Watchdog.org

Subscribe to Watchdog.org feed
The Government Watchdog
Updated: 2 hours 20 min ago

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

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 16:52

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 said, 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 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. “Imposing a $5 billion dollar tax hike on Illinois families and businesses without addressing the root causes of our stagnant economic growth is a recipe for disaster and will only hasten the further loss of Illinois’ middle class.”

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. “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 said.

GOP tax reforms stoke debate in states with large manufacturing, agriculture sectors

Wed, 07/12/2017 - 16:48

A congressional panel this week will spotlight how federal tax reform could help small businesses, but one possible component of the GOP reform plans would cost businesses an estimated $1.5 trillion over the next decade.

Though a hearing scheduled Thursday by the Tax Policy Subcommittee will highlight how tax reform could strengthen economic growth nationwide, one major piece of the reform effort would end the deduction for interest businesses pay on debt financing. Some of the Republican tax reform plans under discussion in Congress would also help offset that revenue boost with immediate write-offs on capital investments in a bid to encourage business expansion.

Other ideas include slashing the top federal corporate tax rate of 35 percent.

Business reactions to the tax proposals will likely vary markedly by industry and region, depending on the composition of a state’s economy, according to tax policy experts contacted by Illinois News Network. Businesses in states with a large presence of both manufacturing and agriculture, such as the Midwestern states of Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin, may have especially divergent opinions.

“Farming is 95 percent debt-financed,” Patricia Wolff, senior director for congressional relations at the American Farm Bureau, told Illinois News Network. So losing the business interest deduction would have a huge impact on farmers and ranchers, according to Wolff.

In addition, many farmers already qualify for small business exemption limits for expensing farm equipment, she said. The farmers under that exemption can now write off equipment expenses such as tractors or combines up to $500,000, according to Mark O’Neill, a spokesman for the Pennsylvania Farm Bureau.

Farmers like the idea of being able to write off such expenses during the current year, rather than take depreciation amounts over a period of several years, O’Neill said.

“Under existing law, basically farmers are allowed to legally depreciate farm equipment over seven years,” O’Neill told Illinois News Network. One compromise proposal would reduce that depreciation period to five years to help agricultural businesses, he said.

“In the last couple of years, farm income has been way down,” O’Neill said.

The American Farm Bureau opposes ending the business tax deduction, even if paired with tax advantages on expensing, according to Wolff.

“We’re very concerned about that,” she said. “It’s one of our top-tier issues.”

The Farm Bureau is now making its positions known in Congress and waiting to see what the final congressional tax package will look like, Wolff said. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, has acknowledged that small businesses and family farms have limited access to capital for borrowing, and he may include tax provisions that recognize the need to borrow to obtain additional farmland, she said.

“We’re hoping that when the legislation is introduced that it will be helpful to farmers,” Wolff said.

Manufacturers, whose revenues figure prominently in states like Illinois, Ohio and Pennsylvania, may view the combination of limiting business interest deductions and providing immediate write-offs for capital expenses more favorably, according to Joseph Rosenberg, a senior research associate with the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center in Washington.

In states with large manufacturing operations, the reforms would help manufacturers that have a lot of capital expenditures, such as longer-lived assets such as structures, Rosenberg said. But even so, the swap with ending the business interest deduction will likely be a difficult sell in some regions of the country.

“It’s not clear to me that a lot of businesses would be willing to give up their ability to deduct interest,” he told Illinois News Network.

And taking capital investments out of the federal tax base might not produce the kinds of effects proponents expect, according to Rosenberg. But the change could hold down debt financing, which tends to distort some companies’ investment strategies, according to some economists,

“It’s a little unclear how big of a change that is relative to the current tax system,” Rosenberg said, adding that the combination could be a wash in terms of overall corporate tax burdens.

Zach Schiller, research director at Policy Matters Ohio, echoed some of those concerns about the overall impact of the federal tax reform ideas.

“I am immediately somewhat skeptical that changes in tax policies are going to have huge impacts,” Schiller told Illinois News Network.

Making it a little cheaper for businesses to invest in capital improvement can have some positive effects, he said, but Schiller favors a different approach than what’s in the Republican plans.

“Investing in workforce and infrastructure and improving public services is oftentimes a more useful and long-term strategy than a tax-cut strategy,” he said.

Moreover, an immediate write-off for capital investments made by businesses would prove expensive, if the proposed limits on business interest deductibility didn’t produce the anticipated windfall in federal revenues, Schiller said.

Ohio already gives businesses tax breaks, and cuts in the federal corporate income tax would be a bad idea because so few corporations now pay the top rate due to deductions, he said.

Wisconsin in focus: Wisconsin’s state budget takes $51 million hit — thanks to Illinois

Tue, 07/11/2017 - 16:22

Wisconsin’s state budget takes $51 million hit — thanks to Illinois

Illinois put in place a budget last week that raises taxes by $5 billion and that will have an effect on Wisconsin’s budget.

Each year, Wisconsin makes payments to Illinois to make up for the fact that more Badger State residents work and owe income taxes in Illinois than the reverse. This reciprocity agreement allows border-crossing workers in each state to file just one state income tax return.

The Wisconsin workers who commute to businesses in Chicago and other Illinois cities will now owe more in taxes to that state, meaning that in the short term, Wisconsin will have to pay more to Illinois to maintain the reciprocity agreement.

Wisconsin legislation seeks to benefit for-profit wedding business on St. Croix River bluff

Four Wisconsin legislators want to help a Somerset family use its scenic blufftop property on the St. Croix River, which is protected by state and federal laws, for a wedding business.

The 284-acre property near Somerset, owned by Family First Farms, was intended as a “premier wedding destination” until a judge ruled last August that owner Jeremy Hansen and his family hadn’t complied with zoning codes.

Some of the land falls within the St. Croix National Scenic Riverway, which is a national park. It’s also subject to laws that govern use of riverfront land under the federal Wild and Scenic Rivers Act.

Trump election fraud commission hits pause on voter data request to Wisconsin, other states

The Wisconsin Elections Commission will not release any voter data to President Donald Trump’s election fraud commission until a lawsuit against the federal commission is resolved, a state official said Monday.

Wisconsin officials had previously said they couldn’t legally share some of that data — now they’re saying they’ll hold off for now on sharing any of it.

Wisconsin in focus: Man fined $500 for mowing grass at historic cemetery

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 07:08

WISN 12: Man fined $500 for mowing grass at historic cemetery

A Franklin man was issued a $500 fine last month for mowing the grass at a cemetery where two Civil War soldiers are buried.

Muskego Police responded to Luther Parker Cemetery June 20 and found 64-year-old Jordan Wenzel Sr. of Franklin mowing. Wenzel told the officer he did not have permission to cut the grass but had heard a television report about a dispute over tall grass at the cemetery and decided to help out.

“I heard everybody saying it needs to be cut, it needs to be cut. Why doesn’t someone get a mower and cut it?” he said to WISN 12 News.

