Tag Archives: Washington County Daily News

Forensics analysis: Watch your spending

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

We have seen this movie before. Filled with wrath and vim, parents and students crowd a school board meeting to bewail budget cuts to their beloved programs. Only this time there was a surprise ending. The budget was never cut, and, if fact, the school district had used discretionary funds to cover overspending. The story is instructive for several reasons.

At the Jan. 6 meeting of the West Bend School Board, students from the high schools’ forensics programs and their parents spoke for 45 minutes about the cuts to the programs that were preventing them from participating in events for the rest of the season. The students were eloquent and passionate, but completely wrong. Superintendent Don Kirkegaard responded at the meeting that there were not any cuts, but would look into what happened. What happened is that the forensics teams massively overspent their budgets the prior year and just assumed that they could do it again.

The two high schools’ budget for forensics is $13,400 plus transportation. Last school year, they actually spent $17,818 — 33% over budget. The high schools had a little surplus last year, so they covered the overage with the surplus. This year, the forensics teams kept spending at the same rate. Half way through the year, they are running out of money, but there isn’t a surplus this time to cover the overspending. The fact that the teams cannot overspend the budget by more than 30% the second year in a row is why the students and parents rose in anger at “budget cuts.”

This was a magnificent learning opportunity for the students. Faced with less money than they want to finish their season, their teachers and parents could have taught them about living in a budget, fiscal stewardship, dispute resolution, how local government works, overcoming obstacles, and the consequences of choices. Instead, these kids were fed a lie about “budget cuts” and pushed into the public square to advocate for more spending. Armed with sympathetic appeals for the arts and indignant admonitions, the kids were used as activist props by adults who were supposed to teach them.

Somebody told the kids that the budget was cut when, in fact, it was being blown by the people in charge of it. Were the adults intentionally misleading the kids or were the adults ignorant of the truth? Either way, the adults in these kids’ lives perpetrated a grave disservice on them.

There is also the issue of the fiscal controls and financial decisions being made in the school district. The two forensics teams overspent their collective budget by 33% last year and are already running out of money this year. That does not happen by accident. It is a choice. Last year, the high school principals decided to cover the overage with some other pile of money. This year, Kirkegaard has said that “for the 2019-2020 school year, we are going to amend the budget to reflect 2018-2019 expenses.” In short, there will be no accountability for the people overspending their budgets by over 30%. Instead, their overages are covered and the administration will just amend the budget to match expenses. It is no wonder that the adults did not take this opportunity to teach the kids about budgeting and fiscal responsibility. They are incapable of it themselves.

Finally, at the Jan. 6, School Board meeting, board member Nancy Justman beclowned herself in response to the hullabaloo. Instead of getting the facts and representing the interests of the all district stakeholders, Justman took the students’ characterization of the issue that there was a “budget cut” at face value and immediately took up their cause. Justman harangued the superintendent to bring her details of the budget (Hint: School Board members decide on the budget), demanded that the administration find the money somewhere, and called it “shameful, very shameful” that the students were being told that they would not be able to take a trip. Justman behaved like an aggrieved PTO parent instead of an elected school board member charged with serving the whole community’s interests.

In the wider perspective of the school district’s $70 million annual budget, this is a minuscule expense and small problem. It could have been easily fixed by good fiscal management and a few reasonable choices. Instead, the way in which it was bungled and manipulated from the School Board to the parents indicates a deeper, systemic dysfunction at work.

Forensics analysis: Watch your spending

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print today. I take a look back at the kerfuffle over “budget cuts” at the West Bend School District. Here’s a taste, but go buy a copy for yourself:

At the Jan. 6 meeting of the West Bend School Board, students from the high schools’ forensics programs and their parents spoke for 45 minutes about the cuts to the programs that were preventing them from participating in events for the rest of the season. The students were eloquent and passionate, but completely wrong. Superintendent Don Kirkegaard responded at the meeting that there were not any cuts, but would look into what happened. What happened is that the forensics teams massively overspent their budgets the prior year and just assumed that they could do it again.

The two high schools’ budget for forensics is $13,400 plus transportation. Last school year, they actually spent $17,818 — 33% over budget. The high schools had a little surplus last year, so they covered the overage with the surplus. This year, the forensics teams kept spending at the same rate. Half way through the year, they are running out of money, but there isn’t a surplus this time to cover the overspending. The fact that the teams cannot overspend the budget by more than 30% the second year in a row is why the students and parents rose in anger at “budget cuts.”

