Tag Archives: West Bend Daily News

Freeing Fees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s About the Spending

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The power and politics of the court

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Management by proverbial drunken sailors

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

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

Wisconsin taxes so much because it spends so much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

The Trump Era Begins

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Trump Era is here. Strap in.

 

Considering our library and its debt

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The tax burden matters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Death throes of a presidency

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Reasserting the 10th Amendment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Red Scare

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Still proudly flaunting the Golden Fleeces

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump attacks businesses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let the budget battle begin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s Time for School Carry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Republican Sweep in Wisconsin

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In search of a few good people willing to serve

It’s election day, so it’s a good time to look ahead to the next election, right? My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:

It is over. Perhaps the nastiest, vilest, most souldraining American presidential election since 1828 has finally slithered into election day. Tomorrow we will wake up and have to come to grips with the fact that we have elected a narcissistic liar with the rectitude of Manhattan pimp to the highest office in the nation. But while the campaigns for national offices are often heated, there are no campaigns at all for most local offices.

Decisions made at the national level have a substantial impact on our lives as Americans and warrant the attention and passion that they engender, but decisions made at the local level, like determining the level of local property taxes, which roads are repaired, how our schools are run, how many police officers our city has, how our drinking water is being treated, etc. have a huge impact on our daily lives.

Despite the importance of these local decisions and the relative simplicity of running for the elected offices that make these decisions, it is becoming more and more difficult to convince people to run for them. According to the 2016 State of Wisconsin’s Cities and Villages’ annual survey commissioned by the League of Wisconsin Municipalities and conducted by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, people do not have much interest in running for village boards or city councils — particularly in small communities.

According to the survey, more than half the board seats up for election had only one candidate or no candidate at all. For cities and villages with fewer than 15,000 citizens, it was more than two-thirds with one or fewer candidates. All told, only 4 percent of respondents reported “vibrant” competition where two viable candidates were actually competing for a seat. The survey also reports that the problem has been getting worst with 46 percent reporting that the number of candidates have declined over the past few years.

Washington County races bear out the results of the survey. Looking back at the April election, all 26 seats of the Washington County Board were on the ballot. Only seven seats were contested. Seventeen seats were uncontested with only one candidate on the ballot. Two seats had no candidates at all. All three seats for the Hartford Common Council were uncontested, as were all four seats for the West Bend Common Council.

The survey cites citizen apathy, lack of time and satisfaction with municipal operations as the most common reasons for the lack of competition for the local seats, but there are other reasons. Certainly people are often busy and serving on a local common council or school board is a huge time commitment. It is also true that people who are generally satisfied with their local governments are not motivated enough to take the time and energy it takes to run for, and serve in, a local elected office.

In speaking to people over the past few years about serving in local elected office, they also express the concern and frustration with how personally invasive serving in local office can be. Years ago, an alderman or member of a school board could serve and have sometimes sharp disagreements without it spilling over into their personal lives. They might get an earful in the line at the grocery store and might lose the next election, but that was the end of it. In the internet age, it is easy for political opponents to take their aggression much further. Now someone can relatively easily dig into someone else’s work history and legal history, creep through their various social media accounts, find out where their kids go to school and their spouse works, and so much more.

Then the internet provides a vehicle for unscrupulous, or just plain mean, people to take some or all of that information and trumpet it across the globe to attack their opponent. For someone considering serving on a local school board or county board because they want to make their community a better place, it is a big risk to take. An offhand stupid comment that is recorded or a misstep in someone’s personal life can now be used as a cudgel to bludgeon a person to political death. But more than that, the same cudgel can be used against a local elected leader’s employer, friends and family. It is, indeed, a high price to pay just to spend hours debating zoning regulations on behalf of the public.

While the transparency the internet provides for local officials is good from the standpoint that it is much more difficult for them to escape scrutiny for behaving badly, it is also a deterrent to good people who might consider serving. One of the consequences of that deterrent is that, too often, the only people willing to run for these offices are people with an ax to grind, people seeking personal gain, and other malcontents.

For our republic to be healthy, we need good people to run for office. Yes, it is time consuming and the possible personal consequences are real, but the consequence of good people choosing to not run are that only the bad people are left to make decisions. There are many seats up for election next April including on the West Bend Common Council and West Bend School Board. If you consider yourself one of the good people, you should put some serious thought into serving to make your community a better place for everyone.

Conservatives are divided

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

This dreadful election cycle is almost over. As we limp into Election Day with more investigations, accusations and general boorishness on all sides, we must remember that the sun will rise on Nov. 9 and the odds are favorable that the earth will still be rotating and we will be contending with the consequences.

