevailing wage is determined by a flawed process by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development that heavily favors inflated union wages. The result is Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law protects large, unionized contractors at the expense of inflated prices for taxpayers and non-union contractors.

Intrepid conservative Wisconsin lawmakers fought hard to fully repeal the prevailing wage law in the 20152017 state budget. The result was a compromise that repealed the prevailing wage law for local governments and school districts, but left it in place for state projects. The bill from Vukmir and Hutton would finish the job by repealing it for state projects too.

The reason the fight to repeal the prevailing wage law is so heated is quite simple: money. As it stands, Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law props up the profits for some of Wisconsin’s largest private contractors. Those contractors donate an extraordinary amount of money and support to politicians on both sides of the aisle who like to spend taxpayer dollars on big, expensive projects.

In the 2015 battle over prevailing wage, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and other members of the Assembly leadership actively worked to thwart the repeal of prevailing wage. They could not resist the overwhelming public pressure and were forced into the compromise repeal. Last legislative session, Representative Andre Jacque had the temerity to hold a hearing on prevailing wage reform in his role as the Chairman of the Assembly Labor Committee. Jacque’s fellow Republican,

Vos, punished Jacque by stripping him of his chairmanship for the current session.

The reason to repeal the prevailing wage law is one of conservative principle – or of laissez-faire economics, if you prefer. The government should not enforce artificial labor prices or meddle in the free market. Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law does just that and it results in the government distorting the market and encouraging crony capitalism.

While one would like to think that our state lawmakers would consistently act on principle, repealing the prevailing wage law would also be in their self-interest.

There is another war waging in the Legislature over transportation spending. The prevailing wage law aggravates that issue by inflating spending on state transportation projects. A 2015 study by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance showed the state’s prevailing wage law was responsible for up to $300 million per year in unnecessary costs. In terms of Wisconsin’s biennial budget, that is potentially $600 million that could be used for additional transportation spending without borrowing or raising taxes. Such a windfall would release a lot of the political steam that is heating up the debate over transportation spending.

While it was disappointing that Wisconsin’s prevailing wage law as not fully repealed in 2015, state lawmakers now have the opportunity to finish the job for the benefit of state taxpayers. They should quickly pass Vukmir and Hutton’s bill and put it on Governor Walker’s desk – preferably before the state budget so that lawmakers can include the potential windfall savings into their budget calculations.

New School Board Members Sworn In

So the School Board President has one year of experience. Great.

Tiffany Larson was selected as the new president of the West Bend School District Board of Education after board members Nancy Justman, Joel Ongert and Tonnie Schmidt took their oaths of office.

The meeting was called to order by Board Treasurer Monte Schmiege, as prior to the meeting he was the only remaining officer on the board. He also requested a raised-hand vote for the new president.

The group of six ultimately voted privately between Schmiege and Larson.

Killers Ask Court to Stay Execution Due to Good Health

SMH.

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Two Arkansas inmates scheduled to be put to death Monday in what could be the nation’s first double execution in more than 16 years asked an appeals court on Sunday to halt their lethal injections because of poor health that could cause complications.

Lawyers for Jack Jones and Marcel Williams asked the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals on Sunday to grant them stays of execution.

Jones’ lawyers say he suffers from diabetes and is on insulin, has high blood pressure, neuropathy and had one leg amputated below the knee. He is on heavy doses of methadone and gabapentin. They say he may be resistant to the lethal injection drug midazolam because of the drugs he is taking for his maladies and could suffer a “tortuous death.”

Lawyers for Williams say he weighs 400 pounds and it will be difficult to find a vein for lethal injunction, so the drugs are unlikely to work as intended.

So much wrong with this… let’s start with how fat these guys are after being on death row for 20 years. Of course we should feed prisoners, but do we have to let them eat enough to blimp up to 400 pounds? And now that the prison did let them get that fat, remember that all of the related health care expenses are being paid for by the taxpayers.

