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The Government Watchdog
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Wisconsin in focus: Schools rush to raise taxes for energy projects

Tue, 08/08/2017 - 06:25

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin schools raised $217M above tax caps for green projects

Under a law that Republicans might eliminate in the next budget, Wisconsin school districts raised more than $217 million in new taxes for energy-related projects since 2009 — all of it outside revenue caps and without going to referendum.

The new taxes require just a school board majority vote, and they’ve been a lifeline for districts laboring under tight spending limits and decreased revenue. Many have long put off new lights and HVAC systems in favor of salaries and curriculum.

“We didn’t have the savings to borrow for what these projects would have cost,” said Sue Sorenson, board president of the Green Lake School District. The district has exceeded its revenue limit by more than $5 million for projects such as a new boiler, chiller, lighting and roof repairs — but also on a kitchen remodel and new computers, according to board documents.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker and GOP senators have proposed eliminating the law in the next budget. Critics say it violates the spirit of fiscal restraint and accountability and that districts shouldn’t be able to raise so much money without a referendum.

Wisconsin State Journal: Senator: UW should cut programs with ‘little demand’ to produce more engineers for Foxconn

University of Wisconsin System campuses should beef up their engineering programs to train workers at a planned Foxconn facility in southeastern Wisconsin by cutting funding for less popular programs — not by asking the state for more money — a Republican senator said Monday.

Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Cedarburg, criticized UW System President Ray Cross’ request at a hearing last week for lawmakers to provide additional higher education funding so campuses can hire new faculty members and produce more engineers for Foxconn.

Stroebel said UW should use the state funding it already has to expand engineering programs.

“The University of Wisconsin System needs to prioritize ‘needs and wants,’ ” Stroebel said. “UW needs to start investing current resources into increasing faculty and staff for engineering, supply chain and computer science degrees.

WKOW 27: PDQ laying off 300-plus workers throughout Wisconsin

PDQ Food Stores Incorporated plans to lay off 313 employees come October 9th of this year after the Middleton based company announced it would be selling the company to La Crosse based Kwik Trip Inc. last month.

The notice does state Kwik Trip may hire some of the affected employees, and PDQ employees can reapply for a position with Kwik Trip after the sale is complete, however nothing has been guaranteed.

In a press release the Department of Workforce Development it says they will be working with those affected using their Dislocated Worker Program to provide transition assistance to workers, and other companies, such as suppliers and distributors.



Haupt: America and the Roman Empire’s political downfall

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 18:14

“At the height of its mastery, Rome was the pulsing heart of the earth. The day the empire fell the world learned even the most stalwart empires can fail if avarice replaces prudence.”

– Solon Greco

There is not a continent on this planet where one cannot unearth the fallen ruins and silent stories of forgotten great civilizations. Tales of their broken past lay buried deep within the earth under the canopy of the bustling industry, imposing skyscrapers and apartment duplexes of a modern world. These fallen empires that once stood mighty among the most prodigious and influential societies of their respective era, all met their eventual demise for various reasons. There is a salient consensus on one collective attribution for failure; delusive management of finances and excessive taxation.

“The heaviest penalty for declining to rule is to be ruled by someone inferior to yourself.”

– Plato

The overarching criterion for determining the collapse of these governments lays in their inability to deliver political goods and services coerced by their citizens. When supply doesn’t meet demand, it is impossible to sustain security and preserve law to regulate and supply blood to the arteries of its legislative body. This strangles their ability to officiate, and severely limits their functional capacity. It eventually cuts off their oxygen and they self-suffocate. There’s no timeline for failure. Some self-implode, with a total collapse of all institutions. Others fall without a whimper. There are no violent revolutions, or catastrophic natural disasters. Instead, they quietly fall victim to collapse unable to manage the central population. This is a consequence of man.

“In a society governed passively by free markets and free elections, organized greed defeats disorganized democracy.”

– Matt Taibbi

The Roman Empire reached its zenith in the 2nd century. At that time, there was unprecedented stability and prosperity. This powerful kingdom was an example of good stewardship. The Empire was ruled with authority and obedient restraint. Rome was a pillar of strength no man challenged. As their economy blossomed they became the world leader in the arts, education, and commerce. Their institutions and culture had a lasting influence on language, religion, architecture, and law. The value this brought to expansionism throughout the modern world was more significant than anyone will ever fathom.

“Rome was great in arms, in government, and in law.”

– Goldwin Smith

But the decline of Rome became inevitable due to its immoderate and unmanageable greatness. Once all foe had been conquered, prosperity ended. Its aftermath was moral decay. Rudimentary principles of governing the lives of citizens became irrelevant. Incompetent leaders led to political necrosis, corruption and instability. The Senate and the Emperors were sullied with power, and thought themselves as cardinal gods. Inordinate spending led to economic decline, skyrocketing debt, oppressive taxation, inflation, and a devalued currency. Class warfare and cuts in the military further burdened the republic. Increasing dependence on municipal gratuities stifled incentive in favor of support from the treasury.

“Rome was great as long as she had enemies who forced her to a vision of unity and heroism. When she had overcome them, she then began to die.”

– Webb Dante

Rome’s fall from grace as the epitome of world powers was less unpredictable than the weather in Tennessee. Who would ever think the mightiest of all mighty empires in the history of man would stumble into oblivious demise, without taking up arms to maintain its dignity? Although their future was clearly written on the Coliseum walls, they refused to remove the blinders that sheltered them from indulgent sins of omission. The magistrates frolicked in fruition, while intellectual mediocrity, over-population of the urban areas, disease ridden streets, prostitution, homosexuality, alcohol and drug abuse all led to social and legal putrefaction. This ultimately caused Rome’s collapse. This is what ended Classical Antiquity along with the fall of the great Roman Empire.

“Today, Rome has not seen a modern building in more than half a century. It is a city frozen in time.”

– Richard Meier

The history of this once great republic was omnipresent in the minds of America’s founders as they created our republic centuries later. As a consequence of their deliberations and obvious reliance on divine providence, our founders shaped the United States, fashioned as the modern equivalent of the Roman Republic. And the similarities are illusory and uncanny. The Roman Republic was established in 509 BC by the overthrow of Roman King Lucius Tarquinius Superbus and expulsion of the Etruscan theocrats by the Latin Italic tribes from the south. And America is a prime example that history repeats itself. The Republic of the United States was birthed in a bloody revolution against the British King George over 2,000 years later.

“If history repeats itself, and the unexpected always happens, how incapable must Man be of learning from experience?”

– George Bernard Shaw

Despite the efforts of our founders to set a different course than that experienced by our Roman predecessors, an analysis of these two great republics is inevitable. There are stark congruencies between them. Both societies were the pre-eminent entities in military might and economic power. They were leaders in culture, commerce, technology and ideas. Today, the world turns to America for guidance and leadership. In the heyday of the empire, Publius Cornelius Tacitus claimed even “things atrocious and shameless flock from all parts to Rome.” Thus today, as Romans claimed “all roads lead to Rome,” America projects the same image: All roads lead to the U.S.

“America, just as Rome envisioned, considers the U.S. unequaled in national character and strength.”

– Tibius Culens

Roman politicians had difficulty disjoining public and private liabilities. As a consequence, public services declined while pet projects of the public officials and their patrician sponsors grew at the expense of their citizens. Multitudinous failed reforms were resisted by the patricians that parrot the partisan battles in America today. Middle class Romans were cowed by slave labor much as rising technological change and the transfer of entry level jobs overseas threaten our middle class. The inability of the opposing political parties of the Republic, the Optimates and Populares focused on political gain rather than tasking the people’s work. America too faces a political system transfixed in political party idealism; too shamelessly egomaniacal to govern.

“To run an effective political party you need a degree of tribalism, it’s the glue that holds everyone together.”

– Charles Kennedy

Roman Senator Tacitus said, “Great empires are not maintained by timidity.” The Roman Republic survived 500 years and the American Republic has weathered around 250 years. America lingers on facing major challenges that could negatively affect its future. We lack the ability to satisfy the economic demands of too many at the expense of a few. Our social divisions over priorities and growing unrest caused by a negative political environment heighten the likelihood we could parallel the final stages of Rome. Let’s hope we heed this atrophy before we garner the fate of Rome. The power to do this lies in our hands, not in the politicians. A republican government belongs to we the people, not politicians. We can only hope we have the courage to stop history from repeating itself.

