Tag Archives: Column

Keep Wisconsin moving forward

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here’s the thrust:

Walker, Vukmir and Schimel have all helped make Wisconsin a great place to live and work. They deserve our votes. More importantly, we deserve to have them continue to work on our behalf.

Conflict in Washington County

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

Before he became the father of Texas, Stephen Fuller Austin served for a time in the territorial legislature of Missouri. He was a savvy, energetic legislator whose personal interests often aligned with the interests of his home district of Washington County.

For example, Austin aggressively pushed for a tariff to protect lead mining, the primary business in his district and his family’s business. He also advocated fiercely to get the government to grant a more favorable charter to the Bank of Missouri, of which his father was a founding director. Both efforts were intended for the benefit of his district and Missouri with the convenient side effect of directly benefitting Austin and his family.

The blurring of public and personal interests by elected officials is as old as representative government itself. This blur came to the fore in Wisconsin’s Washington County and has resulted in county leadership essentially forcing a supervisor to resign.

When the Washington County Board supervisor for District 11 moved away a few months ago, the County Board appointed a replacement, William Blanchard, to serve out the rest of the term. On Oct. 3, Blanchard submitted his resignation “under duress” due to an insurmountable conflict of interest.

At issue is the fact that Blanchard’s daughter receives significant care from various county departments. Upon investigation, county officials determined that because so many departments were involved, the only way to avoid the potential conflict of interest was for the county to outsource his daughter’s care to another county, at significant expense, or for Blanchard to resign.

The Washington County Ethics Board issued an opinion that although there was no “wrongdoing or ethical violation … there is a conflict of interest,” and “Blanchard should resign.” To that end, County Board Chairman Don Kriefall, County Administrator Josh Schoemann and County Attorney Brad Stern told Blanchard that he needed to resign.

This raises all kinds of questions. What constitutes a conflict of interest? According to the county’s code of ethics, a conflict of interest results from an official’s “action or failure to act in the discharge of his or her official duties which could reasonably be expected to produce or assist in producing a substantial economic or personal benefit.”

In this case, the potential conflict of interest exists if, and only if, Blanchard uses his office or votes on issues related to services that his daughter receives. The simple solution, which Blanchard offered to do, is for him to recuse himself from such votes. This is common and routine for elected officials. The Washington County Board, like every elected board, is riddled with conflicts. Supervisors and their families work for the county, use county services, serve on municipal governments, work in businesses that do work with the county, etc. It is impossible to have an elected county government full of citizens who do not actually live in the county.

For Blanchard, county officials insisted that they would need to outsource services for his daughter to avoid a potential conflict. Why? Again, the simple and cheap solution is for Blanchard to recuse himself if there is a conflict of interest. Outsourcing services to another county just to avoid a potential conflict of interest with one supervisor is an expensive overreaction. It is not the county’s duty to avoid the conflict. It is the supervisor’s. If the supervisor commits an ethical offense related to a conflict of interest, then the County Board can take action.

What is concerning about this is that county officials constructed an unreasonable standard to force an elected official out of office. Blanchard was faced with either resigning or being responsible for forcing the taxpayers to pay thousands of dollars of additional costs to care for his daughter. He was forced into this decision even though the simple act of recusing himself from relevant votes would have adequately sufficed to avoid a potential breach of ethics.

The downside of Blanchard’s potential conflict of interest is that he may have to skip a lot of votes. This would bring into question whether or not he is adequately representing the citizens of his district. But that decision is not for the county administrator, county attorney or County Board chairman to decide. That decision is up to the voters of District 11.

In a representative government, elected officials only have one boss — the people. Barring criminal corruption in office, which would justify removal from office, it is up to the people to decide who they want to represent them. If Blanchard recuses himself from a lot of votes, it is up to the people to decide whether that is good enough or not. And frankly, given that Washington County has a ridiculously large board with 26 supervisors, and it is exceedingly rare for any vote to come down to a single supervisor’s vote, it is unlikely that Blanchard’s vote would ever result in a “substantial economic or personal benefit.”

Washington County’s leadership undermined the tenets of representative government when they forced Blanchard to resign. It wasn’t their call. It should have been left for the voters to decide.

Conflict in Washington County

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

Before he became the father of Texas, Stephen Fuller Austin served for a time in the territorial legislature of Missouri. He was a savvy, energetic legislator whose personal interests often aligned with the interests of his home district of Washington County.

For example, Austin aggressively pushed for a tariff to protect lead mining, the primary business in his district and his family’s business. He also advocated fiercely to get the government to grant a more favorable charter to the Bank of Missouri, of which his father was a founding director. Both efforts were intended for the benefit of his district and Missouri with the convenient side effect of directly benefiting Austin and his family.

The blurring of public and personal interests by elected officials is as old as representative government itself. This blur came to the fore in Wisconsin’s Washington County and has resulted in county leadership essentially forcing a supervisor to resign.

