Tag Archives: Column

Tweaking the WRS

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

The Wisconsin Retirement System is a great example of government working well. Thanks to decades of prudent management by both Democrats and Republicans, it has provided an ample retirement income to generations of Wisconsin’s public employees and remains one of the only fully funded public pension systems in the nation.

The operative word in the phrase “prudent management” is “management,” and that is what state legislators need to continually do. Making sensible small changes in the present makes massive sweeping changes unnecessary in the future.

Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) and Rep. Tyler August (RLake Geneva) have reintroduced a bill that would raise the minimum retirement age for most new public employees from 55 to 60 and from 50 to 52 for public safety workers. Doing so would add solvency to the WRS and reduce pension contributions by the taxpayers by an estimated $59 million now and millions more in the future.

Most public employees in the WRS can receive their full retirement benefits beginning at 65, but they can retire early at 55 and take a fraction of their retirement based on their years of service. For example, if a public employee begins working at 25 and takes early retirement at 55, that employee would receive about 90 percent of their full retirement benefit. If that same worker only had five years of employment, his or her retirement benefits would be less.

What Stroebel and August are proposing is simply to slightly raise the minimum age at which an employee would be eligible for early retirement. Retirees would still be able to retire early if they are eligible and retire with their full benefits at the same age. And it would only apply to new employees. Current employees would not be impacted.

The reasoning is simple. People live longer. In 1960, the average life expectancy in the U.S. was 69.77 years. In 2012, it was 78.74 years. In other words, retirees are receiving many more years of retirement income than they used to. And more of those retiring early at 55 are spending more time in retirement than they worked. It is not only fiscally sensible to raise the minimum retirement

age, it is fundamentally fairer to the taxpayers — most of whom will not retire in their 50s.

Opponents of the bill argue that raising the minimum retirement age will make it more difficult to hire new workers. While that is theoretically possible, most 20somethings are not looking hard at the minimum retirement age of the pension system when considering a job. And if they are, they are probably not the kind of employees that the taxpayers want.

The opponents also argue that raising the minimum retirement age would increase government spending because the taxpayers would have to pay an older employee for longer at the higher end of the pay scale instead of being able to replace them with younger, cheaper employees. This argument neglects the fact that the taxpayers also funded the retirement of the outgoing employee. Thus, the taxpayers are on the hook for the current employee, the recent retiree, and perhaps even the retiree who had the job before both of them. No, it is a better deal for the taxpayers to hold onto a seasoned employee for a few years longer and pay them for the value they provide the taxpayers.

Stroebel’s and August’s bill is the smallest of possible tweaks to the WRS to help keep it solvent and fair. Also, since it only applies to new employees, any incoming employee will be able to decide for themselves if it is enough for them to turn down the job. Frankly, the state should go farther by raising the normal retirement age and perhaps indexing it to life expectancy. Or if state Republicans are really interested in longterm reform, they should move to a defined contribution system for new employees.

One vote for Gieryn, Miller and Cammack

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. The resignation of Therese Sizer last night puts it in a different context this morning. Here you go:

April 4 brings us another opportunity to exercise our right to elect our political and judicial leaders. While the national and state elections tend to get all of the attention, it is our local elected officials who arguably have more of a direct impact on our everyday lives. It is also our local officials who often work long hours, deal with a lot of quirky citizens and do so for little money or fame. We should all give our neighbors a big “thank you” for being willing to serve our community.

One of the important races on the ballot in West Bend and neighboring communities is for the West Bend School Board. Three of the seven board seats are on the ballot with only one incumbent running for re-election. The results of this election could push the school board in an entirely new direction.

Two incumbent school board members decided to not seek re-election. President Rick Parks and Vice President Bart Williams are both concluding their second terms and deserve a sincere thank you. While ideologically different, both Parks and Williams went about their business on the school board in a thoughtful, thorough, collegial, and effective manner. During their tenures, they navigated the district through the aftermath of Act 10, implemented a merit pay system for teachers, started a charter school, started a clinic for district staff, hired a new superintendent and many other things for which they should be proud. Thank you, gentlemen.

The third incumbent school board member did choose to seek re-election. Ryan Gieryn is running for his second term and wants to see through some of the issues he worked on in his first term including continuing to refine the teacher merit pay system, evaluate the effectiveness of the district’s testing regimen, direct the new superintendent that he helped hire and look ahead to replacing Jackson Elementary. While I did not support Gieryn when he ran the first time, his thoughtful and measured service on the board has been commendable and he has earned my vote for a second term.

There is also the issue with experience on the board. Our republican form of government is kept healthy by the constant refreshing of elected officials, but some experience in governing is necessary. An inexperienced and naïve school board shifts power to the unelected administration. If Gieryn does not win re-election, then every board member except one, Therese Sizer, would be serving their first term. Gieryn’s experience on the board will be particularly important as the new superintendent settles into his role.

Bob Miller is running for the school board for the second time having fallen just short last year. He has spent the past year talking to people, participating in school events and learning more about the district. Miller is a graduate of the district with three kids attending schools in West Bend.

He is a fiber optic technician, school bus driver, Boy Scout leader, father and husband who has some great common sense ideas to improve the district’s outcomes. A fiscal conservative, Miller wants to ensure that the district spends money wisely and has seen enough working and volunteering in the district to have some tangible ideas on how to save money. The second time is the charm for Miller and he deserves a seat on the board.

Richard Cammack has lived in West Bend for 22 years and wants to see the district improve in many areas. He believes in the importance of family, students, teachers and business and a school district that serves all constituents. Cammack considers himself a realist who needs to fully understand an issue and listen to the district’s stakeholders before making a decision. Cammack is receiving my third vote April 4.

The remaining three candidates, Tonnie Schmidt, Joel Ongert and Nancy Justman, are running as a bloc with virtually identical platforms. They all claim to be conservatives (one stands little chance of winning election in a district that is 70-plus percent conservative if one does not claim to be one). They trumpet “accountability” but only seem to want to hold administrators accountable. While that is a laudable goal, their reluctance to continue or strengthen even the mild performance pay standards for teachers is troubling.

Their repetition of the talking points coming out of the local teachers union and lefty talking heads leads one to believe that these three would be reliable agents for whatever the West Bend Education Association wants. Many of the yards in West Bend whose Hillary and Bernie signs died during the winter have now sprouted signs for Schmidt, Ongert and Justman with the coming of spring.

I will note that all three of these candidates refused to be interviewed for this column. Despite claiming to be conservatives, they had no appetite to be probed by the district’s only resident conservative columnist.

Once again West Bend is privileged to have some great people running for local office. I am happy to support three of them for the West Bend School Board. I will be happily voting for Ryan Gieryn, Bob Miller, and Richard Cammack on April 4.

 

The future of education in Wisconsin is on the ballot

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

For years the teachers unions and the rest of the liberal education establishment has considered the Wisconsin State Department of Public Instruction to be their exclusive domain and rightfully so. Almost all previous superintendents in the past several decades have been put into office by the money and power of the teachers unions and each superintendent has returned the support by pushing the union agenda. The current superintendent is no exception. Fortunately, Wisconsin has a real opportunity to make a change April 4 and elect a superintendent whose values and priorities are more in line modern educational thought.

The Department of Public Instruction is a somewhat unusual department in Wisconsin. Although part of the executive branch headed by the governor, the superintendent of the department is a constitutional non-partisan office that is elected every four years. The state constitution simply says that the state superintendent is responsible for the supervision of public instruction and that their “qualifications, powers, duties and compensation shall be prescribed by law.”

In the 169 years since the office was created, the legislature has granted more and less power to the office and shifted the responsibilities with the needs and wants of the time. The DPI is responsible for a wide swath of responsibilities including distributing state money to local districts, administering federal programs and money, providing operational and technical services to local school districts, crafting curriculum, compiling state education data and many other things. With a budget of over $6 billion per year, it is one of the largest state agencies.

The incumbent superintendent, Tony Evers, is asking for a third term in office. Evers’ agenda for the previous eight years has been to advance the liberal and union education agenda. He has passionately and aggressively fought back against the expansion of school choice in the state. Evers has been in step with the Obama Administration’s federal intrusion into education including pushing Common Core. After eight years of Evers’ leadership, the state’s education infrastructure is still languishing in mediocrity and he has fought every innovation coming from the legislature to try to improve it.

Thankfully, Wisconsin has an excellent alternative to just doing the same tired thing and getting the same disappointing results. Lowell Holtz, a selfstyled “Kidservative,” plans a new path for Wisconsin education.

