Tag Archives: Washington County Daily News

Politics before mental health

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

While the debate over the state budget was contentious last spring, there was at least one issue on which both Republicans and Democrats agreed. Legislators on both sides of the aisle agreed that the state needs to do more to provide mental health services for people throughout the state. To that end, the state budget increased state funding for mental health services in several areas including spending $15 million for a mental health crisis center in the Chippewa Valley. Gov. Tony Evers’ partial veto of that provision, and the support of Assembly Democrats, tell us a lot about the Democratic Party of Wisconsin in 2019.

[…]

In a state budget, this one item is relatively small. It betrays, however, the priorities of Governor Evers and the Assembly Democrats. Why would they all work to redirect government spending from Eau Claire and Chippewa Falls to Madison? Why would they redirect money intended for a private health care service provider to a government facility? Simple. Politics.

Madison and Dane County were key to Evers’ narrow victory over Republican Scott Walker in 2018. With an impressive turnout of almost 70% — 12 points higher than average — Dane County gave Evers 220,052 votes to propel him into office. Without those votes, Scott Walker would still be in office and Tony Evers knows it. Looking at the statewide electoral map from last year, the entire Chippewa Valley, with the exception of Eau Claire County, voted heavily for Scott Walker.

It is no coincidence that Tony Evers did everything he could to redirect money from areas of the state that supported Walker to reward his supporters in Madison. It was just an added bonus that he could also redirect the money into a government facility instead of a private health care system. Evers cares more about his political supporters in Madison than the people of northwestern Wisconsin who need mental health services. And every Assembly Democrat agrees with Evers.

Time to let college athletes be compensated

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

I had occasion last week to visit my alma mater, Texas A&M University, to celebrate the 125th anniversary of the Fightin’ Texas Aggie Band, in which I marched. The days were filled with old friends, old stories, and meeting with legions of Aggies past, present, and future.

As part of the activities, we were offered a tour of the newest addition to Kyle Field, now the largest stadium in the state of Texas. Opulent does not begin to describe it. The Hall of Champions, luxury suites, amenities, training facilities, locker rooms, etc., are truly superb. A look to the west at the baseball field, track facilities, soccer field, basketball arena, etc., will find equally magnificent facilities. Many of these facilities, including the newest addition to Kyle Field, were built mostly with private money, but they really show how much money flows through college athletics.

While I could use any university as an example, the numbers from Texas A&M are a good example. Last year, Texas A&M Athletics took in $212.4 million in revenue against $165.8 million in expenses, resulting in a 22% profit of $46.6 million. Many private companies would be delighted to see such positive financial performance. On any given home football game day, 60,000-plus people flood into town. They stay at hotels, eat at restaurants, buy merchandise, rent cars, and have a staggering economic impact on the little city. Jimbo Fisher, the football head coach, is being paid $75 million over 10 years. The media companies make millions broadcasting the games on television and radio. Companies like Nike, Adidas, and Under Armor make millions selling athletic gear with college logos on them.

Everybody is making money — big money — in college athletics except the athletes playing the games. That needs to change.

For years, it has been forbidden for college athletes to earn or accept money. The rationale is that the purpose of college athletics is to be an extracurricular activity that attracts kids to college and provides some of those kids with access to higher education through scholarships. If college athletes can earn money for playing a sport, then they blur into professional athletes competing for a school instead of an amateur college kid just playing while he or she is earning a degree. Such notions seem almost quaint when college sports has become a multibillion-dollar industry.

While much of the attention is focused on the tiny number of high-profile athletes who are destined for national fame in professional leagues, the vast majority of college athletes do not fit that mold. In all of Division I athletics, only 69% of athletes receive some kind of scholarship, and a smaller percentage receives a full scholarship. Even then, the scholarship does not cover expenses outside of school. For athletes from financially disadvantaged backgrounds, the prohibition from being able to earn money if they play a sport might keep them from playing the sport at all.

Furthermore, only a handful of college athletes will ever go on to compete at a professional level, and only some sports even have a professional league where athletes can earn good money. Most college football, baseball, basketball, and hockey players never make it to the pros, and the average track, volleyball, or lacrosse player will never be able to earn a living competing in their sport.