Thomas Sowell said, “Much of the social history of the Western world, over the past three decades, has been a history of replacing what worked with what sounded good.” If we lose sight of culpable governing, future civilizations will be walking on our memories.

“Our Republic has chartered a path similar to Rome. If we don’t change course, America will end, as a replay of Rome.”

– Tiberius King

Wisconsin in focus: The next Foxconn and Illinois: Here’s why Wisconsin will be the state growing more taxpayers

Mon, 08/07/2017 - 06:38

Chicago Tribune opinion: The next Foxconn and Illinois: Here’s why Wisconsin will be the state growing more taxpayers

Illinois recently got a humiliating rejection notice from Foxconn, the Taiwanese tech giant. Foxconn picked Wisconsin over struggling Illinois and other states for the proposed site of a $10 billion LCD panel factory that will employ up to 13,000 people. These mega-projects don’t happen every day, so Foxconn’s decision hurts because job growth is the only way to solve Illinois’ fiscal crisis: More jobs means more tax revenue.

What really stings, though, is how the winning site is just across the state line in southeast Wisconsin. It’s as if Foxconn settled on the Midwest as a location and then decided: We want to be as near as possible to Illinois without actually being there.

Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou gave an interview to Steve Jagler, the business editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Gou gave Jagler eight reasons why Foxconn chose Wisconsin. Two of them were – literally – proximity to Illinois: First, Wisconsin is conveniently located in the central U.S., “close to Chicago, a global hub,” the Journal Sentinel reported. Second, Wisconsin has the transportation and logistics to accommodate Foxconn’s growth, and is … near O’Hare International Airport. Feel free to smack your forehead.

CNBC: In Weary Wisconsin Town, a Billionaire-Fueled Revival

When Diane Hendricks sees something she doesn’t like here, she buys it.

A bankrupt country club. A half-empty mall. Abandoned buildings. The rusting foundry down by the river.

Beloit used to be a town that made papermaking machines and diesel engines. Ms. Hendricks thinks it can be a place where start-ups create the next billion-dollar idea, and she is remaking the town to fit her vision. She can do so because she is the second-richest woman in the United States, behind only Marian Ilitch of Little Caesars Pizza.

“I see old buildings, and I see an opportunity for putting things in them,” says Ms. Hendricks, 70, who got her start fixing up houses here as a single mother and made her billions selling roofing felt, copper gutters and cement with her late husband, Ken.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: UW System office seeks charter school proposals; Milwaukee market may be tapped out

More than two years after it was created as part of the state’s 2015-’17 budget, the University of Wisconsin System’s Office of Educational Opportunity is taking steps to authorize its first charter schools.

The office issued two requests for proposals this week, one for a pilot for an addiction recovery school, which could be located anywhere in the state; and another for potential charter schools in Madison and Milwaukee.

Gary Bennett, the former chief of staff for Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) who was tapped last year to lead the office, said some municipalities and Cooperative Educational Service Agency, or CESA, networks have voiced interest in the recovery school.

As for the traditional charters, if there is interest at all, he said, it’s more likely to be in Madison than Milwaukee.

Wisconsin in focus: More details needed before north side neighbors support Foxconn move to area

Fri, 08/04/2017 - 06:44

WKOW 27: More details needed before north side neighbors support Foxconn move to area

Driving by the vacant former Oscar Mayer plant on the city’s north side, one could see it as an eyesore. But many living in the area see it at an opportunity for businesses. But nobody put much thought into Foxconn moving into the vacant property, except for Mayor Paul Soglin.

At a press conference Thursday, Mayor Soglin said he was contacted by Foxconn about a potential facility in Madison. During the 10-minute conversation with a mediator, Soglin said he suggested three sites. One of them was the old Oscar Mayer plant.

“When you’ve got an industrial site within a stones throw of an airport near a rail-line, an interstate highway,” Soglin said in support of the idea.

The mayor’s suggestion quickly sparked discussion in north and east side neighborhoods. But it seems a lot more details are needed for the idea to gain public support.

“There’s not a whole lot of details out there yet,” said Renee Walk, a resident who lives walking distance from the plant. She is also the co-chair of the OSCAR Group, an organization that tries to keep the everyone on the same page with future plans regarding the plant.

Post-Crescent: Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue tours Wisconsin, talks about immigration, NAFTA

As farmers wrestle with issues as wide-ranging as immigration, foreign trade and distressingly low prices for their products, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue kicked off a multi-state tour in Wisconsin on Thursday so he could hear their concerns firsthand.

Perdue’s visit included a stop at the Hunger Task Force Farm in Franklin, where he picked sweet corn. His RV tour also will include visits to Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana.

Named agriculture secretary in April, Perdue is the son of a Georgia farmer and has owned several agricultural businesses. He is not associated with the food company Perdue or the poultry producer Perdue Farms.

One of his main tasks this year is working with Congress on the next five-year farm bill, which will set the direction for agricultural policies and food programs.

WKOW 27: Bill calls for firearms training in Wisconsin schools

A bill that would allow firearms training in Wisconsin public schools brought out some strong emotions at the Wisconsin State Capitol Thursday.

The legislation would task the State Department of Public Instruction to develop a firearms training curriculum, so students could learn about the history of firearms, the physics behind them, how they’re manufactured and shooting with them.

Rep. Gary Hebl of Sun Prairie says, “To encourage the use of guns on school grounds is something that I abhor and oppose, as do my constituents to a person at this point.”

Rep. Joel Kleefisch of Oconomowoc says, “You describe the atmosphere in the schools you represent – and if they decide that that’s an atmosphere that they’d prefer not to have these types of classes, they have every right.”

Congressman pushes for federal tax reform to help offset state income tax hike

Fri, 08/04/2017 - 06:09

U.S. Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., is embarking on a tour to talk federal tax reform, and he’s getting an earful from constituents.

One of the participants in the roundtable discussion in Springfield Aug. 1, Merrill Lynch financial adviser Gary Seitz, told Davis to be bold, throw out the current tax code, and start from scratch.

“I’m a believer that as the government grows, the economy slows,” Seitz said. “Take less money from the individual so they can use it for themselves to buy houses, buy cars, invest, buy a pizza.”

Seitz said the economy works best when people spend or save their money as they see fit.

Davis, who hails from Taylorville, is pushing for tax reforms that will help middle-income families, who, Davis said, are too often forgotten by Washington. Materials from Davis’ office explain that the plan is to simplify the tax code so that 9 out of 10 Americans will be able to file their taxes on a simple post card. Davis also wants to lower rates for Americans across the board, preserve important middle-income deductions to help Americans buy homes, pay for college, or donate to charity, and allow more savings by cutting in half the tax rates on personal savings and investment.

Davis said simplifying the tax code and reducing rates across the board would save taxpayers a lot of money.

“The average middle-class family in Illinois,” Davis said, “would get an extra $5,200 dollars in their pocket to be able to pay for a house, to be able to send their kids to college, and to be able to save up for a rainy day.”

Davis said getting federal tax relief will help alleviate part of the newfound burden Illinois residents have with an increased state income tax.

The state income tax went up 32 percent to 4.95 percent from 3.75 percent after Democrats and some Republicans overrode Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of the tax hike.

The state corporate income tax also went up to 7 percent from 5.25 percent.

Illinois Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Todd Maisch said federal tax reform will also help Illinois’ small and midsized businesses.

“Illinois definitely needs to get its act together and have its own policy changes,” Maisch said, “but Illinois will definitely benefit if there is federal action.”

For businesses, Davis’ office said the tax reforms discussed so far would help create more than 70,000 jobs in Illinois by no longer taxing small-business income at an individual rate, which his office said can be as high as 44.6 percent. The plan would also end the federal estate tax, also known as the “death tax,” which would allow family farms and businesses to pass property down to future generations without a large tax bill.

Davis said it’s up to constituents to help cut through the partisan divide in D.C. “It’s going to be their responsibility to talk to all policymakers to find bipartisan solutions.”

