Tag Archives: Column

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.

 

Illegal Immigration. Neat.

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

In an effort to whip up emotions for the midterm elections and drive racial divisions in America, the Democrats have allied themselves with the radical open borders fringe groups to call for the abolition of the Immigration and Customer Enforcement agency. While such a movement has very serious implications, it resulted in a comical exposition of hypocrisy and rank opportunism for a Wisconsin politician.

ICE is a massive federal agency with two central charters. The first is to enforce the nation’s immigration laws in the interior of the country. Customs and Border Protection is responsible for enforcing the nation’s borders, but once immigrants, illegal or otherwise, are inside, it is the responsibility of ICE to identify, apprehend and deport people who are illegally residing in the United States.

The second mission for ICE is to investigate activities that occur as a result of people illegally moving people and goods across America’s borders. This includes human trafficking, terrorism, drug smuggling, gang activities, cybercrimes, child exploitation, money laundering, the theft of intellectual property and the like.

When the Democrats talk about abolishing ICE, they are not talking about replacing it with another agency. They are talking about abandoning the enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws and just allowing anyone who makes it past the gauntlet of the border to just stay in America. Unable to muster the political power to change our immigration laws, some Democrats are seeking to negate the law by abolishing the agency tasked with enforcing that law.

When one considers how much ICE does for our nation, one realizes that abolishing the agency and abandoning its missions would unleash a wave of mayhem. According to ICE’s 2017 figures, the agency arrested 4,818 gang members including 796 from the evil MS-13 gang, rescued 904 children from exploitation, rescued 518 human trafficking victims, seized 6,967 pounds of heroin and 2,370 pounds of fentanyl, made 32,958 criminal arrests, and so much more.

When it comes to deportations, ICE, on orders from President Donald Trump, focused its resources heavily on deporting illegal aliens who had committed crimes. More than 89 percent of all illegal aliens deported by ICE in 2017 had either been convicted of a crime or had criminal charges pending. The largest percentage of crimes committed by deportees included drunk driving, drugs and assault. If ICE had not enforced our laws, all of those criminals would still be in America and if there is one thing we know about criminals, it is that they rarely stop committing crimes of their own accord.

All of this brings us to the hilarious theatrics of Wisconsin’s Congressman Mark Pocan. Hailing from the comfortably safe liberal District centered on Dane County, Pocan authored a bill to fulfill the fantasies of the radicals and abolish ICE. Under Pocan’s plan, the criminal functions of ICE would move to other agencies, but the enforcement of immigration laws would cease. Pocan apparently forgot he could write bills to change the immigration laws and instead opted for the anarchy of laws without an enforcement arm instead.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, from the neighboring Wisconsin Congressional District, obliged Congressman Pocan’s effort and announced he would bring Pocan’s bill to abolish ICE to the floor. Despite the fact that Pocan is a member of the minority party, Ryan and the Republican leadership decided to call the vote and let the chips fall where they may.

As a member of the minority party in the Congress, Congressman Pocan intended his bill to be political posturing to feed the anger of the radical Left for the election. He never actually intended for it to be voted upon. Stoking the fires of hatred before an election is far more important to Pocan than serious immigration reform. With his bluff called and his shameless charade on display for the world to see, Pocan immediately called “foul” and said that he would vote against his own bill.

When people complain about the divisive state of political discourse in our nation, it is politicians like Congressman Pocan who is responsible. Instead of using the office entrusted to him by his constituents to work for rational immigration reforms, he chose to author a bill that even he would not support for the purpose of fueling rage before an election. Wisconsin, and the dedicated public servants of ICE, deserve better.

Illegal Immigration. Neat.

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. You can find the entire thing by picking up a paper or buying an online subscription. Here’s a snippet.

When the Democrats talk about abolishing ICE, they are not talking about replacing it with another agency. They are talking about abandoning the enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws and just allowing anyone who makes it past the gauntlet of the border to just stay in America. Unable to muster the political power to change our immigration laws, some Democrats are seeking to negate the law by abolishing the agency tasked with enforcing that law.

Supreme Power

Here is my column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday. And now that I’ve ruminated and griped about how much power we have ceded to an unelected branch of government, the realities of today dictate that we must get a good, constructionist jurist in place before the election.

