Category Archives: Politics – Wisconsin

State Projects Larger Surplus

Remember, this is just a forecast, but it’s positive nonetheless.

[Madison, Wisc…]  The Legislative Fiscal Bureau had good news for the State of Wisconsin on Wednesday morning when it announced the state is on track to end the biennium with $137.5 million more in the general fund than originally estimated just four months ago.

In September, when the 2017-19 budget was passed, LFB estimated the state would end the 2019 fiscal year with $247.7 million. Now LFB predicts it will be $385.2 million.

The increase is expected to come from $76.3 million more in tax collections, $1.7 million more in departmental revenues, $97.7 million in lower spending, and a $38.2 million transfer to the budget stabilization fund.

The lower spending mostly comes from debt service adjustments. The state did some refinancing and is not issuing as many new bonds as expected.

West Bend School Board Quorum at Convention

This is interesting.

quorum

The deal is that four members of the West Bend School Board are attending this convention. That constitutes a quorum of the School Board, so they rightfully posted it. But this seems to violate Wisconsin’s Open Meetings Law which states:

19.81 (2) To implement and ensure the public policy herein expressed, all meetings of all state and local governmental bodies shall be publicly held in places reasonably accessible to members of the public and shall be open to all citizens at all times unless otherwise expressly provided by law.

Is this conference generally open to the public? Can I just go sit in the meetings and watch? Is a meeting in Milwaukee “reasonable accessible to members of the public” from the West Bend School District?

It would seem prudent for one of the school board members to hang back to avoid any legal risk to the district.

Gundrum Wins in the 58th

As expected, Republican Rick Gundrum won in the 58th. Congratulations!

The results of the election were interesting. As I suspected might happen, the Democrats had a much stronger showing than they normally do in the 58th. Turnout was a mere 12.49% and Gundrum won the race 56.56% to 43.37%. Bear in mind that this is a district that is about 70% Republican. In a low turnout race, the Democrats are clearly more motivated.

Also interesting is that the Democrat actually won West Bend. Dennis Denigenhardt pulled in 1,279 votes to Gundrum’s 1,270 in the City of West Bend.

Also, the Democrats won a Wisconsin Senate seat in a pink district. Does this signal the coming of a Blue Wave in November? Should Walker be more worried about reelection? Will the Conservative Revolution in Wisconsin be coming to an end?

It’s going to be an interesting year.

Go Vote!

There’s a special election in the 58th Assembly District today.

GO VOTE!!!

Wisconsin Considers Direct Primary Care Reform

Better care? Lower cost? Sign me up.

The Senate Committee on Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations on Thursday heard testimony on a bill authorizing the Department of Health Services (DHS) to launch a direct primary care pilot program in BadgerCare, the state’s Medicaid program.

Direct primary care is a method of delivering health care in which patients pay their primary care doctors directly via a monthly fee, bypassing traditional health insurance that can obscure the actual costs of procedures. Since patients are paying cash, there’s significant downward pressure on prices.

“Price transparency means patients see a significant savings with the DPC model. Some DPC providers are successfully delivering care resulting in savings of 15-30 percent,” the bill’s author, Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), told the committee.

That kind of cost reduction means that implementing direct primary care into the state’s behemoth Medicaid program would be a taxpayer windfall.

“Medicaid spending has continued to balloon, accounting for almost 20 percent of our entire state budget, so it’s obviously an issue that we have,” Kapenga said. Total Medical Assistance payments in Wisconsin have soared from $4.7 billion in 2004 to nearly $9.2 billion in the 2016-17 fiscal year, according to the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

[…]

“The first several months I was practicing in this model of healthcare, I was surprised by the number of people who came to see me who had not seen a physician in ten to 20 years,” Dr. Suzanne Gehl, a direct primary care physician in Delafield, told the committee. “We were diagnosing high blood pressure, diabetes, hypothyroidism, and cancer at unbelievable rates,” she said.

Once patients familiarize themselves with the direct primary care system, with its more personalized approach eschewing large hospitals and cumbersome health insurance paperwork, they quickly realize the benefits.

“The thing that amazed me is once you removed the barrier of cost and access, how quickly we were able to get these conditions under good control and help them navigate the healthcare system in a very efficient and cost saving manner,” Gehl said.

Will a Democrat Win in the 58th?

I think there’s a decent chance of it. As I stated in my column last week, this is the perfect environment for lightning to strike.

Wisconsin’s 58th Assembly District is overwhelming Republican. It is considered one of the safest Republican seats in the nation. With the perception of safety comes the false hubris of certainty. While the district is overwhelmingly Republican, there is a passionate, organized liberal pocket in the district too. They have been successful in getting board members elected to local boards in the district and have even turned those boards liberal from time to time.

