Tag Archives: Washington County Daily News

Public information should be made public

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

One of the great things about federalism is that each state can experiment with various policy choices allowing the best and most successful ideas to be copied by other states. The state of Michigan has an excellent government transparency policy that Wisconsin should adopt forthwith.

Having just finished a lengthy public debate regarding a school referendum in the West Bend School District, one of the infuriating aspects of the debate was the incomplete, misconstrued, or missing information. The district’s officials distributed a lot of information, carefully curated and parsed, specific to the referendum, but finding general information about the district remains difficult.

Since the School Board and district were asking for gobs of additional money to spend, many voters began asking reasonable questions about the district’s finances. After all, how can a voter reasonably vote to give a government more money to spend unless they are confident that the government officials are being a good stewards of the money they already have?

For example, how much does the district spend on employee benefits? How much do they spend on maintenance for facilities? How much is spent on outof- state travel? What is actually in the teachers’ contract negotiated with the union? What is the compensation plan for teachers, staff, and administrators? How much debt is the district carrying and how are they paying it off ?

The answers to these questions and many more are available for the asking, but it takes tracking down an administrator, filing an open records request, or both. Wisconsin law requires that governments give the public information when they ask for it, but it does not require that the government make it easy. Especially with the dearth of local news outlets in many communities, this information rarely gets out.

This lack of transparency is not unique to the West Bend School District. The vast majority of Wisconsin’s local governments do a terrible job of making information readily available to the public despite the ease of modern technology that should make it easy to do so. There is nothing preventing local governments from being more transparent. It is a policy choice of each elected government body.

There are exceptions. The city of West Bend, for example, does a terrific job by posting their entire detailed budget online. They also post a detailed spending report, sorted by department, amount, and vendor, that shows everything from a $157,883.83 purchase of road salt to a $35.07 purchase for hand soap. The information is there for anybody to parse, analyze, and form judgments.

This is where Michigan comes in. For reasons not germane to this column, I recently followed the debate for a school bonding proposal (what Wisconsinites would call a school referendum) in Ludington, Mich. They were voting on whether or not to borrow and spend $101 million in a district with a $21 million annual budget. Much of the debate would have been very familiar to Wisconsinites who have been considering referendums, but in researching the district, one can go to the Ludington Area Schools’ website and find a wealth of information.

Right on their website, the school district publishes the complete operating budget, various charts showing how money is spent, each of the full collective bargaining agreements, the health care benefits plan, fiscal audits, compensation packages for employees earning over $100,000, association dues paid by the district, employee reimbursements, amounts spent on lobbying, their deficit reduction plan, the credit card policy, expenses for out-of-state travel for administrators, and other required notices. All of this information is current, detailed, and gives the public a clear view of how the district is managed.

Of course, Ludington is not unique. One can find this information on the website of any school district in Michigan because it is required by state law. Specifically, Section 18 (2) of the Public Act 94 of 1979 requires that school districts publish this information for the public to see.

Wisconsin should follow Michigan’s lead and require that local units of government publish this kind of relevant information on their websites. All of this information already exists in a digital format that could easily be distributed to the public for virtually no cost and minimal effort. This is the kind of information that voters need to be able to make rational, informed decisions about the functioning of their local governments. Come to think of it, state lawmakers should include state government in making this kind of information readily available.

An informed citizenry is required for true self-governance and transparency in government is an issue that transcends all political affiliations. State lawmakers from both political parties should support making sure that every citizen has access to as much information as possible about their governments.

Public information should be made public

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

This is where Michigan comes in. For reasons not germane to this column, I recently followed the debate for a school bonding proposal (what Wisconsinites would call a school referendum) in Ludington, Mich. They were voting on whether or not to borrow and spend $101 million in a district with a $21 million annual budget. Much of the debate would have been very familiar to Wisconsinites who have been considering referendums, but in researching the district, one can go to the Ludington Area Schools’ website and find a wealth of information.

Right on their website, the school district publishes the complete operating budget, various charts showing how money is spent, each of the full collective bargaining agreements, the health care benefits plan, fiscal audits, compensation packages for employees earning over $100,000, association dues paid by the district, employee reimbursements, amounts spent on lobbying, their deficit reduction plan, the credit card policy, expenses for out-of-state travel for administrators, and other required notices. All of this information is current, detailed, and gives the public a clear view of how the district is managed.

Of course, Ludington is not unique. One can find this information on the website of any school district in Michigan because it is required by state law. Specifically, Section 18 (2) of the Public Act 94 of 1979 requires that school districts publish this information for the public to see.

Wisconsin should follow Michigan’s lead and require that local units of government publish this kind of relevant information on their websites. All of this information already exists in a digital format that could easily be distributed to the public for virtually no cost and minimal effort. This is the kind of information that voters need to be able to make rational, informed decisions about the functioning of their local governments. Come to think of it, state lawmakers should include state government in making this kind of information readily available.

Wisconsin’s Legislature begins serious budget work

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

When Gov. Tony Evers released his executive budget proposal at the beginning of March, Republican leaders in the Legislature immediately dismissed it as an unserious liberal manifesto — which is precisely what it is. Last week, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee began the serious work of crafting a budget for Wisconsin. Their first step was to toss most of Evers’ silly budget in the trash and start from scratch. Despite Evers’ bravado, the Republicans have a strong hand to play and are on the right side of public opinion.

In a time of divided government, it is worth remembering the relevant powers of each branch of government. The legislative branch has the power to create legislation and the power over where to spend tax dollars. The executive branch has the power over administrative rules (filling in the gaps to execute laws) and the power to veto legislation which the governor disapproves.

Governor Evers has already shown that he is not shy about using his veto power. In fact, he vetoed the middle-class tax cut, which was the very first bill to reach his desk. But while Evers can veto things he does not like, he does not have the power to create laws that he wants. To get a law that he wants to his desk, Evers must be willing to negotiate and compromise with Republicans, but Evers has shown that he has little aptitude or appetite to deal.

