Tag Archives: Column

So. Much. Winning.

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

If there is an October surprise in the making, it may be that despite prophecies of a blue wave, President Donald Trump and the rest of the Republican Party are having a winning October.

The month began with news that the United States had come to a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico to replace the North American Free Trade Act. Overall, NAFTA had been a tremendous success. Since taking effect in 1994, trade between the three nations quadrupled and had a positive impact on America’s economic growth. Meanwhile, Americans benefited from lower consumer prices and access to less expensive labor.

But every agreement has a downside. That less expensive labor depressed wages in America and the nation lost a lot of manufacturing and textile jobs to Mexico. When Trump ran for office, he promised to renegotiate NAFTA to get a better deal for Americans and he has done just that.

The new trade deal that is to replace NAFTA is called the USMCA. It is not a wholesale restructuring of the NAFTA. In fact, it keeps in place many of the best parts of NAFTA, but it also makes some significant changes to the benefit of the United States. One of those changes is of particular importance to Wisconsinites as it opens up Canada’s dairy market to American milk.

A few days after the USMCA was announced, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its report that the nation’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.7 percent in August. That marks the third month in a row that the national unemployment rate has been below 4 percent. The reason is simple: The American economy is booming. There is no reason to not be working in America if one is able. We are in a state of full employment.

Then, just six days into October, President Trump’s second nominee for the Supreme Court was sworn into office. Brett Kavanaugh is one of the most qualified justices to ever be appointed to the Supreme Court. With a Yale law degree, a distinguished career in the private and public sectors, and more than a decade as a judge on the second most important appeals court in the country, Kavanaugh’s legal pedigree is pristine.

During his many years on the bench, he gained a reputation as a fair, smart, thoughtful and reasonable judge who was respected by people of all political persuasions. Perhaps most importantly, Kavanaugh is a proven judicial conservative who upholds the Constitution and respects the limited role of the court. His rulings over the years demonstrate a keen understanding of the Constitution, civil rights, separation of powers and bedrock legal principles like people being innocent until proven guilty.

Once again, President Trump kept his promise to appoint judicial conservatives to the courts and Senate Republicans followed through by confirming his appointment. Justice Kavanaugh solidifies a majority of judicial conservatives on the Supreme Court.

Perhaps all of this good news is why President Trump’s approval rating surged to 51 percent in the Rasmussen poll and is his highest rating in that poll since March of 2017.

Nothing lasts forever. The economy is great and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell predicts that unemployment and inflation will remain low through 2020, but things can change quickly. And while the Supreme Court now has a majority of judicial conservatives, not even Supreme Court justices are immortal.

If there is one thing that could disrupt the positive direction that America is moving, it would be for the Democrats to gain control of the U.S. Senate. We have all come to understand over the past few weeks that the Democratic Party is untethered from any traditional norms of civility, honesty and even decency. They will stop at nothing to oppose President Trump even if it means burning down the country in the process.

We saw this behavior from Wisconsin’s own Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Less than 48 hours after Trump announced the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Baldwin announced that she would not vote for his confirmation. This was a radical break from traditional senatorial behavior to reject a nominee without researching him, learning about him, or even speaking to him. And although Baldwin admitted her opposition, almost all of the Democrats in the Senate had made the same decision. The brouhaha that Democrats manufactured over the last few weeks was not designed to change any minds. It was designed to attempt to rationalize the Democrats’ predetermined opposition to the American people.

Baldwin’s behavior reveals the larger psychosis currently infecting the Democratic Party. Their single- minded effort to #resist President Trump has become the only real plank in their platform.

If Senator Baldwin is reelected and Democrats take control of the Senate, will they vote down the USMCA to punish Trump even if it means Wisconsin’s dairy farmers will pay the price? Of course they will. Will they oppose every judicial appointment Trump makes — even when those appointments are eminently qualified? There is no doubt. Will Baldwin and her peers prevent Trump’s deregulation that has been a boon to American businesses? Absolutely. Will Baldwin and her peers seek to impose higher taxes and socialized health care? They have already said that they will.

There is something that Wisconsin voters can do this November to support and promote this economic and judicial renaissance we are enjoying. They can vote Tammy Baldwin out of office and replace her with a woman who will fight for Wisconsin’s interests — Leah Vukmir.

So. Much. Winning.

My column for the Washington County Daily News is out today. It’s also in the Waukesha Freeman, from what I hear. Here’s a taste.

If there is one thing that could disrupt the positive direction that America is moving, it would be for the Democrats to gain control of the U.S. Senate. We have all come to understand over the past few weeks that the Democratic Party is untethered from any traditional norms of civility, honesty and even decency. They will stop at nothing to oppose President Trump even if it means burning down the country in the process.

We saw this behavior from Wisconsin’s own Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Less than 48 hours after Trump announced the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Baldwin announced that she would not vote for his confirmation. This was a radical break from traditional senatorial behavior to reject a nominee without researching him, learning about him, or even speaking to him. And although Baldwin admitted her opposition, almost all of the Democrats in the Senate had made the same decision. The brouhaha that Democrats manufactured over the last few weeks was not designed to change any minds. It was designed to attempt to rationalize the Democrats’ predetermined opposition to the American people.

Baldwin’s behavior reveals the larger psychosis currently infecting the Democratic Party. Their single- minded effort to #resist President Trump has become the only real plank in their platform.