One of those consequences, irrespective of the outcome of the election, is the fracturing of the once powerful and united conservative bloc in Wisconsin.

It was not too long ago when conservatives seemed to be a relatively rare animal in Wisconsin. Less than a decade ago, Wisconsin was much bluer. The Democrats were as liberal as they are now, but the Republicans were also quite a bit more liberal. It seems almost strange to think about the debates we were having as recently as 2009 and the leftist paradigms in which those debates raged. We were talking about how much to increase taxes, budget deficits, raids of segregated funds, increases in government spending, etc. Issues like concealed carry, tax cuts, a UW tuition freeze, regulatory reform, etc. were not even on the table.

Then things changed. Beginning in 2009 and strengthening in 2010, conservatives and conservatism surged to push conservative politicians into office. Then came Act 10 and the recall election of Scott Walker that galvanized the conservative base in Wisconsin into an electoral and ideological juggernaut. The conservative base turned out for elections in unheard of numbers, but also worked hard to elect and protect conservative politicians. They also held those conservative leaders accountable and insisted that Wisconsin pass a conservative agenda that included spending restraint, tax cuts, concealed carry, right to work, and hundreds of other items for which conservatives had been advocating for generations. Wisconsin conservatives were the envy of the nation and made Wisconsin the ideological and political center of the political right.

Then along came Donald Trump to shatter Wisconsin’s conservative bloc into pieces. Trump was a pro-abortion, anti-gun rights, pro-government spending, pro-abusive use of eminent domain, Manhattan liberal up until about five minutes before he decided to run for president as a Republican. Knowing that the conservative base of the Republican Party held significant sway, Trump claimed a conservative mantle. In doing so, he has severely fractured Wisconsin conservative base. If you think the public spats between once conservative allies are heated, you should see the arguments occurring behind the scenes.

There are now essentially four conservative factions segmented by if, how, and when they support Trump. The first faction are those who supported Trump from the beginning and passionately continue to do so. These people are not conservatives, but they claim to be. No true conservative could have supported Trump when there were so many true conservatives on the primary ballot with a real chance of winning.

The second faction are those conservatives who did not support Trump in the Republican primary but support him in the general election. Some of these folks are giving Trump the benefit of the doubt that he is genuine in his recent support of some conservative policies, but many of them simply see Trump as a better choice than the truly deplorable Hillary Clinton.

The third faction are the Never Trump conservatives. These are the conservatives who adamantly opposed Trump in the primary and have sworn to never support them. They are preserving the ideological definition of conservatism so that it can survive either a Clinton or Trump presidency.

The fourth faction, of which I consider myself a member, are those pragmatic conservatives who considered Trump after he won the Republican nomination, but decided to choose a third party candidate. Both Clinton and Trump would be equally destructive to our nation. The only differences are in technique and style.

Faction two is angry at faction three for prioritizing ideology over winning. Faction four is angry at faction one for forcing us to have to make this choice. Faction three is angry at faction two for abandoning conservatism. Faction one is angry at everyone because they never liked conservatives in the first place.

If conservatives cannot, or will not, mend their wounds and reunite quickly after this election, Wisconsin will regress from all of the progress we have made in the past five years.

Although conservativism is more popular than it has ever been, Wisconsin is still a majority blue state on many issues — particularly when it comes to taxing and spending. We already see some state Republicans sliding into the comfortable gauzy robe of Madison “get-alongism.” If Wisconsin conservatism fails to unite again behind the ideals we all support and leverage our political energy to support conservative policies and politicians, then the conservative political reformation in Wisconsin is nearing an end.

Conservatives must unite again behind the values we share. Even though we have come to different conclusions regarding Trump, we all continue to share ideals that we believe will benefit our state and nation. Politicians come and go. We are all going to still be here, and there is still a lot of work to do in our state

An Independent Vote

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

Since I decided last week that I could not vote for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump for President of the United States, and that voting is a responsibility that I must fulfill, that means that I will be voting for a third party candidate. Many of my conservative and Republican friends have argued against voting for a third party, but their arguments fail to convince with candidates such as these.

Some of my fellow conservatives argue that not voting for Trump is tantamount to voting for Clinton. By that argument, many of these same Wisconsin conservatives who opposed Trump in the Wisconsin primary could be said to have cast their votes for him when they voted for challengers who had little chance of success like Marco Rubio, Ben Carson, or even Scott Walker. Voting for a third party candidate cannot be logically construed to be a vote for another candidate. It is simply a vote for a different candidate who might have a lesser chance of winning.

There is also an arrogance underpinning this argument that is grating. The notion that voting for a third party candidate is the same as voting for Clinton rests on a presumption that my vote belongs to the Republican Party instead of to me. As a free American citizen, my vote is my own. If the Republican Party wants it, then they will need to nominate candidates for whom I would vote.