Davis said it’s unfortunate the Senate didn’t act on health care reform, which he said goes hand-in-hand with tax reform.

Wisconsin in focus: GOP lawmakers split on Foxconn bill as questions linger about impact on state budget

Thu, 08/03/2017 - 07:41

Wisconsin State Journal: GOP lawmakers split on Foxconn bill as questions linger about impact on state budget

Republican lawmakers are split over how to move forward with a plan to send $3 billion to an electronics manufacturing giant promising to create 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin as questions surfaced about how the plan would affect the next state budget that is a month overdue.

Taiwanese technology company Foxconn wants to spend $10 billion to build LCD panels on a 20-million-square-foot, 1,000-acre campus of more than a dozen buildings in southeastern Wisconsin by 2020. Gov. Scott Walker signed an agreement to have a contract in place by the end of September.

But doing so requires approval from a Republican-controlled Legislature that still hasn’t passed a 2017-19 state budget. And despite a suggestion from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, on Tuesday that the Foxconn deal would have “almost zero” impact on the next state spending plan, questions surfaced from Democrats and Senate Republicans about whether more vetting was needed.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Foxconn considering a second Wisconsin facility — this one in Dane County

Asian electronics giant Foxconn is considering investing at a second site in Wisconsin — this one in Dane County, according to a half dozen knowledgeable sources.

The investment in Dane County could come in a separate business from the massive flat screen television plant that Foxconn Technology Group has already committed to building in southeastern Wisconsin.

No offers have yet been made by the Taiwanese company and there are no guarantees any will be.

“That’ll probably clear up in the next 45 days,” said one source familiar with the potential project. “It’s good to be in play.”

Channel 3000: Molina Healthcare to exit Wisconsin ACA exchange

Molina Healthcare says it will exit the Affordable Care Act’s insurance marketplaces in Utah and Wisconsin, citing costs that contributed to hefty losses for the health insurer in the second quarter.

The Long Beach, California-based company also said Wednesday that it expects the performance of its remaining ACA marketplaces will fall substantially short of previous expectations in the second half of the year.

The company is reviewing its participation in other state health exchanges, noting that the performance of its marketplaces in Florida and Washington have been among the most disappointing.

Molina also plans to increase 2018 premiums for its remaining ACA marketplace plans by 55 percent.

Krug: President Trump disrupting news consumption, bringing in more women

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 14:55

This just in: President Donald Trump is polarizing.

Some love him. Some hate him. Hate is a strong word, but they hate him.

There are probably some who are too busy watching “The Price Is Right” or rainbow-vomiting cat videos to care. But they still might make time to check in on Trump.

Regardless of your thoughts on his presidency, Trump’s effect on media has been fascinating to witness.

No presidential candidate more masterfully usurped the mainstream media’s system to create his own narrative. Unquestionably, this disruption – primarily through the 140-characters-or-less social feed Twitter – is a byproduct of Trump’s ability to demean the mainstream media and leverage social media to allow for direct communication with the citizenry.

The so-called Trump effect has been stunning with regard to a renewed interest in national news. What audience segment is growing the fastest?

A recent Pew Research Center study says that American women represent the largest-growing demographic of national news consumers. Trump has stimulated a wave of new interest in media and current events among women, despite his past comments about women that have drawn the ire of the left (and, frankly, some on the right).

The study suggests that 58 percent of American women say they are paying more attention to politics since Trump was elected. That same research showed that 63 percent of women who identify as Democrats have increased their interest in U.S. political news. Interest in domestic political news among women who identify themselves as Republicans is up 54 percent.

Overall, Trump’s presidency has increased U.S. interest in political news by 52 percent.

Former President Barack Obama compares in numbers, but not in impact. Obama has about 93 million Twitter followers – nearly 55 million more than Trump. Together, they are the two most followed politicians in the world, but the winner on impact is decidedly lopsided – and there is nobody in politics who’s even close to Trump.

Trump’s Twitter feed is hyperactive, rarely boring and often the root of stories that aren’t reported exactly the same elsewhere. He’s randomly on Twitter, occasionally around the clock. This began well ahead of the past election cycle, and hasn’t slowed down. Trump vowed nobody would take away his phone. Nobody has.

In a completely unscientific polling of people I know who are dialed into social media, there seems to be equal measures of left- and right-leaning followers who mind his feed. And people from all walks of life seem to speak of Trump with corresponding degrees of disgust and curiosity.

Set aside the messaging for a moment and purely consider the impact to media: He’s demonstrated that news can be a business-to-consumer proposition for politicians, following the path of entertainers Katy Perry and Justin Bieber.

Trump is cutting a new path in that regard – utilizing direct-to-market bursts of commentary to prompt behavior and create news narratives that the media is only too willing to follow. At its purest, it’s business-to-business communication.

He has, effectively, bypassed the permission of the press. He stays in the news by creating the news and discounts the media’s account of his story. Take a step back, and it’s difficult to argue that he isn’t setting the news agenda masterfully.

When you have the same tools as multi-billion-dollar media companies that could cloud your message, why bother offering the stories to them when you could skip the distributor and sell to the customer? Question Trump’s business acumen if you will, but his ability to promote and draw attention are changing the way that we think of presidential communication.

Since his election, which seemingly came against every legacy media prediction or poll, Trump has continued to be a boon to coverage of national affairs. If people didn’t care about national news in the smooth-jazz presidency of his predecessor, they care now.

And they are following.

Amid the otherwise awful news of decline of the mainstream press, New York Times CEO Mark Thompson told MSNBC in May that the company had added 308,000 digital subscribers in the first quarter (the company reports that is most in its history in a given quarter), and another 93,000 net subscribers in the second quarter. That was after the company reported that it increased by 276,000 digital readers in the fourth quarter of 2016.

Newsonomics author Ken Doctor reported in a May article for The Street that, “The Washington Post said that January generated more subscription starts than any other month, beating what had been a record-setting November, with the Post overall seeing ‘doubled digital subscription revenue in the past 12 months, with a 75 [percent] increase in new subscribers.’ “

The news will always matter.

Where you get it, how you get it, and from whom you get it, though, may matter substantially more.

Chris Krug is President of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity.

Wisconsin in focus: Is state offering more than it will get back in taxes to land Foxconn plant?

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 07:07

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Is state offering more than it will get back in taxes to land Foxconn plant?

Questions have arisen over how much in incentives the state is offering to Foxconn in order to get the company to put a giant manufacturing plant in Wisconsin.

Says One Wisconsin Now, a liberal advocacy group:

Gov. Scott Walker “wants state taxpayers to dole out up to $250 million annually in incentives” to Foxconn “to lure a manufacturing plant to Wisconsin that he claims will generate $181 million in tax revenue.”

Sounds like a losing proposition.

WKOW: Proposal would loosen liquor laws in Wisconsin

There’s a new proposal designed to change the direction of the alcohol industry in the state.

A group of republican lawmakers wrote the bill to loosen restrictions.

Those lawmakers unveiled their legislation at Wisconsin Brewing Company in Verona on Tuesday.

Among other things, the bill would allow wineries to stay open until 2 a.m. and increase the number of liquor licenses cities have by ten percent.

USA Today: Why 40 office workers in Wisconsin let a tattoo artist put a microchip in their hand

In one of the oddest corporate ceremonies we’ve heard of, a tattoo artist inserted rice-sized microchips into the hands of employees at Three Square Market, a Wisconsin firm that makes cafeteria kiosks to replace vending machines. The point: convenience.

Chipped employees can bypass key fobs and badges and corporate log-ons to computers. And the company would like to see payments go cashless. The pain: “It stung for about an hour and a half,” company president Patrick McMullan said. The entire process took about a minute. The tattoo artist cleaned the skin, found a spot in the hand to pinch, inserted a syringe, installed the chip, then covered the spot with a bandage.

The privacy concern: The chip does not have GPS in it, so the boss can’t track your movements. Is it dangerous? Some Swedes have been chipped for years.

Wisconsin economy seeing increase in international trade activity

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 06:51

Wisconsin’s economy sustained a big jump in imports from abroad and a modest bump in exports during the first five months of the year, prompting financial observers around the state to feel bullish about the remainder of 2017.