Holtz has a broad and varied resume. He was a teacher in both private and public schools in Minnesota and Wisconsin. He was once Wisconsin’s Principal of the Year and was recognized as a National Distinguished Principal. Holtz has been the superintendent or district administrator of three Wisconsin public school districts in Palmyra-Eagle, Beloit and Whitnall. What is interesting about these districts is that they cover a range from rural to urban, small to big and homogeneous to diverse. In every leadership position, Holtz can point to a strong record of making a positive change.

More importantly, Holtz has a vastly different vision than Evers for improving education for Wisconsin’s kids. In fact, Holtz’s vision for education is much more in alignment with what the voters have been supporting as reflected in their choices for state and local leaders in the past several years. Holtz breaks down his vision into three basic categories.

First, Holtz wants to push more control back to the local districts and pull back state and federal mandates – including Common Core. Second, he wants to improve the graduation rate and close the achievement gap. He proposes to do this by providing resources and collaboration to the school districts who need it. Third, Holtz wants to empower teachers by pulling back burdensome administrative hurdles and improving classroom discipline.

Perhaps most importantly, Holtz supports innovation in educational choices including choice, charter, and online school options. Instead of trying to maintain the education establishment of the 1950s, Holtz welcomes a 21st century educational infrastructure to serve 21st century kids.

April 4 is a chance for Wisconsin to force the Department of Public Instruction to look to the future instead of protecting the past. Vote for Holtz.

 

Wisconisn’s Pioneer Days Are Not Over

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

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty’s Will Flanders has released a study comparing the recent test performance of Wisconsin’s children from Wisconsin’s public, charter, and private schools. The results confirm that Wisconsin needs to continue to lead in education reform.

The study, called “Apples to Apples,” evaluated the results of the 2016 Forward Exam and the ACT. The Forward Exam is required in all Wisconsin public school and private schools that participate in any of Wisconsin’s three school choice programs. The ACT is also required for all public and choice students. While there are exceptions for private schools that do not participate in a choice program, home-schooled kids, and kids whose parents opted to not have their children take the tests, the wide participation in these two exams give a broad view of the academic performance of Wisconsin’s schools.

The results of the study show that, “private schools in the choice programs and public charter schools in Milwaukee and Wisconsin perform significantly better on the ACT and Forward Exams than traditional public schools.”

These results are hardly groundbreaking. Various studies have been done for years and have consistently shown that choice schools and charter schools outperform the public schools in the same communities. In the past, these studies have been dismissed by anti-school choice advocates. They claimed that the only reason for the better performance of choice schools was because they could skew the results by only accepting the “best” students.

But the WILL study took it a step further. The key difference in WILL’s study is that it isolated school performance by accounting for the students’ socio-economic status and demographic differences. After adjusting for these variables, the study still shows that choice and charter schools outperform their public school counterparts.

Some of the details are further enlightening. In Milwaukee, while choice and charter schools outperform Milwaukee Public Schools, long-standing Catholic and Lutheran schools are top performers. Faith-based education works. Also, the best performing charter schools are those authorized by the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Perhaps the most troubling result in WILL’s study is the racial achievement gap. The study shows that racial achievement gap is massive and it cuts across every kind of school. Specifically, “a school with a nonwhite student make-up is predicted to have 52.9 percent lower proficiency in English/Language Arts and 46.5 percent lower proficiency in math than a school that is all white.”

That is a massive problem and is also reflected in a recent study about the next step in education — college. A recent report from The Education Trust showed that UW-M has one of the worst graduation rates for black students in the nation. Only 21 percent of full-time black students at UW-M graduate within six years.

Given that UW-M and MPS are both, obviously, in Milwaukee, and that many MPS graduates feed into UW-M, the results of both schools are irrevocably linked. The graduation rate for black kids at MPS has been falling in recent years. The four-year graduation rate for black kids in MPS was 54.7 percent in 2016 and 67 percent after five years.

What all of this data reveals is that while choice and charter schools improve the probability of educational success for the majority of kids, none of them improves the achievement gap between white and non-white children. There is an expansive and pervasive issue that is holding back Wisconsin’s non-white children — particularly black ones. Since WILL’s study corrected for socioeconomic and demographic differences, there is something beyond poverty or unemployment driving the gap.

Flanders’ study reminds us that Wisconsin, once at the forefront of education innovation, still has a lot of work to do. We must continue to offer more Wisconsin families the opportunity to send their kids to the school of their choice, but that is only the beginning. We must also get serious about breaking the fetters that are preventing Wisconsin’s non-white kids from achieving their God-given potential.

Propaganda War

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

The 115th Congress took a break last week from wrestling over repealing Obamacare, confirming appointees and all of the other ideas bubbling around the beginning of a new session. It was a brief opportunity for our elected representatives to return home and spend some time listening to the people in their respective districts. And boy, did they get an earful.

If you were watching the news in the past few weeks, the scene was repeated over and over again. A Republican Congressperson or Senator hosted a town hall or attend a public event. They were greeted by dozens of protestors who would interrupt, shout, wave signs, chant, and generally try to be as disruptive as possible. Given President Trump’s temporary travel ban from unstable countries, enforcement of immigration laws, and continued insistence on building a wall on America’s southern border, the most frequent topic of unrest was immigration and/or illegal aliens.

Wisconsin’s own Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner was one such recipient of this treatment. Sensenbrenner has been listening to his constituents in town halls since President Carter was in the White House. As a conservative Republican, Sensenbrenner has been a prime target of protestors. At a recent town hall in Menomonee Falls, the mob shouted down other attendees with chants of “No ban. No wall. America has room for all.” The video of it filled social media and the local news broadcasts.

If one were to just watch the news, one could be forgiven for thinking that there is overwhelming opposition to Trump’s immigration policies. The polls disabuse that perception.

According to a survey conducted by Harvard-Harris Poll and provided to The Hill, the public overwhelmingly supports Trump’s immigration policies. Eighty percent of respondents oppose sanctuary cities and support the federal government compelling sanctuary cities to comply with immigration laws — including local police reporting illegal aliens with whom they come into contact to federal immigration authorities. Seventy-seven percent of the poll’s respondents support an overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws.

Slightly lesser majorities, but still majorities, support Trump’s other efforts regarding immigration. 53 percent support Trump’s temporary travel ban. Fifty-one percent think that the United States should accept fewer Syrian refugees with only 15 percent thinking that the country should accept more.

The only point on which the poll showed disapproval was when it came to the wall. Fifty-three percent of respondents oppose the wall, but 75 percent support increased border patrols. The public clearly wants a less permeable southern border, but is less enthusiastic about that being accomplished with a wall.

How does one reconcile the media perception of massive opposition to Trump’s immigration policies with the Harvard-Harris’ poll’s findings of overwhelming support for those policies? First, one must remember that this is the same media that told the world that Trump was unelectable right up until the day he won the election.

Second, the media, intentionally or not, is the mouthpiece for an intentional misinformation campaign being conducted by Barack Obama’s activist stormtroopers, Organizing for Action (OFA). In a Facebook post on Feb. 9, OFA called on activists to attend Republican town halls to protest. The instruction manual distributed by OFA advises protesters to enter the town halls quietly, sit in the front but “not all sit together,” and spread out in pairs to give the impression of broad opposition.

Then the activists are advised to confront Republican elected officials and “loudly boo the GOP politician if he isn’t ‘giving you real answers.’” The goal is to make Republicans feel uneasy about supporting the Trump agenda and seed “the ground for the 2018 midterms when Democrats retake power.”

Most importantly, activists are told to record their interactions with Republicans, post it to social media, and then feed the video to local and national media. The intent of OFA is to create the impression of broad opposition to Trump’s policies and to destabilize and delegitimize our Republic.

While there is certainly opposition to various policies, and some of it is quite intense, the efforts by OFA to create and feed a fake perception is subversive and reprehensible. It reeks of the tactics used by communist revolutionary organizations for decades. The ability to distribute propaganda instantly through social media and a media willing to parrot their false narrative makes their work easier and more effective.

Freeing Fees

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

In this most recent era of heated factional discord, there is one issue about which virtually everyone can agree. College is too expensive and is driving too many students into debt for degrees that are decreasing in value in the economy.

For decades, the price of college has increased far faster than inflation, personal income or any other economic metric.

The very simple reason that college costs so much is because many colleges spend way too much. Fueled by easy money from the taxpayers and a culture that puts an almost mythical value on a college education, many colleges — particularly public ones — spend an inordinate amount of money on things that have little to do with educating young adults.

Gov. Scott Walker has made controlling the cost of college a major initiative in his proposed budget. One small proposal in Walker’s budget is creating a fierce backlash. Both the proposal and backlash brilliantly illustrate the scope of overspending in the University of Wisconsin System.

