Category Archives: Politics

Administration Estimates $103 Million In Savings if State Self-Insures

Do it.

“Self-insurance allows us to get a taxpayer savings of $103 million with no changes to benefits to state employees,” Department of Administration Secretary Scott Neitzel said Friday during a press conference with Walker’s budget director Waylon Hurlburt and Deputy Insurance Commissioner J.P. Wieske.

The $103 million in savings includes the $60 million in general purpose revenue, a $22 million health insurer fee under the Affordable Care Act and $21 million worth of premium increases that would not materialize if the state self-insured, according to Hurlburt.

But critics say the Walker administration numbers are misleading because bids for health plans aren’t due until June 30, so the figures are based on assumptions.

Um… budgets are always based on assumptions…

 

Worst President Ever

While I suspect that these results will remain substantially the same over time relative to each president, I suspect that the huge variances are because the respondents to this poll suffer from recency bias.

worstpresident

Republican Wins in Montana

It does seem that despite the media saying that there will be a huge electoral backlash against Republicans because of Trump, they have disproved that assertion in every test election since November.

Bozeman, Montana (CNN)Republican Greg Gianforte has won the special election for Montana’s open US House seat, CNN projects, defeating Democrat Rob Quist and capping off a whirlwind final 36 hours of the campaign that saw Gianforte being charged for allegedly assaulting a reporter.

In his acceptance speech, Gianforte apologized by name to Ben Jacobs, the Guardian reporter who accused the Republican of “body-slamming” him and breaking his glasses.
“When you make a mistake, you have to own up to it,” Gianforte told his supporters at his Election Night rally in Bozeman. “That’s the Montana way.”
Saying he was “not proud” of his behavior, he added, “I should not have responded the way I did, for that I’m sorry. I should not have treated that reporter that way, and for that I’m sorry, Mr. Ben Jacobs.”
Members of the supportive crowd shouted, “You’re forgiven.”

UK Sharing Again

That was quick.

Britain has reopened information-sharing ties with the US again – less than 24 hours after suspending intelligence sharing over leaked evidence from the Manchester bombing.

An extraordinary row erupted between British and US authorities after highly sensitive images of the blood-smeared remnants of attacker Salman Abedi’s backpack and a diagram showing precisely where his victims died were handed to the New York Times.

The halting of intelligence sharing with the US happened for what is understood to be the first time.

It applied only to intelligence related to the Manchester attack.

JFC Advances Measure to Require Work for Welfare

It’s a move in the right direction.

The state Legislature’s budget-writing committee voted on Thursday to require some Wisconsin residents using food stamps and receiving public health care to be tested for drug use and to meet work requirements in exchange for benefits.

The Joint Finance Committee, the state’s budget-writing panel, voted 12-4 to approve Walker’s plan that would make Wisconsin the first state in the nation to make drug tests mandatory for Medicaid recipients and would impose tests on adult food stamp recipients without dependent children seeking coverage through the state’s BadgerCare program.

Some parents with children over the age of 6 who are enrolled in the state’s FoodShare program, which administers federally funded food stamps in Wisconsin, also would be required to work or look for employment for at least 80 hours per month under another measure proposed by Walker that the panel approved Thursday. The work requirement currently only applies to FoodShare recipients without children.

The panel scaled back the governor’s proposal by applying the work requirement to parents using food stamps in certain regions of the state between April 2019 and June 2020 and not allowing the requirements to be applied statewide until an evaluation indicates it should be.

Brits Concerned About American Leaks

I don’t blame them. What has become clear is that some in our intelligence community have become very comfortable with leaking classified information – usually to advance a political agenda. In order to put a stop to it, the DOJ needs to find some of the leakers and really nail them to the wall. A couple of decades in prison for a leaker would certainly discourage others.

Burnham, a Labour mayor, also said he had spoken with the US ambassador to Britain about his concerns.
Two Labour lawmakers tweeted their concern Wednesday. Yvette Cooper said she was very troubled by the leaks amidst a “live investigation where public safety at risk,” while Lilian Greenwood asked, “What is the Government doing with US counterparts to address these breaches?”
US sources were the first to reveal the identity of the bomber, 22-year-old Salman Abedi, leading to concern that police efforts to hunt down his associates could be impacted.
On Wednesday, The New York Times posted photos that show what it said could be the detonator, a battery, nuts and screws for shrapnel, and fragments of a backpack used in the attack.
Britain’s National Police Chiefs’ Council warned Wednesday that leaks of potential evidence “undermine our investigations.”

