Category Archives: Politics

Mexico to Try to Restrict Central American Illegals to South

Well, it’s something… maybe.

Mexico City (AFP) – Mexico said Wednesday that central American migrants will be given “regional visitor cards” near the Guatemalan border that restrict their movement to the south of the country, impeding their ability to reach the United States.

The restriction will be a blow to tens of thousands of migrants, fleeing the poverty and violence at home, who enter southern Mexico and travel across the country in so-called “caravans” in an attempt to seek asylum in the US.

The cards will be given out in the southeastern city of Tapachula, where Mexican media report there are around 5,000 would-be migrants planning to head to the US.

[…]

US President Donald Trump has warned of a raft of sanctions — including closing official border crossings — unless Mexico cracks down on migrants.

[…]

It is not clear what effect issuing regional visitor cards will have on the caravans given many of the migrants have entered Mexico illegally anyway.

Republican Governor Removes Statues of Democrats

In honor of the overblown and misleading headlines today, I went with the above.

Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) this month signed a law calling for the statues of Arkansas attorney Uriah Milton Rose and former Arkansas Gov. James Paul Clarke to be replaced in Statuary Hall at the U.S. Capitol.

School Board Members Charged with Felonies

This looks like a case of outright theft and a cover up in Mercer, but I hope that all members of elected government take note of the charges stemming from the destruction of public records.

Criminal complaints filed Friday in Iron County Circuit Court say the Mercer School Board sent a letter to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction last May to explain questions that came up from an audit by DPI.

DPI clawed back around $175,000 from the district last year for inappropriately spending money from its “Fund 80” account that reserves money for community programs and services, according to a DPI letter dated June 26, posted on the blog Mercer School Facts. The agency found the fund was used without proper documentation to increase wages and benefits for a few district employees, including district administrator Erik Torkelson.

Deanna PierpontDenise ThompsonMichele “Micki” HolmstromColleen “Kelly” Kohegyi, and Noel Brandt all signed a May 1 letter providing details on how money was spent from the fund, according to the complaints.

[…]

“The other three that were school board members, held a meeting, submitting this letter, knowing that it wasn’t the school board — that there were two individuals on there that weren’t part of the school board,” Tingstad said.

Pierpont, Holmstrom and Brandt are charged with felony misconduct in office, and Thompson and Kohegyi are charged with felony falsely exercising a role of public office.

Tingstad said the five are facing felony charges that could bring up to a $10,000 fine or three years in prison.

In addition, former school board president Deanna Pierpont is facing an additional misconduct charge after telling the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel she erased a video of a school board meeting.

Evers Threatens to Renege on Foxconn Deal

Don’t screw up our state, governor.

Gov. Tony Evers said Wednesday that electronics maker Foxconn Technology Group is unlikely to employ 13,000 workers in Wisconsin as it has said it could and that the state’s deal with the company may need to be “downsized” as a result.

The structure of the deal already accounts for Foxconn missing their jobs obligation and protects the taxpayers. If Evers reopens the contract, he is dealing from a position of weakness. Foxconn doesn’t have to agree to anything else and could just walk away. While I’m sure that Evers and his lefty cohorts would be pleased with their self-fulfilling prophecy, it would be terrible for Wisconsin for a generation or more. It would mark Wisconsin as a state that won’t stick to their contracts for businesses around the world.

Feeling the weight of government

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

April 15. A date that lives in infamy. As the date by which all Americans must submit their income tax forms to make sure the government has extracted enough hard-earned money to fund the bureaucracy, April 15 also serves as a good date to contemplate the cost of government. Given that this April 15 is on the cusp of Wisconsin’s biennial budget debate, it is also a good date to look at how much more costly our new governor wants to make our government.

According to the Tax Foundation, Tax Freedom Day in 2019 is April 16. That means that every dollar that every single American earned up until April 16 is needed to pay the nation’s total tax bill of $5.29 trillion. The nation’s total tax bill is more than the nation’s total combined bill for housing, clothing, and food. Big government isn’t cheap. In Wisconsin, Tax Freedom Day comes even later on April 19. The cost of Wisconsin’s government is still more than most states.