In an effort to give students the choice to lower the cost of attending the University of Wisconsin, Walker has proposed to allow students to opt out of paying about 15 percent of their student fees called allocable segregated fees. These fees are mandatory for all students and go to pay for organizations and services as designated by student-led committees at each campus. Walker’s proposal does not touch the other 85 percent of student fees, called non-allocable fees, which go to pay for things like the student unions and campus healthcare services.

The list of organizations receiving allocable student fees is long and varies from campus to campus.

Most of the recipient organizations are not controversial and are just student special interest clubs, student service organizations, or student government.

For example, the Greater University Tutorial Service, Student Leadership Program, Wisconsin Black Student Union, Student Judiciary, Oshkosh Gaming Society, Chess Club, Student Radio and student bus passes are all funded in part with allocable fees.

Some organizations are quite controversial. For example, at UW-Madison, a group called Sex Out Loud, which offers programs like “Advanced Pleasure 369” and “Kink 401” received more than $100,000 this year.

Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MEChA) received more than $87,000 in student fees. MEChA is a radical activist anti-American organization that promotes separatism and non-assimilation of what they call “Our Chicano Nation.” They openly state that, “we are a nationalist movement of Indigenous Gente that lay claim to the land that is ours by birthright. As a nationalist movement we seek to free our people from the exploitation of an oppressive society that occupies our land.”

Whether the organizations being funded by allocable fees are controversial or not, Walker’s principle is a simple one. Students should be able to choose whether or not to fund these organizations.

Opponents to the proposal argue that the diverse range of organizations funded by mandatory allocable fees enrich the experience of all students and provide some vital student services (tutoring and bus service). Proponents argue that students should not be forced to pay for organizations with which they disagree and/or in which they do not participate.

Both sides are correct. While these organizations provide some services and marginally add to a diverse college experience, students should not be forced to fund them. If students value these organizations and services, Walker’s proposal leaves open the option for students to pay the allocable fees. Even if a student chooses not to pay the fee, they can still pay for organizations and services on an individual basis. Walker’s proposal neither mandates nor forbids students from paying for these organizations. All it does is give them a choice that they do not currently have.

For the average Wisconsin resident, it costs about $25,655 per year to attend UW-Madison. Walker’s proposal would allow students the option to reduce that cost by a scant $178.

If we cannot abide even this exceptionally modest attempt at reducing the cost of college, then we are not even remotely serious about making college more affordable and accessible for all.

It’s About the Spending

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

Gov. Scott Walker has taken the first step in Wisconsin’s biennial budget process by introducing his executive budget. Walker calls it a “reform dividend” budget that is able to boost spending thanks to the reforms enacted in earlier budgets. There is a lot to like about Walker’s budget, but it suffers from a fundamental flaw: it spends way too much.

The governor’s executive budget is the first step in what will be a lengthy legislative process before Wisconsin gets to a final budget. The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee will begin working through the governor’s budget to add and remove their own priorities. The budget that comes out of the JFC will then be debated and passed by both houses of the legislature; the versions that pass each legislative house will be reconciled and sent to the governor; the governor will issue vetoes; the legislature will consider overriding vetoes; and then we will have a final budget. There is a long way to go.

Despite the fact that the governor and both houses of the Legislature hail from the same political party, there are some sharp differences of opinion regarding Wisconsin’s budget priorities. There have already been fierce intraparty clashes over transportation funding, debt load, potential tax increases, and other issues. The final budget will look substantially different than the governor’s budget proposal, but Walker has begun the conversation by making his priorities clear.

Signaling that Walker intends to run for reelection next year, his budget includes a lot of tax cuts and spending increases targeted at various interest groups. Most of the nearly $600 million in tax cuts comes from changes to the income tax and eliminating a portion of the state property tax, but the budget also includes several smaller targeted tax cuts.

The governor’s budget increases spending in a number of areas including an additional $649 million for K-12 schools and $105.2 million more for the University of Wisconsin System. There are also spending increases for tech schools, welfare, work force development, prisons, historical society, health services, transportation, the building commission, shared revenue and more.

Walker’s budget also includes some terrific reforms and accountability measures. The budget finally eliminates prevailing wage statewide, which will save taxpayers millions of dollars on needed work. It contains reforms to welfare and work force development designed to help people break the cycle of poverty and become successful in the work force. Under this budget, Wisconsin will self-insure its employees for health coverage. This is something that many large companies already do and will save taxpayers millions of dollars.

In what is garnering the most pushback, Walker’s budget increases spending for K-12 education and the University of Wisconsin, but does so with some added accountability. K-12 schools that have not already taken advantage of the tools given them in Act 10 to make reforms may not be eligible for the increased state funding. Much of the increased spending on UW will only come after UW makes reforms like offering a 3-year degree option.

But for all of the good it contains, one cannot escape the fact that Walker’s budget still spends too much. Indeed, despite the myth of “cuts” and “austerity” perpetuated by both political parties, Wisconsin has increased spending in every budget Walker has signed. This is despite the fact that Wisconsinites’ ability to pay has still not recovered from the Great Recession.

Let us look at the numbers. Gov. Jim Doyle’s last biennial budget for 2009-11 spent $61.9 billion. The first Walker budget spent $64.1 billion. Since then, Wisconsin’s biennial budgets have increased spending every time to $68 billion to $72.6 billion and now $76.1 billion. The budget that Walker just proposed spends a full 23 percent more than Gov. Doyle’s final budget. “Austerity,” my foot.

Meanwhile, over the same time period, Wisconsinites’ income has struggled. In 2008, the year before Gov. Doyle passed his last budget, the real median household income in Wisconsin was $57,348. It took a beating in 2009 after the Great Recession and dropped to $55,227. Since then, real median household income has dropped more before finally inching up last year. It still has not recovered to the 2008 level. The real median household income since 2009 has moved to $53,269, $53,110, $52,709, $52,370, $52,683, and finally in 2015, to $55,638. As you can see, the median Wisconsin household is earning $1,710 less per year since 2008, but being asked to pay for a state budget that spends 23 percent more.

If Wisconsin’s state spending largesse cannot be justified by an increase in Wisconsinites’ ability to pay, then perhaps the increased spending is being offset by an increase in population and new taxpayers? No. Since 2010, Wisconsin’s population has only increased 1.6 percent. And according to IRS migration data, the aggregate adjusted gross income for people leaving Wisconsin is greater than those coming in. Essentially, Wisconsin is losing higher-earners and retirees to low-tax states and replacing them with lower earners.

Gov. Walker and the Republicans deserve tremendous credit for the immensely beneficial and consequential budgetary reforms they have enacted and for managing the state’s finances in a responsible manner. Long gone are the Doyle budgets of massive deficits and illegal fund raids thanks to mature management of the state’s finances.

But Wisconsin remains a tax hell precisely because it remains a spending hell. For all of the good that Walker and the Republicans have done, they have not addressed this fundamental problem and it drags down everything from economic growth to work force availability to the everyday lives of Wisconsinites just trying to keep enough of their money to build a better life for themselves.

The power and politics of the court

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

Almost exactly a year ago, the Conservative Lion of the Supreme Court of the United States, Antonin Scalia, passed away. His death triggered a titanic political battle that is only now beginning its final phase.

The fact that the battle over a single appointment to the Supreme Court is so important and so heated is distressing because it is the result of two concentrations of power that should be abhorrent to small “r” republicans. The first concentration is into the federal government in distant Washington. Over the past two centuries we have allowed our federal government to grow so large and powerful that it wields an extraordinary amount of authority over our lives.

The second concentration is into the Supreme Court itself. While intended to be a coequal branch of government on equal footing with the Legislative and Executive branches, the Supreme Court, headed by Chief Justice John Marshall, quickly assumed the power to be the final arbiter of the constitutionality of laws in its 1903 decision, Marbury v. Madison.

The combination of the Supreme Court being the final arbiter of the constitutionality of laws for government with massive power and control over Americans’ lives necessarily makes the decisions of the court, and the people who make those decisions, of vital importance to all Americans. And the fact that Justices for the Supreme Court serve for life renders the decision regarding each selection of generational impact.

When Justice Scalia passed away, he left a Supreme Court with a slight ideological tilt to the Left after years of it having a slight tilt to the Right. President Obama had hoped to appoint another leftist Justice to the bench, thus cementing a leftist majority on the court for years to come. The Republicans who controlled the Senate exercised their authority to thwart the President and leave the choice to the next president. When the Senate took that action, the outcome of the Presidential election was months in the future and polls predicted a strong victory for Hillary Clinton. As we know, Donald Trump won the election against all odds and has now chosen his nominee to succeed Justice Scalia.

