Tag Archives: Column

Sensenbrenner’s final term

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a taste, but go pick up a copy!

One of the reasons for Congressman Sensenbrenner’s success and longevity in office is that he never forgot his constituents. Every year, in good times in bad, in power or in the wilderness, in the heat or cold, Congressman Sensenbrenner could be found out in his district. He walked in parades, attended the rubber- chicken dinners of local organizations, worked through local festivals, enjoyed the county fairs, and so much more. There used to be a joke that whenever and wherever three residents of the Fifth District gather, one would find Jim Sensenbrenner.

Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner will be justifiably lauded for his accomplishments. He has truly been an anchor for Wisconsin Conservatism for a generation and an instrumental part of Wisconsin’s history. But I hope he will also be lauded for never losing sight of the fact that he was, first and foremost, a representative, in the full and truest sense of that word.

Jim Sensenbrenner will have a successor, but he will never have a replacement.

Another year, another tax surplus

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

In a fitting coda to the two remarkable terms of Governor Scott walker, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau released a report last week showing that the preliminary general fund tax collections for fiscal year 2019 came in a whopping $702.6 million more than anticipated. Such a number demonstrates the remarkably good shape in which Walker left the state economy and the state’s finances.

When the Legislature and the governor write a budget, they have to estimate the amount of revenue that the various taxes will generate for the state. This estimate is based on the tax laws in place combined with economic forecasts. As with any estimate, the further one looks into the future, the less certainty there is with the number.

When the Legislature passed the previous biennial budget which just came to a close, they estimated that they would collect $16.6 billion in taxes including income taxes, sales taxes, corporate taxes, excise taxes, public utility taxes, and the other many and varied taxes extracted from the people of Wisconsin. Based on the preliminary data, the state actually collected $17.3 billion in taxes leaving a $700 million surplus. For a little historical perspective, the state of Wisconsin ended the fiscal year with more tax collections than expected in six of the eight Walker budget years.

This tax surplus gives us a few critical insights. First, it was not that long ago that Wisconsin’s budget was in an annual crisis with tax revenue falling short of projections. Coupled with overspending, Wisconsin had massive annual deficits. You might remember when Governor Walker first sat behind the governor’s desk, he was handed a massive budget deficit that required an immediate Budget Repair Bill, a.k.a Act 10. Governor Walker and the conservative Republican majorities in the Legislature, quickly righted the ship of state over the violent objections of the Democrats. Wisconsin has enjoyed budget surpluses ever since.

Second, recall that tax surpluses are simply a factor or the state collecting more than they estimated they would collect. These estimates have often been used in other states and in previous eras in Wisconsin to create phony budgets. Wisconsin must pass a balanced budget. Unlike the federal government, a state does not have the power to print money, so the state must account for every dollar spent.

In order to create the fiction of a balanced budget to support more spending, politicians will inflate tax revenue estimates for the budget. Then, when actual tax revenues fall short of the inflated estimates, the same politicians will enact new taxes or borrowing to pay the bills. It is a cynical method of budgeting by crisis. The consistency of the tax revenue surpluses during the Walker budgets show that the Republicans used responsible, conservative tax revenue estimates to create their budgets.

Third, the tax surplus is a result of the fact that Wisconsin’s economy is booming thanks in part to the economic policies Governor Walker and the Republican- led legislatures of recent years. Taxes are generated when money moves. Money moves when the economy is healthy. With more people employed in Wisconsin than ever before, businesses thriving, new construction happening everywhere, and people spending their higher incomes, the state of Wisconsin gets a slice of every dollar that moves.

As the Republicans cut taxes several times over the previous eight years, the money that people kept was put to good use in our economy, thus creating more wealth, more income, more spending, and, yes, more tax revenue. As has been demonstrated time and time again, when the tax burden is too heavy, cutting taxes always feeds more economic activity and results in more tax revenue. And the tax burden in Wisconsin is still far too heavy.

The one significant black mark on the Walker budget years is that while the state had budget surpluses, Walker and the Republicans still increased spending every single budget. And in the most recent budget, with Republicans controlling the Legislature and Governor Evers in power, the notion of any spending constraint was abandoned. At some point, the economy will enter a recession, tax revenues will collapse, and we will all regret that we failed to control spending during the good times.

 

Another year, another tax surplus

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s the start:

In a fitting coda to the two remarkable terms of Governor Scott walker, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau released a report last week showing that the preliminary general fund tax collections for fiscal year 2019 came in a whopping $702.6 million more than anticipated. Such a number demonstrates the remarkably good shape in which Walker left the state economy and the state’s finances.

Our rights are not ‘BS’

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

Gov. Tony Evers is still pushing for the Wisconsin Legislature to pass new gun-control legislation and threatening to call a special session to do so. He went so far as to call people’s concerns over his gun-control measures as “BS,” as if adult deliberation and constitutional considerations are now unwelcome in Madison. At the risk of our governor stamping his feet and pouting, let us explore the legitimate concerns with his proposals.

Evers is advocating two new gun-control laws. The first law he wants is universal background checks. The concerns over universal background checks are not so much constitutional as practical. Under current law, any person who purchases a firearm from a gun store or licensed firearm dealer is required to pass a background check. This includes sale of guns at gun shows.

Current law does not, however, require background checks for a private sale or transfer of a firearm. Universal background checks would require that someone undergo a background check in virtually all circumstances. In some versions, this includes when a firearm is passed through inheritance, given as a gift, or even loaned. While probably not constitutionally prohibitive, such checks are monstrously unwieldy. It puts the burden of conducting a background check onto private individuals and criminalizes them if they fail to comply. In their worst derivations, universal-background-check laws require a firearm registry to track the movement and ownership of firearms. The cost and hassle of enforcement and compliance far exceed the usefulness of the law.

A red flag law is far more problematic. The premise of a red flag law is that people who are about to commit mass murder often exhibit troubling behaviors that could be reported so that government officials could confiscate their firearms before they do something bad. The problem with a red flag law is not even its flagrant assault on our Second Amendment rights. The problem it the fact that it tramples on our First, Fourth, and Fifth Amendment rights to get to our Second Amendment Rights.

Under a red flag law, a person’s First Amendment right to speak freely would be infringed. If a person makes some uneasy, outlandish, or even violent statements, the government could seize their firearms. For every mass killer who said something stupid and violent, there are a million other Americans who have said something stupid and violent and never acted on it. A red flag law would have the government cracking down on people for the simple act of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time in front of the wrong people.

