Boots & Sabers

The blogging will continue until morale improves...

Tag: Column

Appleton considers a transportation utility fee

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I sound a warning bell about a push for a new kind of tax. Here’s a part:

The city of Appleton was one of the first municipalities in Wisconsin to implement a wheel tax. Now, in what might be the start of a new tax trend, they are considering implementing another new tax after finding that the wheel tax is not generating enough tax money to cover their spending.

 

[…]

 

What is a transportation utility fee? Invented in Fort Collins, Colorado, in 1984, a transportation utility fee is based on the rationale that the transportation infrastructure functions as a public utility like the water, sewer, or electricity systems. As a utility, users of the transportation system are charged based on their consumption of the system. Also, conveniently for the taxing authority, utility fees are not subject to the same strictures as taxes and can be implemented with more impunity by the local government.

 

Unlike water, sewer, and electricity, however, there is not a good way to actually measure the consumption of the transportation infrastructure without tracking each individual’s movement on the roads. Absent the technical, political, or cultural feasibility of always having the government tracking everyone’s movements (that might be coming), a government that wishes to implement a transportation utility fee must use proxy distinctions to divvy up the fee.

 

[…]

 

If we are to treat our transportation infrastructure as a utility, then we must also rescind all of the other taxes and fees that are levied to pay for our transportation infrastructure. Our transportation infrastructure is either a utility to be funded through user fees or it is a public good to be supported through general taxes. It cannot be both.

Another year. Another tax increase.

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

The West Bend School Board is about to jack up taxes again to fuel their ever-increasing spending. This is despite rapidly declining enrollment. The good news, for them, is that the electors of West Bend just doubled their pay. It is very easy and rewarding to spend other people’s money.

 

At the annual meting of the West Bend School District’s electors, the school board put forth a resolution for consideration to increase the property tax levy by 7.25% to $47.8 million. The electors, who are just citizens of the district who decided to show up to the meeting, voted to approve the increase. It is not binding, but since it was the school board who drafted the resolution, they will likely approve the tax increase later this month.

 

This has become routine for the West Bend School Board. Irrespective of the state of the economy, the amount of federal stimulus money they received, or the number of kids they are educating, the West Bend School Board increases taxes. They are the proverbial scorpion crossing the river. It is just what they do.

 

The 7.25% tax increase this year is on top of the 6.21% tax increase last year and the 7.15% tax increase the year before. Thanks to the power of compounding, that is a 22% tax increase in just three years.

 

They have to increase taxes to support the increase in spending. This year’s budget increases overall spending by 7.12%. The district will break the $100 million budget threshold with a whopping $103.4 million. The West Bend School Board is continuing to increase spending despite the fact that enrollment in the district is collapsing.

 

According to enrollment figures provided by the school district, there are 5,824 full time equivalent (FTE) students in the district this year. That is a decline of 560 students, or 8.8% in just three years and over a thousand in five years. In the same three years where the West Bend School Board increased taxes 22% (assuming they pass this year’s proposed tax increase), student enrollment has declined by 8.8%.

 

The decline in enrollment has long been forecasted. There is a general decline in the school age population due to demographic trends. The decline has accelerated in some government school districts during the pandemic. Parents who were frustrated with unnecessary school closures and the damaging impact of onerous pandemic response theater moved their kids to private or home schools. But even without the pandemic, the West Bend School Board has known that the district’s enrollment was in for a decade-long decline in enrollment.

 

What has the West Bend School Board done to prepare for the decline in enrollment? Have they lowered expenses in line with lower enrollment? Not at all. Did they scale back staffing? No. Staffing is down about 4% since 2017 despite enrollment being down 26% over the same period. The school board has also voted to give the entire bloated staff substantial pay increases.

 

Have they closed any school buildings that are well below capacity? No. The district has the same number of schools as they have for years. Have they closed the district office and moved into one of the schools to save money? Nope. Have they outsourced non-educational functions to save cost? No. The school board has just kept spending because nobody is standing up and telling them to do anything different.

 

In fact, the electors rewarded the school board members’ spendthrift ways by doubling their pay. A large contingent of district employees and other local liberals showed up in force at the annual meeting to ensure that the tax increase would pass and to double the pay of the school board members. The school board did not propose a pay increase for themselves, but the electors in the room made sure that they got some more tax money in their pockets too.

 

People get the government they deserve. Unless the citizens of the district show up at the annual meeting, at school board meetings, and, most importantly, at their polling sites to elect actual conservatives to the board, this will continue to happen every year. There are no surprises here. These are the consequences of lethargy, bad candidates, and stupid decisions by the district’s citizens.

Another year. Another tax increase.

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

The 7.25% tax increase this year is on top of the 6.21% tax increase last year and the 7.15% tax increase the year before. Thanks to the power of compounding, that is a 22% tax increase in just three years.

 

They have to increase taxes to support the increase in spending. This year’s budget increases overall spending by 7.12%. The district will break the $100 million budget threshold with a whopping $103.4 million. The West Bend School Board is continuing to increase spending despite the fact that enrollment in the district is collapsing.

 

According to enrollment figures provided by the school district, there are 5,824 full time equivalent (FTE) students in the district this year. That is a decline of 560 students, or 8.8% in just three years and over a thousand in five years. In the same three years where the West Bend School Board increased taxes 22% (assuming they pass this year’s proposed tax increase), student enrollment has declined by 8.8%.

 

[…]

 

Have they lowered expenses in line with lower enrollment? Not at all. Did they scale back staffing? No. Staffing is down about 4% since 2017 despite enrollment being down 26% over the same period. The school board has also voted to give the entire bloated staff substantial pay increases.