Evers’ failed logic and Cedarburg’s folly

Here is my full column that ran yesterday in the Washington County Daily News.

In justifying his call for a massive spending increase on public schools, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers cites the fact that local school districts have been passing referendums as evidence of a pent-up demand for more taxing and spending by everyone. Not only is Evers’ argument flawed, but he conveniently overlooks how dishonest many school districts are being to get their referendums passed.

More than 25 years ago, Wisconsin imposed a limit on how much local school districts can raise the local property tax levy, but the state allowed school districts to exceed the levy limit if local voters approved through a referendum. Recently, there has been a spate of school referendums being approved.

Where Evers’ logic fails is if the fact that some school districts passed referendums is evidence of an overall desire to increase taxes, then the opposite must also be true. The fact that the vast majority of school districts did not pass a referendum must be evidence that there is not an overall desire to increase taxes. The fact is only a small minority of the 421 school districts in Wisconsin have passed a referendum in recent years. Many of them have not even propositioned the voters with the question. If a majority of districts did not pass a referendum, would it not stand to reason that the majority of voters do not want a tax increase?

The recent surge in referendums passing is primarily due to two reasons. First, thanks to the booming job growth and increasing wages, we are living in a time of plenty. It is easy for voters to feel generous when times are good. They often forget that the $300 or $400 property tax increase they approve when the bank account is flush may not still be there when the next recession hits and they are looking for work.

The second reason referendums have been more successful lately is because many school districts have found a formula, based on gross misinformation, which increases the odds in their favor. Let us look at the referendum in Cedarburg as a perfect example.

First, the school district builds the facade of support through a stacked community advisory group and a phony propaganda survey. There are builders, architects and survey companies who have made it their business to help school districts run this sham process and Cedarburg engaged the infamous School Perceptions to conduct their advocacy survey. As designed, the survey in Cedarburg came back showing support for a referendum.

Second, the school district tries its best to hide the real costs of the referendum. In Cedarburg, they are saying that it will cost $59.8 million. That is completely false. The Cedarburg District wants to borrow $59.8 million. As anyone who has borrowed money to buy a home, vehicle, or anything else knows, there is a cost to borrowing. The total actual cost of the referendum, depending on the interest rates and term, is more likely between $90 million and $105 million.

Third, school districts play down the tax impact. In Cedarburg, they are claiming that such a massive debt would “be an increase of $58.00 per $100,000.00 of a home’s value.” That is a grossly incorrect portrayal. According to the district’s financial disclosure, the cost of the referendum would be $181 per $100,000. The $58 number is because the district plans to retire some old debt, so the net tax increase would be $58. But if the voters vote down the referendum, they will actually enjoy a tax decrease of $123 per $100,000 of home value when that debt is retired.

Not to mention that there are not a lot of homes in Cedarburg that cost $100,000. According to Zillow, the median home value in Cedarburg is about $300,000. So the total cost for the owner of a median Cedarburg home is $543 per year – or $10,860 over the 20-year term of the loan.

Fourth, every school referendum is different, but they usually share some similarities in their justifications for needing more money. In Cedarburg, they cite growing enrollment as a need for more space. The problem is that the Cedarburg School District, like most Wisconsin public school districts, has been experiencing a decline in enrollment. Kindergarten through 12th grade enrollment in Cedarburg is down 6.5 percent since it peaked in the 2004-2005 school year. And if you subtract the kids who open enrolled into the district (a number that the district can control), kindergarten through 12th grade enrollment was actually down 10.5 percent since the 2004-2005 school year.

Cedarburg District officials insist that enrollment is about to explode even though census data and state projections predict a continued decline in enrollment. Cedarburg officials rest their predictions on a bizarre analysis of residential development in the district. The problem is that history does not support their projections. In short, district officials are claiming that the district will add far more kids per new development than has been the case for the last 10 years or more.

Fifth, the school district leadership stonewalls anyone who might ask tough questions. In the case of Cedarburg, the superintendent declined to comment on the referendum and pointed to the district’s website for all inquiries.

If the voters in Cedarburg are smart, they will see through the balderdash that their school district is trying to sell them and vote down their referendum. If not, and they choose to foist a huge tax increase on themselves, it is certainly not an indication that anyone else in Wisconsin wants a tax increase too.

Evers’ failed logic and Cedarburg’s folly

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here’s a taste, but you’ll need to pick up a paper today to read the whole thing.

Where Evers’ logic fails is if the fact that some school districts passed referendums is evidence of an overall desire to increase taxes, then the opposite must also be true. The fact that the vast majority of school districts did not pass a referendum must be evidence that there is not an overall desire to increase taxes. The fact is only a small minority of the 421 school districts in Wisconsin have passed a referendum in recent years. Many of them have not even propositioned the voters with the question. If a majority of districts did not pass a referendum, would it not stand to reason that the majority of voters do not want a tax increase?

Vote for Tony Evers if you want higher taxes

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

During the era of Gov. Jim Doyle, Wisconsin was a tax hell. Our state consistently ranked in the top tier for overall tax burden and worst tax climate for business. Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans in the Legislature have made great strides in lowering taxes to the point that Wisconsin is now slightly worse than the average state in these rankings. That is a remarkable improvement in less than a decade. Perhaps it is now fair to say that Wisconsin is a tax purgatory, but it certainly has not ascended to a tax heaven yet.