“I obviously think that anytime you have free trade, it is positive,” Joe Jurken, the senior at The ABC Group in Milwaukee, told

Recently released export and import figures from the U.S. Census Bureau show that from January to May of this year, imports in Wisconsin shot up 24.3 percent over the same period in 2016. By comparison, the state’s total exports during the first five months of this year were up 6.5 percent over the same period in 2016, according to the Census Bureau’s seasonally unadjusted figures.

For exported manufactured goods only, Wisconsin’s numbers for January through May were up 4.9 percent over the same period last year.

Looking at the Census Bureau’s figures for May only, Wisconsin’s imports increased 30.9 percent over May 2016.

One key driver in the increase in imports is the U.S. dollar strengthening against China’s yuan in recent months. The dollar’s strength makes it favorable for foreign companies to sell goods in the United States, said Jurken, whose firm specializes in helping companies export their wares to China.

He predicted that Wisconsin imports during the remainder of the year could continue to increase, while exports should continue at the same pace or begin to soften.

“We would love to see Wisconsin companies export more,” he said, adding that it’s often a difficult task to sell in China due to trade barriers.

Even though there has been talk about the United States putting up tariffs on foreign goods entering the nation since President Donald Trump took office, that talk hasn’t affected business activity so far in 2017, Jurken said. The status quo remains a good thing for the state, as opposed to the potential of a trade war, he said.

Wisconsin’s bump in exports mirrors a national trend. Exports from companies throughout the United States during the first five months of 2017 were up 6.6 percent over the same period of the previous year, according to the Census Bureau.

Figures compiled by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) for the first quarter of 2017 mirror the Census Bureau numbers.

“Wisconsin businesses exported $5.32 billion in goods and services worldwide in the first three months of 2017, a 4.8 percent increase over the first quarter of 2016 – a promising start to the new year,” WEDC spokesman Mark Maley told

The export growth was pegged to a rise in shipments to Mexico, China and Saudi Arabia, according to Maley. Shipments to Saudi Arabia spiked 100 percent in the first quarter due to an increase in military vehicle sales, he said.

Exports to Canada, the state’s largest trading partner, inched up 1.7 percent to $1.6 billion during the first three months of the year, Maley said, and overall agricultural exports to foreign nations were up 5.5 percent over the same period in 2016. Among those exports were hefty increases in Wisconsin oil seeds, such as soy beans.

The state’s top export, industrial machinery, declined 4.7 percent in the first quarter, he said, following a trend that’s lasted several years as low oil prices have held down demand for such equipment in the oil and gas industry.

Even so, among all states, Wisconsin is No. 21 in terms of total exports, Maley said, adding that the state exports goods and services to 182 nations.

“Wisconsin led the nation in exports of more than two dozen different products, including outboard marine engines, firefighting vehicles, cranberries, prepared sweet corn, pickles, fur skins and ginseng roots,” he said in an email.

Other officials are hopeful that the state’s economy will continue to rev up during the rest of the year.

“We are encouraged by the first-quarter numbers and hope to see this trend continue for the remainder of 2017,” Katy Sinnott, the WEDC’s vice president of international business development, told “Wisconsin saw growth in exports to four of the state’s five largest trade destinations as well as most of our top product categories, which is a great way to start the year.”

Despite a decades-long decline in manufacturing jobs in the United States, Wisconsin has seen some employment growth in that sector over the past year. The number of manufacturing jobs in the state since January is up by nearly 4,000, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The Wisconsin manufacturing workforce in June stood at 472,000, 1.7 percent above where it was a year earlier, the BLS said.

Wisconsin in focus: Wisconsin posts fewest bankruptcy filings in a decade

Tue, 08/01/2017 - 17:31

Wisconsin posts fewest bankruptcy filings in a decade

Wisconsin posted its fewest bankruptcy filings in a decade in the first half of 2017, a reflection of an improved economy and the availability of jobs.

The 8,921 bankruptcy petitions filed in federal court in January through June marked the lowest total for that period in the state since 7,642 were filed in 2007, just before the Great Recession.

Filings were down 1.5% from 2016, when 9,060 people or businesses declared themselves insolvent.

Wisconsin Was Outbid For Foxconn Factory, But Still Won

At least one other state offered Foxconn more than the $3 billion incentives package Wisconsin used to lure a plant that will be the electronics giant’s first in the U.S., Gov. Scott Walker said Tuesday.

Walker said “at least one if not several other states were prepared to give the Taiwan-based company more money, although the governor added “it wasn’t a huge gap.” He didn’t indicate which state or states topped the offer or signal how he learned about it.

Foxconn also considered sites in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. The company said in a press release last week when it announced that Wisconsin had been selected that it was the first of several expected investments in the country.

Old World Wisconsin welcomes guest brewers during August

In partnership with the Museum of Beer and Brewing, Old World Wisconsin will continue their historic brewing program with newly featured guest breweries during August.

Capital Brewery and Milwaukee Brewing will be the August featured breweries.

The historic brewing program brings beer lovers from around the state together to share in the taste and long history of Wisconsin’s favorite beverage.

Haupt: No confidence in the political class

Tue, 08/01/2017 - 06:34

“There is no act of treachery, infidelity, or avarice of which a politician is not capable; for in politics it’s every man for himself to remain in the graces of the political party.”

– Marty Blunt

The Articles of Confederation was a noble attempt at creating a central government in the colonies. But it was both a blessing and a curse. It was a blessing that is established order but it was a curse since it did not provide provisions for the government to govern with authority. It was a determent that crippled governing during the Revolutionary War. Since the Articles were designed to recognize a division of powers similar to the British, it was flawed from the beginning. There was no king in the colonies nor was there a parliament. Although it served as a war-time confederation to help direct the colonies, it lacked central leadership. As the war moved on it was obvious this divisive chaos had to end for our nation to survive. And we needed “change we could believe in” to make it better before it got worse.

“To improve is to change; to be perfect is to change often.”

– Winston Churchill

Once the Convention commenced, it was clear this would not be a walk in the park. The only thing they agreed on was the necessity to create a government that was not subject to the vagaries of regional influence or majority dictatorship. This opened the doors of republicanism. Considering the political mobocracy that took place with each changing of the guard in past republics, they sought to avoid entrapment by creating buffers between the government and the people. With a House elected by the populous, a Senate by state legislatures, and a president by a convocation of elders, they figured they had enough detours to insure no political force or roguish group could usurp the people’s will.

“Sometimes, simple things turn out to be the most complex of all.”

– Harold Butler

The core idea of the Constitution was to restrain ambition and force competing powers to make legitimate attempts at compromise and keep the integrity of the republic in check. The delegates felt the brand of federalism they created was bullet proof during those patriotic times. But they were to find out during the 1st Congress their failure to make constitutional provisions to hold politicians accountable to one another or us was a serious omission. They were forgivingly naive, putting such amatory faith in politics. They never envisioned two antipodal opposing political parties hijacking the people’s government. One that would control it and citizen influence would be subservient to their parties.  A lesson learned the hard way.

“Hindsight is always 20/20.”

– Billy Wilder

Our founders set fourth to develop a perfect government. Since most came from across The Pond, they were gun-shy about mimicking the King’s government in our constitution. Therefore, there was no provision made to hold politicians within the legislature accountable if they proved incapable to govern. Unlike England, where all government ministers, and the Prime Minister, are accountable to all branches of the legislature with de facto power vested in the House of Commons. Motions of no confidence are key components in the Westminster government that requires an executive to retain the impudence of the House of Commons. It is a fundamental principle that their government must retain the confidence of the legislature to operate effectively with majority support of the legislature.

“Reporters who brandish parliament would have a field day if they covered Congress.”

– Litton Sidle

Since the 1st Congress when Jefferson and Hamilton reignited the fuse of vexation, politicians have scurried to parties. Unfortunately, our Constitution makes no provisions for a political structure of political accountability. So Congress formed a way to control government with seniority rewarding through the committee system. We continued to develop an awkward self-policing system within the system to make a legitimate effort to legitimize the party system. By 1830, the party system had festered like a bad splinter. Politics was run by well-oiled machines. They seemed harmless since they helped to maintain order between competing factions and greased the wheels to control in-party turmoil. They vetted candidates while picking the pockets of donors to fill their political war chests. They formed voter groups to bring others to the party and forged policy to promote party propaganda. This sustained the illusion that they were doing what was best for the populous.