 

Have they closed any school buildings that are well below capacity? No. The district has the same number of schools as they have for years. Have they closed the district office and moved into one of the schools to save money? Nope. Have they outsourced non-educational functions to save cost? No. The school board has just kept spending because nobody is standing up and telling them to do anything different.

America’s murder rate soars

Yes, I’m using the word “soars” a lot when it comes to bad things happening under our Democratic regime. It is accurate. Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News earlier this week

According to FBI statistics, America experienced the highest annual increase in the murder rate last year since the FBI began tracking national crime statistics. In 2020, America’s murder rate increased by about 29% over 2019. That is over twice the increase of the previous record-setting year, 1968. The increase in murders is not accidental. It is the direct result of bad policies being implemented across America as the bloody tip of the Democratic Party’s agenda.

 

Statistics are always dry and do not convey the true horror that they tabulate. For every “1” entered into a database, there is a life brutally ended, a family in mourning, and a community in anguish. But statistics do help us understand the scale of the problem.

 

In 2020, there were about 21,500 murders across the nation. That is the equivalent of the entire population of Germantown being slaughtered in a single year. There were about 5,000 more people murdered in 2020 than were murdered in 2019.

 

Milwaukee was even worse. While the nation experienced an average murder rate increase of about 29%, Milwaukee’s murder rate increased by 93%. More people were murdered in Milwaukee in 2020 than in any other year on record.

 

The reasons are plain to see. There has been an organized effort to demonize and demoralize the police for several years. In reaction to the sometimes real, often contrived, abusive behavior of some police officers, anarchist and Marxist organizations have seized the opportunity to demand collective punishment for individual transgressions. Not content with America’s judicial system that protects individual rights and liberties, these groups have waged war rhetorically and violently in the streets of our communities.

 

With the police’s traditional defenders cowed into silence, many police took a noticeable step back from aggressively enforcing the law. As the blue line faltered, empowered criminals pushed the boundary.

 

The real changes started to happen when Democrats — particularly those who run America’s largest cities — converted anti-police rhetoric into pro-criminal policies. They took the “defund the police” slogan to heart and cut police budgets. They changed policies to make it more difficult for officers on the streets to do their jobs. They gave criminal advocates a seat at the table to oversee police actions. They replaced the bars in the jails with turnstiles with destructive ideas like no-bail policies.

 

We are now all suffering the results of those policies. Democrats will try to claim that overall crime is down even though the murder rate is up. That is a lie. Just because they are intentionally arresting and prosecuting fewer crimes does not mean that they did not happen. If an antifa rioter punches you in the throat and the police do not arrest her, does that mean that the assault did not happen? Of course, it did, even though the assault will not show up in any crime statistics. When the police are prevented from enforcing the laws by policy and lack of resources, that does not mean that crimes are not occurring. In fact, more crime is happening.

 

That is why the murder rate is a key indicator. There is no way to sugar-coat or hide a murder. There is a corpse and someone has to explain why it is there. It is one of the few crimes that is recorded that does not require any action on the part of the police or prosecutors.

 

What can we do about the exploding crime rate? First, we have to collectively decide that we want to do something about it. Politics trail culture and there is a significant cultural movement that not only accepts more crime, but views its destabilizing effect as necessary to drive social change. Until our culture rejects that movement for the cancer it is, there will always be political support for the policies that empower criminals.

 

Second, assuming we actually want to change it, we must drive change in local elections. Most of the decisions about funding law enforcement, use of force policies, prosecutions, etc. are made by local governments, elected district attorneys, elected sheriffs, and elected judges. People make policy and we must elect people who will make policies that protect our communities.

 

Most things that happen are not the result of some mysterious force. They are the result of decisions that we make. Until we decide that we want to have less crime, it will not happen.

America’s murder rate soars

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

What can we do about the exploding crime rate? First, we have to collectively decide that we want to do something about it. Politics trail culture and there is a significant cultural movement that not only accepts more crime, but views its destabilizing effect as necessary to drive social change. Until our culture rejects that movement for the cancer it is, there will always be political support for the policies that empower criminals.

 

Second, assuming we actually want to change it, we must drive change in local elections. Most of the decisions about funding law enforcement, use of force policies, prosecutions, etc. are made by local governments, elected district attorneys, elected sheriffs, and elected judges. People make policy and we must elect people who will make policies that protect our communities.

 

Most things that happen are not the result of some mysterious force. They are the result of decisions that we make. Until we decide that we want to have less crime, it will not happen.

 

Mandela Barnes might be a perfect socialist

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

We learned last week that the Democrat front-runner for U.S. Senate and current lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes, did not pay any income taxes and received health care coverage from the taxpayers via BadgerCare in the same year he purchased two condos and ran for public office. It is a pattern of behavior that has become all too familiar in Barnes’ short political career.

 

In 2018, Barnes ran for lieutenant governor. Despite the booming economy, he decided to forgo earning a living to devote his time to politicking, so he did not pay any income taxes that year. Lacking any declared source of income, he was also on BadgerCare that year. BadgerCare is Wisconsin’s Medicaid program that is meant to provide taxpayer-funded health care coverage for low-income Wisconsinites. I doubt that the taxpayers thought that the intent of BadgerCare was to pay for the healthcare of fulltime political campaigners, but that is what they did.