The officer said Wenzel immediately complied when told to stop mowing. Police later issued Wenzel a citation carrying a $500 fine for violating a city park regulation.

“It will cost me more to fight it than pay for it,” said Wenzel, who maintains he was just trying to help.

WKOW: Late-night food vendors could suffer if proposed ordinance passes

Leia Boers’ food cart, Leia’s Lunchbox, is a late-night favorite for UW students.

“There’s been nights where I haven’t been able to close my window until 4:15, 4:30 in the morning,” Boers said.

But a proposed ordinance making its way through city hall could hinder their after hours noshing at their favorite food cart.

The proposal, introduced by Mayor Paul Soglin, would change the closing time for late night food vendors like Leia’s Lunchbox from 4 a.m. to 3 a.m. Under current law, street vendors holding a late night vending license and a site assignment in one of the five late night vending areas can sell food from vending carts from 9 p.m. to 4 a.m. daily.

“It’s going to hurt. Right now, the bars close right around 2 o’clock. So I’m able to get all of the customers and then get the employees. If the bars are closing at 2:30 a.m., the customers aren’t going to make it to the food carts until 3 o’clock. If we’re shutting our windows as they’re walking up, what do we do? We don’t have a business,” Boers said.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Foxconn forces Wisconsin to confront acute shortage of automation-age tech workers

If Foxconn Technology Corp. builds a multibillion-dollar “smart factory” in southeastern Wisconsin, it could mean the equivalent of creating an industrial complex not seen since the heydays of A.O. Smith and Allis-Chalmers.

At their peak in the last century, each of the legendary Milwaukee-area industrial behemoths employed 10,000 workers or more.

Neither of their campuses exist any longer. And neither do the sort of rank-and-file lunch pail jobs that those titans once championed.

Foxconn is expected to require troops of high-end systems engineers who can operate robots, artificial intelligence and state-of-the-art automation systems.

If a Foxconn deal moves ahead, the region would need to move with Manhattan Project-like urgency to mount a come-from-behind retraining and recruitment campaign for automation-savvy workers, according to a consensus of workforce experts

 

Wisconsin welcomes Illinois workers, businesses after latest tax increase

Mon, 07/10/2017 - 06:26

Many Illinois lawmakers say that following the state’s 32 percent income tax increase, neighboring states will try and recruit Illinois businesses and taxpayers. But one Illinois lawmaker on the Wisconsin border says recruiting won’t even be necessary.

State Rep. Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, said communities in southern Wisconsin don’t need billboards or ad campaigns to lure Illinois taxpayers and businesses over the border.

“Wisconsin doesn’t really have to [recruit], we do a good enough of shooting ourselves in the foot,” Sosnowski said.

Higher taxes, such as last week’s 32 percent state income tax increase, are driving people out of Illinois.

And he’s right. Illinois’ population has declined each of the past three years, and it lost more people than any other state in the U.S. between July 2015 and July 2016, according to the U.S. Census. At the same time, Chicago lost more people last year than any other major U.S. city.

Southern Wisconsin State Rep. Todd Novak said lower taxes and more job opportunities are driving Illinoisans to Wisconsin.

“I am seeing an influx of people who are looking to move into Wisconsin,” Novak said. “Out here we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in Wisconsin. So you can easily find a job, and a pretty good-paying job.”

The unemployment rate in Winnebago County, Illinois, Sosnowski’s district, is 6.4 percent. Lafayette County, Wisconsin, Novak’s district, has a 2.2 percent jobless rate.

Novak says there are 100,000 jobs open in Wisconsin. He says Illinois’ economic refugees are welcome to apply.

Illinois ends longest budget impasse among U.S. states with $5 billion in tax increases

Fri, 07/07/2017 - 06:50

Illinois ended a more than two-year-long budget impasse when its Democrat-dominated state House voted Thursday to override Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner’s vetoes of a budget package that includes $5 billion in tax hikes and $36.5 billion in spending.

Until Thursday, Illinois had the longest-running budget impasse of any U.S. state, but it wasn’t the only only without a budget. Six other U.S. states did not pass a budget by the start of their new fiscal year on July 1. Not surprisingly, the states share certain characteristics that are making it difficult to get a budget passed.

Tough fiscal conditions can make budget decisions difficult. 

John Hicks, executive director of the National Association of State Budget Officers, said government infighting on the state level regarding spending cuts and revenue increases is a factor for each state without a budget.

“Other states, such as Pennsylvania and Connecticut and Massachusetts, where low revenue growth and high spending pressures around fixed costs like pensions and health care costs, are causing big decisions,” Hicks said.

Illinois has more than $15 billion in unpaid bills, leaving many vendors, social service providers and universities unpaid or underfunded.

In places like Wisconsin and Rhode Island, statutes prevent a government shutdown or diminution of services. In Illinois, court-ordered spending and consent decrees had the state spending billions of dollars more than it was bringing in, even without a budget.

“There are states like Connecticut, and late last week Maine and New Jersey, who now have a budget, where the governors had to issue emergency executive orders defining what state services will continue and what state services will not,” Hicks said.

Even with a budget now in place, Illinois still could be downgraded to “junk” credit status because of its backlog of bills and pension debt of more than $130 billion, national credit rating agency Moody’s warned earlier this week. The rating would limit its access to tax-exempt municipal bond markets, which in turn would raise the interest rate on any more borrowing it does. That directly impacts Illinois taxpayers, according to Hicks.

“It doesn’t change the cost of the debt that has already been issued,” he said. “That’s already budgeted and in place, but any new debt moving forward, it just makes it more expensive.”

The lack of a budget can impact social programs, depending on what a state is permitted to do without an appropriation plan. Illinois has a lot of locally delivered human service programs, which Hicks said plays a role in how the state budget impasse impacts program funding.

“Since Illinois has an inability to pay a lot of their vendors, that has affected the flow of funds down to human services programs, and in some states where they are state-delivered, they haven’t been as affected,” Hicks said.

Illinois’ budget deal comes at a high cost to state taxpayers, who already pay the highest combined local and state taxes in the country. The state’s income tax rate increases by 32 percent effective immediately, and its corporate tax increase by 33 percent, also effective immediately. Illinois House Speaker Michael Madigan, who will become the longest-running House leader in U.S. history by next year, pushed through the tax increases.

Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed the plan, but both General Assembly chambers have now voted to override.

Besides Illinois, states without a budget include Wisconsin, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania and Oregon, according to the National Association of State Budget Officers. Michigan is an eighth state that has also not yet passed a budget, however its fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

Wisconsin in focus: University of Wisconsin Regents freeze tuition, OK student fee and housing increases

Fri, 07/07/2017 - 06:29

Post-Crescent: University of Wisconsin Regents freeze tuition, OK student fee and housing increases

The University of Wisconsin System Regents on Thursday approved a budget that will freeze resident undergraduate tuition for a fifth straight year but increase student fees and housing costs on all campuses.

Regent Bryan Steil voted against the $6.22 billion annual operating budget because of student fee increases that he later said “we could do without.” Steil, who was the lone no vote, declined to be more specific.