This was a magnificent learning opportunity for the students. Faced with less money than they want to finish their season, their teachers and parents could have taught them about living in a budget, fiscal stewardship, dispute resolution, how local government works, overcoming obstacles, and the consequences of choices. Instead, these kids were fed a lie about “budget cuts” and pushed into the public square to advocate for more spending. Armed with sympathetic appeals for the arts and indignant admonitions, the kids were used as activist props by adults who were supposed to teach them.

Somebody told the kids that the budget was cut when, in fact, it was being blown by the people in charge of it. Were the adults intentionally misleading the kids or were the adults ignorant of the truth? Either way, the adults in these kids’ lives perpetrated a grave disservice on them.

Changes coming in 2020

Here is my full column that I wrote for the Washington County Daily News this week.

2020 will prove to be an eventful year. Much of the year will be consumed with Americans choosing a president. The United Kingdom will finally leave the European Union after the people were compelled to return to the voting booth to reassert their will. The Middle East will continue to roil with unpredictable consequences. While world and national events are important, the changes happening in our state and local communities also have a big impact on our lives. Here are a few changes that will happen in my local jurisdictions and some results that I would like to see.

The city of West Bend will get a new mayor. Late last year, Mayor Sadownikow stepped down to avoid a conflict of interest with his business, but he had already signaled that he would not run for re-election. Under Sadownikow’s leadership, West Bend enjoyed years of solid conservative fiscal management. Taxes were kept flat. The city greatly reduced its debt. The mayor helped negotiate labor contracts to protect the city’s taxpayers from future unfunded liabilities. Economic development thrived and city services improved. It was a good run.

The new mayor of West Bend should learn from Sadownikow’s example and continue that trajectory. This will be no small task. Immediately after Sadownikow stepped aside, the Common Council voted to raise property taxes and the city Water Utility passed a substantial rate increase. Sadownikow’s absence was immediately felt and the liberal tax increasers got their way. The new mayor will need to use all of his or her wiles to thwart the efforts of the newly insurgent liberals on the council.

Washington County will also get its first county executive after voting to restructure county government. As the first county executive of Washington County, he or she will have the opportunity to set precedents and a tone for the future. The new executive should collaborate with the county’s municipalities to tell the world that our county is “Open for Business,” to steal a phrase from former Gov. Scott Walker. There is an economic boom happening in our state and nation and Washington County has a lot to offer businesses that move and grow here.

The West Bend School District is also facing a year of change. The steady decline in enrollment that has been happening for years has accelerated and shows no sign of slowing. Meanwhile, the school district is saddled with heavy infrastructure and labor costs that are increasingly unaffordable. With big challenges come big opportunities to make bold changes. Act 10 gives the School Board vast discretion to rebuild the school district on conservative principles of educational excellence, fiscal restraint, and forward- looking innovation. As the Private Task Force demonstrated, this can be done while reducing spending and taxes. The citizens of the West Bend School District deserve nothing less.

For the first time in a couple of generations, the good folks in the 5th Congressional District will have a new representative in Washington. Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner is serving his final year in office. He has been a conservative lion in the House of Representatives and helped cultivate and lead a generation of conservative leaders throughout the state. While Sensenbrenner’s successor will undoubtedly assume office with a different style and priority, the people of the 5th have earned the right to be represented by someone who will continue to champion conservatism in the House.

Finally, the board is set for 2020 in the state of Wisconsin. The Republicans will almost certainly retain control of the state legislature and Gov. Tony Evers will remain a devoted liberal Democrat. For conservative Wisconsinites, it is unrealistic to expect the continuation of the conservative renaissance that we have enjoyed for the previous decade, but they can expect that Republicans in the Legislature hold on to the gains. Wisconsin is enjoying the fruits of conservative leadership with a booming economy, stable budgets, rising wages, high employment, protections for our rights to freely associate and bear arms, and so much more. Hopefully 2020 will end without Wisconsin regressing.

By the time 2021 dawns, the landscape will look very different around here. We have work to do to make sure we will like what we see.

