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Tag: Washington County Daily News

City of West Bend considers huge pay increases

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

This column has been warning for some time that the city of West Bend’s government has skewed more liberal in recent years. After almost a decade of thoughtful conservative leadership, local conservatives got lazy, and the Common Council was taken over by liberals and big government enthusiasts. After choosing to increase taxes as much as legally possible last year, the council is considering a hefty pay increase for city employees.

 

At the Common Council’s July 19th meeting, City Administrator Jay Shambeau shared the results of a compensation study. That study compared the city of West Bend’s employee compensation to several other cities including Manitowoc, Fond du Lac, New Berlin, and Brookfield and found that West Bend’s compensation lags other cities. Citing employee turnover in some departments and perceived below market pay, the city administrator advocated for a pay increase for almost every nonunion city employee in addition to an annual cost of living increase of about 2%. The overall proposed cost would be $451,940 with an average pay increase of $4,519 per employee.

 

While evaluating and adjusting compensation is a normal part of any organization, there are some concerning aspects of this proposal that require further inquiry. Several years ago, the city of West Bend implemented a compensation system that more closely resembled one from the private sector that rewarded employees based on merit. The proposed compensation plan abandons compensation based on merit in favor of a model that provides blanket pay ranges based on job function. The proposed compensation plan is a return to an old-school government plan where everyone is paid the same irrespective of how good they are at their job. Furthermore, it is difficult to see how the pay increases will result in more talented employees. The purpose of any compensation plan is to attract and retain the level of talent that the organization requires to be successful. The justification for the pay increases is that West Bend is having difficulty attracting and retaining talented people in a competitive labor market.

 

At the same time, however, the plan would give almost every current employee a pay increase because they are all good at their jobs. According to the plan, only employees in good standing would receive a pay increase, but there are also no employees who are not currently in good standing. If the city is having difficulty finding good employees, would it not stand to reason that some of the existing employees would be sub-par performers?

 

If all of the employees are performing to standards, then why would the taxpayers need to pay more to attract better employees? If the taxpayers agree to pay city employees more, will the city management leverage the better pay to replace some of the employees with more talented ones? What are the taxpayers going to get for their increased spending on employee compensation?

 

As proposed, the spending increase would not result in a tax increase this year. This is because the city is proposing to use some financial gimmickry to hide the spending increase until it is baked into the spending pie. The total proposal would spend $451,940. $283,553 of that total would come out of the general fund that is supported by the property tax. But the city administrator is touting it as tax neutral because that amount would be covered by debt payments being paid into the general fund by Tax Incremental Districts 5 and 9.

 

TIDs are property tax set asides where the property taxes from those properties are segregated for improvements only in those districts. They are used to encourage development. TIDs 5 and 9 ran debts in previous years and the taxpayers filled the gap from the general fund. Now those districts are in the black and paying those debts back into the general fund. The proposal would fund most of the pay increases from those debt payments and then, when the TIDs expire, with the funds that those properties contribute to the general fund. The balance of the pay increase would be funded by surpluses from the water and sewer utilities.

 

Does it sound like gimmickry? It is. The fact remains that all of that money is taxpayer and utility-payer money. The city could reduce taxes and utility bills or spend the money on other priorities, but is proposing to increase employee compensation instead.

 

While there is not a tax impact for the proposed pay increase in the first year, it does set a new baseline for all future budgets. There is no such thing as a free lunch. The taxpayers will keep paying these bills forevermore.

 

The West Bend Common Council meets again to consider this proposal on Aug. 2. At the previous meeting, only two members, Randy Koehler and Meghann Kennedy, expressed any skepticism. The majority — including the mayor — expressed support for the proposed new compensation plan. It is clear that the taxpayers are not a top priority for a majority of West Bend’s Common Council.

City of West Bend considers huge pay increases

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

Furthermore, it is difficult to see how the pay increases will result in more talented employees. The purpose of any compensation plan is to attract and retain the level of talent that the organization requires to be successful. The justification for the pay increases is that West Bend is having difficulty attracting and retaining talented people in a competitive labor market.

 

At the same time, however, the plan would give almost every current employee a pay increase because they are all good at their jobs. According to the plan, only employees in good standing would receive a pay increase, but there are also no employees who are not currently in good standing. If the city is having difficulty finding good employees, would it not stand to reason that some of the existing employees would be sub-par performers?

 

If all of the employees are performing to standards, then why would the taxpayers need to pay more to attract better employees? If the taxpayers agree to pay city employees more, will the city management leverage the better pay to replace some of the employees with more talented ones? What are the taxpayers going to get for their increased spending on employee compensation?

Evers puts politics over people with workforce development spending

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

A few weeks ago, Governor Tony Evers held back Wisconsin’s economic recovery by vetoing a bill that would have ended the federal enhancement for unemployment benefits early. Last week, Governor Evers compounded his putrid decision by launching another wasteful donothing economic development government program with the taxpayers’ money.

 

The data coming out of other states continues to show the foolishness of Evers’ veto of the bill to end enhanced unemployment benefits early. The principle is very simple. If you want people to do more of something, then pay them more to do it. In this case, the federal government, in a moment of misguided altruism, is sending money to states to pay people more money to stay out of the workforce.

 

The economy is groaning out of the government-enforced recession in fits and spurts with some sectors roaring and others continuing to struggle. One of the most pressing problems in many sectors is that employers throughout the country are struggling to find workers to fill their open jobs. With an unemployment rate of 3.9% and a labor participation rate of 66.3%, most of Wisconsin’s employers are having the same problem.

