Tag Archives: Column

Conservatives, can we talk?

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

My fellow conservatives, we need to have a talk. A serious talk. The kind of talk that might make your stomach twist up a little, but we have to have it. It’s important. Hey, you liberals who usually read the first few paragraphs of this column before rolling your eyes and checking your Instagram, you can go ahead and get started on the cat videos early. This column is not for you. We will see you next week.

Are the liberals gone yet? Good.

Conservatives, what the heck happened to all of you?

[…]

Despite all that is at stake, conservatives are once again standing aside. Most of the purportedly conservative groups who weigh in on elections are sticking their hands in their pockets. Too many conservatives are sitting at home griping on social media while liberals are putting their energy and money into supporting their candidate. Even as the liberals make vile, bigoted, anti-Christian attacks on Judge Hagedorn, conservatives cluck and do nothing. Where are the Catholics, Lutherans, and evangelicals standing up to defend attacks on their faith?

You have to hand it to Wisconsin’s liberals. They are relentless. They are organized, well-funded, and passionate about their beliefs. Conservatives were able to match them for most of this century’s sophomore decade, but now we have decided to take a collective nap. The liberals are still wide awake and fighting.

Why did so many of us conservatives give up? Is it because of Trump? Is it lingering frustration over the last state budget? Are you still mad about Walker’s presidential run? I don’t care. Get over it. None of those things has anything to do with the future of our state and our communities. We have serious work to do.

I often receive comments along the lines of, “I agree. What can I do?” That’s easy. First, go vote. Second, get to work. Volunteer. Donate money. Talk to your friends and family. Take the future of your community and your state as seriously as you do your children’s future, because those futures are one and the same.

Who wants to live in Evers’ Wisconsin?

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

The first salvo in Wisconsin’s biennial budget process has been delivered. Gov. Tony Evers has delivered his budget proposal to the Legislature and it is a hot mess of liberal vengeance against the previous eight years. If our state’s budget were not so important to so many people, one would be inclined to think that Governor Evers is trying to play a joke on the people of Wisconsin.

When Evers began to draft his budget proposal, there were two paths before him. One path was the one of compromise. Knowing that he defeated Scott Walker by fewer than 30,000 votes and that the same electorate had sent even stronger Republican majorities to the Legislature, Evers could have taken the path of reasonable compromise that had a high probability of moving legislation in favor of his goals. Indeed, the Republican leaders in the Legislature had been sending strong signals that they were willing to compromise on a number of issues including education funding, transportation spending, criminal justice reform, and several other issues that Evers highlighted during the campaign.

The second path before Evers was one of inflexible fealty to the radical liberal base that elected him. He could write a budget that amounted to a liberal manifesto that tossed vegan faux meat to every liberal interest group in his batty base. Evers chose the second path. His choice to advance a statement of political doctrine instead of a serious budget proposal has forced the legislative Republicans to toss Evers’ proposal in the recycling bin and start from scratch.

While Evers’ budget proposal fails to measure up as something to be evaluated as serious legislation, it does offer Wisconsinites a view of the Wisconsin Evers and the Democrats would create if the voters were foolish enough to give them control of government.

In Evers’ Wisconsin, we would all pay more taxes. Wisconsin’s manufacturers would pay higher taxes forcing them to cut costs elsewhere or move to a more friendly state. Wisconsinites would pay higher taxes on capital gains — a particular burden for entrepreneurs and investors in Wisconsin businesses. Wisconsinites would also may higher gas taxes to feed the transportation lobby and higher property taxes to shovel into government schools. While he does not yet raise income or sales taxes, Wisconsin would run a massive structural deficit that would have to eventually be fixed.

In Evers’ Wisconsin, all of those tax increases would go to fuel a massive increase in spending. Evers would spend more on government K-12 schools without bothering to insist on better results for the taxpayers’ largesse. The University of Wisconsin System would get an injection of taxpayer funds, as would transportation, Medicaid, the Department of Natural Resources, the juvenile justice system, and many other areas. In all, Evers’ Wisconsin would have 701 more government employees, for a total of 71,990 people, to poke and prod into every area of Wisconsinites’ lives. Evers’ Wisconsin would spend a whopping $1,300 more per person.

In Evers’ Wisconsin, work requirements for welfare recipients would be rolled back. In a state with full employment, people could still sit on the dole when there are jobs waiting to be filled. Wisconsin would be well on the path to legalizing marijuana despite the incredible social costs being paid by states that have already legalized it.

In Evers’ Wisconsin, illegal aliens would be given driver’s licenses and ID cards, making it easier for them to vote and prohibiting every other Wisconsinite from using their driver’s license for air travel because Wisconsin would no longer comply with the REAL ID Act.

In Evers’ Wisconsin, criminals would be given light sentences for their crimes because keeping them on the street is more important than protecting innocent Wisconsinites.

In Evers’ Wisconsin, the DNR and other regulators would be re-weaponized to make sure that no Wisconsinite or business dares to move a rock or drain a puddle without suffering the expensive and intrusive scrutiny of a government bureaucrat.

In Evers’ Wisconsin, our right-to-work law would be repealed, forcing workers to belong to unions when they do not want to be. This violates their right to freely associate and automatically takes Wisconsin off of the list of states that some businesses will consider to locate.

Frankly, Evers’ Wisconsin sounds terrible. It is not a state that makes it easier, more enjoyable, or more affordable to live, work, or play. Thankfully, we do not live in Evers’ Wisconsin. In our republican and divided form of government, Governor Evers is still one man whose barmy ideas can be ignored by the adults in the room.

The Republican legislators are right to start fresh and craft their own budget. Evers has already shown that he is unwilling to compromise when he vetoed the middleclass tax cut that the legislature passed last month. As long as his sole governing principle remains appeasing Wisconsinites fringe liberals, it is probable that he will veto all or most of a budget proposed by the Republican Legislature.

The good news is that Wisconsin’s state government will not shut down if a new budget is not enacted. The old budget will continue to fund Wisconsin’s government perpetually. The Republicans have the strongest hand if they are willing to play it. They win by simply doing nothing.

If there was any hope that Governor Evers would seek middle ground from which to lead an ideologically diverse state, his budget proposal has shattered that hope.

Who wants to live in Evers’ Wisconsin?

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

The first salvo in Wisconsin’s biennial budget process has been delivered. Gov. Tony Evers has delivered his budget proposal to the Legislature and it is a hot mess of liberal vengeance against the previous eight years. If our state’s budget were not so important to so many people, one would be inclined to think that Governor Evers is trying to play a joke on the people of Wisconsin.