 

What is interesting about that year is that Barnes also purchased two condos within a single year. After all, the economy and the housing market were doing well, so surely Barnes thought that either he needed two homes, or it was a good investment. Barnes has claimed that he used inherited money for the real estate purchases (some enterprising investigating reporter should verify the source of the money). This indicates that while Barnes forewent earning an income that year, he was not without means. Yet, despite having means, he chose to consume taxpayer dollars for his health care. He could have applied for an individual health insurance policy through Obamacare, but that would have meant spending some of his own money on premiums. Why should he buy only one condo and pay for his own health insurance when there are plenty of chumps out there to pay for his health care? This has been Barnes’ pattern throughout his political life. As he proudly touts his “progressive” credentials, he burnishes his socialist credentials by using every opportunity to avoid paying his own way and to spend other people’s money. Such purloining is at the heart of socialism.

 

In 2019, the public learned that Barnes had not paid the property taxes on his condo. According to city of Milwaukee records, Barnes had two delinquent property tax bills in June. The property taxes were due by the end of January and Barnes still had not paid them by the middle of summer. When confronted with the delinquency, Barnes dismissed the news as “ridiculous” and claimed that the “check is in the mail” — the refrain of deadbeats since the advent of regular mail service.

 

Barnes’ reluctance to pay his fair share of the tax burden is understandable. Many property owners grit their teeth when the property tax bill comes due every year. But such frustration with the high cost of government is not a valid reason to withhold payment, and socialists like Barnes want government to cost even more. When caught, Barnes paid the bill. There is no telling how long that check would have taken in the mail had it not hit the news.

 

In the same vein, Barnes failed to pay a slew of parking tickets until he was forced to. It was only $108, but the fines went unpaid even as Barnes assumed the office of lieutenant governor. The unpaid parking tickets meant that Barnes could not register his car, so he did not drive.

 

Fortunately for him, as lieutenant governor, Barnes had access to a taxpayer-funded security detail that could chauffeur him around the state in the guise of “protecting” him. With all that full-time protection and being driven around in the taxpayers’ cars, Barnes did not feel much need to pay the fines and register his car.

 

Once again, the incredibly high cost of Barnes’ security detail — even on days when he did not have any public duties — and the unpaid fines came into public view. Once again, Barnes was dismissive of the allegations and claimed there was just some mix-up. And once again, he finally paid the bill.

 

Barnes’ thoughtless use of the taxpayers’ dollars, disregard for personal responsibilities, and entitled rudeness are not deviations from the norm. They are the norm. He has spent a career finding ways to spend other people’s money as he enriches himself. That is precisely what he will continue to do should Wisconsin’s voters be foolhardy enough to send him to the U.S. Senate on their behalf.

Mandela Barnes might be a perfect socialist

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

We learned last week that the Democrat front-runner for U.S. Senate and current lieutenant governor, Mandela Barnes, did not pay any income taxes and received health care coverage from the taxpayers via BadgerCare in the same year he purchased two condos and ran for public office. It is a pattern of behavior that has become all too familiar in Barnes’ short political career.

 

[…]

 

This has been Barnes’ pattern throughout his political life. As he proudly touts his “progressive” credentials, he burnishes his socialist credentials by using every opportunity to avoid paying his own way and to spend other people’s money. Such purloining is at the heart of socialism.

 

In 2019, the public learned that Barnes had not paid the property taxes on his condo. According to city of Milwaukee records, Barnes had two delinquent property tax bills in June. The property taxes were due by the end of January and Barnes still had not paid them by the middle of summer. When confronted with the delinquency, Barnes dismissed the news as “ridiculous” and claimed that the “check is in the mail” — the refrain of deadbeats since the advent of regular mail service.

 

Barnes’ reluctance to pay his fair share of the tax burden is understandable. Many property owners grit their teeth when the property tax bill comes due every year. But such frustration with the high cost of government is not a valid reason to withhold payment, and socialists like Barnes want government to cost even more. 

 

[…]

 

Barnes’ thoughtless use of the taxpayers’ dollars, disregard for personal responsibilities, and entitled rudeness are not deviations from the norm. They are the norm. He has spent a career finding ways to spend other people’s money as he enriches himself. That is precisely what he will continue to do should Wisconsin’s voters be foolhardy enough to send him to the U.S. Senate on their behalf.

What kind of chumps are we?

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

America is increasingly becoming a country where if you work hard, play by the rules, take care of your family, and live up to your responsibilities, you are a chump. Not only are you a chump, but you are held in contempt by those who want what you have.

 

Many of us grew up in an America where we were expected to build our own American Dreams. In our teens or early adulthood, we would enter the workforce in some low wage job to work our way up the ladder. Without any real skills or experience, entry level jobs were compensated accordingly. Those first jobs were grunt work, but they taught us responsibility, diligence, work ethic, and the value of a day’s work.
Now the thought of a crummy first job has become taboo. Some people expect their first jobs to be “family supporting” even when there isn’t any family to support. Convinced that they posses a personal dignity that wafts above the demands of menial labor, they sit home and sponge off others while waiting in their lobby of their own future.

 

Some of us chose the path of college to gain an education necessary for our chosen careers. We worked, scrimped, and chose a college within our means. Many of us also borrowed money with the full understanding that it was a debt we were incurring as an investment in our own futures and would pay the money back with the wages of that future.

 

Now we are being told that we must also pay off the bad investments in others’ futures too. When that neighbor kid took out massive loans to go to a college she could not afford to get a degree in something that had little market value, she made a bad investment. But instead of being responsible for her choice, she tells us that we must pay for her bad choice with a righteous entitlement that is only learned in our most esteemed universities.