This delineation of powers is relevant to the actions taken by the JFC last week. The committee scrapped almost all of Evers’ non-budgetary policy initiatives including expanding Medicaid, legalizing medical marijuana, capping school choice, increasing the minimum wage, granting driver’s licenses to illegal aliens, repealing right-to-work, closing the dark store loophole, ending the property tax levy freeze for counties and municipalities, and dozens of additional initiatives that never belonged in the budget.

What is left are mostly just the nuts and bolts of funding Wisconsin’s state government, which what the budget is supposed to do. As the legislative Republicans go about assembling those nuts and bolts, recent polls show that a majority of Wisconsinites support conservative legislative goals.

For example, in a recent poll of likely voters conducted for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, a state business group, found that 60% of likely voters oppose raising property taxes on businesses and 53% oppose raising the gas tax. Some 77% oppose raising taxes on manufacturing, And 69% oppose eliminating the property tax levy freeze, and 77% oppose raising energy taxes. Up to 83% oppose indexing gas taxes and 63% oppose eliminating drug testing for welfare recipients.

All of those things that Wisconsinites oppose were things that Governor Evers included in his budget proposal and the Republican threw out — except for the gas tax increase. Republicans should take note of that. They are on the right side of these issues except for some of the Republican leadership’s maddening affection for raising the gas tax.

Over the next few weeks, the Republican-led Legislature is going to hash out a budget and send it to Governor Evers for his signature. Governor Evers has arguably the most sweeping veto power in the nation with the ability to strike out words and sentences to make the budget more to his liking, or he could veto the whole thing. What he cannot do is write new language into the law. That is the exclusive prerogative of the Legislature.

What Governor Evers decides to do with the budget will determine how likely he is going to be able to get any of his agenda done for the rest of his term. If he uses his veto pen to strike out every Republican initiative he can, then those same Republicans are unlikely to every put a bill that Evers wants on his desk. If he accepts some compromise, then some of the ideas stricken from his budget proposal may see life again in a separate bill.

In the end, the Legislature holds an ace. Wisconsin will not shut down if Evers vetoes the entire budget and the state enters the new fiscal year without a new budget. By law, the old budget that was passed by many of the same legislative Republicans and signed by Gov. Scott Walker will continue in force. From a conservative perspective, a new fiscal year with no spending increases and no tax increases sounds pretty great.

Wisconsin’s Legislature begins serious budget work

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

Over the next few weeks, the Republican-led Legislature is going to hash out a budget and send it to Governor Evers for his signature. Governor Evers has arguably the most sweeping veto power in the nation with the ability to strike out words and sentences to make the budget more to his liking, or he could veto the whole thing. What he cannot do is write new language into the law. That is the exclusive prerogative of the Legislature.

What Governor Evers decides to do with the budget will determine how likely he is going to be able to get any of his agenda done for the rest of his term. If he uses his veto pen to strike out every Republican initiative he can, then those same Republicans are unlikely to every put a bill that Evers wants on his desk. If he accepts some compromise, then some of the ideas stricken from his budget proposal may see life again in a separate bill.

In the end, the Legislature holds an ace. Wisconsin will not shut down if Evers vetoes the entire budget and the state enters the new fiscal year without a new budget. By law, the old budget that was passed by many of the same legislative Republicans and signed by Gov. Scott Walker will continue in force. From a conservative perspective, a new fiscal year with no spending increases and no tax increases sounds pretty great.

Babies deserve society’s protection

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

The debate over abortion has taken a gruesome turn and Gov. Tony Evers is in the vanguard of a radical new front in the war on babies.

The dispute about when and if abortion should be allowed in our nation has generally come down to one’s opinion of when life begins, or, to put it another way, when a person becomes a person. Ardent pro-lifers, like myself, believe that life begins at conception.

From a religious point of view, most of the major religions teach that life begins at conception. From a scientific point of view, the moment of conception is when the parents’ DNA commingles to create a new, unique DNA. It is generally accepted that each person has unique DNA and it is a distinguishing characteristic of personhood.

When discussing when it should be allowed to kill a conceived child, those who do not believe that life begins at conception generally try to figure out a point upon the developmental trajectory when the child (or growth, or clump of cells, or whatever) becomes “viable.” Given that human children are unable to survive on their own without the aid of adults until several years after birth, the distinction of when a child is “viable” is utterly arbitrary. But virtually every pro-abortionist puts the point of viability before birth.

Some pro-abortionists put the viability demarcation at the point of pregnancy when the baby could survive outside of the womb with medical help. Some put it at when there is heart and/or brain function. Some put it at when the baby can feel pain. Some put it right up until the moment of birth. These arguments are old and well-worn.

At the root of the debate, however, was the notion of morality and human rights that we do not just kill people. We used to be able to agree that killing humans without the due process of law or an act of war was immoral and barbaric. This was especially the view when it came to killing babies. Pro-abortionists had always argued that abortion is not murder because it does not kill an actual human. Such a stance was a tacit acknowledgment that killing actual humans is wrong. Even the most pro-abortion people who support abortion up until birth would argue that an unborn child is still not an actual human deserving of rights and protections of law and society.

Not anymore.

In response to a wave of pro-abortion legislation being passed in states like New York and Vermont which would dramatically expand when and how abortions are allowed, Wisconsin’s legislative Republicans announced a bill that would protect babies who are born alive after a

botched abortion. Since medical professionals are already morally and legally obligated to protect life and even most pro-abortion people oppose killing babies once they are born, the Republican bill is just common sense.

In an earlier age, the Republican bill would have had broad bipartisan support. All it says is that if a baby is lucky to escape the womb alive during an abortion attempt, the medical personnel would be obligated to provide lifesaving care to the child. After all, once the baby is outside of the womb, we used to all agree that it was a child deserving of protection.

Immediately after the Republicans announced their Born Alive Abortions Survivors bill, Governor Evers rushed to tell anyone who would listen that he will veto the bill. Not wanting to admit that he supports killing babies, or at least letting babies die by withholding medical care, Evers has offered a couple of nonsensical excuses. He has claimed that the law is redundant and not necessary. If so, so what? It takes just as much effort to sign it as it does to veto it. Evers has also said that the law is not necessary because babies never survive abortions. The people who are alive today after botched abortions would take issue with Evers’ assertion. There is no data collected on how many babies have survived an abortion only to be left to die by an ardent abortionist.