College athletes are adults. It is fundamentally unjust for thousands of people to make money off of their talent while they are prohibited from doing so. This is especially true considering that the athlete is assuming all of the risk. How many times, for example, has a star college athlete destined for the pros suffered a career-ending injury before they were ever able to earn a single dollar for all of their work and talent?

Whether universities should actually pay athletes a salary outside of scholarships is certainly questionable. Universities are not in the business of sports and public universities, in particular, should not use tax dollars to pay athletes. But if a local car dealership, law firm, or restaurant wants to pay a prominent college athlete to use their likeness in their advertising, why should that be prohibited? Who is harmed by that transaction? Nobody.

Several states and the NCAA are already moving to allow college athletes to earn money for themselves as they are earning money for everyone else. Wisconsin should be the next state to do so.

Time to let college athletes be compensated

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

Everybody is making money — big money — in college athletics except the athletes playing the games. That needs to change.

[…]

College athletes are adults. It is fundamentally unjust for thousands of people to make money off of their talent while they are prohibited from doing so. This is especially true considering that the athlete is assuming all of the risk. How many times, for example, has a star college athlete destined for the pros suffered a career-ending injury before they were ever able to earn a single dollar for all of their work and talent?

Whether universities should actually pay athletes a salary outside of scholarships is certainly questionable. Universities are not in the business of sports and public universities, in particular, should not use tax dollars to pay athletes. But if a local car dealership, law firm, or restaurant wants to pay a prominent college athlete to use their likeness in their advertising, why should that be prohibited? Who is harmed by that transaction? Nobody.

Several states and the NCAA are already moving to allow college athletes to earn money for themselves as they are earning money for everyone else. Wisconsin should be the next state to do so.

 

Mayor Sadownikow returns to private life after a job well done

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

When Governor Scott Walker lost, there was a real sense that something special had come to an end. I felt much the same way when I learned that West Bend Mayor Kraig Sadownikow had resigned to avoid the reality or appearance of a conflict of interest. Mayor Sadownikow was a wonderful example of the citizen self-governance at its best.

When Sadownikow first ran for office, he did so to fix a problem in his home town. As the owner of a local design and build construction company, Sadownikow worked with municipalities throughout Wisconsin and knew first hand that West Bend was a difficult place to do business. He set out with a goal of bringing private sector principles into local government to get West Bend to move at the speed of business.

Up until then, West Bend was run like most Wisconsin municipalities. The local government denizens generally worked hard to not rock the boat. Taxes were steadily increased. The continual borrowing had put West Bend in the bottom 10% of local governments in the state in terms of debt burden. Businesses and homeowners alike chafed whenever they had to deal with local bureaucrats.

Mayor Sadownikow entered office with a fresh perspective of a first-time office holder who wanted to make his city serve the public better. He began by “asking questions that were never asked before,” as he is fond of saying. Through hard work and the cooperation of a conservative, engaged majority on the Common Council, Sadownikow began to change West Bend’s story for the better. The list of accomplishments is impressive for eight years in office.

Throughout Sadownikow’s entire time in office, the City of West Bend did not raise taxes. That is impressive enough, but important to remember as we look at the other accomplishments.

When Sadownikow entered office, West Bend was almost $80 million in debt. The debt service was choking the budget and the city’s bond rating suffered. In eight years, through frugal spending and smart management, the city has reduced that debt by over a third to $53 million. As a consequence, the city’s bond rating has improved and millions of budget dollars have been freed up to fund city services.

While keeping taxes flat and paying down debt, West Bend also increased the unassigned reserve fund. This is the city’s savings account that they can use for unforeseen expenses like a natural disaster or other unforeseen expense. The Government Officers Finance Association recommends a reserve fund of 17% of budget. West Bend’s reserve fund was 11.18% in 2012, but has increased to 25.11% as of 2017. This puts the city in a great financial condition.

While keeping taxes flat, paying down debt, and building the reserve fund, West Bend and Mayor Sadownikow accomplished a lot. City services are as good or better than when Sadownikow assumed office. The city expanded and renovated the police station and city hall. The east side of the river has been beautifully rebuilt with the west side waiting its turn. The city added an industrial park and attracted businesses like Kwik Trip, Fleet Farm, and Delta Defense to build and expand.