 

Changes coming in 2020

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I take a look ahead at 2020 and some of the changes coming at my local and state level. Here’s a taste:

For the first time in a couple of generations, the good folks in the 5th Congressional District will have a new representative in Washington. Congressman Jim Sensenbrenner is serving his final year in office. He has been a conservative lion in the House of Representatives and helped cultivate and lead a generation of conservative leaders throughout the state. While Sensenbrenner’s successor will undoubtedly assume office with a different style and priority, the people of the 5th have earned the right to be represented by someone who will continue to champion conservatism in the House.

Finally, the board is set for 2020 in the state of Wisconsin. The Republicans will almost certainly retain control of the state legislature and Gov. Tony Evers will remain a devoted liberal Democrat. For conservative Wisconsinites, it is unrealistic to expect the continuation of the conservative renaissance that we have enjoyed for the previous decade, but they can expect that Republicans in the Legislature hold on to the gains. Wisconsin is enjoying the fruits of conservative leadership with a booming economy, stable budgets, rising wages, high employment, protections for our rights to freely associate and bear arms, and so much more. Hopefully 2020 will end without Wisconsin regressing.

By the time 2021 dawns, the landscape will look very different around here. We have work to do to make sure we will like what we see.

2020 is nigh

Here is my full column that ran in the Washington County Daily News yesterday. Of course, 2020 is no longer nigh. It is here. Happy New Year!

Whenever the end of something is upon us, whether it be a day, year, or a decade, it is a natural time to reflect. As a child, I could swear that someone promised me a flying car by 2020. We have not quite made it to that utopian transportation option, but we have come a long way since this decade began.

The state of Wisconsin was a completely different place in 2010. Democrats had controlled both houses of the Legislature for two years and the governor’s office for eight years. The state was facing yet another multibillion-dollar budget deficit. Taxes had been increasing for years. The state economy was stagnant. The crushing regulatory burden was driving businesses out of the state, public employee unions pulled the strings in Madison, and citizens were denied their Second Amendment rights. It was a dark time for the state.

The people of Wisconsin had had enough and swept Republicans into legislative majorities and elected Gov. Scott Walker. Republicans would remain in power for the next eight years and ushered in a bevy of conservative reforms. They cut taxes, reduced the spending increases (unfortunately, they did not cut spending), reduced regulations, empowered people over unions, and expanded the exercise of civil rights. The results speak for themselves. Compared to 2010, Wisconsin has lower unemployment, higher labor participation, higher wages, more businesses investing in the state (including a rejuvenated tech sector), lower taxes, more protections of civil rights, and has knocked off its “Rust Belt” national reputation. The teen years were very good to Wisconsin.

At the national level, the decade began with a political upheaval. After ramming through Obamacare in late 2009, the public responded by sweeping Republicans into control of the House of Representatives, thus mitigating the damage of President Obama’s administration. By the second half of the decade, the improbable election of President Donald Trump ushered in a new era of populist antiestablishment governance that has upended the old political order. As we closed the decade with the unjust impeachment of the president, we are beginning the new decade in as much upheaval as we began the previous decade.

In the lives of everyday Americans, the decade was pretty good to most people. The Dow Industrial Average was hovering around 10,500 when the decade began, but will finish this decade at

around 28,500. Home values are up, inflation has been virtually nonexistent, wages are finally rising after years of stagnation, and jobs are plentiful. Technological advances have made life more convenient than ever. It is safe to say that as 2020 begins, Americans enjoy the most affluent, safest, comfortable, highest quality of life in the history of our species.

On a personal level, much has changed over the decade. I began the decade with four kids in the house, a busy bleacher schedule, and a full head of hair. I begin the next decade on the cusp of an empty nest, a grandchild, and the fading memory of owning a comb. It seems that nothing can resist the withering assault of time.

Looking back gives on the benefit of perspective. The further one looks into the past, the fewer things rise to the level of importance. One might consider several events in a previous decade to be important, but only one in a long-ago century. Some centuries seem to elude any level of importance altogether except that they are wedged as a bridge between more important centuries. Perhaps it is only when the lens is pulled back that the important things can come into focus.

I keep a quote by Goethe on my desktop that says, “life is the childhood of our immortality.” It is a reminder that this instant; this time; this life; is merely the foreword of a much longer, much more important story. We should laugh for no reason (or any reason), eat the candy, love without reserve, get dirty, play with the bubble wrap, make the stupid joke, and enjoy each moment. Yesterday does not hold dominion over us and tomorrow is not promised. Today is a gift to be opened with childlike joy.