When Evers began to draft his budget proposal, there were two paths before him. One path was the one of compromise. Knowing that he defeated Scott Walker by fewer than 30,000 votes and that the same electorate had sent even stronger Republican majorities to the Legislature, Evers could have taken the path of reasonable compromise that had a high probability of moving legislation in favor of his goals. Indeed, the Republican leaders in the Legislature had been sending strong signals that they were willing to compromise on a number of issues including education funding, transportation spending, criminal justice reform, and several other issues that Evers highlighted during the campaign.

The second path before Evers was one of inflexible fealty to the radical liberal base that elected him. He could write a budget that amounted to a liberal manifesto that tossed vegan faux meat to every liberal interest group in his batty base. Evers chose the second path. His choice to advance a statement of political doctrine instead of a serious budget proposal has forced the legislative Republicans to toss Evers’ proposal in the recycling bin and start from scratch.

While Evers’ budget proposal fails to measure up assomething to be evaluated as serious legislation, it does offer Wisconsinites a view of the Wisconsin Evers and the Democrats would create if the voters were foolish enough to give them control of government.

[…]

Frankly, Evers’ Wisconsin sounds terrible. It is not a state that makes it easier, more enjoyable, or more affordable to live, work, or play. Thankfully, we do not live in Evers’ Wisconsin. In our republican and divided form of government, Governor Evers is still one man whose barmy ideas can be ignored by the adults in the room.

State liberals implement religious test for public office

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

There is a dangerous strain of anti-Christian bigotry emanating from the political left in our nation. It has been growing for years, but it has finally festered to the point that, for too many on the left, a person is unfit for public office if they simply and faithfully live their lives according to their Christian faith. That bigotry is rearing its vile head right here in Wisconsin with the left’s most recent attack on Judge Brian Hagedorn.

Judge Brian Hagedorn serves on the District 2 Court of Appeals and is running for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. He has an exemplary record of legal, judicial, and community service. He is also a lifelong Christian who has actively lived his faith.

One way in which he and his wife chose to serve their community was to help found a small school called The Augustine Academy. The school teaches kindergarten through eighth grade and is founded on a model that teaches the whole child — intellectually, spiritually, and morally — to “thoughtfully engage the world.” It is an education rooted in the Christen Gospels.

The matter that liberals have taken issue with is the fact that this Christian school actually expects the students and staff to live according to their Christian teachings and to not live in sin. One of those teachings is that engaging in homosexual acts is a sin.

This is not an uncommon teaching. Many Christian denominations teach that homosexuality and/or homosexual acts are a sin. Catholics, Lutherans, many Evangelicals, Baptists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Mormons, most Assemblies of God, etc. all adhere to this teaching. So too do Muslims, Orthodox Jews, and some other faiths. Most Christian faiths also teach that we are all sinners and that God loves us all despite that fact.

Whether one agrees with this teaching or not is not the issue. Our nation was founded on the principles of religious liberty and the freedom to associate, or not associate, with whomever one pleases. It has long been the modern American ethos that one can practice their faith and still serve in public office.

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution explicitly states that, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” This includes requiring that people who serve in public office do not have any religion at all.

The radical left is trying to destroy our religious liberty by implementing an anti-Christian religious test for public office. A candidate fails their religious test and is declared “unfit to serve” if the candidate is a practicing Christian. Their religious test is unconstitutional, un-American, immoral, and undermines representative government.

In the case of Judge Hagedorn, liberals have declared that because he helped found a Christian school that teaches something they disagree with, he is unfit to serve as a Supreme Court Judge. Take note that they are not saying that they disagree with his personal views or that the other candidate is better. They have said that he is “unfit.” Also take note that they are not pointing to a single decision as an Appeals Court judge, an assistant attorney general, or as a private lawyer that makes him “unfit.” According to them, the mere fact that Hagedorn is a practicing Christian is enough to make him “unfit” to serve the people of Wisconsin.

If we accept the liberals’ standard that practicing Christians are unfit to serve in public office, then we abandon the tenets of religious liberty upon which our republic was founded. Christians should not have to subserve their Christian values to the rigid, bigoted liberal secular orthodoxy in order to be considered “fit” to serve.

Judge Hagedorn is a smart, fair judge who sincerely adheres to his Christian faith. He is precisely the kind of judge Wisconsinites need on the Supreme Court.

State liberals implement religious test for public office

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

There is a dangerous strain of anti-Christian bigotry emanating from the political left in our nation. It has been growing for years, but it has finally festered to the point that, for too many on the left, a person is unfit for public office if they simply and faithfully live their lives according to their Christian faith. That bigotry is rearing its vile head right here in Wisconsin with the left’s most recent attack on Judge Brian Hagedorn.

[…]

Whether one agrees with this teaching or not is not the issue. Our nation was founded on the principles of religious liberty and the freedom to associate, or not associate, with whomever one pleases. It has long been the modern American ethos that one can practice their faith and still serve in public office.

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution explicitly states that, “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” This includes requiring that people who serve in public office do not have any religion at all.

The radical left is trying to destroy our religious liberty by implementing an anti-Christian religious test for public office. A candidate fails their religious test and is declared “unfit to serve” if the candidate is a practicing Christian. Their religious test is unconstitutional, un-American, immoral, and undermines representative government.

Break free from debt in the West Bend School District

Here is my full column that appeared first in the Washington County Daily News.

Nothing quite strangles a person, family, community, or nation like debt. Whether it is credit card debt, student loan debt, medical debts, the national debt (now a crushing $22 trillion), or school referendum debt, it not only drains resources in the present, but it robs the future of its choices. Debt is the master who brokers no dissension or leniency. Debt must be served before all others. Why then, does the West Bend School District want to saddle the taxpayers with another generational debt when they are so close to being debt-free?

One of the ways that credit card companies, car dealers, student loan companies, and other people who make money off of your debt sell their products is to focus on the payments instead of the actual debt. By taking a $50,000 car and stretching out the loan to 10 years, suddenly a person earning $30,000 per year can “afford” a really nice car. That works great until it is year eight, the car needs expensive repairs, and there are still two more years of payments due.

This is exactly the misleading game that the West Bend School District is using to sell a massive debt to the citizens. In April, the citizens will be asked to approve borrowing $47 million for a new Jackson Elementary school and revamping parts of the high school. It will cost approximately $74 million to repay the $47 million loan.