New School Board Member Selected in West Bend

He certainly seems qualified. Hopefully his experience can help balance a very green board. Hat tip to the Washington County Insider.

May 24, 2017 – West Bend, WI – Tim Stellmacher was selected during a special meeting tonight to fill an open seat on the West Bend School Board. The term runs 1-year.

The seat opened after Therese Sizer resigned her post March 20.

Stellmacher was one of five people who submitted an application for the open seat. Others included Pat Seghers, Amy Swanson Kieser, Bob Miller and Tina Hochstaetter.

Stellmacher is 70 years old and has lived in West Bend since 1979.  Stellmacher said he is retired. His LinkedIn profile shows he works as a school business management consultant and previously worked in the Waupun Area and Hustisford School Districts.

Wisconsin Republicans Lean Toward Spending Increase

Why does it seem that on every issue the Wisconsin legislative Republicans are tilting toward the most anti-conservative position?

Gov. Scott Walker has proposed freezing tuition next year, cutting tuition by 5 percent in the 2018-19 school year and providing $35 million in taxpayer funds to the UW System to cover the lost tuition revenue from the tuition cut.

Walker also is proposing $42.5 million in new performance-based funding to be divvied up among the UW campuses, $11.6 million for UW employee raises and $50 million to restore some of the $250 million in cuts the System absorbed in the two-year budget cycle that ends June 30.

Assembly Republicans oppose cutting tuition, said finance committee co-chairman John Nygren, R-Marinette. They would prefer to use some of the $35 million on financial aid for low-income students.

I’m not a big fan of Walker’s proposal. While a tuition decrease would be welcome, back-filling it with more state funds merely shifts the burden without correcting the problem. The problem is that the university system spends too dang much and has made itself unaffordable for a lot of middle class Wisconsin families. But at least Walker’s proposal is spending neutral.

Legislative Republicans apparently just want to spend more. They want to spend the additional $35 million on UW not as an offset to a tuition decrease, but just to spend more money. Instead of subsidizing kids who can’t afford to attend a UW school, how about they focus on bringing down the cost so that we don’t feel a need to subsidize so many kids?

Florida Concealed Carry List Hacked

This is why allowing our government to keep lists of what we do and what we own is a bad idea.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam assured concealed weapons permit holders Tuesday they have nothing to fear from alien hackers. The names of some 16,000 concealed weapon permit holders were revealed when the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ computer network was hacked earlier this month.

Some 469 individuals who did some form of e-business with the department had their names and social security numbers stolen. Those individuals have been notified and are being offered a year of free credit protection from the state.

Putnam said the attack came from outside the United States and he has asked the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to assist in the investigation.

Repeal the Minimum Markup Law

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

West Bend has been enjoying something of a retail renaissance in the past few years. Unfortunately, Wisconsin’s Unfair Sales Act, A.K.A. “Minimum Markup Law,” is preventing consumers to reap the benefits of such an upsurge in competition.

Just in the last year, Kwik Trip opened in West Bend, the Shell on Paradise upgraded with a car wash and Mad Max built a shining new gas station on South Main Street. Pizza Ranch is planning a new store on Washington, Morrie’s Auto Group is planning a new Honda dealership in town and Russ Darrow is already building a new Nissan dealership. The big news last week was the opening of a huge Meijer grocery store and Pick ‘n Save is planning a major upgrade to its stores.

The natural result of so much competition is to drive the price of identical goods down for consumers. After all, if one can buy the same gallon of milk for a dollar less at Meijer than at Pick ‘n Save, why would a consumer pay more? Sure there are other factors that consumers consider like convenience, service, etc., but everything else being equal, consumers will buy from the lower cost retailer.

Sometimes, businesses will use the practice of a loss leader to attract consumers in the hope those consumers will buy other products, too. This is where a business will sell one product for a price dramatically less than their competitors and often below their cost. It is a practice that cannot be sustained over time without risking bankruptcy, but it can be used as a temporary lure for consumers.

Wisconsin’s Minimum Markup law was passed in the 1930s when Progressives held majorities in Madison to prevent just such business practices. As the preface of the law states, “The practice of selling certain items of merchandise below cost in order to attract patronage is generally a form of deceptive advertising and an unfair method of competition in commerce.”