 

For the states that ended enhanced unemployment payments in early June, they saw a 33% decline in new jobless claims compared with 4% in states that are still paying people more to not work, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics analyzed by the Daily Caller News Foundation. Those states that withdrew in late June saw a decline of 12%. Those that withdrew in July saw a decline of 10%. Every week counts when it comes to economic recovery. Even better, the labor participation rate in those states that withdrew in June increased by 0.25%. People are getting back to work faster in those states and more people are reentering the workforce. Evers’ decision to keep the enhanced federal unemployment payments through September will keep Wisconsin’s economy dragging behind other states.

 

As a tacit acknowledgment of his damaging veto, Evers announced last week that he would spend $130 million in federal COVID relief funds for workforce development to help with the worker shortage.

 

Of those funds, $100 million will be spent on a “workforce innovation grant program to encourage regions and communities to develop leading-edge, long-term solutions to the workforce challenges the state faces.” In other words, a bunch of unelected government bureaucrats are going to hand out your money to groups and businesses that can meet whatever version of “solutions” meets the liberal definition of “leading-edge.” Expect that money to go to things like green energy and education initiatives that are run by people who give money to Democrats.

 

$20 million of your money will go to subsidize “employment and skills training opportunities with local employers.” The remaining $10 million will for to “provide workforce career coaches.” This money will be used to pay people to teach unemployed people how to work as if it is the responsibility of the taxpayers to pay to train people to work.

 

There are already dozens of programs like this in every community in Wisconsin, but Evers seems to think that one more will do the trick. The fact that he is spending tens of millions of dollars that will be doled out at his administration’s discretion is a convenient political advantage the year before he seeks reelection.

 

With all of this spending, however, Evers admitted that the impact will not be felt any time soon – if ever. Speaking to reporters in Green Bay last week, he said that the initiatives “will be a fall enterprise.” While Wisconsin’s employers are struggling right now, Evers jumps to the rescue with a plan that will not even begin until the trees take on their autumnal hues.

 

In these two decisions we see the liberal mind of Tony Evers at work. Faced with a worker shortage that is retarding Wisconsin’s economic recovery and causing irreparable damage to many Wisconsin businesses, he vetoes the partial solution that would have had immediate effect and saved taxpayer money in favor of dumping $130 million of taxpayer money into the pockets of political allies for a solution that might begin to help sometime next year. In Evers’ calculation, spending taxpayer money to purchase political favor is more important than solving the state’s problems.

Evers puts politics over people with workforce development spending

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

As a tacit acknowledgment of his damaging veto, Evers announced last week that he would spend $130 million in federal COVID relief funds for workforce development to help with the worker shortage.

 

Of those funds, $100 million will be spent on a “workforce innovation grant program to encourage regions and communities to develop leading-edge, long-term solutions to the workforce challenges the state faces.” In other words, a bunch of unelected government bureaucrats are going to hand out your money to groups and businesses that can meet whatever version of “solutions” meets the liberal definition of “leading-edge.” Expect that money to go to things like green energy and education initiatives that are run by people who give money to Democrats.

$20 million of your money will go to subsidize “employment and skills training opportunities with local employers.” The remaining $10 million will for to “provide workforce career coaches.” This money will be used to pay people to teach unemployed people how to work as if it is the responsibility of the taxpayers to pay to train people to work.

 

There are already dozens of programs like this in every community in Wisconsin, but Evers seems to think that one more will do the trick. The fact that he is spending tens of millions of dollars that will be doled out at his administration’s discretion is a convenient political advantage the year before he seeks reelection.

 

With all of this spending, however, Evers admitted that the impact will not be felt any time soon – if ever. Speaking to reporters in Green Bay last week, he said that the initiatives “will be a fall enterprise.” While Wisconsin’s employers are struggling right now, Evers jumps to the rescue with a plan that will not even begin until the trees take on their autumnal hues.

Don’t be ‘That guy’

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

I hate group projects. How many times have you heard that statement or uttered it yourself ? When a group project involves a group of people voluntarily coming together to achieve a common goal, they can be terrific. But more often, group projects like those in school entail a hodgepodge of people with different motivations, varying work ethics, and suspect integrity who are thrown together to accomplish an assigned task.

 

Every group project seems to have “that guy.” You know the one. He’s the lazy slacker with a bad attitude. He shows up to the first couple of meetings for the group project. He offers a thought or two, but they are terrible. He then proceeds to bash everyone else’s ideas before retreating to sulk for the rest of the project. He doesn’t contribute anything meaningful and disappears for days or weeks at a time. The rest of the group gives up on him and finishes the project without him.

 

When the project is presented and is well received, that guy is suddenly everywhere. He is taking credit for the work and acting as if every great idea were his. With shameless audacity, that guy shoves his colleagues out of the way to bask in unearned adulation for work that was not only someone else’s, but that he actively maligned. In the great state budget group project, “that guy” is Governor Tony Evers, and his budget project teammates in the Legislature are justifiably piqued at his behavior. When Governor Evers first proposed his budget in February, it included a massive 12% spending increase that needed a tax increase of $1 billion to support it. Evers argued that Wisconsin needed to tax and spend more than ever in order to fund, “the future we dream.” Several weeks ago, the state announced that unprecedented tax collections would potentially result in a massive surplus in tax revenue in the state’s coffers. Governor Evers was quick to trumpet that every dollar of that surplus should be plowed into even more government spending. For his entire tenure in office, Evers has advocated for more taxing and more spending at every turn.

