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Haupt’s Take: The do nothing Congress continues to do nothing

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 00:00

By William Haupt III | Haupt’s Take

“No man’s life, liberty, or property are safe while the legislature is in session.” (Gideon Tucker)

Harry Truman an ardent defender of Roosevelt’s New Deal programs entered the national limelight during World War II as the head of a Senate committee investigating defense spending. He was praised for uncovering graft and inefficiency in our war production industries. Upon FDR’s death he assumed the office of president and faced grave decisions in both domestic and foreign policy as the War escalated.

When Germany surrendered in 1945, Truman was unable to negotiate a “united Germany” and surrendered half of the liberated country to the Soviets. And this misgiving marked the beginning of a new war for the US: The Cold War! He disseminated to all of America,

“From Stettin in the Baltic to Trieste in the Adriatic, an iron curtain has descended across the continent.”

Truman was aggressive on foreign policy. In 1945 he approved the use of atomic bombs against Japan; and this essentially ended the war. By 1947 he passed the Truman Doctrine that promised U.S. aid to countries that resisted Communist aggression. Truman followed this initiative with the Marshall Plan. This aided the restoration of Western Europe by providing them financial aide to rebuild their infrastructure.

But after North Korea invaded South Korea, he authorized deploying U.S. troops to Korea which proved costly. When he removed MacArthur from his command before he completed his mission, Americans became disenchanted with him and his credibility tumbled. They turned a deaf ear to his pleas for their support: “We are trying to prevent a third world war!”

By now Republicans had control of both houses for the 1st time in years. Truman fought adamantly to prevent the passage of the Taft-Hartley Act which restricted the powers that labor unions had acquired under FDR. By 1948 it appeared Truman would not win reelection.

But following a split in his party, he called Congress back into session to present his “Fair Deal” social reforms. When the Republicans blew him off, he labeled them the “do nothing Congress.” In retaliation, he started every campaign speech berating Congress which enabled him to beat Dewey handily.

“Truman’s ‘give em hell Harry’ speeches about Congress should be replayed each election.” (Alvin Fisher)

No president used Congress as a political punching bag better than Truman until Obama arrived in DC. Like Truman, Obama turned his reelection into a run against a “do nothing Congress,” and it worked. But, considering the hand they dealt their Congresses it’s not all that bad being called a “do nothing Congress.”

Who passed cap and trade and Obamacare? Both passed against the will of the people. Obamacare passed by one Senate vote, with the notorious Nebraska “Cornhusker Kickback” and the second “Louisiana Purchase.”  Like give em hell Harry he showed America,

“I‘ve become a symbol of the possibility of America returning to our best traditions.” (Barack Obama)

Although Americans overwhelmingly disapproved of the job Obama’s Congress was doing, this low rating was due to his partisanship and lack of leadership. Obama’s “do nothing Congress” saved our Constitution from even more harm by him and the courts.

Although Congress is hired to pass laws if the president does not sign them who is at fault? Who can blame Congress?

“Our founders created the Executive Branch to implement and enforce laws written by Congress.” (Tom Rice)

Certainly past lawmakers have produced pioneering legislation. But during the Obama regime too many of his legislative proposals were self-serving. He tried vainly to convince voters what he was tendering would make “changes” to benefit them. But these seductive inducements were not close to reality, and Congress shot them down quicker than superman can stop a speeding bullet. But Obama’s “going nowhere bill proposals” helped him rack up points with his progressive allies and raised campaign cash because they were things they wanted to hear.

Yet Congress knew most of these asseverations were unconstitutional and he only proposed them to grab headlines. He’d then point his finger at Congress and blame them for his divide and conquer political style. His Congress knew well that

“Idealism loses to pragmatism when it comes to political pandering.” (Doug Strong)

Supporters of limited government argue the number of bills passed is not real productivity. Fiscal proponents applauded Congress for keeping the amount of legislation passed at a minimum. They knew with the GOP in charge of Congress they could detain the rapid growth of government under an unpredictable progressive leader.