“On the whole, the budget is a responsible budget,” he said. “There’s room for improvement.”

The UW System’s base budget will increase $40.9 million from the previous year, including a $37.8 million (3.7%) increase in state funding. Of the $37.8 million, $25 million will be divided among UW System campuses.

WKOW: Gov. Walker offers concession and new idea to end state budget impasse

With the Republican-led legislature well on its way to providing Wisconsin with its longest state budget impasse since 2007, Gov. Scott Walker offered an olive branch Thursday in an attempt to end the stalemate.

Gov. Walker sent a letter to Assembly and Senate leaders, indicating he would be willing to drop his initial request of $500 million for state transportation borrowing – down to $300 million.

“Lowering bonding by $200 million is a win for Assembly leadership who have voiced their desire to reduce bonding for transportation projects, wrote Gov. Walker.

Senate GOP leaders want to combine that $300 million with additional general purpose fund dollars.

“So, if we can sort of bring that number down, maybe from 850 (million) to 750 (million), then we’ll go back to the Assembly to see if that’s something they think is palatable,” said Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau).

Channel 3000: Court-ordered changes at Wisconsin youth prisons due

Plans for instituting court-ordered changes to disciplinary practices at Wisconsin’s embattled youth prisons are due in federal court.

U.S. District Judge James Peterson set a Friday deadline for attorneys to spell out how they would comply with his order to reduce the use of solitary confinement, pepper spray and shackles on inmates at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons.

Attorneys for the Department of Corrections and those representing past and current inmates were working together on a proposal to submit to the judge in line with his order from two weeks ago.

Plans for instituting court-ordered changes to disciplinary practices at Wisconsin’s embattled youth prisons are due in federal court. U.S. District Judge James Peterson set a Friday deadline for attorneys to spell out how they would comply with his order to reduce the use of solitary confinement, pepper spray and shackles on inmates at the Lincoln Hills and Copper Lake juvenile prisons. Attorneys for the Department of Corrections and those representing past and current inmates were working together on a proposal to submit to the judge in line with his order from two weeks ago.

Wisconsin in focus: Foxconn considering bringing 10,000 jobs to southeastern Wisconsin

Thu, 07/06/2017 - 06:35

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Foxconn considering bringing 10,000 jobs to southeastern Wisconsin

Foxconn Technology Group is considering bringing 10,000 jobs to southeastern Wisconsin, leaders of the state Assembly said Wednesday.

With their passing reference to the proposed project in a memo, the leaders became the first high-ranking state officials to acknowledge the Taiwanese company is considering a massive presence here.

The firm also is considering putting the development in Michigan or other states.

They referred to the possible project as they sought to revive stalled talks over the state budget. Disputes over transportation funding have kept Republicans, who control the Legislature, from reaching a budget deal.

The Cap Times: Proposal would make BadgerCare available to all Wisconsin residents

BadgerCare would be available to all Wisconsinites rather than only low-income residents under a Democratic proposal announced Wednesday.

The “BadgerCare for All” bill, introduced by Rep. Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay, and Sen. LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, would make BadgerCare a public option available to anyone in Wisconsin through the federal health insurance exchange.

The plan offers a “common sense, affordable, high quality solution,” Genrich said in a news conference.

“At a time when politicians in Washington are meeting behind closed doors about the future of health care, we’re having a public conversation about our needs as Wisconsinites,” Genrich said.

Green Bay Press-Gazette: Survey ranks Wisconsin drivers as some of the rudest in the nation

You know you’re in Wisconsin when someone steals your parking spot, doesn’t let you merge in front of them and flips you off when you’re driving too slow — at least according to a new survey from Kars4Kids.

The national nonprofit released a survey as part of its summer 2017 courteous driving awareness campaign and found that Wisconsin drivers are some of the rudest in the nation, ranking the state No. 46 on the courtesy scale.

Wisconsinites received a D- overall due to the answers they provided for the Kars4Kids survey.

The nonprofit created this campaign in hopes of promoting better driving habits, and as a reminder that other drivers are people, not just an obstacle to get around.

Overtime rule changes great news for small businesses

Thu, 07/06/2017 - 06:04

Small businesses across the country are breathing a sigh of relief on news that the Trump administration is walking back former President Barack Obama’s proposed overtime expansion.

Small businesses were dreading the Obama-era order that would have doubled overtime eligibility to cover people making as much as $47,000 a year. It was scheduled to go into effect Dec. 1 last year, but a federal judge ordered an indefinite stay.

Terry McClallen with Integrity Data, an HR system company in Lincoln, Illinois, said most small businesses were still unprepared for all of the regulations on salary, time-keeping, and paperwork that the overtime rule brought with it.

“People who never had to keep a time card, and companies that never really had to deal with time cards, were going to have to not only deal with time cards but deal with calculating overtime rates,” McClallen said.

The U.S. Department of Labor said as many as 193,000 people in Illinois would have been impacted by the rule.

McClallen said the overtime rule forced many small businesses to move some workers from salary to hourly. It would have been a move that cost some workers money and even jobs as employers sought to make up for the new costs.

“If you’re talking about service industries that are running on a very, very narrow profit margin, and all of a sudden you have to start paying overtime, those are things those businesses just aren’t able to absorb,” McClallen said.

The Trump administration said it intends to walk back many of the federal mandates included in the old overtime rule.

Wisconsin in focus: Gov. Scott Walker optimistic state budget will be passed this month

Wed, 07/05/2017 - 07:30

 TMJ 4: Gov. Walker optimistic state budget will be passed this month

Gov. Scott Walker remains optimistic a state budget will be hammered out and signed into effect sometime this month. Walker took questions from reporters while in Wauwatosa Tuesday morning to participate in the city’s annual Fourth of July parade.  “We’ll be meeting with lawmakers and I would anticipate this would get done, I would expect, sometime here in July,” Walker said. “Two years ago we signed (the budget) July 12. I don’t know if we’ll get to that date, but maybe sometime in July.” “Our $500-million (in bonding) is the lowest since 9/11 and the Senate wants to add more, the Assembly would like to go lower,” Walker added of the negotiations. “What we’ve suggested is, as opposed to raising a tax, we have a series of things we could do to lower that by an additional $200-million, which we think would be attractive to those in the Senate.”

Wisconsin State Journal: Public schools could offer firearm safety course under bill

Teenagers could learn in school how to safely handle firearms under a bill introduced last week by Republican lawmakers.

Rep. Ken Skowronski, R-Franklin, and Sen. Terry Moulton, R-Chippewa Falls, are proposing to require state education and natural resources officials to write a curriculum for a firearm safety course that school districts could offer to their high school students as an elective.

The proposal requires the Department of Public Instruction and Department of Natural Resources to develop the curriculum while drawing on the expertise of a law enforcement agency, or an organization that specializes in gun safety or certifies firearm instructors.

The elective course would teach students about the different types of firearms and how they work, how to safely carry and transport firearms and how to engage a safety lock on firearms, among other skills.