The Supreme Court of the Unites States completed its session with a flurry of mostly good rulings and Justice Anthony Kennedy added an exclamation point by announcing his retirement. With the prospect of President Trump’s second appointment to the court looming, every politician and special interest in America has launched into battle as if the world depended on the outcome.

I can’t help but feel a deep sense of sadness for the state of our republic. It was never supposed to be like this.

Somehow we have drifted from Judge Marshall’s opinion in Marbury v. Madison, “that a law repugnant to the Constitution is void; and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument” to a point where the Supreme Court of the United States is routinely called the “final arbiter of the Constitution” without so much as a second thought. But interpretation and enforcement of the Constitution is not the sole responsibility of the Supreme Court. Even Marshall acknowledged this fact when he includes “other departments” in the quote above. Those “other departments” are the other two branches of government.

The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It supersedes anything generated by any part of the government. This is what Marshall meant when he wrote: “The Constitution is either a superior, paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means, or it is on a level with ordinary legislative acts, and, like other acts, is alterable when the legislature shall please to alter it.

If the former part of the alternative be true, then a legislative act contrary to the Constitution is not law: if the latter part be true, then written constitutions are absurd attempts, on the part of the people, to limit a power in its own nature illimitable.”

In other words, a written constitution is meaningless if it is able to be quashed by a simple act of the legislature or by an arbitrary regulation from the executive. It is the responsibility of every branch of the government to maintain the integrity of the Constitution.

It is worth noting that Marshall closed his opinion by pointing out that the oath taken by judges obligates the judges to place the Constitution above other considerations. The oath taken by a judge reads, in part: “I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

This portion of a federal judge’s oath is also included in the oath taken by a soldier, a senator, a congressman and, most notably, a new United States citizen. Just as a new citizen must verbally vow to support and defend the Constitution, each natural- born American citizen implicitly adheres to the same oath as a duty of citizenship. It is every citizen’s duty to support and defend the Constitution.

It must be remembered that the Constitution is a document that restricts what the federal government can do. The federal government is specifically denied the power to do anything outside of the specific powers delegated to it in the Constitution.

Since the Constitution is a shackle for government, why would we make an institution of that government “the final arbiter” of its meaning and extent? That is like letting a child be the final arbiter on how much Halloween candy is permissible to eat in one sitting. Just as that child would end up bloated and sick, so too would a government left to decide its own boundaries.

The current apoplectic fury over the appointment of a single judge of a ninejudge panel of a single branch of our three-branch government is symptomatic of the degeneration of our adherence to our Constitution. As a people, we Americans have ceded the responsibility of binding our government to the tenets of our Constitution to an unelected branch of that same government. We have permitted the pendulum of power to be permanently stuck on the side of the government.

The result has been predictable. Our federal government routinely acts well outside its constitutional boundaries with not only the consent, but the adulation of much of the citizenry.

As the federal government’s overseers, it is the American people’s historic responsibility to fasten tight the constitutional fetters with which we bind our government and closely guard the key. Yet over the past two centuries, we have fallen asleep on our watch and left the keys dangling within easy reach of our charge.

I do not fault the political factions in our nation for waging a rhetorically bloody crusade for control of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has become the nuclear weapon of the modern American political landscape, control of which dictates supremacy. At the same time, every citizen should take to heart the words written in our Declaration of Independence: “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The Supreme Court only has as much power as Americans consent to give it.

 

Supreme Power

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. You can find the whole thing by following the link. Here’s a snippet:

Since the Constitution is a shackle for government, why would we make an institution of that government “the final arbiter” of its meaning and extent? That is like letting a child be the final arbiter on how much Halloween candy is permissible to eat in one sitting. Just as that child would end up bloated and sick, so too would a government left to decide its own boundaries.

The current apoplectic fury over the appointment of a single judge of a nine judge panel of a single branch of our three-branch government is symptomatic of the degeneration of our adherence to our Constitution. As a people, we Americans have ceded the responsibility of binding our government to the tenets of our Constitution to an unelected branch of that same government. We have permitted the pendulum of power to be permanently stuck on the side of the government.