Close the dark store loophole

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

If you are voting in West Bend, be sure to turn over your ballot. Like many municipalities in Wisconsin, West Bend’s voters are being asked to weigh in on whether or not the state Legislature should close the so-called “dark store loophole” in the property tax laws. The question is: “Should the state Legislature enact proposed legislation that closes the Dark Store loopholes, which currently allow commercial retail properties to significantly reduce the assessed valuation and property tax of such properties, resulting in a substantial shift in taxes levied against other tax paying entities, such as residential home owners, and/or cuts in essential services provided by an affected municipality?”

At issue is how commercial properties are valued for the purposes of property taxes. In a pure sense, the value of anything is the price that a willing buyer is willing to pay to a willing seller. For tax purposes, the government must assess what that price might be.

Residential properties are relatively easy to assess. Based on the condition, size and location of a house, the assessor can compare it to similar houses that have recently sold and come up with a reasonable price. Assessing the value of commercial properties is far more difficult and much more subjective than residential properties. There are at least five common, but different, ways to calculate the value of commercial property for tax and accounting purposes.

In Wisconsin, government assessors have generally set the value of commercial real estate based on how much the property is worth based on the property being occupied and generating revenue for the owners. For example, a retail store in a great location that generates millions of dollars for the owners is worth quite a bit to the owner — even if the property would not be worth as much to a different owner.

In recent years, several of Wisconsin’s largest commercial property owners like Walmart, Menards, Walgreens, etc. have been suing municipalities to have the value of their properties lowered based on the “dark store” method of valuation. Under this method, the value of the property is calculated based on what it would be if the store were empty. In other words, the companies want the value of the property to be set at what that they think they could sell it for if they closed up shop and left. Commercial property owners have been winning appeals of their property assessments under this theory across Wisconsin and drastically lowering their property tax bills.

Both valuation methods are equally valid, in an economic sense, but have vastly different outcomes for Wisconsin. As more commercial properties are valued under the dark store valuation method, they are paying far less in property taxes. The result is that local governments must either reduce spending to account for the reduction in taxes being collected, or shift the property tax burden to residential propertyowners.

Let’s look at one small example. In West Bend, Walgreens’ two stores were once valued at $14 million. Last year, Walgreens appealed under the dark store theory and won, thus reducing the combined assessed value of the two properties to $4.8 million. That change in value reduced Walgreens property tax obligation by a whopping $180,000 per year. Each of the local governments that rely on property taxes for funding now have to find a way to fill that hole. Multiply this equation by dozens or hundreds of commercial properties in each municipality in Wisconsin and the hole becomes impossible to fill.

While there are several perfectly rational and valid ways to determine the value of commercial properties, Wisconsin needs to determine a uniform and fair way that will be used for the purpose of property taxes. Closing the dark store loophole is a good step toward that goal.

Close the dark store loophole

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

At issue is how commercial properties are valued for the purposes of property taxes. In a pure sense, the value of anything is the price that a willing buyer is willing to pay to a willing seller. For tax purposes, the government must assess what that price might be.

So. Much. Winning.

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

If there is an October surprise in the making, it may be that despite prophecies of a blue wave, President Donald Trump and the rest of the Republican Party are having a winning October.

The month began with news that the United States had come to a trade agreement with Canada and Mexico to replace the North American Free Trade Act. Overall, NAFTA had been a tremendous success. Since taking effect in 1994, trade between the three nations quadrupled and had a positive impact on America’s economic growth. Meanwhile, Americans benefited from lower consumer prices and access to less expensive labor.

But every agreement has a downside. That less expensive labor depressed wages in America and the nation lost a lot of manufacturing and textile jobs to Mexico. When Trump ran for office, he promised to renegotiate NAFTA to get a better deal for Americans and he has done just that.

The new trade deal that is to replace NAFTA is called the USMCA. It is not a wholesale restructuring of the NAFTA. In fact, it keeps in place many of the best parts of NAFTA, but it also makes some significant changes to the benefit of the United States. One of those changes is of particular importance to Wisconsinites as it opens up Canada’s dairy market to American milk.

A few days after the USMCA was announced, the Bureau of Labor Statistics released its report that the nation’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.7 percent in August. That marks the third month in a row that the national unemployment rate has been below 4 percent. The reason is simple: The American economy is booming. There is no reason to not be working in America if one is able. We are in a state of full employment.

Then, just six days into October, President Trump’s second nominee for the Supreme Court was sworn into office. Brett Kavanaugh is one of the most qualified justices to ever be appointed to the Supreme Court. With a Yale law degree, a distinguished career in the private and public sectors, and more than a decade as a judge on the second most important appeals court in the country, Kavanaugh’s legal pedigree is pristine.