 

As the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee finished its work on the budget a month ago, the Republicans included a $3.3 billion tax cut. Not a single Democrat on the committee voted for the tax cuts. Instead, the Democrats lambasted the tax cuts as a missed opportunity and a sop to the rich.

 

When the final budget that included those tax cuts was passed by the Assembly, only four Democrats voted for it. In the Senate, only three Democrats voted for the final budget. Democrats slammed Republicans for passing tax cuts with Democrat Senator Chris Larson going so far as to accuse Republicans of, “kicking the dust in the faces of our kids.”

 

Yet after all of the scorn and derision that Evers and the Democrats threw at Republicans for cutting taxes, Evers was first to step to the front of the class and claim credit for them. When he signed the tax-cutting budget (after reducing the tax cuts with his veto pen), Evers took credit while declaring, “I’m providing more than $2 billion in tax relief and cutting taxes for middle-class families at a time when our economy and families need it most.”

Gone were the lamentations about not spending money. Absent was any acknowledgment that Evers had actually proposed a tax increase in his budget. Missing was a hint of credit for the Republicans who actually wrote and passed the budget that included the tax cut. Even though Evers vociferously opposed cutting taxes every step of the way, he was quick to take credit for them when they proved popular.

 

In every possible way, Governor Evers is “that guy.” After his initial budget proposal that included a tax increase, he sulked in the corner and threw insults at Republicans as they crafted a real budget. When the work was done and included really popular things like a huge tax cut, Evers took credit for the good work. He did not even have the common decency to admit that he opposed the tax cuts or give credit to the people who did the hard work to include them.

 

Just like when Evers was caught multiple times plagiarizing the work of others during his tenure as the state school superintendent, Evers has demonstrated again that he has no scruples about taking credit for the work of others when he thinks it will serve his personal ambitions. His inability to give even a little credit to others or admit when he was wrong reveals an insecure man of poor character. He is the guy that nobody ever wants on their group project.

Don’t be ‘That guy’

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

I hate group projects. How many times have you heard that statement or uttered it yourself ? When a group project involves a group of people voluntarily coming together to achieve a common goal, they can be terrific. But more often, group projects like those in school entail a hodgepodge of people with different motivations, varying work ethics, and suspect integrity who are thrown together to accomplish an assigned task.

 

Every group project seems to have “that guy.” You know the one. He’s the lazy slacker with a bad attitude. He shows up to the first couple of meetings for the group project. He offers a thought or two, but they are terrible. He then proceeds to bash everyone else’s ideas before retreating to sulk for the rest of the project. He doesn’t contribute anything meaningful and disappears for days or weeks at a time. The rest of the group gives up on him and finishes the project without him.

 

When the project is presented and is well received, that guy is suddenly everywhere. He is taking credit for the work and acting as if every great idea were his. With shameless audacity, that guy shoves his colleagues out of the way to bask in unearned adulation for work that was not only someone else’s, but that he actively maligned.

 

In the great state budget group project, “that guy” is Governor Tony Evers, and his budget project teammates in the Legislature are justifiably piqued at his behavior. 

Two vetoes to weaken Wisconsin

Here is my column from a earlier this week that appeared in the Washington County Daily News. Of course, we can add several other bad vetoes to the list now. It’s been a destructive week for the governor.

While the Legislature was busy last week passing a budget that increases spending and still cuts taxes, Governor Tony Evers was busy weakening Wisconsin with his veto pen. With two vetoes, Evers retarded Wisconsin’s economic growth and opened the door to election corruption for years to come.

 

Anyone who has gone to a restaurant or retail establishment in Wisconsin has seen the “help wanted” signs and felt the impact of the deficit of workers in those businesses. The impact is equally great on Wisconsin’s manufacturing, agricultural, and tourism sectors. There are more jobs than people willing to take them and Wisconsin is in a state of full employment with an unemployment rate of 3.9%.

 

One of the reasons that more people are not applying for those open jobs is because taxpayers are paying them more to sit at home and not work through enhanced unemployment payments funded by federal COVID relief money. The Legislature passed a bill to end those federal enhancements early so that taxpayers would not pay people to stay unemployed when there are plenty of available jobs. Evers vetoed that bill. According to a survey by Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, 85% of Wisconsin’s businesses support ending the enhanced benefits early because they are desperate for workers, but Evers would rather that the taxpayers pay people to not work. The enhanced unemployment benefits will end in September, but Evers will prolong the labor shortage and hold back Wisconsin’s economic recovery as long as he can. The other bill that Evers vetoed is more nefarious. The Republican Legislature passed a bill that would have prohibited local governments from accepting private money to run elections. The bill was meant to reaffirm a simple principle that something as integral to our system of self-governance as the management of elections should be run by elected officials who are responsible to the people.

 

What prompted the need to reaffirm this American principle was the action by several liberal cities to sell the electoral process to a liberal activist group in the last election. Last year, a liberal activist group funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who also uses his social media platforms to influence the elections, offered several liberal cities a pile of cash to “help” manage the elections. Several cities took the money and literally, in some cases, handed the ballots over to unelected liberal activists to count them.

 

In Green Bay, for example, Zuckerberg’s group gave the city $1 million to “help” with the election. For that cash, the city allowed the liberal activists to “help” register people to vote, direct city employees in collecting and managing ballots on election day, access secure areas with ballots, tabulate and count ballots, and even cure disputed ballots. The city of Green Bay abandoned their duty and sold the election process to a liberal activist group.