The special election for the 58th has some unique conditions that make a Democrat win more likely than it has perhaps ever been. First, the Democrat candidate, Dennis Degenhardt, is a credible, decent, reasonable man with strong private sector credentials. While I may disagree with him politically, he is not a loon or fruitcake like the Democrats usually run in a throwaway race.

Second, Degenhardt has also been working hard to win. At this level of politics, it is often the hardest worker who wins. It’s the candidate who is knocking on doors, shaking hands, attending Rotary meetings, and everything else that goes into retail politics who carries the day. It is work that takes place below the radar, but has a huge impact in a low turnout race.

Third, the Democrats in Washington County are motivated to express their anger about Trump, Walker, and the like. I expect there to be a large turnout among Democrats. Imagine how gratifying it would be for them to win a seat in the heart of Republican country.

Fourth, with motivated Democrats and complacent Republicans, the math favors the Democrats. This special election is the only thing on the ballot and it is off cycle. It’s the middle of a cold January, we are expecting a snow storm on Monday, and everyone just assumes that the Republican will win. Turnout will be low – likely less than 15%. Only the hyper-motivated and habitual voters are likely to turnout.

So let’s do some simple math… There are about 37,000 voters in the 58th. Let’s assume that 75% of them are Republicans and 25% of them are Democrats. That makes 9,250 Democrats and 27,750 Republicans. 15% overall turnout would be 5,550 votes cast in the race. If the Republican turnout is 10%, that’s 2,775 votes cast. If the Democrats turn out a mere 30% of their voters, that is also 2,775 votes cast. One more vote and the Democrats win. And given the tempo I’m feeling from the Democrats in the district, I think that 30% turnout for them is low.

If I were an odds maker, I’d give the Democrats a 40% chance of winning in the 58th next week. And if they do, it will be interpreted as signaling an anti-Trump Democratic wave in this election cycle and it will be national news.

 

Ethics Commission Launches Secret Investigation

After weaponizing the GAB as a partisan hit squad against Republicans, it looks like some of the same people have simply moved over to the Ethics Commission and weaponized it.

The offices of Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Sen. Steve Nass told WisPolitics.com they have been contacted by an attorney hired by the Ethics Commission to probe charges of “partisan influence” toward agency Administrator Brian Bell.

The Ethics Commission declined comment Tuesday, citing confidentiality laws regarding agency investigations. But the contacts come a little more than two weeks after Bell asked the commission to launch an investigation into his conduct to clear his name following Republican calls for his resignation.

They also come amid an escalation in the standoff between Fitzgerald and Mark Thomsen. The Elections Commission chair Tuesday called the Senate GOP leader a “bully” for refusing to hold a confirmation hearing for agency Administrator Mike Haas, who also has been called upon to resign.

Fitzgerald has instead indicated he plans to have the Senate vote later this month on the nominations of Bell and Haas, having previously predicted they would “never” win enough support in the GOP-controlled Senate to win confirmation.

Mike Mikalsen, an aide to Nass, R-Whitewater, charged Tuesday the probe launched by the Ethics Commission was an “abusive process.”

“It’s an attempt to try to intimidate the Senate from taking action on a confirmation vote,” Mikalsen said.

City of West Bend Puts Transportation Advisory Referendum on April Ballot

We knew this was coming, but last night the West Bend Common Council voted to ask the voters through referendum how we want to address our transportation funding moving forward. Here are the four options upon which they settled:

According to the notice of advisory referendum, West Bend officials have planned four questions for the public to consider during the spring election. The first question is:

 “Currently, the city of West Bend invests over $1 million (increasing 4 percent annually) on road and sidewalk maintenance,” the first question reads. “In addition to this annual investment, would you support the Common Council increasing property taxes by approximately $640,000, approximately by 23 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, to apply to borrowing that can be used for roads?”

The second question is a variant of the first but doubles the amount of the tax that officials will impose on residents.

 “Currently, the city of West Bend invests over $1 million (increasing 4 percent annually) on road and sidewalk maintenance. In addition to this annual investment, would you support the Common Council increasing property taxes by approximately $1.2 million, approximately by 46 cents per $1,000 of assessed value, to apply to borrowing that can be used for road.

The third question also asks if residents are willing to pay more, but alters the manner in which it is imposed.

 “Currently, the city of West Bend invests over $1 million (increasing 4 percent annually) on road and sidewalk maintenance,” the third question reads. “In addition to this annual investment, would you support the Common Council implementing a $20 vehicle registration fee (wheel tax) to apply exclusively to road designated borrowing?”

