Tag Archives: Washington County Daily News

A letter of thanks to Gov. Scott Walker

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

Dear Gov. Scott Walker,

Like many Wisconsinites, I was truly disappointed to see the voters of our state decline to elect you for a third term. I can say with confidence that you have been the most transformational and important governor of my lifetime. We are all currently enjoying the fruits of your efforts with record employment, higher wages, lower taxes and so much more. While your accomplishments over two short terms number in the hundreds, if not thousands, I would like to highlight a few of your achievements for which I am personally particularly thankful.

I cannot begin any list like this without putting Act 10 at the top. In terms of transformational reforms, Act 10 ranks high. Not only did it put power back into the hands of local governments to serve their constituents without being choked by union contracts, but it also saved taxpayers billions of dollars in money that was being wantonly wasted. Thank you.

You managed to pull Wisconsin into the 21st century of civil rights by enacting concealed carry. As a matter of individual liberty, the concealed carry law is an important protection of our natural and civil right to keep and bear arms. It also has the additional benefit of allowing Wisconsinites to carry lethal force to protect themselves when the worst happens. Thank you.

Freezing tuition for all University of Wisconsin schools has a two-pronged benefit. First, it saved Wisconsinites thousands of dollars and made it more affordable for more kids to obtain a higher education. Second, it forced the UW System to economize — or at least think about economizing. Thank you.

I certainly am thankful for the lower taxes that you enacted. Lower income taxes and the complete elimination of the state property tax have helped my family and many others. Plus, lower taxes on businesses has had a positive impact on our state’s economy. Thank you.

As a hunter, conservationist and homeowner, I appreciate the new attitude that you engendered in the Department of Natural Resources and other state agencies. In the past, the DNR took an aggressive and adversarial stance with citizens in the enforcement of environmental regulations and wildlife management. Now the DNR works with citizens and businesses to help them comply with the law, thus leading to a better citizen experience and better environmental enforcement. Thank you.

The expansion of school choice to the entire state has been a tremendous blessing for families who were unable to choose a different school for their children when their children were unable to be successful in current public school — even if they could not afford it due to their financial circumstances. School choice has also helped shift the culture in many of our public schools to make them more accountable to the parents and children they serve. Thank you.

Persuading Foxconn to build their facility in Wisconsin was truly the culmination of all of your efforts to make Wisconsin a more attractive place for businesses to build and grow. The Foxconn factory and offices will be massive, but even more so all of the supporting businesses that are springing up. Foxconn is the largest economic development that you had a hand in, but it is only one of thousands of other economic successes blossoming in our state. Never in my lifetime did I think that Wisconsin would have more jobs than available workers, but we do. Thank you.

Finally, and I know this actually goes back to your tenure as the Milwaukee County executive, but every time I drive into General Mitchell International Airport, I am glad that I do not have to drive past a ridiculous colossal Blue Shirt on the side of the parking garage. Thank you.

As you ponder the end of this chapter of your public service career, I hope that you can look back with pride on what you have accomplished for millions of Wisconsinites and the generations to come. Your hard work and passion for the people of Wisconsin and your conservative principles have paid off. You weren’t just marking time. You made a difference.

A letter of thanks to Gov. Scott Walker

My column in the Washington County Daily News today is a letter of thanks to Governor Walker. Click through to read the whole thing.

Dear Gov. Scott Walker,

Like many Wisconsinites, I was truly disappointed to see the voters of our state decline to elect you for a third term. I can say with confidence that you have been the most transformational and important governor of my lifetime. We are all currently enjoying the fruits of your efforts with record employment, higher wages, lower taxes and so much more. While your accomplishments over two short terms number in the hundreds, if not thousands, I would like to highlight a few of your achievements for which I am personally particularly thankful.

Governing is harder with diverse opinions

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday. Given the election results, it seems well-timed.

Now that this election season is coming to a close, our soon-to-be newly elected, or re-elected, Wisconsin politicians must turn their attention to solving our state’s problems. If they think that this political campaign was hard, governing a state with such diverse opinions is harder.

Throughout the campaign, Wisconsinites have repeatedly called out the issues that need attention. Wisconsinites consistently identify education and the economy as top issues of concern. Unfortunately, most polls do not delve deep enough into the issues to uncover precisely what the perceived problems are that need addressing, but it can safely be assumed that Wisconsinites want a great education for their kids and a great economy.

When it comes to education, Wisconsinites rightly want our kids to get the best possible education at a cost that we can afford. In the most recent round of test results released by the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction, less than half of students in third grade through eighth grade are proficient or better in English/language arts or math, and the average composite ACT score for 11th graders was 19.8. These statistics have been consistent for the past several years.