If Governor Tony Evers has his way, Wisconsin’s Tax Freedom Day will push later into the year like Illinois or New York. The governor’s budget proposal includes over a billion dollars in tax increases and would increase taxpayer disparity.

When the Supreme Court ruled last year that states can collect sales and use taxes on internet purchases, Gov. Scott Walker and the Republicans neutralized the tax burden for Wisconsinites by offsetting the new sales tax collections with an equal across-theboard income tax cut. Governor Evers would reverse that decision and give the entire tax savings to only those in the lowest tax bracket.

At the same time, Evers’ budget proposes increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit, a welfare scheme paid through the income tax system, and lower taxes in the lower tax brackets. All of these ideas would lower income taxes for those at the lower end of the income scale.

In order to make up for tax decreases to the lower brackets, Governor Evers would increase taxes on the higher brackets by forcing single people who earn more than $100,000 and couples who earn more than $150,000 to pay regular income taxes on their capital gains. This is estimated to increase taxes by $505 million on Wisconsin’s higher earners.

For some perspective, figures calculated by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance show that income filers earning over $100,000 comprise about 12% of all income tax payers, but they pay over 61% of all income taxes in the state. Evers’ budget proposal would continue the effort to foist more and more of the cost of government on an ever smaller group of income earners.

Not content to only hammer individual taxpayers with higher taxes, Evers would also cap the Manufacturers and Agriculture Credit to a mere $300,000 of income for manufacturers. This is projected to result in a whopping $516.6 million in higher taxes on Wisconsin’s manufacturers.

Just in case anyone thought they might escape Evers’ tax increases, he also proposed to increase gas taxes by eight cents a gallon and then index the tax increases to inflation. That way taxes would automatically increase without politicians having to bother going on record to do it with a vote. This would raise taxes another $485 million through the budget term.

Governor Evers has made it perfectly clear how much he would raise taxes if he had the power to do so on his own. As the legislative Republicans formulate their budget proposals, they should begin with the mirror image of Governor Evers’ proposal. The Republicans should start with a billion dollar tax cut for all Wisconsinites and let the Governor try to negotiate from that starting position.

Wisconsin’s tax burden is not good, but it has been improving for the last eight years. Republicans should fight hard to maintain that trajectory for the benefit of all Wisconsinites.

Supreme Court Takes Up Challenges to Legislation

Good. And for the last time, there was nothing “lame-duck” about those laws.

MADISON – The state Supreme Court agreed Monday to quickly take up a lawsuit challenging lame-duck laws aimed at curbing the power of the state’s top Democrats.

The high court unanimously accepted the case before an appeals court finishes its work on the lawsuit, speeding up its final resolution.

The justices put the case on a fast track, agreeing to hear arguments May 15.

Other lawsuits are pending — one in state court and one in federal court — so the Supreme Court’s ruling in this case likely won’t be the last word on whether the lame-duck laws are valid.

Feeling the weight of government

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. It seemed appropriate on tax day to take another look at all of the tax increases that Governor Evers wants to impose on us. Here’s a taste:

Governor Evers has made it perfectly clear how much he would raise taxes if he had the power to do so on his own. As the legislative Republicans formulate their budget proposals, they should begin with the mirror image of Governor Evers’ proposal. The Republicans should start with a billion dollar tax cut for all Wisconsinites and let the Governor try to negotiate from that starting position.

Wisconsin’s tax burden is not good, but it has been improving for the last eight years. Republicans should fight hard to maintain that trajectory for the benefit of all Wisconsinites.

 

West Bend School Board Considers Extending School Year to Allow More Days Off

I heard some scuttlebutt on social media about the School Board meeting a couple of weeks ago where they discussed the proposed new school calendar, so I decided to watch the meeting. I do these things so that you can enjoy time with your families…

Here’s what went down… there is an ad hoc committee that forms every year to recommend the school calendar. They do it a bit in advance, so the one they are looking at now is for the 2020-2021 school year. The committee brought their recommendation to the school board and the school board was supposed to vote on the schedule.