Therefore at the time this was an asset rather than a liability. In Congress most key decisions are made by a handful of power players. With the GOP calling the shots, this minimized the damage of the progressive agenda which benefited the republic.

“It is not always what you do that matters; sometimes it’s what you do not do that matters most.” (Art Strass)

With the election of President Trump, Americans firmly believed we had all the players in place to make America great again. We had a non political pragmatic president and his party controlled both houses of Congress. American voters now felt confident they would finally see that “change they could believe in.”

But voters found out they had been fooled when Congress started criticizing almost every move he made. They learned pragmatists suffer if they are dealing with self-absorbed cowards who’d rather play hide and seek than expose themselves to a battle.

“Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once.” (William Shakespeare)

And again the progressives are pointing a finger at this administration blaming them for doing nothing. So far they are right. We still have a “do nothing Congress.” Although Trump supporters remain respectful for Trump’s patriotic principals, they are under-impressed with his Congress and their inability to help our president move his mandates forward.

Instead of showing up each day and prolonging the agony of non-governing, many are wondering if they don’t stand for anything, they’ll fall for anything, and maybe Congress should be replaced every four years instead of the president. Considering what they’ve done it’s hard to argue with the truth when it stares you in the face.

“This republic was not established by cowards; and cowards will not preserve it.” (E. Davis)

When Obama was president, by virtue, “do-nothing” was doing a lot for America. But Obama now is just a bad chapter in history. And a Congress that “does nothing” when they have the opportunity to “do something” is a body of obstinate lawmakers.

Nobody expects perfection from the imperfect but not following the mandate of the voters who elected you is biting the hand that feeds you and getting away with it.

“To err is human. To blame someone else is politics.”  (Hubert H. Humphrey)

Will Rogers said, “If you ever injected truth into politics you have no politics.” Capitol Hill needs a leader who can lead. And the people gave them one. This was supposed to be the year Congress finally started acting like adults. Yet empty offices pock the executive branch, caused by aberrant Senate obstruction.

Now we’ve learned their promise to rid us of that devil ObamaScare, was just empty words. If the wheels don’t start turning soon on Capitol Hill, every day they stand idle it will cost President Trump to lose momentum and risk closing the political window for major changes to fix our republic.

“Scientists claim the Thread Snake has the smallest backbone of any creature on the planet. It makes one wonder if they also examined the members of Congress?” (Alice Crowe)

This article was written by a contributor from Franklin Center’s independent network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists. 

Will conservative reforms survive Republican infighting?

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 17:24

MADISON, Wis. – So much for going big and bold.

The Legislature’s powerful budget-writing committee this week said it will pull out 83 “non-fiscal” policies from Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s 2017-19 budget. More so, the Committee on Joint Finance would start fresh on the controversial transportation budget – in what ultimately could force a budget showdown between the Republican-controlled Assembly and the governor.

STORM BREWING? As the Legislature’s Joint Finance committee strips scores of proposals from Gov. Scott Walker’s budget plan, the sniping goes on over transportation spending. Some conservatives are concerned the bickering will distract lawmakers from passing bold government reforms while there is strength in numbers.

Of the myriad proposals tucked inside Walker’s $76 billion biennial budget plan, several are warmly endorsed by fiscal conservatives who have led the charge on limited-government legislation.

Gone is the REINS (Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny) Act, requiring any administrative rule with a compliance cost exceeding $10 million to be reviewed by the Legislature.

So is prevailing wage repeal.

Welfare reform remains, but the proposal is watered down.

What’s left is Walker’s plan to pump $649 million more into K-12 education, the cornerstone piece of the budget that has given fiscal hawks fits.