While the Minimum Markup Law was written in an anti-capitalism spasm of socialist protectionism, the modern justifications for keeping it are essentially two-fold. First, proponents argue it protects consumers by preventing “big business” from moving into a community, selling below cost until the competition fails and then jack up prices. Second, proponents argue by guaranteeing a profit, the Minimum Markup Law protects a diversity of competition by ensuring that small retailers can

compete with larger ones.

The problem with both of those arguments is neither are true. There is no evidence of large retailers using loss leaders to bankrupt competition and then increasing prices in the long term. The reason is economies are dynamic and consumers are mobile. If Wal-Mart in West Bend, for example, were to sell all of its goods at significantly below cost for a period of time, some other retailers may go bankrupt. But as soon as Wal-Mart raised their prices, consumers could travel to a neighboring town and another store could easily move into West Bend with lower prices. Market pressures keep Wal-Mart’s prices – and other retailers’ prices – competitive.

A study recently released by the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty disproves the second argument. The study was co-authored by WILL’s William Flanders and the Cato Institute’s Ike Brannon. The study looked across all 50 states. Slightly less than half of the states have a minimum markup law similar to Wisconsin’s and a few have it just for gasoline. The rest of the states have no such law.

WILL’s study found there was no statistical difference in the number of small retailers or gas stations between states with a Minimum Markup Law and those without. For all of the proponents’ rhetoric about protecting Wisconsin’s small businesses, there is no evidence that in more than 80 years Wisconsin’s Minimum Markup Law being in effect it stops anything other than Wisconsinites from getting a good deal.

Wisconsin’s Minimum Markup Law is an antiquated anti-consumer law rooted in a discredited economic theory. It does not accomplish the goals it purports to achieve and forces consumers to pay more than necessary for essential goods. It is time to repeal Wisconsin’s Minimum Markup Law once and for all.

Comey Not a “Nut Job”

To be fair, Feinstein is an authority on nut jobs.

During an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday morning, Feinstein said it was altogether inappropriate for Trump to describe former FBI Director James Comey as a “nut job” while meeting with Russian officials.

“This is a horrible thing for a president to say. Former Director Comey is in no way a nut job. He’s a very strong man. He’s a very principled man,” Feinstein said. “I happen to believe he made a couple of mistakes. I suspect he thinks he’s made a couple of mistakes. Whether that deserved his termination or not is not up to me.”

No… it’s up to Trump.

Another Oval Office conversation Leaked

Since practically everything Trump allegedly has said to foreigners from the Oval Office has been leaked, one would think that he would have narrowed down the culprit by now. I don’t care how scandalous you think these comments are (and they aren’t), it is unacceptable that people are leaking the president’s Oval Office conversations.

WASHINGTON — President Trump told Russian officials in the Oval Office this month that firing the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, had relieved “great pressure” on him, according to a document summarizing the meeting.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job,” Mr. Trump said, according to the document, which was read to The New York Times by an American official. “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

Mr. Trump added, “I’m not under investigation.”

Weiner Pleads Guilty to Soliciting Child

Scum.

Anthony Weiner, the disgraced former New York congressman and estranged husband of top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, tearfully admitted today to a federal judge that he sent obscene material to a 15-year-old high school student in North Carolina, the same day Abedin filed for divorce from him.

Weiner, who turned himself into the FBI, pleaded guilty in federal court this morning to a single count of transferring obscene material to a minor. This afternoon a court official confirmed that Abedin filed for divorce after seven years of marriage. The divorce is uncontested.

Weiner agreed to surrender his iPhone as part of the plea agreement and he must register as a sex offender.

With the stories about Bill Clinton hanging out with child sex predators, it is quite unusual that so many of these kinds of people end up in the Clinton orbit.

“Sources Say”

Hey look… another hit piece from CNN’s anonymous sources. Neat.

Washington (CNN)Russian officials bragged in conversations during the presidential campaign that they had cultivated a strong relationship with former Trump adviser retired Gen. Michael Flynn and believed they could use him to influence Donald Trump and his team, sources told CNN.