What they recommended is that the school board extend the school year to June 9th so that the teachers can have a paid day off each month in addition to the already scheduled teacher work days and holidays. The committee said that there was a strong desire to have the extra day off each month so that they can be refreshed and at their best. Yes, that was actually the driving force behind the extra days off during the year.

Here’s the video of the exchange. They schedule stuff starts at minute 12:40.

Hats off to board member Nancy Justman for challenging the schedule and saying she would vote against it (as did Ken Schmidt). Justman correctly pointed out that the extra day off during the school year creates a hardship for families who have to arrange for child care. She also pointed out that in the private sector, bosses don’t just give the staff a paid day off every month for the heck of it. Finally, Justman wondered why there was only one parent representative on the committee – a great point. The superintendent and presenter confirmed that this was actually unusual… there wasn’t ANY parent representative the previous two years.

In the end, they tabled the vote for the schedule and gave the committee instructions to come back with two options – the current option and one that takes out the extra days off and ends the school year a week earlier. I believe they were presented those options tonight, but I didn’t make the meeting. We’ll see how it went shortly.

Again, kudos to Nancy Justman for ensuring that the voices of other stakeholders were heard before approving the schedule.

New Jersey Legalizes Euthanasia

I think everyone has a right to die, but we walk a very dangerous path when we allow one person to kill another.
Gov. Phil Murphy has signed the Medical Aid in Dying for the Terminally Ill Act. And the law goes into effect August 1.
It will allow adults with a prognosis of six months or less to live to get a prescription for life-ending medication.
This make New Jersey the ninth jurisdiction to allow physician-assisted suicide. The others are: California, Colorado, Oregon, Vermont, Washington, Hawaii, Montana and the District of Columbia.

Nevada’s Opaque process for Issuing Pot Licenses

This is a good reminder that the granting of licenses, permits, and other government permissions are, and have always been, a source of bribery and corruption. This is why we should have as little of it as possible, and where we do have it, the process and criteria should be completely transparent.

Nevada faces complaints about secrecy in awarding licenses to sell marijuana in the state’s booming legal marketplace, boiling over into lawsuits and legislation that appear poised to pry open the process.

Several companies have sued the state tax department, arguing that no one knows for sure the criteria officials use to award new licenses. They complain the state releases no information about who seeks and receives permission to sell cannabis to adults, many of them tourists, in the nearly 2-year-old market.

They will ask a judge Monday to freeze the granting of marijuana dispensary licenses, at least temporarily, until the courts decide whether it’s “arbitrary and capricious and violates the constitution,” one lawsuit says.

The hearing will focus on a second wave of dispensaries approved in December to open into an evolving regulatory environment where local lawmakers are considering allowing pot lounges on or near the Las Vegas Strip.

The companies say Nevada unconstitutionally picked winners and losers from 462 applicants for 61 new dispensary, cultivation, laboratory and production licenses.

“Licenses that admit a select few to such a lucrative enterprise must be made in a way that is open and transparent,” said attorney Vincent Savarese, who wrote the constitutional challenge on behalf of Serenity Wellness Center and 10 other companies that were turned away.

80% of Tax Filers Got a Tax Cut

More of this, please, but cut the spending to go with it too.

These changes impact taxpayers differently, but the majority of Americans had a lower tax liability in 2018 than they would have otherwise. Approximately 80 percent of filers had their taxes cut by the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, while only 5 percent saw their taxes increase. Individuals wanting to estimate their tax savings can use our tax calculator.

‘That’s like five people,’

The Queen Bee appears to be a little annoyed.

In the sit-down with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes on Sunday, the 79-year-old Pelosi was asked about pushback she received from the left-wing of her own party.

The Speaker is specifically asked about the Democrat’s progressive caucus  that includes the outspoken 29-year-old Ocasio-Cortez.