 

As we began our families, many of us grew up in an America where we were expected to be responsible for them. We had to feed, clothe, house, and educate our children so that they would become responsible adults who could build their own futures and contribute to their communities. This often meant making personal compromises. We scaled our living expenses to live on one income so that one parent could stay home or worked overtime to afford help. We bought the store brand food, took “vacations” to the neighboring county, lived in modest homes, and became masters of the thrift stores.

 

Now we are being told that all those compromises we made in our own lives to care for our own families cannot be expected of others. Instead, we must pay to feed every kid in school whether their families can afford it or not. We must pay for child care for other people’s kids. We are not permitted to question the choices of parents who enjoy their steak dinners and vacations as they expect us to feed, clothe, and provide child care for their children. To ask such questions is deemed insensitive and inappropriate.

 

As we thought about getting older, many of us put money away to care for ourselves in our dotage. We have spent a lifetime pulling money out of our earnings to stash away with the hope of growing old. Again, we made compromises. We ate out less, bought cheaper houses, made that old couch last another year, and just lived with that dent in the car door instead of fixing it. A lifetime of little compromises is the price borne to afford an independent old age.

 

Now we are being told that if we have managed to save a nest egg for ourselves that we must share it with those who never made those compromises. Even now, the liberals in Washington and Madison are eyeing retirement funds as “wealth” to be taxed and taken for those who lived as if they would never grow old.

 

Now President Joe Biden is mandating vaccines, but only for Americans who are working and being responsible. If you are an illegal alien, are on the dole, work for Congress, are a refugee, or refuse to work, you do not have to get vaccinated. Only Americans who are gainfully employed are being forced to choose between getting vaccinated and pauperism. Irrespective of your opinion on federal vaccination mandates (I vehemently oppose them), only Americans who are being responsible, working, contributing members of society are feeling the heavy jack boots of Biden’s mandates.

 

So what kind of chumps are we? Why work hard, make personal compromises, and invest in a future that you will never be able to enjoy?

 

These questions are why socialism always fails. People are compassionate and want to help care for those in our society who are truly not able to care for themselves. When, however, people are forced to work harder to pay for those who are unwilling to care for themselves, they become chumps. And when the chump’s burden of paying for their lazy neighbor becomes too heavy and robs them of the rewards of their labor, then the chumps give up and look for some other chump to pay the bills. The cascade continues until there aren’t any more chumps left to pay.

What kind of chumps are we?

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

America is increasingly becoming a country where if you work hard, play by the rules, take care of your family, and live up to your responsibilities, you are a chump. Not only are you a chump, but you are held in contempt by those who want what you have.

 

[…]

 

Now President Joe Biden is mandating vaccines, but only for Americans who are working and being responsible. If you are an illegal alien, are on the dole, work for Congress, are a refugee, or refuse to work, you do not have to get vaccinated. Only Americans who are gainfully employed are being forced to choose between getting vaccinated and pauperism. Irrespective of your opinion on federal vaccination mandates (I vehemently oppose them), only Americans who are being responsible, working, contributing members of society are feeling the heavy jack boots of Biden’s mandates.

 

So what kind of chumps are we? Why work hard, make personal compromises, and invest in a future that you will never be able to enjoy?

 

Memo to politicians: Cut taxes

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

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau released two memos last week with very similar numbers about two separate items. The first was about tax collections. The second was about tax expenditures. They tell a story about government and governance in modern America.

 

The first memo was about how money from the Coronavirus Relief Fund is being allocated. As part of the first big coronavirus stimulus bill passed by Congress in March of 2020, the state of Wisconsin was allocated $1.99 billion from the CRF to be used to cover unbudgeted expenses related to the pandemic by government entities. The memo details how the CRF money is being spent on things like health care facilities, payments to hospitals, contact tracing, and other logical things that were directly impacted by the pandemic. The memo also details how the CRF money is being spent on things like movie theater grants, broadband expansion, corporate welfare to ethanol producers, higher education funding, and a nice $233 million bucket for “state agency reimbursements.”

 

The use of CRF money is a perfect example of government and governance operating poorly. The CRF was designed as a gigantic slush fund to take tax dollars from all Americans in the form of federal taxes to be paid by future taxpayers to give to state and local governments in the present. By law, the money must be spent by the end of this year or it must be returned to the federal treasury. That is why the money is being poured into pet projects like broadband expansion, state agencies, and government education systems. Whether they actually need the money or actually incurred pandemic- related expenses is immaterial. What is more important is that the state spend the money before the deadline.

 

One part of the CRF rules is telling. In order to facilitate “administrative convenience,” government school districts can spend up to $500 per pupil without being required to document the specific uses of the spending. The money will be arbitrarily “presumed to be eligible.” This amounts to $410 million in additional government spending that may or may not have anything to do with the pandemic.

 

The second memo that the LFB released had to do with a surplus in tax collections. When the Legislature wrote the budget in 2019 before the pandemic, they estimated that the state tax laws would collect about $17.6 billion in taxes for the general fund. The preliminary final estimate shows that the state actually collected $19.6 million in taxes. The state collected about $1.9 million more in taxes than they thought they would.

 

Bearing in mind that the original estimate did not take into account the pandemic, the surplus tax collections are astounding. In the 2020-2021 state budget, the Republicans in the Legislature fought off Governor Evers’ attempt to raise taxes and cut them instead. The result is what we generally see when government cuts taxes — tax collections go up.

 

The simple reason for this is because money is taxed when it moves. When people have more money in their pockets because taxes are lower, they do not bury it in the backyard. They use it. When they spend it or invest it, the money is taxed, thus resulting in higher collections. In particular, the greatest contributor to the tax surplus was higher corporate income tax collections. Corporations took their tax cuts, invested them back into their businesses, and grew taxable profits.