Our right to be secure in our “persons, houses, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures” is protected by our Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. Under a red flag law, the government would be given the power to arbitrarily seize a person’s firearms because another person thinks they might be dangerous. Surely, such a low standard cannot be construed to be reasonable, or the notion of being secure in one’s person is rendered meaningless.

Our Constitution’s Fifth Amendment protects the people from being “deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law.” Under a red flag law, the entire point of it is that the government seizes the firearms without needing to actually convict someone of a crime. The person whose firearms are seized is utterly deprived of due process except for the process to get his or her firearms returned. Even then, the burden rests on the accused to prove that he or she does not intend to commit a crime in order to have the firearms returned. The shift of the burden of proof, coupled with the impossibility of proving a negative, undermines the rule of law.

With a red flag law in place, the government would bulldoze through at least three constitutionally protected rights before depriving a person of the constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms.

When considering any proposed law, a good rule of thumb is to imagine the law being enforced by your worst enemy. Universal background checks and a red flag law could be brutally enforced by a despotic government and still not stop a single mass murder.

Governor Evers knows that the Republican Legislature is too responsible to pass these laws, so he has the luxury of posturing for the media. But the governor’s casual and crude disregard for the rights that these laws would trammel is precisely why they should not be passed.

Our rights are not ‘BS’

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Go pick up a copy, but here’s how I sum it up:

With a red flag law in place, the government would bulldoze through at least three constitutionally protected rights before depriving a person of the constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms.

When considering any proposed law, a good rule of thumb is to imagine the law being enforced by your worst enemy. Universal background checks and a red flag law could be brutally enforced by a despotic government and still not stop a single mass murder.

Governor Evers knows that the Republican Legislature is too responsible to pass these laws, so he has the luxury of posturing for the media. But the governor’s casual and crude disregard for the rights that these laws would trammel is precisely why they should not be passed.

 

Wisconsin’s Democratic rising star

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

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes has risen to be a leading light in Democratic circles and will likely have a role in the national Democratic convention next year. Unfortunately, as Wisconsinites have gotten to know our new lieutenant governor in the fraction of a year since he took office, we have learned that the man who is a breath away from being our governor has a detached relationship with the truth and a penchant for blaming others for his misdeeds.

The most recent revelation is that Barnes lied about being a college graduate. For years, Barnes has represented himself as a graduate of Alabama A&M University. He did so in various media interviews, on podcasts, and on social media. His graduation status was shared in innumerable news stories about Barnes that he never bothered to correct. It turns out, however, that Barnes never actually graduated. In an interview with The Isthmus, Barnes admitted that he did not graduate. He shared some excuses and stories about why he did not graduate, but nobody knows if he is telling the truth about that either.

During the same interview where Barnes finally confessed, he revealed another unappealing part of his character. He blamed a staffer for the lie. Last year, Barnes claimed that a staffer incorrectly identified him as a graduate in a candidate questionnaire for the Wisconsin State Journal. The problem is that the questionnaire was not the only place where Barnes claimed his higher education, nor does the fact that a staffer filled out the form absolve Barnes from responsibility for its content. After all, the staffer must have learned Barnes’ alleged graduation status from someone — most likely Barnes himself. For Barnes to blame a staffer for a falsehood that Barnes perpetuated for years is an ugly character trait. This incident with Barnes is part of a pattern of behavior. In June, almost six months after they were due, we learned that Barnes had not yet paid his 2018 property taxes in Milwaukee. Once again, Barnes’ first reaction was to lie. He claimed that he was paying his property taxes on an installment plan, but that lie quickly fell apart when the city treasurer disclosed that he was not doing an installment plan and had not made any payments whatsoever.

Barnes also still owes some property taxes from 2017, but claimed that the bill was sent to the previous owners. The problem, as any property owner knows, is that the property taxes follow the property, not the owner. One again, Barnes is caught doing something wrong, tried to lie about it, and then, when caught, tried to blame someone else.

Also this summer, WisPolitics. com revealed that Barnes had run up a staggering security bill. In just the first two months in office, Barnes utilized the Dignitary Protection Unit, the State Patrol agency that provides transportation and security for officials, nine times more than his predecessor did in the entirety of last year. It turns out that Barnes is using the taxpayer- funded protection unit to transport him to and from his home, political events, personal errands, and, of course, official meetings.

For weeks, the exorbitant security costs for our lieutenant governor defied rational explanation. Then we learned the reason. Barnes had $108 in parking tickets that he failed to pay on a car last year. The outstanding fines and penalties prevented Barnes from registering a car. Without a legal car to drive, Barnes decided to have State Patrol officers chauffeur him around at taxpayers’ expense. The taxpayers have already spent tens of thousands of dollars because Barnes did not want to pay a $108 fine.

And again, we get the same spun yarn from Barnes. He claims that he sold the car to a friend of his mother’s in November and that he was unaware of the fines. Given that he does not have any car registered in his name anymore, the timing would suggest that Barnes just decided to leverage the taxpayers’ largesse after the election instead of bothering with getting his vehicular affairs in order.

The good news is that although Gov. Tony Evers continues to publicly stand by Barnes’ honesty despite all evidence to the contrary, Evers has wisely withheld giving Barnes anything important to do. Unfortunately for the people of Wisconsin, should the unthinkable happen to Evers, Barnes will be handed everything important to do.

 

Wisconsin’s Democratic rising star

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a sample:

Wisconsin Lt. Gov. Mandela Barnes has risen to be a leading light in Democratic circles and will likely have a role in the national Democratic convention next year. Unfortunately, as Wisconsinites have gotten to know our new lieutenant governor in the fraction of a year since he took office, we have learned that the man who is a breath away from being our governor has a detached relationship with the truth and a penchant for blaming others for his misdeeds.

[…]

The good news is that although Gov. Tony Evers continues to publicly stand by Barnes’ honesty despite all evidence to the contrary, Evers has wisely withheld giving Barnes anything important to do. Unfortunately for the people of Wisconsin, should the unthinkable happen to Evers, Barnes will be handed everything important to do.

Ending the carnage

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print!

Another spate of senseless mass killings have left Americans reeling. Our natural and justifiable instinct is to do something — anything – to stop the madness. While the usual opportunists are pouncing on the latest tragedies to advance their political careers or raise money for their interest groups, there seems to be an evolution in the national discussion this time.

First, we must identify the problem. Mass killings are still rare. Far more people are killed by drug overdoses, crime, distracted driving, medical errors, suicide, and other unnatural causes. But mass killings are sensational, and that is part of the problem.