2020 is nigh

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. It is difficult to let a decade end (don’t start with me about the decade not actually ending until next year) without a bit of retrospective and reflection. Here’s a bit of navel gazing.

Looking back gives on the benefit of perspective. The further one looks into the past, the fewer things rise to the level of importance. One might consider several events in a previous decade to be important, but only one in a long-ago century. Some centuries seem to elude any level of importance altogether except that they are wedged as a bridge between more important centuries. Perhaps it is only when the lens is pulled back that the important things can come into focus.

I keep a quote by Goethe on my desktop that says, “life is the childhood of our immortality.” It is a reminder that this instant; this time; this life; is merely the foreword of a much longer, much more important story. We should laugh for no reason (or any reason), eat the candy, love without reserve, get dirty, play with the bubble wrap, make the stupid joke, and enjoy each moment. Yesterday does not hold dominion over us and tomorrow is not promised. Today is a gift to be opened with childlike joy.

Rogue bureaucrats and leftist aggression against self-governance

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

Once again Wisconsin finds itself in a heated legal battle over a common sense law because of the insistence of liberals that they be able to cheat in our elections. The latest skirmish comes over the routine business of cleaning up our voter rolls.

The Wisconsin Elections Commission was formed in 2016 after the monstrously corrupt Government Accountability Board was dismantled. The WEC is charged with administering and enforcing election laws in the state. The WEC does not make law. It is charged with administering and enforcing laws.

One of those administration tasks is to maintain the state’s voter rolls. Every Wisconsin voter registers in their local district to ensure that the people in a particular district, municipality, county, etc. are electing their government. It is a cornerstone of representative government that the elected leaders are elected by people who actually live in the area to be governed. It is critically important that these voter rolls are accurate for selfgovernance to be a reality. If people from Chicago, for example, can drive up to Racine and cast a vote, then the good people of Racine are being denied self-governance.

One of the mechanisms that the state uses to maintain the voter rolls is participation in the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), which is a coalition of 28 states and Washington, D.C. that monitors people’s movement. For example, if someone moves from Hudson, Wisconsin, to Eden Prairie, Minnesota, and gets a new driver’s license, the state of Minnesota would update the ERIC system. However, that person is still on the voting rolls in Hudson unless someone removes them.

In order to keep the voter rolls accurate, the state passed a law that requires the WEC to send notices to anyone who ERIC indicates moved within or without of the state to verify where the person actually lives. If they moved or if the person does not respond, then the WEC is directed to remove the person’s name from the voting rolls within 30 days and invite the person to reregister to vote in the correct precinct on or before the next date they want to vote.

This is truly a sensible, routine, administrative function that should not be controversial. There is absolutely no hardship on anyone here. The worst case is that someone might be accidentally removed from the voting rolls, but can reregister when they go to vote next time. Wisconsin has same day voting registration and requires a photo identification to vote. Being accidentally removed from the voting rolls might cause a minor inconvenience for a few people who have to reregister, but the benefit is that hundreds of thousands of incorrect voter registrations are removed, thus lessening the opportunity for election fraud.

In October, the WEC sent out about 234,000 of these confirmation notices, of which only 18,800 responded. By law, the WEC is supposed to use that information to update the voting rolls. The WEC refused, so the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty sued them in state court to make them follow the law. A state court judge ordered them to follow the law. The WEC commissioners — specifically the three Democrat commissioners — refused to follow the court order. The decision is being appealed in state court by the liberal Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and the liberal activist group the League of Women Voters is suing in federal court, but the court’s order still stands and the WEC is still refusing to comply with the law.

This is how our republic crumbles. Our government institutions refuse to comply with the will of the people or the law of the land. Our elections are undermined by the willful manipulation of bureaucrats and activists bent on their own agendas. We allow swamp creatures who supplant their will for the will of the people to hold dominion over us.

Wisconsin could be the deciding state in the next presidential election and that the election could be decided by a handful of votes. That is why the leftists are driven to undermine our electoral process any way they can to open up opportunities to cheat. That is why this exceedingly routine effort to maintain accurate voting rolls is being fought so vigorously. That is why we must insist that our government abide by the will of the people and follow the law.