Interpreting test results always depends on one’s perspective, but the general perception is that Wisconsin’s education establishment can do a better job of educating our kids than that. Unfortunately, we have allowed politicians of both parties to fall into the lazy rhetorical position of substituting spending with accomplishments. Spending more money on education does not lead to better outcomes. If that were the case, then we would see it in the test results when we spend more. In fact, the kids who attend choice schools, which generally spend less per student than public schools, achieved higher test scores on average than the kids who attend public schools.

Instead of focusing on how much more we can spend on education, our politicians should advance policies designed to actually improve education. For example, if we look around the world at other educational systems that have better outcomes, they offer some insight into how to do things differently. In some countries, the curriculum is narrower, but deeper. The schools put all of their efforts into ensuring that the students have a deep understanding of core subjects instead of spending time on a more “wellrounded” education. Other school systems have also moved to all-year school to maintain momentum throughout the year. Still others have been aggressive in making sure that disruptive students are removed from the classroom to ensure a quality learning environment for the other students.

In short, in seeking policy prescriptions to improve education, Wisconsin’s politicians should be advancing actual data-driven ideas. Throwing more money into the same education machine expecting different results is lunacy.

When it comes to the economy, there is no dispute that it is booming in Wisconsin. Unemployment is hovering at a record low. Wages are increasing. Wisconsin’s historic economic engines, like manufacturing and agriculture, are strengthening again. Meanwhile, Wisconsin is attracting and growing new economic pillars like high-tech manufacturing and biotech. The biggest problem Wisconsin has right now is that there are more jobs than qualified people to fill them.

Economies are naturally complex and the reasons for the current boom are myriad. The policies and attitude of Wisconsin’s state government over the past few years can certainly claim some credit. Lower taxes, state agencies that strive to work with businesses, regulatory reforms, stable state finances, and a quality transportation infrastructure have all created an environment in which businesses can succeed.

When it comes to the economy, as with most things, the best government is the least government. As the state’s politicians enter the new year, they must not act to disrupt the economic policies that are working by introducing higher taxes, more regulations, or fostering an adversarial relationship with businesses. Instead, they should focus on the economic issues that need addressing, like attracting more workers to move to Wisconsin.

Most of all, as Wisconsin’s freshly elected politicians settle into their jobs, they must remember that not every problem requires a government solution. Most of the time, the best solution is for government to get out of the way.

Governing is harder with diverse opinions

My column is in the Washington County Daily News today. First, go vote. Second, tomorrow we have to start governing again. Here’s a taste.

When it comes to the economy, as with most things, the best government is the least government. As the state’s politicians enter the new year, they must not act to disrupt the economic policies that are working by introducing higher taxes, more regulations, or fostering an adversarial relationship with businesses. Instead, they should focus on the economic issues that need addressing, like attracting more workers to move to Wisconsin.

Most of all, as Wisconsin’s freshly elected politicians settle into their jobs, they must remember that not every problem requires a government solution. Most of the time, the best solution is for government to get out of the way.

Keep Wisconsin moving forward

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

Early voting has been underway in Wisconsin for several weeks, but the end of the election season is rapidly approaching. Nov. 6 is the final day to vote. As a free people, we have the hardearned right to set the course of our public affairs for years to come. We must choose wisely.

There are many important choices on the ballot, but the three at the top of the ballot are paramount for the future of our state. Brad Schimel is asking for a second term as Wisconsin’s attorney general and he has earned it.

In his first term, Schimel has launched programs to support victims of domestic abuse and violent crime, fought the opioid abuse epidemic, supported local law enforcement, fixed the rape kit backlog that he inherited and much more. Schimel has led the Department of Justice as it should be run — as a no nonsense, law and order shop.

This stands in stark contrast to what his opponent, Josh Kaul, wants to do with the office. Kaul is part of the massive liberal effort, spearheaded by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, to elect rabid activists as attorneys general across the nation. Their objective is to use the power of the office of attorney general to wage liberal havoc against their enemies. For the sake of law and order, Wisconsin must reelect Attorney General Brad Schimel.

State Sen. Leah Vukmir is challenging U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin. This race is a contrast in work ethic as well as ideology. Baldwin is completing her first term and one struggles to come up with a single accomplishment to her name. Backbenching inaction has been the hallmark of Baldwin’s entire political career. In almost six years as Wisconsin’s junior senator, the only thing that is remarkable about Baldwin’s tenure has been that she is a tremendously reliable vote for the Democratic leaders and every lefty cause they dreamt up.