Evers gave away the game in his response to President Trump’s comments about the bill during his recent Wisconsin rally. In response to Trump, Evers said, “To say that doctors in the state of Wisconsin are executing babies is just a blasphemy.” What a telling use of the word “blasphemy.” To blaspheme is to speak or act against God or a religious tenet. Evers is so exercised by Trump’s comments because the president had the audacity to blaspheme against the liberal orthodoxy where abortion on demand stands as a pillar of faith.

Even people who believe that life does not begin until birth should support the Born Alive Abortions Survivors bill. Sadly, abortionists are very effective and it is rare for a baby to survive an abortion attempt, but when they do, the least we can do is provide them medical treatment and a chance to live.

Babies deserve society’s protection

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. In it, I note the ghoulish shift in the abortion debate and our governor’s position as chief ghoul. Here’s a taste.

In response to a wave of pro-abortion legislation being passed in states like New York and Vermont which would dramatically expand when and how abortions are allowed, Wisconsin’s legislative Republicans announced a bill that would protect babies who are born alive after a

botched abortion. Since medical professionals are already morally and legally obligated to protect life and even most pro-abortion people oppose killing babies once they are born, the Republican bill is just common sense.

In an earlier age, the Republican bill would have had broad bipartisan support. All it says is that if a baby is lucky to escape the womb alive during an abortion attempt, the medical personnel would be obligated to provide lifesaving care to the child. After all, once the baby is outside of the womb, we used to all agree that it was a child deserving of protection.

Immediately after the Republicans announced their Born Alive Abortions Survivors bill, Governor Evers rushed to tell anyone who would listen that he will veto the bill. Not wanting to admit that he supports killing babies, or at least letting babies die by withholding medical care, Evers has offered a couple of nonsensical excuses. He has claimed that the law is redundant and not necessary. If so, so what? It takes just as much effort to sign it as it does to veto it. Evers has also said that the law is not necessary because babies never survive abortions. The people who are alive today after botched abortions would take issue with Evers’ assertion. There is no data collected on how many babies have survived an abortion only to be left to die by an ardent abortionist.

Evers gave away the game in his response to President Trump’s comments about the bill during his recent Wisconsin rally. In response to Trump, Evers said, “To say that doctors in the state of Wisconsin are executing babies is just a blasphemy.” What a telling use of the word “blasphemy.” To blaspheme is to speak or act against God or a religious tenet. Evers is so exercised by Trump’s comments because the president had the audacity to blaspheme against the liberal orthodoxy where abortion on demand stands as a pillar of faith.

School spending doesn’t help grades

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

Speaker Robin Vos agreed with Gov. Tony Evers that Wisconsin’s government schools need an increase in spending in the next state budget. Now they are just arguing over the amount. The push for more and more spending on government schools is being fueled by two myths. The first myth is that more spending will result in better education. The second myth is that we are not spending enough already. Let us debunk those myths.

Wisconsin taxpayers have been increasing spending on public education for decades with little to show for it. According to data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Education, Wisconsin’s government schools spent an average of $3,224 per student in the 1982-1983 school year. By last year, that number had grown to $13,505 per student, or, accounting for inflation, $5,190 in 1982 dollars. That is a 61 percent increase in per-pupil spending in normalized dollars.

With that generous increase in spending, the people should expect a solid increase in educational outcomes, right? Wrong. There isn’t any longitudinal performance data for Wisconsin that stretches back that far. More recent data shows that ACT and standardized test scores have remained stubbornly static in Wisconsin. But countless studies have shown that America’s educational performance has remained static or declined over that time period. Subjectively, few people would attempt to argue that a 2018 graduate received an education that is 61% better than a 1983 graduate. Spending more money has not resulted in a better education.

Yet despite all of the additional spending, our government schools have perpetuated a myth that they are underfunded. That is difficult to believe when they continue to waste so much money. For example, Wisconsin’s government schools allow exceedingly high teacher absenteeism.

The Wisconsin DPI tracks student absenteeism and classifies students who miss ten or more days of school as “high risk.” The federal Department of Education tracks how many teachers are absent for 10 or more days per school year. The most recent data show a lot of high-risk teachers in Washington County. The percentage of teachers who were absent for more than 10 days during the school year was 21.7% in West Bend, 18.5% in Slinger, 28.1% in Germantown, and a whopping 30.8% in Kewaskum. These percentages of chronic absenteeism are stunning given that there are only about 187 annual work days for teachers compared to 260 for most other professions.

According to a study by the Thomas Fordham Institute, teachers in traditional public schools in America are almost three times more likely to be chronically absent as teachers in charter schools, and teachers in unionized charter schools are twice as likely to be chronically absent as their non-unionized charters. Act 10 allowed for school boards to address chronic absenteeism by taking everything off of the union bargaining table except pay, but almost no school districts have taken any action to tackle teacher absenteeism.

Another area where school districts have failed to leverage Act 10 to economize is in the area of health insurance. According to DPI data, Wisconsin school districts spend an average of $20,110 for a family medical insurance plan. Of that, school districts ask employees to pay an average of 11.75% of the premium. That compares to national averages of $18,764 and 33%, respectively. By simply shopping for more economical health insurance plans and asking employees to pay a more reasonable portion of the premium, Wisconsin’s government schools could liberate millions of dollars in their budgets.

Many taxpayers might also be surprised to learn how few of the dollars spent on government schools are actually used for instruction. According to DPI data, Wisconsin’s government schools only spend 53.6% of every dollar on instruction. The rest of it is spent on facilities (6.9%), transportation (3.9%), support staff (9.5%), administration (7.7%), and “other” (13.4%). Any organization that only spends 53.6% of its revenue on its primary function is woefully inefficient.

The evidence shows that spending more on government schools will not result in better educational outcomes. It also shows that Wisconsin’s government schools continue to waste an inordinate amount of money that never even makes it to a classroom. Spending more money on these schools may make politicians feel better about themselves, but it does not benefit kids or families.