The conversations deeply concerned US intelligence officials, some of whom acted on their own to limit how much sensitive information they shared with Flynn, who was tapped to become Trump’s national security adviser, current and former governments officials said.
“This was a five-alarm fire from early on,” one former Obama administration official said, “the way the Russians were talking about him.” Another former administration official said Flynn was viewed as a potential national security problem.

Nass Pushes Back on Taxpayer Bailout for UWO Foundation

Nass is spot on.

Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) on Thursday released a letter he wrote to Cross that states he’s aware of efforts to reach a deal that potentially would use public funds “to assist in what would be a bailout” of debts of the UW-Oshkosh Foundation.

“I am aware that such a bailout might need action by the Legislature to include elements of a deal in the 2017-’19 biennial budget,” Nass wrote. He said he hoped no one involved planned to “rush a bailout that benefits the private foundation and the banks/investors involved at the expense of the taxpayers or students.”

He urged Cross “to keep your commitment that the public won’t be forced to fund the inappropriate decisions of two campus administrators and the failed oversight of the System.”

[…]

At issue is the fact UW-Oshkosh’s private fundraising foundation does not have enough cash to cover $14.5 million in debt for several real estate projects under investigation by the state Department of Justice.

The Department of Justice is negotiating the settlement on behalf of the UW System and Board of Regents.

The UW-Oshkosh projects were the subject of a suit the UW System filed in January against former Chancellor Richard Wells and his chief business officer, Thomas Sonnleitner, for allegedly funneling millions of dollars in university money into real estate projects through the private foundation to push that work despite a weak economy.

The UW System ideally wants the UW-Oshkosh Foundation to remain solvent so that its assets are not frozen or at risk. That includes scholarship support for students. The UW-Oshkosh Foundation in fiscal 2016 provided $1.3 million in scholarships.

Note that despite the name, the UW-Oshkosh Foundation is a private organization that raises money to support UWO. There’s no good reason for the taxpayers to be on the hook for their bankruptcy.

Ending a Student Loan Forgiveness Plan?

There are a lot of lessons in this.

The Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program promises to cancel any remaining student debt for those who work for the government or nonprofits if they have been making on-time payments for 10 years. Many teachers, public defenders, Peace Corps workers, and law enforcement officers fit the qualifications.

This October marks the 10th year of the program and the first time anyone will have made enough payments to get their debt wiped away. It’s unclear how much the program will cost the government when its starts to forgive those debts.

The program has been shrouded in some uncertainty for months.

On Wednesday, the Washington Post reported that the Department of Education is planning to propose ending the Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program.

[…]

“It would be absolutely detrimental to those of us who have planned our lives around this program. It would be the equivalent of pulling the rug out from under us,” said Daniel J. Crooks III, a government attorney who is expecting loan forgiveness from the public service program in six years.

He currently has more than $300,000 in student debt — after making payments for the past four years. He’s moved states to get a better job that still qualifies him for the debt relief.

[…]

The program could cost the government more than originally expected, according to the Government Accountability Office. The Obama Administration had proposed capping the amount borrowers could have forgiven at $57,500, but that proposal was never approved and forgiveness remains unlimited.

Lesson #1: This is a poorly conceived government program. The intent is not too insane. It is simply a taxpayer subsidy for people to go into fields of work that the government deems necessary. In fact, this program starts out well because the subsidy doesn’t kick in until after a decade of the person actually working in the requisite field. That’s much better than paying it up front.

Unfortunately, the rules are unclear and difficult to follow. People are investing a lot of time and borrowing a lot of money on faith that they are in compliance. Then, there isn’t a cap. What’s with the guy borrowing $300k and expecting the taxpayers to pay for it? Are we really that short of government lawyers?

Lesson #2: Woe to those who trust the government. People are borrowing thousands of dollars, planning their jobs, moving, etc. based on this government handout, and it could disappear overnight. I hope those folks have a Plan B.

Lesson #3: Good intentions can have bad consequences. While it may be in the public interest for the taxpayers to subsidize people entering into government or non-profit jobs (I question that interest, but I’ll be generous), doing so has other effects. How many people took on stupid debt for worthless degrees because they figured the taxpayers would pay it off? How many people are puttering away in a government job to get their loans paid when there are other industries desperate for workers? How many government employees went back to school for a degree they didn’t need because they expected it to be “free?”