Despite fears from Conservatives and constructionists, President Trump made a choice that is exemplary in every regard. Neil Gorsuch is widely acknowledged as brilliant, eloquent, and well-liked by colleagues from all sides. He was unanimously confirmed to serve on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals just eleven years ago. He has an impeccable resume including degrees from Columbia, Oxford, and Harvard, where he was a classmate of President Obama. Gorsuch was a clerk for two Supreme Court Justices, and has served with distinction for a decade in the Court of Appeals. It is also worth noting that Gorsuch, at 49-years-old, is young He has the potential to serve for a generation.

Most importantly, Gorsuch’s rulings indicate that he is a highly-principled judicial conservative, but one who is more constructionist of even the indomitable Scalia. Gorsuch is steeped in Natural Law and vehement in his protection of the individual from the overreaches of government. This might put him at odds with some conservatives in issues regarding the 4th Amendment, and with liberals regarding the 1st Amendment. But he clearly states in view in his 2006 book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia, “…the whole purpose pose and ideal of government as envisioned by the founding document of our country, is to establish a government that is aimed at securing and protecting what our founders considered to be self-evident human rights and truths.”

The Democrats have already reflexively announced their opposition to Gorsuch, even though their criticisms have failed to rise to any cogent standard. Wisconsin’s own Senator Tammy Baldwin has even refused to meet with Gorsuch, thus abdicating her role in the process and retreating behind nasty press releases and daft commentary.

Far be it from me to advise the Democrats, but their overreach on Gorsuch may neuter them further on future picks. Remember that former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid killed the filibuster rule for all but Supreme Court picks in his effort to ram through President Obama’s lower court appointments, but left it in place for Supreme Court appointments. In doing so, Reid laid the ideological groundwork and precedent for killing the filibuster rule for Supreme Court picks too.

If the Democrats in the U.S. Senate choose to filibuster and obstruct what is clearly a brilliantly qualified choice for the Supreme Court, the Republicans can rescind the filibuster rule for Supreme Court picks too and confirm the appointment without needing to make a single concession to the minority party. The Democrats’ intransigence and unwillingness to even participate in the process, and the precedent already established by Harry Reid, will provide ample political cover for the change in rules.

Then, if and when Trump gets another opportunity to appoint a Supreme Court justice, the rules will already be set to allow an easy confirmation. If the Democrats participate and allow a vote – even if all of them vote against the nominee – they will likely preserve the filibuster for future Supreme Court nominations while undercutting the political justification to rescind it next time.

If the political battles of the past few years in Wisconsin have taught me anything, it is that Democrats will overreach. Their base of radicals demands unbending fealty to ideology – even at the expense of victory.

Neil Gorsuch is eminently qualified to sit on the Supreme Court and should be confirmed with broad support in the Senate. Then we should begin the process of reducing the scope and power of the federal government and the court so that these nominations wane in importance.

Management by proverbial drunken sailors

If it weren’t such an insult to drunken sailors… my column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

Although some substantial progress has been made on reducing taxes in Wisconsin, the state stubbornly remains as one of the highest taxed states in the nation. The cause of exorbitant taxation is extravagant spending.

Wisconsin taxes so much because it spends so much.

While many Wisconsinites like to delude themselves into believing that Wisconsin’s government spends so much in order to maintain an acceptable standard of life, the truth is far less defensible. Wisconsin does spend more than other states as a matter of choice, but it also continues to waste billions of dollars because of flawed priorities, corruption and rank incompetence.

Two recent examples regarding two of the state budget’s largest spending items have bubbled to the surface.

Last week, the Legislative Audit Bureau released an audit of the Department of Transportation that paints a picture of a department rife with sloppy work and frivolous spending. One finding was that the DOT was utterly incompetent at providing cost estimates for projects. In one example, of the agency’s 16 ongoing projects, the DOT underestimated the cost by $3.1 billion. The audit cites the agency’s failure to account for inflation, meet performance goals or control expenses as reasons for the bloated costs.

The audit goes on to detail the DOT’s poor reporting practices that thwart adequate oversight, the repeated failure to get competitive bids on projects and careless management. The result is despite increased spending in the past few state budgets, the state’s roads are in increasingly worse condition.

Meanwhile, a lawsuit stemming from a State Department of Justice investigation alleges illegal financial dealings at the University of Wisconsin- Oshkosh. According to the lawsuit filing, former UW-O Chan-cellor Richard Wells and retired UW-O Vice Chancellor of Administrative Services Tom Sonnleitner worked together to make illegal financial guarantees and use taxpayer dollars for building projects being done by the UW-O Foundation.

The UW-O Foundation is a nonprofit group that raises private money to spend on things to support the university. As part of their investment initiatives, the foundation invested in several local building projects including a conference center, two biodigesters, a sports complex and a Best Western hotel. The foundation hopes to gain a profit from the investments since these are mostly private, for-profit, enterprises.

But the foundation did not have enough money for the investments, so the lawsuit alleges the former UWO Chancellor guaranteed the loans and provided taxpayer money to the tune of $11 million to get the projects done. That is illegal. As the fallout from the lawsuit unfolds, the UW-O Foundation is considering filing for bankruptcy, which would leave the taxpayers on the hook for even more millions.

Both the stories regarding the Department of Transportation and UW-O are revealing in that the behavior has gone on for years — even decades — without anyone blowing the whistle. And even now, the wasteful and possibly illegal behavior continues unabated. Just because the Legislative Audit Bureau released a scathing report and a lawsuit has been filed does not mean that anything has changed. Nobody has been held accountable. There is a pervasive cavalierness in much of government about spending our money.

These are just two small windows into the workings of our government that show billions of dollars’ worth of wasteful spending. Perhaps not coincidentally, the Department of Transportation and the University of Wisconsin System are also two of the loudest recipients of taxpayer dollars that are crying poor and demanding even more tax dollars from the next budget.

Wisconsin continues to have a tax problem as a direct result of its spending problem. And unless state leaders get control of the bureaucracy, enforce rigid accountability for mismanagement, and infuse a culture of frugal stewardship, Wisconsin will continue to have a spending problem for the foreseeable future.

 

 

The Trump Era Begins

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

“So help me God.” When Donald Trump repeated those words to Chief Justice John Roberts with his hand resting on two Bibles, he became the duly elected 45th president of the United States. One hopes that he appreciates just how much of God’s help he will need, because the rest of us certainly do.

The Trump Era has begun and it bodes to be unique in American history. President Trump’s inaugural address reminded the nation of why he was elected and bluntly declared the priorities that will guide his administration.

Standing in front of three former presidents and dozens of generational creatures of Washington, Trump declared that we were witnessing more than the hallowed American peaceful transfer of power. We were witnessing the, “transferring (of) power from Washington, D.C., and giving it back to you, the American People.” Much of the rest of Trump’s address affirmed the populism and patriotism that catapulted him to the highest office our nation has to offer.

President Trump stated, “From this moment on, it’s going to be America first. Every decision on trade, on taxes, on immigration, on foreign affairs, will be made to benefit American workers and American families.”

Such a statement should not seem so revolutionary, but perhaps it is a sign of how far we have drifted into the waters of globalism and postnationalism that it is. The previous administration eschewed the notion that our nation’s policies should be based on advancing the interests of our own nation and people, so the contrast in priorities is stark.

Trump has begun his administration by aggressively following through on his campaign commitments. After the normal administrative business necessary for any new administration, the first order Trump signed was to instruct the various federal agencies to use every bit of statutory and discretionary power they have to delay or waive any part of Obamacare. This order will help mitigate the destruction that Obamacare has been perpetrating on our nation while the Congress works on legislation to tear it down completely.

By the time this column is read, there will likely be dozens of other sweeping orders issuing from Trump’s pen as he thrusts his vision for America into an unwilling bureaucracy. Trump has shown a willingness to slaughter sacred cows, so expect a lot of blood and red meat for his supporters.

One of the most positive aspects of the dawn of the Trump Era is that liberals have rediscovered a reverence for American principles like limited government, separation of powers, federalism and judicial restraint.

When President Obama was governing with a “phone and a pen,” the liberals cheered. When the Supreme Court legalized gay marriage for all 50 states, they paraded in the streets. When Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid quashed the filibuster rule to get Obama’s judges through the Senate, they chortled approval.