School spending doesn’t help grades

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. I’m not crazy about the title they gave it. My working title was, “Politicians Agree that Wasting Taxpayer Money Helps their Electoral Prospects.” I admit… that’s a bit verbose. Anyway, here’s a piece to encourage you to go pick up a copy:

Speaker Robin Vos agreed with Gov. Tony Evers that Wisconsin’s government schools need an increase in spending in the next state budget. Now they are just arguing over the amount. The push for more and more spending on government schools is being fueled by two myths. The first myth is that more spending will result in better education. The second myth is that we are not spending enough already. Let us debunk those myths.

Wisconsin taxpayers have been increasing spending on public education for decades with little to show for it. According to data from the Wisconsin Department of Public Education, Wisconsin’s government schools spent an average of $3,224 per student in the 1982-1983 school year. By last year, that number had grown to $13,505 per student, or, accounting for inflation, $5,190 in 1982 dollars. That is a 61 percent increase in per-pupil spending in normalized dollars.

With that generous increase in spending, the people should expect a solid increase in educational outcomes, right? Wrong. There isn’t any longitudinal performance data for Wisconsin that stretches back that far. More recent data shows that ACT and standardized test scores have remained stubbornly static in Wisconsin.But countless studies have shown that America’s educational performance has remained static or declined over that time period. Subjectively, few people would attempt to argue that a 2018 graduate received an education that is 61% better than a 1983 graduate. Spending more money has not resulted in a better education.

Yet despite all of the additional spending, our government schools have perpetuated a myth that they are underfunded. That is difficult to believe when they continue to waste so much money. For example, Wisconsin’s government schools allow exceedingly high teacher absenteeism.

The Wisconsin DPI tracks student absenteeism and classifies students who miss ten or more days of school as “high risk.” The federal Department of Education tracks how many teachers are absent for 10 or more days per school year. The most recent data show a lot of high-risk teachers in Washington County. The percentage of teachers who were absent for more than 10 days during the school year was 21.7% in West Bend, 18.5% in Slinger, 28.1% in Germantown, and a whopping 30.8% in Kewaskum. These percentages of chronic absenteeism are stunning given that there are only about 187 annual work days for teachers compared to 260 for most other professions.

According to a study by the Thomas Fordham Institute, teachers in traditional public schools in America are almost three times more likely to be chronically absent as teachers in charter schools, and teachers in unionized charter schools are twice as likely to be chronically absent as their non-unionized charters. Act 10 allowed for school boards to address chronic absenteeism by taking everything off of the union bargaining table except pay, but almost no school districts have taken any action to tackle teacher absenteeism.

Washington County needs an executive

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

The Washington County Board of Supervisors is considering changing the structure of county government to create a county executive instead of the current county administrator structure. The County Board should move swiftly to enact this change in time for the voters of Washington County to elect their first county executive next April.

Wisconsin allows for three forms of county government that have progressively more powerful executive functions. The first form has a very weak administrative coordinator. In this form of government, the county board appoints a coordinator who has very limited power, but is responsible for coordinating and executing the orders from the board. The coordinator does not appoint department heads and does not have any independent budget authority. Thirty three Wisconsin counties use this structure.

The second form has a stronger executive function held by county administrator. The county board still appoints the county administrator, but the administrator has the authority to prepare and present a budget, appoint and remove department heads with confirmation from the county board, and coordinate departments. This is the form of government that Washington County uses along with 28 other counties.

The third form of county government empowers an elected county executive with responsibility for the executive functions of government. In this form, all of the voters in the county elect a single executive. As such, the county executive cannot be removed by the county board. Only the governor can remove a county executive for cause. The county executive has all of the powers and responsibilities of a county administrator, but also has the power to veto county board actions and remove department heads without board confirmation. Eleven, mostly more urban, Wisconsin counties have a county executive including neighboring Fond du Lac, Waukesha, and Milwaukee counties.

The main benefit for Washington County of switching to a county executive form of government is that is gives the electors a single person who represents the entire county. That person would be able to set a vision and direction for the county, as well as be held responsible for the overall performance of county government.

In the current form of Washington County’s government, there are 26 supervisors (still way too many) who each represent a few thousand citizens. They elect a county chairperson, other board officers, and appoint the county administrator. Each county board supervisor is elected to represent the interests of his or her constituents — as it should be. Nobody on the board represents the entire county.

Similarly, if the citizens are dissatisfied with the direction of county government, it is extremely difficult to make their will known across a slate of 26 board supervisors. To enact a change in direction, at least 14 new people must run and win across the county to build a new majority on the County Board. And if the County Board passes something outrageous, there is not any veto check on their action like there is at the state and federal levels of government.

By having a county executive, Washington County would have a single person who would represent the entire county’s interests with businesses, state government, and other interests. The citizens of the county would also have a single person to take their grievances to when a county department fails them. It would make county government more nimble and more responsive to the citizens and external interests.

The down side of having a county executive is that the legislative part of county government, the Board of Supervisors, would have to cede some of their current power over executive functions. This is a small price to pay for the benefits a county executive would bring to the county.

Our nation has a long history of having three separate, distinct branches of government that balance and check each other. Washington County has reached a level of population, complexity, and maturity that make this the right time to create an independent executive branch.

Washington County needs an executive

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. In it, I argue that Washington County needs to move to a County Executive instead of a County Administrator. Here’s a part:

By having a county executive, Washington County would have a single person who would represent the entire county’s interests with businesses, state government, and other interests. The citizens of the county would also have a single person to take their grievances to when a county department fails them. It would make county government more nimble and more responsive to the citizens and external interests.

The down side of having a county executive is that the legislative part of county government, the Board of Supervisors, would have to cede some of their current power over executive functions. This is a small price to pay for the benefits a county executive would bring to the county.

Our nation has a long history of having three separate, distinct branches of government that balance and check each other. Washington County has reached a level of population, complexity, and maturity that make this the right time to create an independent executive branch.

 

Feeling the weight of government

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

April 15. A date that lives in infamy. As the date by which all Americans must submit their income tax forms to make sure the government has extracted enough hard-earned money to fund the bureaucracy, April 15 also serves as a good date to contemplate the cost of government. Given that this April 15 is on the cusp of Wisconsin’s biennial budget debate, it is also a good date to look at how much more costly our new governor wants to make our government.