One of the selling points for the referendum is that it will “only” cost an additional 13 cents in the annual property tax mill rate to buy shiny new buildings. The mill rate is simply a term that gives the tax rate per $1,000 of property value. So if you own a home valued at $200,000, the 13 cent mill rate increase would cost you $26 per year. That seems cheap, right? “Less than a cup of coffee a month,” the advocates will tout. “Can’t you spare a cup a coffee a month for the children?” And so it goes. We have seen the arguments before. But let us look at the math.

If you add up all of the property in the West Bend School District, it has an aggregate value of $4,720,140,099. A 13 cent additional mill rate would generate $613,618.20 in additional tax revenue per year. How long does it take to pay off a $74 million debt at $613,618.20 per year? Even allowing for moderate annual increases in property values, it would take over 100 years to pay off the debt. How is the West Bend School District going to pay for the fancy new schools with only an additional 13 cents in the mill rate? What sort of financial sorcery is this?

The answer, of course, is that it will not cost just an additional 13 cents in the mill rate. It will cost much, much more. In the current tax levy, the taxpayers of the West Bend School District are paying a $1.01 mill rate to pay off the old referendums passed in 2009 ($27.4 million) and 2012 ($22.865 million). For that same $200,000 house, the homeowner is paying $202 per year just to pay for debt issued in the past decade.

The old debt is being steadily paid off and will be completely paid off by 2028 — nine years from now. Some of that debt begins to be paid off this year. In short, if the citizens vote against the referendum, they will see this portion of their property taxes decrease starting next year and will be eliminated in less than a decade. If the referendum passes, the district will simply redirect that money to the new debt.

The notion that we can pay $74 million in debt with a 13 cent mill rate is ludicrous and to claim so is intentionally deceptive. The truth is that it is not only a tax increase, but forgoing a sizable tax decrease. However one manipulates the mill rate, $74 million is still roughly $1,850 for every adult in the West Bend School District. That is a lot more than a cup of coffee.

Getting out of the debt cycle is a choice. It starts at home by paying off old debt while resisting taking on new debt. It starts in the West Bend School District by paying off the old referendums before passing new ones. Instead of stacking debt on top of debt, the citizens of the West Bend School District should break free of the debt trap and vote “no” on the referendum on April 2.

 

Break free from debt in the West Bend School District

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I take a look at the math behind the rhetoric of the upcoming referendum in the West Bend School District. Specifically, I take issue with this lie being promoted on posters around town:

Here’s a part:

One of the selling points for the referendum is that it will “only” cost an additional 13 cents in the annual property tax mill rate to buy shiny new buildings. The mill rate is simply a term that gives the tax rate per $1,000 of property value. So if you own a home valued at $200,000, the 13 cent mill rate increase would cost you $26 per year. That seems cheap, right? “Less than a cup of coffee a month,” the advocates will tout. “Can’t you spare a cup a coffee a month for the children?” And so it goes. We have seen the arguments before. But let us look at the math.

If you add up all of the property in the West Bend School District, it has an aggregate value of $4,720,140,099. A 13 cent additional mill rate would generate $613,618.20 in additional tax revenue per year. How long does it take to pay off a $74 million debt at $613,618.20 per year? Even allowing for moderate annual increases in property values, it would take over 100 years to pay off the debt. How is the West Bend School District going to pay for the fancy new schools with only an additional 13 cents in the mill rate? What sort of financial sorcery is this?

The answer, of course, is that it will not cost just an additional 13 cents in the mill rate. It will cost much, much more. In the current tax levy, the taxpayers of the West Bend School District are paying a $1.01 mill rate to pay off the old referendums passed in 2009 ($27.4 million) and 2012 ($22.865 million). For that same $200,000 house, the homeowner is paying $202 per year just to pay for debt issued in the past decade.

The old debt is being steadily paid off and will be completely paid off by 2028 — nine years from now. Some of that debt begins to be paid off this year. In short, if the citizens vote against the referendum, they will see this portion of their property taxes decrease starting next year and will be eliminated in less than a decade. If the referendum passes, the district will simply redirect that money to the new debt.

The notion that we can pay $74 million in debt with a 13 cent mill rate is ludicrous and to claim so is intentionally deceptive. The truth is that it is not only a tax increase, but forgoing a sizable tax decrease. However one manipulates the mill rate, $74 million is still roughly $1,850 for every adult in the West Bend School District. That is a lot more than a cup of coffee.

It really is distressing that the advocates for the referendum – who do so under the mantra of providing a better education for our kids – either don’t understand, or don’t care, about accurately explaining how debt works. This is why we end up with so many adults caught in a debt trap. They aren’t being taught any better.

State should refund tax surplus to the middle class

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

The state of Wisconsin has a problem. Thanks to the manufacturing renaissance, economic boom, and record employment fostered by the Republican policies of the previous eight years, tax revenue has been cascading into Madison at record levels. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, this will leave an estimated budget surplus of over $600 million in state government coffers at the end of the current fiscal year.

In a perfect world, the government would do one, or both, of two things with a budget surplus. They would either give the money back to the taxpayers who paid it or pay down some of the state’s outstanding debt. What they should never do is use surplus money as an excuse to spend more.

It is worth pausing for a moment to consider what surplus tax revenue really is. Every tax dollar that is taken from a citizen by the government is a dollar that cannot be used by that citizen for anything else. It cannot be used to pay for the citizen’s food, child care, health care, education, clothing, or housing. It also cannot be used to start a business, support a charity, or saved for retirement. Politicians should treat each tax dollar as sacred because every dollar represents an opportunity seized from a citizen with the coercive power of government.

The Republicans in the Legislature are on the right track with their handling of the surplus. The Republicans are working to pass a middle-class tax cut that would simply give the tax surplus back to the taxpayers by increasing the standard deduction for the income tax for families who earn up to $155,000 and individuals who earn up to $127,000.

It is not a perfect plan because it does not refund the surplus to all of the taxpayers who actually paid the tax. By excluding higher income Wisconsinites from the tax cut, the Republicans’ bill still panders to the vanity of politicians seeking reelection by redistributing tax dollars to a favored subset of the populace — in this case, the middle-class taxpayers. But the Republican tax cut is still elegant in its simplicity and clarity of purpose. It is also far superior to the governor’s plan.