There have been mass killings for centuries. In our modern interconnected and instant media age, mass killings take on a life of their own. Often before a mass killing is even reported, there are live pictures and video streaming onto social media platforms. The carnage and chaos that can be replayed over and over again eats into the mind of the next killer as he (usually he) plans his virtual immortality. The internet and social media enable a kind of gamification of death where one mass killer tries to outdo the previous one.

But the internet and media do not cause mass killings. They are one facet of a complex issue. The same can be said for guns and gun laws. In most cases, a gun is the instrument used by a mass killer for the simple reason that a gun is a cheap and efficient means of inflicting harm. The United States already bans several of the most deadly kinds of guns and prevents the legal sale of guns to people who have previously committed a heinous crime. Do we need to do more? Can we do more and remain within the confines of the Constitution? Should we?

So far, the proponents of more gun control have centered on two ideas. The first is to implement so-called “red flag” laws. These are laws that allow the government to confiscate a person’s guns if they exhibit “red flags” that indicate that they might be about to commit a crime. Would such laws help? Maybe a little. Is it possible to craft a law that works while still upholding an American’s individual rights protected by the First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Seventh Amendments? Doubtful.

The second new law proponents advocate is for more rigorous and “universal” background checks. What they mean by that is background checks for when an individual sells or gives a gun to another individual. The vast majority of mass killers obtained their guns legally, so there is little to indicate that expanding background checks would have any impact on abating mass killings. This is simply a reflexive measure designed to give politicians the veneer of “doing something.”

Another serious aspect in the discussion of mass killings is how we treat and help the mentally ill. Here again, do we need to do more? Can we do more and remain within the confines of the Constitution? Should we? Much like the vast majority of gun owners never kill anyone, the vast majority of mentally ill people never kill anyone. And while it is easy for people to assume that anyone who commits mass murder is mentally ill, the truth is that many, or even most, are not. They are evil, but not insane. The mainstreaming of the mentally ill into our society has not done them or our society any favors, but a process started sixty years ago is not responsible for 20-somethings committing mass murder today.

There isn’t a single law or policy that we can implement that will prevent mass killings. Nor, short of a complete police state, will we end them completely. There is a price to be paid for living in a free society that is not always paid on a distant battlefield. The root of the problem lies in our culture; in our homes; on our streets; and on our computers.

According to the National Council for Behavioral Health, “The characteristics [of mass killers] that most frequently occur are males, often hopeless and harboring grievances that are frequently related to work, school, finances or interpersonal relationships; feeling victimized and sympathizing with others who they perceive to be similarly mistreated; indifference to life.” We do not have a deficiency in our laws. We have a deficiency in our culture that leaves people in such isolation and hopelessness.

Passing another law will not deter people in this state of mind, but kindness might. A hand extended in friendship and fellowship might. An invitation to a bowling league, summer community event, or to attend church might. Faith in God and salvation will. It is difficult to feel hopeless and indifferent to life when you are enveloped in the full panoply of human relationships.

Mass killings will never be stopped by a government that respects individual liberty, but they can be stopped by a trillion simple acts of kindness. Love one another.

Wisconsin needs a CLEAR alert system

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

October 29th, 2017, was a beautiful sunny day in San Antonio, Texas. Nineteenyear- old Cayley Mandadi took advantage of the weekend day to take a break from her studies at Trinity University to attend the Mala Luna music festival with her boyfriend, Mark Howerton.

The two young adults had a good time enjoying the music and partying with their friends. Then things took a turn. The couple ran into Cayley’s ex-boyfriend. Howerton grew visibly angry and the couple argued. Soon Howerton was seen aggressively leading Cayley to his car by her arm.

Cayley’s friends were concerned. They knew that Howerton had a violent history. In another angry altercation the previous month, he had trashed Cayley’s dorm room and threatened to throw her off a balcony, according to her sorority sisters. Howerton also allegedly slammed Cayley’s head into a car window and once brandished a gun.

Knowing Howerton’s history, one of Cayley’s friends tried to check on her that evening. She FaceTimed Cayley, but Howerton picked up, said Cayley couldn’t talk, and hung up. Cayley’s friends were at a loss to help.

Later that night, an unidentified woman was brought into a hospital in Luling, Texas, 60 miles northeast of San Antonio. She was unresponsive, nude from the waist down, had severe bruises around her neck, face, and thighs, and was bleeding. It was Cayley. Despite the best efforts of medical staff, Cayley was gone. She had suffered so much blunt force trauma that her brain no longer functioned. She was removed from life support two days later. Four months later, Mark Howerton was charged with Cayley’s murder and is awaiting trial.

Cayley’s father has been my friend for 27 years. The grief that he and his wife suffered over the death of their only child is the kind of grief that no person should ever have to endure. About a year after Cayley’s murder, they began a process to fix a hole in our emergency alert system that they believe might have saved their daughter’s life.

When Cayley’s friends observed her being led away by her violent boyfriend, there was little that they could do. Cayley was 19. She was too old to issue an AMBER Alert for her possible abduction and too young for a Silver Alert. There isn’t an alert system for regular

adults even if there is a strong indication that a person is missing and might be in danger. Adults in full control of their faculties are presumed to be competent and able to call for help if they need it.

To fill this gap in the alert system, Cayley’s parents set about navigating the Texas legislature to create an adult alert to cover people between the ages of 18 and 65. The end result was signed into law by Texas Gov. Greg Abbot on June 6 of this year and will go into effect on Sept. 1. It is called the CLEAR Alert system. CLEAR stand for Coordinated Law Enforcement Adult Rescue, but the letters also honor some victims who might have been saved by it. The “C” is for Cayley.

As a general rule, laws should not be based on an emotional reaction to a traumatic event. And in a free country, adults should be able to move about without undue interference from law enforcement. That is why Texas’ CLEAR law sets forth strict criteria to be used. The missing adult must be in imminent danger of bodily injury or death or the disappearance was not voluntary. The person’s location must be unknown and the person must have been missing for fewer than 72 hours.

When the CLEAR Alert is activated, it will go to traffic signs, cellphones, the National Weather Service’s alert system, news outlets, the lottery commission’s signs in stores, banks, and all law enforcement agencies. It uses the same alert infrastructure as the AMBER Alert System.