“What we’re left with is a large increase in spending (mostly on K-12 education), a few decent tax cuts, and an indication from finance committee leadership that they will increase spending on transportation,” said Eric Bott, state director for Americans for Prosperity Wisconsin. The nonpartisan, free-market advocacy group has been highly critical of the big-ticket spending items coming from lawmakers who claim to have the best interest of taxpayers in mind.

Wisconsin road builders and their powerful lobby are feeling a little more relief knowing what just about every budget watcher expected: Their friends in the Assembly would keep gas tax and vehicle fee hikes on the table.

Walker has adamantly rejected a gas tax increase to fill an estimated $1 billion shortfall at the state Department of Transportation, particularly for an agency shown to have wasted billions of taxpayer dollars on bad planning and building practices.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, has threatened to call an override vote should the governor pull out his veto pen. Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau has said he’s not on board with such intraparty wars.

Walker and Vos have of late been sniping at each other  in a very public feud that has titillated the left and the usual suspect press.

“As I said in my SOTS (State of the State) & Budget addresses, & plenty of times since, with a Reform Dividend now is not the time to raise taxes on Wisconsinites,” Walker tweeted last week.

Texting between the two GOP Alpha dogs has been even more caustic, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel gleefully reported on Friday.

“As I recall, the debate started with the unprecedented discussion of starting with a new budget & the continued attacks on transportation. It would be odd if I didn’t defend my positions,” Walker wrote to Vos in text exchanges obtained by the newspaper through the state’s open records law.

“I think it actually started with the decision of your office to not really involve us before the process began unlike each of your other budgets. I found that’s strange but I respected that’s how you wanted to do it. So without giving us ownership of any thing in your budget it’s kind of hard for us just a rubber stamp it,” Vos responded.

“Unlike the last budget where we met with nearly every member in advance & got trashed,” Walker snapped back (Jason Stein’s and Patrick Marley’s turn of phrase).

In a statement this week, Walker thanked the budget-writing committee for “keeping the historic K-12 funding levels in place.” He did not note the transportation feud.

FOR TRANSPARENCY: Sen. Alberta Darling, co-chair of the Joint Finance committee, said ‘non-fiscal’ proposals should be voted on separately to bring transparency and input to the process.

Several conservative lawmakers opted not to comment on the latest twist in the budget battle, but sources tell Wisconsin Watchdog they are worried that Republicans are squandering a golden opportunity to reform and limit government. All the bickering, they say, is an unneeded distraction.

After the November election, GOP leadership declared the party would go big and bold this legislative session, thanks to an Assembly majority not seen since the Eisenhower administration and a very comfortable Republican majority in the Senate.

Sen. Alberta Darling, said she refuses to be distracted from the business at hand, and she believes her Republican colleagues feel the same way.

“They don’t want to get into this personality battle,” the River Hills Republican said, calling such squabbles a “no-win” situation for those who want to get things done. “Gov. Walker is our governor, he’s been a good friend to us.”

Darling, who co-chairs the Joint Finance Committee, said it’s important for the sake of transparency and for committee involvement to take non-fiscal proposals out of the budget. Let them stand on their own in and up or down vote, she said. And many of the proposals have been separately introduced as legislation, Darling noted.

Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Cedarburg, voiced his disappointment that the full prevailing wage repeal proposal was removed as a non-fiscal item. Stroebel said removing such artificial, government-mandated wages is all about saving taxpayers money.

“The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance evaluation determined the repeal would save Wisconsin taxpayers tens of millions of dollars,” Stroebel said in a statement. “When budgeting, our priority should always be to pass policy reforms that save money through efficiencies. Prevailing wage does that.”

 While legislative leadership may negotiate many of the reform proposals back into the budget, what will conservatives have to give up in order to get them? The battle, budget watchers say, promises to be long and hard.

“Regardless of what happens during the forthcoming negotiations, today’s actions are a slap against Governor Walker, the conservative grassroots who put these legislators into office, and sound public policy,” Bott said. “Without significant improvement, it will be difficult for true conservatives to vote for this budget come June or July.”