During his many years on the bench, he gained a reputation as a fair, smart, thoughtful and reasonable judge who was respected by people of all political persuasions. Perhaps most importantly, Kavanaugh is a proven judicial conservative who upholds the Constitution and respects the limited role of the court. His rulings over the years demonstrate a keen understanding of the Constitution, civil rights, separation of powers and bedrock legal principles like people being innocent until proven guilty.

Once again, President Trump kept his promise to appoint judicial conservatives to the courts and Senate Republicans followed through by confirming his appointment. Justice Kavanaugh solidifies a majority of judicial conservatives on the Supreme Court.

Perhaps all of this good news is why President Trump’s approval rating surged to 51 percent in the Rasmussen poll and is his highest rating in that poll since March of 2017.

Nothing lasts forever. The economy is great and Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell predicts that unemployment and inflation will remain low through 2020, but things can change quickly. And while the Supreme Court now has a majority of judicial conservatives, not even Supreme Court justices are immortal.

If there is one thing that could disrupt the positive direction that America is moving, it would be for the Democrats to gain control of the U.S. Senate. We have all come to understand over the past few weeks that the Democratic Party is untethered from any traditional norms of civility, honesty and even decency. They will stop at nothing to oppose President Trump even if it means burning down the country in the process.

We saw this behavior from Wisconsin’s own Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Less than 48 hours after Trump announced the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Baldwin announced that she would not vote for his confirmation. This was a radical break from traditional senatorial behavior to reject a nominee without researching him, learning about him, or even speaking to him. And although Baldwin admitted her opposition, almost all of the Democrats in the Senate had made the same decision. The brouhaha that Democrats manufactured over the last few weeks was not designed to change any minds. It was designed to attempt to rationalize the Democrats’ predetermined opposition to the American people.

Baldwin’s behavior reveals the larger psychosis currently infecting the Democratic Party. Their single- minded effort to #resist President Trump has become the only real plank in their platform.

If Senator Baldwin is reelected and Democrats take control of the Senate, will they vote down the USMCA to punish Trump even if it means Wisconsin’s dairy farmers will pay the price? Of course they will. Will they oppose every judicial appointment Trump makes — even when those appointments are eminently qualified? There is no doubt. Will Baldwin and her peers prevent Trump’s deregulation that has been a boon to American businesses? Absolutely. Will Baldwin and her peers seek to impose higher taxes and socialized health care? They have already said that they will.

There is something that Wisconsin voters can do this November to support and promote this economic and judicial renaissance we are enjoying. They can vote Tammy Baldwin out of office and replace her with a woman who will fight for Wisconsin’s interests — Leah Vukmir.

So. Much. Winning.

My column for the Washington County Daily News is out today. It’s also in the Waukesha Freeman, from what I hear. Here’s a taste.

If there is one thing that could disrupt the positive direction that America is moving, it would be for the Democrats to gain control of the U.S. Senate. We have all come to understand over the past few weeks that the Democratic Party is untethered from any traditional norms of civility, honesty and even decency. They will stop at nothing to oppose President Trump even if it means burning down the country in the process.

We saw this behavior from Wisconsin’s own Sen. Tammy Baldwin. Less than 48 hours after Trump announced the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, Baldwin announced that she would not vote for his confirmation. This was a radical break from traditional senatorial behavior to reject a nominee without researching him, learning about him, or even speaking to him. And although Baldwin admitted her opposition, almost all of the Democrats in the Senate had made the same decision. The brouhaha that Democrats manufactured over the last few weeks was not designed to change any minds. It was designed to attempt to rationalize the Democrats’ predetermined opposition to the American people.

Baldwin’s behavior reveals the larger psychosis currently infecting the Democratic Party. Their single- minded effort to #resist President Trump has become the only real plank in their platform.

Evers’ failed logic and Cedarburg’s folly

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

In justifying his call for a massive spending increase on public schools, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Tony Evers cites the fact that local school districts have been passing referendums as evidence of a pent-up demand for more taxing and spending by everyone. Not only is Evers’ argument flawed, but he conveniently overlooks how dishonest many school districts are being to get their referendums passed.

More than 25 years ago, Wisconsin imposed a limit on how much local school districts can raise the local property tax levy, but the state allowed school districts to exceed the levy limit if local voters approved through a referendum. Recently, there has been a spate of school referendums being approved.

Where Evers’ logic fails is if the fact that some school districts passed referendums is evidence of an overall desire to increase taxes, then the opposite must also be true. The fact that the vast majority of school districts did not pass a referendum must be evidence that there is not an overall desire to increase taxes. The fact is only a small minority of the 421 school districts in Wisconsin have passed a referendum in recent years. Many of them have not even propositioned the voters with the question. If a majority of districts did not pass a referendum, would it not stand to reason that the majority of voters do not want a tax increase?