“In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, you can bet it was planned that way.”

– Franklin D. Roosevelt

Hierarchical political bosses like Boss Tweed, Huey Long, Jefferson Randolph, Soapy Smith, E. H. Crump, Richard J. Daley, Frank Hague, Hinky Dink and Bathhouse John around the nation took control of local and national politics. They held the keys to the doors of government. They hand-picked political hacks whose feet they held to the fire through incentives, promotions, financial contributions, pet-project spending and other perks. The “outsiders” were banished into the Land of Oz with the Tin Man. And this became the DNA of American politics.

“One of the key problems today is that politics is such a disgrace, good people don’t go into government.”

– Donald Trump

For decades our branches of government have worked against each other and against us. It is a fundamental principle in parliament that government must retain confidence to function or they can be replaced with a no confidence vote. Unlike Westminster that requires legislative confidence to operate effectively, we’ve mastered the art of ineffectiveness. We have no authority like parliament to cast a no confidence vote. The only confidence we have is tremendous confidence nothing will get done each session in our congressional houses. British politicians are always looking over their shoulder for ways to appease each other to insure public and legislative confidence. On this side of the pond, our politicians are looking over their shoulders to make sure their party bosses are happy. In America:

‘We hang the petty thieves and appoint the great ones to public office.”

– Aesop

In America, the only way we can rid ourselves from non-achieving politicians is by impeachment. And charges against them must be substantial. It’s a complex and complicated process purposely devised to insure it was not abused. But what happens when a whole Congress is deadlocked in incompetence?  By law, the British can put an entire body of government or individual on notice, shaming them from office with a no confidence vote. When Congress continues to demonstrate no power to govern, voters publicly denounce them and the media chastises them, expressing that they have no confidence in them. But this falls on deaf ears except at election time and everyone sings ‘Kumbaya’. Then they have little or no recourse except to vote for another hand-picked party hack.

“Politics is the art of choosing between the disastrous and the unpalatable.”

– John Galbraith

Thomas Sowel wrote, “There are no solutions. There are only trade-offs” in American politics. Our political system was an afterthought, invented as it went along without planning or conviction. Our founders had great faith in their fellow Americans and the future generations to follow. They were obviously blinded by the greatness of their patriotism and belief. Giving us a government of free men controlled by free men, it would be self-policing with no need to protect us from artless party politics. Although we have no law that grants us or other branches of government to issue “a no confidence vote,” we have that opportunity each Election Day. If we don’t judge a candidate by his character instead of his party, we have not used our “no confidence vote” wisely. Little confidence is as bad as no confidence.

“No matter what name we give it or how we judge it, a candidate’s character is central to political reporting because it is central to a citizen’s decision in voting.”

– Roger Mudd




Wisconsin in focus: Reining In Wisconsin’s Regulatory State

Mon, 07/31/2017 - 13:27

Reining In Wisconsin’s Regulatory State

Gov. Scott Walker and Wisconsin are once again showing conservative reformers nationwide how to get the job done. This month, lawmakers sent Walker the first state version of the REINS Act to be passed by a legislature, and Walker, who has championed the reform, is expected to sign the bill soon.

The REINS Act, introduced by state Sen. Devin LeMahieu (R-Oostburg) and state Rep. Adam Neylon (R-Pewaukee), restores much-needed transparency to the rule making process by requiring that the costliest of regulations receive approval from the full legislature before taking effect. The need for this reform is clear.

State Fair Park hosts 125 years of Wisconsin cows, carnies and cream puffs

The 166th State Fair opens Thursday for its 11-day run, marking an annual summer rite at a site that over the years has become Wisconsin’s crossroads.

The State Fair made its debut in 1851 and over the decades bounced between Janesville, Milwaukee, Watertown, Fond du Lac and Madison. It needed a permanent home.

The perfect spot turned out to be a 120-acre farm owned by the Stevens family and purchased for $850 an acre by the Agricultural Society.

Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin contest will start August 1

Johnson Financial Group and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC) will partner to hold the second annual Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin contest, the two organizations announced today.

The month-long, online nomination period opens tomorrow for anyone to nominate a Wisconsin-made product. A popular vote will then determine the top 16 products to compete in the new Manufacturing Madness, a bracket-style tournament with three rounds of product match-ups, to decide the overall winner.  

“This contest is a great way to show off all the cool things that are made in Wisconsin, but it is also an opportunity to highlight the rewarding careers available in manufacturing,” Kurt R. Bauer, president and CEO of WMC said. “We want to see products both big and small, from every corner of the state. Simply put, we want to find the Coolest Thing Made in Wisconsin.”

This Wisconsin ‘Chip Party’ Doesn’t Come With Cheese Dip

Some employees of 32M have volunteered to have microchips implanted in them. NPR’s Noel King and University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee professor of information studies Michael Zimmer, explore the risks.

Wisconsin in focus: Foxconn subsidies could mean heavy borrowing for local municipalities

Fri, 07/28/2017 - 06:37

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Foxconn subsidies could mean heavy borrowing for local municipalities

The written agreement to bring a Taiwanese electronics giant to Wisconsin calls for changes to the main subsidy program used by local governments – a key item for taxpayers to watch.

In a ceremony Thursday, Gov. Scott Walker signed a written commitment that the state would provide up to $3 billion in tax credits and other incentives if Foxconn Technology Group builds out and operates a $10 billion flat-screen plant employing up to 13,000 workers in Wisconsin.

But local governments will almost certainly have to put up huge undisclosed subsidies of their own through a financing program known as tax incremental financing. Changes to that program will have to be made to ensure that local governments can finance the sewer lines, streets and other infrastructure to be built in what are now undeveloped fields, according to the memo of understanding with the state.

ABC News: Rust Belt Wisconsin looks to fill high-skill jobs at Foxconn

A Rust Belt state that built a manufacturing legacy through assembly-line jobs will have to quickly transition to a more highly skilled workforce now that Foxconn has selected Wisconsin as the site of its coveted U.S. electronics plant.

“This will not be your grandfather’s factory,” said Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. “This will be a high-tech facility that will attract workers of various skill levels to produce products that will really define where the economy is going to go for years to come.”

Foxconn is best known for making iPhones and other Apple products in China. It entered into a memorandum of understanding Thursday to build its first U.S. manufacturing plant in Wisconsin — a decision cheered for its potential to transform the state’s economy. But many questions remain, including the type of jobs the Taiwan-based electronics giant will offer and whether it will follow through on its plans.

The deal calls for finalizing terms of the agreement — which will require a special legislative session to approve a $3 billion incentive package — no later than Sept. 30. Gov. Scott Walker and Foxconn CEO Terry Gou signed the memorandum inside Milwaukee’s art museum, a white, winged-shaped structure by Santiago Calatrava that sits on Lake Michigan. The project to bring Foxconn to Wisconsin was called “Flying Eagle,” they said.

Washington Post: Foxconn deal to build massive factory in Wisconsin could cost the state $230,700 per worker

Foxconn, the technology giant that supplies gadgets to Apple, Google and Amazon, has shown willingness to make a huge investment in Wisconsin — in exchange for a similarly hefty commitment from the state.

The Taiwanese company has agreed to build a factory that will stretch 20 million square feet, the size of 11 football fields, and Gov. Scott Walker has offered a set of financial rewards to seal the deal.

On the table is up to $3 billion in state tax breaks. The state legislature could approve the economic incentive package as early as August.

These payouts, Wisconsin officials said, come with lofty expectations. As long as Foxconn keeps hiring  U.S. workers at the new flat-screen manufacturing facility, Wisconsin would cut the company $200 million to $250 million a year for up to 15 years.

That works out to a rough cost to the state of about $230,700 per worker, assuming the factory goes on to generate 13,000 jobs.