The result has been predictable. Our federal government routinely acts well outside its constitutional boundaries with not only the consent, but the adulation of much of the citizenry.

Wisconsin politicians should reject tax increase on internet purchases

As you could have read yesterday in the Washington County Daily News, here is my column urging Wisconsin’s Republicans to reject a tax increase.

Thanks to a 1992 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that said that states could only collect a sales tax on businesses with a substantial presence in their state, consumers have been largely exempt from paying sales taxes for purchases made online. Those days may be coming to an end.

Last week the Supreme Court overturned its 1992 ruling. The new legal landscape means that states can now levy a sales tax on internet sales, but they are not required to do so. States like Illinois and California, with their self-inflicted derelict financial situations, are salivating over the opportunity to capture more tax revenue. What should Wisconsin do?

A report last year from the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that the imposition of Wisconsin’s sales tax on online purchases would result in between $123 million and $187 million in annual tax revenue for Wisconsin. The important thing to remember is that this projected tax revenue is not “found” money. It is additional money that would be extracted from the pockets of Wisconsinites by state government. It is not a tax on the online businesses who sell to Wisconsinites. It is a tax increase on Wisconsinites.

That is not to say that imposing a tax increase is necessarily a negative thing. There are some compelling reasons for states to impose a sales tax on internet purchases. The primary reason is for the cause of tax fairness. Wisconsinites pay the sales tax at brick-and-mortar stores without question or debate. The fact that those same Wisconsinites can buy products online without paying the sales tax gives online retailers a material advantage over the brick-and mortar stores. In the name of fairness, government should treat businesses equally regardless of their mode of delivering products.

The problem with that argument is that the unequal treatment of businesses is a consequence of a policy decision. The sales tax is not imposed on the businesses. The businesses are merely tasked as an agent of government to collect the tax. The consumers are paying the tax. The implementation of the sales tax whereby consumers must pay it at a physical retailer but are exempt from paying it at an online retailer is fair. Every consumer — the people actually paying the tax — is being treated equally in this regard.

It must also be acknowledged that the different sales tax treatment of brickand- mortar purchases and online purchases is an extremely small driver of the societal trend toward online purchases. The infinite selection, ease of browsing, competitive prices, easy shipping and the ability for consumers to sit on their couches in their skivvies while they shop are far more powerful disruptive forces than the sales tax. Furthermore, even as online purchases have soared in the past two decades, they still only represent about 10 percent of all retail purchases in America.

Given that the ruling by the court is still fresh, Wisconsin’s political leaders are still pondering the consequences and possibility of imposing the tax increase. Some of them are lusting after the money with an eye to spend it on their priorities. Gov. Scott Walker and other Republican leaders are floating the idea of imposing a new sales tax on internet purchases, but using it to offset state income taxes in accordance with a law that Republicans passed in 2013.

Such a use of new sales tax revenue would be laudable. By using sales tax revenue to offset income taxes, it would keep Wisconsin’s total tax burden static, but shift some of that burden to the broader population of retail consumers and off of the shoulders of income earners.

History tells us, however, that raising one tax to offset another never works over the long term. While Walker and legislative Republicans may set up such a tax offset initially, over time there will be different politicians with different priorities. Inevitably, some future politicians will begin to carve out a percentage of online sales tax revenue for some spending “priority” or “crisis.” Then that percentage will increase over time until the notion of a tax offset is all but forgotten except by crotchety curmudgeons who write columns.

Wisconsin’s Republican leaders should resist the temptation to tax online purchases and make sure the whole nation knows that Wisconsin is the place to live if you want to continue to make tax-free online purchases. The best tax is the one that is never imposed.

Wisconsin politicians consider tax increase on internet purchases

In my column this wee in the Washington County Daily News, I take a deeper dive into the issue of a potential sales tax on internet sales following the decision by the Supreme Court last week. Here’s a snippet, but pick up a copy of the Washington County Daily News to read the whole thing!

