Tag Archives: Washington County Daily News

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.

Trump improves retirement savings options for Americans

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

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

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

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

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 The government needs the money to be withdrawn before the retiree dies so that it can be taxed.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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trump improves retirement savings options for Americans

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

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

Marquette poll indicates Wisconsin’s political fundamentals remain unchanged

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marquette poll indicates Wisconsin’s political fundamentals remain unchanged

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

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

 

Baldwin’s tragic record of inaction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baldwin’s tragic record of inaction

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

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

The inescapable motive

Here is my column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday. It’s a bit esoteric… I know.

“Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?” The enigmatic words of “The Shadow” immediately came to mind upon hearing Clark County (Nevada) Sheriff Joe Lombardo discussing his office’s final report on the 2017 mass killing in Las Vegas.

While the 187-page report contains a detailed account of the events surrounding that day, the investigators couldn’t determine the killer’s motive. There is not any evidence that he was engaging in an act of terrorism, revenge or targeted murder. He was not acting on behalf of any group or cause. He was not demonstrably insane or angry. The only motive left is the most obvious. He was just evil.

We all intuitively know that evil is at the root of every mass killing like the one in Las Vegas, but we are uncomfortable with acknowledging that evil can act by itself without an identifiable motivator. Surely the killer must have been angry about something in his personal life or some injustice in the world, right? Surely society must have failed him in some way or missed the early signs. Surely there is some law or policy that could have prevented such a wonton act of carnage. Surely there was something that forced the evil in this man’s soul to the surface to explain such a physical manifestation of rage.

In this case, all evidence indicates that the killer committed an evil act for no other reason than that he was evil. Acknowledging this is unsettling to us because it challenges some deeply held convictions about our place in the universe.

It is in our human nature to want to explain everything. This drive pushes us to study, learn, experiment and explore. It is a drive that has pushed us to expand the boundaries of human knowledge. It is also part of our human nature to have the hubris to think that we can explain everything.

It is a challenge to our inflated self-worth as a species to be confronted with things that are beyond our explanation. It defies our nature to acknowledge that there are things that are beyond human understanding and are only knowable to God. Understanding that evil exists and that it cannot be “fixed” with the tools of this world is to understand that our place in the hierarchy of the universe is not at the top.

When it comes to public policy, we continually try to fix evil without ever acknowledging that the goal is unattainable. Whenever something like this happened, we flail about looking for some law or technique that would have prevented it just to see evil manifest in a different way. Our Sisyphean efforts are forever unrewarded.

That is not to say that we should not try to mitigate the impact of evil in our society. Reasonable laws, rigorously enforced, are the hallmark of an orderly society. The issue becomes when our policy efforts shift too much power from individuals to government. While evil can never be eradicated, evil’s power can be amplified when augmented by the implements of government. The Las Vegas killer was no more or less evil than Mao Zedong, Ismail Pasha or Joseph Stalin, but the Vegas killer’s ability to carry out destruction was vastly limited compared to those monsters. Evil diffused is more bearable than evil concentrated.

Another quote came to mind when considering the implications of evil in our world. The late Secretary of State Dean Acheson once said, “much in life could not be affected or mitigated, and, hence, must be borne.” Indeed it must. But not without the hope of a better world to come.

Guidelines for corporate welfare

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

As each day passes, the deal that Gov. Scott Walker struck with Foxconn to incent them to build a massive facility in Wisconsin continues to look better. Foxconn has already expanded its original commitment to Wisconsin to include additional facilities in Milwaukee, Eau Claire and Green Bay. Now that the Foxconn deal has set a benchmark, some lawmakers, including Walker, are seeking to give Kimberly- Clark a similar package to keep a plant, and more than 600 jobs, in Wisconsin. The Legislature should reject such a deal, but they should set some broad criteria for when they would consider doling out taxpayer incentives.

Conservatives philosophically reject corporate welfare of any kind for many reasons. Using the coercive power of government to tax citizens for the purpose of handing it to other citizens is vexing. Furthermore, government intervention anywhere in a market distorts that market and makes it less efficient. Politicians spending other people’s money have the least vested interest in any business decision and are prone to making poor decisions. And there is always the risk of graft and corruption when politicians are making arbitrary decisions about which businesses will receive a handout.