Beyond the things one can see, Sadownikow led the improvement of things that are harder to see. Prior to Sadownikow, the public employee unions negotiated their contracts with a midlevel city bureaucrat. Sadownikow ensured that an elected official was at the negotiating table to represent the taxpayers. In the most recent contracts with the fire and police unions, the city ended its unfunded obligation to retirement healthcare. This will help ensure that the city can afford to generously compensate our first responders for years to come for the service they provide.

Often with the help of citizen task forces, Sadownikow reformed city finances, outsourced services where it made sense, made Parks & Recreation self-sustaining, and fostered a culture or customer service, responsiveness, and accountability. While the city might still not quite move at the speed of business, it is catching up.

There are already signs that West Bend is slipping back into its old ways. There is a band of Alderpersons who would rather go back to increasing taxes each year to avoid making hard decisions. The Common Council votes on the 2020 budget next week and we will know very soon how sorely Mayor Sadownikow’s leadership will be missed if the tax increasers get their way.

Mayor Sadownikow said, “Local government is not that hard. Maintain a safe community; look out for the future; and take care of the checkbook.” He certainly accomplished those three things and more. His successor should heed that advice.

Mayor Sadownikow returns to private life after a job well done

Sometimes you don’t really appreciate something until it is gone. That about sums up how I feel about Mayor Sadownikow’s tenure as West Bend’s mayor. My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part:

When Governor Scott Walker lost, there was a real sense that something special had come to an end. I felt much the same way when I learned that West Bend Mayor Kraig Sadownikow had resigned to avoid the reality or appearance of a conflict of interest. Mayor Sadownikow was a wonderful example of the citizen self-governance at its best.

When Sadownikow first ran for office, he did so to fix a problem in his home town. As the owner of a local design and build construction company, Sadownikow worked with municipalities throughout Wisconsin and knew first hand that West Bend was a difficult place to do business. He set out with a goal of bringing private sector principles into local government to get West Bend to move at the speed of business.

Up until then, West Bend was run like most Wisconsin municipalities. The local government denizens generally worked hard to not rock the boat. Taxes were steadily increased. The continual borrowing had put West Bend in the bottom 10% of local governments in the state in terms of debt burden. Businesses and homeowners alike chafed whenever they had to deal with local bureaucrats.

Mayor Sadownikow entered office with a fresh perspective of a first-time office holder who wanted to make his city serve the public better. He began by “asking questions that were never asked before,” as he is fond of saying. Through hard work and the cooperation of a conservative, engaged majority on the Common Council, Sadownikow began to change West Bend’s story for the better. The list of accomplishments is impressive for eight years in office.

[…]

There are already signs that West Bend is slipping back into its old ways. There is a band of Alderpersons who would rather go back to increasing taxes each year to avoid making hard decisions. The Common Council votes on the 2020 budget next week and we will know very soon how sorely Mayor Sadownikow’s leadership will be missed if the tax increasers get their way.

Mayor Sadownikow said, “Local government is not that hard. Maintain a safe community; look out for the future; and take care of the checkbook.” He certainly accomplished those three things and more. His successor should heed that advice.

Task force shows path to build more without spending more

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

Last week the West Bend School District Private Task Force (WBSDPTF) presented its facilities findings to the West Bend School Board. The Task Force is an unsanctioned group of local private citizens led by West Bend Mayor Kraig Sadownikow who took it upon themselves to dig into the school district’s facilities after the failed referendum earlier this year. While much of the excitement is around the bold ideas around restructuring the elementary schools and updating the high school, the focus should be on the hard work that comes before the shiny new buildings.

Amongst the Task Force’s findings were three key prerequisites that must be met before putting a shovel in the ground. The district needs to create and maintain a meaningful facilities plan; the facilities must be adequately maintained; and the district must live within its means by creating efficiencies. None of these are easy, but they are necessary to provide the facilities that our kids deserve and our community can afford.

First, the district needs a plan. About a decade ago, the West Bend School Board sanctioned a community committee and spent a lot of time creating a 25-year facilities plan. At the time, the plan made some sense. Based on projections that showed continued enrollment growth for the foreseeable future, the plan laid out the updates and new construction that the district would need to support that growth.