 

There is a point at which cutting taxes will result in lower tax collections because the economy is already flush with money, but all indications are that the state of Wisconsin could still enact large tax increases and still see tax collections increase. This is because Wisconsin’s tax burden is already much higher than it should be to balance tax collections with economic movement.

 

The tax surpluses are an example of government and governance doing something well. The Republican tax cuts put money directly into the pockets of taxpayers and business owners without going through layers of government bureaucracy and expense. The result was that tax collections went up and the state could provide almost the same amount of relief as they received from federal taxpayers in the CRF.

 

The LFB’s two memos highlight how cutting taxes not only results in more taxes being collected, but they also render politicized and bureaucratic relief funds unnecessary by just letting taxpayers keep the money they earned.

 

The best government is the government that governs least.

Memo to politicians: Cut taxes

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

Bearing in mind that the original estimate did not take into account the pandemic, the surplus tax collections are astounding. In the 2020-2021 state budget, the Republicans in the Legislature fought off Governor Evers’ attempt to raise taxes and cut them instead. The result is what we generally see when government cuts taxes — tax collections go up.

 

The simple reason for this is because money is taxed when it moves. When people have more money in their pockets because taxes are lower, they do not bury it in the backyard. They use it. When they spend it or invest it, the money is taxed, thus resulting in higher collections. In particular, the greatest contributor to the tax surplus was higher corporate income tax collections. Corporations took their tax cuts, invested them back into their businesses, and grew taxable profits.

There is a point at which cutting taxes will result in lower tax collections because the economy is already flush with money, but all indications are that the state of Wisconsin could still enact large tax increases and still see tax collections increase. This is because Wisconsin’s tax burden is already much higher than it should be to balance tax collections with economic movement.

 

The tax surpluses are an example of government and governance doing something well. The Republican tax cuts put money directly into the pockets of taxpayers and business owners without going through layers of government bureaucracy and expense. The result was that tax collections went up and the state could provide almost the same amount of relief as they received from federal taxpayers in the CRF.

 

The LFB’s two memos highlight how cutting taxes not only results in more taxes being collected, but they also render politicized and bureaucratic relief funds unnecessary by just letting taxpayers keep the money they earned.

 

The best government is the government that governs least.

Think local. Act local. Know global.

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

It is this commitment to each other that is the foundation of small-“r” republicanism. If each of us takes responsibility and ownership for our homes and communities, then we end up with much stronger communities. Strong communities build stronger nations and stronger nations build a stronger world.

 

It is easy for compassionate people to get caught up in the woes of the world, but we can best make that world better by working locally. Get involved. Stay involved. Make the world better one community at a time.

It is our honor to welcome Afghan refugees

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

With the disastrous end to America’s involvement in Afghanistan, a flood of refugees is surging out of the country. It is America’s responsibility and privilege to welcome these refugees with open arms.

 

The final withdrawal from Afghanistan could not be going worse. The precipitous abandonment American positions at Bagram Air Base and elsewhere, the desertion of our NATO and Afghan allies, and the poorly planned extrication of American personnel has left Afghanistan strewn with American equipment and honor. It is a disgrace and shame that all Americans will bear for the disastrous actions of our president.

 

Out of this nightmare, all of the Afghans who helped America over the last 20 years to root out terrorism and protect American lives are trying to escape the inevitable slaughter at the hands of the Taliban. There are also tens of thousands of Afghans who believed America and our promises of liberty, individual rights, and freedom to practice their religion without interference from government overlords. This includes women and girls who know the fate that awaits them under Taliban rule. They bought into the concept of a western- style democracy and are staring down the barrel of another generation of brutal totalitarian butchery.

 

Not all of these Afghans are going to make it out. Right now, there are thousands of Afghans and Americans fighting and praying to get a seat on one of the precious airplanes still ferrying people out of the country. They know that those flights will end too soon because President Joe Biden has decided that the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans and Afghans is a price worth paying to get America out of the country as quickly as possible. He factored the bloodshed into his decision. Of the refugees that make it out of Afghanistan, many of them are coming to Wisconsin. Fort McCoy is one of the places that will serve as a safe haven to house some of the refugees. We do not know how many yet, but that will likely depend on how many people our valiant military can evacuate before Biden or the Taliban ends the mission. Wisconsin should welcome these poor souls into our state with the kindness and generosity for which the people of Wisconsin are known. The refugees did not plan to be here. They believed America and thought they would spend their lives in a relatively free and stable Afghanistan. But in the face of certain oppression or death, they have fled everything they know with little more than the clothes on their backs.

 

There are issues that the Biden Administration must address. In the mad rush out of Afghanistan, many of the refugees are coming without paperwork to verify their identities. It is probable that the Taliban, ISIS, or other terror groups have sent some of their agents of terror through the loose sieve of refugee evacuation much like the drug cartels are moving people across our open southern border. Federal authorities must take the time to properly vet the refugees before relocating them into the interior of the nation.

 

Also, while some of the refugees have some exposure to American values and American standards, many of them do not. They are coming from a nation that has been in a state of war for as long as any of them can remember. We must make a concerted effort to educate them on America’s respect for individual rights, equality, representative government, the rule of law, and all of the other pillars of America.

 

Finally, while some of the refugees are educated, bilingual, and highly skilled, others are coming to America unprepared to be successful in the American economy. Thankfully, we are at a time in our history when jobs are plentiful in Wisconsin and elsewhere. To be successful in those jobs, the refugees need to be taught to speak and read English, job skills and employment norms, personal financial management, and skills with which to earn a living. This investment will also help protect the refugees from being exploited and ensure that they can become full participants in their new country.