If Wisconsin’s voters elect Democratic candidate Tony Evers to be our next governor, he will certainly push Wisconsin back down into the depths of the tax hell we just escaped. One may be tempted to think that this is just another baseless “Democrats will raise your taxes” attack. Evers is a doctrinaire liberal, so it would be easy to just assume that he wants to raise taxes. But one need only look at Evers’ own words to see that it is true. In fact, increasing taxes to support more government spending seems to be Evers’ answer to every issue facing the state.

Evers’ core issue, as one would expect, is public education. As the head of Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction, he has served as the titular leader of public education in the state for years. Yet, year after year, he failed to advance any initiatives to actually improve education. His one solution has always been, and is now, to spend more.

In his role as superintendent of the DPI, he submitted a budget that would increase state spending on public education by $1.7 billion in the next budget. That is a massive increase in spending. On Tony Evers’ campaign website, he says that if elected he will, “increase investments” and “increase funding” in virtually all aspects of the public school oligopoly.

Evers claims that such spending increases will not require tax increases because other state spending can be reprioritized. The problem with his math is that he wants to increase spending on all of the other major state spending items too.

When it comes to state spending on transportation and infrastructure, Evers says that he will “invest more in local road maintenance,” and “increase funding for public transit.” He will also “repeal changes made to Wisconsin’s prevailing wage laws.” Those changes will save the taxpayers millions of dollars — if they are not repealed.

For the environment, Evers will “invest in our natural resources” and shield the Department of Natural Resources from public oversight. For health care, Evers will “invest in preventative health programs” and “accept federal Medicaid expansion dollars,” which is already forcing more state spending in the states that accepted it. For economic development, Evers promises to “ensure access to high speed broadband,” “invest in our roads, bridges, ports and airports,” and “increase our investment in education.” For the University of Wisconsin System, Evers promises to “increase investments in both our technical schools and UW System.”

One thing becomes very clear in reviewing Tony Evers’ plan for Wisconsin. Whatever problems the state faces, the solution, in Evers’ mind, is to spend more money. The short list of items above comprises more than 60 percent of all state spending, and Evers wants to increase spending on all of it. What will he cut to offset that spending? Pensions? Law enforcement? Local aids?

There is no doubt that Tony Evers will raise taxes if given the chance. There is no other way to support the incredible increases in spending he envisions for the state. The only questions is how much taxes will go up under a Governor Evers.

Vote for Tony Evers if you want higher taxes

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here’s a taste.

During the era of Gov. Jim Doyle, Wisconsin was a tax hell. Our state consistently ranked in the top tier for overall tax burden and worst tax climate for business. Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans in the Legislature have made great strides in lowering taxes to the point that Wisconsin is now slightly worse than the average state in these rankings. That is a remarkable improvement in less than a decade. Perhaps it is now fair to say that Wisconsin is a tax purgatory, but it certainly has not ascended to a tax heaven yet.

If Wisconsin’s voters elect Democratic candidate Tony Evers to be our next governor, he will certainly push Wisconsin back down into the depths of the tax hell we just escaped. One may be tempted to think that this is just another baseless “Democrats will raise your taxes” attack. Evers is a doctrinaire liberal, so it would be easy to just assume that he wants to raise taxes. But one need only look at Evers’ own words to see that it is true. In fact, increasing taxes to support more government spending seems to be Evers’ answer to every issue facing the state.

More money has not, and will not, improve education for our children

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online now. Go pick up a paper, but here’s a snippet:

A couple of insights bubble to the top after wading through the data. First, Wisconsin’s schools are fairly decent, for the most part, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Second, the performance has remained fairly consistent for the years despite taxpayers spending more and more every year.

This makes the politicians’ response all too disappointing. Tony Evers, the Democratic candidate for governor, has one answer to every question about education: Spend more money. This is despite the fact that spending more has no measurable impact on educational outcomes. Gov. Scott Walker has had a strong record of actual education reform, but has fallen into the same spending paradigm. This election, he is hanging his hat on the fact that Wisconsin increased spending on education and is spending more than ever.

The reason that politicians conflate more government spending with improving educational outcomes is as lazy as it is stupid. It is an easy way for them to demonstrate that they are “doing something.” In fact, they are doing nothing but wasting more money. The outcomes matter — not the spending.

Keep the Walker economy going

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer in Wisconsin, has come and gone. The kids are back in school. Even some of the more eager leaves have begun to turn as a reminder that winter is looming on the horizon. Also looming is the November election, when Wisconsin’s voters will decide whether to change the direction of our state or stay the course.

Gov. Scott Walker has a great case to make for his re-election, but many voters have become complacent after so many years of success. Too often, politics is about “what have you done for me lately.” Walker and the legislative Republicans have made tremendous improvements in preserving and expanding civil rights, protecting life, education reform and many other areas of government. But with the limited space available in this column, let us look deeper at Wisconsin’s economy under Walker.

In 2010, the year that Scott Walker was elected as governor, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate stood at 8.7 percent. Over a quarter-million Wisconsinites were looking for work and could not find it. Per capita income had fallen to $38,598. Businesses were fleeing Wisconsin due to the inflexible regulatory climate, a hostile government and oppressive taxes. The state budget was running yet another massive deficit and voters were facing another round of tax increases.