Texas led the way in creating the AMBER Alert system that is now used in all 50 states and has saved nearly a thousand children. Wisconsin’s Legislature should pick up the ball and enact the CLEAR Alert System in our state. Let us not wait for a tragedy like Cayley’s murder to spur action. Let us act now.

It’s not about the $11

Here’s my column that ran in the Washington County Daily News on Tuesday.

Last week this column covered a proposal by the Washington County Planning and Parks Department to impost a new annual fee on the 20,312 private onsite wastewater treatment systems in the county. The passionate opposition to the proposed $11 fee reminds us that the fires that heated the tea party movement and continue to burn for President Trump are still very hot in Washington County.

For what was supposed to be just another sleepy public meeting at 7:35 on a Thursday morning, well over on hundred agitated citizens showed up to have their say. The main room overflowed into two other rooms. At one point, the meeting was paused for 15 minutes while they removed the chairs to be in compliance with the fire code.

By the time the meeting was over, hours later, over sixty people had spoken. Many more people had signed up to speak, but had to leave for reason or another as the hours dragged on. When the speakers had finished, 146 pages of letters and emails that were sent to public officials regarding the proposed POWTS fee were read. The people were almost universally in opposition to the proposed fee, but the commentary exposed the many fissures in the public’s trust of government.

Several of the speakers pointed out that the meeting was being held at an incredibly inconvenient time for anyone who works. One speaker pointed out that everyone in the room was of retirement age — to the jovial objection of a younger woman swimming in the sea of grey. The speakers and letters continued to emphasize that a government that really cares about what the people think makes an effort to schedule public hearings for a time when people can actually attend.

Some of the opposition centered on the fact that the proposed fee is simply a tax by another name and that government fees inevitably and unrelentingly go up. The wise citizens of Washington County are not to be bamboozled by arbitrary word games. They know that money being taken out of their pockets by their government is still money they no longer have, whether referred to as a tax or a fee by government officials.

Much of the outrage had to do with how the money from the proposed fee was to be spent. One woman pointed out that the first nine items in the list of expenses were for salaries, benefits, overtime, retirement, etc. for county employees. These items comprise more than 75% of the entire costs associated with the POWTS program. It is an enormous cost for such a rudimentary government function. Further larded into the cost are expenses for membership dues, advertising, travel, lodging, vehicles, and all of the other expenses that seem so unnecessary and wasteful.

One speaker highlighted the fact that Washington County still insists on having 26 county supervisors – each of which is paid a salary, per diem, and expenses. Meanwhile, the county continues to run Washington County Fair Park and a golf course.

Another speaker pointed out that POWTS owners already pay a county sales tax on all of the construction and maintenance of their POWTS that far exceeds the money allocated to the POWTS program. County citizens have not forgotten that the county sales tax was originally imposed as a temporary necessity to pay for a handful of critical infrastructure projects, but now it is a permanent county fixture.

While the written and spoken opposition to the proposed POWTS fee was wide-ranging and fierce, there was a common theme: The people are sick and tired of government that doesn’t listen to them, doesn’t care about them, and doesn’t respect them. Politicians and government bureaucrats too often operate in a world detached from the realities of the people they are supposed to serve. In this case, a proposal for a silly $11 fee/tax revealed just how large that detachment is.

It’s not about the $11

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I was marveling at a truly fascinating public meeting regarding the proposed POWTS fee. I’m hearing whispers that the County Board is just going to ram it through. They do so at their own peril. Here’s a sample:

Last week this column covered a proposal by the Washington County Planning and Parks Department to impost a new annual fee on the 20,312 private onsite wastewater treatment systems in the county. The passionate opposition to the proposed $11 fee reminds us that the fires that heated the tea party movement and continue to burn for President Trump are still very hot in Washington County.

For what was supposed to be just another sleepy public meeting at 7:35 on a Thursday morning, well over on hundred agitated citizens showed up to have their say. The main room overflowed into two other rooms. At one point, the meeting was paused for 15 minutes while they removed the chairs to be in compliance with the fire code.

By the time the meeting was over, hours later, over sixty people had spoken. Many more people had signed up to speak, but had to leave for reason or another as the hours dragged on. When the speakers had finished, 146 pages of letters and emails that were sent to public officials regarding the proposed POWTS fee were read. The people were almost universally in opposition to the proposed fee, but the commentary exposed the many fissures in the public’s trust of government.

[…]

While the written and spoken opposition to the proposed POWTS fee was wide-ranging and fierce, there was a common theme: The people are sick and tired of government that doesn’t listen to them, doesn’t care about them, and doesn’t respect them. Politicians and government bureaucrats too often operate in a world detached from the realities of the people they are supposed to serve. In this case, a proposal for a silly $11 fee/tax revealed just how large that detachment is.

 

No new fees

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

Perhaps taking their cue from the Republicans in the Legislature, the Washington County Board is considering implementing a new fee on Washington County taxpayers to do something that the county has already been doing for nearly 20 years. The public hearing being held by the Washington County Planning and Parks Department is at 7:35 a.m. on Thursday. Since, like many people, I work and cannot attend a public meeting at 7:35 a.m. on a weekday, I will offer some thoughts in this space.

The new fee being considered is to pay for tracking the maintenance of private onsite wastewater treatment systems (POWTS). Much of Washington County is rural and residents do not have access to municipal sewer systems, so they install and maintain a private septic system. There are about 20,312 parcels in the county with a POWTS. The state has mandated since 2000 that counties track and report to make sure that these private systems are properly maintained. Washington County has been complying with this state mandate with the use of general county funds since then. The new annual fee being considered is $11 for the vast majority of POWTS owners.

The POWTS tracking system is fairly rudimentary. Every three years, the county sends a postcard reminder to the POWTS owners to remind them that they need to have their system maintained. The POWTS owner contracts with a private company that inspects the system, completes any necessary maintenance or cleaning, and then notifies the county that it is complete. The POWTS owner bears the cost of all of this.

Philosophically, there is nothing wrong with a fee to fund a government service. The difference between a fee and a tax is that a fee is usually voluntary and charged to the specific person who is receiving the direct benefit of the service. For example, a fee for a marriage license is perfectly reasonable. The couple getting married is receiving the direct benefit of the county service and there is no rational reason that all of the other taxpayers should bear the burden.

In the case of a new POWTS maintenance fee, it is not voluntary and the entire county is receiving the benefit. For the vast majority of POWTS owners, it is not optional. There are not any other waste treatment options available to them, so they must install and maintain a POWTS at their own expense. The purpose of the government tracking the maintenance of them is to help ensure that the water supply for all county residents is not unduly polluted. Given that the fee is not optional for POWTS owners and every county taxpayer is receiving the benefit, the fee being proposed would be more correctly described as a selective tax.