Now that Trump is the president and the Republicans control both houses of Congress, our liberal friends have become paragons of constitutionalism. Lefty celebrities are making videos of themselves taking oaths to support and defend the Constitution while the decrepit leaders of the Democratic Party rediscover the rigors of parliamentary procedure. I, for one, welcome our liberal friends to embrace conservative principles. If we had not allowed our federal government to become so involved in our lives and for the president to assume so much power, then the political passions of the resident of the White House would not matter so much. He or she would simply be an administrator of the few limited tasks relegated to the office by the Constitution to be replaced periodically by the citizenry.

While our liberal friends dust off their copies of the Constitution, I pray that President Trump and the Republicans who control Congress do the same.

Instead looking for ways to get around the Constitution in order to force their will on the public, they should embrace the wisdom infused into our Constitution. If a law cannot pass the Congress and be enacted into law with due process, then it likely is not good law. Except for times of war, governing is supposed to be plodding and tedious to allow time for bad ideas to die. Follow the Constitution and the results will be good and lasting.

The Trump Era is here. Strap in.

 

Considering our library and its debt

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

A little spat over debt between the West Bend library and the city of West Bend, of which the library is a part, has been resolved, but it begs us to confront some broader questions.

At issue was an old debt. Thanks in part to generous donations from individuals, the West Bend library undertook a major expansion project at the turn of the millennium. But as is always the case with projects of this sort, the taxpayers were not left completely off the hook. Part of the project was financed through debt that Washington County and the city of West Bend agreed to pay back.

For almost two decades, Washington County has been paying roughly $100,000 to the city of West Bend and the city put in about $150,000 to pay off the debt.

The process was a bit convoluted. Since the library is an entity of the city and the city managed the debt, the process was set up so that the county would pay the city; then the city would allocate the funds to the library; then the library board would authorize the same funds to be sent back to the city for the service of the debt. As some point, someone at the city decided that such a process was convoluted and the city just bypassed allocating the money to the library.

The squabble over it arose last year when the Library Board decided that its prerogative was being violated because it should authorize payment to the city. In trying to unravel all of this, it was found that there was very little documentation to back up any of these agreements — including the term for paying off the debt. Since the process was all part of the internal workings of the city and the Common Council decided all of this in closed session over 15 years ago, nobody perceived a need for rigorous documentation.

Since nobody could tell any different, the library and the city agreed last week that they would consider the debt fully repaid in two years, at which time the money the county and the city allocate to the library every year for this purpose would be banked for capital projects.

This invites the question, what might those capital projects be? Would it be a wise expenditure of tax dollars to expand or renovate of the library?

And in the digital age, do the taxpayers really need to spend money on a traditional library at all? In the past, libraries served a critical function to diffuse knowledge into a community. Books were expensive and most homes rarely contained more than a Bible and a handful of other books. We relied on libraries to provide a window to the past and to the wider world.

The internet has changed almost everything in our society and libraries are not immune.

Now people can access billions of books, magazines, newspapers, pictures, films, recordings, and other media in hundreds of different languages within seconds. The internet did not just open the window. The internet has torn it off its hinges and kicked down the wall to provide a panoramic view.

As a lifelong bibliophile, I love libraries. I love bookstores too. Despite also being a technophile, I vastly prefer browsing a dusty row of books or paging through the dog-eared pages of a good book to the glow of a screen.

But I can get the same knowledge from a tablet and it is difficult for me to justify the taxpayers paying for preference of reading format.

The taxpayers currently spend about $1.4 million per year on the library and the Library Board expects some major capital needs within a few years. To put that in perspective, it would only cost about $1.34 million per year to provide each of the roughly 13,500 households in West Bend with a subscription to Amazon Prime with access to far more information than the library could ever hold. While that probably is not the best alternative, there are certainly many alternatives to the traditional library model that would cost far less.

The mission of the West Bend library is, “to be a lifelong learning resource by providing quality services, resources, and learning opportunities through a variety of formats to meet informational, educational, cultural and recreational needs of the community.”

With the world changing around us, it is prudent to consider if there are other means by which the library can accomplish its mission.

The tax burden matters

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

One of the assets of our grand republic that has allowed it to perpetuate and thrive is the fact that we are also a federation of states. Our nation was designed to have a relatively small national government with limited powers while states retain broader and deeper powers to regulate our lives. This allows each state to experiment with different policies and for other states to observe and learn from the results of those policies.

Sometimes, those experiments go very well and other states can copy them to benefit their own citizens. This was the case when concealed carry began to sweep the nation after Florida allowed it in the 1987 and saw nothing but positive results. Since then, every state in the nation has come to allow some form of concealed carry and states continue to get closer to a full recognition of the right to keep and bear arms in the form of what has come to be called Constitutional Carry.

Sometimes, however, states try policies that prove instructive to warn other states to not attempt those policies. Minnesota has just provided one of those examples that Wisconsin, in particular, should be watching closely.

Minnesota has long been a state susceptible to fits of political absurdity. It is, after all, a state that has elected such luminaries as Saturday Night Live alum Al Franken and former professional wrestler Jesse Ventura to high office. In 2010 Minnesotans elected the ultra-leftist Democratic-FarmerLabor (DFL) Party member Mark Dayton with a 43.6 percent of the vote. The Republican and Independent candidates split the remaining 56.4 percent of the vote.

Not to be deterred by his mere plurality of support, Gov. Dayton and his DFL majorities in the state legislature launched an ambitious agenda including a massive tax increase on the “1 percent” to fill a budget deficit created by overspending.

Specifically, they passed a $2.1 billion tax increase in 2013 by increasing the income tax rate for people earning over $150,000 ($250,000 for people filing jointly) from 7.85 percent to 9.85 percent. They also passed a slew of other tax increases on the middle and lower taxes, but the crown jewel of their plan was to “tax the rich” to fund their spending.

The results were predictable. Minnesota saw an immediate increase in tax revenue. This makes sense. When a tax increase like this is passed, most people have little choice but to pay it. The prospect of uprooting their families, changing schools, getting a new job and moving out of state to avoid the tax is not an option immediately doable.

But over time, all fixed costs become variable costs. When those high earners begin seeking out their next career move, one of the factors they will consider is the amount of their paycheck they have to send to the government that they would be able to keep by simply moving to a different state. That is exactly what is happening in Minnesota.

The results of the tax increase are becoming known. The IRS keeps track of when people move to different states by the flagging when people list a new resident on their tax returns. This data gives us a vivid picture of taxpayer movement because it is actual data and not just a statistical projection.

As detailed in a report by the Center of the American Experiment, the most recent IRS data available is for the year immediately after Minnesota’s tax increase and it shows a grim picture. Between 2013 and 2014, Minnesota reported its largest net loss of income in its history with $944 million of adjusted gross income leaving the state. Lest one think this is the natural flow of retirees moving to warmer climes, 63 percent of the state’s net loss of tax filers were younger than 65.

Most of the former Minnesotans are predictable fleeing to states with better tax climates like Colorado, Florida, South Dakota, Texas, Arizona and Washington. In fact, five of the 10 states to which Minnesotans flee do not have an income tax at all. It is notable that one of the places that is not receiving an outflow of high-earning Minnesotans is Wisconsin. That is because despite a few years of progress, Wisconsin remains a state with one of the highest tax burdens in the nation. Even after Minnesota’s tax increases, Wisconsin still ranks four notches worse than Minnesota on Forbes’ ranking of overall tax burdens.

The data shows what we all know. The tax burden matters. In the short run, most people do not have a choice but to pay what the government tells them to pay. But over time, choices expand and people will factor the tax burden into their decisions about their lives. Minnesota’s experiment with higher taxes is showing a way that Wisconsin should not follow. In fact, they are showing that Wisconsin should do the exact opposite and push harder to have a tax burden that actually attracts high-earners to our state.

Death throes of a presidency

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

President Barack Obama is leaving office in the same way he governed for most of his tenure — in a classless spasm of petulant partisanship. Despite the fact that he was graciously welcomed to the White House with a smooth and inclusive transition by his predecessor, President George W. Bush, Obama is determined to frustrate President-elect Donald Trump at every turn.

Since the election of Trump, Obama has been on a spree of executive actions designed to ram through as much of his leftist ideology as possible. He has escalated his effort to undermine the law by commuting the sentences of another 232 federal inmates and outright pardoned another 78 convicts. Most of these folks were rightly convicted, but Obama disagrees with the laws under which they were convicted.

Obama has also been rapidly filling the bureaucracy with loyal leftists. Since Election Day, he has appointed more than 100 people to senior civil service jobs in everything from the Amtrak Board of Directors to key oversight panels.