 

Rogue bureaucrats and leftist aggression against self-governance

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

In October, the WEC sent out about 234,000 of these confirmation notices, of which only 18,800 responded. By law, the WEC is supposed to use that information to update the voting rolls. The WEC refused, so the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty sued them in state court to make them follow the law. A state court judge ordered them to follow the law. The WEC commissioners — specifically the three Democrat commissioners — refused to follow the court order. The decision is being appealed in state court by the liberal Wisconsin Attorney General Josh Kaul and the liberal activist group the League of Women Voters is suing in federal court, but the court’s order still stands and the WEC is still refusing to comply with the law.

This is how our republic crumbles. Our government institutions refuse to comply with the will of the people or the law of the land. Our elections are undermined by the willful manipulation of bureaucrats and activists bent on their own agendas. We allow swamp creatures who supplant their will for the will of the people to hold dominion over us.

Wisconsin could be the deciding state in the next presidential election and that the election could be decided by a handful of votes. That is why the leftists are driven to undermine our electoral process any way they can to open up opportunities to cheat. That is why this exceedingly routine effort to maintain accurate voting rolls is being fought so vigorously. That is why we must insist that our government abide by the will of the people and follow the law.

Spring election is looming

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

There are some big decisions to be made in the spring election. On a national level, the Democrats will be choosing their candidate to challenge President Trump next November. At the state level, incumbent State Supreme Court Justice Dan Kelly will try to retain his seat on the bench against an onslaught of liberal challengers. There are a slew of judges on the ballot for the various Courts of Appeals and county circuit courts.

All of these elections are important for the future of our nation and state, but one would need to look further down the ballot to find choices that, if not more important, have more impact on one’s daily life. Elected leaders of cities, villages, counties, school boards, towns, and other local offices have a tremendous influence on things we use and do every day. Also, as every property owner in Wisconsin just saw when they received their property tax bills, these local officials spend and tax a tremendous amount of money.

For example, a city alderman or village trustee makes decisions on the quality of local roads, plans for plowing those roads when the snow flies, provides for fire and police protection, enforces local building codes, manages parks and recreation centers, controls the library, runs garbage pickup, oversees water and sewer services, and so much more. While the sometimes esoteric impact of a Supreme Court ruling or a presidential directive may affect our lives, the failure of the city to provide clean water or pick up the garbage certainly will. One of the many unfortunate effects of the economic decline in local journalism is that many of these local races go unreported and the candidates go unscrutinized. In years past, several local newspapers, radio news desks, and television news teams would have competed to dig into the backgrounds and qualification of even a simple aldermanic candidate. The shift of advertising spending to digital platforms has starved these local journalism outlets of the money to pay for large news staffs that can do that kind of work. The result has been that much of what people learn about local candidates, if anything, comes from unvetted stories and rumors passed around in the whirlwind of social media.

The positive effect of the modern digital age is that it is easier than ever for local candidates to introduce themselves and get their message out in their own words. This relies on citizens taking the time to look for the candidate’s information, but many of the candidates are able to share much more comprehensive information about themselves without the filter of a media outlet. It is just up to the judgement of the citizen to ascertain the truth of a candidate’s message.

None of that matters, however, if people do not run for local offices. Perhaps partly because of the friction created by social media and partly because of the intimidating process, fewer people seem willing to run for local offices. As of now, with three weeks remaining until the filing deadline, there are dozens of open county and local elected offices across the state for which nobody is running yet. It is impossible to have a system of selfgovernance if nobody actually runs for office.

Running for office — even a local office — can be daunting the first time. There is the fear of public scrutiny, confusion over the electoral process, concern over complying with all of the regulations, and worry about the time commitment to run for office. Then there is worry about the job itself. Government financing, regulations, and the nuances of public policy can be challenging to master.

Take heart, fellow citizens, it really is not that hard. Our entire system of self-governance is built around principle that we, the people, will decide how to run our public affairs — amateurs though we are. If you want to run for public office, get in touch with the local city or county clerk. They are generally tremendously friendly and helpful and will share a wealth of information. In every community, there are also local groups and veteran elected officials who are willing to help navigate the electoral process.