After the plan was created, it was used as a guide for facilities spending up to and including the most recent referendum. The problem is that the plan was not sufficiently updated. Since it was created, enrollment had declined and projections are for it to decline further. Some items on the plan were completed. Other items were not. Meanwhile, the School Board continued to use the plan as a basis for making decisions. Before any more money is put into facilities, the School Board must update the facilities plan with current data and create an ongoing process to keep it updated.

Second, the district needs to fund the plan. One of the Task Force’s findings was that the capital maintenance budget is woefully underfunded. The West Bend School District has about 1.4 million square feet of buildings and has an annual capital maintenance budget of about $1.5 million. That $1.5 million budget is the highest it has been in years thanks to the School Board steadily increasing it over the past several years.

With slightly more than a dollar per square foot of funding, the district’s capital maintenance budget is underfunded by a multiple of two or three by normal standards in the private sector. This leaves facilities to decay before their time due to lack of proper maintenance. Well-constructed, properly-maintained buildings will last for generations. If we fail to properly maintain them, however, we will be forced to replace them before their time.

Third, once the district has a valid long-range facilities plan and an adequate funding to execute that plan, the School Board must do the work to execute without increasing spending or raising taxes. The Task Force found that there is sufficient money in the current budget to pay for extensive upgrades to the district’s facilities without increasing spending or raising taxes.

The Task Force’s finding that the school district could consolidate six current buildings into one would generate some of the savings necessary to keep spending flat. The savings in staffing, grass mowing, snow plowing, custodial, food service, administration, building maintenance, etc. are substantial when there is only one building instead of six. But more efficiencies can be found in the sourcing of functions that are not core competencies of a school district.

While services like food service, grounds keeping, information technology, custodial, etc. are necessary, they are not the primary purpose of a school district. There are private businesses that deliver these services better, faster, and cheaper because they are their core competencies. Each of these departments must be evaluated to see if outsourcing would provide more value to the taxpayers for less cost. In some cases, outsourcing might not make sense. Experience in the private sector shows that most of the time it will. We will never know unless the school district puts them out to bid.

The Task Force did a lot of research and study, but still only scratched the surface. Even with that scratch, however, they found that there are significant areas where the school district can save money and reallocate the spending to upgrade and maintain the district’s facilities without negatively impacting education delivery. And those savings are there without even touching the much larger spending items in the budget like staffing levels, employee benefits, and wages. Much more could be done with a bit more scratching.

Make a plan. Take care of what we own. Live within our means. These are guiding principles that citizens should expect from our government. They are principles that must be followed as the West Bend School Board considers the future of the district’s facilities.

NOTE: I am a member of the WBSDPTF. While the findings are those of the Task Force, the opinions in this column are solely mine.

Task force shows path to build more without spending more

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

Amongst the Task Force’s findings were three key prerequisites that must be met before putting a shovel in the ground. The district needs to create and maintain a meaningful facilities plan; the facilities must be adequately maintained; and the district must live within its means by creating efficiencies. None of these are easy, but they are necessary to provide the facilities that our kids deserve and our community can afford.

[…]

Make a plan. Take care of what we own. Live within our means. These are guiding principles that citizens should expect from our government. They are principles that must be followed as the West Bend School Board considers the future of the district’s facilities.

Pick up a copy to read the whole thing.

Also, as a reminder, the Task Force’s full findings will be presented again at the Moose Lodge in West Bend at 1900 on October 24th courtesy of the Common Sense Citizens of Washington County. All are welcome to attend, listen, and ask questions.

Leading the West Bend way

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

In the wake of the failed referendum for the West Bend School District, the mayor of West Bend, Kraig Sadownikow, organized a private task force of local leaders to evaluate the maintenance and capital projects at the district’s high school and Jackson elementary facilities and share independent findings.

The task force was generously provided funding by Kevin Steiner of West Bend Mutual Insurance and Tim Schmidt of Delta Defense to retain Zimmerman Architectural Studios to provide technical facilities expertise.

The task force presented its findings to the West Bend School Board Monday night. Those findings show a different way forward for the West Bend School District and a model for other school districts to follow.