Last-minute commutations and appointments by a lame-duck president are relatively common and have happened since President John Adams rammed through judicial appointments on his last day in office (including the famous William Marbury of Marbury v. Madison fame). Where Obama is showing his extremism is in unilaterally making sweeping changes to American domestic and foreign policies.

After 7 and 11/12 years of letting Russia kick him all over the globe, Obama chose now to poke the bear by expelling diplomats and imposing sanctions for allegedly meddling in our election. Irrespective of the validity or effectiveness of Obama’s actions, his decision to act now and let Trump deal with the consequences is appalling. There was no reason that America could not wait three weeks for the incoming administration to evaluate and enact a response to Russia, if necessary. There is no impending event that demanded immediate action. The only reason Obama acted now was to create political minefields for the incoming president.

Obama also reversed decades of American policy by stabbing our ally Israel in the back. The U.S. had long protected Israel from the anti-Semitic actions of the United Nations by vetoing anti-Israel resolutions. Obama abstained and allowed the U.N. to pass a sanction condemning Israel for their settlements and then sent out his Secretary of State, John Kerry, to issue a long-winded nonsensical justification for the betrayal. Obama’s action has laid a foundation for decades of attacks on Israel by people who cannot bear to see a democratic Jewish state exist in the Middle East.

Over the objections of local officials and residents, Obama unilaterally declared 1.65 million acres of Utah and Nevada to be national monuments, thus making it off limits to private development and resource exploration. In an admission that his action is unpopular and unjustified, Obama is already claiming that Trump could not legally reverse his declaration. It is un-American to think that a president would be given unilateral and arbitrary authority to perpetually wall off vast swaths of American land. Nowhere do we allow a single man that much power in our Republic.

Not to be restricted to terrestrial matters, Obama also unilaterally enacted an indefinite ban on drilling for vast swaths of the Artic and Atlantic Oceans. It is another swipe to try to shore up Obama’s radical environmentalist legacy for the sake of his ego while kneecapping our economy one more time before retiring to the lavish existence our presidents have come to expect. Once again, Obama and his lawyers are already insisting that the law does not allow future presidents to reverse his decision, and once again, nothing is more hateful to Americans than the notion of an omnipotent potentate issuing eternal decrees.

The silver lining is that the cause for Obama’s reckless and destructive behavior is that his tenure is coming to an end. Before the month comes to a close, Obama’s presidency will be over and we can begin to repair the damage.

Reasserting the 10th Amendment

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

One of the more positive consequences of the presidential election of 2016 may be that we finally stop the flow of power to Washington and push it back toward the states and the people. There is cause for some optimism in that regard.

The last eight years have seen a massive consolidation of power into the executive branch of the federal government. President Barack Obama has usurped power from Congress, the states, the people and anyone else when it suited his purposes to advance his leftist ideology.

Obama unilaterally changed Obamacare several times by delaying the implentation dates and spending tax dollars for subsidies that were not authorized. He illegally made “recess” appointments to the National Labor Relations Board and other posts when the Senate was not actually in recess. Obama dictated to states what their schools’ bathroom policies should be. He essentially implemented the DREAM Act by executive fiat despite the fact that Congress has declined to pass that law.

The list of executive abuses by Obama is long and we will be trying to repair the damage for years. But while liberals cheered Obama’s abuses because they believe that the ends justified the means, their cheers are turning to shrieks as they are coming to the realization that President Donald Trump will soon wield the power that Obama consolidated into the Oval Office.

Perhaps the election of Trump on the heels of Obama’s presidency offers the opportunity to unite fearful liberals with constructionist conservatives to wrest power from the federal government and return it to the states and the people where it belongs. That was, after all, the intend of the Founders when they ratified the 10th Amendment, which states, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or the people.”

Several of our founders opposed the 10th Amendment, and the Bill of Rights as a whole. They did so not because they disagreed with them, but because they thought they were unnecessary. As written, the Constitution rightly based all power in the people and then granted specific powers to the federal government to exercise on the people’s behalf. Since all powers not specifically delegated to the government in the Constitution were assumed to remain with the people, there was no need to reiterate that fact with superfluous amendments.

Unfortunately, the passage of time, indifference by the American people and the thirst for power of unscrupulous politicians has severely eroded the clear construction of the Constitution and the 10th Amendment has been largely ignored. Some folks are beginning to pay attention to the division of powers between our various levels of government and the people. One of the people seizing the vanguard is Wisconsin’s Gov. Scott Walker.

In a timely letter to presidentelect Trump, Gov. Walker asks for Trump to review all federal programs and mandates with an eye to restoring rights and responsibilities to the states and the people. Walker specifically highlights several areas in which the federal government is impeding Wisconsin’s ability to manage our affairs in the areas of welfare reform, dairy policy, air pollution, management of gray wolves, refugee resettlement and others. Walker’s letter is clear, however, that the items listed are not an inclusive list.

Walker forcefully lays claim to the rights of states to manage their affairs except for the few items delegated to the federal government in the Constitution. He writes, “too often states have become mere administrative provinces of an allpowerful federal government in Washington, which restrains growth and prosperity by forcing states to accept policies and priorities that do not meet the needs of taxpayers, and do not reflect the local needs, conditions, or values.”

Walker is right and everyone who is justifiably concerned about the amount of power that Washington has over our lives would be well served to follow his lead.

Red Scare

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

Years after President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hit the “reset” button with Russia, the Bear has rampaged through the United States’ presidential election. Or has it?

The claim being made by the Democrats and President Obama is that the Russians directly intervened in our presidential election in favor of Donald Trump by supporting hackers who perpetrated the damaging DNC hacks and perhaps even hacking various election machines. The problem with that claim is that there is very little evidence to support it and the reasoning behind it is irrevocably flawed.

As evidence, the Democrats offer the fact that the vile people at Wikileaks divulged mountains of emails from the DNC and Clinton lackey John Podesta that proved very damaging to the Clinton campaign while not doing the same against Trump. They also claim that Russia supported Wikileaks in this endeavor, which Wikileaks denies. The Democrats conveniently overlook the fact that the damaging information about Clinton corruption was true, which is why it was damaging. If the lack of balance in attacks is evidence of election tampering, then the entire American media should be on trial after their rabid support of Clinton in this election cycle.

The Democrats also cite leaks (ironic, no?) and comments from the CIA accusing Russia of tampering with the election. But the CIA will not publically divulge any of their evidence, will not brief Congress and will not go on the record with their accusations. The real travesty is that after eight years of Obama radically politicizing every federal agency he needed to like the FBI, IRS, ICE, DOJ, EPA, etc., nobody can believe the CIA at face value anymore. Given the history of this administration, it is not only possible, but probable, that the CIA is being used for the political agenda of the Democratic Party.

Taking a step back from the specific allegations, one must evaluate what might be really going on through the haze of disinformation. Is Russia trying to hack our election and, if so, to what end?

Simple logic would lead one to conclude that Russia is undoubtedly trying to influence our elections. For the last 10 years or more, Russia has been actively trying to regain the power they once had as the Soviet Union. They have acted without conscience, morals or reserve. This is the same nation that invaded Ukraine, blew a civilian jet out of the sky, supports Syria, traded nuclear material to Iran and much more. They also have a recent history of actively meddling in the elections and politics of smaller nations in order to destabilize them for Russia’s advantage.

If we concede that Russia would not have any scruples about subverting America’s election and that they have some means to do so, then we must only ask if it is in their interests to do so. The answer is probably yes, but not to sway the election one way or the other. Rather, to delegitimize the process and subsequent administration. An American government that has the appearance of illegitimacy and an American public that has lost its confidence in our electoral process is a powerful ally in Russia’s campaign to gain world supremacy.

While it is reasonable to conclude that Russia did try to interfere with our election, it is also reasonable to conclude that they were unsuccessful in determining the outcome, but that was likely not their objective. The Russians want a weaker America irrespective of who the president is. In any case, given Russia’s rapid rise under the feckless foreign policy of President Obama and Secretary of State Clinton, it is difficult to fathom why they would have tried to act on behalf of Trump anyway.

Strangely, we are at the point that the goals of the Democratic Party and Russia are in alignment. The Democrats are seizing on the possibility of Russian meddling as a way to delegitimize Trump’s administration. Having lost the presidency and the Congress, the Democrats want to weaken Trump in order to advance their domestic political agenda. In particular, President Obama, who is famously cool about everything from Syrian genocide to crushing regulations, has been animated over this issue. The Russians also want a weak American government and are encouraging the discord.

What are we to do about all of this? First, we must diligently and vigorously investigate if and how any foreign power might have attempted to undermine our election. When the investigation is complete and the evidence known, then we can make educated policy decisions about how to respond.