Fast forward to July 2018 — after almost two full terms of Walker. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate stands at 3.1 percent — a rate below what many economists consider full employment. There are more than 300,000 more Wisconsinites working now than there were in 2010, and they are earning more. Per capita income in 2016, the most recent year for which figures are available, is up to $46,762 — an increase of more than $8,000 per person and the most recent economic data coming from federal number crunchers indicates that income growth is accelerating with sustained high employment.

One might be tempted to dismiss these economic comparisons as unfair given the entire nation’s economy is booming. That is true and a reason that voters should also return Republican majorities to the Congress, but Wisconsin is even doing better under Walker than most other states.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Wisconsin’s percent growth in privatesector jobs in July ranked seventh nationally and first in the Midwest. Our state’s July unemployment rate tied for the seventh lowest in the nation. In the manufacturing industry, Wisconsin ranked fifth nationally in percent growth in jobs over the last year and gained the second-most manufacturing jobs in the last six months.

The evidence is clear that while the nation’s economy is enjoying fabulous growth in jobs and wages, Wisconsin is one of the states leading the pack.

The vast majority of Wisconsin’s economic success is due to the millions of Wisconsinites who work hard, build businesses and create value in the global market. State government’s policies can either retard the innate economic prowess of Wisconsin’s people or help create an environment where that prowess can be let loose. The policies that Walker enacted during his first two terms have enabled Wisconsinites to flex their economic muscles.

For example, Walker set about immediately cutting state regulations and reining in the fearsome Department of Natural Resources. He signed the law making Wisconsin a right-to-work state, thus freeing the people from forced unionization. Walker cut taxes and improved Wisconsin’s transportation infrastructure.

Perhaps most importantly, Walker’s pro-business attitude has permeated state government. During the Jim Doyle era, Wisconsin had a well-earned reputation for being hostile to business. Companies that dared to open in the state were threatened with costly regulations, a DNR that would deny permits and slam them with fines for the most inconsequential infraction and politicians who would cluck their tongues if they were not the “right kind” of jobs.

Under Walker, the state has struck a better regulatory balance that protects the interests of all Wisconsinites — including those who want to work. State agencies still enforce all of the laws and regulations, but do so by helping businesses comply instead of crushing them with fines. When businesses run into some problem with state government, a state regulator is more likely to pick up the phone and ask, “How can I help?” That matters to business owners who are just trying to grow their businesses the best they know how.

Finally, unlike the previous governor, Walker actively recruits businesses to move to Wisconsin. There is no doubt that had it not been for Walker aggressively recruiting Foxconn, that multibillion-dollar investment would have gone to another state. Walker not only asked for the business, he closed the deal. A lesser governor would not have succeeded.

Wisconsin’s economy has made a complete turnaround under Walker and is heading in the right direction. It is a mistake to think that the state’s economy will continue in that direction under Tony Evers. Leadership matters and Wisconsin’s economy needs Walker to remain at the helm.

Keep the Walker economy going

My column for the Washington County Daily News is in the paper today. Go buy a copy, but here’s a snippet:

Finally, unlike the previous governor, Walker actively recruits businesses to move to Wisconsin. There is no doubt that had it not been for Walker aggressively recruiting Foxconn, that multibillion-dollar investment would have gone to another state. Walker not only asked for the business, he closed the deal. A lesser governor would not have succeeded.

Wisconsin’s economy has made a complete turnaround under Walker and is heading in the right direction. It is a mistake to think that the state’s economy will continue in that direction under Tony Evers. Leadership matters and Wisconsin’s economy needs Walker to remain at the helm.

Trump improves retirement savings options for Americans

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

Amid all of the tweets, insults, accusations, lies, betrayals and other palace intrigues that the media obsess over, President Donald Trump is aggressively deregulating and advancing reforms for the benefit of the middle class. In one of many examples, Trump signed an executive order last week to instruct federal departments to make it easier for Americans to utilize tax-advantaged retirement plans.

Since the 1970s, the federal government has encouraged Americans to save for their retirement by allowing them to defer income taxes for money put into certain retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs. One could certainly argue whether or not it is the role of the federal government to use tax regulations to encourage this behavior, but given the fact that our nation has decided on a social construct whereby taxpayers will financially support people who did not, or could not, save enough to provide for themselves in their elder years, such inducement for people to save certainly improves the general welfare. There is little doubt that the individuals who use these plans benefit immensely.

The rules regarding these tax-advantaged retirement plans have been changed over the years as conditions and preferences have shifted. One of Trump’s orders is a relatively minor tweak. Trump directed the Department of the Treasury to evaluate changing the rules regarding required minimum distributions to allow retirees to keep money in their accounts longer.

Under the current rules, retirees must start taking money out of their 401(k)s and IRAs when they are 70 1/2 years old, even if they do not need the money. The reason, from the federal government’s perspective, is that the income tax on that money was deferred, not waived. The government needs the money to be withdrawn before the retiree dies so that it can be taxed. People are living longer now, so Trump’s directive is to raise the age and required distribution amounts to better reflect current demographics. Ideally, Trump will go one step further and work with Congress to waive the required minimum distributions completely.