 

Perhaps Evers would have signed the bill if the New Berlin or Appleton had outsourced the running of the election to a conservative activist group funded by Republican billionaire Dick Uihlein. But since this is a tactic being used exclusively by leftist activist billionaires and their front groups to corrupt elections, Governor Evers was more than happy to let the practice continue as he is up for reelection next year.

 

Governor Evers has shown that he is not one to let good public policy stand in the way of political advantage. These two vetoes show that he is willing to prolong the economic pain for Wisconsinites and sell the electoral process to private interest groups if it will benefit him and his leftist comrades. Wisconsinites should veto him next November.

Two vetoes to weaken Wisconsin

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

What prompted the need to reaffirm this American principle was the action by several liberal cities to sell the electoral process to a liberal activist group in the last election. Last year, a liberal activist group funded by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who also uses his social media platforms to influence the elections, offered several liberal cities a pile of cash to “help” manage the elections. Several cities took the money and literally, in some cases, handed the ballots over to unelected liberal activists to count them.

 

In Green Bay, for example, Zuckerberg’s group gave the city $1 million to “help” with the election. For that cash, the city allowed the liberal activists to “help” register people to vote, direct city employees in collecting and managing ballots on election day, access secure areas with ballots, tabulate and count ballots, and even cure disputed ballots. The city of Green Bay abandoned their duty and sold the election process to a liberal activist group.

Perhaps Evers would have signed the bill if the New Berlin or Appleton had outsourced the running of the election to a conservative activist group funded by Republican billionaire Dick Uihlein. But since this is a tactic being used exclusively by leftist activist billionaires and their front groups to corrupt elections, Governor Evers was more than happy to let the practice continue as he is up for reelection next year.

 

Governor Evers has shown that he is not one to let good public policy stand in the way of political advantage. These two vetoes show that he is willing to prolong the economic pain for Wisconsinites and sell the electoral process to private interest groups if it will benefit him and his leftist comrades. Wisconsinites should veto him next November.

 

The Legislature takes up the budget

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

This columnist has been following Wisconsin’s budget- making for over two decades and two things really stood out this time. First, there is no real spending restraint in Madison, but there is a marked difference between the parties.

 

The current Republican version of the state budget spends $87.5 billion over the biennium. That is a $6.05 billion, or 7.4%, spending increase over the previous budget of $81.5 billion. The previous budget was a 7.8% spending increase over the budget before that. Throughout that period, the Republicans had strong majorities in the Legislature.

 

By contrast, Governor Evers’ budget proposal would have spent $92.2 billion, or 12% more than the previous budget. It is safe to say that while both parties eschew the frugal mores of most Wisconsinites, the Republicans are slightly less extravagant.

 

On the other hand, Republicans do support real tax cuts while Democrats do not. In the current fiscal environment, the increase in spending in the state budget is bolstered by borrowing and the fact that tax collections are at record highs. To write that another way, the state government is taxing Wisconsinites more than ever. The Republican budget gives most, but not all, of those record tax collections back to the people who pay them. The Democrats just want to spend or redistribute the money.

 

The other aspect of this budget cycle that drew attention is how little actual negotiation took place between the Legislature and the executive. The fact that Governor Evers and Republican leaders do not have a working relationship has been evident for some time. In the previous budget cycle, there was at least some attempt at real discussion. This time, it was evident that Evers was unwilling to even pretend to negotiate. His method of negotiation is to wage rhetorical war through the media without ever picking up the phone.

Republicans add massive tax cut to budget

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News last week:

Bolstered by new financial projections that show a massive influx of taxes, the Republicans on the Wisconsin’s legislative Joint Finance Committee voted to do the right thing – give the money back. More precisely, they voted to never collect the excess taxes in the first place by lowering tax rates for the people paying the bills. Especially after a very tough year for so many Wisconsinites, the Republicans’ respect for taxpayers is laudable.

 

The largest proposed tax cut is a very simple cut in the state income tax for most taxpayers. Wisconsin is one of 41 states that continues to impose an income tax. Wisconsin’s income tax is progressive in that it is divided into four brackets and taxes at progressively higher rates as people’s income increases. The Republicans focused their income tax cut at the largest bracket.

 

Under the Republican tax cut proposal, individuals earning between $23,930 and $263,480 and married couples earning between $31,910 and $351,310 would see their tax rate reduced from 6.27% to 5.3%. That bracket covers the majority of Wisconsin’s income taxpayers and directly impacts the middle class by letting them keep more of their hard-earned money. The proposed income tax cut would allow a large percentage of taxpayers to keep a total of $2.75 billion of their money instead of sending it to Madison for politicians to spend. That is $2.75 billion that will be put into Wisconsin’s economy and directly benefit families and businesses throughout the state. The second tax cut that Republicans put into the budget is a reduction in property taxes by $650 million over the biennial budget. This tax cut proposal is more of a shift than a real tax cut. The budget would push more state taxpayer spending to technical colleges and local schools through the state equalization aid formula but would require those government units to reduce their property taxes by a total of $650 million. The budgetary maneuvering would not reduce aggregate state and local government spending, but it does secure federal COVID relief money for schools while also extending a property tax decrease for taxpayers.

 

All told, the two tax cuts inserted into the budget add up to $3.4 billion is tax relief for a wide swath of taxpayers. According to lawmakers, the average Wisconsin taxpayer would see $1,200 in tax savings over two years. That is $900 in income tax savings and $300 in property tax savings. That is real money left in the pockets of real Wisconsinites.