Furthermore, remember that this is a service that the county has been providing for nearly 20 years. As they consider supporting this service with a standalone fee, there has not been any corollary proposal to reduce the county property tax levy or sales tax by a corresponding amount. The fee is just in addition to all of the other taxes that county taxpayers are already paying. As presented, this is not a discussion about whether or not this particular service should be funded with a fee or the general tax. It is about whether the county should charge a fee for something they were already doing and then just use the liberated general tax revenue to spend on something else. It is a straightforward path to more spending.

Finally, one must really question the cost. At $11 per parcel, the proposed fee would raise roughly $230,000 per year. Look back at the third paragraph for how this program works. It is sending a postcard every three years and logging that the work is complete. It is something that could be completed by an intern with a spreadsheet. $230,000 per year?

In the program cost detail shared by the Planning and Parks Department, the annual program cost is actually listed at $227,527.28. Only $2,200 is allocated for printing, copying, and postage. The rest is for wages ($126,370), overtime ($400), benefits ($45,100.60), advertising ($300), office supplies ($600), vehicles ($6,300), conference fees ($1,400), cost allocation for planning ($25,578), and on and on. That is a tremendous amount of overhead and larded-up costs for a very, very simple POWTS maintenance program. I find it difficult to imagine why POWTS owners should be charged an extra fee to shoulder the costs of things like conference fees and advertising.

The proposed POWTS fee looks suspiciously like another money grab by a government to continue to fund bloat and waste. The Washington County Board should categorically reject it and apologize to the taxpayers for ever suggesting it.

No New Fees

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a taste:

Perhaps taking their cue from the Republicans in the Legislature, the Washington County Board is considering implementing a new fee on Washington County taxpayers to do something that the county has already been doing for nearly 20 years. The public hearing being held by the Washington County Planning and Parks Department is at 7:35 a.m. on Thursday. Since, like many people, I work and cannot attend a public meeting at 7:35 a.m. on a weekday, I will offer some thoughts in this space.

The new fee being considered is to pay for tracking the maintenance of private onsite wastewater treatment systems (POWTS). Much of Washington County is rural and residents do not have access to municipal sewer systems, so they install and maintain a private septic system. There are about 20,312 parcels in the county with a POWTS. The state has mandated since 2000 that counties track and report to make sure that these private systems are properly maintained. Washington County has been complying with this state mandate with the use of general county funds since then. The new annual fee being considered is $11 for the vast majority of POWTS owners.

[…]

As presented, this is not a discussion about whether or not this particular service should be funded with a fee or the general tax. It is about whether the county should charge a fee for something they were already doing and then just use the liberated general tax revenue to spend on something else. It is a straightforward path to more spending.

Finally, one must really question the cost. At $11 per parcel, the proposed fee would raise roughly $230,000 per year. Look back at the third paragraph for how this program works. It is sending a postcard every three years and logging that the work is complete. It is something that could be completed by an intern with a spreadsheet. $230,000 per year?

In the program cost detail shared by the Planning and Parks Department, the annual program cost is actually listed at $227,527.28. Only $2,200 is allocated for printing, copying, and postage. The rest is for wages ($126,370), overtime ($400), benefits ($45,100.60), advertising ($300), office supplies ($600), vehicles ($6,300), conference fees ($1,400), cost allocation for planning ($25,578), and on and on. That is a tremendous amount of overhead and larded-up costs for a very, very simple POWTS maintenance program. I find it difficult to imagine why POWTS owners should be charged an extra fee to shoulder the costs of things like conference fees and advertising.

The proposed POWTS fee looks suspiciously like another money grab by a government to continue to fund bloat and waste. The Washington County Board should categorically reject it and apologize to the taxpayers for ever suggesting it.

Veto reform is badly needed

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

When the Wisconsin Legislature passed the state budget, it already had an irresponsible $500 million spending increase for K-12 education. With a stroke of his pen, Governor Evers used his powerful veto to increase spending by another $87 million. Now some lawmakers are proposing reining in the Wisconsin governor’s ability to use a veto to increase spending.

Governor Evers and his comrades have decried the attempt to curb the governor’s veto power as a partisan endeavor. Perhaps it is. And perhaps it would have been a worthwhile reform when one part controlled the legislative and executive branches. Even so, it often takes the abuse of power to spark reform, and this reform is badly needed.

Wisconsin’s governor has the most powerful veto pen in the nation. Forty-four states give their governor some form of line item veto authority, but they all have restrictions. Wisconsin’s governor has the fewest restrictions. He or she can veto numbers, strike out individual words, edit the meaning of sentences, and even arbitrarily reduce appropriated amounts. Up until 2008, when the voters last reformed the veto power, the governor could even strike out individual letters to create new words.

This vast veto authority gives Wisconsin’s governor an extraordinary amount of power to essentially write legislation by carving up what the Legislature sends to his or her desk. While it is true that the Legislature can override a veto by a twothirds majority, it rarely happens due to the high electoral bar.

There is an argument that governors should not have a line item veto at all. The governors of six states and the president of the United States do not have a line item veto authority. When a bill reaches their desks, they must veto the bill in its entirety or allow it to become law.

Our federal Constitution, which also served as a model for many state constitutions, was predicated on the notion that concentrated power is injurious to liberty. That is why our three branches of government are integrated with a complex system of checks and balances that are meant to assure that no one branch, and certainly no one person, can wield too much power.

While in theory, a line item veto can be overridden as easily as a full veto, the real world disproves that theory. Legislation – particularly a budget – is always the amalgamation of a thousand different compromises. Any final piece of legislation has been put through the grinder of legislative committees, public hearings, and two houses of the legislature. By the time it reaches the governor’s desk, a piece of legislation is a network of interdependent priorities and conditions. When a governor vetoes a part of the legislation, it short circuits the network and undermines the legislature’s intent. Since a partial veto only strikes out a piece of the compromise, there are rarely enough votes behind an individual item in a bill to override the governor’s veto.

The constitutional amendment being circulated by Sen. David Craig and Rep. Mike Kuglitsch does not even approach eliminating the governor’s line item veto. Their amendment would simply prohibit the ability of the governor to use a veto to increase spending. The rationale is simple. No single person in government should have the power to spend $87 million on their own authority.