Wisconsin leaders see $10 billion Foxconn deal as ‘transformational’

Thu, 07/27/2017 - 18:33

Foxconn’s decision to build a $10 billion high-tech manufacturing plant in Wisconsin set off a wave of optimism among business leaders in the state, even with a taxpayer price tag that could reach $3 billion.

“We are calling this development ‘Wiscon Valley,’ because we believe this will have a transformational effect on Wisconsin, just as Silicon Valley transformed the San Francisco Bay Area,” Gov. Scott Walker said in a prepared statement.

The Taiwan company’s campus, which the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) says will occupy 1,000 acres on a site in southeast Wisconsin, is projected to create 13,000 new jobs with an average annual salary of nearly $54,000. A total of 22,000 indirect jobs, including positions in supplier networks, will also open up as the factory begins churning out liquid crystal display screens for consumer electronics, according to the WEDC.

Kurt Bauer, the president and CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, compared the Foxconn project to the economic riches that resulted from oil shale development in North Dakota’s Bakken formation.  

“Foxconn is to Wisconsin what the Bakken is to North Dakota,” Bauer told

In manufacturing, for every factory job that’s created, another 2.5 support jobs will come into existence, he said, and that will bolster the economy throughout the state.

“In 10 years, this area is not going to resemble what it looks like today,” Bauer said.

And the effects of the project – it will be the only LCD manufacturing facility in North America – go beyond economic growth, he said.

“This is not just an economic gain for Wisconsin,” Bauer said, adding that it would help Wisconsin shake its rust belt image. “This is an image and reputation gain.”

The tax incentives Foxconn will be eligible for are projected to reach between $200 million and $250 million annually, according to the WEDC. Over the next 15 years, the company could gain a maximum of $1.5 billion in state income tax credits as a result of its employee hiring; $1.35 billion in income tax benefits from land, building and equipment investments; and $150 million in sales tax exemptions.

Despite those costs, Bauer described the overall costs as very reasonable, especially since other states were ready to put additional economic incentives on the table to attract Foxconn.

“I ultimately think it’s going to be a bargain for the state’s economy,” he said.

Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, agreed that the scale of the likely economic incentives fits the Foxconn package and its long-term impact on the state.

“They are in line with other state incentive packages for similar projects, although the Foxconn plant in Wisconsin will eventually be much larger than those projects, which have taken place in states such as South Carolina, Nevada and New York,” Still told in an email.

The incentive package will require the company to make capital investments and create jobs as a condition of receiving the tax credits, according to Still.

“It’s a ‘pay-as-you-grow’ approach that should lend accountability to the process,” he said.

Asked if Wisconsin would be able to supply the thousands of skilled workers needed to get the factory up and running by 2018, Still replied, “Yes, with help from our friends and neighbors, such as Illinois.”

As a result of Foxconn’s investments, more of the 75,000 people who graduate each year from the state’s higher education system will stay in Wisconsin rather than searching for positions elsewhere, he said. In addition, the 300,000 Badger state natives now living elsewhere may look to return if the right opportunities present themselves, according to Still

“There is a skilled labor pool close by in northern Illinois, some of whom may welcome an opportunity to work just a few miles over the border,” he said.

The Foxconn project will also better allow the state to show off the varied expertise that now exists in Wisconsin, including the ability to produce electrical equipment and medical devices and a workforce skilled in technical areas such as software, virtual reality, robotics and artificial intelligence, Still said.

“Wisconsin, like much of the Upper Midwest, has technology sector strengths that are often overlooked by those who believe such expertise and talent is clustered only on the coasts,” he said.

How the state legislature will go about putting in place the incentives remains to be seen. Although lawmakers will be in session until the passage of a state budget, a special session might be scheduled to pass the needed legislation, according to Myranda Tanck, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau.

Fitzgerald has not been directly involved in the negotiation process with Foxconn, Tanck said.

“Negotiations with the company have largely been with the Governor’s Office,” she said.

One of the colleges in southeast Wisconsin that will be involved in responding to workforce needs such as the Foxconn deal is Waukesha County Technical College, where the dean of the School of Applied Technologies, Michael Shiels, looks forward to the challenge of working with Wisconsin’s newest manufacturer.

“It’s a great opportunity for the technical college system to work with the new employer and help them with their needs,” Shiels told Currently, he said about 3,400 full-time students are enrolled in tech programs at the college.

Based on the size of the Foxconn operation, a large variety of skilled workers will be needed in the years ahead, including those trained in information technology, manufacturing, human resources and engineering, he said. And even though the jobless rate is low in the state – about 3.1 percent – the company will draw future employees from a large area, probably within a 60-mile radius of the corporate campus, according to Shiels.

The college’s programs in robotics and automation as well as electrical engineering and electronics technology should parallel many of the company’s future needs, he said, adding that the development will provide challenges and opportunities for technical colleges in the region.

“I’ve lived in Wisconsin my entire life, and I can’t think of a bigger deal than this announcement,” Shiels said.

Wisconsin in focus: What they’re saying about Foxconn announcement

Thu, 07/27/2017 - 07:27

Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel: Foxconn says it will create thousands of jobs at surprisingly good wages

The thousands of jobs that Foxconn says it will create when it opens a massive manufacturing plant in southeast Wisconsin are projected to have an average annual salary of $53,875 plus benefits — lucrative enough to attract workers from across the state and nation.

It’s an impressive figure from a company once derided as operating virtual sweatshops in China, but not unexpected as manufacturing wages have risen with the demand for more-advanced technical skills, said Patrick O’Brien, executive director of the economic development organization Milwaukee 7.

“It’s good for the region,” O’Brien said.

In announcing Wednesday that it would be building a $10 billion flat-panel display factory in southeastern Wisconsin, Taiwan-based Foxconn said it would hire 3,000 people when the plant starts up initially, and 13,000 when it is fully operational.

Fox News: Trump announces $10 billion Foxconn plant in Wisconsin

President Donald Trump said Wednesday that Electronics giant Foxconn will build a $10 billion factory in Wisconsin that’s expected to create 3,000 jobs.

The announcement comes at a critical juncture for a Trump administration that pledged to generate manufacturing jobs but has struggled to deliver results as quickly as the president promised.

Trump’s plans for health care and tax cuts face an uncertain future in Congress, while his administration is bogged down by an investigation into Russia’s possible ties with his presidential campaign.

The factory will produce liquid-crystal display panels that are used in televisions and computer screens, according to a senior White House official who insisted on anonymity to discuss the announcement. Foxconn will locate its plant in the congressional district of U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, although the official declined to provide a specific location.

Sacramento Bee: Foxconn hands Walker ‘grand slam home run’

Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker just got what may be the biggest political boost of his career, and it couldn’t have come at a much better time.

President Donald Trump’s announcement Wednesday that Wisconsin had won the high-stakes fight to be home to Foxconn’s first U.S. manufacturing plant — a $10 billion investment that could mean 3,000 jobs or more for the state — comes as Walker is preparing to run for a third term.

It not only gives Walker’s job-creation credentials a jolt but also allows him to further distance himself from his biggest failure — not fulfilling his 2010 campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs in four years.

Read more here:

Foxconn chooses Wisconsin for manufacturing plant, says 13,000 jobs will be created

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 11:49

Foxconn, the maker of iPhone chips, flat screen TV panels and other electronics items, has picked southeastern Wisconsin over other U.S. states to build a new manufacturing plant.

At a Wednesday evening news conference at the White House, company CEO Terry Gou Foxconn will invest $10 billion in the new plant and create 13,000 jobs once construction is completed by 2020.

Gou was joined by Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, U.S House Speaker Paul Ruan of Wisconsin and President Donald Trump.

The plant will be located in U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan’s district, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Several other U.S. states were under consideration for the facility, including Pennsylvania, Michigan, Ohio and Illinois.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Wednesday that the deal will include between $1 billion and $3 billion in local, state and federal tax incentives.

Foxconn is based in Taiwan. It employs more than 1 million people in Europe, Asia, South America and the U.S., with pants in Indiana and Virginia.

The company has been accused in the past of poor working conditions, particularly at its plants in China.