House Education Committee votes against loosening up Act 46 mandate

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 15:23

NO MERCY: A bill that would have made it easier for school districts to buck Act 46, the school district consolidation law, was voted down by the House Education Committee on Thursday.

 

MONTPELIER, Vt. — A bill that would have offered greater flexibility for school district mergers was voted down by the House Education Committee on Thursday afternoon.

H.15 would have given more support and incentives for schools to choose an alternative district option to comply with the 2015 school merger law, Act 46. With alternative districts, school boards attempt to hold on to their current governance structures by convincing the Agency of Education that it is the best option for students and taxpayers.

Without the bill, the alternative district option is basically relegated to mere back-up plan status, with no incentives.

Donna Russo-Savage, legislative counsel to the Agency of Education, spoke out against H.15.

“The agency has some concerns. The governor supports flexibility, and I realize H.15 is an attempt to increase flexibility, but the governor is also very concerned about sustainability and affordability, and I think that H.15, at least in the way that it’s currently presented, probably would put a stop to any forward momentum,” she said.

A common theme behind the 9-2 vote against the bill was that it took the teeth out of Act 46.

“That video [shown about the benefits of mergers] was the perfect example of what can happen when communities drop their guards and look for ways to save money, expand education opportunities and generally improve the lives of everyone,” said state Rep. Peter Conlon, D-Cornwall.

State Rep. Alice Miller, D-Shaftsbury, also voted against the bill.

“We must not forget about why Act 46 exists,” she said, citing that education spending in Vermont has risen from around $800 million to $1.6 billion in just several years, while enrollment has dropped by over 20,000 students, or about 20 percent.

S.122 still hanging on

Rep. Emily Long, D-Newfane, who also voted against H.15, said the committee should instead support a different bill seeking increased flexibility for school district mergers, and which was approved in the Senate.

“We have on the table S.122 which allows for more flexibility for challenges moving forward,” she said.

David Kelley, clerk of the Hazen Union School Board, expressed disappointment in the committee’s vote and seeming preference for S.122.

“[H.15] was a lot better than S.122,” he told Vermont Watchdog. “It would have worked for the OSSU [Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union],” he said. “It would have allowed for a lot of flexibility in the creation of alternative structures.”

Hazen Union, part of the Orleans Southwest Supervisory Union, is comprised of several districts that have collectively decided to pursue an alternative district status. Kelley said the committee is not making their task any easier.

He added that S.122 does very little for the OSSU. “It just creates a few more boxes to accommodate a few more struggling districts. It basically makes the preferred structure a little bigger, but it doesn’t do anything to make the alternative structures any easier,” he said.

Michael Bielawski is a freelance reporter for Vermont Watchdog.org. You can contact him at mbielawski@watchdog.org.

Vermont AG’s office admits it blocked public records release based on requesters’ politics

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 12:30

The Vermont Attorney General’s office chooses which public records requests it will honor after Googling requesters’ political leanings, an attorney admitted during oral arguments in a recent transparency case.

On June 13, 2016, attorneys for the Energy and Environment Legal Institute and Free Market Environmental Law Clinic sued Vermont’s attorney general for withholding public records related to AGs United for Clean Power’s multi-state investigation of ExxonMobil and research groups opposed to climate change policies.

GONE POLITICAL: Former Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell helped lead a multi-state inquiry into ExxonMobil and climate change skeptics while denying public records requests of groups he believed opposed the inquiry.

According to the complaint, E&E Legal Institute requested the communications of the coalition of 17 attorneys general led by New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Vermont Attorney General William Sorrell. The institute never received the records and has ongoing legal proceedings in Washington County Superior Court.

According to a transcript of March 28 oral arguments before Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout, Chief Assistant Attorney General William Griffin explained how the office decides which public records requests to honor.