You have these wings– AOC, and her group on one side–‘ Stahl begins asking her.

‘That’s like five people,’ Pelosi interjected.

‘No, it’s– the progressive group is more than five,’ Stahl responds.

‘Well, the progressive– I’m a progressive. Yeah,’ the Speaker adds.

UW Stevens Point to Continue to Waste Money on Unnecessary Majors

Not that the majors are unnecessary, but the duplication of availability of them within the UW System is unnecessary. This is the kind of stuff that has caused the cost of higher education to outstrip inflation for decades.

The University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point said its 2018 Point Forward plan to scrap 13 majors was an opportunity to be more nimble. Faculty members, meanwhile, petitioned to remove their chancellor and provost and asked if Stevens Point could remain a true university without core liberal arts fields such as history and foreign languages.

At the same time, professors across the University of Wisconsin system looked at Stevens Point as a test case. How would recent changes to state law and system policies making it easier to cut programs and faculty members be exercised in practice? And would other campuses follow? Even beyond the state, the university’s proposed cuts attracted attention and opposition from professors and academic groups.

Now — after already taking seven majors off the chopping block, leaving just six — Stevens Point is cutting nothing. Chancellor Bernie Patterson announced the development Wednesday in a campus memo saying that the “curricular proposals related to Point Forward have been resolved.”

Oh, and it’s clear that the faculty still runs these universities.

Neubauer Concedes

I’m glad that cooler heads prevailed and she will not put the state through the turmoil of a fruitless recount.

State Appeals Court Judge Lisa Neubauer on Wednesday conceded a race for a seat on the Wisconsin Supreme Court to her colleague Brian Hagedorn.

The concession comes more than a week after an election during which Neubauer trailed Hagedorn by about 6,000 votes and concludes a bitter competition for the 10-year term.

“I love being a judge. I treasure our state, our judiciary and its role in our democracy but this race was never about me. It was really about the integrity and the independence of our courts,” Neubauer said in an interview with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “We knew it was going to be close. We laid it all out there. We put everything we had into this race.”

[…]

But outside spending throughout the race favored Neubauer.

It is worth noting that Neubauer is up for reelection to the Appeals Court next April and she lost every county in that court’s jurisdiction. Some good conservative lawyer or judge should go for it.

 

Reminder that Every Vote Matters

Wow. There’s a 50/50 chance that the supposed winner will just win by 2 votes, but it’s a good reminder to always vote.

A newly discovered and unopened ballot could lead to a tie in the still-unsettled race for McFarland village president — a race in which the incumbent held a one-vote winning margin.

McFarland village staff found the unopened absentee ballot Monday morning in a bin used to store and transfer absentee ballots in last week’s election and subsequent recount, Village Administrator Matthew Schuenke said.

“It was found sealed within an envelope used for absentee voting and it is not open,” he said. “The contents are presently unknown, but it does appear to contain a ballot.”

Incumbent Brad Czebotar received 1,187 votes in last Tuesday’s election, while his opponent, Carolyn Clow, received 1,186 votes in the race to lead the community of about 7,800 on Lake Waubesa southeast of Madison. Czebotar’s one-vote lead held up after a recount last week that Clow requested.

More Reaction to Failed Referendum

There are a couple of interesting pieces in the Daily News today in response to the referendum. First this, from local columnist and business leader John Torinus who expresses surprise at the failure of the referendum:

Note that all seven sitting School Board members supported the passage of the $47 million project. They sincerely believe that Jackson needs a better building and that the high school needs upgrades for safety and STEM education purposes.

So does Superintendent Don Kirkegaard.

So does the business community for economic development purposes. It’s hard to recruit talented employees without a first-class school system.

None of them will drop this issue from their priority lists for the district. They will undoubtedly listen to the voters and come back with a lesser number in 2020.