 

President Biden has left some of our nation’s honor in the blood-caked mud of Afghanistan. We can reclaim some of that honor with how we treat the refugees who are able to make it to our shores.

It is our honor to welcome Afghan refugees

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Perhaps the news out of Afghanistan today makes this even more pressing. Here’s a part:

With the disastrous end to America’s involvement in Afghanistan, a flood of refugees is surging out of the country. It is America’s responsibility and privilege to welcome these refugees with open arms.

 

The final withdrawal from Afghanistan could not be going worse. The precipitous abandonment American positions at Bagram Air Base and elsewhere, the desertion of our NATO and Afghan allies, and the poorly planned extrication of American personnel has left Afghanistan strewn with American equipment and honor. It is a disgrace and shame that all Americans will bear for the disastrous actions of our president.

 

Out of this nightmare, all of the Afghans who helped America over the last 20 years to root out terrorism and protect American lives are trying to escape the inevitable slaughter at the hands of the Taliban. There are also tens of thousands of Afghans who believed America and our promises of liberty, individual rights, and freedom to practice their religion without interference from government overlords. This includes women and girls who know the fate that awaits them under Taliban rule. They bought into the concept of a western- style democracy and are staring down the barrel of another generation of brutal totalitarian butchery.

 

Not all of these Afghans are going to make it out. Right now, there are thousands of Afghans and Americans fighting and praying to get a seat on one of the precious airplanes still ferrying people out of the country. They know that those flights will end too soon because President Joe Biden has decided that the deaths of tens of thousands of Americans and Afghans is a price worth paying to get America out of the country as quickly as possible. He factored the bloodshed into his decision. Of the refugees that make it out of Afghanistan, many of them are coming to Wisconsin. Fort McCoy is one of the places that will serve as a safe haven to house some of the refugees. We do not know how many yet, but that will likely depend on how many people our valiant military can evacuate before Biden or the Taliban ends the mission. Wisconsin should welcome these poor souls into our state with the kindness and generosity for which the people of Wisconsin are known. The refugees did not plan to be here. They believed America and thought they would spend their lives in a relatively free and stable Afghanistan. But in the face of certain oppression or death, they have fled everything they know with little more than the clothes on their backs.

Beware of governments that keep lists

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News earlier this week.

Last year, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce sued Governor Tony Evers to stop the wholesale release of the names of businesses where employees had COVID-19 or been exposed to someone who did. Last week, the Wisconsin Supreme Court agreed to take up the case.

 

At issue is the public disclosure of private information that the government has been collecting during the pandemic. In this case, the state government, through medical disclosures and contract tracing efforts, has kept a list of the businesses whose employees contracted COVID-19 or came into contact with someone who did.

 

After first saying that such information should not be made public, Governor Evers reversed himself and agreed to release the information to news outlets. WMC sued to stop the release, obtained an injunction to that effect, and now the case is headed to the state Supreme Court.

 

Wisconsin’s Open Records Laws are generally very strong and favor the release of all information held by government unless there is a compelling reason to not do so. In this case, there are several reasons to deny public release. The release of the information would unfairly damage Wisconsin’s small businesses and potentially damage the effort to combat this and future pandemics.

 

The public disclosure of businesses where employees have had COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who did would cause undue harm to those businesses. The mere disclosure of the information gives the false impression that somehow the businesses were at fault, or at least complicit, for the spread of COVID-19, but no such connection can rationally be made. The employees might have contracted COVID-19 anywhere, but only their employers would be listed.

 

While not a fair conclusion, Wisconsin’s small businesses that show up on that list might lose potential patrons who think that the businesses are unclean, infection-spreading, hot spots. This lumps in businesses who followed every rule or advice issued from health agencies (however wrong they were) with those businesses that took little or no precautions. The fact that one employee contracted COVID-19 or encountered someone who did puts all of those businesses on the same unfair list.

 

Furthermore, employment is fluid. There is no guarantee that an employee with COVID-19 last May still works at the same employer. All the list would show is that an employee had COVID-19 sometime in the past. It is not current or actionable data. Wisconsin’s small businesses have suffered enough and do not deserve one more hit from Governor Evers by having their names thrown into the public space.

 

There is also the potential that the public disclosure of the list of businesses will impede future pandemic mitigation efforts. The collection of the data, at least in the early days of the pandemic before it became widespread, was a useful tool to identify hot spots and focus our efforts. If business owners or employees are fearful that sharing information with public health officials may one day be released to the public, they will be less likely to do so in the future. It is always good advice to tell your government as little about yourself as possible and the threat of public shaming only supports aggressive privacy.

 

Against these serious negative consequences from a public disclosure, Evers must balance any positive reasons to release the information. Evers has a strong history of only releasing public information when absolutely necessary or when it might damage a political opponent, so why is he so adamant to release this information? What compelling public interest does it serve that would outweigh the damage done to Wisconsin’s businesses and efforts to fight future pandemics? Why is Evers so intent on releasing the information despite his earlier attestations that the information should not be made public? What changed? Other than a deliberate attack on Wisconsin’s businesses to appease Evers’ radical supporters, there does not seem to be any rational reason.

 

Governor Evers should have the common sense to keep this information out of the public space, but since he does not, hopefully Wisconsin’s Supreme Court will right this attempted wrong.

Beware of governments that keep lists

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

Wisconsin’s Open Records Laws are generally very strong and favor the release of all information held by government unless there is a compelling reason to not do so. In this case, there are several reasons to deny public release. The release of the information would unfairly damage Wisconsin’s small businesses and potentially damage the effort to combat this and future pandemics.