“We get a request from EELI and so one thing we might consider is where are they — who are these people? Where are they going with this? And we Google them and we find, you know, coal or Exxon or whatever — and so we’re thinking this is — we better — we better give this some thought before we — before we share information with this entity,” Griffin said.

“Or it might be a news organization and we think, well, what are they going to do with it? Well, they’re going to publish it to the world. So that would be — I mean, that would be my mental impression and, you know, let’s exercise some caution. Is there some public interest in publishing this information at this time? Probably not.”

Matthew Hardin, the attorney for the plaintiff, appeared stunned by the admission.

“The broadness of the argument that the Attorney General is making, basically, that, under 1.6, everything is confidential, except for things that they selectively choose to disclose. Everything is exempt except what they choose to disclose, and now they say, because they’ve taken into consideration the best interests of the State of Vermont,” Hardin argued in response.

“And it’s now come out in oral argument that one of the things that they do to determine who’s entitled or who they will provide public records to is they do a Google search. And it turns out that, when you Google my clients, you might find out things like coal or Exxon,” he said. “So my clients don’t have rights under the Public Records Act because a Google search conducted by Attorney General’s employees says that they’re bad people, basically, and I just don’t think that’s what the law is. I believe that the law is neutral. I believe that it applies to all of the citizenry.”

AGs United for Clean Power has since largely disbanded, in part due to embarrassing public record releases. The group formed in March 2016 to coordinate investigations into whether fossil fuel companies misled investors and the public about climate change. Critics accuse the AG coalition of trying to stifle free speech.

RELATED: Vermont AG office tight-lipped about ExxonMobil investigations workgroup

Hardin told Vermont Watchdog the Vermont attorney general’s office conspired with other state attorneys general to refuse public records requests.

“This is sort of a case about a case,” Hardin said. “The state of Vermont signed a contract with a whole bunch of other states, including New York, and what that said was they were going to share documents with each other and they weren’t going to supply these documents in response to public records requests.”

He added that Vermont public records law doesn’t allow selective handling of public records requests, and even if it did, E&E Legal Institute would challenge it as a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.

“The legislature has made clear that it’s in the public interest of the state of Vermont … to provide records even though those records might be embarrassing,” he said. “And I think the attorney general is conflating and getting a little bit confused what are his personal interest versus what is the best interest for the state of Vermont.”

The Vermont Office of Attorney General did not respond to Watchdog’s requests for comment.

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for Vermont Watchdog.org. You can contact him at mbielawski@watchdog.org.

Congress considers dusting off long-dormant $300 million broadband map

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 11:15

DON’T TRUST THIS DATA: The National Broadband Map hasn’t been updated since 2014.

 

At a recent hearing discussing broadband infrastructure and draft legislation, House Democrats and Republicans alike pitched the idea of dusting off a national broadband map that cost $293 million to develop and has been dormant for the past three years.

U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., said updating the map would better enable government to determine where broadband is currently flourishing or nonexistent.

“We must accurately collect and aggregate data to update the National Broadband Map,” Blackburn said at that March hearing of the Energy and Commerce Communications and Technology Subcommittee, which she chairs.

But critics say the map was confusing and ineffective, and a taxpayer boondoggle to boot.

The searchable and interactive map, created to allow users to view broadband availability in every U.S. neighborhood, was a child of the American Recover and Reinvestment Act, better known as the 2009 economic stimulus. The $293 million was provided to 56 agencies across all 50 states, five territories and the District of Columbia to collect the data.

The end result wasn’t inspiring. DSL Reports noted at launch in 2011 the map seemed inaccurate, listing the wrong providers for a given area and overstating the options and speeds available in some cases. The outlet also pointed out prices weren’t listed, and blamed the National Telecommunications & Information Administration, the Department of Commerce subdivision that administers the map, for giving in to pressure from private internet providers who didn’t want that information included in the map.