WISC TV 3: UW System Regents set to vote on fee, room and board increases

The University of Wisconsin System Board of Regents is poised to vote on raising student fees and housing rates.

The regents are scheduled to vote on the system’s 2017-18 budget on Thursday during a meeting at UW-Madison. The budget keeps resident undergraduate tuition frozen as per a legislative mandate. But it calls for raising student fees by an average of 2.6 percent across the system’s four-year schools with changes ranging from nothing at UW-Green Bay to $72 at UW-Milwaukee. The system’s two-year schools would see an average fee increase of 3 percent.

Housing rates at four-year schools would increase an average of 2.6 percent as well, with increases ranging from nothing at UW-Platteville and UW-River Falls to $521 at UW-Eau Claire.

 

 

Haupt: Let freedom ring this Independence Day

Mon, 07/03/2017 - 18:43

“This will be the day when all of God’s children will be able to sing, ‘My country, ’tis of thee, sweet land of liberty, of thee I sing: Land where my fathers died, land of the pilgrim’s pride, from every mountainside, let freedom ring.”

– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,  “I Have A Dream” speech, August 1963

Everyone in America enjoys the 4th of July. Much like all holidays of significance, the true meaning of the 4th of July has mutated into another annual tradition. It has become a day of frolicking in the first days of fair weather and plentiful sun. It’s marked with outdoor activities such as BBQs, pick-up sports games and picnicking. Copious amounts of food, beer, soda and snacks are consumed until the sun begins to fade into the welcome twilight of the evening shadows of night. That is when many Americans begin celebrating the close of a blissful day of visiting with cousins they’ve never met and playing lawn games with friends and relatives. Before the first twinkling star has a chance to breach the horizon, the sky is populated with an assortment of Chinese sky rockets, horsetails, and Roman candles. The sounds of merriment echo from sea to shining sea.

“We play our favorite American guessing game every 4th of July. Are we hearing gunshots or fireworks?”

– Arthur Oman

For as long as Americans can remember, the nation has celebrated the 4th of July with fireworks shows in public squares and lighting displays at home. But the reality is that no fireworks went off on that day, nor was there any signing ceremony. That was a month later. But the events of the 4th of that very day changed the course of history. During the sweltering heat of a tortuous summer in Pennsylvania, at the second Continental Congress, delegates from 13 colonies debated whether to adopt the Declaration or not. As the heat continued to rise, the temperatures in the room became so sweltering, it’s been said they broke every thermometer in the hall. Jefferson noted that by the evening the Declaration of Independence was approved, it concluded a battle more fiercely fought than the Revolution itself.

“The United States is the only country with a known birthday.”

– James G. Blaine

Most Americans are clueless why we shoot off fireworks on the 4th of July, and fewer remember its true significance. The answer is considered folklore. But weeks before the Declaration was signed, John Adams envisioned fireworks as a part of the festivities. In a letter he wrote to Abigail on July 3, 1776, he postulated this occasion should be celebrated “with Pomp and Parade, Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one end of this Continent to the other.”

The first recorded Independence Day fireworks were ignited in Philadelphia on July 4, 1777. That night, the skies were cloaked with ringing of bells and a grand exhibition of fireworks that included 13 sky rockets cascading across the skies above the Commons. Today,

“The 4th is when children running around with fire sticks burning at 400 degrees are supervised by intoxicated adults.”

– Milo Vance

Although founder John Adams is responsible for this monumental day being morphed into a display of fireworks, clannish carousing, mischief and merriment, much of what he wrote wife Abigail was never retold. After declaring independence, he wrote, “This marked the most memorable epoch in the history of America.” He had hoped the day would be “Celebrated by succeeding Generations, as the greatest anniversary Festival.” It should be commemorated, “as the Day of Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty.” Although it was two days later Congress adopted the Declaration of Independence, Adams was right about the celebrations through much of our history. For us July Fourth remains a salient holiday, it no longer has the solemnity and the significance that Adams hoped it would maintain. Much of the meaning of these festivities has been shadowed by commercial enterprise and self indulgence with little thought for our true patriotism.

“Capitalists must never forget what made them Capitalists; that was American patriotism.”

– Chadwick Black

July Fourth is not only the most important day in American history, but in the world’s history also. It created the most powerful nation the world has ever known. This one Declaration legally formed a more perfect union. It announced to an “insolent world” we were assuming the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle to us as free men. Additionally it cautioned governments everywhere, they derived “their just powers solely from the consent of the people.” And when any governments became destructive of the people’s rights and liberties, the people had the authority to alter or abolish a government and institute a new one.

“Democracy is the government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

– Abraham Lincoln

The words our founders so carefully chose to scribe on that parchment in Philadelphia we now call our Declaration have served as an inspiration for the people of the world for centuries. They’ve been the battle cry of Colonial rebellions against imperial regimes around the globe as justification for chasing the flag of liberty to hang in their capitals and parliaments. Vietnam used these words in declaring independence from France in 1945. Ho Chi Minh cited our Declaration word for word. In Poland, Members of Solidarity and dissidents in Czechoslovakia invoked these words in opposition to Soviet subserviency in the 1980s. In Tiananmen Square in 1989, Chinese students quoted our founders to stand against government abuse. And some say activists in the Arab Spring chanted phrases from our Declaration of Independence in their rebellion for democratic liberty.

“It’s the love of country that has lighted and that keeps glowing the holy fire of patriotism.”

– Horace McFarland

For us Americans, the Declaration is the central ingredient of the combining of thirteen individual colonies in a unified body of free men emboldened with a sense of unity and of nationhood that has never been seen before. Because America is composed of many immigrants, races and ethnicities, we’ve cast aside the boundaries of separatism in favor of a brotherhood under the cloistered cloak of liberty for all. America became a nation of one identity comprised of many the day our colonies signed the Declaration. We agreed to agree on the most important ingredients that were necessary to comprise a free government of free people. We empowered the people to remain as free men in free states to control the central government and to never let it control us. July 4th is what birthed Americanism.

“The American Revolution was a beginning, not a consummation.”

– Woodrow Wilson

Even former President Barack Obama said, “We still believe in an America where anything’s possible.” Our founders christened us the first states to form a nation while others conquered states to form theirs. And our history has been an effort to continually define that nationality. We remain not a nation in traditional meaning but one reliant on collective individualism to sustain our republic. We take no orders from a central oligarchy to hold us in unison. The Declaration has embodied these ideals in its sacred creed. And this is the true significance of July 4, 1776. Each year after we hang our flags, fill our cars with camping gear and head for the highways; keep in mind what this day means to all of us. It is our patriotic duty to light our first firecracker in the name of liberty remembering what John Adams wrote,

“This is the Day to celebrate our Deliverance by solemn Acts of Devotion to God Almighty.”

– John Adams

The members of the Continental Congress could only “mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes, and our sacred Honor. There was no nation, no fatherland, nor a union; nothing but the pledge itself to honor and uphold. A man’s country is not a certain area of land, of mountains, rivers, and woods, but it is a principle; and patriotism is loyalty to that principle.”