That is entirely too much power for one person to have over his fellow citizens. Our state constitution explicitly grants the power to appropriate money for precisely the reason that spending decisions should be subject to a rigorous legislative process and not be the subject to the arbitrary whims of a solitary governor.

The process to amend the state’s constitution is, rightly, a lengthy one. The amendment must pass both houses of the legislature in two consecutive sessions. Then the amendment must pass a statewide referendum. Fortunately, the governor is not involved in the amendment process.

Wisconsin’s governor’s veto authority makes him or her too powerful. It was true for Governor Walker. It is true for Governor Evers. It will be true for the next governor. It will be true for the one after that unless we change it. Taking a small step to limit that veto authority is not a partisan issue. It is just a simple reform to make a better government.

Veto reform is badly needed

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a taste:

When the Wisconsin Legislature passed the state budget, it already had an irresponsible $500 million spending increase for K-12 education. With a stroke of his pen, Governor Evers used his powerful veto to increase spending by another $87 million. Now some lawmakers are proposing reining in the Wisconsin governor’s ability to use a veto to increase spending.

Governor Evers and his comrades have decried the attempt to curb the governor’s veto power as a partisan endeavor. Perhaps it is. And perhaps it would have been a worthwhile reform when one part controlled the legislative and executive branches. Even so, it often takes the abuse of power to spark reform, and this reform is badly needed.

[…]

The constitutional amendment being circulated by Sen. David Craig and Rep. Mike Kuglitsch does not even approach eliminating the governor’s line item veto. Their amendment would simply prohibit the ability of the governor to use a veto to increase spending. The rationale is simple. No single person in government should have the power to spend $87 million on their own authority.

That is entirely too much power for one person to have over his fellow citizens. Our state constitution explicitly grants the power to appropriate money for precisely the reason that spending decisions should be subject to a rigorous legislative process and not be the subject to the arbitrary whims of a solitary governor.

The process to amend the state’s constitution is, rightly, a lengthy one. The amendment must pass both houses of the legislature in two consecutive sessions. Then the amendment must pass a statewide referendum. Fortunately, the governor is not involved in the amendment process.

Wisconsin’s governor’s veto authority makes him or her too powerful. It was true for Governor Walker. It is true for Governor Evers. It will be true for the next governor. It will be true for the one after that unless we change it. Taking a small step to limit that veto authority is not a partisan issue. It is just a simple reform to make a better government.

 

Leaving an inheritance

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

Shortly after celebrating the birth of our great nation, my family and I celebrated the birth of my first grandchild. Such events cause one to pause and ponder life, posterity, and our state from a new perspective. God willing, my grandson will still be enjoying our wonderful state long after I have crossed into my immortality. What kind of state do I hope to leave him?

First and foremost, I want my grandson to grow up in a state where every child is allowed to be born. It is horrifying that some people would have accepted, even encouraged, my grandson to be killed right up to the moment he was born — and even for a few hours after — if his mother did not want him. I hope that Wisconsin will be a state that values every life and gives each baby the chance to live, grow, love, and be loved.

While they say that ignorance is bliss, it will not get you very far in life. Education is critical for one to be a contributing member of society and an active participant in our republic. Being educated also allows one to more fully enjoy life and the surrounding world with better understanding and knowledge. Education is a lifelong endeavor that begins in the home, but we also rightly expect our public and private schools to contribute to our education.

Most of Wisconsin’s public schools, and many of the private ones, are mediocre at best. In the case of public schools, we have too often used them as dumping grounds to solve societal ills instead of centers of education. We expect far too much of our teachers in terms of social work and not enough in terms of providing an exceptional education. I hope that Wisconsin can become a state where kids get the education that they deserve.

Wisconsin’s agricultural and manufacturing sectors have been the backbone of the state’s economy for generations and hopefully the state can continue to lead those sectors for many years to come. But Wisconsin needs a more diverse and dynamic economy if it is to stem the outflow of young workers. The technology sector is blossoming around Madison and the addition of Foxconn to the mix will help boost that sector in other regions, but the state needs to attract new businesses and industries. The easiest and most effective way to do this is to attract and encourage entrepreneurs to create and grow in the state. I hope that my grandchild will be able to enter a vibrant and diverse workforce when the time comes.

One of Wisconsin’s greatest assets is its stunning natural beauty. So many of us use and enjoy the many forests, lakes, streams, moraines, trails, and wildlife that Wisconsin has to offer. I hope that we will sensibly protect these natural assets while also ensuring that people are free to use them responsibly.

Nothing can rob a community or state of its potential more than crime. The vast majority of serious crimes are committed by a relatively small number of people, but those few people can sap the life out of a community. Crime not only directly impacts the victims, but carries over into the community by robbing the citizens of security and comfort. Crime scares away investment and pushes businesses, and the honest work they provide, beyond the reach of entire neighborhoods. I hope that Wisconsin takes the scourge of crime seriously by harshly punishing the offenders for the sake of the innocent.

High taxes have been a heavy yoke on the people of Wisconsin for so long that some Wisconsinites think such a burden is normal and acceptable. The burden is such that many young people choose to leave the state for the chance to take home more of their pay and many old people choose to leave because they can no longer afford to live here. High taxes drain money out of the private economy leaving less for people to invest in a business, save for retirement, buy a home, or educate their kids. I hope that Wisconsin will one day lighten the tax burden so that my grandson can afford to live and raise his own family in the state.

That is not to say that lower taxes should be replaced with more debt. Wisconsin must strive to lower government spending to enable lower taxes and less debt. There is no one quite as selfish as a politician who is willing to implement a debt tax on our grandchildren so that he or she can spend the money today.

Finally, I hope that Wisconsin continues on a path of expanding liberty wherever and whenever possible. I hope that the state reduces regulations, lowers taxes, protects the freedom of thought and word, protects the right to keep and bear arms, and ensures that whenever a balance must be struck between individual liberty and government power, that individual liberty wins the day.

I chose to live and raise a family in Wisconsin. I hope to do my small part to make it a better place where my grandson will choose to do the same.

Governor Evers endorses new era of moral depravity

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

On Friday afternoon, as people all over Wisconsin were getting ready to enjoy the first official weekend of summer, Gov. Tony Evers vetoed four bills relating to abortion. While it is easy to discuss the vetoes in the context of the political gamesmanship between the Republicans and the Democrats, to do so is facile and fails to fully appreciate the depravity behind the action.