NTIA stopped updating the map after June 30, 2014, because Congress chose not to throw more money at the project in fiscal 2015. The NTIA notes on the map’s “about” page that updated information on broadband deployment can be viewed through the Federal Communication Commission’s semi-annual Form 477 data collection and annual broadband progress report.

Brent Skorup, research fellow in the technology policy program at the Mercatus Center, told Watchdog.org he can’t recall a time he used the National Broadband Map in his research.

“It’s anecdotal, but I haven’t heard of other researchers who have used it,” he added, pointing out how poorly functioning the map is and calling the initial cost “excessive.”

BLACKBURN: The Tennessee representative said Congress should provide funding to update the National Broadband Map.

He said, however, that if Congress decides to reboot the map, then lawmakers should look across the Atlantic, where the United Kingdom’s Office of Communication – its FCC, essentially – has developed an effective map that also offers speeds tests and shows mobile internet availability.

“I think this can be done well,” Skorup said.

He suggests a second effort would be better served by combining collection efforts into one organization rather than counting on dozens of state agencies with different policies and procedures.

“If you’re doing a national map, you probably only want one party collecting data and putting it together,” Skorup said.

The subcommittee discussed legislation correlated to President Donald Trump’s plan to spend more on infrastructure. Panel members generally agreed that expanding broadband to the unserved and underserved should be part of any spending package.

“People want broadband as much as new roads,” Blackburn said.

Private nonprofit, for-profit universities could soon get regulatory relief

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 10:05

Bad press, combined with federal rules and regulations disproportionately targeting the higher education alternatives, have taken their toll on nonprofit and for-profit universities in recent years — but that could soon change.

For-profit and private nonprofit colleges and universities offer career-building options separate from traditional public universities. Small class sizes, hands-on training and flexible schedules are common features designed to help students obtain degrees, practical jobs skills and employment-related certifications.

REGULATIONS: Private nonprofit and for-profit higher education schools have been subjected to harsh regulations, but that could be changing.

Student bodies also are diverse, and not just demographically. Active military members, veterans, adults at various stages of life, and those with jobs and children are more intentionally accommodated. As a result, enrollment has skyrocketed over the past two decades.

But regulatory change is afoot. In February, Arthur Keiser, chancellor and CEO of Fort Lauderdale-based Keiser University, was named chairman of the National Advisory Committee on Institutional Quality and Integrity.

The committee will make recommendations to U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos — a noted Florida education reformer — regarding accreditation and institutional eligibility for federal student financial aid.

Keiser University is a private nonprofit school with nearly 20,000 students enrolled across 18 Florida campuses. It offers 100 degrees at the doctoral through associate level, and employs 3,800 staff and faculty, according to its website.

Other large Florida private nonprofit universities include Nova Southeastern, St. Leo, Barry and the University of Miami. Together with Keiser, they serve about 87,000 students.

More recently, the U.S. Department of Education signaled a potential policy shift when it allowed additional time for postsecondary schools to appeal “gainful employment” determinations issued by the Obama administration in its final days.

“This action is taken to allow the Department to further review the (gainful employment) regulations and their implementation,” a statement from the acting assistant secretary for the federal student aid office said in March.

Billed as an accountability measure, outgoing Education Department officials released the first student loan debt-to-earnings rates on Jan. 9, pursuant to regulations finalized in 2014. At stake is access to federal student financial aid, the lifeline for for-profit and nonprofit career schools.

Industry representatives viewed the 11th-hour release as a parting shot from an administration overly hostile to higher education alternative career schools.

Steve Gunderson, president and CEO of Career Education Colleges and Universities, a membership organization of 470 campuses offering career training programs, said the decision was “all about political motivations and harming institutions” and had “nothing to do with expanding higher education access and opportunity or creating sound public policy.”

“It is time to stop the war,” Gunderson said in a statement.

Schools now have until July 1 to submit appeals and comply with formerly enacted regulatory disclosure requirements.

The former administration regulatory actions were bolstered by high-profile disasters in the career training space in which it played an active role.