[…]

The final question is meant to address a collaborative initiative with the county.

 “Washington County currently imposes a 0.5 percent sales tax throughout the county and none of these dollars are shared with the local municipalities (e.g. the city of West Bend). Municipalities have recently put forth a proposal to the County for sharing sales tax revenues,” the fourth question states. “Would you support an agreement where the County would distribute up to 25 percent of the revenues with the municipalities (approximately $600,000 for West Bend) to apply to road designated borrowing?”

Based on my conversations with some of the folks involved, I do believe that this is an honest, straight-forward question for the voters and the council intends to follow the public’s lead. There has been increasing frustration and tension on the council regarding transportation. Projects never get done as quickly as anyone would like. There are some who think the time has come to raise taxes and spend more on the roads. There are some who want to stay the course. There are some who are looking for an alternative way – like collaborating with the county for funding. There is an honest impasse and they are using the referendum process to get guidance on how to proceed from the public.

I do wish that they had an option for “stay the course.” I think they figured that no such option was necessary because it is the obvious option for people who vote, but don’t select any of the four options. But it would have been nice to have an affirmative option for “stay the course.” Or an option for “spend less,” but I suppose that was too much to consider.

What do you think?

Gundrum for the 58th

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Incidentally, I voted absentee yesterday and there were a surprising number of people there. There were 6 other voters in the 5 to 8 minutes I was there. Obviously, one can’t extrapolate turnout based on such an anecdotal experience, but it does make me wonder if there is an unexpected surge of interest in this race. In any case, here’s the column:

The voters of the 58th Assembly District will decide on who will represent them in Madison after the unexpected death of Representative Bob Gannon. After a spirited, if abbreviated, primary election, Republican Rick Gundrum and Democrat Dennis Degenhardt will square off on January 16th in a special election. I had the opportunity to speak with both candidates, and fortunately for the voters, we are able to choose between two fundamentally decent men with starkly different perspectives.

Dennis Degenhardt recently retired from being the CEO of Glacier Hills Credit Union after a career spent in financial services. He and his wife have been married for 22 years, have four children, six grandchildren, and have been residents of the 58th for many years. Degenhardt has been active in the community as the Vice Chair of the Washington County Democratic Party, President of the Washington County Campus Foundation, involved with Big Brothers Big Sisters, and several other community organizations. This is Degenhardt’s first run for political office.

Rick Gundrum owns his own audio and video production business after spending years as in the radio industry. He and his wife have been married for 25 years, have two children, four grandchildren, and is a 5th generation resident of Washington County. Gundrum has been active in the community as a Trustee on the Slinger Village Board, Chairman of the Washington County Board, and various county committees.

When people idealize about self-governance, this is the kind of election they envision: two good people with decades of experience and service to their community stepping forward to represent their neighbors in the legislature. The voters of the 58th do not have to hold their noses and choose the lesser of two evils or stomach a scoundrel for political goals. Instead, the voters of the 58th get to truly choose their next representative based on the candidate’s views on the issues and the role of government in their lives.

Dennis Degenhardt wants a larger, more robust, more comprehensive government to manage our economy, healthcare, education, and other aspects of life. He thinks that Governor Walker erred in rejecting the Medicaid expansion that was part of Obamacare and believes that Wisconsin could lead on healthcare with its own healthcare exchange. Degenhardt supports vigorous regulations on business to fight against potential abuse.

Degenhardt would like to see more taxpayer money send on education, but believes that School Choice siphons off too much money from the public school system. On transportation, he would like to see the bidding process be more competitive, but is then open to additional taxes and toll roads to fund Wisconsin’s transportation infrastructure. Degenhardt thinks that the Foxconn deal is a great mistake and would have joined the majority of Democrats in voting against it had he been in the legislature at the time.

On civil rights, Degenhardt would have voted against the bill that allowed concealed carry in Wisconsin, but is resigned to it being the law of the land. He opposes any liberalization of the concealed carry law. Degenhardt is Pro-Choice believing that abortion should be safe, legal, and rare.

Rick Gundrum believes in a smaller, less expensive, and less intrusive government. He supports a lighter regulatory burden on businesses and people with more decisions being made by local governments. Gundrum touts his experience on the Washington County Board in reducing costs though finding efficiencies and collaborating on services with other counties.

Gundrum wants to see lower taxes so that people can keep more of their own money. He supports Governor Walker’s agenda on taxes, spending, regulatory reform, government reform, education, and other items. Gundrum wants to see the state government work with local governments to aggressively address the opioid crisis through treatment options and rigorous law enforcement. Gundrum is pro-2nd Amendment, supports school choice, and is staunchly Pro-Life.