That is not to say that imposing a tax increase is necessarily a negative thing. There are some compelling reasons for states to impose a sales tax on internet purchases. The primary reason is for the cause of tax fairness. Wisconsinites pay the sales tax at brick-and-mortar stores without question or debate. The fact that those same Wisconsinites can buy products online without paying the sales tax gives online retailers a material advantage over the brick-and mortar stores. In the name of fairness, government should treat businesses equally regardless of their mode of delivering products.

Republicans need a vision to break the blue wave

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

Since President Donald Trump was elected Democrats and their liberal allies have been predicting that Democrats would win a sweeping victory at the polls this November. Dubbed the “blue wave,” the Democrats have history on their side. The opposition party to the president traditionally wins big electoral gains in the midterm election following the president’s inauguration.

While Democrats are still likely to win more elections than they lose this year, the threat of a blue wave appears to be diminishing. Trump’s rising approval rating, the booming economy, the prospect of peace in North Korea and a host of other factors are sucking some of the strength out of the wave.

The reason there might be a blue wave, or perhaps a blue ripple, is not because millions of heretofore Republicans have suddenly become Democrats. It is because Democrats are more energized to vote as they focus their hate around the figure of President Trump. Hate is a powerful emotion that drives a lot of people to the polls. But as we saw in Wisconsin when the Democrats fixed their hate on Gov. Scott Walker, it is not always enough to win elections.

There were two special elections last week in Wisconsin districts previously held by Republicans. A Republican won one and a Democrat one. Given that both districts are considered Republican-leaning, the results lean toward the Democrats, but it belies the notion that there is a gigantic blue wave that will sweep Democrats into power over all opposition. These special elections indicate that candidates still matter. Hard campaigning still matters. Local issues still matter.

Walker is running for his third term and is rightly running on his record. Most Wisconsin Republican incumbents are doing the same. Republicans are right to run on their record because it is a powerful record of success. Wisconsin is far better off than it was before Walker assumed office and Republicans won control of the Legislature. Taxes are down. The state budget runs a surplus instead of a deficit. Unemployment is at an alltime low. Job participation and incomes are rising. And the Republicans have enacted dozens of important reforms from concealed carry to Act 10.

It is a marvelous record, but it is not enough to get Republicans energized and flocking to the polls like they did in 2012 and 2014. What is sorely missing from the Wisconsin Republicans’ message is a vision for the future. While it may not be fair, politics is not about what you have done. It is about what you are going to do next.

If you go to Walker’s campaign website, it has some great details about his historic conservative record, but is scant in detail about what he wants to do in his third term. The Assembly Republicans’ site touts their “Forward Agenda” from 2016. A tour of the sites for incumbent Republican candidates offers much of the same.

If Wisconsin Republicans want to get their base excited and energized to counter the Democrats’ enthusiasm, they need to present a bold vision of what voters can expect if they return Walker for another term and Republican majorities to the Legislature.

For example, here are some things that I, as a conservative member of the Republican base, could get excited about: Cut spending. Don’t just bend the curve down or cut the rate of spending increases. Republicans should actually pass a budget next year that will spend less than the current budget. It is a corollary to Parkinson’s Law that government spending will always fill the budget allocated. That is part of what drives increasing budgets. Republicans should aggressively cut the budget to reflect what Wisconsinites can afford instead of what bureaucrats want to spend.

Once spending is cut, Wisconsin Republicans should end the income tax. It may sound insurmountable, but it isn’t. Nine states manage to function without a tax on regular income. Wisconsin Republicans have certainly shown themselves to be capable enough to enact comprehensive reforms and this one would be welcomed by anyone with an income in the state — including many of our seniors on fixed incomes who find themselves fleeing the state to afford their retirement.

Republicans should reform Wisconsin’s welfare system. In an age of full employment, there is no excuse whatsoever for every able-bodied person who wants to work to get a job. And if they do not want to work, the taxpayers should not be forced to pay their bills. Wisconsin Republicans have made some reforms in this area, but there is a long way to go.

There are many more great conservative reforms waiting to be enacted. If Wisconsin Republicans want to stay in power come November, they will need to articulate for Wisconsin’s voters what they intend to do with that power. Now is not the time to celebrate the past. It is time for Republicans to announce the future.