I am a member of the task force. While the findings are those of the task force, the opinions expressed in this column are my own. I will admit that I was dubious about participating in such an endeavor. The process was enlightening and enriching. I encourage the reader to go read the complete findings in the minutes of Monday night’s meeting available on the school district’s website and elsewhere.

To summarize the task force’s findings, the West Bend School District could accomplish everything it wanted to do in the referendum and much, much more without spending a dollar more than they already are. To do that, however, it will take some smart decisions and hard work. The district has some real facilities needs. While spending money is necessary to meet those needs, spending more money is not.

First, there are some realities facing the district. Enrollment is declining and is projected to continue declining for the next decade or more. The most recent enrollment tally taken last month shows that enrollment is declining even faster than the projections made last year. This isn’t a problem with the district. It is a demographic trend that is happening throughout the state. Proactive management in an age of declining enrollment and revenues is even more crucial than in an age of plenty.

Second, the district has done a poor job of in terms of general maintenance and capital facilities management. This is a systemic problem that stretches back many years. For example, the current capital maintenance budget of about $1.5 million is woefully inadequate for a district with about 1.5 million square feet of buildings. In the elementary schools alone, there is about $22.5 million of capital expenses looming over the next decade that are mostly unfunded. Whether intentional or not, the district has been managing facilities by letting them decay prematurely due to inadequate maintenance, and then passing referendums to replace them.

Also, the school district built a 25-year capital plan several years ago. The plan was built on projections of increasing enrollment for decades to come. The reality is that enrollment is declining and will continue to decline, but the 25-year plan was never updated to reflect the new realities. A long-range capital facilities plan that is continually refreshed with current data and scrutinized in public is critical.

Before embarking on an ambitious plan to build and renovate buildings, the School Board must rectify these budgetary and planning deficiencies to demonstrate that the West Bend School District will break the cycle of neglect and replace. The district cannot make new investments in facilities before solving the problem of maintaining what they have.

The failed referendum sought to make some significant renovations to the high school and replace Jackson Elementary. For the high school, the task force validated that there are some true needs that require work.

There are also a couple of areas where the building could be upgraded to drive a lot of value for a reasonable cost.

The failed referendum also sought to replace Jackson Elementary. This is where the task force’s findings took a turn that I did not expect. The Jackson Elementary building has significant problems, but just replacing it was always folly. It is an expensive endeavor that pours a fortune into one problem while leaving all of the other problems wanting.

The task force found that the district could build a state-of-the-art new elementary school campus on the south side of West Bend. Into the new building, the district could consolidate Jackson Elementary, Decorah Elementary, Fair Park Elementary, the district offices, the maintenance shed, and Rolfs Education Center into the single building. By combining six district buildings into a single campus, the district could provide a 21st-century learning environment to far more kids while saving millions of dollars per year in operational costs.

The best part is that by taking advantage of the operational efficiencies of a streamlined district infrastructure and making a few other easily identified operational efficiencies, the task force found that the district could do upgrade at the high school, modernize the entire elementary school footprint, and increase the ongoing maintenance budget to adequate levels without spending or taxing a dollar more than they already are.

More work is needed and much more public discussion must take place, but there is a legitimate path to make significant upgrades to the West Bend School District’s facilities, break the cycle of neglect and replace, and do so without increasing spending or taxes.

The West Bend School District can lead the way. Other school districts in Wisconsin should follow.

Leading the West Bend way

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. As you might expect, it about the work of the West Bend School District Private Task Force. Go pick up a copy, and see the news story about the same topic. Here’s a thrust of the column:

To summarize the task force’s findings, the West Bend School District could accomplish everything it wanted to do in the referendum and much, much more without spending a dollar more than they already are. To do that, however, it will take some smart decisions and hard work. The district has some real facilities needs. While spending money is necessary to meet those needs, spending more money is not.

[…]

More work is needed and much more public discussion must take place, but there is a legitimate path to make significant upgrades to the West Bend School District’s facilities, break the cycle of neglect and replace, and do so without increasing spending or taxes.

Lawmakers call for constitutional convention

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Here’s a part, so go get a copy for yourself.