The key thing with any local race is that the candidate must get out and talk to people. Walk around the district and knock on doors. People are friendlier than you might think and full of perspective and wisdom. Visit the local VFW or Moose Lodge to chat with the members. Accept invitations to any local forums or debates and speak openly about your views. Just get out into the community you want to represent. Even if you lose the race, the experience of getting to know your community is enriching.

If you are considering running for a local elected office, it is time to act. Consider this: If not you, then who?

Spring election is looming

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

Running for office — even a local office — can be daunting the first time. There is the fear of public scrutiny, confusion over the electoral process, concern over complying with all of the regulations, and worry about the time commitment to run for office. Then there is worry about the job itself. Government financing, regulations, and the nuances of public policy can be challenging to master.

Take heart, fellow citizens, it really is not that hard. Our entire system of self-governance is built around principle that we, the people, will decide how to run our public affairs — amateurs though we are. If you want to run for public office, get in touch with the local city or county clerk. They are generally tremendously friendly and helpful and will share a wealth of information. In every community, there are also local groups and veteran elected officials who are willing to help navigate the electoral process.

The key thing with any local race is that the candidate must get out and talk to people. Walk around the district and knock on doors. People are friendlier than you might think and full of perspective and wisdom. Visit the local VFW or Moose Lodge to chat with the members. Accept invitations to any local forums or debates and speak openly about your views. Just get out into the community you want to represent. Even if you lose the race, the experience of getting to know your community is enriching.

If you are considering running for a local elected office, it is time to act. Consider this: If not you, then who?

Time for the Jackson School District?

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. In it, I continue to explore the thoughts around a potential new Jackson School District. As we discussed in an earlier thread, everything would depend on where you draw the line around the new district. I think the people in Jackson would to well to explore the issue quickly, then do it or don’t. But stop talking about it if they aren’t going to actually act. Here’s a taste:

From a pure financial lens, the good folks in the current enrollment area of Jackson Elementary would do well to break off into their own school district even though it would be a massive blow to the West Bend School District. But that is not the whole story. This is not just a financial discussion. As I stated at the beginning of this column, the only reason that really matters is if, after all of the rigmarole it would take to create a new district, the kids would get a better education.

 

Gifts in the mail

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

It is that time of year again! You can feel the excitement slicing through the air like hard sleet. People all over Wisconsin are going to their mailboxes and finding their property tax bills awaiting them. Despite years of politicians promising to control property taxes, Wisconsin still has the fourth highest property tax burden in the nation.

As I wrote in a column a few weeks ago, when it comes to property taxes, the levy is everything, and spending determines the levy. When a government uses the property tax, they begin by determining how much total money they plan to spend. Then they determine how much of that spending will be funded by the property tax. That number is the levy. Then the levy is divided into the aggregate property value and the mill (tax) rate is determined. When you hear politicians bragging about the mill rate, be wary. It is one way that they camouflage more spending and higher taxes.

To illustrate this, let us walk through my property tax bill and the five governments that are forcing me to send them money by threatening to take away my home if I refuse. My example is anecdotal, of course, but I encourage all of you scrutinize your property tax bills when they arrive. The assessed value of my home remained unchanged between 2018 and 2019, so the tax changes shown are not reflective of a change in home value.

First, Moraine Park Technical College is the second smallest component of my property tax bill and it increased 2.7%. Why? Looking into MPTC’s 2019-2020 budget, which, incidentally, is a beautifully clear and detailed budget document for a government institution, they increased spending by $191,000, but due to a slight decrease in revenue from other sources, they are increasing the property tax levy by $323,000. An increase in spending and the tax levy resulted in higher taxes.

Second, the property tax for Washington County increased 1.4%. This is curious given that county officials made a big pronouncement about enacting a property tax rate decrease. Again, be wary when government officials brag about a tax rate. Looking into Washington County’s 2020 budget, the county increased the property tax levy by $683,000 to help support an overall general fund spending increase of $1.7 million. That is a 4.27% spending increase. Once again, more spending results in higher taxes.

Third, the West Bend School District’s property tax increased a whopping 7.4% on my property tax bill. Once again, district officials were bragging that they kept the tax rate flat. But again, more spending and a higher property tax levy actually leads to higher taxes irrespective of the rate. Looking at the West Bend School District’s 2020 budget, the school board approved a $2.7 million spending increase of which $1.6 million is being paid for with a larger property tax levy. It is worth noting that the school board implemented this spending and taxing increase while the number of kids that the school district is educating is decreasing.