Second, we must recognize that one of the greatest bulwarks against any successful hacking of our election is the decentralized way we conduct elections. It is infinitely more difficult to hack an election in which different states, counties, and precincts use different methodologies, machines, etc. than it is to hack a centralized, integrated election. Measures that centralize and automate our electoral process are convenient, but they increase the risk of fraud.

Third, we must do what Americans have done since President John Adams was sworn into office and support a peaceful transition of presidential power. President Trump was legitimately elected by the American people and serves by the consent of the governed. Period.

 

Still proudly flaunting the Golden Fleeces

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

Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, perhaps taking a page from the late former Wisconsin Sen. William Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Award, has released his second annual report titled “Federal Fumbles: 100 Ways the Government Dropped the Ball.” As we peek over the horizon at the dawn of a new administration, it is a good time to remember just how much of our money our federal government spends and misspends.

For some perspective, the federal government spends about $3.8 trillion per year. That is about 21 percent of our national gross domestic product. Put another way, that is roughly $12,000 for every person in the United States. If you did not pay $12,000 for every member of your household in federal taxes this year, then you are not paying your fair share.

But as we all know, the federal government spends more than it takes in and makes up the difference by borrowing. By the end of this year, the total national debt will exceed $19.5 trillion and is increasing every year. By the end of the decade, Americans will spend more on interest payments on that debt than on our national defense.

Where does all of that money go? Some of it goes to Constitutionally mandated items like national defense, regulating immigration, the post office, the federal court system, etc., but the majority goes to items never imagined by the writers of our Constitution like Social Security, Obamacare, Medicare, Medicaid, education, and of course, that massive interest payment. And within all of that spending, both the Constitutionally mandated and the rest, there are millions of examples of waste, fraud, and inexplicable incompetence. Here are a few of my favorites from Lankford’s compilation: One of the single biggest areas of waste is in overpayments made by Medicaid, and the problem is getting worse. In 2015, 9.8 percent of all Medicaid payments, or $29.1 billion, was thrown away in improper payments to people who did not qualify, were in jail, or were dead. In 2016, the problem actually got worse with 11.5 percent ($38.9 billion) being wasted. That is enough waste to pay the full Medicaid benefits for 1.9 million households.

On a smaller scale, the National Science Foundation spent almost $200,000 to fund a study called, “Persistence after failure: understanding neural and behavioral responses to negative outcomes.” The study basically concluded that people should think happy thoughts. Perhaps this study should be forwarded to the folks in the Clinton camp.

The National Endowment for the Arts spent $35,000 of our money to pay for an art exhibit showing the changes in Iranian art over the last 30 years. Most of that money went to Iran and Iranian artists. You know, the same Iran that funds terrorists, kills Americans and wants to kill more.

The State Department also spent $1 million to pay for a dozen foreign filmmakers to go to Hollywood to learn about how to make movies. Even though the American film industry takes in billions of dollars and its luminaries are among the wealthiest people in the country, our federal government thought the lowly federal taxpayer should foot the bill to educate foreigners about their craft. Given how many bad movies come out of Hollywood, perhaps the money would have been better spent sending American filmmakers to Bollywood.

For some inexplicable reason, the Department of Justice spent $70 million to build tribal prison facilities in Arizona. The reason that the expense was inexplicable is because the facilities built were 250 percent larger and twice as expensive than what was needed. What does the DOJ plan to do in Arizona to fill its new prisons?

Of course, I could go on for another thousand pages, but that is, by itself, illustrative. There is no shortage of examples of waste, fraud, and incompetence in our federal government. When added to the money that our government spends on things that are not required, or allowed, by our Constitution, it is easy to see why we spend $3.8 trillion per year of money we do not have.

As our incoming president is pimping another $1 trillion in wasteful stimulus spending like his predecessor and seemingly lacks any appetite for fiscal restraint, I fear that Lankford’s third annual report will be any less maddening

Trump attacks businesses

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

President-elect Donald Trump has been busily preparing to assume the role to which he was elected. So far his choices to fill his cabinet have been terrific, but his populist economic authoritarianism bodes ill for Americans and Americanism.

Last week, before even getting into office, Trump fulfilled one of his campaign promises when he announced that he had reached a deal with Carrier to keep 1,000 jobs in Indiana that Carrier said they would be moving to Mexico. In the deal, Carrier is taking advantage of some economic incentives worth about $7 million in exchange for more than half a billion dollars in paychecks for their American workers. It sounds like a good deal for Indiana, America and Carrier. Chalk up a political win for Trump.

But in that political win are the seeds of despotism. While it appears that Carrier settled for a fairly scant economic incentive package for keeping so many jobs in the country, the other side of the equation is much more ominous. Behind the incentives were the threat of retribution from the Trump Administration should Carrier not bow to Trump’s political wishes. Trump has also promised a 35 percent tariff on goods manufactured by companies who move jobs overseas.

Lest one thinks that “retribution” is too strong a word, it is exactly the word that Trump used this weekend. In a series of tweets, he said, “Any business that leaves our country for another country, fires its employees, builds a new factory or plant in the other country, and then thinks it will sell its product back into the U.S. without retribution or consequence, is WRONG! There will be a tax on our soon to be strong border of 35% for these companies.”

Apparently when Donald Trump fervently promised to build a wall at America’s border to the raucous cheers of his supporters, he failed to mention that the wall would also be used to keep Americans in.

Trump also spent some time singling out and threatening a Wisconsin company with his style of retribution. Rexnord has decided to close its plant in Indiana and move the manufacturing to Mexico.

The decline of manufacturing in the U.S. has been occurring for decades due to a variety of reasons — mostly global economic forces over which the United States can only exert influence around the margins. The problem with Trump’s response to those economic forces is that he has decided to use the power of the presidency to bully and punish individual companies for their actions because they do not conform to his political objectives. That is not an economic policy. It is economic tyranny.

It should go without saying, but apparently it must be reiterated. The role of the government in a free nation is to create and protect a stable legal and economic framework in which the people can thrive. The government should maintain a rational monetary policy, enforce contracts, enact a reasonable tax structure, ensure the safe transport of goods, and generally stay out of the way.

It is not the role of government in a free nation for a president to arbitrarily target companies that make decisions with which the Dear Leader disagrees for retribution and punishment. The arbitrary use of the coercive power of government to punish people for political reasons is something the late Fidel Castro did in communist Cuba. It is not something that should be welcomed in the United States of America.

Donald Trump has made some very positive decisions since being elected that portend an administration replete with competence and intelligence. Unfortunately, Trump’s own populist and vindictive tendencies may be the biggest drag on his administration’s potential.

Let the budget battle begin

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

Some headlines are already using misleading words like “shortfall” and “deficit” when describing the state of Wisconsin’s next biennial budget. Those are odd descriptors for a budget that has not been written yet, but it is based on the results of the first step in the budget process. The hard work is just beginning.

Wisconsin’s two-year budget will be crafted and passed next year by the new, enlarged, Republican majorities in the state Legislature. While such dominance by one political party may lead one to believe there will be unanimity of thought, there are actually quite a few areas of severe disagreement between various factions of the Republican Legislature and the governor, including transportation, education and debt load. It will be a lively budget process.

The first step in the budget process is for all of the state agencies to submit their budget requests, or wish lists, to the governor. From those budget requests, the governor prioritizes and builds a budget proposal. The legislature then takes the governor’s proposed budget, washes it through the spin cycle of the legislative process, and hands it back to the governor for signature. After the normal veto/override process, the budget is enacted into law.

But we are still at the first step, which is what led to the misleading headlines. The cumulative total of the state agencies budget requests exceed the projected state tax revenues for the next two years by $693 million. In other words, the wish lists add up to $693 million more than the state expects to extract from us in taxes.

That does not really encapsulate the whole story. While the state agencies requested $693 million over projected tax revenues, they actually requested more than $1.5 billion more than what they will spend in this fiscal year. That is a big wish list. It should be noted the largest share of the requested increase — $707 million — comes from the Department of Public Instruction, which runs independently from the governor’s administration.

First, it should be noted the agency budget requests are just that – requests. As with every budgeting cycle, agencies ask for as much as they can knowing full well that they will not get everything on their list. This is true in families, businesses, governments and everywhere else where wants outstrip the funds available. The governor and the Legislature have a duty to prioritize spending and make sure that the government does not spend more than the taxpayers can afford.

Second, while state agency requests exceed estimated tax revenues by $693 million, the estimated tax revenues are substantially higher than what Wisconsin took from us last year. Despite a number of tax cuts enacted over the past few years, the Wisconsin Department of Revenue expects state tax revenues to increase $1.4 billion over the next two years.