The recent surge in referendums passing is primarily due to two reasons. First, thanks to the booming job growth and increasing wages, we are living in a time of plenty. It is easy for voters to feel generous when times are good. They often forget that the $300 or $400 property tax increase they approve when the bank account is flush may not still be there when the next recession hits and they are looking for work.

The second reason referendums have been more successful lately is because many school districts have found a formula, based on gross misinformation, which increases the odds in their favor. Let us look at the referendum in Cedarburg as a perfect example.

First, the school district builds the facade of support through a stacked community advisory group and a phony propaganda survey. There are builders, architects and survey companies who have made it their business to help school districts run this sham process and Cedarburg engaged the infamous School Perceptions to conduct their advocacy survey. As designed, the survey in Cedarburg came back showing support for a referendum.

Second, the school district tries its best to hide the real costs of the referendum. In Cedarburg, they are saying that it will cost $59.8 million. That is completely false. The Cedarburg District wants to borrow $59.8 million. As anyone who has borrowed money to buy a home, vehicle, or anything else knows, there is a cost to borrowing. The total actual cost of the referendum, depending on the interest rates and term, is more likely between $90 million and $105 million.

Third, school districts play down the tax impact. In Cedarburg, they are claiming that such a massive debt would “be an increase of $58.00 per $100,000.00 of a home’s value.” That is a grossly incorrect portrayal. According to the district’s financial disclosure, the cost of the referendum would be $181 per $100,000. The $58 number is because the district plans to retire some old debt, so the net tax increase would be $58. But if the voters vote down the referendum, they will actually enjoy a tax decrease of $123 per $100,000 of home value when that debt is retired.

Not to mention that there are not a lot of homes in Cedarburg that cost $100,000. According to Zillow, the median home value in Cedarburg is about $300,000. So the total cost for the owner of a median Cedarburg home is $543 per year – or $10,860 over the 20-year term of the loan.

Fourth, every school referendum is different, but they usually share some similarities in their justifications for needing more money. In Cedarburg, they cite growing enrollment as a need for more space. The problem is that the Cedarburg School District, like most Wisconsin public school districts, has been experiencing a decline in enrollment. Kindergarten through 12th grade enrollment in Cedarburg is down 6.5 percent since it peaked in the 2004-2005 school year. And if you subtract the kids who open enrolled into the district (a number that the district can control), kindergarten through 12th grade enrollment was actually down 10.5 percent since the 2004-2005 school year.

Cedarburg District officials insist that enrollment is about to explode even though census data and state projections predict a continued decline in enrollment. Cedarburg officials rest their predictions on a bizarre analysis of residential development in the district. The problem is that history does not support their projections. In short, district officials are claiming that the district will add far more kids per new development than has been the case for the last 10 years or more.

Fifth, the school district leadership stonewalls anyone who might ask tough questions. In the case of Cedarburg, the superintendent declined to comment on the referendum and pointed to the district’s website for all inquiries.

If the voters in Cedarburg are smart, they will see through the balderdash that their school district is trying to sell them and vote down their referendum. If not, and they choose to foist a huge tax increase on themselves, it is certainly not an indication that anyone else in Wisconsin wants a tax increase too.

Evers’ failed logic and Cedarburg’s folly

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here’s a taste, but you’ll need to pick up a paper today to read the whole thing.

Where Evers’ logic fails is if the fact that some school districts passed referendums is evidence of an overall desire to increase taxes, then the opposite must also be true. The fact that the vast majority of school districts did not pass a referendum must be evidence that there is not an overall desire to increase taxes. The fact is only a small minority of the 421 school districts in Wisconsin have passed a referendum in recent years. Many of them have not even propositioned the voters with the question. If a majority of districts did not pass a referendum, would it not stand to reason that the majority of voters do not want a tax increase?

Vote for Tony Evers if you want higher taxes

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

During the era of Gov. Jim Doyle, Wisconsin was a tax hell. Our state consistently ranked in the top tier for overall tax burden and worst tax climate for business. Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans in the Legislature have made great strides in lowering taxes to the point that Wisconsin is now slightly worse than the average state in these rankings. That is a remarkable improvement in less than a decade. Perhaps it is now fair to say that Wisconsin is a tax purgatory, but it certainly has not ascended to a tax heaven yet.

If Wisconsin’s voters elect Democratic candidate Tony Evers to be our next governor, he will certainly push Wisconsin back down into the depths of the tax hell we just escaped. One may be tempted to think that this is just another baseless “Democrats will raise your taxes” attack. Evers is a doctrinaire liberal, so it would be easy to just assume that he wants to raise taxes. But one need only look at Evers’ own words to see that it is true. In fact, increasing taxes to support more government spending seems to be Evers’ answer to every issue facing the state.