I will be gladly casting my vote for Rick Gundrum because he is a good man who promises to fight for the kind of government I want to have.

Whatever your choice, citizens of the 58th need to get out and vote. In-person absentee voting is open until January 12th and the election is on January 16th. Although the 58th Assembly District is overwhelmingly Republican, if there was ever to be an election where a Democrat might win, this is it. The Democrats are energized and Degenhardt is a quality candidate.

As a special election in the middle of a cold January, turnout will likely be less than 15%. Only 10.56% of the voters turned out last month for the special primary election. That means that perhaps less than 5,000 people will vote in this election and will decide who will represent the citizens of the 58th in Madison. Get out and vote, folks.

Newest Dem Candidate Stumbles Into Race

Well, that escalated quickly.

At 38, Kelda Roys is one of the youngest Democratic candidates. But in an interview on Sunday political talk show “UpFront with Mike Gousha,” she didn’t highlight her age to set herself apart. Instead, she pointed to family issues like paid paternity leave and abortion rights.

Roys served as a state representative for four years and is the CEO and founder of OpenHomes, a real estate tech company. She ran for Congress in 2012, but lost to Rep. Mark Pocan in the Democratic primary.

[…]

“I happen to be the only pro-choice woman in the race … our (Democratic) electorate does tend towards women and we’re a party of reproductive rights,” she said.

Emphasis mine. The story goes on to point out:

State Sen. Kathleen Vinehout is also running for governor and has said she is pro-choice, although she has a tricky history with abortion rights.

[…]

There are two other women in the Democratic primary: Ramona Whiteaker, a photographer from Stoughton and Michelle Doolan, a hair salon owner and PTO president from Cross Plains. Whiteaker could not be reached immediately for comment about her stance on abortion. Doolan responded, saying she is “absolutely pro-choice.”

Despite that, she is a far more compelling candidate than most of the rest of the field. She is young, has a business background, and an energetic message. She brightens the rest of the dreary gray Dem field.

Walker Open to Accelerating Youth Prison Plan

It looks like a good plan. It still needs form debate and deliberation, but there’s no reason that can’t be moved along at something faster than government speed.

Gov. Scott Walker’s plan to move youthful offenders from prisons in northern Wisconsin to new regional facilities wouldn’t kick in until at least 2019.

But with some Dems complaining the transition of offenders wouldn’t be fast enough, Walker’s office signaled late this afternoon he was ready to work with lawmakers to speed up the process.

“Governor Walker’s plan significantly reforms our juvenile corrections system and we want to work with all parties to implement it in a thoughtful and purposeful way,” said Walker spokesman Tom Evenson. “If the Legislature wants to advance the plan sooner we would be supportive of those efforts.”

In announcing the plan, Walker’s office highlighted support from some Dems, including Rep. Evan Goyke, of Milwaukee, and Milwaukee County Exec Chris Abele.

First Week in Review of 2018

I’ll be on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Week in Review program from 0800 to 0900 today. I’ll be discussing the issues of the week with Lon Newman.

Tune in!

Fox Cities Exhibition Center in Trouble

It looks like the municipalities involved can’t all agree on a funding plan.

So far, only Appleton, Menasha and Sherwood have signed the agreement. Kimberly approved the agreement on Nov. 6 but later rescinded it unanimously on Nov. 20.

Should the agreement not be signed by each of the 10 communities, Appleton has two options: It uses its full amount of room taxes toward the $31 million exhibition center and not other projects, or the city could sue other municipalities for breach of contract, Appleton Mayor Tim Hanna said.

“At what point does a legal agreement mean a legal agreement?” Hanna told USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin after the meeting. “We don’t want to go down that path, we don’t want to go down that path at all (of the two options if the agreements aren’t signed), and they know we don’t want to go down that path so they think they can just leverage that.

“These agreements are built on trust, and obviously, there’s no trust.”

In 2015, 10 communities agreed to set aside a portion of their room taxes collected from hotel and motel guests to pay back loans taken out for the exhibition center. However, Appleton officials are still working to negotiate a financing plan with local banks, while other stakeholders say they prefer to use traditional revenue bonds for the financing plan.

Until a financing plan is established, Appleton has been dipping into its cash reserves to pay for the exhibition center.

In addition to his concerns about the financing plan, Kaufert said that the nine other communities that are putting in room tax dollars should have more say in the project.

Brown County Sued over Illegal Sales Tax

Well, well… it will be interesting to see how this plays out.

January 3, 2018 – Milwaukee, WI – Yesterday, the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty filed suit against Brown County in state court, alleging that the County’s new Sales and Use Tax violates state law. The lawsuit is on behalf of the Brown County Taxpayers Association and a resident of Brown County, and also names the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Revenue as a Defendant.