Both political parties have sacrificed fiscal sanity at the altars of power and politics. The result is a $22.5 trillion national debt with another trillion dollars added to it this year alone. That is a debt of $183,000 per person, or $732,000 for a family of four. There are many things that can kill a country, but massive debt is a sure way. History has repeatedly shown us that when the debt bill comes due, that massive taxes, hyperinflation,

and collapsing economies follow. Then comes unemployment, instability, riots, and bloodshed. The United States is not immune to these forces. If we do not control our debt, it is only a matter of time before our nation goes the way of Venezuela, Weimar Germany, or Argentina.

While the problems in our federal government are myriad and severe, calling a constitutional convention is not without risk. Once called, there is no way to restrict the activities of the convention to a specific list of goals. The convention can choose to completely rewrite the Constitution or do nothing at all. Recall that the venerated Constitutional Convention of 1787, which created our current Constitution, was called into being for the expressly limited purpose of making a few tweaks to the Articles of Confederation. Instead, they rewrote history.

When and if a constitutional convention is convened, it will be filled with delegates from across the nation with very different ideas about how our nation should look and what constraints, if any, should be put on federal power. Some will seek to impose the socialist utopia being advocated by some of the presidential candidates. Some will seek a drastic reduction in the federal government. Some will just want to clean up some perceived errors in the current Constitution. Some will seek a completely new construction.

Convening a constitutional convention is risky because nobody really knows what it will produce. Some will think that it is better to deal with the devil we know instead of possibly creating a worse one. But given that our federal government is on course that will obliterate our nation as we know it with seemingly no will or way to impede that course, it is worth the risk.

Evers chooses partisan politics over good government

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. This morning I’m seeing that Evers is reconsidering the date, but is still considering some arbitrary date in January. The easiest and most sensible thing is to just hold the special election during the April cycle. That is, it is the easiest and most sensible thing if Evers isn’t trying to use this for political advantage.

Despite the attempts by his media allies to portray him as a genteel great-grandfather, Gov. Tony Evers has proven to be as rabidly partisan as any governor in recent memory. In the most recent example, Governor Evers has used his routine power and responsibility to set the date of a special election in a way that baffles voters, depresses turnout, and unnecessarily costs taxpayers thousands of dollars. He was willing to do all of that in order to create a possible political advantage for the Democratic Party.

[…]

The date that Evers chose for the special election is Monday, Jan. 27, with a primary on Monday, Dec. 30. Evers claimed that he wanted to ensure that the citizens of the 7th District were without representation for as little time as possible and January 27 was the soonest he could have called an election. That is untrue. By statute, the governor could have called the election as early as December 24. Christmas Eve would have been a poor time for election but holding the election a full 33 days later is not the earliest convenient date.

Then, Governor Evers chose a Monday. There is not a law that says that special elections must be held on a Tuesday, but generations of Wisconsinites have been conditioned to go to their polling places to vote on Tuesdays. There was no compelling reason to change that tradition in this case other than Governor Evers was trying to leverage some angle.

So why would Governor Evers schedule a special election on a Monday in late January? The date will depress turnout and cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars to pay for the special election. Why? The simple answer is: partisan political advantage.

First, in a Republican-leaning district, Governor Evers is hoping that by depressing turnout, it will benefit the Democratic candidate. An energized minority can beat a complacent majority if the turnout is small enough. It is a long shot, but Evers is willing to do his part.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, the voters of Wisconsin will be electing a state Supreme Court Justice on the April ballot. While a nonpartisan race, recent history has seen liberals and Democrats line up behind one candidate and conservatives and Republicans support the other. Evers is hoping to minimize turnout in the Republican-leaning 7th District for the April election by not giving the voters something that may motivate them to vote on more than a dull Supreme Court race.

The most sensible thing for the governor to have done would have been to just hold the special election during the April election. It was the most cost-effective choice and would have ensured the largest turnout. Choosing the April election would have been just good government. Instead, Governor Evers chose a date designed to benefit his party at the expense of the voters and taxpayers of the 7th Congressional District.

