My column for the West Bend Daily News is online. Here you go:
Earlier this month, I passed a milestone of sorts. On Feb. 7, 2006, The West Bend Daily News debuted a column from a local writer who was making a few ripples in the emerging pool of online media — me. After 10 years, 520-ish columns and almost 400,000 words, we have discussed a lot of issues together. It is enlightening to look back to those first few columns and see how much has changed, and how much has stayed the same.
My very first column was about the Washington County sales tax. It was implemented in 1998 as a temporary measure to fund some critical county capital projects. In 2006, the projects had been paid off and the County Board was to vote on whether or not to extend the tax or let it expire as intended. My advocacy for ending the county sales tax as intended went unheeded and Washington County continues to pay a sales tax today that was implemented as a “temporary” measure.
In another early column, I lamented the first anniversary of the Supreme Court ruling in Kelo et al v. City of New London in which the court ruled that the government could use the coercive power of eminent domain to confiscate private property not only for public projects, but for private projects that might lead to increased tax revenue. It was a tragic ruling that fundamentally eroded Americans’ property rights.
The uneasiness of Americans with this court-instituted government power is acute, as Donald Trump’s history of passionately supporting the aggressive use of eminent domain for the benefit of private developers has become an issue in the presidential election. Furthermore, the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, who dissented in the Kelo decision, has reminded voters that the balance of the Supreme Court is on the ballot in November, too.
Virtual schools filled an early column, too. In 2006, they were still relatively new in Wisconsin. The notion of offering an education completely online instead of in a traditional school setting was a radical thought. It also threatened the entrenched power of the education establishment, so WEAC, the state teachers’ union, sued on the grounds that parents were not permitted to have such a large role in their kids’ education because the parents are not licensed teachers. The lawsuit was thrown out of court, WEAC is a shadow of its former self and virtual schools have continued to expand and offer families diverse educational options to fit their lifestyles and their children’s learning styles.
Last week, thousands of people supporting illegal immigration protested in Madison. Ten years ago, I wrote about our horribly flawed immigration system and the greatest victims of that system — illegal aliens. Because they are in our nation illegally, they are abused and exploited by businesses, landlords, political opportunists and others who extort illegal aliens with the threat of deportation. It has been 10 years and nothing has changed.
In that column, I wrote, “Illegal immigrants should not be made citizens, nor is there any reasonable way to deport them en masse, but the fear of their absence is folly. Through tighter border security, more aggressive enforcement of laws against illegal immigration, reforming the legal immigration laws to make them sensible and stiff penalties for businesses who exploit them, we can fix our illegal immigration problem.” That remains true.
In 2006, I also wrote about the looming debate over the Taxpayer Protection Amendment, the weaker child of the Taxpayer Bill of Rights, which had failed to pass in 2004. Both TABOR and TPA were constitutional amendments that would have restricted the growth of government. While there were several versions and varying proposals, the TPA would have essentially restricted the increase of government spending to inflation plus population growth. The goal of both TABOR and TPA was to keep our government from growing faster than our ability to pay for it.
While the TPA was a fairly modest proposal to rein in government spending, it failed to pass. Since then, the population of Wisconsin has increased by 2.4 percent, median household income has decreased by 8.1 percent, but state and local government spending has increased by a whopping 23.8 percent. With the utter failure of Wisconsin’s politicians to restrain their spending within the confines of the taxpayers’ ability to pay, perhaps the next legislature will have the courage to take up TABOR again and protect future generations from their elected leaders’ largesse.
Many things have changed in the last 10 years, but many things remain the same. One thing that remains the same is that this column continues to appear every week in these pages to discuss current issues. I look forward to looking back 520 more columns from now and reading about what was going on way back in 2016.
Thank you all for reading.