– George W. Curtis

Krug: Trump hunt begs question: What is the media’s business?

Mon, 07/03/2017 - 14:25

Supporters said all along that President Donald Trump would be good for American business.

But many didn’t anticipate that the American media business stood to benefit from his presidency.

Currently the greatest love-hate relationship in U.S. politics, the mainstream and legacy media revels in Trump’s “fake news” claims. While they denounce his behavior publicly, reporters draw strength from Trump’s insults and use it as fuel to power their self-righteous crusade to shame the president.

They wear each hostile tweet as a badge of honor and consider it confirmation they are doing God’s work.

Trump has worked the media masterfully. He didn’t need the legacy media’s support or endorsement when he campaigned for president, and he doesn’t need them now. They are a distraction, and Trump is working them.

Historically, American media have pursued a noble mission to serve the public and keep the government in check. But that mission falls on deaf ears when the watchdogs become attack dogs. We have reached that point.

When does pursuing a story become crafting a narrative with an obvious political agenda? It starts with basic editorial decision-making. And according to the Media Research Center’s recent study, network news has decided that Russia’s involvement in the 2016 election outweighs other critical issues such as health care, tax reform, and jobs. It feels almost as if it was pulled from a season of Netflix’s “House of Cards” – only not as clever.

And then there’s CNN, the cable news network that continues to beat the Russia drum even after there is no new evidence or information to report. Their desperation to find the smoking gun resulted in the retraction of a Russia-related story and the resignation of three staffers last week.

The driver? Not truth. No, it was red meat for the left; creation of controversy. We’ll wait for the next public opinion poll, but I think it’s safe to say that the Russia investigation is not at the top of everyday Americans’ priority list.

The videos released by conservative journalist James O’Keefe, known for undercover sting operations, show CNN producers admitting that the Trump-Russia investigation is overhyped for enhanced ratings. They need something they can own to differentiate themselves from other cable-news channels. And so the love-hate cycle continues.

Although this epic rivalry can be comical at times, it’s sad to look behind the curtain and realize that Big Media has its interests too – and it doesn’t always include the American public.

For media to be credible – truly credible – it must report independently verified facts. It must seek the truth, and report with integrity. It must distill facts and straight news from opinions and insights gleaned from perceptions of original reporting.

The criteria for whether a story is good to air or publish should be somewhat higher than a corporate lawyer’s opinion on the likelihood that it opens up the organization to a lawsuit.

The lone criteria should be truth and public interest. Often, it’s not.

Television news, in particular that which appears on 24-hour cable cycle, is rife with opinion. Understandably so: There simply are not enough resources on any network or cable channel to fulfill a mission of 365-day news content that would be interesting enough to hold an audience’s attention. Without commentary, every network would resort to the C-SPAN model of airing raw footage of endless committee meetings.

Opinion is less expensive than actual reporting, and is in endless supply. It is far more economical to bring in a person from a studio in Washington, D.C., than it would be to send a correspondent and crew to Moscow. That’s a business decision that saves media brands money and costs taxpayers in reliable information.

So what is passed off as straight news often is a new take of an opinion. And with each passing “hot take,” the message is pushed further and further away from the truth.

Why does it matter? Can’t people have an opinion on the news?

Certainly. This is America, and our speech is protected constitutionally. But it matters that the continuous news cycle rarely differentiates between straight news and opinion. The content is often indistinguishable. Context is rarely offered. Oftentimes, the crawl beneath the commentary is in clear conflict. The opinion often overwhelms the core of the story.

The result is that the news itself – the facts, the verification, the story, and the truth – has been discarded in favor of a take on the news.

A controversial or salacious quote often makes a better headline than the old journalism standby of who, what, where, when, and why. Just look at the mainstream media’s obsession with President Trump’s recent tweet about Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski, or the video he posted of an old WWE appearance where Trump punches out a man with a CNN logo superimposed on his face. The exaggerated response gives President Trump an even greater villain to demonize and justification for controversial actions such as banning cameras from the White House press briefings. Veering from the facts lowers the public perception and credibility of media as a whole. It threatens our democracy.

So much so that it must be next to impossible for Americans to understand the media’s job, or what business we’re in anymore.

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

Wisconsin in focus: Wisconsin election commission to Trump panel: You want voter data? Pay for it.

Mon, 07/03/2017 - 06:18

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin election commission to Trump panel: You want voter data? Pay for it.

Wisconsin’s elections agency said Friday it can’t legally share all of the detailed voter data being sought by President Donald Trump’s Election Integrity Commission.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the vice chairman of the president’s commission, is seeking information about voters and the record of their election participation going back to 2006. The data include their names, birthdays and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers.

But in a statement, Michael Haas, administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said that state laws prohibit his agency from releasing a voter’s date of birth, driver’s license number or Social Security number.

“State statutes permit the WEC to share confidential information in limited circumstances with law enforcement agencies or agencies of other states,” Haas said. “The presidential commission does not appear to qualify under either of these categories.”

Haas said that the president’s commission could buy more limited data on the full voter rolls from the state for $12,500 in the same way that many political campaigns do.

Wisconsin State Journal: Exact Sciences riding high after rebounding from rough patch

Exact Sciences Corp.’s fortunes are on the upswing.

Sales of its Cologuard test for colorectal cancer are on the rise, its stock is hitting record highs, and the company has padded its coffers with the sale of even more stock.

Its new research and development center is fully occupied, and Exact is looking for more space to grow.

“Exact Sciences remains confident in the growth of Cologuard and our ability to continue having a positive impact on the community,” said Kevin Conroy, president, CEO and chairman.

It wasn’t that long ago, though — in the fall of 2015 — that Exact Sciences was in a pickle.

WISC TV 3: State Supreme Court: Wal-Mart worker can’t get reimbursed for surgery

The state Supreme Court says a Chippewa Falls Wal-Mart worker isn’t entitled to compensation for surgery she thought would alleviate a work injury.

Tracie Flug had surgery after straining her back at work in 2013. The operation left her partially disabled but she eventually returned to work and filed a compensation claim for her expenses.

A doctor who examined Flug at Wal-Mart’s request found she had a pre-existing back condition and the work strain had healed before the surgery.

Wisconsin in focus: Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says truck fee could bridge budget deal

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 07:49

Wisconsin State Journal: Assembly Speaker Robin Vos says truck fee could bridge budget deal

Assembly Republicans are supportive of a new fee on heavy trucks to help pay for roads and appear to be aligned with Gov. Scott Walker on a budget deal, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Thursday.

The new truck fee holds potential as a breakthrough to solve the budget impasse after Walker, Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald discussed the per-mile truck fee idea on Wednesday.

The Wisconsin State Journal reported Wednesday that Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said the truck fee was emerging as a key issue in budget talks, but that senators needed to explore it in further detail. He had earlier this week dismissed the idea.