Gov. Tony Evers opposes the Republicans’ plan and has proposed a tax increase in its stead. While the state’s coffers are overflowing with the hard-earned money of Wisconsin’s taxpayers, Governor Evers is proposing a redistributionist scheme whereby he would increase taxes to pay for more welfare and a more restricted income tax cut.

In Evers’ plan, he would jack up taxes on Wisconsin’s manufacturers by capping the manufacturers’ tax credit. Then he would use that money to expand Wisconsin’s Earned Income Tax Credit, which redistributes tax dollars to many people who did not pay income taxes, and provide a modest graduated income tax cut to families who earn less than $150,000 or individuals who earn less than $100,000.

Evers’ plan still leaves about $375 million unfunded, which means it would have to come out of the state budget. Given that Evers has announced plans to support spending increases in every major area of state government, one would presume that he would have to find another tax to increase to pay for the $375 million.

Noticeably, Governor Evers does not factor the surplus into his plan at all. His plan is a straight redistributionist scheme that raises taxes on one group of Wisconsinites to give it to another group of Wisconsinites. Presumably, Evers wants to just spend the surplus on some other spending boondoggle. In other words, Evers has made it clear that he wants to spend every extra dollar sent to Madison and then hike taxes even further to spend more. Fortunately, Wisconsin’s voters elected a Republican Legislature to check Evers’ tax and- spending ways.

The Republicans in the Legislature should pass their middle-class tax cut and surplus refund and put it on Evers’ desk to sign forthwith. Then the taxpayers will see whether our new governor prioritizes his tax and spending increases over refunding the tax surplus to middle class Wisconsinites.

State should refund tax surplus to the middle class

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

The state of Wisconsin has a problem. Thanks to the manufacturing renaissance, economic boom, and record employment fostered by the Republican policies of the previous eight years, tax revenue has been cascading into Madison at record levels. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, this will leave an estimated budget surplus of over $600 million in state government coffers at the end of the current fiscal year.

In a perfect world, the government would do one, or both, of two things with a budget surplus. They would either give the money back to the taxpayers who paid it or pay down some of the state’s outstanding debt. What they should never do is use surplus money as an excuse to spend more.

It is worth pausing for a moment to consider what surplus tax revenue really is. Every tax dollar that is taken from a citizen by the government is a dollar that cannot be used by that citizen for anything else. It cannot be used to pay for the citizen’s food, child care, health care, education, clothing, or housing. It also cannot be used to start a business, support a charity, or saved for retirement. Politicians should treat each tax dollar as sacred because every dollar represents an opportunity seized from a citizen with the coercive power of government.

The Republicans in the Legislature are on the right track with their handling of the surplus. The Republicans are working to pass a middle-class tax cut that would simply give the tax surplus back to the taxpayers by increasing the standard deduction for the income tax for families who earn up to $155,000 and individuals who earn up to $127,000.

Elect Hagedorn to protect Wisconsin’s conservative revolution

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

Wisconsin’s era of conservative reform came to an end with the election of Gov. Tony Evers. With a liberal governor, the conservative majorities in the Legislature are relegated to a rearguard action to defend the magnificent gains made in the last eight years. But the Legislature’s rampart might be flanked if Wisconsin’s liberals are able to seize control of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court. They could do that next year unless Judge Brian Hagedorn is elected to the court this April.

When Scott Walker was elected in 2010, Wisconsin’s liberals made it clear that they could not abide the will of the people and allow conservatives to govern. A familiar pattern emerged: Republicans legally pass conservative legislation into law; liberals sue; Dane County judge invalidates conservative law; after appeals, the Wisconsin Supreme Court overturns the Dane County judge and allows the law to take hold. The Wisconsin Supreme Court has consistently thwarted the liberals’ attempt to overturn conservative laws through the courts, so the liberals are determined to get the court back under their control.

Right now, four of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court Justices are judicial conservatives. That means that they think the role of the court is to strictly interpret the law as written and respect the rights and responsibilities of the other two branches of government to enact the will of the people through legislation. By contrast, three of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court justices are judicial liberals, meaning that they take a more expansive view of the role of the court to enact their own wills to right wrongs, as they define them, with little regard for judicial restraint.

One of those three judicial liberals, Justice Shirley Abrahamson, is retiring and the election this April is to replace her. At first glance, this may appear to be a relatively inconsequential election. The balance of the court is not on the line. If the people of Wisconsin elect a judicial liberal, the balance of the court will remain the same. If the voters elect a judicial conservative, then the judicial conservatives strengthen their majority to a 5-2 split. Without much on the line, why worry, right?

The key is to look to April of 2020. In that election, incumbent Justice Dan Kelly will likely run for reelection. Kelly is one of the judicial conservatives on the court. The challenge for Kelly is that the presidential primary will be on the same ballot. President Donald Trump is unlikely to face a serious primary challenger, so Republican turnout will be light. Meanwhile, the Democratic primary for president portends to be hotly contested, so Democratic turnout will likely be massive. That does not bode well for a conservative judicial candidate on the ballot. Kelly faces a steep uphill climb that has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with the rest of the ballot.

If Wisconsin’s voters replace Abrahamson with another judicial liberal and retain a 4-3 judicial conservative majority, it is exceedingly likely that the election of April 2020 will flip the court to a judicial liberal majority. If that happens, liberals will sue to overturn every conservative law passed in the previous decade and have the Supreme Court on their side. They cannot turn back the clock through the representative democratic process, so they will turn to the courts instead. Act 10, concealed carry, school choice, the repeal of prevailing wage, the Wisconsin REINS Act, voter ID, right to work, castle doctrine — all of it is at risk if judicial liberals gain control of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court.

That is why Wisconsin must elect a judicial conservative to the Supreme Court this April. That judicial conservative is Appeals Court Judge Brian Hagedorn.

Hagedorn has served in a number of legal capacities since graduating from the Northwestern University School of Law. After three years in private practice, he worked as a law clerk for Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Michael Gableman before going to work as an assistant attorney general. He worked as Gov. Scott Walker’s chief legal counsel from 2011 to 2015 during the time when many of Wisconsin’s most significant reforms in generations were passed into law. Since 2015, Hagedorn has been serving as a judge on Wisconsin’s Court of Appeals.

Hagedorn’s judicial philosophy is one of restraint and humble respect for the individual rights and the will of the people. As he says, “justices wear neutral robes, not capes.” That is exactly the kind of attitude Wisconsin needs on the court to protect our liberties and uphold constitutional laws that were dutifully passed by the representatives of the people.