During the exact same time, one could find Vukmir at the center of every major reform enacted in Wisconsin. Vukmir was at the center of Act 10, advancing school choice, reforming welfare, lowering taxes, health care reform, expanding civil rights and has been instrumental in advancing the reforms that have led to an economic renaissance in our state. Wisconsin is dramatically better off than it was when Vukmir first stepped into the state Legislature. We need a senator like Vukmir who will actually work for Wisconsin’s interests in Washington.

Finally, Gov. Scott Walker is asking Wisconsin for a third and final term as our governor. He has certainly earned it. Perhaps the easiest way to measure Walker’s tenure is by asking the old question, “are you better off ?” By virtually every measurement, the answer is, “yes.”

When Walker first assumed office, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was 8 percent. Now it is less than 3 percent for the eighth month in a row. Before Walker became governor, businesses were fleeing Wisconsin. Now businesses like Foxconn are clamoring to set up shop in our state. Before Walker, taxes were going up every year at almost every level with no end in sight. Now Wisconsinites have enjoyed a decrease in the tax burden and the elimination of the state property tax.

Before Walker, tuition at the state’s universities were going up faster than inflation. Now Walker has frozen tuition at UW schools and students can more easily afford a higher education. Before Walker, the state was running a deficit in the billions of dollars. Now the state regularly runs a small surplus that has been used to give money back to taxpayers or bolster the state’s rainy day fund.

Before Walker became our governor, the DNR was feared by businesses, homeowners and conservationists alike. Now the DNR works to help people comply with environmental regulations. Before Walker, our civil rights to keep and bear arms were unreasonably restricted. Now Wisconsinites enjoy the liberties to which we are entitled. Before Walker, some of Wisconsin’s workers were forced to be members of a union if they wanted to work. Now every Wisconsin worker enjoys the right to freely associate.

By virtually every measurement — economic, civil rights, taxes, regulatory climate, etc. — Wisconsin is much better off than it was before Walker took office. Unless you want to see all of our progress come to a screeching halt, vote for Walker.

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.

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

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

With school back in full swing, the MacIver Institute’s Ola Lisowski completed a comprehensive review of the state of education in Wisconsin. The data gives some insight into how well our education system is serving our kids and raises some questions. One is left wondering, however, why Wisconsin’s politicians insist that throwing more money into education is the only answer.

Overall, ACT achievement scores have remained flat. In 2017, the average ACT score for graduating students was 20.5. That was the exact same as in 2016. Prior to 2016, the average ACT score remained flat at 22.0 or 22.1, but there was a change in participation requirements in 2016.

Until 2016, students only took the ACT if they were intending to go to college or just wanted to take the test. Starting in 2016, Wisconsin began requiring all enrolled students to take the ACT and taxpayers pay for the exams. Although students can still opt-out, the new rules pushed the participation rate for taking the ACT from the 63.5 percent in 2015 to 92.1 percent in 2016 and 2017. The fact that a much larger number of kids are taking the ACT — including many who do not have any intention of attending college — necessarily lowers the average.

Compared to the other 16 states that require all students to take the ACT, Wisconsin’s average is third best. Only Colorado and Minnesota do better.

Another metric for which longitudinal data is available is Advanced Placement course participation and results. Average scores for AP tests have been trending slightly down since 2010. In 2011, 68 percent of students scored a 3 or better on AP exams and 65.9 percent scored that well last year. But the good news is that more and more kids are taking AP exams. Last year, 57 percent more AP exams were taken as compared to the 2010-2011 school year. Much like with the ACT, broader participation usually pushes the average down, so it is good to see so little decline with the surge in participation.

Graduation rates have increased slightly since 2011 from 87 percent to 88.6 percent in 2017. That beats the national average of 84 percent. The real news in the much better graduation rates for some minority groups. The Hispanic and Latino graduation rate jumped from 72 percent in 2011 to 79.9 percent in 2016. The graduation rate for Native American kids grew from 71.7 percent in 2011 to 77.8 percent in 2016. Asian and black graduation rates increased by 0.5 percent and 0.4 percent, respectively. More kids are graduating and that is good news.

Unfortunately, we must temper the good news about the graduation rate with the data about remedial education. For many years, colleges have offered remedial education classes for incoming students.

They are classes for kids who are accepted and enrolled into the college, but need to shore up their core math or English skills.

Wisconsin began requiring in 2016 that UW System schools track which students need remedial education and the high schools that graduated those kids. The results are not good. Roughly 20 percent of all incoming students in the UW System require some form of remedial classes. These students graduated from 184 high schools. That means that almost 36 percent of Wisconsin high schools are sending kids to college who are not proficient in math or English. Not only is that indictment of those high schools, but it is a tremendous added expense to those kids who have to pay for remedial education they should have already received.

There is a lot more data on school performance. I invite you to read the overview at the MacIver Institute or dig through the Department of Public Instruction data yourself. 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.

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.