According to the Tax Foundation, Tax Freedom Day in 2019 is April 16. That means that every dollar that every single American earned up until April 16 is needed to pay the nation’s total tax bill of $5.29 trillion. The nation’s total tax bill is more than the nation’s total combined bill for housing, clothing, and food. Big government isn’t cheap. In Wisconsin, Tax Freedom Day comes even later on April 19. The cost of Wisconsin’s government is still more than most states.

If Governor Tony Evers has his way, Wisconsin’s Tax Freedom Day will push later into the year like Illinois or New York. The governor’s budget proposal includes over a billion dollars in tax increases and would increase taxpayer disparity.

When the Supreme Court ruled last year that states can collect sales and use taxes on internet purchases, Gov. Scott Walker and the Republicans neutralized the tax burden for Wisconsinites by offsetting the new sales tax collections with an equal across-theboard income tax cut. Governor Evers would reverse that decision and give the entire tax savings to only those in the lowest tax bracket.

At the same time, Evers’ budget proposes increasing the Earned Income Tax Credit, a welfare scheme paid through the income tax system, and lower taxes in the lower tax brackets. All of these ideas would lower income taxes for those at the lower end of the income scale.

In order to make up for tax decreases to the lower brackets, Governor Evers would increase taxes on the higher brackets by forcing single people who earn more than $100,000 and couples who earn more than $150,000 to pay regular income taxes on their capital gains. This is estimated to increase taxes by $505 million on Wisconsin’s higher earners.

For some perspective, figures calculated by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance show that income filers earning over $100,000 comprise about 12% of all income tax payers, but they pay over 61% of all income taxes in the state. Evers’ budget proposal would continue the effort to foist more and more of the cost of government on an ever smaller group of income earners.

Not content to only hammer individual taxpayers with higher taxes, Evers would also cap the Manufacturers and Agriculture Credit to a mere $300,000 of income for manufacturers. This is projected to result in a whopping $516.6 million in higher taxes on Wisconsin’s manufacturers.

Just in case anyone thought they might escape Evers’ tax increases, he also proposed to increase gas taxes by eight cents a gallon and then index the tax increases to inflation. That way taxes would automatically increase without politicians having to bother going on record to do it with a vote. This would raise taxes another $485 million through the budget term.

Governor Evers has made it perfectly clear how much he would raise taxes if he had the power to do so on his own. As the legislative Republicans formulate their budget proposals, they should begin with the mirror image of Governor Evers’ proposal. The Republicans should start with a billion dollar tax cut for all Wisconsinites and let the Governor try to negotiate from that starting position.

Wisconsin’s tax burden is not good, but it has been improving for the last eight years. Republicans should fight hard to maintain that trajectory for the benefit of all Wisconsinites.

Feeling the weight of government

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. It seemed appropriate on tax day to take another look at all of the tax increases that Governor Evers wants to impose on us. Here’s a taste:

Governor Evers has made it perfectly clear how much he would raise taxes if he had the power to do so on his own. As the legislative Republicans formulate their budget proposals, they should begin with the mirror image of Governor Evers’ proposal. The Republicans should start with a billion dollar tax cut for all Wisconsinites and let the Governor try to negotiate from that starting position.

Wisconsin’s tax burden is not good, but it has been improving for the last eight years. Republicans should fight hard to maintain that trajectory for the benefit of all Wisconsinites.

 

Voters vote ‘no’ on school referendum. Now what?

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

The voters in the West Bend School District voiced a definitive “no” to the referendum question to raise taxes and borrow $47 million to build and renovate buildings. Now that the School Board has that answer, they must plan to meet the needs of the district within the taxpayers’ means.

Going into the election, the superintendent and School Board president said that there was not a “plan B” if the referendum did not pass. Such a statement is a gross admission of poor management. That kind of planning is like a guy running up his credit cards and neglecting his house because he plans to win the lottery. Well, the district did not win the referendum lottery. Now they need to manage the taxpayers’ finances responsibly.

When it comes to schools, everything is driven by one number: enrollment. It determines both the revenue and expense side of the equation. According to the most recent enrollment projections prepared for the West Bend School Board by the Applied Population Laboratory at UW-Madison, enrollment for the district will be declining substantially for the foreseeable future. Using four modeling techniques, they project that by the 2027-2028 school year, enrollment will decline between 11.6 percent and 20.3 percent across the district. That is between 772 and 1,345 fewer kids in the district in less than 10 years.

This decline in enrollment is not a reflection on the West Bend School District. It is a trend that is impacting government schools across the state due to the availability of more school options and a demographic shift of young adults having fewer kids. The decline in enrollment is neither good nor bad. It just is. And our government schools are responsible for providing a great education for the kids we have — not the kids they wish we had. This is the reality that the School Board must manage to.

On the revenue side, this means that the district can expect flat to declining revenue every year. Most of the district’s revenue comes from two sources. The property tax levy raises about $38.5 million. Due to revenue limits imposed 25 years ago, the school district is limited by how much they can raise property taxes every year. State taxpayers kick in about $30.7 million to the West Bend School District. Both the revenue limits and state aid are driven by enrollment. As enrollment declines, the School Board can expect less state aid and they will not be able to raise property taxes enough to compensate due to revenue limits.

The good news is that as revenue declines with enrollment, so do expenses. While it is difficult to reduce spending with a decline in enrollment of one child, a reduction in enrollment of 10 percent to 20 percent is a different story. All fixed costs become variable costs with time. Roughly 70 percent of the district’s expenses are for salaries and benefits for employees. The other 30 percent goes to everything else. It is reasonable to expect that the district should reduce the number of employees commensurate to the number of children being educated. Likewise, with 1.14 million square feet of buildings in the district, it is reasonable to expect that the district can reduce the number of buildings to match what the kids need.

What does this mean in real terms? It means that the West Bend School Board should plan on reducing the number of employees in a controlled manner. The easy way is to not backfill retirements and resignations, but if that is not enough, then separations based on the needs of the kids and the district must be done. It is not an attack on teachers to let them go when they are not needed. It is responsible planning to meet the needs of fewer kids.