Governor Evers is considering tyranny

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

Not willing to concern himself with Constitutional constrictions or with concocting actual solutions to America’s crime problem, Governor Tony Evers announced two pieces of anti-civil rights legislation. The first bill is for Wisconsin to implement red-flag laws. The second bill is for universal background checks. Neither bill stands much chance in a legislature where civil rights are valued and protected, but it was what Evers said during the announcement that revealed his more tyrannical inclinations.

As for the bills that Evers proposed, this column detailed how red-flag laws are unworkable if we are still insistent on maintaining our 1st, 2nd, and 4th Amendment rights, and I hope that we still are insistent. So-called universal background checks are not necessarily constitutionally odious, but they impose a heavy regulatory burden on law-abiding citizens without actually doing anything about crime. The worst part about the imposition of universal background checks is that it allows politicians to claim that they are doing something when, in fact, they have done nothing except inconvenience a bunch of innocent people.

During the press conference announcing his proposals, Governor Evers was asked by a reporter if he would be willing to support a mandatory gun buyback program. Evers answered by saying that he would “consider it.” Only someone completely devoid of any respect for history and our civil rights would even consider such an oppressive idea.

The key word in mandatory gun buybacks is “mandatory.” We have had gun buybacks for years where misguided do-gooders and cynical politicians give people money for their old guns so that they can pretend to take guns out of the hands of criminals. Voluntary gun buybacks are useless in terms of crime prevention, but harmless.

“Mandatory” gun buybacks are exactly that. It is the government forcing citizens to surrender their firearms to the government, and if the citizens refuse, the government will use the full violent force of government to compel the citizens to comply. This force includes depriving citizens of property, liberty, and in the case of an armed confrontation, possibly life.

If you think that mandatory gun buybacks would stop at the “scary-looking gun du jour,” like the AR-15 or the AK-47, you have not paid attention to history or human nature. Once all of those are wrested from the hands of unwilling citizens, the despots will simply move onto the next target in the gun safe.

This is what Governor Evers casually said that he would consider. He would consider a full assault on our civil rights by having our government use its police power to confiscate firearms from law-abiding people. It is a disgraceful and tyrannical attitude from our governor.

Unfortunately, Governor Evers’ willingness to violate our civil rights is part of a growing trend in the radicalized Democratic Party. In the past, even liberal Democrats who supported more gun control laws would insist that they would never advocate taking away our guns. Now liberals like Governor Evers are quite willing to admit that they want to take away our guns.

With the liberals’ resurgent interest in trammeling our civil rights, it is important that all of us make a firm statement in the voting booth that we will not tolerate such an assault on our rights. In April, Wisconsinites will have the chance to affirm that we insist that our government remain restrained by our state and federal constitutions by electing Justice Dan Kelly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

After spending a career in private practice, Justice Kelly was appointed to the Supreme Court by Governor Walker after Justice David Prosser resigned from the court in 2016. In his almost three years on the court, Justice Kelly has honored his promises and honored his commitment to be a humble defender of the rule of law and our individual rights.

Governor Evers may consider assailing our rights and seizing our guns, but he and his fellow liberal travelers will never be able to do it as long as judicial conservatives sit on the Supreme Court. Electing Justice Kelly to a full term on the bench is our next chance to make our will known at the ballot box.

Governor Evers is considering tyranny

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Pick up a copy!

“Mandatory” gun buybacks are exactly that. It is the government forcing citizens to surrender their firearms to the government, and if the citizens refuse, the government will use the full violent force of government to compel the citizens to comply. This force includes depriving citizens of property, liberty, and in the case of an armed confrontation, possibly life.

If you think that mandatory gun buybacks would stop at the “scary-looking gun du jour,” like the AR-15 or the AK-47, you have not paid attention to history or human nature. Once all of those are wrested from the hands of unwilling citizens, the despots will simply move onto the next target in the gun safe.

[…]

With the liberals’ resurgent interest in trammeling our civil rights, it is important that all of us make a firm statement in the voting booth that we will not tolerate such an assault on our rights. In April, Wisconsinites will have the chance to affirm that we insist that our government remain restrained by our state and federal constitutions by electing Justice Dan Kelly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.

Washington County to have an elected executive

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

After much debate and a second vote by the County Board, Washington County will have a county executive. The structural change in government offers the citizens of Washington County an opportunity to reset the direction of the county for years to come.