Whether you support the death penalty or not, how can anyone take this bizarro argument seriously? They are sick so we shouldn’t carry out their sentences? If you find yourself having any sympathy for these men, remember that they are on death row for a reason:

Both Jones and Williams have admitted they are guilty. Williams was sent to death row in 1994 for the rape and murder of Stacy Errickson. Jones was given the death penalty for the 1995 rape and murder of Mary Phillips.

Trump Denies Sanction Waiver to Exxon to Drill in Russia

Well, that’s going to make cabinet meetings awkward.

“The Treasury Department will not be issuing waivers to U.S. companies, including Exxon, authorizing drilling prohibited by current Russian sanctions,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, said in a statement Friday. Mnuchin said he consulted with President Trump on the decision.

Exxon had applied for a waiver from sanctions imposed by the Obama administration in a bid to resume its lucrative joint venture with Russian state oil giant PAO Rosneft.

In a statement, Exxon said “we understand” the decision by the Treasury Department. Exxon explained that its application for a license was aimed at meeting the company’s “contractual obligations” in Russia, where competitors are allowed to drill under European sanctions.

Shhhhhhh… I’m Hunting Woodchucks

How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if you shot it in the butt?

Rep. Andre Jacque and Sen. Tom Tiffany began circulating the bill for co-sponsors Thursday. The measure would remove woodchucks from the state’s protected species list and establish a hunting season for them from the beginning of July through the end of December with no bag limits. The legislators say the animal is abundant and they’ve heard complaints about woodchucks eating gardens and flowerbeds and causing damage by burrowing along sidewalks, driveways and building foundations.

We had a couple of woodchucks in our yard a few years ago. The local hawks took care of them.

Walker Walks Fine Line on School Referendum

This looks like something of a semantic argument.

BLANCHARDVILLE (WKOW) — Gov. Scott Walker told 27 News Thursday he does not want to penalize school districts that increase operating revenues through referendum votes, putting him at odds with some Republican lawmakers who put forth that proposal last month.

Walker made those comments after speaking to students at Pecatonica High School.

[…]

“The question might be whether or not the aidable assistance goes up. realistically, if there was anything, that would be more of the adjustment, it wouldn’t be taking money away,” said Gov. Walker. “It would just a be a question of whether you’d be giving more to those districts who choose to do that, because one of the other complaints I hear from school districts is, if they choose not to do that, they feel like they’re penalized if they operate within their budgets and somebody else goes beyond that. But I certainly wouldn’t penalize it.”

As I read that comment, Walker does not want to “penalize” school districts that pas an operating referendum, but he is okay with an “adjustment.” Walker is saying that if a school district wants to increase their taxes and spending through a referendum, that’s fine, but state taxpayers won’t be kicking in anything extra.

Hillary’s Watching

This is hilarious.

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Partial Repeal of Minimum Markup Law Introduced

Huzzah, huzzah.

[Madison, Wisc…] On Tuesday, Sens. Vukmir and Craig and Reps. Ott and Murphy introduced a bill to repeal portions of Wisconsin’s antiquated Unfair Sales Act. Also known as the minimum markup law, the Unfair Sales Act mandates higher prices and outlaws the sale of retail goods at below cost.

The minimum markup law requires that alcohol, tobacco, and motor fuel are marked up 3 percent at the wholesale level, 6 percent at the retail level for alcohol and tobacco, and 9.18 percent at the retail level for motor fuel. It also forbids retailers from selling most other products below cost.

The Unfair Sales Act is a depression era relic of big government protecting the profits of businesses by limiting competition. The whole thing should be tossed into the dust bin. This is not the first time a bill to repeal some or all of it has been introduced and every attempt has failed. Why? Because there are a lot of Wisconsin businesses who like the law because it guarantees them a minimum level of profit and prevents their competitors from beating them on price. Who loses? Consumers who pay unnecessarily inflated prices.

This time it looks like Vukmir and Ott have limited the repeal to only cover alcohol, tobacco, and fuel. I assume this is an attempt to reduce the amount of opposition to the bill from the retail business lobby. Unfortunately, I don’t think it will work. Those same lobbyists will fight this bill because it would open up a crack in the law that could be expanded in subsequent sessions.