 

The public disclosure of businesses where employees have had COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone who did would cause undue harm to those businesses. The mere disclosure of the information gives the false impression that somehow the businesses were at fault, or at least complicit, for the spread of COVID-19, but no such connection can rationally be made. The employees might have contracted COVID-19 anywhere, but only their employers would be listed.

 

While not a fair conclusion, Wisconsin’s small businesses that show up on that list might lose potential patrons who think that the businesses are unclean, infection-spreading, hot spots. This lumps in businesses who followed every rule or advice issued from health agencies (however wrong they were) with those businesses that took little or no precautions. The fact that one employee contracted COVID-19 or encountered someone who did puts all of those businesses on the same unfair list.

 

Furthermore, employment is fluid. There is no guarantee that an employee with COVID-19 last May still works at the same employer. All the list would show is that an employee had COVID-19 sometime in the past. It is not current or actionable data. Wisconsin’s small businesses have suffered enough and do not deserve one more hit from Governor Evers by having their names thrown into the public space.

Victims ignored in defund the police movement

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

Bob’s story is the kind of story happening all over America and in Wisconsin in cities where politicians and activists are tearing down civil order. Under the destructive belief that crime is a symptom of social ills in which the criminals are the greatest victims, the leftist push for deincarceration, no bail release, decriminalization, record expungement, and, most recently, defunding the police is rotting the core out of America’s cities.

 

The crime issue is not about the criminals. It is about the victims. It is about the vast majority of good people who get up every day, follow the rules, go to work, raise their children, volunteer in their neighborhoods, and write out their story in the history of their community. These are the people who suffer when criminals are loosed to savage cities. These are the Bobs who are the heart and soul of their cities and are being forced to consider leaving their beloved cities to the free-range criminal horde.

 

These are the people who Governor Tony Evers forsook when he vetoed the “Fund the Police” bill passed by the Legislature. In a move to push back against the “defund the police” movement, the bill would have simply reduced state aid to local governments that choose to defund their police by the same amount and redistributing the money to other local governments. While it would not have prevented local governments from defunding their police, it would have discouraged it and prevented state taxpayers from subsidizing local government leaders who are actively turning their communities over to criminals.

 

Wisconsin needs strong cities, but no amount of money or public policy can fix a city that has been eviscerated by crime. When the social fabric is rended and civil order collapses, the good people that Wisconsin’s cities need to thrive will simply leave. All that will remain is a wasteland of missed opportunity.

Evers’ DWD continues to fail Wisconsinites

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

Gov. Tony Evers has made it clear through his veto actions that he wants as many people to continue to receive unemployment benefits for as long as possible despite the abundance of available jobs in the state. A report last week from the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau demonstrates just how poorly Evers’ Department of Workforce Development is serving the people

 

When the pandemic first took hold and the government forced hundreds of thousands of people into the unemployment line, the wave of people crashing into the unemployment system was unprecedented. We learned last September just how badly the DWD handled the crisis.

 

At the height of the unemployment crisis, only 0.5% of the calls placed by the DWD were being answered. The DWD failed to respond in any meaningful way. They maintained their normal business hours and the call center was only open for 39.58 house per week until late May when it slightly extended its hours.

 

The performance of Evers’ DWD during the governmentimposed unemployment crisis was so bad that even Governor Evers seemed to admit the failure when he forced the DWD secretary to resign last September. One might have taken such an action to indicate that Evers was finally becoming a competent leader and would fix DWD to serve the people of Wisconsin.

 

Unfortunately, if there is anything that Tony Evers has shown throughout the entirety of his elected career, he is not a competent leader. Spurred by complaints to the state’s Fraud, Waste, and Mismanagement Hotline, the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau investigated multiple allegations that the DWD’s administration of unemployment insurance program was still suffering from delays and mismanagement. The hotline reports included many issues including delayed payments, call center wait times, insufficient assistance, and the failure to comply with state statutes and federal program requirements.

 

The LAB found that the issues with the call center’s effectiveness were consistent with their findings in January. Based on the continuing complaints, the DWD still has not corrected for the issues even though they have been continuing for over 15 months.

 

The LAB also dove into the data regarding the DWD complying with certain federal requirements and found that the DWD was woefully out of compliance. One of the requirements imposed by the federal government as a condition for the state to receive funding for the unemployment insurance program is the DWD is required to provide a prompt appeals process for individuals who are denied unemployment benefits. The federal rules require that the state issue appeal decisions for 60% of appeals within 30 days and for at least 80% within 45 days.

 

The DWD met that standard until May of 2020. Beginning in June 2020, the DWD fell to less than 50% of appeals decided within 45 days. That temporary failure to comply was understandable given the crush of unemployment claims at the time. Unfortunately for Wisconsin’s unemployed, the DWD’s appeals process steadily worsened to the point that as of May 2021, only 17.5% of appeals were decided within 45 days and only 10.2% were decided within 30 days.

 

The LAB’s report cites one example of how poorly DWD is managing appeals. In September of 2020, a Wisconsinite filed an appeal after being denied unemployment benefits. The DWD did not schedule an appeal hearing until March of 2021 — 26.5 weeks after the appeal was filed. The hearing partially reversed the denial, but then DWD dragged their feet again and did not issue a payment until May of 2021. For this unemployed Wisconsinite, it took almost nine months for the DWD to fix its incorrect denial and make it right. That is an unconscionable delay that has real consequences for the people on the other end of the DWD’s apathy.