There are many factors that go into a business decision about where to locate new businesses. Most of those factors have little to do with government. Access to natural resources, a labor force, proximity to customers and suppliers, etc., weigh heavily on those decisions. Also considered are the broad government policy aspects of a given location like tax rates, quality infrastructure, regulatory requirements, etc.

Wisconsin already has a legendary workforce and abundant natural resources.

In an ideal world, the state’s tax and regulatory burden would be so reasonable that businesses that could locate here would be fools for not doing so. Unfortunately, despite great improvement under Republican leadership, the weight of government in Wisconsin still makes it a more expensive place to live and do business than most other states. Absent a drastic reduction in the size and expense of government, Wisconsin state government must seek ways to level the playing field with other states and incent businesses to move here.

The taxpayers are not a bottomless well of money and state lawmakers need to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money under their care. If Wisconsin’s politicians are going to use the taxpayers’ money to incent businesses to grow in the state, they need to adhere to some general principles to guide them. Business decisions are naturally complex. Every decision must be weighed with the facts presented, but there must be some general philosophy underlying the decisions.

First, the result of any incentive package should be a net economic gain for the state. For example, the projected economic impact of Foxconn measures in the tens of billions of dollars for an incentive plan costing a fraction of that. For Kimberly-Clark, the proposed plan is to maintain a business that already exists.

Second, any incentive package must include specific, measurable benchmarks for the business receiving the incentives and hold them accountable to those benchmarks. This requires interested, diligent work on the part of the overseeing state agency and the Legislature for years after the politicians who granted the incentives are out of office. If businesses know they can promise the moon without any accountability, it undermines the effectiveness and integrity of any deal.

Third, the incentives must be structured in a sensible way for the taxpayers. For example, an incentive package that forgoes future tax revenue that would not be realized anyway without the business meeting its commitments is far preferable to an immediate expenditure of existing money.

Fourth, Wisconsin’s politicians should not try to use taxpayer-financed incentives to fight larger economic trends. Our economy is constantly changing with entire industries being created and collapsing. Using incentives to attract growing industries to Wisconsin is preferable to using them to prop up dying industries.

Finally, tax incentives should only be used as a last resort and not to put icing on a decision that is already made for other reasons. If a business is already going to locate or expand in Wisconsin because of other reasons, then Wisconsin’s politicians should not waste taxpayer money on incentives just because the business asked for them.

Perhaps there will come a day when Wisconsin’s tax and regulatory burdens are so sensible that businesses will flock here like they do to some other states. Until then, the judicious use of taxpayer money for incentives will be a reality we cannot avoid if we are going to compete in the global economy.

 

Guidelines for corporate welfare

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. As businesses lineup for incentives from the taxpayers of Wisconsin, I attempt to draw some boundaries for when lawmakers should consider it. Here’s a taste:

In an ideal world, the state’s tax and regulatory burden would be so reasonable that businesses that could locate here would be fools for not doing so. Unfortunately, despite great improvement under Republican leadership, the weight of government in Wisconsin still makes it a more expensive place to live and do business than most other states. Absent a drastic reduction in the size and expense of government, Wisconsin state government must seek ways to level the playing field with other states and incent businesses to move here.

The taxpayers are not a bottomless well of money and state lawmakers need to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ money under their care. If Wisconsin’s politicians are going to use the taxpayers’ money to incent businesses to grow in the state, they need to adhere to some general principles to guide them. Business decisions are naturally complex. Every decision must be weighed with the facts presented, but there must be some general philosophy underlying the decisions.

West Bend School Board has not earned the right to ask for more money

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

After conducting a sham survey that returned the results they paid to get, the West Bend School District’s Board of Education is deciding whether or not to ask the taxpayers for gobs more money via referendum.

Given they have been running the liberal playbook for passing a referendum, the school board is expected to punch it over the goal line and put a massive referendum on the November ballot. The school board should reconsider its reckless course and demonstrate the sensible fiscal management that the citizens deserve.