The other parts of Trump’s executive order are arguably more important. Despite the popularity of taxadvantaged retirement plans like IRAs and 401(k)s, a large percentage of Americans do not have one available to them through their employers. According to Pew Charitable Trusts, 35 percent of private-sector workers older than 22 do not have access to a 401(k) plan through their employer. Access is skewed to the younger generations with 41 percent of millennials lacking access through their employers.

One of the things preventing access is that smaller companies are often unable to afford the costs to set up and administer these kind of retirement plans. Trump ordered the departments of Treasury and Labor to find ways to reduce the regulatory burden for small businesses to offer workplace retirement plans.

Furthermore, federal law prohibits small businesses from pooling their resources to offer retirement plans unless they are related businesses like members of a trade association. Trump ordered the departments of Treasury and Labor to issue regulations allowing any group of small businesses to join to offer association retirement plans to their collective employees.

Combined, these two parts of Trump’s executive order will make it easier and more affordable for businesses of any size to offer attractive retirement savings plans to their employees. With more Americans having access to more retirement saving options, more Americans will be inclined to save for their sunset years.

The sad thing for America is that the media are so caught up in the daily soap opera of the White House that they almost completely ignore the actions Trump is taking that actually matter to Americans. Trump does not help matters by feeding the frenzy. In fact, he seems to enjoy it. But most Americans are just trying to live their lives and would like to know when the government is doing things that might affect them — especially when it is good.

As we transfer another Labor Day into a memory, President Trump is taking yet another action to improve the lives of American workers by making it easier for them to save for the time when they will no longer work. That is far more important than yet another breathless story about yet another tweet.

Trump improves retirement savings options for Americans

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Yes, it’s a bit boring, but that’s sort of the point. We should be spending more time talking about boring policy issues that actually impact our daily lives instead of the daily circus. Here’s the opening.

Amid all of the tweets, insults, accusations, lies, betrayals and other palace intrigues that the media obsess over, President Donald Trump is aggressively deregulating and advancing reforms for the benefit of the middle class. In one of many examples, Trump signed an executive order last week to instruct federal departments to make it easier for Americans to utilize tax-advantaged retirement plans.

Marquette poll indicates Wisconsin’s political fundamentals remain unchanged

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

With a level of excitement akin to Christmas morning, political junkies tore open the latest Marquette Law School Poll to find the treasures within. With its history of being one of the most accurate polls in recent years, the Marquette Law School Poll has become the gold standard for political prognosticators. The most recent poll was taken after the August primary election and gives the first snapshot for the general election.

In the race for governor, the Marquette poll indicates that Republican Gov. Scott Walker is in a dead heat with Democratic candidate Tony Evers. Both candidates are receiving support of 46 percent of likely voters with Libertarian candidate Phil Anderson polling at 6 percent.

The race for U.S. Senate is also a virtual tie, according to the poll, with 49 percent supporting incumbent Democrat Tammy Baldwin and 47 percent supporting Republican Leah Vukmir. With a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.5 percent, the race is a statistical tie.

What is remarkable about the poll’s results is that so few people are undecided. Only 2 percent of the respondents for governor, and 3 percent for Senate, are undecided with more than two months until the election. This is despite the fact the two challengers, Evers and Vukmir, are not nearly as well known as the incumbents. Thirty-five percent of the respondents do not have any opinion of Evers and 41 percent do not have an opinion about Vukmir.

These results tell us a couple of things. First, Wisconsin remains politically divided with the left and right remaining firmly entrenched. It would be too far to suggest that the candidates do not matter, but the poll clearly indicates that there is a sizable contingent of the electorate who will vote Republican or Democrat irrespective of who the candidate is.

The second thing the results tell us is that the next two months of campaigning are going to be brutal. Neither side is going to spend much time or money trying to lure voters from the other side, nor there are many people undecided. Instead, the campaigns are going to focus on motivating their bases to get out and vote.

Whichever side turns out more of their base will win the election.

This means the campaigns will focus largely on emotional appeals, both positive and negative. While gratitude and hope are strong emotions, hate and fear are more powerful when it comes to motivating people to vote. Until the election, the voters are going to be under a rolling barrage of negative ads that will escalate as Election Day nears.

This will be especially true in the Senate election because of the national implications. The Marquette poll shows that Baldwin is vulnerable in a year when the Democrats are anticipating a blue wave. National interest groups will be pumping money into Wisconsin’s Senate race and it is going to get very, very muddy.

Many other polls around the country indicate that there is an enthusiasm gap with Democrats being much more excited about voting this November than Republicans. The same is not true in Wisconsin. According to the Marquette poll, 69 percent of Republicans are very enthusiastic to vote, while 67 percent of Democrats are very enthusiastic. That is a change from the same poll in July when 62 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of Democrats were very enthusiastic. That is a significant upward swing in enthusiasm for Republicans in only a month. There may be a blue wave in the rest of the nation in November, but it does not appear that it will wash over Wisconsin.

According to the Marquette poll, the dynamics in this election are shaping up to look very much the same as it has in the past few years. That bodes well for Wisconsin’s Republicans if national forces can be kept at the state border.

Marquette poll indicates Wisconsin’s political fundamentals remain unchanged

You know that when the Marquette poll come out, every political junkie worth his salt must comment on it. I do just that in my column for the Washington County Daily News today. Pick up a paper and check it out. Here’s a little peek:

This means the campaigns will focus largely on emotional appeals, both positive and negative. While gratitude and hope are strong emotions, hate and fear are more powerful when it comes to motivating people to vote. Until the election, the voters are going to be under a rolling barrage of negative ads that will escalate as Election Day nears.