Vos, R-Rochester, said Thursday that Assembly Republicans were “generally supportive” of the idea. Fitzgerald remained open to it, after initially calling it a “nonstarter,” but said some senators would oppose it.

WISC TV 3: Illinois lottery troubles could boost Wisconsin sales

Illinois residents are placing their bets on Wisconsin for a chance to win the lottery. That’s because, even if they win in Illinois, chances are they might have to wait a while before being able to get their money.

If you win the lottery in Illinois, you  might have to be patient before you will be able to get your money.

The state of Illinois  is dealing with a number of financial problems and does not have the money to pay jackpots more than $25,000.

State lottery officials announced Tuesday that if Illinois doesn’t reach a budget deal by the end of the month, before the start of the fiscal year, the state plans to halt the sale of Powerball and Mega-Million tickets.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin Supreme Court delivers open meetings ruling

The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Thursday ruled the state’s open meetings law applied to an Appleton school committee that repeatedly met behind closed doors to review material for a freshman reading class.

The decision by Justice Michael Gableman concluded the high court could not consider claims by school officials that such a finding would make it harder for schools around Wisconsin to function.

“Our task is to apply the open meetings law as it is written. … We are not at liberty to exempt (the school committee) from the definition of ‘governmental body’ simply because government officials would find it convenient,” Gableman wrote.

All seven justices agreed with finding that the open meetings law applied to the committee, but the court’s two liberals wrote separately because they disagreed with the reasoning of the majority opinion.

Congressional bill would fix income tax confusion for businesses who send employees across state lines

Fri, 06/30/2017 - 05:55

A bill fresh out of the U.S. House of Representatives would fix a long-standing problem in states’ tax code that has likely resulted in businesses and employees overpaying the state for decades.

Companies that send a worker to another state have to make sure their complying with that state’s tax code. The problem in Illinois and possibly other states is that their laws are all different and complicated. The Mobile Workforce State Income Tax Simplification Act that currently is awaiting a Senate committee vote would make all states adopt the same 30-day threshold before someone can be taxed.

Based on their answers in April, Senator Dick Durbin’s office, the Illinois Department of Revenue, and a number of accounting firms weren’t on the same page about Illinois’ current threshold.

“It’s a compliance nightmare,” said Maureen Riehl, Executive Director of the Mobile Workforce Coalition. She said the confusion around Illinois’ laws are a perfect example of the need for uniformity. “Organizations are sending money to Illinois that, last I was told, those checks aren’t being returned.”

Riehl says the new proposal would require an employee based on one state to work at least a month in another state before needing to pay income taxes there.

A 2015 Bloomberg study on multi-state tax compliance showed that less than half of the companies they surveyed keep up with the regulations of every state where their employees travel.

Wisconsin in focus: Gov. Scott Walker’s job approval rises, according to new poll

Thu, 06/29/2017 - 06:51

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Gov. Scott Walker’s job approval rises, according to new poll

When it comes to Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin voters are now evenly split.

Forty-eight percent of registered Wisconsin voters approve of Walker’s performance while 48% disapprove, according to Wednesday’s Marquette University Law School Poll.

It’s the first time since October 2014 that Walker’s approval hasn’t been under water with voters. And it marks Walker’s steady recovery since bottoming out with 36% approval in a September 2015 poll after his short-lived presidential campaign.

Walker has all but formally announced he is running for a third term next year.

Wisconsin State Journal: Heavy truck fee concept emerges in budget talks with Scott Walker, Assembly

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said the possibility of collecting a new fee on heavy trucks emerged Wednesday in his budget talks with Gov. Scott Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos.

Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said he’s not sure if Republican senators support the concept, adding they need to learn more about it. That marks a shift from just a day earlier, when Fitzgerald dismissed the proposal, offered by GOP state Rep. Amy Loudenbeck, R-Clinton, as a “nonstarter.”

The concept is the latest to be entertained by state leaders as they attempt to craft the state’s next budget. July 1 is when the budget is supposed to be passed and take effect, a deadline Walker and lawmakers now appear certain to miss.

At least four other states collect heavy truck fees, and such a proposal could generate hundreds of millions in new revenue for roads. But it also would meet strong opposition from some of the state’s most powerful business groups, including Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. A lobbyist for the group, Scott Manley, slammed the proposal Wednesday as “punitive and unfair.”

Fox 11: Wisconsin senator’s health care stance welcomed back home

Conservatives and liberals in Wisconsin both see hope in Republican Sen. Ron Johnson’s steadfast refusal to back the current version of the GOP Senate health care bill.

Although they disagree with the reasons for his opposition, liberals see Johnson’s stand as a chance to sink the entire Republican effort to kill the existing health care law enacted under former President Barack Obama.

The senator’s fellow conservatives, including Gov. Scott Walker, are praising his attention-grabbing opposition to the bill and are urging him to seek changes to ensure Wisconsin wouldn’t be penalized for rejecting federal money to expand Medicaid.

It’s an unusual position for Johnson, who typically toes the party line. But his supporters are confident that when it comes time to vote on whether to replace the Affordable Care Act, Johnson’s longtime distaste for the law also known as Obamacare will prevail.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Appeals court rules Wisconsin can’t use federal money for Highway 23

The latest transportation headache for Wisconsin officials comes in the form of a court ruling that says the state can’t use federal money to rebuild a $151 million stretch of highway between Fond du Lac and Sheboygan.

The decision, handed down last week by a three-judge panel of the U.S. 7th Circuit Court of Appeals, could mean additional strain on the state’s cash-strapped transportation fund.

State Department of Transportation officials have not said how they plan to respond.

They could appeal the ruling to the full appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court, but there is no guarantee either would take the case. They could also try to advance the project using state money, but that would likely mean extended delays because of a funding shortage for highways.

 

Wisconsin in focus: Lawmakers propose cutting lottery advertising budget

Wed, 06/28/2017 - 05:55

Wisconsin State Journal: Lawmakers propose cutting lottery advertising budget

The Wisconsin Lottery’s promotional advertising would be scaled back and its annual advertising budget would be cut under a bipartisan proposal introduced Tuesday.

The proposal from Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, and Sen. Fred Risser, D-Madison, would ban the Department of Revenue from collecting email addresses and promoting the lottery through a “players club.”

It would further prohibit the use of lottery winner names or lottery retail locations in advertising, and it would require that all required disclosures in lottery broadcast ads be delivered in a normal speaking voice.

It also would limit advertising to $5 million a year, a 33 percent reduction from the current level.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: More state of Wisconsin workers leaving for private-sector jobs

Workers left state government last year in numbers not seen in more than at least a decade, taking advantage of a tight labor market and the promise of better jobs in the private sector.

With the economy and opportunities growing, nearly one in seven state workers left their positions for another job, retirement or other reasons, according to data released under the state’s open records law. More than one in three personal care aides for the elderly and disabled left their jobs last year.

Wisconsin is not alone in seeing employees leave to take private-sector jobs, said Leslie Scott, executive director of the National Association of State Personnel Executives.

“All states are experiencing it,” Scott said of the turnover. “A good portion of it, frankly, is compensation. States have just not been able to compete with the market.”