At issue is the manufactured facilities “crisis” at Jackson Elementary and the West Bend high schools. While the buildings are both perfectly functional and have decades of use left in them if properly maintained, some folks would like to remodel or replace them. Even though buildings have no impact on whether or not kids get a good education compared to what happens inside those buildings, constructing school buildings is easier than doing the hard work necessary to improve educational outcomes.

To that end, the school board created a Citizens Facility Advisory Committee last year that spent months in what proved to be manipulated process designed to tell the school board what it wanted to hear. Then the school board spent thousands of taxpayer dollars to conduct an equally fraudulent community survey that was also designed to tell it what it wanted to hear. On the weight of these two sham activities, the school board is now considering a referendum.

The survey results were presented to the school board last week. Of the approximately 40,000 adults in the district, 2,815 surveys were returned, constituting a 7 percent return rate. Of those 2,815 surveys, 93 percent lived in the district and 17 percent were employees of the school district. Even though the survey was disproportionally weighted with district employees and had a small sample, only 53 percent of respondents supported building a new elementary school in Jackson. The school board is interpreting the survey as telling them that the taxpayers would support a $50 million (not including interest) referendum.

There are many reasons that the taxpayers should not support a referendum in the West Bend School District, but let us highlight perhaps the biggest three.

First, despite the claims of builders and architects who make money from school construction, there is no correlation between fancy school buildings and the quality of education that takes place inside them. Once a minimal standard of safety and function are met, trendy reading nooks and naturally lit atriums do not help one child get a better education. If the school board wants to spend an additional $50 million of the taxpayers’ money, they should at least use the money to provide kids with a better education.

Second, enrollment in the West Bend School District is declining and is projected to continue the slide for the foreseeable future. This has almost nothing to do with the school district itself. It is a reflection of demographic trends and the expansion of alternative educational options. Online learning, School Choice, homeschooling, etc., all erode from an already shrinking student population. Why should the taxpayers invest an additional $50 million to build larger buildings for fewer kids?

Third, the school board has demonstrated poor stewardship of the taxpayers’ resources by failing to fully utilize the power given to it by Act 10 to manage the largest expense in the budget — personnel. Immediately after Act 10, previous school boards began down the path of implementing things like merit pay and benefits reform, but all of that progress stopped a couple of years ago.

Just last week, the Wisconsin Department of Administration released detailed description of the health insurance plans for every school district in Wisconsin. The data shows the least expensive family health insurance plan that the West Bend School District provides costs the taxpayers a whopping $21,864 per year. That compares to an average of $20,062 for all Wisconsin school districts and a national average of $18,764. The other plans offered are even more expensive. The West Bend School District is overpaying for health insurance.

Of that premium, a district employee can pay as little as $588 per year, or 2.7 percent, for their share of the premium if they receive a wellness incentive by passing a wellness screening and not smoking. This compares with an average of 11.7 percent for all Wisconsin school districts, 29 percent for state and local government employees across the nation, and 33 percent for private sector employees across the nation. On top of that, the district provides an onsite clinic for employees at no cost to the employees. Such clinics are supposed to lower the cost of health insurance, but the West Bend School District continues to pay well above the average cost for health insurance and asks employees to pay well below the average for their share.

A little quick math shows that if the West Bend School District simply paid the national average for a family health insurance plan ($18,764) and required employees to pay the national average share of the cost for state and local government employees (29 percent), it would save the taxpayers of the district $7,954 per family plan.

To date, the school board has failed to demonstrate sensible fiscal management on behalf of the citizens of the district.

Before the school board asks the taxpayers to sink tens of millions of more dollars into buildings for a district with declining enrollment, they must at least show that they are willing to use the tools available to them to manage the money they already spend.

West Bend School Board has not earned the right to ask for more money

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online today. I think you can guess what the topic is from the headline, but here’s how it starts:

After conducting a sham survey that returned the results they paid to get, the West Bend School District’s Board of Education is deciding whether or not to ask the taxpayers for gobs more money via referendum.

Given they have been running the liberal playbook for passing a referendum, the school board is expected to punch it over the goal line and put a massive referendum on the November ballot. The school board should reconsider its reckless course and demonstrate the sensible fiscal management that the citizens deserve.