Similarly, as the buildings in the district become less utilized, the School Board must consider plans to consolidate facilities. The school district has five elementary schools. Would four be enough if there are 20 percent fewer kids? Of course. This is always a contentious issue, but it does not have to be. The mission of the school district is to educate kids — not operate unnecessary buildings.

As the School Board manages a projected decline in enrollment, they should also work to eliminate unnecessary expenses by fully utilizing Act 10. For example, asking employees to pay the same percentage of their health insurance premiums that most taxpayers pay would free up hundreds of thousands of dollars every year. This budgetary liquidity would allow the district to pay great teachers more money by implementing the merit pay system that was abandoned last year.

The voters of the West Bend School District sent a very clear message to the School Board. The voters expect the School Board to work with the money they already have. Knowing that the district is facing a systemic decline in enrollment, the School Board must manage to that reality.

Voters vote ‘no’ on school referendum. Now what?

My column for the Washington County Daily News is online and in print. You really should pick up a copy. Here’s a taste to encourage you:

Going into the election, the superintendent and School Board president said that there was not a “plan B” if the referendum did not pass. Such a statement is a gross admission of poor management. That kind of planning is like a guy running up his credit cards and neglecting his house because he plans to win the lottery. Well, the district did not win the referendum lottery. Now they need to manage the taxpayers’ finances responsibly.

When it comes to schools, everything is driven by one number: enrollment. It determines both the revenue and expense side of the equation. According to the most recent enrollment projections prepared for the West Bend School Board by the Applied Population Laboratory at UW-Madison, enrollment for the district will be declining substantially for the foreseeable future. Using four modeling techniques, they project that by the 2027-2028 school year, enrollment will decline between 11.6 percent and 20.3 percent across the district. That is between 772 and 1,345 fewer kids in the district in less than 10 years.

This decline in enrollment is not a reflection on the West Bend School District. It is a trend that is impacting government schools across the state due to the availability of more school options and a demographic shift of young adults having fewer kids. The decline in enrollment is neither good nor bad. It just is. And our government schools are responsible for providing a great education for the kids we have — not the kids they wish we had. This is the reality that the School Board must manage to.

Behold, the child-king Evers

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

We are almost three months into Governor Tony Evers’ term. He has had time to find the lunch room, rearrange his office, figure out his network access, and get his bearings. It is time to take a look at how those three months have gone. Frankly, it hasn’t gone very well. Seemingly every action has been marked by incompetence, rank partisanship, childishness, or all three — and he doesn’t seem to be improving.

Immediately upon assuming office, Evers made it clear that Wisconsin was no longer “open for business” by stripping that slogan, so often associated with Scott Walker, off of all of Wisconsin’s welcome signs. While well within his power, it was a ham-handed action that immediately confirmed what all thinking people already knew: Tony Evers’ administration will be bad for business.

Recognizing that Wisconsin is now in a period of divided government that would require compromise, Republicans in the Legislature immediately set about advancing several bills that were on the rhetorical common ground. First, the legislative Republicans advanced a bill to require health insurers to accept people with pre-existing conditions should Obamacare fall. This was a position advocated by Republicans and Evers during the campaign, but Evers immediately dismissed the bill while admitting that he had not even read it.

Then the Republicans in the Legislature passed a tax cut for the middle class. Evers had advocated for such a tax cut in the waning days of the campaign and the Republicans thought he was serious. Always in favor of cutting taxes, the Republicans passed a middle-class tax cut and even gave Evers credit for it. Evers quickly vetoed the tax cut using a fig leaf of an excuse.

Just last month, the Republicans tried again to work on common ground. Both parties strongly agree that the use of the term “mental retardation” is offensive in the modern nomenclature and should be replaced with a more suitable term in the state’s statutory and regulatory language. The Republicans passed a bill to this effect, but Evers moved to take credit on the issue by issuing an executive order before the bill could hit his desk.

In all three instances, Evers was presented with an opportunity to build bridges over common ground withthe Republicans in the Legislature, but chose to burn them instead. Not only were his actions partisan and childish, they were politically tone-deaf and will have the practical effect of hampering his ability to advance his initiatives through a Republican-led Legislature that he insists on affronting at every opportunity.

 

 

The thumb on the scales

Here is my full column from the Washington County Daily News

If there was any doubt as to the importance of the upcoming Wisconsin Supreme Court election, the outrageous ruling by rogue Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess should vanquish it. The leftists have shown that they are willing to use the power of the judicial branch to advance their radical agenda without scruples or remorse. Against such an onslaught, a Supreme Court comprised of strict constitutionalists serves as the last bastion against the judicial usurpation of our representative government.

In the waning days of the last legislative session, the Legislature passed a series of laws to shore up their gains of the previous eight years before the Democrats assumed control of the executive branch. In a clear violation of the separation of powers principle and a gross overreach of judicial authority, a single, lowly Dane County judge ruled that the entire extraordinary season was unconstitutional, and thus, all of the laws duly passed during the session are unconstitutional. In his ruling, Judge Niess ignored the clear wording of the Constitution, the statutes, and decades of legislative practice by both major political parties. Judge Niess’ ruling was not based on law. It was based on advancing a liberal political outcome.

If you wondered what that outcome was, Democrats Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul quickly confirmed it as they moved swiftly after the ruling to withdraw the state from the federal Obamacare lawsuit and begin the process of replacing the 82 people appointed by Gov. Scott Walker who were confirmed in that session.

The ruling is such an egregious overreach that if it holds, it would invalidate hundreds of laws passed over the past several decades. The Legislature has been meeting in extraordinary seasons for years, as is their prerogative, to pass legislation. The most recent extraordinary session was to listen to Governor Evers’ budget address. But before that, taxpayer funding for Fiserv Forum, redistricting, campaign finance laws, government funding laws, and much more have been passed in extraordinary sessions.

In all, the Legislature has held over two dozen extraordinary sessions over the previous two generations for the purpose of passing laws supported by both Democrats and Republicans. If extraordinary sessions are themselves unconstitutional, as Judge Niess’ preposterous partisan ruling states, then all of those laws would be unconstitutional.