Elect Hagedorn to protect Wisconsin’s conservative revolution

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Log on or pick up a copy for the whole thing. Here’s a sample:

The key is to look to April of 2020. In that election, incumbent Justice Dan Kelly will likely run for reelection. Kelly is one of the judicial conservatives on the court.The challenge for Kelly is that the presidential primary will be on the same ballot. President Donald Trump is unlikely to face a serious primary challenger, so Republican turnout will be light. Meanwhile, the Democratic primary for president portends to be hotly contested, so Democratic turnout will likely be massive. That does not bode well for a conservative judicial candidate on the ballot. Kelly faces a steep uphill climb that has nothing to do with him, and everything to do with the rest of the ballot.

If Wisconsin’s voters replace Abrahamson with another judicial liberal and retain a 4-3 judicial conservative majority, it is exceedingly likely that the election of April 2020 will flip the court to a judicial liberal majority. If that happens, liberals will sue to overturn every conservative law passed in the previous decade and have the Supreme Court on their side. They cannot turn back the clock through the representative democratic process, so they will turn to the courts instead. Act 10, concealed carry, school choice, the repeal of prevailing wage, the Wisconsin REINS Act, voter ID, right to work, castle doctrine — all of it is at risk if judicial liberals gain control of Wisconsin’s Supreme Court.

That is why Wisconsin must elect a judicial conservative to the Supreme Court this April. That judicial conservative is Appeals Court Judge Brian Hagedorn.

Gov. Tony Evers’ SOS

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday. Stay warm out there!

Gov. Tony Evers took to the Assembly chamber last week to give his first State of the State speech. Evers had a difficult challenge ahead of him. Thanks to his predecessor and the legislative majorities who were just re-elected, the state is in historically good shape, but Evers had to redefine success in order to justify his radical agenda. As we enter an era of divided government in Wisconsin, Evers’ speech was infused with rigid liberal dogma delivered in a confrontational tone. Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of the speech, however, is how he blundered his way into a completely avoidable controversy.

One of Evers’ campaign promises was that he would withdraw Wisconsin from an ongoing lawsuit regarding Obamacare. That suit is suing to invalidate Obamacare on the grounds that the individual mandate is unconstitutional (it is) and has made good progress in the lower courts. Since several states are involved in the suit, Wisconsin’s withdrawal will not have a measurable effect on the outcome of the case, but withdrawing would be a symbolic gesture to Evers’ radical liberal base.

Knowing that Evers intended to fulfill this promise, the Legislature passed a law in December that requires the governor to gain legislative approval before withdrawing the state from ongoing legal actions. It was a way for the Legislature to add a check to what was a unilateral power of the executive branch.

Governor Evers knew all of this when he declared in his State of the State speech, with great fanfare from the liberals in the room, that “I’m announcing tonight that I have fulfilled a promise I made to the people of Wisconsin by directing Attorney General Kaul to withdraw from a lawsuit … .”

While it made for a great applause line for liberals, Evers was declaring that he had instructed Kaul to withdraw from the Obamacare lawsuit. It is important to note that Evers used the past tense, meaning that he had already issued the instruction to the attorney general. Evers announced this in a statewide, televised speech even though he knew that it was no longer legal for him to unilaterally withdraw from the lawsuit.

Quickly after the speech, Republicans pointed out the error in Evers’ declaration and the attorneys from

the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau reiterated the meaning of the clear language of the law that Evers could not order the attorney general to withdraw from the Obamacare lawsuit.

Within days of Evers’ speech, he had to walk back the order to comply with the law and Attorney General Kaul has dutifully requested that the Legislature approve withdrawing from the lawsuit. The odds are that such approval will not be forthcoming.

Evers’ reaction is quite telling. In a statement to the Wisconsin State Journal, Evers claimed that he understood that the action would require legislative approval and said, “So in my worldview — and I know that’s not everyone’s worldview — there’s nothing inconsistent with what I said and what’s actually going to happen.”

Evers is trying to create an alternate reality where he was in the right. The problem with that is he did not say it in an off-the-cuff remark. He made a formal declaration in his State of the State address. Presumably, such a formal speech had been vetted, reworked, and fact-checked by his staff and himself multiple times before it was delivered. He is an educator by profession and had ample time to write the statement in a way that people could understand his meaning without having to divine Evers’ worldview.

There can only be two rational explanations for Evers’ blunder, and refusal to own up to it. Either Evers is simply a liberal activist who will run roughshod over the law in pursuit of his agenda unless he is checked, or he lacks the competence necessary to write a coherent speech — much less run a state.

Either way, for those of us who were hoping, despite our political differences, for honesty and competence in the Evers governorship, this early bungle does not bode well for the next four years.

Gov. Tony Evers’ SOS

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Check it out online or pick up a copy. It’s about Evers’ abortive and illegal effort to withdraw the state from the Obamacare lawsuit. Here’s a part:

Evers is trying to create an alternate reality where he was in the right. The problem with that is he did not say it in an off-the-cuff remark. He made a formal declaration in his State of the State address. Presumably, such a formal speech had been vetted, reworked, and fact-checked by his staff and himself multiple times before it was delivered. He is an educator by profession and had ample time to write the statement in a way that people could understand his meaning without having to divine Evers’ worldview.

There can only be two rational explanations for Evers’ blunder, and refusal to own up to it. Either Evers is simply a liberal activist who will run roughshod over the law in pursuit of his agenda unless he is checked, or he lacks the competence necessary to write a coherent speech — much less run a state.

Either way, for those of us who were hoping, despite our political differences, for honesty and competence in the Evers governorship, this early bungle does not bode well for the next four years.

 

Another case of misplaced priorities

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

Faced with a mediocre state report card, a systemic decline in enrollment, and pressure from better-performing neighboring schools, the West Bend School Board has decided that they will ask the voters to hike property taxes and spend $74 million on … buildings. One could hardly have conjured a more flagrant example of misplaced priorities.

On the April ballot, the voters of the West Bend School District will be asked to borrow $47 million (with an estimated payback of $74 million) to build a new Jackson Elementary School building and make a hodgepodge of renovations to the high school building. There is no legal requirement that the district spend the borrowed money on the stated purpose once the borrowing is approved. They could spend the money on anything they want, which is why many school districts have ladled fat onto their referendums so that they could pay for myriad pet projects. But for the sake of argument, let us take the West Bend referendum at face value and assume that they will only use it for its stated purpose.