 

Wisconsin’s unemployment crisis has long-since ended. The state is now facing an employment crisis where there are more jobs available than people willing to work them. But if Governor Evers is going to insist that Wisconsinites continue to receive unemployment payments even when there is work available, the least that one should be able to expect is that his DWD would competently run the program. Unfortunately, competence is too high a bar for this governor to meet.

Evers’ DWD continues to fail Wisconsinites

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

Unfortunately, if there is anything that Tony Evers has shown throughout the entirety of his elected career, he is not a competent leader. Spurred by complaints to the state’s Fraud, Waste, and Mismanagement Hotline, the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau investigated multiple allegations that the DWD’s administration of unemployment insurance program was still suffering from delays and mismanagement. The hotline reports included many issues including delayed payments, call center wait times, insufficient assistance, and the failure to comply with state statutes and federal program requirements.

 

The LAB found that the issues with the call center’s effectiveness were consistent with their findings in January. Based on the continuing complaints, the DWD still has not corrected for the issues even though they have been continuing for over 15 months.

 

The LAB also dove into the data regarding the DWD complying with certain federal requirements and found that the DWD was woefully out of compliance. One of the requirements imposed by the federal government as a condition for the state to receive funding for the unemployment insurance program is the DWD is required to provide a prompt appeals process for individuals who are denied unemployment benefits. The federal rules require that the state issue appeal decisions for 60% of appeals within 30 days and for at least 80% within 45 days.

 

The DWD met that standard until May of 2020. Beginning in June 2020, the DWD fell to less than 50% of appeals decided within 45 days. That temporary failure to comply was understandable given the crush of unemployment claims at the time. Unfortunately for Wisconsin’s unemployed, the DWD’s appeals process steadily worsened to the point that as of May 2021, only 17.5% of appeals were decided within 45 days and only 10.2% were decided within 30 days.

 

City of West Bend considers huge pay increases

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News earlier this week:

This column has been warning for some time that the city of West Bend’s government has skewed more liberal in recent years. After almost a decade of thoughtful conservative leadership, local conservatives got lazy, and the Common Council was taken over by liberals and big government enthusiasts. After choosing to increase taxes as much as legally possible last year, the council is considering a hefty pay increase for city employees.

 

At the Common Council’s July 19th meeting, City Administrator Jay Shambeau shared the results of a compensation study. That study compared the city of West Bend’s employee compensation to several other cities including Manitowoc, Fond du Lac, New Berlin, and Brookfield and found that West Bend’s compensation lags other cities. Citing employee turnover in some departments and perceived below market pay, the city administrator advocated for a pay increase for almost every nonunion city employee in addition to an annual cost of living increase of about 2%. The overall proposed cost would be $451,940 with an average pay increase of $4,519 per employee.

 

While evaluating and adjusting compensation is a normal part of any organization, there are some concerning aspects of this proposal that require further inquiry. Several years ago, the city of West Bend implemented a compensation system that more closely resembled one from the private sector that rewarded employees based on merit. The proposed compensation plan abandons compensation based on merit in favor of a model that provides blanket pay ranges based on job function. The proposed compensation plan is a return to an old-school government plan where everyone is paid the same irrespective of how good they are at their job. Furthermore, it is difficult to see how the pay increases will result in more talented employees. The purpose of any compensation plan is to attract and retain the level of talent that the organization requires to be successful. The justification for the pay increases is that West Bend is having difficulty attracting and retaining talented people in a competitive labor market.

 

At the same time, however, the plan would give almost every current employee a pay increase because they are all good at their jobs. According to the plan, only employees in good standing would receive a pay increase, but there are also no employees who are not currently in good standing. If the city is having difficulty finding good employees, would it not stand to reason that some of the existing employees would be sub-par performers?

 

If all of the employees are performing to standards, then why would the taxpayers need to pay more to attract better employees? If the taxpayers agree to pay city employees more, will the city management leverage the better pay to replace some of the employees with more talented ones? What are the taxpayers going to get for their increased spending on employee compensation?

 

As proposed, the spending increase would not result in a tax increase this year. This is because the city is proposing to use some financial gimmickry to hide the spending increase until it is baked into the spending pie. The total proposal would spend $451,940. $283,553 of that total would come out of the general fund that is supported by the property tax. But the city administrator is touting it as tax neutral because that amount would be covered by debt payments being paid into the general fund by Tax Incremental Districts 5 and 9.

 

TIDs are property tax set asides where the property taxes from those properties are segregated for improvements only in those districts. They are used to encourage development. TIDs 5 and 9 ran debts in previous years and the taxpayers filled the gap from the general fund. Now those districts are in the black and paying those debts back into the general fund. The proposal would fund most of the pay increases from those debt payments and then, when the TIDs expire, with the funds that those properties contribute to the general fund. The balance of the pay increase would be funded by surpluses from the water and sewer utilities.

 

Does it sound like gimmickry? It is. The fact remains that all of that money is taxpayer and utility-payer money. The city could reduce taxes and utility bills or spend the money on other priorities, but is proposing to increase employee compensation instead.

 

While there is not a tax impact for the proposed pay increase in the first year, it does set a new baseline for all future budgets. There is no such thing as a free lunch. The taxpayers will keep paying these bills forevermore.

 

The West Bend Common Council meets again to consider this proposal on Aug. 2. At the previous meeting, only two members, Randy Koehler and Meghann Kennedy, expressed any skepticism. The majority — including the mayor — expressed support for the proposed new compensation plan. It is clear that the taxpayers are not a top priority for a majority of West Bend’s Common Council.

Archives

Categories

Pin It on Pinterest