Two convicted bank robbers escaped from the federal Metropolitan Correctional Center in the Loop this morning by tying bedsheets together and shimmying down at least 15 stories to the ground below, officials say.
“A rope was fashioned out of bedsheets,’’ said a spokesman for the MCC.
Joseph “Jose” Banks and Kenneth Conley were somehow able to climb out of the small window in the cell they shared and make their way down the south face of the federal jail, the spokesman said.
Let’s hope they can get this done.
Speaking to The Journal Times’ editorial board Monday, Vos laid out his legislative agenda. Alongside passing a mining bill, examining state regulations and looking at Wisconsin’s tax code, Vos listed educational reform on his main agenda.
In Racine, Vos said, the school choice program implemented in 2011 has proved successful, meeting voucher caps both years prior and allowing unlimited vouchers starting in 2013.
“If there are other parts of the state that have issues where there are parents that are concerned about the quality of their own public schools, I’d like to open the dialogue to say, ‘Should we give them an opportunity to have school choice as well?’” he said in a separate interview Monday.
My column for the Daily News is online. It’s called “Carpe Per Diem.” Here it is:
Carpe per diem
Legislators should scale back salaries, perks
The Republican legislative leaders in Madison really stepped in it a couple of weeks ago when it was reported that they were considering an increase in their per diem rates. It was a clumsy bit of political blindness that was rightfully and ruthlessly ridiculed and the Republicans quickly abandoned the idea. But the fiasco raises some larger questions that are always worth re–evaluating.
Each legislator in Wisconsin is paid $49,943 per year in salary. They also receive a generous benefits package including health insurance, a pension, sick leave that can be converted to health insurance at retirement and many other perks. In addition, the legislators receive a flat $88 per diem for each day they are in Madison (Dane County legislators receive $44). They receive this whether they spend one minute in Madison or an entire day. The intent of the per diem is to cover meals and lodging expenses. Those legislators traveling from outside of Dane County also receive mileage reimbursement of $0.485 per mile to drive to and from Madison.
Since the issue of the per diem has been raised, let us re-evaluate the program overall. To begin with, the per diem in terribly unbalanced in favor of those legislators residing near Madison. A legislator from Beaver Dam, for example, can drive to Madison in 45 minutes, have a five minute meeting with staffers, collect the $88 per diem and be home in time for brunch. A legislator in Ashland is faced with a five-hour drive each way and is disinclined to make the trip to Madison unless it is absolutely necessary.
The result is that the per diem program has been utterly abused by legislators in both parties for decades. Some have managed to add another $10,000 to $15,000 to their compensation per year.
I don’t think many would argue that it is prudent and acceptable for the taxpayers to reimburse legislators for necessary and prudent expenses associated with carrying out their duties – just like we do with other state employees. If a legislator must travel to Madison to conduct the people’s business, then reimbursing the cost of travel, meals and lodging is a reasonable expectation. But the per diem program is unfair and ripe for abuse. Instead, the legislators should be required to submit receipts for actual expenses for which they will be reimbursed and provide the reason for the travel. This is what the vast majority of businesses do today for employees who travel on their behalf. Not only does it place those expenses and the rationale for them in the public record, but it also ensures that the taxpayers are only paying for actual expenses and not padding the pockets of portable politicians.
While such a modest reform of the per diem program would be easy and reap financial and political rewards for the Republicans, the entire issue of legislative pay has also been resurrected. There are really two questions that go hand in hand. Does Wisconsin need a full time legislature or would returning to a part-time one be better? How much should legislators be compensated?
On the first question, let us remember that Wisconsin has a biennial budget. There are precious few things that the Legislature is required to complete outside of the budget. The argument for a fulltime legislature is that it gives legislators the time to become educated on complex issues and serve constituents. The argument against it is that it leads to politicians spending far too much time in the bubble of the capital inventing things to do and less time actually among their constituents.
The argument for a part-time legislature is that legislators spend much more time with their constituents in their district and are more in touch with local issues. The argument against it is that their absence from the capital transfers too much power to the unelected legislative staff who might lead the legislators by their noses.
The issue of legislative pay goes hand in hand because full time work generally begets full time compensation and part time work generally begets part time compensation. A further argument regarding legislative compensation is that paying them handsomely is the surest way to attract talented people who can sell their skills for a premium wage on the private market. A pittance of pay, so the argument goes, will only attract those who are wealthy enough to serve in office without relying on their legislative salaries.
While all of these arguments have merit and there are examples of all of them at work throughout the 50 states, I fall on the side of returning the Legislature to part time with part-time compensation. There are precious few good things that come out of full-time legislators sitting around searching for ways to make a name for themselves. If an issue isn’t important enough to bubble to the top of the priority list in a 30-60 day yearly session, then it likely wasn’t really that important.
Requiring a legislator to maintain gainful employment and feel the consequences of their decisions is not a bad thing. The fear that minimal pay will lead to a legislature full of millionaires is unfounded. Very few of the truly wealthy are going to leave their comfortable lifestyle and expose their lives to the crucible of modern politics for the frustrating life of a state legislator. Those who do will most likely only be those truly looking to serve their community. Frankly, Wisconsin would be better off if there were more of these folks.
While it’s not politically realistic to expect a group of full-time legislators receiving full-time pay to renounce that system and vote themselves back to being part-time legislators with part-time pay, a conservative from West Bend can dream.
(Owen B. Robinson, a West Bend resident, is a blogger who publishes at http://www.bootsandsabers com. .His column runs Tuesdays in the Daily News.)