Jackson Elementary is advertised as the oldest school building in the district, but that is a stretch of the truth. One small part of the building is from the original construction. Most of the building was added on over the decades. The school educated as many as 528 kids in the 2008-09 school year, but a combination of reconfiguring the middle schools and the decline in aggregate enrollment eroded the student enrollment to 370 kids in the 2017-19 school year. Enrollment projections show that enrollment will continue to decline 10 percent to 20 percent over the next decade. In short, much of the space in Jackson Elementary is underutilized and unneeded.

The Jackson Elementary building is 59,176 square feet, or about 160 square feet per child. The draft design for a new building is a whopping 85,000 square feet, or about 230 square feet child at the current enrollment. The industry standard for elementary kids, according to the information provided by the school district, is 134 square feet per child. The school is already much bigger than needed and the plan is to build an even bigger one.

It is worth noting that despite the lamentations about Jackson Elementary being a dump of a school, it boasts the second-highest performance of any elementary school in the district. Clearly, what happens inside the building is more important than the building itself. Building a massive new fancy building is more about soothing the vanity of School Board members and staff than it is about educating kids.

In the high school building, there is a list of wants that the school board wants to borrow money to pay for and a few routine maintenance items that have been neglected for years. They are all things that were predictable expenses that should have been budgeted and completed as a matter of routine, but they were willfully ignored. Now the School Board wants to put the taxpayers tens of millions of dollars into debt to make up for years of poor fiscal management.

The School Board has failed to exercise the power given to it by Act 10 to properly manage its budget to improve education. They abandoned the fledgling merit pay system for teachers implemented by the previous superintendent in favor of a blanket $1 million pay increase for teachers. Merit pay may or may not save money, but it will improve education by recruiting and retaining better teachers. Much like the district’s curriculum, the district’s compensation plan for teachers is geared toward punishing excellence, excusing failure, and rewarding mediocrity. The district gets exactly what it is paying for.

Six years ago, an innovative School Board started a charter school in the district to offer diversity in educational experiences for kids. Over the past couple of years, the district has orphaned that effort. The current School Board is well down the path of killing it or, if they can’t, moving it into an existing building. Fortunately, due to declining enrollment, several of the district’s buildings have ample space.

The School Board still pays an exorbitant amount for staff benefits, has too many administrators compared to other districts, and wastes money on duplicative high school staffs. Like the compulsive gambler, the School Board is perpetually claiming poverty and trying to borrow money when the root of the district’s alleged financial distress is the unavoidable consequence of their own decisions.

While School Board members are obsessing over putting their names on a plaque in the new building, even more time and money is being wasted on things that will not improve education for a single kid. One can always tell what is most important to people by where they spend their time and money. The parents in the West Bend School District are waiting for educational excellence to be a priority for the School Board.

Another case of misplaced priorities

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I start digging into all of the reasons why voters should vote against the referendum that the misguided West Bend School Board put on the April ballot. Here’s a piece:

Faced with a mediocre state report card, a systemic decline in enrollment, and pressure from betterperforming neighboring schools, the West Bend School Board has decided that they will ask the voters to hike property taxes and spend $74 million on … buildings. One could hardly have conjured a more flagrant example of misplaced priorities.

[…]

While School Board members are obsessing over putting their names on a plaque in the new building, even more time and money is being wasted on things that will not improve education for a single kid. One can always tell what is most important to people by where they spend their time and money. The parents in the West Bend School District are waiting for educational excellence to be a priority for the School Board.

 

Transportation spending is a matter of priorities

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

During the deliberation about Wisconsin’s current budget, the most contentious issue was about whether or not we should increase spending on the state’s transportation infrastructure. One reason that the debate was so heated is because with Wisconsin’s segregated transportation fund, increasing spending means an unpopular increase in taxes. As we begin debating Wisconsin’s next budget, transportation spending is again a hot issue, but the lines of battle need to move.

The state of Wisconsin first segregated the transportation fund from the general fund in 1945, some 22 years before the Department of Transportation was created. Wisconsin has several taxes and fees that shovel money into the transportation fund including gas taxes, registration fees, fees on rental vehicles, airline property taxes, railroad property taxes, outdoor advertising revenue, etc. The two primary transportation funding sources are the gas tax and vehicle registration fees.

All of these funding sources have one thing in common. They are meant to serve as a proxy for usage. The underlying philosophy of transportation funding in Wisconsin is that people who use Wisconsin’s transportation infrastructure more should pay more for it. The difficulty is that as the technology of transportation has advanced and diversified, usage proxies like fuel consumption have become less valid.

Setting aside for the moment the debate over whether or not Wisconsin needs to spend more on transportation (we do not), in the current paradigm, if Wisconsin wants to spend more, then we need to raise existing taxes or find new ones. Neither of those options has been popular.

Several states have implemented toll roads to generate more revenue, but the idea has been almost universally rejected in Wisconsin. The idea of a tax on actual mileage has been floated in Wisconsin and elsewhere, but the thought of the government tracking our vehicles is distasteful.

The friction between the opposition to increased taxes grinding against the push for more transportation spending is what creates the heat for the political debate. The friction is misplaced. The heart of the debate is centered on the supposition that only the people who directly use Wisconsin’s transportation infrastructure should be the ones to pay for it. That is why the transportation fund is segregated and that is why all of the supporting taxes and fees are targeted at people who use the transportation system. The supposition is flawed.

Everyone in Wisconsin benefits from Wisconsin’s transportation infrastructure irrespective of how much they actually use it themselves. Every Wisconsinites benefits either directly or indirectly from the commerce that relies on our transportation infrastructure, the goods and services delivered to our homes and retailers, the accessibility of emergency services, and so much more. The person who does not own a car and has everything delivered to their home benefits just as much as the avid driver who is on the road several times a day.

If everyone benefits from our transportation infrastructure, why are we getting twisted around the axle of who pays for it? Shouldn’t we all pay for it? Wisconsinites have long since agreed that we all benefit from, and all should pay for, education, law enforcement, environmental protections, etc. It is time for transportation to join the club.

While some taxes and fees are designated for transportation needs and lawmakers are constitutionally prohibited from spending that revenue on other needs, the spending for transportation can come from any source. Over the years, it has been quite common for the budget to transfer tax revenue from the general fund to the transportation fund to supplement the spending. In the current budget, over $82 million was spent on transportation from the general fund.