 

The Republican tax cuts were added to the proposed state budget after all of the state government’s government programs had been funded and spending increased. The Republicans voted to increase spending on schools; on higher education; on law enforcement; on shared revenue; on almost everything. The Republicans are advancing a budget that increases spending throughout state government and spends more overall than any other budget in the history of the state of Wisconsin. All of the taxpayers’ commitments have been met – and then some.

 

Yet, despite unprecedented spending, the state is still projected to collect record high taxes. The state government is already going to collect all of the taxes it needs to pay for the record spending. All the Republicans are doing is what any honest cashier would do when a customer accidentally hands them a $20 instead of a $10. They are giving the taxpayers their change back.

 

The Democrats, on the other hand, want to take those record taxes and spend them or redistribute them. In their world view, every dollar spent by a politician in Madison is better spent than if it were spent by a farmer in Allenton or a teacher in Brillion. It is a philosophy rooted in arrogance and avarice.

 

For this reason, Governor Tony Evers is likely to use his powerful line-item veto to veto part or all of the tax cuts. If he does veto the tax cuts, the money will still not be appropriated to spend on anything. It will merely be collected by the government to create a surplus for a future legislature and governor to spend or return. Evers would be taxing excess tax money from taxpayers for no other reason than because he could.

 

Wisconsinites can do far more good for their families, businesses, and churches with $3.4 billion and any politician in Madison ever could. Let us hope that Governor Evers cares more about Wisconsinites than some of his fellow Democrats in the Legislature who voted against the tax cuts.

 

Republicans add massive tax cut to budget

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

All told, the two tax cuts inserted into the budget add up to $3.4 billion is tax relief for a wide swath of taxpayers. According to lawmakers, the average Wisconsin taxpayer would see $1,200 in tax savings over two years. That is $900 in income tax savings and $300 in property tax savings. That is real money left in the pockets of real Wisconsinites.

 

The Republican tax cuts were added to the proposed state budget after all of the state government’s government programs had been funded and spending increased. The Republicans voted to increase spending on schools; on higher education; on law enforcement; on shared revenue; on almost everything. The Republicans are advancing a budget that increases spending throughout state government and spends more overall than any other budget in the history of the state of Wisconsin. All of the taxpayers’ commitments have been met – and then some.

 

Yet, despite unprecedented spending, the state is still projected to collect record high taxes. The state government is already going to collect all of the taxes it needs to pay for the record spending. All the Republicans are doing is what any honest cashier would do when a customer accidentally hands them a $20 instead of a $10. They are giving the taxpayers their change back.

 

The Democrats, on the other hand, want to take those record taxes and spend them or redistribute them. In their world view, every dollar spent by a politician in Madison is better spent than if it were spent by a farmer in Allenton or a teacher in Brillion. It is a philosophy rooted in arrogance and avarice.

What to do with a surplus?

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News last week. I’m glad to see that the legislative Republicans were of the same mind as they pushed a $3.4 billion tax cut into the budget.

A new estimate from Wisconsin’s Legislative Fiscal Bureau (LFB) shows that Wisconsin state government will collect billions of dollars in taxes above their original estimates. The political wrangling between Republicans and Democrats over this unexpected windfall reveals the yawning divide between the political camps.

 

Whenever the state legislature crafts a budget, they must estimate the taxes that the state will collect. As the national and state economy changes and actual collections are counted, the LFB periodically updates these estimates to inform the Legislature. In January, the LFB issued an estimate for general fund tax collections and made adjustments to them when various state and national laws were passed changing the tax laws.

 

As the state nears the end of the current budget and fiscal year, the LFB prepared its most recent estimate that records “unprecedented” tax collections through May of this year and forecasts that for the time period encompassing the remainder of this fiscal year and the 20212023 biennium will exceed previous estimates by almost $4.5 billion.

 

To put it another way, the state of Wisconsin is projecting to collect the equivalent of $762 more in taxes from every man, woman, and child in Wisconsin than what they thought they would collect a few months ago. While politicians welcome this unexpected surplus, the people actually paying the taxes do not share their joy.

 

Democrats throughout Wisconsin are championing ways to spend the projected tax surplus on more and bigger government. Democrat Governor Tony Evers and legislative Democrats are pushing to pump more money into thinks like the government education system, transportation, welfare, and the normal litany of liberal priorities.

 

Meanwhile, Republicans in the Legislature are championing ways to cut taxes to ensure that the projected surplus never materializes. With the philosophy that it is the people’s money, Republicans are exploring how to make sure that the people never send the money to the state coffers in the first place.

 

The difference in philosophy is stark. Democrats see record tax collections as free money to spend. It is as if they won the lottery and the only question is how they will spend their good fortune. Republicans, for the most part, see record tax collections as evidence that the government is confiscating too much from the people and they should cut taxes to make sure that the government does not over collect.

 

Both parties must remember that an estimate is just that: an estimate. The LRB gave an estimate in January that said one thing. Six months later, they have calculated another estimate based on what has changed since January. In that short time, the estimate went up dramatically based on actual tax collections and an improved economic forecast. An estimate is as good as it can be the day it is written, but change by the next morning.

 

Things change. Economies slip into recessions. War, or the threat of war, can change the economy. Trade policies impact some areas of the economy more than others. Key Wisconsin industries may be disrupted. When politicians make decisions to spend money that is not actually in the bank, they are obligating taxpayers to spend that money whether the projected surplus materializes or not.