Evers’ core issue, as one would expect, is public education. As the head of Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction, he has served as the titular leader of public education in the state for years. Yet, year after year, he failed to advance any initiatives to actually improve education. His one solution has always been, and is now, to spend more.

In his role as superintendent of the DPI, he submitted a budget that would increase state spending on public education by $1.7 billion in the next budget. That is a massive increase in spending. On Tony Evers’ campaign website, he says that if elected he will, “increase investments” and “increase funding” in virtually all aspects of the public school oligopoly.

Evers claims that such spending increases will not require tax increases because other state spending can be reprioritized. The problem with his math is that he wants to increase spending on all of the other major state spending items too.

When it comes to state spending on transportation and infrastructure, Evers says that he will “invest more in local road maintenance,” and “increase funding for public transit.” He will also “repeal changes made to Wisconsin’s prevailing wage laws.” Those changes will save the taxpayers millions of dollars — if they are not repealed.

For the environment, Evers will “invest in our natural resources” and shield the Department of Natural Resources from public oversight. For health care, Evers will “invest in preventative health programs” and “accept federal Medicaid expansion dollars,” which is already forcing more state spending in the states that accepted it. For economic development, Evers promises to “ensure access to high speed broadband,” “invest in our roads, bridges, ports and airports,” and “increase our investment in education.” For the University of Wisconsin System, Evers promises to “increase investments in both our technical schools and UW System.”

One thing becomes very clear in reviewing Tony Evers’ plan for Wisconsin. Whatever problems the state faces, the solution, in Evers’ mind, is to spend more money. The short list of items above comprises more than 60 percent of all state spending, and Evers wants to increase spending on all of it. What will he cut to offset that spending? Pensions? Law enforcement? Local aids?

There is no doubt that Tony Evers will raise taxes if given the chance. There is no other way to support the incredible increases in spending he envisions for the state. The only questions is how much taxes will go up under a Governor Evers.

Vote for Tony Evers if you want higher taxes

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

During the era of Gov. Jim Doyle, Wisconsin was a tax hell. Our state consistently ranked in the top tier for overall tax burden and worst tax climate for business. Gov. Scott Walker and Republicans in the Legislature have made great strides in lowering taxes to the point that Wisconsin is now slightly worse than the average state in these rankings. That is a remarkable improvement in less than a decade. Perhaps it is now fair to say that Wisconsin is a tax purgatory, but it certainly has not ascended to a tax heaven yet.

If Wisconsin’s voters elect Democratic candidate Tony Evers to be our next governor, he will certainly push Wisconsin back down into the depths of the tax hell we just escaped. One may be tempted to think that this is just another baseless “Democrats will raise your taxes” attack. Evers is a doctrinaire liberal, so it would be easy to just assume that he wants to raise taxes. But one need only look at Evers’ own words to see that it is true. In fact, increasing taxes to support more government spending seems to be Evers’ answer to every issue facing the state.

More money has not, and will not, improve education for our children

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online now. Go pick up a paper, but here’s a snippet:

A couple of insights bubble to the top after wading through the data. First, Wisconsin’s schools are fairly decent, for the most part, but there is a lot of room for improvement. Second, the performance has remained fairly consistent for the years despite taxpayers spending more and more every year.

This makes the politicians’ response all too disappointing. Tony Evers, the Democratic candidate for governor, has one answer to every question about education: Spend more money. This is despite the fact that spending more has no measurable impact on educational outcomes. Gov. Scott Walker has had a strong record of actual education reform, but has fallen into the same spending paradigm. This election, he is hanging his hat on the fact that Wisconsin increased spending on education and is spending more than ever.

The reason that politicians conflate more government spending with improving educational outcomes is as lazy as it is stupid. It is an easy way for them to demonstrate that they are “doing something.” In fact, they are doing nothing but wasting more money. The outcomes matter — not the spending.

Keep the Walker economy going

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

Labor Day, the unofficial end of summer in Wisconsin, has come and gone. The kids are back in school. Even some of the more eager leaves have begun to turn as a reminder that winter is looming on the horizon. Also looming is the November election, when Wisconsin’s voters will decide whether to change the direction of our state or stay the course.

Gov. Scott Walker has a great case to make for his re-election, but many voters have become complacent after so many years of success. Too often, politics is about “what have you done for me lately.” Walker and the legislative Republicans have made tremendous improvements in preserving and expanding civil rights, protecting life, education reform and many other areas of government. But with the limited space available in this column, let us look deeper at Wisconsin’s economy under Walker.

In 2010, the year that Scott Walker was elected as governor, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate stood at 8.7 percent. Over a quarter-million Wisconsinites were looking for work and could not find it. Per capita income had fallen to $38,598. Businesses were fleeing Wisconsin due to the inflexible regulatory climate, a hostile government and oppressive taxes. The state budget was running yet another massive deficit and voters were facing another round of tax increases.