I completely support this bill and encourage my representatives to do the same.

Why the Rage Against Chemical Weapons?

He has a point.

The Obama-Trump doctrine that the United States will enforce a global norm against the use of chemical weapons is strategically pointless and morally arbitrary. Strategically, it requires the United States to invest its time and resources policing a weapon this is not qualitatively different from conventional weapons. Morally, it amounts to a declaration that the United States cares more about the murder weapon than the murder victim.

Assad, for example, has killed hundreds of thousands of people, but we’re only supposed to get upset when he kills them with chemical weapons? The reasoning for opposing chemical weapons is that they can be deployed in an arbitrary fashion that kills a lot of innocent people and they result in a gruesome death. One could make the same case for the MOAB.

Washington County Board Considers Moving Back to Old Courthouse

I look forward to seeing the results of the study.

Members of the Executive Committee convened a meeting Monday, but instead of gathering at the Washington County Government Center, they chose to assemble at the former Washington County Courthouse as an experiment for organizing future board meetings at the site.

Committee supervisors provided their blessing to evaluate the feasibility of moving the board’s meeting location because the venue does not provide adequate access for the public, especially for those with disabilities since the room does not conform to the American with Disabilities Act.

“It was brought up because of the ADA issues really in the current board room,” Clerk Ashley Reichert said.

It would be cool for the board to meet in such a historic building, but I’m not keen on paying more taxes for “cool.” I do think it is a bit funny that the Washington County Government Center, built a couple of decades ago, is not ADA compliant but the building built in 1889 is.

Dairy farmers feel slap of the Invisible Hand

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. In this age of populism and protectionism, it is bound to be unpopular. Here it is:

Dozens of Wisconsin dairy farmers with thousands of cows received a letter a few weeks ago that spoiled their year. Grassland, the company that had been buying their milk, told the farmers that they could no longer buy the farmers’ milk because of a new Canadian policy that has dried up the demand for American milk. The calls for government action throw kindling on the friction between Americans who believe in free trade and those who support protectionist policies.

The price of milk for Canadian dairy processors is set by the Canadian Dairy Commission. The way they set prices was based on a complicated process, but the end result is that the price that Canadian dairy farmers received for milk was substantially higher than in the rest of the world. By comparison, a Canadian dairy farmer received almost 50 percent more for his or her milk than an American farmer.

This artificial pricing sounds great for Canadian dairy farmers, but economies are dynamic and protectionist policies rarely have the desired effect. Canada’s participation in NAFTA and trade agreements with the European Union and other entities give other countries fairly free access to Canadian markets to sell their goods — including milk. While the high price of milk for Canadian dairy farmers sounds good on paper, the actual result is that Canadian dairy processors were buying most of their milk from American dairy farmers because it was cheaper. In other words, Wisconsin dairy farmers were directly benefiting from what was supposed to be a protectionist policy by Canada to prop up prices for their own dairy farmers.

The new pricing policy from the Canadian Dairy Commission would allow Canadian dairy producers to buy milk at whatever the global price is. The new policy is arguably promoting freer trade by dropping an artificial price of milk and allowing it to fluctuate with global supply and demand. Canadian dairy farmers will no longer get the higher prices for their milk, but they will be able to sell more of it. Canadian dairy processors and consumers will benefit from saving the cost of transporting milk from distant places. Wisconsin dairy farmers are being hurt by the policy because the artificial demand for their product that was created by the old Canadian policies has now dried up. While the new policy is arguably freer than the old policy, there is no question that it favors Canadian dairy farmers over foreign ones.

With so many Wisconsin families hurting, one question is what, if anything, should our government do in response? In an increasingly rare bout of bipartisanship, both of Wisconsin’s U.S. senators are calling upon the Trump administration to do something about the new Canadian

policy. Sen. Tammy Baldwin has called the policy an “unfair trade scheme” and Sen. Ron Johnson said Wisconsin dairy farmers should not be “victims of a trade dispute they didn’t start.”