The other economic wild card that is rearing its head in Biden’s America is a potential return to double-digit inflation. The trillions of printed dollars spewing out of Washington are having the unavoidable effect of devaluing the dollar. It is a simple principle. If the government is printing currency faster than the underlying economy can absorb it, the value of each dollar decreases. This inflation hits the lower and middle classes the hardest as they see the price of normal goods and services increase faster than their incomes. Inflation has been increasing at the fastest rate in decades and does not show any sign of slowing.

 

As Democrats salivate over spending a projected tax surplus, the families paying for that surplus will also be having their budgets squeezed by raging inflation. It is a budgetary pincer that will squeeze the middle class at a time when the middle class is just recovering from a pandemic.

 

The decisions for the Legislature should be a very simple one. If the state collects more taxes than it planned to, then give it back to the people who paid it. They should not redistribute it to people who did not pay the taxes and they should not spend it on things that make politicians feel good about themselves.

 

Just give it back. It’s not yours.

What to do with a surplus?

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

As Democrats salivate over spending a projected tax surplus, the families paying for that surplus will also be having their budgets squeezed by raging inflation. It is a budgetary pincer that will squeeze the middle class at a time when the middle class is just recovering from a pandemic.

 

The decisions for the Legislature should be a very simple one. If the state collects more taxes than it planned to, then give it back to the people who paid it. They should not redistribute it to people who did not pay the taxes and they should not spend it on things that make politicians feel good about themselves.

 

Just give it back. It’s not yours.

Republicans increase school spending again

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

The Wisconsin Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee is continuing to draft the state budget. Last week they took up the topic of K-12 school funding. Despite the Republican majority voting to increase spending by $128 million, Governor Tony Evers labeled the increase “paltry” and “an insult” and threatened to veto the entire budget because of it in the same week that he announced his intent to seek re-election.

 

Every budget season we hear the same ridiculous rhetoric about how Republicans are cutting education and hurting kids despite unending budget increases. The Wisconsin Association of School Boards went so far as to say that proposed budget “will be devastating” to students. While such inflammatory adjectives are exciting for politicos, the facts do not support the hysteria.

 

According to data from the Department of Public Instruction and the published state budget documents, the proposed spending on K-12 education for the 2022-2023 school year is $1.4 billion more than it was in the 2015-2016 school year when Republicans controlled the legislative and executive branches. That is an increase of 26% over just four budgets.

 

On a per-pupil basis, the increases are even more stark. For years there has been a steady decline in student enrollment driven by demographic trends. In the 2015-2016 school year there were 867,137 public school students in Wisconsin. This year, there are 826,935 public school students. That is a decline of over 40,000 public school students, but taxpayer spending continues to climb. On a per-student basis, state funding of K-12 education has increased by 32% since the 2015-2016 school year.

 

Throughout that entire period where state taxpayer spending on K-12 education increased by 26% as enrollment was dropping, Republicans controlled both houses of the state Legislature. For the first two budgets, Wisconsin also had a Republican governor. The fact is that Republicans have lavished the taxpayers’ money on the government education at every opportunity. Even though Democrats always want to spend more, the Republicans have been anything but stingy with education funding.

 

Government schools are swimming in even more billions of taxpayer dollars this year as they collect multiple rounds of COVID19 relief money spewing out of Washington. Democrats are attempting to claim that Republicans are endangering federal money by not committing more state taxpayer money. They claimed the same thing about federal funds for unemployment payments. Just like the unemployment funding, the federal dollars will flood our schools whether we want it or not. Democrats in Washington and Madison are not going to disappoint one of their strongest constituencies – government teachers.

 

While spending continues to rise with no consideration for the decline in enrollment, what are taxpayers really getting for their largesse? Even before the pandemic, student performance from our government schools was mediocre and had been steadily eroding for years. The curriculum was being infused with left-wing ideology and the building spree was unending.

 

But the pandemic really demonstrated how little some of our government schools care for the students and their obligations to the public. When the pandemic first emerged, schools rightfully closed as everyone worked to understand the virus. Within months, however, it became clear that COVID-19 posed almost no risk at all for children. This fact became even clearer when many private schools, and a few government schools, opened their doors to educate kids again as early as last spring. Even now, after over 600,000 COVID-19 cases in Wisconsin, only three people under 19 years old have died with COVID-19.

 

We learned how the virus spreads and who is at most risk, yet far too many government schools remained closed to in-person education while the education and mental health of children deteriorated. Even now, some government schools do not plan to fully open until the next school year and then plan to perpetuate fear with useless and outdated mitigation measures.

 

When parents and communities needed their government schools the most, far too many of them abandoned their duty. For that, both state and federal taxpayers are rewarding them with billions of additional dollars. It is well past time to rethink our support for government institutions that are failing to meet their duty to the public. To rephrase the oft-quoted Robert Goodloe Harper, “billions for education, but not one cent for tribute.”

Republicans increase school spending again

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

According to data from the Department of Public Instruction and the published state budget documents, the proposed spending on K-12 education for the 2022-2023 school year is $1.4 billion more than it was in the 2015-2016 school year when Republicans controlled the legislative and executive branches. That is an increase of 26% over just four budgets.

 

On a per-pupil basis, the increases are even more stark. For years there has been a steady decline in student enrollment driven by demographic trends. In the 2015-2016 school year there were 867,137 public school students in Wisconsin. This year, there are 826,935 public school students. That is a decline of over 40,000 public school students, but taxpayer spending continues to climb. On a per-student basis, state funding of K-12 education has increased by 32% since the 2015-2016 school year.