Another argument used against third party candidates since the conception of the two party system in America is that a vote for the third party candidate is a wasted vote because they cannot win. It is an argument vociferously advanced by adherents to both of the major parties for obvious reasons. It is also not true.

Unlike most other advanced representative governments, Americans have favored a two party system for almost our entire history. It has become a cultural norm and it has its merits. By having only two major parties, both parties must operate as “big tent” parties if they wish to gain and retain power. This pushes both political parties to the political middle resulting in a moderating effect on any radical movements. The two party system promotes a more classically conservative approach to governance that is less subject to wild fluctuations in policy that have rended governments formed from multi-party coalitions.

Third parties, however, have their place in the American political system to move the major parties off of their foundations when they become too obtuse. The Republican Party began as a third party movement of people who were frustrated that neither the Democrats nor the Whigs were sufficiently opposed to slavery. The Progressive movement of the late 19th century and early 20th century was driven by people enraged at the corruption that riddled both major political parties. In both cases, the strong third party movements served to shove both major parties into the mainstream of the American people’s will.

More recently, if to a lesser extent, Ross Perot ran as a strong independent in the presidential elections of 1992 and 1996. Although Perot did not win and never really had a chance to win, his candidacy served to force both of the major entrenched political parties to address some issues that they had been ignoring. Although Bill Clinton won both elections, he never won a majority of the popular vote.

Perot’s strong showing helped force both the Democrats and the Republicans to address the budget deficit and national debt eventually resulting in a balanced budget and several years of federal budget surpluses. I would note that the Republicans and Democrats have since returned to their utter neglect of any sense of fiscal responsibility with our tax dollars. Third parties rarely win in America, but they serve a vital function of forcing political change.

As I consider for whom to cast my ballot, I must invoke the Buckley Rule. Named for its creator William Buckley, the father of the modern conservative movement, the Buckley Rule entreats people to vote for “the rightwardmost viable candidate.” It is a simple, but oft misunderstood rule. “Rightwardmost” is easy enough. “Candidate” is easy enough. The word “viable” is often misconstrued to mean the candidate who is the most electable, but that is not how Buckley meant it. As an unmatched master of the English lexicon, if Buckley had meant “electable,” he would have said so.

By “viable,” Buckley meant, as former National Review editor Neal B. Freeman said, “someone who would bring credit to our (conservatives’) cause. Somebody who, win or lose, would conservatize the Republican Party and the country.” Buckley affirmed this definition with his own actions by running for the Mayor of New York City as a conservative independent against the incumbent Republican mayor even though he stood almost no chance of winning. In our choices this election year, the rightwardmost viable candidate for president is certainly not Donald Trump.

And so, in this election, while I will be proudly casting my vote for the candidates down the ballot who are the rightwardmost viable candidate like Ron Johnson, my vote for president will go to the independent registered write-in candidate, Evan McMullin. Of all of the choices, McMullin appears to be the rightwardmost candidate who would, win or lose, bring credit to conservatism. While I am certain that Clinton will win Wisconsin and almost certainly be our next president, I fervently hope that a strong showing by third party candidates will shove both the Democrats and Republicans to attend to the serious issues that matter to Americans.

Choosing POTUS

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

For the first time in my life, I am sitting here in the middle of October of a presidential election year and I do not know for whom I will vote for President of the United States. Yet, choices must be made and the consequences will be felt.

I am a firm believer that one of the responsibilities of citizenship is to inform oneself and vote even when the choices on the ballot are poor. Our electoral system does not allow for do-overs or “none of the above.” Someone will actually win the election and assume power. The voters will decide who that will be and it is my responsibility to express my choice through the ballot box.

Often, perhaps far too often, this choice comes down to choosing the better of two evils. That is the determination many are trying to make this year between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. But as I consider these two choices, I cannot discern a lesser of the two. They are just two evils.

Clinton is one of the most corrupt people in American politics. Her decades in public life have shown her to be a liar whose overriding motivations are rooted in her own advancement. Repeated disclosures have catalogued how she has violated federal law, used the Clinton Foundation as a vehicle to trade money for favors when she was secretary of state, exposed our national secrets to hostile foreign governments, and attacked the women whom her husband allegedly sexually assaulted. She is a vile person who will abuse the office of president for her personal gain and to advance policies detrimental to the United States.

Donald Trump, who was a liberal New York Democrat until he decided he wanted to run for president, has also spent decades in public life swaddling himself with dishonor. He is also a proven liar who has no scruples about trampling the people and institutions around him for his personal advancement. His willful and unapologetic ignorance of the basic tenets of the Constitution, the separation of powers, international affairs, and the basic duties and limits of the executive leave little doubt that President Trump would cast off any remaining moorings of the American presidency.