If lawmakers want to spend more on transportation in the next budget, there is no need to raise taxes, implement toll roads, or create new taxes. All they have to do is designate more money from the general fund. The taxes and fees that feed the transportation fund create a spending floor, but lawmakers can spend as much as they want above and beyond that by using the general fund.

The rub is that the general fund, fueled by income, sales, and other taxes, is what is used to fund all of the other state’s priorities like education, environmental protection, law enforcement, and so much more. If lawmakers want to spend more on transportation from the general fund, they will need to explain why transportation needs the money more than all of the other budget needs. In other words, lawmakers will need to prioritize transportation spending along with all of the other needs of the state.

This is part of the normal budgeting process. Budgets are statements of priorities. There is always an infinite list of spending needs and wants and a limited amount of money to go around. Lawmakers are elected and paid to set those priorities and make the hard choices on behalf of their constituents.

The segregation of transportation funding all of these years has let lawmakers off the hook from the responsibility of prioritizing transportation spending. By having designated taxes for transportation, lawmakers could just spend every dollar generated by those taxes without having to explain why putting a dollar into concrete is more important than keeping a felon locked up or paying a teacher. The debate should not be about which transportation taxes need to be increased to support more spending. The debate should be about why spending more money on transportation is more important than spending that money on something else.

Wisconsin does not need to spend more on transportation infrastructure, but if lawmakers think it does, they do not need to raise taxes. They can easily use the general fund to increase spending and explain to the taxpayers why it is a priority. That is their job.

Transportation spending is a matter of priorities

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. I point out that the lines of battle over transportation funding/spending are in the wrong place. We don’t have to raise taxes to spend more on transportation. If people think we need to spend more (I don’t), then they just need to prioritize it over other needs like education, prisons, etc. It about priorities and one of the biggest priorities should be to NOT raise taxes. Here’s a part:

If lawmakers want to spend more on transportation in the next budget, there is no need to raise taxes, implement toll roads, or create new taxes. All they have to do is designate more money from the general fund. The taxes and fees that feed the transportation fund create a spending floor, but lawmakers can spend as much as they want above and beyond that by using the general fund.

The rub is that the general fund, fueled by income, sales, and other taxes, is what is used to fund all of the other state’s priorities like education, environmentalprotection, law enforcement, and so much more. If lawmakers want to spend more on transportation from the general fund, they will need to explain why transportation needs the money more than all of the other budget needs. In other words, lawmakers will need to prioritize transportation spending along with all of the other needs of the state.

This is part of the normal budgeting process. Budgets are statements of priorities. There is always an infinite list of spending needs and wants and a limited amount of money to go around. Lawmakers are elected and paid to set those priorities and make the hard choices on behalf of their constituents.

The segregation of transportation funding all of these years has let lawmakers off the hook from the responsibility of prioritizing transportation spending. By having designated taxes for transportation, lawmakers could just spend every dollar generated by those taxes without having to explain why putting a dollar into concrete is more important than keeping a felon locked up or paying a teacher. The debate should not be about which transportation taxes need to be increased to support more spending. The debate should be about why spending more money on transportation is more important than spending that money on something else.

 

 

Hazy sunshine in local government

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

Wisconsin long ago recognized that transparency in government is critical for good government. As former Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel says in the most recent edition of the Wisconsin Public Records Law Compliance Guide, “citizens cannot hold their elected officials accountable in a representative government unless government is performed in the open.” In recognition of that imperative, Wisconsin has one of the best open records laws in the nation.

Wisconsin’s public records statutes are comprehensive and firm. In general, they require that, with rare and specific exceptions, government officials must provide access to any existing government records upon request. Officials do not have to create new records, but they do have to provide them if they exist. The law is great, but as with any law, its utility must be measured by its execution and enforcement.

While looking into different issues, I have had cause to file open records requests with three local governments in recent months. The inconsistent responses reveal how challenging it still is for a Wisconsinite to hold his government accountable when government officials choose to be difficult.

While slightly different, all three of my open records requests asked for “any electronic communication … including emails, official email accounts or personal accounts, SMS, SnapChats, Facebook messages, Google Hangout Chats, iMessages, or any other format in which official business was discussed” to or from specific elected and unelected government officials for a range of dates.

I made my request of the city of West Bend on Dec. 19. I received an immediate acknowledgement of the request. After a couple of days of emails and a phone call clarifying my request, the city allowed me to download a PDF with 1,796 pages of emails to and from every Common Council member and other city officials. With some delay due to the Christmas holidays, I received the file on Dec. 28.

My request to Washington County was made on October 5. Again, I received an immediate response acknowledging my request. It went dark for a little while, but after I sent a reminder on Oct. 12, I was able to speak with the county attorney to clarify my request. He indicated that due to some of the sensitive nature of some of the documents, he would have to redact some information and advised me on the appeals process. Shortly after that conversation, I received an email with the requested emails with a few appropriate redactions on Oct. 15.

In both cases, the city and the county responded quickly, conscientiously, comprehensively, and without expense. The West Bend School District was a different story.

I made my request of the West Bend School District on Sept. 25. I received an immediate response acknowledging the request. On Oct. 3, I received a reply from the superintendent indicating that fulfilling my request would cost between $130 and $280 because the district’s policy is to print all of the emails at 10 cents per page instead of providing them in a digital format. He also advised me to submit my request directly to School Board members for their documents, which I did.

I exchanged a few more emails with the superintendent referencing recent Appeals Court rulings that digital records should be provided in their digital format and the wastefulness of printing thousands of emails when they could be easily transmitted digitally (as the city and county did). My arguments fell on deaf ears with the superintendent advising me the final judgement on Nov. 28 that my request would now cost between $150 and $300.

As for the request made directly to the School Board members, only three of them deigned to even respond to my request and one of them lied about using anything other than official email for district business. As a hint to public officials, there are at least two people involved in any communication. More on that in a later column, perhaps.

What have we learned about the ability for a Wisconsin citizen to peer into the workings of our government?

First, if a government wants to be obstinate, there is not much that a citizen can do about it. While the city of West Bend and Washington County were appropriately responsive and cooperative, the West Bend School District and board members threw up multiple roadblocks including ignoring requests and imposing an unnecessary and exorbitantfees. As a private citizen, all one can do is sue the government at great personal expense or file a complaint with the district attorney or attorney general. Historically, neither agency has ever been aggressive in enforcing open records laws. Government looks out for government.