 

Throughout that entire period where state taxpayer spending on K-12 education increased by 26% as enrollment was dropping, Republicans controlled both houses of the state Legislature. For the first two budgets, Wisconsin also had a Republican governor. The fact is that Republicans have lavished the taxpayers’ money on the government education at every opportunity. Even though Democrats always want to spend more, the Republicans have been anything but stingy with education funding.

Time for virtual state government

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

While there is a lot to balance to build a successful virtual workforce, it is not an untrodden path. State government should rapidly move more jobs to virtual for the benefits it offers the state. As the Vision 2030 report points out, a more virtual workforce will allow the state to reduce the number and size of offices throughout the state, thus reducing the cost of operating state government.

 

More importantly than cost, more virtual state government jobs will diffuse the Madison-centric nature of state government. By making state jobs available to people throughout the state, it allows the state to attract more diverse and more qualified employees than just the people who are within commuting distance of a Madison office. The diversity of state employees will enable state government to be more in tune with more state residents.

 

Finally, by making as many state government jobs virtual as possible and recruiting employees throughout Wisconsin, it is an opportunity for state taxpayers to help support communities with family-supporting jobs. According to ZipRecruiter, the average annual salary for a state government employee is $58,009 including the substantial benefits and retirement package also available to state employees. There are small cities, towns, and villages all over Wisconsin where that level of compensation would be well above the local average and would have a positive impact in the local economy.

 

Giant state government buildings scattered throughout Madison to house the state government workforce is an antiquated way of working. State government must accelerate the move to embracing modern ways of working for the benefit of the state and the employees.

Drawing political lines best left to Legislature

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

There is something perverse about trying to supplant the people’s elected representatives with an unelected commission. First, the notion that one could assemble a group of people who could make decisions without bias or predisposition is a complete fantasy. Our nation’s founders fully recognized that every person is imperfect and incapable of governing without falling victim, even if only occasionally, to the intrinsic weaknesses of the human condition. That is why they created a system of government where power was constantly diffused, checked, and balanced. Evers’ claim to have gathered an assemblage of noble nonpartisans is either painfully naïve or a prevarication.

 

Second, the entire purpose of representative government is for citizens to elect representatives to make difficult public policy decisions. These decisions often require the balance of competing interests, spending taxpayer money, protecting individual liberties, predicting policy consequences, and dozens of other factors. We have created an entire system for making laws that is designed to study, debate, and decide on important issues. The push to abandon our system of representative government and replace it with an unelected cabal of conceited commissars is un-American.

Wisconsin is suffering an employment crisis

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

Last week I strode into a Cousins sub shop intent upon enjoying a delicious Philly steak sub and a side of cheese curds. Behind the counter was an extremely friendly, if harried, man and woman working like a whirlwind filling orders. I was fourth in line and there were seven other people in the store waiting for their food.

 

As the man called each number and gave a patron their order with a friendly smile, he repeated the same message: “If you know of anyone who is looking for work, please let them know that we are hiring.” As I ordered, he apologized for the long wait and explained that they just could not find people willing to work. They recently held a job fair to which a single person showed up. A fellow customer piped up and said that he ran a shop and was having the same problem. The owners were working 16 hours a day just to keep up.

 

While we all waited for our orders, all the customers were friendly and patient. The conversation turned to the omnipresence of “help wanted” signs and the impact on businesses and their customers all over town. Somebody offered that “it pays more to sit at home and do nothing than to get a job” to universal nods of agreement.

 

After finishing my sub, I turned to wave a thanks on my way out and was reminded to, “tell everyone you know that we are hiring!” It was a moment in time in a simple Wisconsin sub shop, but it is a scene that is being repeated all over the state. According to the National Federation of Independent Businesses, a record 44% of small businesses report having open jobs that they can not fill. This is double the 48-year average and the third consecutive month reporting a record high.

 

Wisconsin’s businesses are trying to bounce back, but unemployment policies implemented during the early days of the pandemic are now impeding their recovery. It is time to end those policies.

 

There are two primary policy culprits that need to be rescinded immediately. The first policy is that the federal government is currently funding an enhancement of $300 per week of unemployment payments. This results in unemployed Wisconsinites receiving as much as $670 per week, or the equivalent of $16.75 per hour, as Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce noted in a recent letter to Governor Evers. It is much more than that, however. That is $16.75 per hour without the hassle of commuting to work, buying work clothes, paying taxes, shaving, and actually working. $16.75 an hour for doing nothing is worth more than working for $20 per hour.

 

The second policy is that Gov. Tony Evers has waived the requirement that people receiving unemployment seek work. Recipients are not required to prove to anyone that they are looking for a job. Without the requirement to seek employment, some people receiving unemployment benefits are content to just wait until the gravy train ends.

 

Both policies result in a sizable number of Wisconsinites making the very rational and pragmatic decision to remain on unemployment unless they can find a job that pays substantially more than what they are already receiving for not working. For people who lack the job skills or work ethic to command a higher wage, the unemployment system has become a very comfortable hammock.

The numbers illustrate the problem. An economy is enjoying full employment when anyone who wants a job can have one. Most economists agree that an unemployment rate below 4% or 5% indicates than an economy is in a state of full employment. In prepandemic April of 2019, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was 3.2%. In April of 2021, the unemployment rate is 3.8%. Wisconsin’s economy has returned to full employment.