Many of my fellow conservatives have weighed and measured the two candidates differently and concluded that Trump is a tolerable choice. Some of them argue that the eventual appointments to the Supreme Court and Trump’s mouthing of support for some conservative principles tip the scale. While I understand and respect those arguments and the people making them, it is not a path I can walk with them this time. In Wisconsin, at least, it is a discussion that is more philosophical than tangible. Wisconsin will vote for Clinton irrespective of how the conservative minority splits their votes.

The history of governments amongst people is replete with examples of bad, corrupt, evil leaders in both representative and other forms of government. We will survive and build for ourselves a better future after this setback. It is critical that we build a bulwark against the excesses of a tyrannical presidency by electing strong Conservatives to the House and Senate like Sen. Ron Johnson, Speaker Paul Ryan and representatives Glenn Grothman, Sean Duffy, Mike Gallagher and Jim Sensenbrenner. While that is true in any election, it is paramount in this one.

By the time Election Day is upon us, I will exercise my franchise for the least offensive choice for president and it will likely be for one of the third party candidates. Then I will pray for our nation to fight off the worst excesses of our next president as we look to build a brighter future.

Ding-dong, the Doe is dead

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

“The petition for a writ of certiorari is denied.” With those nine words from the U.S. Supreme Court, the long, winding road of the illegal and immoral John Doe investigation has come to an end. But with that end, there is a lot of work to be done to clean up the mess, right the wrongs committed and rewrite the laws to ensure rogue prosecutors are checked before they can do so much damage.

The John Doe process, which is unique to Wisconsin, allows prosecutors extraordinary powers to investigate people in exchange for utter secrecy to protect the lives and reputations of the targets of the investigations. In this case, Milwaukee County District Attorney and former chief investigator Francis Schmitz ran roughshod over the rules. In a wide-ranging investigation that included unannounced pre-dawn raids of people’s homes by armed police, confiscation of years’ worth of files and communications, capturing of electronic and phone communications through service providers without notifying the targets, and several other brute force investigatory tactics, the John Doe prosecutors thoroughly uprooted the lives of dozens of conservatives in Wisconsin.

Throughout the investigation, there were several leaks to the media and the media even happened to know when some of the unannounced raids were taking place so they could record it for their news broadcasts. Even as recently as a few weeks ago, more than a thousand pages of documents that are supposed to have been kept secret by the prosecutors were leaked to the British media, where it will be difficult for American law enforcement to track down the source.

It is clear that, from the beginning, John Chisholm and his cohorts used the power of their offices to target conservatives and bully them into silence while allowing the information they collected to be leaked to the media to influence elections.

After years of legal wrangling and news stories, it is worth backing up and remembering what Chisholm was trying to prosecute. He was trying to prosecute conservatives — only conservatives — for exercising their First Amendment right of free speech. The judges overseeing the John Doe process told Chisholm what he was trying to prosecute was not a crime. The Wisconsin Supreme Court told him the same thing. The federal Court of Appeals said the same thing. But the prosecutors were not acting as prosecutors enforcing the law. They were acting as political agents prosecuting their enemies for laws that do not exist.

In responding to the Supreme Court’s denial, Chisholm reiterated as much when he said, “We look forward to the day when Wisconsin adopts a more enlightened view of the need for transparency in campaign finance.” In other words, he knows that he was trying to prosecute conservatives for laws that he would like to exist, but do not, and cannot as long as the First Amendment still holds sway.

The fight is not over yet. The prosecutors have already demonstrated they are not honorable and not above political retribution. They still possess thousands of documents about dozens of people they should never have taken. Even if they claim to return or destroy those documents now, as the Wisconsin Supreme Court ordered months ago, the victims can have little assurance that copies do not exist to be used by their enemies in the years to come. That is why the state attorney general must aggressively investigate and prosecute whoever already leaked documents over the past several years. Only by strict enforcement of the law can future potential malcontents be deterred.

Also, the Legislature took a small step to reform the John Doe process by preventing it from being used for political infractions. They need to go the rest of the way by completely repealing the John Doe process. While it can be argued to have some value, its potential for abuse by dishonorable prosecutors is too great. All of Wisconsin’s citizens are at risk of the abuse of this process and should be protected — not just the politicians. Forty-nine other states manage to prosecute people for crimes without this process. So can Wisconsin.

Thankfully, this abusive John Doe is over. Now we must ensure that no prosecutor is ever allowed to use it to abuse Wisconsinites again.