The political angle is simple. In response to radical pro-abortion laws being passed by Democrats in states like New York, Republicans across the country are trying to pass laws to protect the unborn. Both parties are acting to solidify state laws should the United States Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade and cast the responsibility for regulating abortions back to the states.

But behind these bills are the lives of real people. Let us take the four bills that Evers signed one by one.

The first bill would have prevented taxpayers from funding abortion providers through Medicaid. The two political parties have been fighting over this for years. The Republicans argue, rightly, that people who are morally opposed to killing babies in the womb should not be forced to fund organizations that do so. Democrats know that Planned Parenthood is a major financial and rhetorical supporter of the Democratic Party, so they must keep the taxpayer gravy train flowing. Evers vetoed the bill.

The second bill would have required that abortionists provide information that a woman may be able to change her mind and continue her pregnancy even after the first dose of mifepristone, a drug used as part of a drug cocktail to cause an abortion. The information would have been provided as part of the documentation that is already provided by abortionists. Evers vetoed the bill.

These two bills are somewhat procedural and wonkish, but the last two are morally crystal clear.

The third bill would have prohibited a woman from killing her baby based on its race, sex, or disabilities. Evers vetoed the bill. In doing so, Evers affirmed that women should have the ability to abort her baby if she does not like the color of its skin, the baby’s sex, or if the baby is disabled in some fashion. If a mom really wanted a boy but the ultrasound shows a girl, Evers supports her choice to kill the girl and try again. If a baby is shown to have a malformed foot, Evers supports the mom’s choice to kill the baby. If a mom does not want a black baby, Evers supports her choice. In short, Evers supports a woman’s choice to kill her baby even for the most capricious and vain reasons.

The fourth bill passed by the Legislature and vetoed by Governor Evers would have ensured that a baby who survives an abortion receives the same medical care and treatment that any newborn baby would. Sadly, abortionists are very effective, so the odds of a baby surviving an abortion is very rare. But when it does happen, the baby is, by any definition used since the dawn of humankind, born. The baby is outside the womb as a separate human. As such, the baby is entitled to all of the same protection and care as any other person. The fact that the baby survived an attempted abortion is immaterial in terms of the baby’s right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Not according to Governor Evers. According to our governor, a baby who is born and survived an abortion can still be quietly murdered because the abortionist and mother intended to kill it earlier. In Evers’ moral universe, the mother’s desire to kill her baby, even after it has left her body, trumps the baby’s right to exist.

We have come a long way from the old Bill Clinton mantra that abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare.” Now the rabid pro-abortionists like Governors Evers support abortions for any reason — even for anti-disabled, racist, or sexist reasons — up until the time of birth, and even for a while after birth. The moral decrepitude inherent in such a political position is astounding.

A failure of GOP leadership in Legislature

My column for the West Bend Daily News is online and in print. I’m not a fan of the budget that the JFC passed. Yes, they resisted the ultra-liberal policy ideas of Evers, but this budget could have been passed by any Democratic legislature in the past 40 years and you wouldn’t be able to tell a difference.

Wisconsin’s Joint Finance Committee has finished the state budget and sent it to each house of the Legislature for approval. House Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald have said that they expect their respective houses to pass the budget and send it to the governor within the next few weeks. Conservatives in both houses will have to delay that timetable because this budget still needs a lot of work.

Simply put, the budget passed by the Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee spends too much, borrows too much, raises too many taxes and fees, and fails to deliver on the promises made by Republican politicians in the last election.

When Gov. Tony Evers was elected, Wisconsinites knew that they were getting a governor who is much more liberal than Gov. Scott Walker. What they did not fully appreciate, perhaps, is just how liberal and rigid Governor Evers would be. During the first few months of Evers’ term, the Republicans reached out several times to find common ground and compromise on some of Evers’ stated initiatives. Each and every time, Evers rebuffed them and insulted their efforts to anyone who would listen. Evers even went so far as to call Republican leaders sexist for having the temerity to want to actually speak with the governor instead of his underlings.

While isolating himself in his Fortress of Hebetude, Governor Evers underscored his unwillingness to compromise by unleashing a budget proposal so riddled with liberal largesse that the Republicans in the Legislature had to toss it in the dustbin and start from scratch. Yet, despite everything, the budget passed by the Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee is far closer to Evers’ budget than they would like to admit. They cast aside most of Evers’ liberal policies, but left in place the bulk of the spending and taxing.

Overall, the budget passed by the JFC increases state government spending by about $4 billion, or 5.2%. That compares to a spending increase of $6.4 billion, or 8.3%, proposed by Governor Evers. That compares to an average inflation-adjusted personal income growth rate of 1.5% since the Great Recession according to the Pew Charitable Trust. Once again, state government spending outstrips Wisconsinites’ ability to pay.

Where is all of that spending going? The JFC budget includes spending an additional $500 million on K-12 schools. This is on top of the $639 million in additional spending that the Republicans included in the previous budget. The JFC budget spends more than $12 billion on K-12 education — by far the largest total in state history. But despite the massive spending increases, Wisconsin’s government schools continue

to deliver mediocre results. Spending more money on mediocrity will only encourage more mediocrity.

The JFC budget spends an additional $58 million on the UW System. This is the same system that lavishly wastes money on useless infrastructure and bloated staff while enrollment continues to decline. On top of the $58 million for operations, the UW System would receive another $1 billion to dump into more buildings. Much like so many local school districts, UW officials continue to prioritize swank buildings over delivering a better education.

When it comes to transportation, the JFC budget would spend an additional $484 million. Despite a recent report that detailed the waste and poor management that is endemic in the Department of Transportation, Republicans decided to throw more money into the pockets of the road builders without demanding a single iota of additional accountability or reform. Once again, the spending comes with a promise of some future reform that nobody really believes will happen.

I could go on, but you get the point. At the last minute, the Republicans threw in a moderate income tax cut of $321.5 million that would lower the second-lowest income tax bracket. While tax cuts are always welcome, this one is a calculated distraction. Evers will almost certainly use his powerful line-item veto power to veto the tax cut while leaving all of the spending in place. Republicans will then loudly wail about the veto of tax cuts in the press while celebrating the spending increases in private. It is the kind of cynical political gamesmanship that make people hate politicians.

The Republican leaders and the Joint Finance Committee had the opportunity to pass a fiscally conservative budget that drew a sharp contrast with Evers’ liberal budget. Instead, they gave the people a budget that could have been passed by any Democratic Wisconsin Legislature in the past 40 years. Now it is up to the rank-and-file Republicans and conservatives in the legislature to buck their leadership’s tax and spend proclivities and give the people who elected them a budget they can afford.