 

Yet in April of 2019, there were about 21,000 people receiving unemployment benefits. In April of 2021, there are about 92,000 people receiving unemployment benefits. In an economic state of full employment, Wisconsin has about 70,000 people receiving unemployment payments who would not have been just two years ago. They are being paid to not work.

 

Seventeen states have already announced that they will be ending the $300-per-week federal unemployment enhancements. The enhancements are doing more harm than good. Wisconsin should immediately follow suit and end federal benefits.

 

The suspension of the requirement that people receiving unemployment payments show proof that they are seeking work should also be ended. It is not unreasonable to require that people receiving unemployment benefits actively look for gainful employment. There are plenty of available jobs.

 

There is no longer a crisis of unemployment in the state. There is a crisis of employment. Wisconsin must rescind emergency rules and reinstate normal order for the unemployment system. Returning to normal is no longer a matter for the virus anymore. It is simply a policy choice.

 

Wisconsin is suffering an employment crisis

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. Below is a portion. Go out and get a copy!

The numbers illustrate the problem. An economy is enjoying full employment when anyone who wants a job can have one. Most economists agree that an unemployment rate below 4% or 5% indicates than an economy is in a state of full employment. In prepandemic April of 2019, Wisconsin’s unemployment rate was 3.2%. In April of 2021, the unemployment rate is 3.8%. Wisconsin’s economy has returned to full employment.

 

Yet in April of 2019, there were about 21,000 people receiving unemployment benefits. In April of 2021, there are about 92,000 people receiving unemployment benefits. In an economic state of full employment, Wisconsin has about 70,000 people receiving unemployment payments who would not have been just two years ago. They are being paid to not work.

As a note, my editor kicked this section back because it is a bit confusing. Remember that the number of unemployed people is not the same as the number of unemployed people who are receiving unemployment benefits. There are unemployed people who do not receive benefits. The unemployment people who are receiving unemployment benefits are a subset of the larger unemployed population.

Cultural erosion of individualism is destroying our way of life

Here is my column that appeared in the Washington County Daily News earlier this week

One of the most annoying, and damaging, aspects of our 21st-century American culture is the erosion of social boundaries. Aggravated by social media, our culture of rugged individualism and respect for independent thought is shifting into one dominated by busybodies, bullies, and wannabe tyrants. It is a culture that drives the expansion of government as busybodies find their way into power over our lives. If we want to shrink our government, we must start with our culture.

 

This cultural shift is inescapable in our government school systems where they are teaching generations of young Americans that it is appropriate for government workers to be the authority over all aspects of their lives. Gone are the days when a school’s staff was only responsible for students when they are at school. Many school administrators and teachers now think that they have the responsibility and authority to manage the lives of students outside of school. School busybodies are intent on directing students on everything from eating to birth control to race relations to religion – everything that used to be considered the private affairs of students and their families. Many parents and families were surprised by the reaction of school officials when students organized their own proms. In response to COVID-19, many schools imposed onerous restrictions on proms or canceled them altogether. Wanting to have a traditional prom experience, some families and students organized their own proms. Instead of being supportive, or, at the very least, indifferent, some school officials blasted parents and students for being irresponsible, uncaring, or stupid. School officials have no business interfering in a private event, but the fact that they felt entitled to lecture parents and students speaks to how far they feel their authority extends.

 

We are also seeing the rampage of the busybodies in the roiling public debate over the COVID-19 vaccines. Thanks to the incredible success of Operation Warp Speed, we have reached the point where vaccines are widely available. Virtually everybody who wants to be vaccinated can do so with ease. They are so readily available that a person could wake up in the morning, decide they want to be vaccinated, and have a shot in the arm by nightfall. While we will not know the long-term effects of the vaccines for many years, they have proven remarkably effective for their intended purpose of warding off COVID-19 and its variants.

 

With all the information available and the infinite complexities of people’s circumstances, people have different opinions on the necessity of getting vaccinated. Some people are passionate about getting vaccinated. Most of them have already been vaccinated which is why the vaccination rate is declining and supply is abundant. Some people are adamant that they will not be vaccinated and are willing to accept the consequences of their decisions. Then there are the throngs of people who are relatively indifferent. They may get vaccinated. They may not.

 

In a different era, people would make their own choices about getting vaccinated and everyone else would respect their decision. In this era, whether or not someone has chosen to be vaccinated has become a matter for public discussion. “Have you been vaccinated?” has become a common subject of small talk at work and in casual conversation. Woe to those who are not vaccinated or do not express the appropriate level of determination to be so. They will attract a torrent of clucking tongues and derision from the people who think that their choice is the correct one and cannot abide you making a difference choice. There is a yawning chasm between caring about your neighbor’s health out of sincere concern and chastising their choices because of how it impacts you.

 

If the busybodies and bullies were only making noise, it would be annoying, but tolerable. What makes them intolerable is when they impose their views on everyone else with the power of government. When the neighborhood bully gains power over you through government, we walk the path that ends in tyranny.

 

Somewhere along the way, “live and let live,” and its more ornery cousin, “none of your business,” stopped being part of the American culture. The cultural shift away from individual rights and responsibilities is corrosive to our way of life. The cultural rot that infects proms and vaccines is part of a larger infection that is running rampant through our society and government. We must reverse the shift by being intentional about respecting individuals, their choices, and their rights.

 

If you are wondering if I have been vaccinated, it is none of your business.

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