This is the vein that I commented on yesterday. There is an arrogance and condescension dripping from the view that all of the “right” people in town supported the referendum but the little people were too stupid to vote correctly. There is no willingness to accept the will of the people. No, the only thought is to bring a referendum back in another election with better packaging. This kind of elitism and disdain for regular folks is the same attitude that feeds support for Trump.

Then this from Superintendent Kirkegaard:

While a majority of residents who voted did not support the referendum, this provides the West Bend School Board and me with valuable information regarding improvements.

I sincerely hope that residents feel they had adequate information to make their decision. Through informational meetings, mailings, website posts, social media posts and emails, we tried to offer all the details on the proposal.

In addition, I am grateful to have met many people in the community through my presentations and less formal interactions.

As the West Bend School District and the board move forward, we will continue to engage with the community on the issues of facilities improvements and their funding. We will seek feedback from some who voted “no” and some who voted “yes” to gain insight on their reasons for their vote.

The vision of the West Bend School District is “Excellence for All.” Let there be no doubt that regardless of referendum voting results, our staff each day lives that vision to provide the best education and the best experience possible for the amazing children we are lucky to serve.

That’s a very nice note. As a citizen of the district, I appreciate his attitude, willingness to accept the will of the voters – even though he disagrees with it – and the forward-looking focus on executing the mission of the district. Well done.

Voters vote ‘no’ on school referendum. Now what?

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

The voters in the West Bend School District voiced a definitive “no” to the referendum question to raise taxes and borrow $47 million to build and renovate buildings. Now that the School Board has that answer, they must plan to meet the needs of the district within the taxpayers’ means.

Going into the election, the superintendent and School Board president said that there was not a “plan B” if the referendum did not pass. Such a statement is a gross admission of poor management. That kind of planning is like a guy running up his credit cards and neglecting his house because he plans to win the lottery. Well, the district did not win the referendum lottery. Now they need to manage the taxpayers’ finances responsibly.

When it comes to schools, everything is driven by one number: enrollment. It determines both the revenue and expense side of the equation. According to the most recent enrollment projections prepared for the West Bend School Board by the Applied Population Laboratory at UW-Madison, enrollment for the district will be declining substantially for the foreseeable future. Using four modeling techniques, they project that by the 2027-2028 school year, enrollment will decline between 11.6 percent and 20.3 percent across the district. That is between 772 and 1,345 fewer kids in the district in less than 10 years.

This decline in enrollment is not a reflection on the West Bend School District. It is a trend that is impacting government schools across the state due to the availability of more school options and a demographic shift of young adults having fewer kids. The decline in enrollment is neither good nor bad. It just is. And our government schools are responsible for providing a great education for the kids we have — not the kids they wish we had. This is the reality that the School Board must manage to.

On the revenue side, this means that the district can expect flat to declining revenue every year. Most of the district’s revenue comes from two sources. The property tax levy raises about $38.5 million. Due to revenue limits imposed 25 years ago, the school district is limited by how much they can raise property taxes every year. State taxpayers kick in about $30.7 million to the West Bend School District. Both the revenue limits and state aid are driven by enrollment. As enrollment declines, the School Board can expect less state aid and they will not be able to raise property taxes enough to compensate due to revenue limits.

The good news is that as revenue declines with enrollment, so do expenses. While it is difficult to reduce spending with a decline in enrollment of one child, a reduction in enrollment of 10 percent to 20 percent is a different story. All fixed costs become variable costs with time. Roughly 70 percent of the district’s expenses are for salaries and benefits for employees. The other 30 percent goes to everything else. It is reasonable to expect that the district should reduce the number of employees commensurate to the number of children being educated. Likewise, with 1.14 million square feet of buildings in the district, it is reasonable to expect that the district can reduce the number of buildings to match what the kids need.

What does this mean in real terms? It means that the West Bend School Board should plan on reducing the number of employees in a controlled manner. The easy way is to not backfill retirements and resignations, but if that is not enough, then separations based on the needs of the kids and the district must be done. It is not an attack on teachers to let them go when they are not needed. It is responsible planning to meet the needs of fewer kids.