Thankfully, Dane County Judge Niess’ ruling will likely be stayed by an appeals court this week before being completely overturned. If Dane County voters have any fidelity to the rule of law, Niess will be run off the bench for his blatant abuse of power. He is a disgrace.

The judicial system is designed to correct for rogue and incompetent judges by allowing bad decisions to be appealed through multiple higher courts. But if the same rabid partisanship that infects Judge Niess is permitted to spread to the Supreme Court, the Legislature and governor will be relegated to merely being entertaining political theater because the austere tyrants in black robes will make all of the real decisions.

Judge Niess, Governor Evers, and Attorney General Kaul tipped their hands to how they will neuter the power of the Republican-led Legislature if the radical leftists take control of the state Supreme Court. They will follow the path of the leftist horde after Governor Walker was elected. They will get a fellow traveler on the Dane County bench to rule laws they do not like as unconstitutional, and then act by judicial and executive fiat. Except this time, instead of the Supreme Court overturning bad rulings and showing deference to the Constitution and the tenets of representative government, a leftist-dominated court will set the leftist agenda into stone.

On April 2, or anytime this week via early voting, it is critically important that Wisconsin elect Judge Brian Hagedorn to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. He has demonstrated the appropriate humility, firm adherence to the Constitution, and deference to representative government necessary to protect the individual rights of Wisconsinites. If the Supreme Court is to remain a bulwark for individual liberty and representative government, we need to elect justices like Brian Hagedorn who believe in those principles.

The thumb on the scales

My column for the Washington County Daily News is in print and on line. Here’re the highlights, but be sure to pick up a copy to read the whole thing!

If there was any doubt as to the importance of the upcoming Wisconsin Supreme Court election, the outrageous ruling by rogue Dane County Circuit Judge Richard Niess should vanquish it. The leftists have shown that they are willing to use the power of the judicial branch to advance their radical agenda without scruples or remorse. Against such an onslaught, a Supreme Court comprised of strict constitutionalists serves as the last bastion against the judicial usurpation of our representative government.

[…]

Judge Niess’ ruling was not based on law. It was based on advancing a liberal political outcome.

If you wondered what that outcome was, DemocratsGov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul quickly confirmed it as they moved swiftly after the ruling to withdraw the state from the federal Obamacare lawsuit and begin the process of replacing the 82 people appointed by Gov. Scott Walker who were confirmed in that session.

[…]

Thankfully, Dane County Judge Niess’ ruling will likely be stayed by an appeals court this week before being completely overturned. If Dane County voters have any fidelity to the rule of law, Niess will be run off the bench for his blatant abuse of power. He is a disgrace.

The judicial system is designed to correct for rogue and incompetent judges by allowing bad decisions to be appealed through multiple higher courts. But if the same rabid partisanship that infects Judge Niess is permitted to spread to the Supreme Court, the Legislature and governor will be relegated to merely being entertaining political theater because the austere tyrants in black robes will make all of the real decisions.

Judge Niess, Governor Evers, and Attorney General Kaul tipped their hands to how they will neuter the power of the Republican-led Legislature if the radical leftists take control of the state Supreme Court. They will follow the path of the leftist horde after Governor Walker was elected. They will get a fellow traveler on the Dane County bench to rule laws they do not like as unconstitutional, and then act by judicial and executive fiat. Except this time, instead of the Supreme Court overturning bad rulings and showing deference to the Constitution and the tenets of representative government, a leftist-dominated court will set the leftist agenda into stone.

On April 2, or anytime this week via early voting, it is critically important that Wisconsin elect Judge Brian Hagedorn to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. He has demonstrated the appropriate humility, firm adherence to the Constitution, and deference to representative government necessary to protect the individual rights of Wisconsinites. If the Supreme Court is to remain a bulwark for individual liberty and representative government, we need to elect justices like Brian Hagedorn who believe in those principles.

Vote ‘no’ on foolish referendum

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

On April 2, the citizens of the West Bend School District are being asked to borrow $47 million, with an estimated payback of $74 million, to build a new Jackson Elementary School and to renovate portions of the high school building. Adhering to the old wisdom that we should not spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need, I will be voting “no” on the referendum. I encourage you to do the same.

Let us start with the money. $74 million is a lot of money. That should go without saying, but in the swirling debates around government spending, that fact tends to get lost. By any measure, $74 million is a LOT of money. To put that in context, there are roughly 40,000 adults in the West Bend School District. $74 million is $1,850 for every single adult in the district. That is not a trivial amount of money for most of us. That is what the school district is asking every voter to spend.

Not only is it a lot of money, it is money that we do not have — as evidenced by the fact that the district needs to borrow the money. The district is also still paying off two previous referendums. If this referendum passes, the citizens of the West Bend School District will be on the hook to pay back a whopping $106 million. Now we are up to $2,650 for every adult just to pay off the district’s debt.

And while it might be easy to brush off such debt in our current booming economy and rising housing prices, we must remember that the district intends to take out a 19-year loan for this spending. The Great Recession was only 12 years ago and there will be recessions in the future. Yet when jobs are scarce and property values are crashing again, the tax burden to pay this debt will remain. Paying off the government’s debt will come before paying for your family’s needs.

What makes the prospect of spending and borrowing this much money so incredibly irresponsible is that it will be for something that we don’t need. Sure, we might want it. Fancy new buildings are fun and cool. But we don’t need it. The Jackson Elementary building is perfectly serviceable and safe. The building has been used to safely educate kids for decades and it can continue to do so for decades if properly maintained.

The high school building could use some renovations. Consolidating the libraries is a good idea. Some of the infrastructure is due for replacing. Some classrooms could use a fresh coat of paint. But almost all of the proposed renovations are wants, not needs. The couple of needs are things that could, and should, be done as part of the normal maintenance cycle of managing a building. They should be budgeted and completed with the normal operating budget. The fact that the school district has failed to properly budget for the routine maintenance cycle of the infrastructure they own is a mark of incompetence that should not be covered with swaths of borrowed cash.

Furthermore, we can’t lose sight of the fact that enrollment is declining and is projected to do so for at least the next decade. According to the district’s own projections completed less than a year ago, total district enrollment will decline by anywhere from 15 percent (baseline method) to 23.5 percent (kindergarten trend) in 10 short years — nine years before the proposed loan is paid off. That’s over a thousand fewer kids in the district in a decade.