What should the American government do? Should the Trump administration demand that Canada reinstate artificially high milk process for their own dairy producers? Should America enact retaliatory protectionist policies on other goods?

The free trade of goods and services in a market economy has proven to be the most efficient and economical way to align supply with demand. The United States has been a perfect example of this. Our large, diverse national land mass means that our nation has a diverse and robust internal economy that allows for specialization. Instead of Wisconsin having to try to provide our own milk, beef, oranges, wheat, iron, copper, etc., the lack of trade barriers with other states allows Wisconsin to focus on developing the natural abundances within our state and buy the natural abundances of other states. As Adam Smith said, “never attempt to make at home what it will cost him more to make than to buy.”

The same is true in a global economy. Free trade is the most efficient, economical and fair way to allocate scarce resources to the greatest benefit of the most people.

But getting to that greatest benefit means that some folks will feel the sting when they are slapped by the invisible hand. Problems arise when we react to that inevitable sting by trying to protect that which the market no longer needs.

Wisconsin’s dairy farmers have benefited for years by an ill-conceived Canadian milk pricing policy and are feeling the sting of that policy being changed.

Our reaction should not be to enact further barriers to trade and further distort the market. Instead, our reaction should be to help our dairy farmers find a new market for their milk, or help them reallocate their resources to produce something for which there is market demand.

Walker Signs Project Labor Agreement Neutrality Law

Great!

De Pere – Governor Scott Walker signed Senate Bill 3 into law today at Amerilux International, LLC in De Pere. The bill promotes neutrality in the bidding process for public works projects as well as healthy competition between contractors.

“Accountable government means ensuring our taxpayers receive quality service,” Governor Walker said. “By forbidding state and local governments from requiring contractors to enter into agreements with labor organizations, we’re promoting healthy competition between contractors. At the end of the day, this means the contractor ultimately chosen for the project is the one that has demonstrated excellent service and will work at good value for Wisconsin taxpayers.”

Tax Reform in Danger

It’s a good thing that Congress is taking a couple of weeks off to rest and relax.

(Reuters) – U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the Trump administration’s timetable for tax reform is set to falter following setbacks in negotiations with Congress over healthcare, the Financial Times reported on Monday.

Mnuchin told the Financial Times in an interview that the target to get tax reforms through Congress and on President Donald Trump’s desk before August was “highly aggressive to not realistic at this point”.

“It is fair to say it is probably delayed a bit because of the healthcare,” Mnuchin told the newspaper. (http://on.ft.com/2oPJlTX)

Protests Erupt Over Trump’s Tax Returns

Uh huh… this doesn’t look like astroturf at all. 

Protesters in cities across the country came out Saturday to call on President Trump to release his tax returns.
Demonstrators came out in large numbers in about 200 other cities, including a few outside the U.S., according to organizers.

Images of tax protesters in cities including Washington, Philadelphia, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and New York flooded social media.

Trump has said that Americans “don’t care at all” about his tax returns, but polls show 74% of Americans say he should release them.

I’d like to see his tax returns too, but I’m far more interested in his policies and how he executing his office. I think the American people made it pretty clear that they don’t care too much about this when they elected him. But the lefty power brokers sure love to rile up their base over this.

Government Safety Net

Literally.

(CNN)The Golden Gate Bridge has a problem: horrifyingly high suicide rates. The community has a solution: a net covering the perimeter of the bridge.

It sounds like a simple response to a complex problem, but the barrier is a big task. In May, crews will begin to erect fencing along the approaches and tower legs, but that deterrent is only temporary. From there, workers will take careful measurements to begin installing a net that extends 20 feet out along both sides of the 1.7 mile long bridge.
The installation will begin in 2018 and the Golden Gate Bridge, Transportation and Highway District expects construction to be completed in 2021.
And this isn’t your average net. It will be constructed from stainless steel — light enough to be inconspicuous, but strong enough to save lives.
[…]
Costing $211 million to design, plan, and construct, the project is a group effort. The funds are coming from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Caltrans, the Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District, state mental health provisions and private donations.
Isn’t it interesting that a city that prides itself on free expression and individual liberty (as long as it’s liberal) would deny people the ability to kill themselves? Who are they to interrupt someone exercising an alternative deathstyle?
Also, if someone jumps off of the bridge and lands in the net, couldn’t they just crawl over to the edge of the net and jump again? It’s not as if the slightly reduced distance is any less deadly.
$211 million and three years to put up a 3.4 mile net… only in government.