Similarly, as the buildings in the district become less utilized, the School Board must consider plans to consolidate facilities. The school district has five elementary schools. Would four be enough if there are 20 percent fewer kids? Of course. This is always a contentious issue, but it does not have to be. The mission of the school district is to educate kids — not operate unnecessary buildings.

As the School Board manages a projected decline in enrollment, they should also work to eliminate unnecessary expenses by fully utilizing Act 10. For example, asking employees to pay the same percentage of their health insurance premiums that most taxpayers pay would free up hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. This budgetary liquidity would allow the district to pay great teachers more money by implementing the merit pay system that was abandoned last year.

The voters of the West Bend School District sent a very clear message to the School Board. The voters expect the School Board to work with the money they already have. Knowing that the district is facing a systemic decline in enrollment, the School Board must manage to that reality.

Cabinet Appointments At Risk Because of Evers Power Play

Good. If Evers wants to play bare-knuckle politics, the Republicans shouldn’t be afraid to punch back.

Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Tuesday several of Tony Evers’ cabinet picks were in danger of being rejected by Senate Republicans following the guv’s decision to rescind appointments to the PSC, UW Regents and other bodies.

Fitzgerald said some members of his caucus wanted to vote down the picks to show their anger at the guv’s moves. Fitzgerald said he planned to see how the legal fight over those appointments plays out before deciding how to proceed, but he made clear Senate Republicans wanted to see the picks to the PSC and Board of Regents, among others, restored.

“I think some of those cabinet members are going to be in trouble,” Fitzgerald said.

Columbia County DA Closed Indefinately

Odd

The Columbia County District Attorney’s Office is apparently closed indefinitely, and nobody’s saying why — not even to judges and county leaders.

On Monday morning, a sign affixed to the DA’s office public window on the first floor of the Columbia County Courthouse stated: “Office temporarily closed — no staff available. Please check back this afternoon — sorry for the inconvenience.”

At about 2 p.m. Monday, Assistant District Attorney Jordan Lippert told the Columbia County Sheriff’s Office officers who operate the security system at the courthouse’s entrance that pretrial conferences have been canceled.

Lippert declined to say anything on the record as to why the office is closed and when it might reopen.

“I have no comments,” he said.

[…]

It was not clear whether the closure is related to Friday’s unanimous decision by the County Board’s Human Resources Department, that an unnamed employee has filed a “credible” harassment complaint against at least one person in the DA’s office, also unnamed.

The committee’s decision, made after a protracted closed-session discussion Friday, is based on a letter the complaining employee submitted to Ruf in February. Ruf said he could not comment on the nature of the alleged harassment. The matter has been turned over to the County Board’s Judiciary Committee for further investigation; the Judiciary Committee oversees the operations of the DA’s office.

Voters vote ‘no’ on school referendum. Now what?

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. You really should pick up a copy. Here’s a taste to encourage you:

Going into the election, the superintendent and School Board president said that there was not a “plan B” if the referendum did not pass. Such a statement is a gross admission of poor management. That kind of planning is like a guy running up his credit cards and neglecting his house because he plans to win the lottery. Well, the district did not win the referendum lottery. Now they need to manage the taxpayers’ finances responsibly.

When it comes to schools, everything is driven by one number: enrollment. It determines both the revenue and expense side of the equation. According to the most recent enrollment projections prepared for the West Bend School Board by the Applied Population Laboratory at UW-Madison, enrollment for the district will be declining substantially for the foreseeable future. Using four modeling techniques, they project that by the 2027-2028 school year, enrollment will decline between 11.6 percent and 20.3 percent across the district. That is between 772 and 1,345 fewer kids in the district in less than 10 years.

This decline in enrollment is not a reflection on the West Bend School District. It is a trend that is impacting government schools across the state due to the availability of more school options and a demographic shift of young adults having fewer kids. The decline in enrollment is neither good nor bad. It just is. And our government schools are responsible for providing a great education for the kids we have — not the kids they wish we had. This is the reality that the School Board must manage to.