Specifically for Jackson Elementary, a building that once held 536 kids 10 years ago is projected to have as few as 307 kids in it 10 years from now. Is it wise for the taxpayers to borrow and spend tens of millions ofdollars to build a brandnew, colossal 82,000-squarefoot school for 43 percent fewer kids?

Finally, what continues to get lost in the debate over referendums is the purpose of a school system — to educate kids. The school district officials and other advocates for the referendum don’t even pretend that spending all of this money on pristine, new facilities will actually improve education. They rightly don’t make that claim because it is demonstrably true that the building in which education happens has nothing to do with the quality of education taking place in that building. Some of the best education in the world occurs in some of the oldest buildings. Education is an activity — not a place. All of our efforts and money should be directed to providing a great education for our kids — not building monuments to the egos of adults.

The West Bend School District has needs. With dramatically declining enrollment and mediocre educational outcomes, new and refurbished buildings are not one of them. Let us put the money we have into improving the quality of education instead of borrowing money we don’t have to pay for things we don’t need.

Vote ‘no’ on foolish referendum

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

On April 2, the citizens of the West Bend School District are being asked to borrow $47 million, with an estimated payback of $74 million, to build a new Jackson Elementary School and to renovate portions of the high school building. Adhering to the old wisdom that we should not spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need, I will be voting “no” on the referendum. I encourage you to do the same.

[…]

Finally, what continues to get lost in the debate over referendums is the purpose of a school system — to educate kids. The school district officials and other advocates for the referendum don’t even pretend that spending all of this money on pristine, new facilities will actually improve education. They rightly don’t make that claim because it is demonstrably true that the building in which education happens has nothing to do with the quality of education taking place in that building. Some of the best education in the world occurs in some of the oldest buildings. Education is an activity — not a place. All of our efforts and money should be directed to providing a great education for our kids — not building monuments to the egos of adults.

The West Bend School District has needs. With dramatically declining enrollment and mediocre educational outcomes, new and refurbished buildings are not one of them. Let us put the money we have into improving the quality of education instead of borrowing money we don’t have to pay for things we don’t need.

 

Conservatives, can we talk?

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

My fellow conservatives, we need to have a talk. A serious talk. The kind of talk that might make your stomach twist up a little, but we have to have it. It’s important. Hey, you liberals who usually read the first few paragraphs of this column before rolling your eyes and checking your Instagram, you can go ahead and get started on the cat videos early. This column is not for you. We will see you next week.

Are the liberals gone yet? Good.

Conservatives, what the heck happened to all of you?

For most of this decade, we have been on top of our game. We were organized, energized, and focused. We had our internal squabbles, but we worked hard to elect conservatives time and time again. We elected a Republican Legislature and then continued to make it more conservative. We elected Scott Walker — three times. We turned the Supreme Court into one that actually respects the rule of law and the role of the court.

The results have been fantastic. Our votes have led to lower taxes, concealed carry, right-to-work, protecting life, the expansion of school choice, regulatory reform, and an economic boom like we have not seen in generations. All of the work, time, and money spent getting conservatives elected at all levels of government have made a real positive difference in the lives of millions of Wisconsinites.

Then, last year, many of you inexplicably stood down. Last April, conservatives failed to show up to support Michael Screnock for the Wisconsin Supreme Court, allowing a rabid liberal to win a precious seat on that court. In November, conservatives twiddled their thumbs while liberals won every statewide seat on the ballot. We managed to protect the Legislature, but just couldn’t get jazzed enough to beat some really terrible liberal Democrats.

Here we are on the eve of the April election again and conservatives are still slumbering. In my home town of West Bend, which is supposed to be in the heart of conservative Wisconsin, we have a ridiculous school referendum where the school district wants to throw $74 million at shiny buildings right after the School Board voted to close the only charter school, give the teachers a $1 million raise, and were outed for allowing their teachers to ram the liberal orthodoxy down the throats of kids.

Worse than that, every candidate for the West Bend School Board on the same ballot supports the referendum while professing to be fiscally conservative. Calling themselves “fiscal conservatives” while supporting this outlandish school referendum is like someone saying they are vegan but that they occasionally like a nice plate of ribs. Their actions refute their words. Sadly, in West Bend, after this April, there will no longer be a single conservative on the West Bend School Board. The conservatives in the West Bend School District gave up and gave their government schools to a liberal activist faction.

The most important race on the ballot is again for the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Conservative Judge Brian Hagedorn is running against a doctrinaire liberal, Judge Lisa Neubauer. Every single gain made by conservatives this decade is on the line. Moreover, the next decade hangs in the balance. After the 2020 census, Wisconsin will redraw its district maps again. In a divided government, the redistricting fight will almost certainly end up in the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Every election for the next decade will be impacted by redistricting and the liberals know it. As we saw in Pennsylvania, a liberal activist court will gerrymander their way to electoral majorities without scruples or regret.

Despite all that is at stake, conservatives are once again standing aside. Most of the purportedly conservative groups who weigh in on elections are sticking their hands in their pockets. Too many conservatives are sitting at home griping on social media while liberals are putting their energy and money into supporting their candidate. Even as the liberals make vile, bigoted, anti-Christian attacks on Judge Hagedorn, conservatives cluck and do nothing. Where are the Catholics, Lutherans, and evangelicals standing up to defend attacks on their faith?

You have to hand it to Wisconsin’s liberals. They are relentless. They are organized, well-funded, and passionate about their beliefs.Conservatives were able to match them for most of this century’s sophomore decade, but now we have decided to take a collective nap. The liberals are still wide awake and fighting.

Why did so many of us conservatives give up? Is it because of Trump? Is it lingering frustration over the last state budget? Are you still mad about Walker’s presidential run? I don’t care. Get over it. None of those things has anything to do with the future of our state and our communities. We have serious work to do.

I often receive comments along the lines of, “I agree. What can I do?” That’s easy. First, go vote. Second, get to work. Volunteer. Donate money. Talk to your friends and family. Take the future of your community and your state as seriously as you do your children’s future, because those futures are one and the same.