 

Baldwin’s tragic record of inaction

Now that we’re through the primary, here’s my full column from the Washington County Daily News.

At the writing of this column, we do not yet know who the Republicans will select to challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin in November. What we do know is that Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson would both be a tremendous improvement over Baldwin. Irrespective of which Republican moves forward to challenge Senator Baldwin, all Republicans must unite quickly if they are to unseat a sitting Democratic senator in what looks to be a strong year for Democrats.

In her lengthy career in politics, Sen. Baldwin has a curious record that is almost completely barren of accomplishment. Baldwin’s passion for inactivity has led to her only accomplishment of note — sitting idly by when she could have done something to stop the opioid abuses at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah.

In the summer of 2014, Sen. Baldwin was quietly passed an inspection report by the VA inspector general from a friendly administration looking to give her a heads up. The report detailed a history and pattern of prescription drug abuses at the Tomah center that dated back to 2011 whereby powerful opioids and other drugs were handed out with impunity. Not only did the behavior endanger the lives of the veterans, but it was a conduit for opioids to be funneled onto the streets.

Sen. Baldwin ignored the report. She did not do anythingabout it. For months, the whistleblower and veteran Ryan Honl vigorously pushed Baldwin’s office to do something. He called and emailed her office asking her to take action on the VA inspector general’s report. Still Baldwin did nothing. The pleas from her constituent fell on deaf ears.

One must remember how little effort it would have taken Sen. Baldwin to do something on behalf of the veterans being drugged in Tomah. At the time, President BarackObama was in office and the secretary of VeteransAffairs is a member of the president’s cabinet.

A simple phone call or letter from a Democratic senator to a member of a Democratic administration would have carried a lot of weight. Still Baldwin did nothing.

It was not until January 2015 that Sen. Baldwin finally decided to act. Wisconsin news outlets began to run the story of a 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran who died of an overdose while an inpatient at the Tomah facility. Those news reports also shared details of the inspector general’s report — the same report that Baldwin had in her possession for months — regarding the incredible amount of opioids flowing out of Tomah.

Then, and only then, Sen. Baldwin acted. She called for an investigation. Baldwin knew of the abuses at the Tomah VA Medical Center for months. She was badgered by a constituent and veteran to do something. But neither her conscience, concern for veterans or pleas from constituents compelled her to act. The only thing that got Sen. Baldwin’s attention was a news story that was unfavorable to her. At least we now know what it takes to get Sen. Baldwin to do something on behalf of her constituents. It takes the media running a story involving her.

Wisconsin deserves better. Wisconsin deserves a senator who will dive into the thicket of Washington politics and fight like a Badger for the people of Wisconsin. Sen. Baldwin has had six years — four of which were during the presidency of President Barack Obama — to deliver results for her constituents. The only measurable result has been the tragic consequences of her dithering.

Baldwin’s tragic record of inaction

My column in the Washington County Daily News today looks ahead to the general election and how Senator Baldwin’s record of inaction has not been harmless. Here’s a taste:

Then, and only then, Sen. Baldwin acted. She called for an investigation. Baldwin knew of the abuses at the Tomah VA Medical Center for months. She was badgered by a constituent and veteran to do something. But neither her conscience, concern for veterans or pleas from constituents compelled her to act. The only thing that got Sen. Baldwin’s attention was a news story that was unfavorable to her. At least we now know what it takes to get Sen. Baldwin to do something on behalf of her constituents. It takes the media running a story involving her.

The inescapable motive

Here is my column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday. It’s a bit esoteric… I know.

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” The enigmatic words of “The Shadow” immediately came to mind upon hearing Clark County (Nevada) Sheriff Joe Lombardo discussing his office’s final report on the 2017 mass killing in Las Vegas.

While the 187-page report contains a detailed account of the events surrounding that day, the investigators couldn’t determine the killer’s motive. There is not any evidence that he was engaging in an act of terrorism, revenge or targeted murder. He was not acting on behalf of any group or cause. He was not demonstrably insane or angry. The only motive left is the most obvious. He was just evil.

We all intuitively know that evil is at the root of every mass killing like the one in Las Vegas, but we are uncomfortable with acknowledging that evil can act by itself without an identifiable motivator. Surely the killer must have been angry about something in his personal life or some injustice in the world, right? Surely society must have failed him in some way or missed the early signs. Surely there is some law or policy that could have prevented such a wonton act of carnage. Surely there was something that forced the evil in this man’s soul to the surface to explain such a physical manifestation of rage.

In this case, all evidence indicates that the killer committed an evil act for no other reason than that he was evil. Acknowledging this is unsettling to us because it challenges some deeply held convictions about our place in the universe.

It is in our human nature to want to explain everything. This drive pushes us to study, learn, experiment and explore. It is a drive that has pushed us to expand the boundaries of human knowledge. It is also part of our human nature to have the hubris to think that we can explain everything.

It is a challenge to our inflated self-worth as a species to be confronted with things that are beyond our explanation. It defies our nature to acknowledge that there are things that are beyond human understanding and are only knowable to God. Understanding that evil exists and that it cannot be “fixed” with the tools of this world is to understand that our place in the hierarchy of the universe is not at the top.