Republicans need a vision to break the blue wave

Due to a tweak in my agreement with the Washington County Daily News, I will not be posting my column on the blog the same day it runs in the paper. The only way to read it is by picking up a paper or following this link! And, of course, you want to do that. Here’s a sample to get your juices flowing:

It is a marvelous record, but it is not enough to get Republicans energized and flocking to the polls like they did in 2012 and 2014. What is sorely missing from the Wisconsin Republicans’ message is a vision for the future. While it may not be fair, politics is not about what you have done. It is about what you are going to do next.

Go read it the whole thing!

Choosing the next Washington County sheriff

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

On the eve of his third term as Washington County’s Sheriff, Dale K. Schmidt has decided to enjoy the fruits of his years of service and will retire upon the conclusion of his term in January. Sheriff Schmidt leaves behind a proud legacy of service, honor, stability and leadership. Washington County is better for his having served and we citizens of the county owe him our gratitude. Now our attention must turn to his potential successor and who will lead the sheriff’s office for the next four years or more.

The Sheriff’s Office has ancient English roots and a broad mandate. In Washington County, the sheriff is the only countywide elected official and has a wide range of responsibilities. The Sheriff’s Office is the primary law enforcement agency for every part of the county that is not served by a local police department. The Sheriff’s Office also provides additional support and resources for the local police departments. The 911 dispatch center, county jail and juvenile detention facility are all run by the Sheriff’s Office.

The Sheriff’s Office maintains a SWAT team, dive team, transports prisoners to and from court, provides security in the courts, runs a multi-jurisdictional drug unit, provides D.A.R.E. and other educational resources, executes foreclosures and evictions and is the primary law enforcement response unit for many of the county’s schools. It is a very busy department with diverse duties.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Sheriff Schmidt’s tenure has been the lack of controversy. In an era where some other law enforcement agencies are finding themselves embroiled in scandals and responding to public outrage, the Washington County Sheriff’s Office just gets the job done. Through honest, open performance with a humble respect for the rights of the citizens they serve, the sheriff’s department has earned a great deal of trust throughout the county. Meanwhile, as good stewards of the taxpayers’ money, Sheriff Schmidt’s office finished with a budget surplus of $231,500 last year. Sheriff Schmidt’s successor has big shoes to fill.

But like any county, Washington County has some looming problems that the next sheriff will need to tackle. As cited in the Sheriff Office’s most recent annual report, high speed pursuits have been on the rise. Many of these occur on Interstate 41 or Highway 45, which have become high-speed conduits for criminals through the county. These chases are dangerous for everyone involved.

Another rising problem is criminals raiding into the county from the south. Last year, almost 20 percent of jail bookings in the county were residents of Milwaukee. That is a 38 percent increase since 2014. This ispartially driven by the increase in the number of people who fail to appear in court every year. About 45 percent of those who fail to appear hail from Milwaukee County, requiring extra effort and time to track them down.

Two candidates have stepped forward for the opportunity to be the next sheriff of Washington County. Both serve in the sheriff’s department. Both are Republicans, like Sheriff Schmidt. The primary election to select the Republican candidate is Aug. 14. Since there is not a Democrat running, whoever wins the Republican primary will be the next sheriff. The voters of the county have the privilege to choose between two qualified, conservative, honorable men.

Lt. Jason Guslick has served in the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for 17 years in several roles working up through the ranks. Touting himself as a conservative Republican and lifetime NRA member, Guslick recently announced the endorsement Tim Schmidt, the president and CEO of Delta Defense in West Bend.

Guslick lists his primary issues as school safety, supporting the Second Amendment, fighting the heroin/ opioid epidemic, cooperating with federal authorities to enforce immigration laws, protecting county citizens from criminals from surrounding areas and taking a proactive approach to the mental health crisis. His vision for the department is “to move to a principles-based organization with associated values.”

Capt. Martin (Marty) Schulteis has served in the Washington County Sheriff’s Office for 25 years in multiple roles and has also worked his way up through the ranks. Schulteis lists his core values as fiscal responsibility, integrity and accountability, and believes that his extensive background and experience in public safety have prepared him to be the next sheriff.