Fourth, the city of West Bend’s portion of my property tax bill increased by 1.4%. Readers of this column will remember that the Common Council voted to increase property taxes even though they did not need to in order to support their increased spending. But they chose to increase the property tax levy by $371,000 to help support a $1.3 million increase in city spending.

Fifth, and finally, the property tax for the state of Wisconsin remained flat at zero. Spending and taxes are up at the state level too, but at least in terms of the property tax, former Governor Scott Walker and the Republican Legislature held true to their word and ended the state property tax.

In total, my property taxes increased 3.4% since last year to pay for an aggregate spending increase of $5.9 million by governments.

For those who wonder why Wisconsin’s property taxes are so high, one need only look at the budgets of the governments that feed off of the property tax. Bloated spending that gets more bloated every year results in higher taxes. The reason for high taxes is simple: it’s the spending.

Gifts in the mail

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. In it, I take a quiet stroll through my property tax bill and look for the source of the tax increases. In every case, the government taxing me is increasing spending. Coincidence? I think not. Here’s a taste:

It is that time of year again! You can feel the excitement slicing through the air like hard sleet. People all over Wisconsin are going to their mailboxes and finding their property tax bills awaiting them. Despite years of politicians promising to control property taxes, Wisconsin still has the fourth highest property tax burden in the nation.

As I wrote in a column a few weeks ago, when it comes to property taxes, the levy is everything, and spending determines the levy. When a government uses the property tax, they begin by determining how much total money they plan to spend. Then they determine how much of that spending will be funded by the property tax. That number is the levy. Then the levy is divided into the aggregate property value and the mill (tax) rate is determined. When you hear politicians bragging about the mill rate, be wary. It is one way that they camouflage more spending and higher taxes.

To illustrate this, let us walk through my property tax bill and the five governments that are forcing me to send them money by threatening to take away my home if I refuse. My example is anecdotal, of course, but I encourage all of you scrutinize your property tax bills when they arrive. The assessed value of my home remained unchanged between 2018 and 2019, so the tax changes shown are not reflective of a change in home value.

[…]

In total, my property taxes increased 3.4% since last year to pay for an aggregate spending increase of $5.9 million by governments.

For those who wonder why Wisconsin’s property taxes are so high, one need only look at the budgets of the governments that feed off of the property tax. Bloated spending that gets more bloated every year results in higher taxes. The reason for high taxes is simple: it’s the spending.

Evers’ veto harms state’s most vulnerable citizens

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online. Here’s the whole thing.

The booming economy and low unemployment rate are causing worker shortages in several areas of the workforce. One of those areas is a severe shortage of certified nursing assistants. The Republicans in the Legislature tried to help ease the shortage with a common-sense bill, but the Democrats opposed it every step of the way, culminating with Gov. Tony Evers vetoing the entire bill. The impact of that veto will be most painfully felt by the most vulnerable among us.

Anyone who has ever had to spend any time in a hospital or a long-term care facility knows what CNAs do. CNAs provide the intimate, critically important personal care that is necessary before all other health care can be performed. They bathe patients, check vital signs, change bedpans, clean up vomit, help patients use the toilet, dress people, dress wounds, feed patients, and so many other important tasks.

For people in long-term care facilities, CNAs are their lifeline. Elderly and disabled patients rely on CNAs throughout every day to help them do the things that they can no longer do for themselves. These are the people who are most impacted by the shortage of CNAs as longterm care facilities close across Wisconsin and the remaining ones are chronically short of staff.

The reasons for the shortage of CNAs are relatively straightforward. CNA work is hard. Much of it is also kind of gross. The average wage for a CNA is $13.58 per hour according to Glassdoor. In order to become a CNA in Wisconsin, you must pay for 120 hours of training, including 32 hours of clinical experience, and pass the exam. When unemployment in Wisconsin is 3.2% and fast food restaurants and retail stores are paying $15 per hour for employees with no experience, CNA work is not very attractive by comparison.

Because of this, many CNAs are either nurses or doctors in training. Working as a CNA provides these students ground floor experience in health care and the ability to make connections that could aid their career. They are willing to pay for the training and work for the lower wages because it is a stepping stone in their careers.