Roggensack Reelected Chief Justice of WI Supreme Court

Great!

State Supreme Court Chief Justice Patience Roggensack will continue to serve in that role for another two years.

Justices on the court have voted to keep Roggensack in the position, which she has held since a state constitutional amendment was passed in 2015 that changed the process for naming the chief justice. Prior to the amendment’s passage, the position was held by the most senior member of the state Supreme Court – which is currently Justice Shirley Abrahamson.

This story reminded me of how things used to be when Abrahamson ran the court. Remember how dysfunctional and controversial the court had become? There were stories of bitter fights, open hatred, and it all spilled into the public resulting in vicious campaigns and partisan warfare.

Now? Not so much. The court appears to be running pretty well and people are generally happy with its functioning – as evidenced by the fact that Justice Ziegler just ran for reelection unopposed. What a difference a change in leadership makes.

Trump Indulges in Waffles

Actually, “waffle” isn’t the right word… these are complete flip flops.

US President Donald Trump has said Nato is “no longer obsolete”, reversing a stance that had alarmed allies.

Hosting Nato Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at the White House, Mr Trump said the threat of terrorism had underlined the alliance’s importance.

He called on Nato to do more to help Iraqi and Afghan “partners”.

Mr Trump has repeatedly questioned Nato’s purpose, while complaining that the US pays an unfair share of membership.

The Nato U-turn wasn’t Mr Trump’s only change of heart on Wednesday.

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, he said he would not label China a currency manipulator, despite having repeatedly pledged to do so on his first day in office.

He was right the first time on both counts. China is a currency manipulator. And NATO is obsolete in its current form. It was designed to counter a single threat that no longer exists.

Middle Class Hit Hard by Wisconsin’s Income Tax

From the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance.

MADISON—With tax season fresh in mind, many residents know that Wisconsin’s individual income tax ranks relatively high among the states, 12th highest according to available federal figures. What is not well known is that rank varies depending on taxpayer income from as high as 10th to as low as 32nd. A new analysis from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance (WISTAX) shows that middle-income filers with taxable incomes between $50,000 and $150,000 are particularly affected.

For a hypothetical married couple in that range, income taxes rise surprisingly quickly as income increases. Drawing in part on calculations from the Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence, WISTAX found that:

– At $20,000, a typical couple owes -$591; that is, no tax is owed and a refund of $591 is received. That is 51% below the national average (-$391), and places the state 32nd among the 41 states with income taxes. At $35,000, the Wisconsin burden (+$125) is 65% below the US average (+$353) and ranks 25th.

– At $50,000, the typical Badger State bill is $1,383, 19th highest and on par with the US norm ($1,358).

– Over the next $100,000 of taxable income, however, state income taxes here jump quickly compared to the average. At $75,000, a Wisconsin bill averages $2,811, 13th highest and 16.4% above the US mean ($2,415). At $100,000 of income—appropriate for spouses each with $50,000 of taxable income—the state burden is again 16.4% above average ($4,297 vs. $3,693) and ranks even higher (10th). Finally, at the $150,000 level, the average Wisconsin tax ($7,069) ranks 13th, 13.7% above average ($6,217). At higher income levels, burdens were 7.8% to 15.4% above average, with ranks in the 13th to 18th range.

Why are income taxes relatively high on middle-income filers? One reason is that they are the state’s main revenue source : “With only 10% to 15% of income either under $40,000 or above $500,000, the state turns to those between $40,000 and $150,000—where over half of income to tax is found,” notes WISTAX President Todd A. Berry.