Schulteis lists his primary issues as combating the current drug epidemic with a multi-faceted approach. He is also looking ahead to the coming resurgence of the meth epidemic in the county. Although opioids/ heroin are the drug du jour, cheap methamphetamines are flooding in from Mexico and have already saturated other parts of Wisconsin. Since meth has a stimulant effect on the human body, it poses different challenges to law enforcement and Schulteis is focused on the issue. Schulteis will also advocate to add an additional circuit court to the county to help manage drug crimes.

I encourage every voter in Washington County to take the time to get to know the two sheriff candidates before the Aug. 14 primary election. It is an important office that directly and indirectly impacts every citizen. The county has had a great sheriff for many years. Let us make the effort to ensure that the office will be in good hands for years to come.

 

Boom! goes the economy

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

When I was in business school during the previous millennium, I remember sitting in a class listening to a professor drone on about the unemployment rate, wage pressures, labor participation and the notion of full employment. Full employment is when everyone who is willing and able to work is employed. Full employment does not mean that the unemployment rate is 0 percent. An economy is traditionally considered to be at full employment when the unemployment rate is between 4 percent and 6 percent because there will always be a percentage of people transitioning between jobs and times when workers’ skills do not match the jobs available.

By any account, the U.S. and Wisconsin, and especially in West Bend, are in a state of full employment. The most recent employment reports indicate that the U.S. has an unemployment rate of 3.8 percent. Wisconsin is beating the rest of the nation by a full point with an unemployment rate of 2.8 percent. West Bend has an astonishing unemployment rate of 2.3 percent.

On the micro-level, the evidence of hyper-employment is overwhelming. A short walk around West Bend will find a “help wanted” sign at almost every business. Several businesses have large signs advertising starting wages for entrylevel jobs at $10, $15 or more per hour — and those businesses are struggling to find good employees.

At the macro-level, a Bureau of Labor Statistics report says that while 223,000 jobs were created in May, the number of unemployed persons dropped by 6.1 million people. That means that nearly 6 million people entered the national workforce to fill jobs that were already open. This has the labor participation rate — the total number of Americans employed — increasing to 62.7 percent. That still is not as high as it once was, but it is finally steadily increasing after being in steady decline since it peaked in early 2000.

There really is no longer any excuse for every ablebodied adult to get a job. Anyone with a pulse and a modicum of work ethic can, and should, get a job. This is an economic truth that policy makers should bear in mind when debating things like welfare and education.

While high unemployment creates a litany of societal and economic problems, full employment presents a set of problems. They are better problems, but problems nonetheless. First and foremost, American businesses are struggling to attract and keep good employees. In particular, entry-level jobs and skilled jobs are difficult to fill. There are still plenty of lawyers and middle-managers out there, but finding a good roofer or hotel front desk clerk has become a challenge.

The inability to find good workers has undoubtedly retarded our nation’s potential economic growth.

The inability of some businesses to find good workers is partially their own fault. Fearful of the future, too many American businesses have been slow to increase wages to attract workers off of the economic sidelines and into jobs. We are finally seeing some significant wage increases in fits and starts. Some employers and industries are offering substantial wage increases to attract workers.

While overall private sector wages have increased between 2.5 percent and 2.9 percent since last year, wages for construction workers are growing at 3.8 percent — and that does not include the ample amount of overtime pay available to willing workers. Residential construction workers’ wages are growing at an even faster 5 percent. According to the National Federation of Independent Business, 35 percent of small business owners reported increasing wages to attract and retain employees. And some of America’s largest employers like Walmart, Costco, Walgreens, Publix, Tyson Foods and many more have increased wages.

Increasing wages, which always lag in a growing economy, are finally here, but that will drive another economic metric — inflation. As wages increase, the cost of goods and services will increase to pay for them. While rampant inflation destroys economies, moderate inflation in a growing economy is quite healthy. Thanks to sustained economic growth since President Ronald Reagan was in office and the Federal Reserve’s almost irrational fear of inflation for the past decade, Americans have not experienced significant inflation in a generation. Barring more unnatural manipulation by the Federal Reserve, the American economy should expect higher inflation over the next economic cycle as the value of the dollar reconciles with the value of labor.