When there is a labor shortage, the normal market response is to increase wages to attract more workers. A major distortion to the labor market for CNAs is that many of the jobs are supported by Medicare and Medicaid. Both of those government programs chronically underfund the actual expenses, forcing health care providers to supplement expenses from other patients. Private health care facilities can manage, but many long-term care facilities rely on Medicaid and Medicare as their primary funding source. In short, there just is not enough money to raise wages substantially.

In light of the CNA shortage and the relative inelasticity of wages, the Republicans in the Legislature passed a bill to try to increase the number of available CNAs from other states. The bill was simple. Federal rules require that a CNA receive 75 hours of training with 16 hours of clinical experience. Wisconsin requires 120 hours of training with 32 hours of clinical experience. The bill that the Republicans in the Legislature passed would have allowed CNAs who meet the federal standard to work in Wisconsin.

Twenty other states use the federal standard including the neighboring states of Minnesota, Iowa, and Michigan. There is no evidence that the additional 45 hours of training that Wisconsin requires has any appreciable impact on the quality of care. Not having enough CNAs in a facility to do the work definitely has a negative impact on the quality of care. By allowing CNAs who meet the federal standard to work in Wisconsin, it would have immediately increased the number of CNAs available — especially in areas near the western and northern borders.

Last week, Governor Evers vetoed the bill in its entirety. In his veto message, Evers said, “I object to providing less training for those who care for our state’s most vulnerable citizens,” despite any evidence that adopting the federal standard will harm care. One thing is certain: The quality of care is zero if nobody is available to provide the care.

While pronouncing concern for our state’s most vulnerable citizens, Governor Evers’ veto will harm them the most.

Evers’ veto harms state’s most vulnerable citizens

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

In light of the CNA shortage and the relative inelasticity of wages, the Republicans in the Legislature passed a bill to try to increase the number of available CNAs from other states. The bill was simple. Federal rules require that a CNA receive 75 hours of training with 16 hours of clinical experience. Wisconsin requires 120 hours of training with 32 hours of clinical experience. The bill that the Republicans in the Legislature passed would have allowed CNAs who meet the federal standard to work in Wisconsin.

Twenty other states use the federal standard including the neighboring states of Minnesota, Iowa, and Michigan. There is no evidence that the additional 45 hours of training that Wisconsin requires has any appreciable impact on the quality of care. Not having enough CNAs in a facility to do the work definitely has a negative impact on the quality of care. By allowing CNAs who meet the federal standard to work in Wisconsin, it would have immediately increased the number of CNAs available — especially in areas near the western and northern borders.

Last week, Governor Evers vetoed the bill in its entirety. In his veto message, Evers said, “I object to providing less training for those who care for our state’s most vulnerable citizens,” despite any evidence that adopting the federal standard will harm care. One thing is certain: The quality of care is zero if nobody is available to provide the care.

While pronouncing concern for our state’s most vulnerable citizens, Governor Evers’ veto will harm them the most.

 

Tax increasers take control of West Bend

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

After years of fiscal restraint and conservative management of the budget, the tax increasers have regained control of the West Bend Common Council. Property owners in the city of West Bend will see their first tax increase in almost a decade. Why? Because they could.

[…]

Facing a $151,100 increase in projected expenses next year, the 2020 operating budget that was just approved by the Common Council would raise taxes to meet those expenses and put the forecasted 2019 surplus into the already well-funded reserve fund.

In short, the Common Council chose to raise taxes when they did not have to. There is more than enough tax revenue to fund the city budget, but they are going to raise taxes anyway.

Council members Andrew Chevalier, Chris Jenkins, and Rich Kasten (who is running for mayor of West Bend) voted to not raise taxes. The city of West Bend needs more council members like these.

The Common Council members who voted to raise taxes were John Butschlick, Mark Allen, Steve Hoogester (who is also serving as the interim mayor), Justice Madl, and Roger Kist. These are the men who chose to raise taxes when it was not necessary or justifiable. Butschlick’s and Madl’s seats will both be on the ballot in April. If they choose to run for re-election, the voters should remember who voted to raise their taxes.

Politics before mental health

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

Time to let college athletes be compensated

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to let college athletes be compensated

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

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

[…]

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

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

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

 

Mayor Sadownikow returns to private life after a job well done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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