My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here you go:
At long last, the Wisconsin Legislature and Gov. Scott Walker have completed the Foxconn deal and the budget. They can now get to work on other important priorities.
The biennial budget is the most important piece of work the Legislature does. Historically, both parties decry the presence of nonfiscal policy items in the budget but both parties do it. The reason is simple. The Legislature must pass a budget, so the easiest way to get various policy items passed it to buckle it to the budget.
This time, the Joint Finance Committee, led by Republicans, stripped all 83 nonfiscal policy items out of the governor’s budget in April. While a few of those items made their way back into the budget, like the repeal of the prevailing wage law for state contracts, many of those items were important conservative reforms that were set aside while leadership suggested that they be brought up as individual bills. The Legislature can now get to work on passing those individual bills as well as other conservative initiatives that are left undone. In no particular order, here is an incomplete list of things that the legislature should pass without undue delay.
■ The Legislature could save the taxpayers a lot of money by making some very simple reforms to state employee benefits to bring them more in line with what the taxpayers experience. One area in need of attention is in the health insurance plan that state employees enjoy. As John Torinus pointed out earlier this year, the state’s under-managed health plan costs the taxpayers an exorbitant $23,000 per year per employee.
For comparison, the cost of the average employer-provided health insurance policy for a family in America last year was $18,142, according to the Kaiser Employer Survey. If the state would actively manage health insurance to bring it to the national average, it would save taxpayers almost $317 million per year while still providing a very generous and salubrious benefit. If the state went one step further and required state employees to cover 40 percent of the premiums, it would save taxpayers $787 million per year. That pays for a lot of education and roads.
■ Another neglected area is the crime that is ravaging the state’s urban areas. Rep. Joe Sanfelippo and Sen. Leah Vukmir proposed a series of eight bills that would do things like strengthen penalties for carjacking and give judges more latitude to impose longer prison sentences on juvenile crooks. These bills are a start, but more needs to be done to ensure that prosecutors and judges are enforcing laws as the people expect them to.
■ One small item that was stripped from the budget is to allow University of Wisconsin students to opt out of allocable segregated fees that go to controversial and divisive organizations. As a simple matter of freedom, students who are attending an university for an education should not be forced to fund organizations with which they disagree.
■ One item that has already progressed a little this month is a bill to reform Wisconsin’s civil asset forfeiture law. Current law allows the government to seize property from people even if they have not been convicted of a crime. This is blatantly unconstitutional and encourages the worst types of corruption by government officials. Reforming this law to restrict the government to only being able to seize property upon a criminal conviction is necessary for the preservation of liberty.
■ Another bill that is already seeing some progress is a bill that would liberalize Wisconsin’s concealed carry law to bring it more in line with our national and state constitutional protections. Twelve other states already have so-called permitless or constitutional carry without any adverse effects. Without any pressing government interest to restrict our right to keep and bear arms, the Legislature should act to expand liberty instead of continuing to put shackles on it.
The list of things left undone by the legislature is much longer than the space in this column allows, but the above is a start. There is much more work to do and the delay in passing the budget has left the legislature with a tight legislative calendar. The Foxconn bill proved that the Legislature can do big things in a small amount of time when they have a will to do so. There is still ample time to get a lot done if the legislature has the will to do so. Pray that they do.