Go pick up a paper to read the whole thing. In the same paper, you’ll read a story on the front page about the declining enrollments in the district. We also get a first glimpse of the new Superintendent at work. It appears that he’s already all in for a referendum based on his few weeks living in the community:

During his first board meeting, Superintendent Don Kirkegaard said the Jackson area has three housing developments on the way, one of which will have more than 100 houses.

 

Illegal Immigration. Neat.

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

In an effort to whip up emotions for the midterm elections and drive racial divisions in America, the Democrats have allied themselves with the radical open borders fringe groups to call for the abolition of the Immigration and Customer Enforcement agency. While such a movement has very serious implications, it resulted in a comical exposition of hypocrisy and rank opportunism for a Wisconsin politician.

ICE is a massive federal agency with two central charters. The first is to enforce the nation’s immigration laws in the interior of the country. Customs and Border Protection is responsible for enforcing the nation’s borders, but once immigrants, illegal or otherwise, are inside, it is the responsibility of ICE to identify, apprehend and deport people who are illegally residing in the United States.

The second mission for ICE is to investigate activities that occur as a result of people illegally moving people and goods across America’s borders. This includes human trafficking, terrorism, drug smuggling, gang activities, cybercrimes, child exploitation, money laundering, the theft of intellectual property and the like.

When the Democrats talk about abolishing ICE, they are not talking about replacing it with another agency. They are talking about abandoning the enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws and just allowing anyone who makes it past the gauntlet of the border to just stay in America. Unable to muster the political power to change our immigration laws, some Democrats are seeking to negate the law by abolishing the agency tasked with enforcing that law.

When one considers how much ICE does for our nation, one realizes that abolishing the agency and abandoning its missions would unleash a wave of mayhem. According to ICE’s 2017 figures, the agency arrested 4,818 gang members including 796 from the evil MS-13 gang, rescued 904 children from exploitation, rescued 518 human trafficking victims, seized 6,967 pounds of heroin and 2,370 pounds of fentanyl, made 32,958 criminal arrests, and so much more.

When it comes to deportations, ICE, on orders from President Donald Trump, focused its resources heavily on deporting illegal aliens who had committed crimes. More than 89 percent of all illegal aliens deported by ICE in 2017 had either been convicted of a crime or had criminal charges pending. The largest percentage of crimes committed by deportees included drunk driving, drugs and assault. If ICE had not enforced our laws, all of those criminals would still be in America and if there is one thing we know about criminals, it is that they rarely stop committing crimes of their own accord.

All of this brings us to the hilarious theatrics of Wisconsin’s Congressman Mark Pocan. Hailing from the comfortably safe liberal District centered on Dane County, Pocan authored a bill to fulfill the fantasies of the radicals and abolish ICE. Under Pocan’s plan, the criminal functions of ICE would move to other agencies, but the enforcement of immigration laws would cease. Pocan apparently forgot he could write bills to change the immigration laws and instead opted for the anarchy of laws without an enforcement arm instead.

Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, from the neighboring Wisconsin Congressional District, obliged Congressman Pocan’s effort and announced he would bring Pocan’s bill to abolish ICE to the floor. Despite the fact that Pocan is a member of the minority party, Ryan and the Republican leadership decided to call the vote and let the chips fall where they may.

As a member of the minority party in the Congress, Congressman Pocan intended his bill to be political posturing to feed the anger of the radical Left for the election. He never actually intended for it to be voted upon. Stoking the fires of hatred before an election is far more important to Pocan than serious immigration reform. With his bluff called and his shameless charade on display for the world to see, Pocan immediately called “foul” and said that he would vote against his own bill.

When people complain about the divisive state of political discourse in our nation, it is politicians like Congressman Pocan who is responsible. Instead of using the office entrusted to him by his constituents to work for rational immigration reforms, he chose to author a bill that even he would not support for the purpose of fueling rage before an election. Wisconsin, and the dedicated public servants of ICE, deserve better.

Illegal Immigration. Neat.

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. You can find the entire thing by picking up a paper or buying an online subscription. Here’s a snippet.