Fast forward to July 2018 — after almost two full terms of Walker. Wisconsin’s unemployment rate stands at 3.1 percent — a rate below what many economists consider full employment. There are more than 300,000 more Wisconsinites working now than there were in 2010, and they are earning more. Per capita income in 2016, the most recent year for which figures are available, is up to $46,762 — an increase of more than $8,000 per person and the most recent economic data coming from federal number crunchers indicates that income growth is accelerating with sustained high employment.

One might be tempted to dismiss these economic comparisons as unfair given the entire nation’s economy is booming. That is true and a reason that voters should also return Republican majorities to the Congress, but Wisconsin is even doing better under Walker than most other states.

According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics and the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development, Wisconsin’s percent growth in privatesector jobs in July ranked seventh nationally and first in the Midwest. Our state’s July unemployment rate tied for the seventh lowest in the nation. In the manufacturing industry, Wisconsin ranked fifth nationally in percent growth in jobs over the last year and gained the second-most manufacturing jobs in the last six months.

The evidence is clear that while the nation’s economy is enjoying fabulous growth in jobs and wages, Wisconsin is one of the states leading the pack.

The vast majority of Wisconsin’s economic success is due to the millions of Wisconsinites who work hard, build businesses and create value in the global market. State government’s policies can either retard the innate economic prowess of Wisconsin’s people or help create an environment where that prowess can be let loose. The policies that Walker enacted during his first two terms have enabled Wisconsinites to flex their economic muscles.

For example, Walker set about immediately cutting state regulations and reining in the fearsome Department of Natural Resources. He signed the law making Wisconsin a right-to-work state, thus freeing the people from forced unionization. Walker cut taxes and improved Wisconsin’s transportation infrastructure.

Perhaps most importantly, Walker’s pro-business attitude has permeated state government. During the Jim Doyle era, Wisconsin had a well-earned reputation for being hostile to business. Companies that dared to open in the state were threatened with costly regulations, a DNR that would deny permits and slam them with fines for the most inconsequential infraction and politicians who would cluck their tongues if they were not the “right kind” of jobs.

Under Walker, the state has struck a better regulatory balance that protects the interests of all Wisconsinites — including those who want to work. State agencies still enforce all of the laws and regulations, but do so by helping businesses comply instead of crushing them with fines. When businesses run into some problem with state government, a state regulator is more likely to pick up the phone and ask, “How can I help?” That matters to business owners who are just trying to grow their businesses the best they know how.

Finally, unlike the previous governor, Walker actively recruits businesses to move to Wisconsin. There is no doubt that had it not been for Walker aggressively recruiting Foxconn, that multibillion-dollar investment would have gone to another state. Walker not only asked for the business, he closed the deal. A lesser governor would not have succeeded.

Wisconsin’s economy has made a complete turnaround under Walker and is heading in the right direction. It is a mistake to think that the state’s economy will continue in that direction under Tony Evers. Leadership matters and Wisconsin’s economy needs Walker to remain at the helm.

Keep the Walker economy going

My column for the Washington County Daily News is in the paper today. Go buy a copy, but here’s a snippet:

Finally, unlike the previous governor, Walker actively recruits businesses to move to Wisconsin. There is no doubt that had it not been for Walker aggressively recruiting Foxconn, that multibillion-dollar investment would have gone to another state. Walker not only asked for the business, he closed the deal. A lesser governor would not have succeeded.

Wisconsin’s economy has made a complete turnaround under Walker and is heading in the right direction. It is a mistake to think that the state’s economy will continue in that direction under Tony Evers. Leadership matters and Wisconsin’s economy needs Walker to remain at the helm.

Trump improves retirement savings options for Americans

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

Amid all of the tweets, insults, accusations, lies, betrayals and other palace intrigues that the media obsess over, President Donald Trump is aggressively deregulating and advancing reforms for the benefit of the middle class. In one of many examples, Trump signed an executive order last week to instruct federal departments to make it easier for Americans to utilize tax-advantaged retirement plans.

Since the 1970s, the federal government has encouraged Americans to save for their retirement by allowing them to defer income taxes for money put into certain retirement accounts like 401(k)s and IRAs. One could certainly argue whether or not it is the role of the federal government to use tax regulations to encourage this behavior, but given the fact that our nation has decided on a social construct whereby taxpayers will financially support people who did not, or could not, save enough to provide for themselves in their elder years, such inducement for people to save certainly improves the general welfare. There is little doubt that the individuals who use these plans benefit immensely.

The rules regarding these tax-advantaged retirement plans have been changed over the years as conditions and preferences have shifted. One of Trump’s orders is a relatively minor tweak. Trump directed the Department of the Treasury to evaluate changing the rules regarding required minimum distributions to allow retirees to keep money in their accounts longer.