It was only a few short years ago when President Barack Obama and Governor Jim Doyle were trying to convince us that America’s best economic days were behind us and we needed to adjust to the new normal of a European-style economy. Thankfully, they were wrong. America’s, Wisconsin’s and West Bend’s economies are booming and all of us are seeing the benefits.

Foxconn begins to deliver on its promise

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

While there is still a long way to go before Wisconsinites can evaluate the full impact of the Foxconn development, so far it is proving to be the economic boon for Wisconsin that Gov. Scott Walker and other supporters of the deal predicted. The official groundbreaking ceremony will be June 28, but the work has already started.

When Walker announced the deal with Foxconn, it marked the largest economic deal the state of Wisconsin had ever struck. Liberals vacillated between bemoaning corporate welfare and declaring that Wisconsin should have gotten a better deal. Conservatives cringed at the massive amount of tax dollars involved to lure one company to Wisconsin. Walker touted the deal as a transformational economic development that would benefit Wisconsin for generations. It is possible that everyone was right, but certainly Walker deserves credit for getting it done.

Before the first shovel could be put in the ground, nearly 500 subcontractors, suppliers, service providers, vendors and other companies attended an information session hosted by Foxconn for the projected $10 billion construction project. These businesses came from all over Wisconsin and the world for the chance to participate in one of the largest construction projects in United States history.

Late last month, Foxconn began announcing the contractors that they would use. True to their word, Foxconn officials strongly favored Wisconsin companies. Ninety percent of the contracts so far have been awarded to Wisconsin companies.

In just the first phase of the project, 27 Wisconsin companies and one Illinois company are sharing $100 million to do the preparation work for the site including excavation, erosion control, soil and water testing and stormwater management. A $100 million project would already be one of Wisconsin’s largest construction projects, and that is only 1 percent of what Foxconn is planning to spend to complete the project. Furthermore, as Walker predicted, the economic benefits are not limited to southeast Wisconsin. One of those Wisconsin companies already working is a Black River Falls construction company which has been tasked with moving about 325,000 dump truck loads of dirt and installing 120,000 linear feet of sewer. That company, Hoffman Construction, has indicated that they will need to hire about 150 additional seasonal workers to handle the work.

MJM Truckin’ LLC of Nekoosa, Wood County, Panacea Group LLC of Seymour, Outagamie County, and other businesses throughout the state are already seeing money flow from Foxconn into their businesses.

The reason that all of Wisconsin will benefit from Foxconn is simple. The Foxconn project is just so incredibly huge that southeast Wisconsin does not have the people or material necessary to complete it. Not only will Foxconn need to bring in workers from all over Wisconsin, they will have to bring people from all over the world to Wisconsin to work.

A study by the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce estimates that Foxconn’s new Wisconsin plant will contribute about $51 billion to the state’s economy over the next 15 years. Calculating the exact economic impact of the massive Foxconn development is inherently difficult, but Wisconsin is already seeing a ripple effect spread across the state.

All of this positive development makes the stance of some of the Democratic candidates for governor even more puzzling. While some may disagree with the deal that Walker struck with Foxconn, it is done. The contracts are signed and both sides are obligated to honor their side of the agreement. Yet some of the Democratic candidates are hoping to see it all fail and rip a hole in Wisconsin’s economy as it does.

Rep. Dana Wachs has said “we will find a way to end it.” Matt Flynn said that he will end the deal, “no matter what.” Madison Mayor Paul Soglin and Rep. Kelda Roys want to renegotiate the deal — whatever that means. Try to imagine a world in which one of these Democrats wins the governor’s chair and uses it to douse the Foxconn economic fire with a vat of cold water. Not only would it hobble the Foxconn economic juggernaut, but it would neuter Wisconsin’s ability to attract business for decades to come. What company CEO in his or her right mind would make a long-term commitment to Wisconsin if all it takes is a new governor to tear up the contracts?

The argument over whether or not the Foxconn deal was a good one for Wisconsin will be decided in the years to come. One would hope that whatever one thought about the terms of the deal, we could all root for it to live up to its promise. Fortunately for our state’s economy, so far it has.