The vote by the County Board last week to change the county’s form of government from a county administrator to a county executive came after the same board rejected the idea in June. Washington County has long had a form of government where the executive function is delegated to a hired administrator by the County Board. The county administrator is unelected and responsible to the County Board that hired him or her.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a county administrator form of government. In it, the elected County Board exercises both the legislative and executive functions of government with the executive functions being completed by a hired employee. This form of government ensures that the executive function will be completed by a competent executive, but all of the power is retained by the County Board.

The choice by the County Board to enact a county executive form of government represents a distinct ceding of power from the legislative branch of government to the executive branch of government. An elected county executive has to power to hire and fire department heads and veto County Board actions. Perhaps most important of all, an elected county executive is responsible to the voters, not the County Board. The County Board will no longer be able to fire a recalcitrant executive. In our county’s new form of government, the executive branch will truly be an independent, coequal branch of government.

The two things that a county executive form of government provides are accountability and direction. In our current county administrator form of government, accountability is diffused and it is difficult for citizens to hold their county government responsible. For example, if a county citizen is upset with a pockmarked county road, or the fee for county parks, or county transit, what can he do?

He can complain to the relevant county officials, but they are all ultimately responsible to the County Board. A citizen can complain to his or her County Board supervisor, but no single supervisor can enact change. It would take a citizen, or a coalition of citizens, complaining and getting 14 individual County Board supervisors to support making a change. If those supervisors will not act, it would take finding 14 people of like mind to run for office and win in order to change the makeup of the County Board. Ultimately, the county administrator form of government insulates the county bureaucracy from accountability.

As we see in other counties that already have an elected county executive who is responsible to the voters, having a single executive allows the citizens to hold that executive accountable if he underperforms or otherwise misbehaves. The county executive is not wholly responsible for policy, but he or she is responsible for the fair and quality execution of that policy. That kind of accountability has a ripple effect through any large organization.

The second thing that an elected county executive provides is the opportunity to establish a vision for the county. Washington County is in transition. While still largely rural with important rural interests, the county is becoming increasingly urban with important commercial and residential interests. What will the Washington County of 2025, 2030, or 2050 look like? With an interstate, land to build, airports, and a fantastic workforce, will Washington County aggressively compete for the economic growth being spurred in the rest of southeast Wisconsin? Or will we prefer to leverage the county’s idyllic natural beauty to attract commuters and nature enthusiasts? Or something in between? What is the right mix and balance?

These are the things that a county executive will help define and give the voters the opportunity to choose the direction they want. And, more importantly, if a county executive takes the county down a path that the voters do not want, it only takes a single election to change direction.

As candidates for county executive step forward to ask for our votes over the next few months, I welcome an array of competing visions for the future of our county so that we, the voters, may debate and decide the future direction of Washington County.

Washington County to have an elected executive

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. This week it’s actually about Washington County. Pick up a copy!

After much debate and a second vote by the County Board, Washington County will have a county executive. The structural change in government offers the citizens of Washington County an opportunity to reset the direction of the county for years to come.

[…]

The second thing that an elected county executive provides is the opportunity to establish a vision for the county. Washington County is in transition. While still largely rural with important rural interests, the county is becoming increasingly urban with important commercial and residential interests. What will the Washington County of 2025, 2030, or 2050 look like? With an interstate, land to build, airports, and a fantastic workforce, will Washington County aggressively compete for the economic growth being spurred in the rest of southeast Wisconsin? Or will we prefer to leverage the county’s idyllic natural beauty to attract commuters and nature enthusiasts? Or something in between? What is the right mix and balance?

These are the things that a county executive will help define and give the voters the opportunity to choose the direction they want. And, more importantly, if a county executive takes the county down a path that the voters do not want, it only takes a single election to change direction.

As candidates for county executive step forward to ask for our votes over the next few months, I welcome an array of competing visions for the future of our county so that we, the voters, may debate and decide the future direction of Washington County.

Sensenbrenner’s final term

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

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

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

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

Another year, another tax surplus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Another year, another tax surplus

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

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

Our rights are not ‘BS’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Our rights are not ‘BS’

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

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

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

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