Under the current rules, retirees must start taking money out of their 401(k)s and IRAs when they are 70 1/2 years old, even if they do not need the money. The reason, from the federal government’s perspective, is that the income tax on that money was deferred, not waived. The government needs the money to be withdrawn before the retiree dies so that it can be taxed. People are living longer now, so Trump’s directive is to raise the age and required distribution amounts to better reflect current demographics. Ideally, Trump will go one step further and work with Congress to waive the required minimum distributions completely.

The other parts of Trump’s executive order are arguably more important. Despite the popularity of taxadvantaged retirement plans like IRAs and 401(k)s, a large percentage of Americans do not have one available to them through their employers. According to Pew Charitable Trusts, 35 percent of private-sector workers older than 22 do not have access to a 401(k) plan through their employer. Access is skewed to the younger generations with 41 percent of millennials lacking access through their employers.

One of the things preventing access is that smaller companies are often unable to afford the costs to set up and administer these kind of retirement plans. Trump ordered the departments of Treasury and Labor to find ways to reduce the regulatory burden for small businesses to offer workplace retirement plans.

Furthermore, federal law prohibits small businesses from pooling their resources to offer retirement plans unless they are related businesses like members of a trade association. Trump ordered the departments of Treasury and Labor to issue regulations allowing any group of small businesses to join to offer association retirement plans to their collective employees.

Combined, these two parts of Trump’s executive order will make it easier and more affordable for businesses of any size to offer attractive retirement savings plans to their employees. With more Americans having access to more retirement saving options, more Americans will be inclined to save for their sunset years.

The sad thing for America is that the media are so caught up in the daily soap opera of the White House that they almost completely ignore the actions Trump is taking that actually matter to Americans. Trump does not help matters by feeding the frenzy. In fact, he seems to enjoy it. But most Americans are just trying to live their lives and would like to know when the government is doing things that might affect them — especially when it is good.

As we transfer another Labor Day into a memory, President Trump is taking yet another action to improve the lives of American workers by making it easier for them to save for the time when they will no longer work. That is far more important than yet another breathless story about yet another tweet.

Trump improves retirement savings options for Americans

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Yes, it’s a bit boring, but that’s sort of the point. We should be spending more time talking about boring policy issues that actually impact our daily lives instead of the daily circus. Here’s the opening.

Amid all of the tweets, insults, accusations, lies, betrayals and other palace intrigues that the media obsess over, President Donald Trump is aggressively deregulating and advancing reforms for the benefit of the middle class. In one of many examples, Trump signed an executive order last week to instruct federal departments to make it easier for Americans to utilize tax-advantaged retirement plans.

Marquette poll indicates Wisconsin’s political fundamentals remain unchanged

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

With a level of excitement akin to Christmas morning, political junkies tore open the latest Marquette Law School Poll to find the treasures within. With its history of being one of the most accurate polls in recent years, the Marquette Law School Poll has become the gold standard for political prognosticators. The most recent poll was taken after the August primary election and gives the first snapshot for the general election.

In the race for governor, the Marquette poll indicates that Republican Gov. Scott Walker is in a dead heat with Democratic candidate Tony Evers. Both candidates are receiving support of 46 percent of likely voters with Libertarian candidate Phil Anderson polling at 6 percent.

The race for U.S. Senate is also a virtual tie, according to the poll, with 49 percent supporting incumbent Democrat Tammy Baldwin and 47 percent supporting Republican Leah Vukmir. With a margin of error of plus-or-minus 4.5 percent, the race is a statistical tie.

What is remarkable about the poll’s results is that so few people are undecided. Only 2 percent of the respondents for governor, and 3 percent for Senate, are undecided with more than two months until the election. This is despite the fact the two challengers, Evers and Vukmir, are not nearly as well known as the incumbents. Thirty-five percent of the respondents do not have any opinion of Evers and 41 percent do not have an opinion about Vukmir.

These results tell us a couple of things. First, Wisconsin remains politically divided with the left and right remaining firmly entrenched. It would be too far to suggest that the candidates do not matter, but the poll clearly indicates that there is a sizable contingent of the electorate who will vote Republican or Democrat irrespective of who the candidate is.

The second thing the results tell us is that the next two months of campaigning are going to be brutal. Neither side is going to spend much time or money trying to lure voters from the other side, nor there are many people undecided. Instead, the campaigns are going to focus on motivating their bases to get out and vote.

Whichever side turns out more of their base will win the election.

This means the campaigns will focus largely on emotional appeals, both positive and negative. While gratitude and hope are strong emotions, hate and fear are more powerful when it comes to motivating people to vote. Until the election, the voters are going to be under a rolling barrage of negative ads that will escalate as Election Day nears.

This will be especially true in the Senate election because of the national implications. The Marquette poll shows that Baldwin is vulnerable in a year when the Democrats are anticipating a blue wave. National interest groups will be pumping money into Wisconsin’s Senate race and it is going to get very, very muddy.