When the Democrats talk about abolishing ICE, they are not talking about replacing it with another agency. They are talking about abandoning the enforcement of our nation’s immigration laws and just allowing anyone who makes it past the gauntlet of the border to just stay in America. Unable to muster the political power to change our immigration laws, some Democrats are seeking to negate the law by abolishing the agency tasked with enforcing that law.

Supreme Power

Here is my column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday. And now that I’ve ruminated and griped about how much power we have ceded to an unelected branch of government, the realities of today dictate that we must get a good, constructionist jurist in place before the election.

The Supreme Court of the Unites States completed its session with a flurry of mostly good rulings and Justice Anthony Kennedy added an exclamation point by announcing his retirement. With the prospect of President Trump’s second appointment to the court looming, every politician and special interest in America has launched into battle as if the world depended on the outcome.

I can’t help but feel a deep sense of sadness for the state of our republic. It was never supposed to be like this.

Somehow we have drifted from Judge Marshall’s opinion in Marbury v. Madison, “that a law repugnant to the Constitution is void; and that courts, as well as other departments, are bound by that instrument” to a point where the Supreme Court of the United States is routinely called the “final arbiter of the Constitution” without so much as a second thought. But interpretation and enforcement of the Constitution is not the sole responsibility of the Supreme Court. Even Marshall acknowledged this fact when he includes “other departments” in the quote above. Those “other departments” are the other two branches of government.

The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It supersedes anything generated by any part of the government. This is what Marshall meant when he wrote: “The Constitution is either a superior, paramount law, unchangeable by ordinary means, or it is on a level with ordinary legislative acts, and, like other acts, is alterable when the legislature shall please to alter it.

If the former part of the alternative be true, then a legislative act contrary to the Constitution is not law: if the latter part be true, then written constitutions are absurd attempts, on the part of the people, to limit a power in its own nature illimitable.”

In other words, a written constitution is meaningless if it is able to be quashed by a simple act of the legislature or by an arbitrary regulation from the executive. It is the responsibility of every branch of the government to maintain the integrity of the Constitution.

It is worth noting that Marshall closed his opinion by pointing out that the oath taken by judges obligates the judges to place the Constitution above other considerations. The oath taken by a judge reads, in part: “I will support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

This portion of a federal judge’s oath is also included in the oath taken by a soldier, a senator, a congressman and, most notably, a new United States citizen. Just as a new citizen must verbally vow to support and defend the Constitution, each natural- born American citizen implicitly adheres to the same oath as a duty of citizenship. It is every citizen’s duty to support and defend the Constitution.

It must be remembered that the Constitution is a document that restricts what the federal government can do. The federal government is specifically denied the power to do anything outside of the specific powers delegated to it in the Constitution.

Since the Constitution is a shackle for government, why would we make an institution of that government “the final arbiter” of its meaning and extent? That is like letting a child be the final arbiter on how much Halloween candy is permissible to eat in one sitting. Just as that child would end up bloated and sick, so too would a government left to decide its own boundaries.

The current apoplectic fury over the appointment of a single judge of a ninejudge panel of a single branch of our three-branch government is symptomatic of the degeneration of our adherence to our Constitution. As a people, we Americans have ceded the responsibility of binding our government to the tenets of our Constitution to an unelected branch of that same government. We have permitted the pendulum of power to be permanently stuck on the side of the government.

The result has been predictable. Our federal government routinely acts well outside its constitutional boundaries with not only the consent, but the adulation of much of the citizenry.

As the federal government’s overseers, it is the American people’s historic responsibility to fasten tight the constitutional fetters with which we bind our government and closely guard the key. Yet over the past two centuries, we have fallen asleep on our watch and left the keys dangling within easy reach of our charge.

I do not fault the political factions in our nation for waging a rhetorically bloody crusade for control of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court has become the nuclear weapon of the modern American political landscape, control of which dictates supremacy. At the same time, every citizen should take to heart the words written in our Declaration of Independence: “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” The Supreme Court only has as much power as Americans consent to give it.

 

Supreme Power

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. You can find the whole thing by following the link. Here’s a snippet:

Since the Constitution is a shackle for government, why would we make an institution of that government “the final arbiter” of its meaning and extent? That is like letting a child be the final arbiter on how much Halloween candy is permissible to eat in one sitting. Just as that child would end up bloated and sick, so too would a government left to decide its own boundaries.