WISC 3: UW won’t use state money to cover foundation’s debts

A University of Wisconsin Board of Regents member says taxpayer money will not be tapped to cover debts of the financial troubled UW-Oshkosh Foundation.

Regent Michael M. Grebe said in a statement Tuesday that it would be inappropriate to use taxpayer dollars to cover debts caused by the foundation’s inappropriate real estate projects. Grebe says university officials continue working with foundation leaders to “work through the financial realities” the foundation faces.

The state Department of Justice is investigating the real estate projects, which were the subject of a lawsuit the UW System filed in January against former Chancellor Richard Wells and his chief business officer.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: The last beer runs: Minnesotans no longer need to come to Wisconsin for Sunday sales

Sheri Dawson and Barry Heikkila wanted to mix a few cocktails with their favorite brand of tequila so they checked online to see which liquor stores were selling it near their St. Paul, Minn., home.

Then they realized it was Sunday.

If they wanted to buy tequila, they would have to leave their home and travel across the border.

Which is how the Tucson, Ariz., natives ended up at Hudson Liquor over the lunch hour on Sunday, making their purchases and then getting back on Interstate 94 to cross the St. Croix River again.

“This is our last week of doing this,” Heikkila said as he paid for his tequila. “We were one of the ones from out of town who would forget that it was Sunday.”

Sunday was the final booze-soaked hurrah for Wisconsin liquor stores and taverns along the Minnesota border. Starting July 2, for the first time since Minnesota became a state 159 years ago, packaged liquor will be sold legally on Sundays in the Land of 10,000 Lakes.

Haupt: Only we can cure D.C.’s swine flu

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 10:53

 “It is interesting back in 2011, shortly after the swine-flu epidemic broke out; Congress enacted an earmark moratorium that would supposedly put an end to pork-barrel spending.”

– Jenny Reed

The phrase “pork-barrel spending” derives from the antebellum period. Plantation owners would give barrels of salt pork to their slaves, who fought with each other for a share. The term acquired its derogatory connotation after the American Civil War. References to “pork” became common in Congress as representatives competed for Reconstruction dollars. By 1919 the National Municipal Review started scolding Congress for passing legislative acts and referencing them as “pork barrel bills.” And today it is common practice in Congress. Pork-barrel coupling is politely called earmarks added to the federal budget as “appropriations.”

“Being willing to donate the taxpayers’ money is not the same as being willing to put your own money where your mouth is.”

– Thomas Sowell

Due to an influenza epidemic in 2009, referred to as “swine flu,” people worldwide stopped eating pork. Although this merging of human and animal strains proved non-transmissible by consuming pork, sales tanked. By the end of 2009, the pork industry suffered a $98 million loss, and was forced to hit back. Through costly advertising, they revealed facts to disprove this fiction. They convinced The Center for Disease Control to inform the public they were erroneously informed. The CDC issued an obsequious retort: “We have concluded pork has no relationship to this influenza. We’ll refer to it as H1N1 from now on.” Pork industry spokesman Bill Brier cried foul! “Calling this influenza ‘Swine flu’ damaged us needlessly. We’ve spent millions to convince people these claims were bogus.”

Unlike Congress’ 2011 earmark moratorium on pork-barreling, the pork industry’s reputation was deceptively damaged. But consumers found out “facts” out-weighed fables and this was not just lip service to regain loyalty. On the other hand, Congress has been preaching for years about cutting back on ear-marked favors for everyone. Yet, their claims are shallow promises made to impress a disenchanted electorate. Each year as session opens, they chant the same redundant song. This makes fiscal conservative voters furious for not dropping the hammer on them. But every time their state requests more money to bail them out in a trade for votes, those freeloading off federal dollars cry foul. It’s easier to talk the talk than it is to walk the walk.

“American government has turned into a cow that gives more milk the more it’s kicked in the flanks by special interests.”

– Drew Rusk

Everyone blasts Congress for their inability to control spending. They are more reckless with our tax dollars than a driver is at the local demolition derby. But far few discern the federal government operates from a reactionary podium. They jump higher than a kite flies in an Oklahoma tornado when those most influential to their benefit desire more tax dollars. Their actions reflect the will of special interests and those most venerable to treasury favors. In 2016, there were over 200 earmarks, an increase of almost 50 percent over 2015. This was disconcerting, hitting voters far below the belt!

“Who is in charge? Is it taxpayers or is it the special interest groups?”

– Scott Walker

Pork-barrel spending is alive and well in Washington, D.C., despite their fabled claims of denial. The most frequent argument in favor of earmarks is they help pass critical spending bills. However, in the past, many members of Congress have voted for excessively costly legislation because they have received an earmark for their constituents or an avid party supporter. Don’t let anybody fool you. Congress takes their marching orders from those closest to them. That does not exclude the states eager to endorse federalism in trade for their votes.

“Balanced budget requirements seem more likely to produce accounting ingenuity than genuinely balanced budgets.”

– Thomas Sowell

“Porking-out” on American tax dollars creates more losers than winners. The losers are the public taxpayers while the winners hide in the halls of chamber. This increases the deficit, with additional funding, by attracting votes for costly legislation that barely passes the scrutiny of the CBO. This interferes with democracy by eclipsing the wishes of the voters and fuels distrust in government. It’s hard for voters to determine which legislators benefit and the ones that don’t in a system that openly incorporates “earmarks” referred to as “appropriations.”

“The problem with earmarks is Congress does not tell you the ear they are marking it from is the innocent porker.”

– John Pope

Nothing is more abused than the U.S. Transportation Authority and our states infrastructure. Donald Rumsfeld told us, “you go to war with the transportation system you have, not the system you might want.” We are currently committed to funding highways, light rail train lines, rural roadways, and even monorails that will be obsolete before they are completed. Yet last year, Americans traveled over 4 trillion miles by car, 700 billion by air, and more than 400 billion on the good old-fashioned bus. Passenger rail was a distant last with only 7 billion miles! Yet the transportation lobbyists are chomping at the bit for federal money for state projects nobody wants or will ever use.

“Wishful thinking is not idealism. It is self-indulgence at best and self-exaltation at worst.”

– Thomas Sowell

American taxpayers have great hopes in President Trump, who promised to “trump” the spending of the previous administration. And his new transportation bill demonstrates he is serious despite the wieners and criers in the states. Barack Obama blew over $150 billion in tax dollars on his green energy hoax that netted us a negative energy output. He subsidized solar and windmills, like the ones lying in the sand in the California desert with taxpayer money to the tune of a $40 billion average a year during his rocky tenure. These massive subsidies did nothing to increase the use of solar power or energy production but it sure made Al Gore ecstatic. Blasé taxpayers watched his pet projects fail as 88 percent went belly up.

“Never waste a crisis when it can impact climate change.”