That means the government could spend an additional $1.4 billion in the next budget without raising taxes or adding debt. Or it could fulfill all of the budget requests and borrow the difference between the taxes collected and the money spent.

I urge the legislature to do neither. Despite Republican dominance of the state levers of government for the last two budgets, the state of Wisconsin has increased spending each subsequent budget. If the election of Donald Trump has taught us anything, it is the public is tired of the status quo. We are tired of our government just spending more every budget because that is all they know how to do. We are tired of the same old government insiders just pushing the same old agendas.

Instead of fighting over how much the state of Wisconsin will increase spending, I urge state lawmakers to actually spend less. At the very least, if the state simply kept spending flat, it could use the additional $1.4 billion over the next two years to reduce the state’s debt or, even better, return it to the taxpayers. Wisconsin is still in the top-10 highest-taxed states. The only way to change that is to actually start reducing spending. The tax reductions will follow.

Wisconsin does not have a tax problem. It has a spending problem. If state Republicans are ever going to convert their rhetoric about fiscal discipline into real life, this is the budget to do it.

It’s Time for School Carry

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

“An active response by potential victims affects the outcome.”

That is one conclusions in an extensive article for Concealed Carry Magazine by Michael Martin after he studied school shootings in the United States. It seems like an obvious conclusion, but it is one that is ignored in our schools.

An active response to an active shooter in a school may include running away, throwing things at the shooter, or barricading a door. One thing that it cannot include in most schools under current law is shooting back. That is one of the issues that folks discussed at a recent forum sponsored by the USCCA at Kettle Moraine Lutheran High School.

Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) plans to reintroduce a bill in the next legislative session that would allow private schools to decide for themselves whether or not to allow firearms on school grounds. Kremer expects a sister bill to be introduced to allow the same thing for public schools, but his bill would only deal with private schools. A panel of eight members from law enforcement and education answered questions from the audience for two hours regarding the prospect of allowing firearms into schools and school safety in general.

One issue that Kremer’s bill would address would be to allow teachers and school staff to be armed in school. It would be left up to the school to determine the parameters, training requirements, etc. and to integrate an armed response into their overall school safety protocols.

Michael Mass, a teacher on the panel who is a licensed concealed carry permit holder and has completed some tactical training, shared that he takes his responsibility to care for the safety and wellbeing of the children in his charge very seriously. He said the baseball bat he armed himself during a lock down drill was insufficient if there was an actual active shooter.

Washington County Sheriff Dale Schmidt, who was on the panel, admitted that even if the police can respond quickly, they are faced with an unknown threat in a large building with several entrances. He said that the reality is that the most effective protection must come from inside the school.

It is clear that there is an evolving consensus regarding the most effective way to respond to an active shooter in a school. The old “lock down” drill is no longer considered adequate in most situations. For several of the most horrific school shootings in our history, all a lock down did was to congregate a lot of defenseless kids into one location for the killer to find. Instead of just a lock down, many modern school responses include fleeing the school, barricading, shouting, throwing, and, in some cases, an armed response. Anything that disrupts the fantasy playing out in a killer’s head is more effective than just crouching and waiting. The most effective response is going to vary by the physical layout of the school and other factors.

A second issue that Kremer’s bill seeks to address is the parents and other school visitors who are licensed to carry a concealed weapon in Wisconsin. Federal law does not outright prohibit firearms on school grounds, but state law does. Kremer’s bill would allow private schools to decide if they would allow people who are licensed to carry a concealed weapon to carry that weapon on school grounds.

There is no rational justification for continuing banning guns on school grounds. More than 300,000 Wisconsinites are licensed to carry a concealed weapon. Tens of thousands carry a weapon every day. Despite the dire warnings of opponents of the Second Amendment, Wisconsin has not turned into the Wild West and neither has any other state that permits concealed carry. In fact, many states saw a decrease in crime after concealed carry went into effect. The arguments are old and the evidence is overwhelming on the side of proponents of concealed carry that good Americans carrying firearms are a net benefit to society as a whole.

Banning the same people who safely carry a concealed weapon into grocery stores, banks, restaurants, parks and many other places from carrying that same weapon into a school is nonsensical. The ban is based on an irrational fear of guns that has been debunked everywhere else in society. And for many CCW parents, like me, it is ludicrous to disarm parents precisely at the time when they are with the people they most want to defend — their children.

Furthermore, as several people at the forum highlighted, it is actually less safe to require a person to unholster their weapon and store it before going to a school than it is for that same person to just carry it. Most firearm accidents occur during administrative handling of the weapon — not during the carrying or active use of it.

A child has not died in a fire at school in more than 50 years, yet we still do regular fire drills and evolve our responses to ensure that a child never does again die in a fire. We need to see the same vigilance and common sense responses to the threat of an active shooter in a school. Passing Kremer’s bill is a step in the right direction.

Republican Sweep in Wisconsin

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

For the first time in our lifetimes, Wisconsin can be officially declared a Republican state. Not only did Donald Trump win at the top of the ballot, but it was a strong Republican sweep all the way down the ballot. In many cases, the Republican candidate not only won, but won with margins much higher than expected. Republicans in Wisconsin now have to justify the support they received from the voters.

Going into last week’s election, many people speculated that Trump would be a drag on other Republicans because many conservatives in the Republican stronghold of Southeast Wisconsin were tepid, or outright opposed, Trump. The results show while Trump built his win in Wisconsin on a coalition of nontraditional Republican voters and a strong turnout in rural areas, most other state Republicans won by an even stronger margin of more traditional Republican voters.

For example, in Outagamie County Trump won with 54.2 percent of the vote — outperforming Mitt Romney in 2012. But Senator Ron Johnson won Outagamie County with 56.9 percent of the vote and in the highly contested 8th Congressional District race, Republican Mike Gallagher won with 60 percent of the vote. The same story plays out all over the state with more traditional and conservative Republicans outperforming Trump. This Republican wave has also given the Republicans their strongest majorities in many years in the state legislature. Despite projections that the Democrats might win a majority of the state Senate and erode the Republican majority in the state Assembly, the opposite occurred. In both the Senate and the Assembly, Republicans increased their majorities by one seat in each chamber. This election is a resounding endorsement of the Republican agenda that has been working for Wisconsin for the last five years.

As Republicans in the state Legislature begin to settle into their larger majorities and consider the opportunities it presents, the trial balloons are beginning to float out of Madison. One of those balloons needs to be popped immediately. Some Republicans in the legislature are already talking about increasing state spending on K-12 education. Not only would increasing spending be a reversal of the conservative policies that have led to Republicans’ electoral success, it would undermine Walker’s signature law just as the election proved again that it is working.

Besides the various politicians on the ballot in Wisconsin last week, there were 67 referendums put forth by school districts. Of those 67 referendums, the voters approved 55 of them for almost $804 million in increased spending. This is evidence of Act 10 working as designed.

One of the tradeoffs of Act 10 was that the state would restrain or reduce state spending on K-12 education in exchange for giving school districts more power to manage their budgets and the ability to ask the local voters for more money through the referendum process if they needed more money to spend. By pushing the power and responsibility of sensible fiscal management to the local districts, the state gave each district’s citizens the ability to tailor the size, structure, and expense of their school district to their liking.

It is working. Some school districts have used Act 10 to their benefit more than others, but no school district can be said to have fully utilized the tools available to them. Still, there are creative and effective reforms taking place in districts all over Wisconsin. Even after that, some school districts thought that they needed more money, so they asked the voters for additional funds through the referendum process. In most cases last week, the voters agreed and gave their school districts more money to spend. While I may disagree with some of those decisions, it was not my decision to make. If people in Germantown and Kewaskum want to tax themselves more so that their school boards can spend more, that is their business. I am perfectly content making sure that my local school district stays more fiscally responsible.

Why would state legislators want to undermine the bargain of Act 10 by increasing state spending on K-12? To the citizens in districts that just decided to increase their own taxes and spending with a referendum, state lawmakers would be layering even more burden on them to pay for more spending in districts that did not ask for it. For those of us citizens who live in districts that are trying to control our district’s spending, lawmakers would be telling us that our fiscal restraint is not appreciated by forcing us to pay for more spending for which we did not ask.

In order to continue to allow Act 10 to work, legislators must restrain state spending on K-12 and let local voters raise their own taxes if they so choose. If they decide to increase state K-12 spending on top of the $804 million just approved by the taxpayers, Wisconsin will never bring its tax burden in line with the rest of the country.

State Republicans have earned increasing majorities thanks to their steadfast advancement of conservative policies. Now is not the time to go wobbly.