On May 17, 2017, the Brown County Board of Supervisors enacted an ordinance creating a 0.5% sales and use tax intended to go into effect on January 1, 2018.  The tax will fund $147 million in spending on projects like a new STEM center, library projects, road works, and museum exhibits.  Based on the County’s 2018 budget, the tax will raise over $22 million and spend close to $18 million in 2018 alone.

Although Wisconsin law permits counties to impose a “sales and use tax” of 0.5%, such a tax may only be imposed to reduce the existing property tax levy imposed by the County.  Brown County’s Sales Tax is not being used to reduce its property tax levy but is instead being used to evade the County’s levy limit and is therefore void and unenforceable.

Good for WILL for going after this.

Five Candidates to Vie for Two Seats on West Bend School Board

The fifth candidate triggers a primary election.

Jan. 2, 2018 – West Bend, WI – Five people have applied to run for two open seats on the West Bend School Board.

The five candidates include Carl Lundin, incumbent Monte Schmiege, Kurt Rebholz, Mary Weigand and Chris Zwygart.

There will be a primary election to trim the field to four candidates. That will be held Tuesday, Feb. 20.

RightWisconsin’s Pundit Predictions

RightWisconsin has posted their annual predictions from Wisconsin’s leading pundits. They also included my predictions just for comic relief. Jay Weber already got one right with the Packers’ firing of Dom Capers!

Less than Half of School Districts Have a Certified Union

Looks like teachers aren’t choosing the union.

Six years after Gov. Scott Walker and state Republicans made labor unions’ ability to retain members much more difficult, fewer than half of the state’s 422 school districts have certified unions.

In the latest certification election — held in November and required by Walker’s signature 2011 legislation known as Act 10 — staff and teachers in 199 school districts voted to remain in a bargaining unit, or 47 percent, according to the Wisconsin Employment Relations Commission.

What’s frustrating is that it is now clear that Wisconsin’s forced-unionization laws kept so many teachers in unions against their will for so many years. How much money was taken out of their pay over the years to support a union they didn’t want to be in? How many decisions were made on their behalf that they didn’t want? Now that they have a choice, we see how many teachers don’t want to be in a union.

Only Five Qualify to Hunt in West Bend’s Parks

When the city announced their plan for hunting in the parks, I said, “only government could come up with something so convoluted.” Well, the result of their process is that they needed nine hunters, they had nine applicants, and only five qualified.

There were nine bow hunters who participated in the proficiency test and bow hunter exam. The step was part of the process to take part in the public deer hunt set for Jan. 10-14, 2018.

Five hunters passed with a perfect score including Steven Kraker, Brad Zuba, Jeffrey G. Bach and Brad Beck. Following a background check the hunters will be issued nuisance tags.

The city is working with people in the community to try to trim the local deer herd by about 40 bucks and does.

[…]

City clerk Stephanie Justman said the committee will determine how to move forward with fewer hunters. “There were four districts/zones outlined for the hunt at Lac Lawrann Conservancy and five districts/zones at Ridge Run Park,” she said.

Drexel University Professor Resigns

It is appalling that someone threatened this guy with physical harm, but he does have some truly wretched views.

(CNN)A Drexel University professor who received death threats after posting several controversial tweets said Thursday he is resigning because the year-long harassment has made his situation “unsustainable.”

George Ciccariello-Maher, a professor of politics and global studies, had been teaching his class remotely via video conference after being put on administrative leave, a move that Drexel said was for his own safety.
Here is some of the stuff he said:
The professor said the threats began last December after he posted on Twitter: “All I Want for Christmas is White Genocide.” He said the tweet was a joke, a “satirical jab at a certain paranoid racist fantasy and that white genocide does not exist.”
Ciccariello-Maher drew more outrage in March after tweeting that he was “trying not to vomit” watching someone give up their first-class seat for a uniformed soldier. He said he was upset about airstrikes in Iraq that killed civilians and that his post was misrepresented by “right-wing media.”
In October, the professor tweeted that “Trumpism” and the “narrative of white victimization” were to blame for the mass shooting in Las Vegas that left 58 people dead and more than 500 wounded.
The travesty is all of this is that Drexel University paid this guy to teach people his hate.

2nd Candidate Files for West Bend School Board

There’s only one day left to file. The deadline is next Tuesday and offices are closed until then.

Dec. 28, 2017 – West Bend resident and business owner Kurt Rebholz submitted his candidacy papers for the West Bend School Board on Thursday morning.

Rebholz is the Co-Founder and President of Bay MarketForce, LLC.