When it comes to public policy, we continually try to fix evil without ever acknowledging that the goal is unattainable. Whenever something like this happened, we flail about looking for some law or technique that would have prevented it just to see evil manifest in a different way. Our Sisyphean efforts are forever unrewarded.

That is not to say that we should not try to mitigate the impact of evil in our society. Reasonable laws, rigorously enforced, are the hallmark of an orderly society. The issue becomes when our policy efforts shift too much power from individuals to government. While evil can never be eradicated, evil’s power can be amplified when augmented by the implements of government. The Las Vegas killer was no more or less evil than Mao Zedong, Ismail Pasha or Joseph Stalin, but the Vegas killer’s ability to carry out destruction was vastly limited compared to those monsters. Evil diffused is more bearable than evil concentrated.

Another quote came to mind when considering the implications of evil in our world. The late Secretary of State Dean Acheson once said, “much in life could not be affected or mitigated, and, hence, must be borne.” Indeed it must. But not without the hope of a better world to come.

Guidelines for corporate welfare

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday.

As each day passes, the deal that Gov. Scott Walker struck with Foxconn to incent them to build a massive facility in Wisconsin continues to look better. Foxconn has already expanded its original commitment to Wisconsin to include additional facilities in Milwaukee, Eau Claire and Green Bay. Now that the Foxconn deal has set a benchmark, some lawmakers, including Walker, are seeking to give Kimberly- Clark a similar package to keep a plant, and more than 600 jobs, in Wisconsin. The Legislature should reject such a deal, but they should set some broad criteria for when they would consider doling out taxpayer incentives.

Conservatives philosophically reject corporate welfare of any kind for many reasons. Using the coercive power of government to tax citizens for the purpose of handing it to other citizens is vexing. Furthermore, government intervention anywhere in a market distorts that market and makes it less efficient. Politicians spending other people’s money have the least vested interest in any business decision and are prone to making poor decisions. And there is always the risk of graft and corruption when politicians are making arbitrary decisions about which businesses will receive a handout.

There are many factors that go into a business decision about where to locate new businesses. Most of those factors have little to do with government. Access to natural resources, a labor force, proximity to customers and suppliers, etc., weigh heavily on those decisions. Also considered are the broad government policy aspects of a given location like tax rates, quality infrastructure, regulatory requirements, etc.

Wisconsin already has a legendary workforce and abundant natural resources.

In an ideal world, the state’s tax and regulatory burden would be so reasonable that businesses that could locate here would be fools for not doing so. Unfortunately, despite great improvement under Republican leadership, the weight of government in Wisconsin still makes it a more expensive place to live and do business than most other states. Absent a drastic reduction in the size and expense of government, Wisconsin state government must seek ways to level the playing field with other states and incent businesses to move here.

The taxpayers are not a bottomless well of money and state lawmakers need to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money under their care. If Wisconsin’s politicians are going to use the taxpayers’ money to incent businesses to grow in the state, they need to adhere to some general principles to guide them. Business decisions are naturally complex. Every decision must be weighed with the facts presented, but there must be some general philosophy underlying the decisions.

First, the result of any incentive package should be a net economic gain for the state. For example, the projected economic impact of Foxconn measures in the tens of billions of dollars for an incentive plan costing a fraction of that. For Kimberly-Clark, the proposed plan is to maintain a business that already exists.

Second, any incentive package must include specific, measurable benchmarks for the business receiving the incentives and hold them accountable to those benchmarks. This requires interested, diligent work on the part of the overseeing state agency and the Legislature for years after the politicians who granted the incentives are out of office. If businesses know they can promise the moon without any accountability, it undermines the effectiveness and integrity of any deal.

Third, the incentives must be structured in a sensible way for the taxpayers. For example, an incentive package that forgoes future tax revenue that would not be realized anyway without the business meeting its commitments is far preferable to an immediate expenditure of existing money.

Fourth, Wisconsin’s politicians should not try to use taxpayer-financed incentives to fight larger economic trends. Our economy is constantly changing with entire industries being created and collapsing. Using incentives to attract growing industries to Wisconsin is preferable to using them to prop up dying industries.

Finally, tax incentives should only be used as a last resort and not to put icing on a decision that is already made for other reasons. If a business is already going to locate or expand in Wisconsin because of other reasons, then Wisconsin’s politicians should not waste taxpayer money on incentives just because the business asked for them.

Perhaps there will come a day when Wisconsin’s tax and regulatory burdens are so sensible that businesses will flock here like they do to some other states. Until then, the judicious use of taxpayer money for incentives will be a reality we cannot avoid if we are going to compete in the global economy.

 

Guidelines for corporate welfare

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. As businesses lineup for incentives from the taxpayers of Wisconsin, I attempt to draw some boundaries for when lawmakers should consider it. Here’s a taste:

In an ideal world, the state’s tax and regulatory burden would be so reasonable that businesses that could locate here would be fools for not doing so. Unfortunately, despite great improvement under Republican leadership, the weight of government in Wisconsin still makes it a more expensive place to live and do business than most other states. Absent a drastic reduction in the size and expense of government, Wisconsin state government must seek ways to level the playing field with other states and incent businesses to move here.