Liberal West Bend School Board targets November for $80 million referendum

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

As the West Bend School Board continues to search for a new superintendent after the unfortunate departure of the previous one, it is also aggressively following the liberal playbook to bamboozle the taxpayers into approving a new, massive, $80 million (plus interest) spending referendum. While every one of the school board members ran for office on a platform of conservatism and transparency, their governing is indistinguishable from the arrogant liberal school boards in Milwaukee or Madison.

Since Act 10, the liberals in Wisconsin have fought for more spending and stumbled upon a process to get school spending referendums passed that plays on the fears and best intentions of goodhearted people. The West Bend School Board is following that process and looking to take advantage of the projected “Blue Wave” in November to get more money from district taxpayers.

First, the School Board created the Citizens Facility Advisory Committee last year with a strong majority of members who were already convinced of the need to spend more money. The only questions were “on what” and “how much?” The board hired a company based in Milwaukee called Bray Architects to run the CFAC meetings. Bray brags on its website about the expensive building projects funded by referendums it helped get passed.

Bray did its job for the board and ran a rigid CFAC process that would only lead to the outcome that the board had predetermined. In one unguarded moment, the Bray facilitator admitted that “the decision to build a new Jackson school was made in the prior efforts.” The taxpayers of West Bend would be surprised to know the decision to build a new school was already made. When the facilitator was asked by a CFAC member about why they were even bothering with the committee, he answered, “because we need to help the community understand why a new Jackson is being considered.” In other words, CFAC was a sham propaganda tool from the beginning — not an actual advisory committee. Recent events confirm that conclusion.

After the bogus CFAC process, the School Board is taking the next step of spending $35,000 of our money to conduct a sham survey. The board pretends that the survey is going to be used to gauge public support for areferendum. The survey is a propaganda tool used to build support and, like CFAC, has a predetermined outcome.

The West Bend School Board has hired SchoolPerceptions to conduct the survey. A recent column

by Mark Belling exposed School Perceptions for the propaganda machine it is. Instead of conducting an objective survey that is honestly seeking answers, “the whole point of School Perceptions is to influence opinion through framing questions,” Belling writes.

The upcoming survey in West Bend will not be any different. It is telling that while asking respondents about a list of projects, there will not be an option to just say “no.” The West Bend School Board has decided to intentionally spend taxpayer money to conduct a propaganda effort under the guise of a survey with the intent to sell a spending referendum. It is a shameless act of liberal activism at taxpayers’ expense.

It is worth noting that while the West Bend School Board members are intent on jacking up spending and taxes, the transparency that constituents have enjoyed with previous boards has muddied. Many meetings are no longer recorded, meeting minutes are missing from the district’s website, the use of special and closed sessions has become the norm and many agenda items appeared to have been already discussed and decided before the public meetings. This School Board has made a practice of obscuring their actions from public view.

Furthermore, when I have repeatedly asked the elected school board members to comment on issues for more than a year, the only member of the School Board who has ever responded was Ken Schmidt. Every other Board member has refused to respond — including the two who were just elected. This is a sharp departure from previous years where even the most liberal School Board members were willing to chat with me over a cup of coffee. Elected officials have a duty to speak with their constituents. It is part of the job. Sadly, most of the members of the West Bend School Board lack the sense of duty or humility that good public service requires.

West Bend is proud of our conservatism and proud of our public schools. The School Board is failing our public schools by failing to govern as the conservatives they professed to be. Before they come hat in hand for another $80 million to spend, they need to get their house in order and rebuild the public trust that they have squandered.

 

U.S. should pull out of 2015 Iran agreement

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Trump has until the end of the week, but he’ll be announcing today. Here’s the conclusion:

The 2015 Iran deal is not working. It is not preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It is helping Iran by lifting sanctions and opening an economic spigot that Iran’s leaders can use to further their nuclear ambitions. The agreement has not ended Iran’s support of terrorists or tyrannical regimes. The agreement has not softened Iran’s confrontational relationship with the West or its neighbors. For all of these reasons, Trump should withdraw the United States from the agreement.

The deadline for the U.S. to withdraw is Saturday. While several of our allies are lobbying Trump to stay in the deal, the interests of our nation and the world dictate otherwise. The path to a lasting peace with Iran is through a diplomatic solution, but the 2015 agreement that Obama struck has taken us off that path.