Wisconsin in focus: Wisconsin Foxconn deal could include $1 billion to $3 billion in taxpayer-backed incentives

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 06:36

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Foxconn deal could include $1 billion to $3 billion in taxpayer-backed incentives

A plan to bring a massive Foxconn Technology Group plant to Wisconsin could cost $1 billion to $3 billion in local, state and federal incentives over coming years — a stunning sum for a project that backers say could transform the state’s economy.

Foxconn’s plans are to be announced Wednesday at the White House, with a follow-up event Thursday at the Milwaukee Art Museum, according to one source. Tuesday night, the White House listed a 5 p.m. Wednesday “jobs announcement” in the East Room on President Donald Trump’s schedule.

An incentive package that reaches into the billionswould be unlike anything Wisconsin has offered in the past and would require approval from state lawmakers. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) has said he hoped to get bipartisan support for the package.

Wisconsin State Journal: Acquisitions resume as GOP splits over truthfulness of ‘land grab’ claim

A divided Wisconsin public lands board on Tuesday approved a purchase of new property for the first time in more than two years as Republicans clashed over conservative principles and accusations of dishonesty.

The Board of Commissioners of Public Lands voted 2-1 to buy nearly 1,000 acres, with GOP Attorney General Brad Schimel joining the board’s lone Democratic member against fellow Republican state Treasurer Matt Adamczyk.

Schimel said the land in Oneida County connects smaller, isolated parcels already owned by the board to create a larger bloc that will be more accessible and attractive to loggers, resulting in increased revenue from timber sales to BCPL funds that support libraries and colleges.

But Adamczyk insisted government land acquisition was contrary to conservative principles and that some among the Republicans who control the Legislature were planning to authorize more profitable investment options.

USA Today: After investors build $1 million dam, Wisconsin says it owns the lake

Beth Martineau might be rolling in her grave, the one at nearby Oak Knoll Cemetery marked with a stone reading, “I fought the DNR and I won.”

In the late 1960s, Martineau lived and worked as an artist on Upper Spring Lake, an idyllic spot created by a 19th-century dam. She defended her privacy with fences, signs, trespass complaints and even gunshots.

In 1970 after the state tried to add the property to the Kettle Moraine State Forest, she ultimately got the Wisconsin Supreme Court to declare that the Conservation Commission —  the predecessor to the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources — had no power to condemn the lake.

Now the fate of Upper Spring Lake, about 35 miles southwest of Milwaukee, is back in court. The current owners say they relied on the legal conclusions of Martineau’s victories when they bought the property out of bankruptcy in 2008 and spent about $1 million rebuilding the dam that creates the lake and protects downstream areas of Scuppernong River.

Wisconsin in focus: Foxconn nearing decision to invest in Wisconsin

Tue, 07/25/2017 - 06:25

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Foxconn nearing decision to invest in Wisconsin

Foxconn Technology Group will make a midweek announcement in Milwaukee that Wisconsin is the company’s choice, or at least its leading choice, for a huge new electronics factory, a source told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel on Monday.

The announcement probably will not name a specific site for the Wisconsin operation, the source said. Sites in Racine County and Kenosha County have been thought to be under consideration.

A second source separately told the Journal Sentinel that Foxconn would announce its plans for Wisconsin this week, but didn’t know where the announcement would be made.

At least two other reports Monday indicated that Wisconsin was close to being named a winner in the multistate competition for the plant, which could employ thousands of workers.

Wisconsin Journal Sentinel: Here’s how Wisconsin can supply the 10,000 workers Foxconn may need

As speculation swirls around whether Foxconn Technology Group will plant a flag in Wisconsin, a recurring question is: Can the state produce the 10,000 workers the company will need over time?

The answer is a qualified “yes,” even at a time when Wisconsin is dealing with a predicted shortage of workers.

The first reason for workforce optimism is the size and scope of the state’s higher education system, which produces about 75,200 graduates and certificate holders per year. That total includes about 36,000 University of Wisconsin System graduates, 25,400 Wisconsin Technical College System graduates or certificate holders and 13,800 graduates of Wisconsin’s two-dozen private colleges and universities.

While other employers statewide are competing for that young talent and more, a significant number of graduates don’t always find the jobs they want and wind up looking outside Wisconsin’s borders. The prospect of well-compensated jobs at home may entice many more to stay put upon graduation.

Post-Crescent: Latest state budget plan increases money for schools, but local taxpayers share costs

State funding for Wisconsin’s schools would increase by about $740 million over the next two years under the Senate Republican proposal announced last week in an effort to break the stalemate over Gov. Scott Walker’s 2017-’19 budget.

The plan includes Walker’s proposed boost in per-pupil funding, from the current $250 to $654 over the biennium, and additional dollars for low-spending districts and private schools that take part in one of the state’s four voucher programs.

But rural schools would lose almost all of the $20 million in so-called sparsity aid proposed by Walker. And GOP lawmakers continue to negotiate key points of contention involving measures aimed at boosting enrollment in two of the state’s four voucher programs.

Dan Rossmiller, lobbyist for the Wisconsin Association of School Boards, called it “a good budget for public schools, largely because the governor’s proposed increase in per-pupil categorical aid appears to have survived intact.”

Michigan, Ohio, Wisconsin score well in manufacturing report; Illinois not so much

Tue, 07/25/2017 - 05:44

The Midwest as a whole received relatively high grades in an annual rating of states’ manufacturing industries, but Illinois’ manufacturing sector is still struggling due to an unpredictable economic climate and unfunded public liabilities.

The 2017 Manufacturing & Logistics Report Card gave Illinois a “C+” for the overall health of its manufacturing industries, but the state earned a “D” in the “Tax Climate” category and an “F” in “Expected Fiscal Liability Gap.” That latter estimates the state’s ability – or inability – to fund bond obligations and pension costs.

Illinois also received an average grade – “C+” – in “Human Capital,” which measures the education level of the state’s workforce in an effort to gauge how well it is serving manufacturers.

The study gave Michigan an “A” for the health of its manufacturing sector, while Ohio and Wisconsin both received “B” grades.

Mark Denzler, vice president and chief operating officer of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, echoed some of the points made in the Ball University study.

“Manufacturing is alive in Illinois,” Denzler told Illinois News Network, noting that manufacturers in the state employ about 570,000 people. “However, it is struggling.”

The state’s strengths include good colleges and universities and a great transit system, according to Denzler.

“Seventy-five percent of the nation’s freight comes through Illinois,” he said.

But an out-migration of jobs to other states and workers compensation costs that are the highest in the Midwest and eighth highest in the country continue to add to the state’s economic uncertainties, Denzler said.

Although Denzler said today’s manufacturing workforce in Illinois is second to none, the employers continue to deal with a skills gap as they try to hire new workers. Manufacturers need to hire 20,000 to 25,000 production workers and 5,000 engineers every year just to remain at a constant level, he said.

“The governor has put a focus on vocational education and trying to provide workers with the skills needed,” Denzler said, but lately there has been no money for job-training programs.

Manufacturers have some advantages in the near future, including a growing advanced-manufacturing industry around the Chicago area, he said. But the state needs major structural reforms and begin to live within its means, according to Denzler.

“Quite frankly, Illinois needs to change its focus moving forward,” he said.

Illinois did end it’s more than two-year-long budget stalemate last week, but it came at a high cost to both businesses and workers, who will both see tax increases.

“[Last week’s] action by the Illinois legislature will speed up the loss of manufacturing jobs and will further decimate our economy,” Greg Baise, president and CEO of the Illinois Manufacturers Association, said shortly after the state House voted to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s vetoes of the tax hikes and budget bills.

Those knowledgeable about the manufacturing industries in other Midwest states questioned some of the conclusions in the Ball State University study. Kurt Bauer, president and CEO of Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, took issue with the state’s “C-” grade in the “Tax Climate” category.

“I don’t think the Ball State report recognizes that Wisconsin’s Manufacturers and Agricultural Production Tax Credit reduces the corporate tax liability for qualifying companies from 7.9 percent to 0.4 percent,” Bauer said in an email to Illinois News Network. “Combine that with our right-to-work status and our recent regulatory and litigation reforms, and Wisconsin is clearly one of the most attractive states for manufacturing in the U.S.”