– Hillary Clinton

Pork-barrel spending is nothing more than putting lipstick on a pig and calling it “appropriations.” It will never be contained; just masqueraded and renamed. And while we are preoccupied blaming Congress for not being able to live within their means, they are only reflecting the requests from those who whimper the loudest and do the most for them. Special interest groups and above all state lobbyists are eager to bury us in debt. Today, legislation is so laden with unrelated political handouts that many members of Congress don’t know what they are voting for. And those that do defend this secretive splurging claiming it is for the benefit of the general population.

“You can never bail someone out of trouble without putting someone else into trouble.”

– Dr. Arthur Laffer

Magic Johnson said, “The best doctors and medicine can’t save you if you don’t do what they tell you.” We have witnessed many medial miracles such as vaccinations for ailments like polio and pneumonia. And every year scientists develop new inoculations against influenza. But none have conjured up a cure for government swine flu. Even the best witch doctors and voodoo chiefs are clueless. This is beyond their wisdom. The only cure for swine flu is Election Day. We must elect healthy politicians instead of those infected with swine flu or susceptible to it. Congress’ manifestos to cure swine flu are like putting a Band-Aid on a malignant melanoma. James Madison warned us in 1782 : “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents.”

 

 

 

Wisconsin in focus: Tourism, hospitality, manufacturing groups bristle at highway tolling talk

Mon, 06/26/2017 - 06:33

Wisconsin State Journal: Tourism, hospitality, manufacturing groups bristle at highway tolling talk

Some Wisconsin business leaders say introducing highway tolling in the state could harm its economy, even as top lawmakers cite the idea as a possible linchpin to negotiations over the state’s next budget.

The opposition from the state’s business lobby, Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, and other groups illustrate part of the challenge facing lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker if they want to introduce tolling to pay for road construction and repairs.

Lawmakers and Walker aim to pass the state’s next two-year budget in coming weeks. Their disagreement on how to address a lack of revenue for roads and bridges is the biggest hurdle to the budget’s passage in the face of a July 1 deadline.

Supporters of tolling say it would create a long-term revenue source for Wisconsin’s interstates. Many were built in the 1960s and have outlived their original lifespans, meaning they must be fully rebuilt at a cost of billions of dollars.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin lawmakers will miss budget deadline as talks slow

State officials have already missed their deadline to pass a budget — it’s just that not everyone has realized it yet.

GOP lawmakers and Gov. Scott Walker can still make a respectable showing compared to the budgets passed by previous Legislatures and governors. But it’s too late to pass a bill and get Walker to sign it before the state’s current budget runs out on June 30 — a mere five days hence.

Senate and Assembly leaders have reached a general agreement on increasing funding for rural school districts with small budgets. But there’s still no deal yet on other key disagreements such as transportation and taxes.

“It’s an artificial deadline,” said Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), who readily acknowledges that the budget will be late. “I’m not worried about it.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: U.S. Supreme Court rules against Wisconsin cottage owners

The U.S. Supreme Court on Friday upheld Wisconsin court rulings that the owners of a family cottage on Lake St. Croix were not entitled to compensation over development regulations that bar the sale of the family’s adjacent lot.

The Murrs wanted to sell the lot to finance an upgrade to the cottage their parents built 56 years ago, and argued that  St. Croix County has essentially taken their land through strict shoreline development and conservation rules and should pay just compensation for that loss under the Fifth Amendment.

But the county and the state say the family’s two adjacent parcels, taken together, would easily accommodate a single modern home, and so they have not really lost any value. The government also noted that the original owners were aware of the development restrictions when they sold the lots to their children.

The U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-3 decision, agreed that the Wisconsin courts correctly analyzed the issue as one concerning a single parcel. Justice Neil Gorsuch, who was not on the court during arguments in the case, did not participate.

Wisconsin in focus: Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and 3 other Republicans withhold support from Senate health care bill

Fri, 06/23/2017 - 07:16

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Wisconsin’s Ron Johnson and 3 other Republicans withhold support from Senate health care bill

Republican Ron Johnson of Wisconsin joined three other conservatives in the U.S. Senate in withholding their support for the Obamacare replacement bill their party unveiled Thursday.

“Currently, for a variety of reasons, we are not ready to vote for this bill, but we are open to negotiation and obtaining more information before it is brought to the floor,” Johnson, Ted Cruz of Texas, Mike Lee of Utah and Rand Paul of Kentucky said in a joint statement.

“There are provisions in this draft that represent an improvement to our current health care system but it does not appear this draft as written will accomplish the most important promise that we made to Americans: to repeal Obamacare and lower their health care costs,” they said.

Of the four, Johnson’s dissent may be the most surprising, since it has been widely assumed in Washington he would ultimately vote for the bill. And he may still.

Wisconsin State Journal: Assembly GOP slips pre-existing condition protection into late-night bill

Assembly Republicans introduced and passed a bill early Thursday that provides some protections for those with pre-existing conditions should Congress roll back protections under the Affordable Care Act.

The bill caught Democrats by surprise — it was introduced as an amendment to their own bill prohibiting lifetime caps on health insurance coverage, something the ACA, also known as Obamacare, also prohibits. The Democrats used a procedural maneuver to bring the bill to the floor, where it would most likely fail, to force Republicans to debate and vote on a contentious topic.

In a surprise move, Republicans stripped out the Democrats’ language and inserted their own, passing the bill 62-35 along party lines. It still must pass the Senate and be signed by Gov. Scott Walker before becoming law.

A spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, said Senate Republicans were still reviewing the bill Thursday.

NBC News: Wisconsin Lawmakers Push Bill That Would Expel Campus Hecklers

The battle for free speech continues to wage on college campuses.

The Wisconsin state Assembly passed a Republican-backed bill on Wednesday that would allow college administrators to expel students for “disrupting” campus speakers — a controversial piece of legislation that may be at odds with First Amendment rights, many lawmakers and legal experts argue.

The Campus Free Speech Act, which came out of the Assembly without a single Democratic vote, will clamp down on University of Wisconsin students who “materially and substantially disrupt the free expression of others” by imposing punitive measures on hecklers.

The bill still has the hurdles of getting past the state Senate as well as Governor Scott Walker, who has already signaled that he will sign it.

“Thanks to the Assembly for their commitment to free speech on UW campuses,” posted Walker on Twitter on Thursday morning.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Milwaukee is on the move, but still not a great city to live in, according to rankings

Here’s a conundrum: Milwaukee has been ranked the fifth fastest-growing city in the country while also earning a spot on a list of the 50 worst American cities to live in.

The growth ranking was compiled by Our Town America, a new move marketing franchise (a company that mails you stuff about local businesses when you move in somewhere). The company looked at the cities with the highest moving-in activity in the last 12 months, and compared that to the previous 12 months to determine the fastest-growing cities.

San Antonio topped the list. Ten of 45 (22%) cities on the list are based in the Midwest, including Chicago at No. 10.

Compare that to 24/7 Wall Street’s rankings, which put Milwaukee as the sixth-worst city in the country to live in.

Those rankings were based on a variety of factors including crime rate, employment and housing affordability.

Detroit was ranked as the worst U.S. city to live in.

Pages