Second, all three governments are doing a poor job of retaining and making available public records to occur outside of government-provided technology. In our modern age, it is not uncommon for public officials to communicate with citizens, vendors, lobbyists, employees, and others through multiple digital channels including SMS, social media, and various chat technologies. In fact, this is becoming commonplace with the ubiquitousness of personal devices.

If those public officials are using those technologies, they are creating a public record that should be open to public scrutiny for a reasonable amount of time. Otherwise, it is far too easy for our government officials to conduct themselves as angels in their official email while hiding their corruption in their personal devices. Every government needs to take the proactive step to implement policies regarding the preservation and retention of public records irrespective of format.

Wisconsin has great laws regarding open records, but they are only as good as government officials are willing to obey and enforce them. We still have work to do to ensure that our government is open and accountable.

Hazy sunshine in local government

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I share my uneven experiences with Open Records Requests with three local governments. Here’s a part:

What have we learned about the ability for a Wisconsin citizen to peer into the workings of our government?

First, if a government wants to be obstinate, there is not much that a citizen can do about it. While the city of West Bend and Washington County were appropriately responsive and cooperative, the West Bend School District and board members threw up multiple roadblocks including ignoring requests and imposing an unnecessary and exorbitant fees. As a private citizen, all one can do is sue the government at great personal expense or file a complaint with the district attorney or attorney general. Historically, neither agency has ever been aggressive in enforcing open records laws. Government looks out for government.

Second, all three governments are doing a poor job of retaining and making available public records to occur outside of government-provided technology. In our modern age, it is not uncommon for public officials to communicate with citizens, vendors, lobbyists, employees, and others through multiple digital channels including SMS, social media, and various chat technologies. In fact, this is becoming commonplace with the ubiquitousness of personal devices.

If those public officials are using those technologies, they are creating a public record that should be open to public scrutiny for a reasonable amount of time. Otherwise, it is far too easy for our government officials to conduct themselves as angels in their official email while hiding their corruption in their personal devices. Every government needs to take the proactive step to implement policies regarding the preservation and retention of public records irrespective of format.

Wisconsin has great laws regarding open records, but they are only as good as government officials are willing to obey and enforce them. We still have work to do to ensure that our government is open and accountable.

 

Conservative leadership works

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

Most often, good government is boring government. For the better part of a decade, the goings on at the city of West Bend have been boring. The city has paid off debt, kept spending and taxes down, increased the fund balance, improved the city’s bond rating, controlled costs, etc. — all while maintaining and improving essential services and tackling a couple of big projects. Boring? Yes. But it is precisely the kind of boring that is the hallmark of good government.

At the dawn of the current decade, West Bend was in trouble. The city had been transitioning from a vibrant manufacturing and commercial center to more of a mixed economy. The presence of county government, MPTC, UWWC, and other government entities helped insulate some city residents from the worst of the Great Recession, but the private sector was hit hard. Unemployment peaked at 14.1 percent and wages were down.

City government was struggling to make ends meet. In 2010, the debt service of almost $6 million per year to make payments on $80 million in debt consumed over 23 percent of the city’s operations budget. The city’s unassigned fund balance was floating at about 11 percent — well below the standard of 17 percent that the Government Finance Officers Association (GFAO) considers the benchmark for fiscal stability. City leaders at the time were using debt as a crutch to maintain bloated spending without raising taxes in a community that has always been resistant to tax increases.

West Bend needed a change. West Bend needed leadership.

Following the Great Recession, many local residents, many of whom were energized by the Tea Party movement sweeping the nation, began to look to their own communities. In West Bend, strong conservatives began running for local office with an eye to infusing city government with conservative leadership. Conservatives like Tony Turner (2008), Ed Duquaine (2010), Steve Hutchins (2011), Randy Koehler (2011), Kraig Sadownikow (2011) and others challenged more liberal incumbents and won with a strong conservative agenda.

As 2019 dawns, the residents of West Bend can see the results of several years of conservative leadership. For several years, the city has been steadily paying off debt without adding to it. This has brought the $80 million debt down to $53 million — a 34 percent reduction in total debt. The payments on that debt have dropped from $5.94 million in 2010 to a budgeted $3.74 million in 2019. That is a drop from 23 percent of the city’s operations budget to just under 15 percent and has freed up $2.2 million in budget that can now be spent on city services instead of debt.

Meanwhile, the Unassigned Fund Balance, which used to sit at a paltry 11 percent, is now a healthy 25 percent. The increase in this fund balance above the recommended floor of 17 percent is one of the driving factors behind the city’s improving bond rating.

Through all of this, the city has kept spending flat. In 2019, the city of West Bend’s Operations Budget will be $25.25 million. That is $0.1 million decrease from the 2010 budget. Accounting for inflation, the city has been reducing spending while reducing debt and taxes. Meanwhile, city services are as good as ever, downtown is thriving, and the city’s private sector economy is blossoming.

None of this happened by magic. Mayor Sadownikow and the conservatives on the Common Council have accomplished this by making smart, conservative decisions over and over again while not succumbing to chattering spenders constantly in their ears.

For example, in 2012 there was a legitimate need to renovate and expand the city hall and city police department, which are in the same building. Ideas ranged from building a new facility for the police department to moving city hall into downtown to renovating the existing building. The price tag ranged into the tens of millions. In the end, city leaders took the prudent step of doing just what they needed to renovate the existing building at a cost of $8.6 million. Some of the aldermen even picked up some hammers to volunteer their labor for part of the demolition to control costs. It wasn’t a flashy new building, but it served the needs of the community.

Another seemingly small decision with big dividends was getting employee benefits under control with the power of Act 10 and negotiating with the fire and police unions. For example, for years, part of the West Bend contract with our firefighters allowed them to convert sick leave to health insurance payments when they retired as early as age 52. While it made sense when health insurance was cheap decades ago, it had ballooned into a $17 million unfunded liability for city taxpayers.

Through negotiations and cooperation with the firefighters union, the city began pulling back that obligation in 2013 and are eliminating it in 2019. City taxpayers will honor the obligation for older employees, but replace it with a funded Post Employment Health Plan for new employees. This will completely eliminate the city’s unfunded liability bomb with the next generation of city firefighters while still providing for their post retirement needs.

Good local government is not about fancy new buildings, flamboyant politicians, or flashy initiatives. It is about good decisions, rooted in common sense and humble restraint, consistently made for the long term benefit of the community. The city of West Bend is doing it right.