The taxpayers are not a bottomless well of money and state lawmakers need to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money under their care. If Wisconsin’s politicians are going to use the taxpayers’ money to incent businesses to grow in the state, they need to adhere to some general principles to guide them. Business decisions are naturally complex. Every decision must be weighed with the facts presented, but there must be some general philosophy underlying the decisions.

West Bend School Board has not earned the right to ask for more money

Here is my full column that ran yesterday in the Washington County Daily News.

After conducting a sham survey that returned the results they paid to get, the West Bend School District’s Board of Education is deciding whether or not to ask the taxpayers for gobs more money via referendum.

Given they have been running the liberal playbook for passing a referendum, the school board is expected to punch it over the goal line and put a massive referendum on the November ballot. The school board should reconsider its reckless course and demonstrate the sensible fiscal management that the citizens deserve.

At issue is the manufactured facilities “crisis” at Jackson Elementary and the West Bend high schools. While the buildings are both perfectly functional and have decades of use left in them if properly maintained, some folks would like to remodel or replace them. Even though buildings have no impact on whether or not kids get a good education compared to what happens inside those buildings, constructing school buildings is easier than doing the hard work necessary to improve educational outcomes.

To that end, the school board created a Citizens Facility Advisory Committee last year that spent months in what proved to be manipulated process designed to tell the school board what it wanted to hear. Then the school board spent thousands of taxpayer dollars to conduct an equally fraudulent community survey that was also designed to tell it what it wanted to hear. On the weight of these two sham activities, the school board is now considering a referendum.

The survey results were presented to the school board last week. Of the approximately 40,000 adults in the district, 2,815 surveys were returned, constituting a 7 percent return rate. Of those 2,815 surveys, 93 percent lived in the district and 17 percent were employees of the school district. Even though the survey was disproportionally weighted with district employees and had a small sample, only 53 percent of respondents supported building a new elementary school in Jackson. The school board is interpreting the survey as telling them that the taxpayers would support a $50 million (not including interest) referendum.

There are many reasons that the taxpayers should not support a referendum in the West Bend School District, but let us highlight perhaps the biggest three.

First, despite the claims of builders and architects who make money from school construction, there is no correlation between fancy school buildings and the quality of education that takes place inside them. Once a minimal standard of safety and function are met, trendy reading nooks and naturally lit atriums do not help one child get a better education. If the school board wants to spend an additional $50 million of the taxpayers’ money, they should at least use the money to provide kids with a better education.

Second, enrollment in the West Bend School District is declining and is projected to continue the slide for the foreseeable future. This has almost nothing to do with the school district itself. It is a reflection of demographic trends and the expansion of alternative educational options. Online learning, School Choice, homeschooling, etc., all erode from an already shrinking student population. Why should the taxpayers invest an additional $50 million to build larger buildings for fewer kids?

Third, the school board has demonstrated poor stewardship of the taxpayers’ resources by failing to fully utilize the power given to it by Act 10 to manage the largest expense in the budget — personnel. Immediately after Act 10, previous school boards began down the path of implementing things like merit pay and benefits reform, but all of that progress stopped a couple of years ago.

Just last week, the Wisconsin Department of Administration released detailed description of the health insurance plans for every school district in Wisconsin. The data shows the least expensive family health insurance plan that the West Bend School District provides costs the taxpayers a whopping $21,864 per year. That compares to an average of $20,062 for all Wisconsin school districts and a national average of $18,764. The other plans offered are even more expensive. The West Bend School District is overpaying for health insurance.

Of that premium, a district employee can pay as little as $588 per year, or 2.7 percent, for their share of the premium if they receive a wellness incentive by passing a wellness screening and not smoking. This compares with an average of 11.7 percent for all Wisconsin school districts, 29 percent for state and local government employees across the nation, and 33 percent for private sector employees across the nation. On top of that, the district provides an onsite clinic for employees at no cost to the employees. Such clinics are supposed to lower the cost of health insurance, but the West Bend School District continues to pay well above the average cost for health insurance and asks employees to pay well below the average for their share.

A little quick math shows that if the West Bend School District simply paid the national average for a family health insurance plan ($18,764) and required employees to pay the national average share of the cost for state and local government employees (29 percent), it would save the taxpayers of the district $7,954 per family plan.

To date, the school board has failed to demonstrate sensible fiscal management on behalf of the citizens of the district.

Before the school board asks the taxpayers to sink tens of millions of more dollars into buildings for a district with declining enrollment, they must at least show that they are willing to use the tools available to them to manage the money they already spend.

West Bend School Board has not earned the right to ask for more money

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online today. I think you can guess what the topic is from the headline, but here’s how it starts:

After conducting a sham survey that returned the results they paid to get, the West Bend School District’s Board of Education is deciding whether or not to ask the taxpayers for gobs more money via referendum.

Given they have been running the liberal playbook for passing a referendum, the school board is expected to punch it over the goal line and put a massive referendum on the November ballot. The school board should reconsider its reckless course and demonstrate the sensible fiscal management that the citizens deserve.

Go pick up a paper to read the whole thing. In the same paper, you’ll read a story on the front page about the declining enrollments in the district. We also get a first glimpse of the new Superintendent at work. It appears that he’s already all in for a referendum based on his few weeks living in the community:

During his first board meeting, Superintendent Don Kirkegaard said the Jackson area has three housing developments on the way, one of which will have more than 100 houses.