All of Illinois’ neighbors are right-to-work states – meaning employees can opt out of joining a union if they choose – which is another competitive disadvantage.

Professor Edward Hill, a faculty member at the Ohio Manufacturing Institute, took issue with some of the variables the study used to give Ohio a “C-” in “Human Capital.” The six states receiving “A” grades in this category were Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Washington.

“There are good manufacturers in many of these states, but none, with the exception of Washington and possibly Minnesota, can be claimed as centers of exceptionally skilled pools of manufacturing workers,” Hill said.

Still, Ohio is not doing particularly well in providing the type of skilled workers manufacturers need, he said, but all states likely have this problem.

“Manufacturers themselves are just waking up and taking ownership of the problem … and reinventing secondary and community college manufacturing training programs,” Hill said.

In Ohio, major employers such as Honda, Minster Machine, Lincoln Electric and Yaskawa Motoman are working hand-in-hand with educators to turn out a more skilled workforce, he said.

“We will see progress over the coming year,” Hill said.

Though Michigan was rated a top performer in manufacturing, it received “D” grades in both “Human Capital” and “Sector Diversification” in the Ball State study.

“It’s all tuned to just transportation,” Devaraj said, adding that the lack of diversification in Michigan’s manufacturing economy means that if any shocks hit that industry, the impact for the state as a whole will be major.

Recently released economic forecasts for Michigan have been positive. A University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, study said that the state recorded 28 straight quarters of payroll growth through the first quarter of 2017. But job growth should moderate through 2018, the report said.

“Manufacturing employment declines modestly over the forecast, reflecting the slowdown in the light vehicle sector,” the University of Michigan forecast said.

Devaraj stressed that manufacturing remains a key player in the U.S. economy, even as productivity gains have held down employment growth. Increased skill attainment by workers will help lower the risk of them being replaced by automation, he said.

“In reality, things are going really well in terms of manufacturing,” Devaraj said.

Back in Illinois, the state earned an “A” for the health of its logistics industries. That was due to a number of Illinois’ assets, including its central location, the value of shipped goods in the state and an efficient transportation system.

“Chicago is leading the pack in terms of the commodities flows,” Devaraj told Illinois News Network.

Haupt: America needs group of Tom Paines to take government back from elites

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 17:25

“Of more worth is one honest man to society and in the sight of God, than all the crowned ruffians that ever lived.”

– Thomas Paine, Common Sense, January 10, 1776

The year was 1776 and the time had come for Americans to assert their independence from the British. This was the topic of contentious debate throughout the colonies in the summer of 1776. Though locked in a bloody struggle with British troops, the talk was not about battles won or lost. People gathered, in townships, villages, taverns and churches, to talk about one thing: Common Sense. This was the title of a scholarly pamphlet on the rights of man which captivated a country caught between war and peace. Its powerful arguments against empirical rule were both revered and questioned, which provoked oracular thought throughout the anxious colonies between loyalists and patriots.

“The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand, arms, like laws, discourage and keep the invader and the plunderer in awe.”

– Paine

At the time, few knew who the author of this work was. Yet this enlightenment text was dramatically changing the attitude of many Americans toward their conflict with the English. At one time or the other, one of the political or intellectual elites was credited with the prodigious work of Paine since he never stepped forward to claim it. Paine knew a true leader remains anonymous so the people will believe they were the ones responsible for this new breed of insurgent thinking. He was keenly aware after watching revolutionaries across Europe; nobody can plan revolutionary change. It is a spontaneous combustion that is ignited by thought-provoking idealism. And Paine was so gifted to plant those seedlings that could be cultivated in the minds, hearts and souls of many others.

“One encourages intercourse, and promotes our happiness by uniting our affections.”


Despite his humble beginning, Paine was admired and respected by founders such as George Washington, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. Yet, his workingman’s perspective threatened the elites who wanted to design a government primarily to benefit aristocrats. To some, Tom Paine was the most hated man in America, and others, a light in the wilderness for those who sought direction, courage and leadership. Those who loved him for his benefaction of guidance saw Paine as the patriot that he was. And those who hated him thought of him as a trouble maker stroking his eccentric ego for indulgent narcissistic causes. And much of the legacy of that apprehensive animosity lives on by activist groups for one who thinks sovereign from them. They chasten those like Tom Paine who fail to court their compatriots.

“Character is much easier kept than recovered.”

– Paine

Paine had an unselfish ability to keep fellow patriots aligned for the common cause. Many feel his greatest contribution to our liberty was Common Sense, which demeaned the authority of the British and the royal monarchy. It was that pamphlet that brought the breath of freedom to the embers of independence. But few comprehend the significance of Paine’s The American Crisis. Paine wrote these articles during the Revolutionary War. His unrelenting inspiration for American patriots during this inexorable crisis kept the blood of liberty flowing freely in their veins. George Washington was so moved he recited The Crisis word for word to his sullen troops at Valley Forge.

“Reputation is what men and women think of us; character is what God and angels know of us.”

– Paine

Paine rallied troops at The Battle of Saratoga, which is considered the turning point for America in the War. They stopped the southern advance of the British, which brought them French support.  Although this was a cardinal victory, their problems remained incessant. By 1781, the Continental Congress was bankrupt. Citizen support was dwindling faster than the English could enact a new tax. Army desertions were common place. The army was indigent and no longer united because the generals blamed others for this chaos. And once again Paine stepped forward and galvanized the troops. In 1781 at Yorktown, Paine motivated them to fight their best fight and they answered with their greatest victory. The colonies beheaded the great British Goliath to end the war.

“The strength and power of despotism consists wholly in the fear of resistance.”

– Paine

Throughout the decades, America has faced insurmountable crisis. But in those darkest of hours, a Thomas Paine stepped up to find a way to reignite the founding flames of republicanism. Many felt The Civil War would forever dis-unify our country once the last cannons fired at Palmito Ranch in 1865. Yet the day word reached the south that Lincoln had been assassinated, one southern telegraph operator saw this as a signal to begin the healing. And the entire south joined him. As word spread from the plains of Texas to the farms of Virginia that Lincoln had died, church bells rang for their fallen enemy.

“An army of principles can penetrate where an army of soldiers cannot.”

– Paine

Again, America is in crisis. It’s a crisis planted in American polity with the election of Barack Obama and his socialization of the republic. When voters rebelled and elected Donald Trump, the left cried he was unfit for the presidency; just as the right had claimed about Obama. Each party can make a case but that isn’t the crisis, only a symptom of it. This won’t be resolved until the elitists are removed from party politics. Leftist elitists supported Obama whose agenda few ever wanted. And cynical voters then choose a man who ran against party elites. That signals to both parties, elites are the real problem.

“It’s the duty of every patriot to protect his country from its government.”

– Paine

The elitists have always moved policy, yet the average voter doesn’t realize this. In the past, party elites imposed their authority to benefit their pocketbooks. In a capitalist society, as long as voters benefit from the profits of industry they go along to get along. But party elites went too far under Obama. Leftist elites crossed over the path and those on the right counter-reacted. When far left elites endorsed social engineering to romance the progressives, party politics replaced the will of the people in government. With each invented crisis to gain support from his flock, Obama drove a wedge between the two parties and true republicanism that even Tom Paine would find difficult to close.

“Society is produced by our wants and government by our wickedness.”

– Paine

After Obama’s reign, the two parties took sides and refused to back down. There’s a learning curve for every president and its far steeper without political experience. Obama had political experience, so one would think he could learn the job competently. But that never happened. From the day he took office, he acted like the bully in the school yard who cries “it’s my ball so we play my game or you can go home.” On the other hand, Trump had no political experience and is learning the art of governing the hard way; yet from day one the left has been bashing his inexperience inexorably. Elitists in his party excoriate him the worst.

“He who dares not offend cannot be honest.”

– Paine

The elitists have painted us into a corner. To them, the only way to end this one crisis is to remove Trump from office with no constitutional justification or collective voter consent to appease the left. To subject the right to this punishment will not only acerbate the crisis in American polarity, it will prove that our democratic republic has lost all legitimacy. We need a group of Tom Paines to step forward and take back our government from the elites to end this crisis forever.

“A body of men holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.”

– Paine