The current apoplectic fury over the appointment of a single judge of a nine judge panel of a single branch of our three-branch government is symptomatic of the degeneration of our adherence to our Constitution. As a people, we Americans have ceded the responsibility of binding our government to the tenets of our Constitution to an unelected branch of that same government. We have permitted the pendulum of power to be permanently stuck on the side of the government.

The result has been predictable. Our federal government routinely acts well outside its constitutional boundaries with not only the consent, but the adulation of much of the citizenry.

Wisconsin politicians should reject tax increase on internet purchases

As you could have read yesterday in the Washington County Daily News, here is my column urging Wisconsin’s Republicans to reject a tax increase.

Thanks to a 1992 ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court that said that states could only collect a sales tax on businesses with a substantial presence in their state, consumers have been largely exempt from paying sales taxes for purchases made online. Those days may be coming to an end.

Last week the Supreme Court overturned its 1992 ruling. The new legal landscape means that states can now levy a sales tax on internet sales, but they are not required to do so. States like Illinois and California, with their self-inflicted derelict financial situations, are salivating over the opportunity to capture more tax revenue. What should Wisconsin do?

A report last year from the U.S. Government Accountability Office estimates that the imposition of Wisconsin’s sales tax on online purchases would result in between $123 million and $187 million in annual tax revenue for Wisconsin. The important thing to remember is that this projected tax revenue is not “found” money. It is additional money that would be extracted from the pockets of Wisconsinites by state government. It is not a tax on the online businesses who sell to Wisconsinites. It is a tax increase on Wisconsinites.

That is not to say that imposing a tax increase is necessarily a negative thing. There are some compelling reasons for states to impose a sales tax on internet purchases. The primary reason is for the cause of tax fairness. Wisconsinites pay the sales tax at brick-and-mortar stores without question or debate. The fact that those same Wisconsinites can buy products online without paying the sales tax gives online retailers a material advantage over the brick-and mortar stores. In the name of fairness, government should treat businesses equally regardless of their mode of delivering products.

The problem with that argument is that the unequal treatment of businesses is a consequence of a policy decision. The sales tax is not imposed on the businesses. The businesses are merely tasked as an agent of government to collect the tax. The consumers are paying the tax. The implementation of the sales tax whereby consumers must pay it at a physical retailer but are exempt from paying it at an online retailer is fair. Every consumer — the people actually paying the tax — is being treated equally in this regard.

It must also be acknowledged that the different sales tax treatment of brickand- mortar purchases and online purchases is an extremely small driver of the societal trend toward online purchases. The infinite selection, ease of browsing, competitive prices, easy shipping and the ability for consumers to sit on their couches in their skivvies while they shop are far more powerful disruptive forces than the sales tax. Furthermore, even as online purchases have soared in the past two decades, they still only represent about 10 percent of all retail purchases in America.

Given that the ruling by the court is still fresh, Wisconsin’s political leaders are still pondering the consequences and possibility of imposing the tax increase. Some of them are lusting after the money with an eye to spend it on their priorities. Gov. Scott Walker and other Republican leaders are floating the idea of imposing a new sales tax on internet purchases, but using it to offset state income taxes in accordance with a law that Republicans passed in 2013.

Such a use of new sales tax revenue would be laudable. By using sales tax revenue to offset income taxes, it would keep Wisconsin’s total tax burden static, but shift some of that burden to the broader population of retail consumers and off of the shoulders of income earners.

History tells us, however, that raising one tax to offset another never works over the long term. While Walker and legislative Republicans may set up such a tax offset initially, over time there will be different politicians with different priorities. Inevitably, some future politicians will begin to carve out a percentage of online sales tax revenue for some spending “priority” or “crisis.” Then that percentage will increase over time until the notion of a tax offset is all but forgotten except by crotchety curmudgeons who write columns.

Wisconsin’s Republican leaders should resist the temptation to tax online purchases and make sure the whole nation knows that Wisconsin is the place to live if you want to continue to make tax-free online purchases. The best tax is the one that is never imposed.