Many other polls around the country indicate that there is an enthusiasm gap with Democrats being much more excited about voting this November than Republicans. The same is not true in Wisconsin. According to the Marquette poll, 69 percent of Republicans are very enthusiastic to vote, while 67 percent of Democrats are very enthusiastic. That is a change from the same poll in July when 62 percent of Republicans and 69 percent of Democrats were very enthusiastic. That is a significant upward swing in enthusiasm for Republicans in only a month. There may be a blue wave in the rest of the nation in November, but it does not appear that it will wash over Wisconsin.

According to the Marquette poll, the dynamics in this election are shaping up to look very much the same as it has in the past few years. That bodes well for Wisconsin’s Republicans if national forces can be kept at the state border.

Marquette poll indicates Wisconsin’s political fundamentals remain unchanged

You know that when the Marquette poll come out, every political junkie worth his salt must comment on it. I do just that in my column for the Washington County Daily News today. Pick up a paper and check it out. Here’s a little peek:

This means the campaigns will focus largely on emotional appeals, both positive and negative. While gratitude and hope are strong emotions, hate and fear are more powerful when it comes to motivating people to vote. Until the election, the voters are going to be under a rolling barrage of negative ads that will escalate as Election Day nears.

 

Baldwin’s tragic record of inaction

Now that we’re through the primary, here’s my full column from the Washington County Daily News.

At the writing of this column, we do not yet know who the Republicans will select to challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin in November. What we do know is that Leah Vukmir and Kevin Nicholson would both be a tremendous improvement over Baldwin. Irrespective of which Republican moves forward to challenge Senator Baldwin, all Republicans must unite quickly if they are to unseat a sitting Democratic senator in what looks to be a strong year for Democrats.

In her lengthy career in politics, Sen. Baldwin has a curious record that is almost completely barren of accomplishment. Baldwin’s passion for inactivity has led to her only accomplishment of note — sitting idly by when she could have done something to stop the opioid abuses at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Tomah.

In the summer of 2014, Sen. Baldwin was quietly passed an inspection report by the VA inspector general from a friendly administration looking to give her a heads up. The report detailed a history and pattern of prescription drug abuses at the Tomah center that dated back to 2011 whereby powerful opioids and other drugs were handed out with impunity. Not only did the behavior endanger the lives of the veterans, but it was a conduit for opioids to be funneled onto the streets.

Sen. Baldwin ignored the report. She did not do anythingabout it. For months, the whistleblower and veteran Ryan Honl vigorously pushed Baldwin’s office to do something. He called and emailed her office asking her to take action on the VA inspector general’s report. Still Baldwin did nothing. The pleas from her constituent fell on deaf ears.

One must remember how little effort it would have taken Sen. Baldwin to do something on behalf of the veterans being drugged in Tomah. At the time, President BarackObama was in office and the secretary of VeteransAffairs is a member of the president’s cabinet.

A simple phone call or letter from a Democratic senator to a member of a Democratic administration would have carried a lot of weight. Still Baldwin did nothing.

It was not until January 2015 that Sen. Baldwin finally decided to act. Wisconsin news outlets began to run the story of a 35-year-old Marine Corps veteran who died of an overdose while an inpatient at the Tomah facility. Those news reports also shared details of the inspector general’s report — the same report that Baldwin had in her possession for months — regarding the incredible amount of opioids flowing out of Tomah.

Then, and only then, Sen. Baldwin acted. She called for an investigation. Baldwin knew of the abuses at the Tomah VA Medical Center for months. She was badgered by a constituent and veteran to do something. But neither her conscience, concern for veterans or pleas from constituents compelled her to act. The only thing that got Sen. Baldwin’s attention was a news story that was unfavorable to her. At least we now know what it takes to get Sen. Baldwin to do something on behalf of her constituents. It takes the media running a story involving her.

Wisconsin deserves better. Wisconsin deserves a senator who will dive into the thicket of Washington politics and fight like a Badger for the people of Wisconsin. Sen. Baldwin has had six years — four of which were during the presidency of President Barack Obama — to deliver results for her constituents. The only measurable result has been the tragic consequences of her dithering.

Baldwin’s tragic record of inaction

My column in the Washington County Daily News today looks ahead to the general election and how Senator Baldwin’s record of inaction has not been harmless. Here’s a taste:

Then, and only then, Sen. Baldwin acted. She called for an investigation. Baldwin knew of the abuses at the Tomah VA Medical Center for months. She was badgered by a constituent and veteran to do something. But neither her conscience, concern for veterans or pleas from constituents compelled her to act. The only thing that got Sen. Baldwin’s attention was a news story that was unfavorable to her. At least we now know what it takes to get Sen. Baldwin to do something on behalf of her constituents. It takes the media running a story involving her.