Lesson #4: Times change, but government programs don’t. Let’s be generous again and assume that at the time this was passed, we were desperate for government and non-profit workers. Are we still? Are there other industries that could use some taxpayer support to funnel workers their way? Should we cut off the subsidy for government workers and instead move the same money to forgive loans for people who get tech degrees? Naaaahhhh… government doesn’t do that.

Mistake to Appoint Special Counsel

I agree with the Wall Street Journal.

The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board on Wednesday called having a special counsel probing Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election a “mistake.”

The newspaper’s editorial followed the Justice Department’s appointment of former FBI Director Robert Mueller to that role earlier Wednesday.

“These expeditions rarely end well for anyone, and Democrats are hoping this one will bedevil the Trump Administration for the next four years,” the editorial board said. “The problem with special counsels, as we’ve learned again and again, is that they are by definition politically unaccountable,” it added. “What the country really needs is a full accounting of how the Russians tried to influence the election and whether any Americans assisted them.

Now we have three investigations going for the same thing. If the outcome is anything other than criminal charges against the president and his close aides, the Democrats and media will not be satisfied. So what’s the point? Let’s just let the other two investigations run their course.

In the meantime, can the Republicans in Congress please pass some legislation? Tax reform? Obamacare repeal? Anyone?

Republican Agenda Slipping Away

It appears that the Republicans in Washington have no capacity to lead and pass their rhetorical agenda.

Despite the flurry of activity, the prospects of quick action on taxes are dim because Congress has so many other things to deal with. Mr. Trump is expected to release a budget next week. That will set off a new debate about cuts to domestic programs and increases in military and border security spending for 2018. Congress faces an October deadline to pass a funding bill for next year. Otherwise, parts of the government will shut down.

Republicans in Congress must separately approve a budget resolution this summer if they want to use the reconciliation process to pass a tax overhaul with a simple majority in the Senate. That will determine the scope of the tax legislation that Republicans can pursue if they choose to exclude Democrats from the process. Health care legislation that is being put together in the Senate could lead to additional delays.

And to top things off, Republicans and Democrats must reach a deal this fall over raising the debt ceiling.

“I’m not optimistic that we can have actual legislation on the president’s desk in calendar year 2017,” said G. William Hoagland, vice president of the Bipartisan Policy Center and a former director of the Senate Budget Committee. “There are a lot of other things on their plate, and they don’t have that many days left.”

2018 is shaping up as a Democratic sweep. Who will turn out to support a party that can’t get anything done even when they own Congress and the Presidency?

David Clarke Joins Dept. of Homeland Security

Good for Clarke!

Sheriff David Clarke will be leaving his position as Milwaukee County Sheriff (a position he’s held since 2002) to take a position with the Trump administration’s Dept. of Homeland Security as a multi-agency and local law enforcement liason.  Listen to my exclusive interview w/Clarke here:

Sheriff Clarke retires  

To learn more about the division Sheriff Clarke will oversee, click HERE.

Clarke says he hopes to be able to help fill the gaps between local law enforcement needs, local and federal intel and the federal government.  He says he told Gov. Walker some months ago he was likely to leave, but said he has not had a conversation w/Walker about his replacement.

Read more: http://newstalk1130.iheart.com/onair/vicki-mckenna-29300/exclusive-clarke-makes-announcement-on-my-15839681/#ixzz4hOAXF0dZ

Republicans Get Wobbly on Tax Relief

Wisconsin Republicans seem to have lost the will to actually make bold reforms. Some want to nibble around the edges and some want to be Democrats. Complacency is a sure path to returning to the minority.

Gov. Walker wants to eliminate the tax, which is the last remaining portion of the state property tax. However, Joint Committee on Finance Co-Chairs, Senator Darling and Representative John Nygren, said there is division in their caucuses whether or not to do that.

“I think there’s some in our caucus that have concerns about the funding that the mill tax – things it funds with forestry – especially when you get into more rural parts of the state, but we also know it’s been a little bit of a slush fund,” Nygren said.

Nygren said he agrees with the governor on eliminating the tax. Darling said lower property taxes is a shared priority between the governor and legislature, but was less committal about where she stands on the issue.

“I think if you ask the regular person, what’s the most onerous tax? They’d say the property tax,” Darling said. “So that’s why we have it as a priority, and why it’s going to be a big issue of whether to accept the governor’s proposal on the forestry mill tax, or to have an alternative.”