It’s the Spending, Stupid

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

Wisconsin has long been a tax hell where it is more expensive to live, work, and play than in most other states. Gov. Scott Walker and the legislative Republicans made some progress over the last eight years in making the state more affordable, but now many of those same legislative Republicans are allowing the state to slide back.

One of the myths perpetuated by Wisconsin’s liberals is that Governor Walker and the Republicans cut spending and starved government when Walker was in office. We have all heard the claims of cutting “to the bone” and draconian austerity measures. All of those claims are wrong. The truth is that every state budget that Walker signed spent more than the previous one.

What Walker and his Republican partners in the Legislature did was keep the spending increases smaller than normal while cutting taxes, deregulating, and aggressively working to improve the business climate. The result was a sustained period of improving in the national tax burden rankings (primarily because other states were jacking up taxes while Wisconsin held steady), higher employment, private-sector growth, and increasing tax revenues that resulted in budget surpluses.

It is a formula that works for a while, but it does not fix the root cause of the issue. Wisconsin is a tax hell because the government spends too much. Politicians can feed the spending beast without tax increases for a while by borrowing, juicing the economy with tax cuts and deregulation, and financial gimmickry, but eventually the bill must be paid. State government does not have the ability to print money like the federal government.

Now that Governor Walker has been replaced by a doctrinaire, tax-and-spend Gov. Tony Evers, the legislative Republicans who worked so well with Walker are regressing.

The state budget is being crafted by the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee. Once the JFC is finished with the budget, it will be sent for votes and possible amendments in the Assembly and the Senate. Since the Republicans still command sizable majorities in both houses of the Legislature, the Republicans are in complete control of what goes into, and what gets left out of, the budget.

Over the past few weeks, the Republicans on the JFC have been on a spending spree. They decided to spend an additional $500 million on K-12 education despite no correlation between spending and educational

outcomes. The Republicans increased spending on UW by $58 million even though the UW System has refused to consolidate and economize in the face of declining enrollment.

Last week, the JFC cranked up spending on transportation to the tune of $484 million. Perhaps remembering the 2017 audit completed by the Legislative Audit Bureau that found billions of dollars of waste and overruns in the Department of Transportation, Republican leaders have promised a series of reform bills are in the works, but it is worth noting that they are willing to spend the money before any reforms are even introduced — much less in place.

On those three items alone, Republican leaders in the Legislature are already committing increasing spending by over a billion dollars — and there are dozens of state departments to go.

Republicans are also already acknowledging that the days of increasing spending without tax increases are over. Their desire to spend more is outstripping their ability to keep taxes in check. In order to support the spending increases for transportation, the Republicans voted to increase vehicle title fees by $95 and annual registration fees by $10. They expect these to extract an additional $393 million from hardworking Wisconsinites to support their gross spending habit.

Even during the Walker era, Wisconsin’s Republicans have never been able to shake their spending addiction. They spend a little less than Democrats, but never actually cut spending. And if we never cut spending, we can never sustain cutting taxes. Now that Governor Evers has moved the spending goal even higher, the Republicans in the Legislature seem to be reveling in exploding spending without any pressure from the governor’s office to restrain themselves.

The Republicans lost every statewide election in Wisconsin last year largely because they gave up on the conservative revolution and failed to give the Republican grass roots anything to be excited about. Their behavior in this budget is evidence that they have not learned the lesson.

Is it summer yet?

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Nothing serious this week… just a whimsical celebration of the birth of summer.

I do not want to jinx it, but I think it might be finally here. All of the signs are there. Kids are graduating. Grass is being cut. Crossing guards are enjoying sleeping in. Air conditioners are kicking on. Fragile winter skin is burning. After a long, cold winter and a nonexistent spring, the first warm days of summer appear to be upon us.

Summer is a glorious time in Wisconsin. I spent my youth in the desert sands of a foreign country and then the broiling summers of Texas. These are places where the seasons are defined by hot and slightly-less- hot. When I moved to Wisconsin nearly 20 years ago, the joy of summer was lost on me. Then I spent the winter here. I get it now.

I have a confession to make. Despite living almost within sight the old Washington County Courthouse — one of the most beautiful county courthouses in the state — I have never toured the inside of it. It is a shameful admission given my penchant for wandering into any old museum, historic building, battlefield, or historical marker when I travel. Like many, I am guilty of failing to appreciate what is in my backyard. I blame my negligence on the fact that there is so much to enjoy in Wisconsin during the warm summer months.

As I write this column, I am sitting on the SS Badger awaiting a trip across Lake Michigan. Like many of Wisconsin’s gems, a trip on the Badger is something that generations of Wisconsinites have enjoyed. The history of the vessel is like that of Wisconsin. Once an industrial ferry, now it carries everything from foreign tourists to Harleys to young families looking for a nice getaway.

Of course, one cannot pass through Manitowoc without spending little time on the USS Cobia and the Maritime Museum to explore Wisconsin’s rich seafaring legacy. Sitting betwixt two gigantic Great Lakes, Wisconsin has been building and sailing for generations.

One of the great things about Wisconsin’s summers are the public festivals available every weekend. While the big ones in Milwaukee like Summerfest get most of the attention (rightfully so), almost every Wisconsin community of any size has a festivals throughout the summer. It is a fantastic way for communities to celebrate their cultural heritage or just get together and have some fun.

Wisconsin has a lot of big events during the summer that draw people from all over the world. EAA AirVenture in Oshkosh is one of the largest and most unique. Little Oshkosh becomes the aviation center of the world for a week in July. Drawing well over a half-million attendees, AirVenture is a place for novices and aviation enthusiasts to see and learn about every form of aviation known to humankind.

Most of my favorite things to do in Wisconsin during the summer involve getting outside and enjoying our state’s natural beauty. Wisconsin is full of marvelous trails, parks, lakes, and other ways to enjoy nature. Many of the rails to trails, like the Eisenbahn or the Ozaukee Interurban trails, offer a smooth path for running, biking, or just walking. Trails like the many segments of the Ice Age Trail offer something bit more rugged. State and County parks are always a great way to find a campground, beach, path, swimming hole, wildlife, and fantastic views.

Summers in Wisconsin are short. That is part of what makes them so delightful. A Wisconsin summer always leaves you wanting more. Let us all get out from behind our screens, push back from our desks, jump off the couches, and get out to enjoy all that our wonderful state has to offer.