For-profit colleges made headlines when California-based Corinthian Colleges International closed or sold off more than 90 nationwide campuses in 2014 amid allegations of falsified job-placement data and predatory lending.

Last year, the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau accused ITT Tech of pushing high-cost predatory loans on vulnerable students. The school closed after DOE required it “to boost its cash reserves,” and ultimately cut off access to federal student aid.

The industry also has received negative publicity for high student loan default rates, which some scholars say is on par with public universities when comparing similar student body demographics.

Federal gainful employment regulation

The federal gainful employment regulation is supposed to protect students and taxpayers from dishonest career programs that don’t deliver enough post-graduate earnings to justify tuition costs, and thereby student loan debt.

According to the DOE, the law requires that most for-profit programs and certificate programs at private nonprofit and public institutions prepare students for “gainful employment in a recognized occupation.”

“That is a high bar in a global economy known for not only job redundancy, but also radical sector disruption, often before a career school grad has earned his or her associate’s or bachelor’s,” contends Forbes education author James Marshall Crotty.

It also singles-out for-profit career schools, and to a lesser extent private nonprofit schools, as their students overwhelmingly depend on financial aid. Legally, for-profit institutions can receive up to 90 percent of their funding through federal Title IV student aid programs. Private nonprofit schools can receive 100 percent.

Cutting off Title IV student loans and grants would effectively bankrupt the schools.

Industry groups are looking to the Trump administration to relieve existential pressures imposed through harsh evaluation standards embedded in the framework of the Obama-era regulations.

Under the gainful employment rule, colleges whose graduates have an average annual loan repayment rate of less than 8 percent of their total earnings, or less than 20 percent of discretionary earnings, will receive a passing grade for their gainful employment program.

A graduate repayment rate between 8 percent and 12 percent of total earnings, or between 20 percent and 30 percent of discretionary earnings, is labeled “the zone.” Repayment rates above 12 percent of total earnings, or 30 percent of discretionary earnings, is considered failing.

If a college registers two failing grades in any consecutive three-year period, it loses all federal Title IV student aid. Four consecutive years of the zone also will lead to a loss of all federal student aid funding — a death sentence.

According to the Jan. 9 press release from the DOE, over 800 programs serving hundreds of thousands of students failed the Obama administration’s accountability standards, and an additional 1,239 programs are in jeopardy of failing. Ninety-eight percent were programs offered by for-profit colleges.

The concentrated figures appear to be evidence of what many critics have characterized as a biased regulatory crackdown.

“There is no for-profit that hasn’t had an investigation or lawsuit action,” said Eric Juhlin, CEO of the Center for Excellence in Higher Education, at a Cato Institute panel discussion in Washington, D.C., two weeks after the November election.

“The allegations alone are so damaging that those institutions will oftentimes pay whatever is necessary to resolve that [and] move it forward just to get it out of the press,” Juhlin said.

Neal McCluskey, director of Cato’s Center for Educational Freedom, said the previous administration placed an “unfair focus” on for-profits and “somewhat of a demonization to the exclusion of looking at all sectors.”

“It’s not like there aren’t a lot of problems in for-profit higher education, because there are. There’s good reason to scrutinize that sector,” he said. “But there’s good reason to scrutinize all sectors.”

The Obama administration first unveiled its gainful employment proposal back in 2010, before the implosions of Corinthian College and ITT Tech. One year later, Keiser University switched from a for-profit institution to a private nonprofit university.

Composite scoring

A related, but entirely different holdover regulation, is set to take effect July 1.

Known as composite scoring, new financial health rules will soon be applied to nonprofit and for-profit colleges and universities across the country. Public universities, backed by the full faith and credit of their respective states, are not subject to composite score tests.

A composite score will signify the overall financial health of the higher education institutions along a scale of -1.0 to 3.0. A score of 1.5 or higher is considered financially responsible. A score of 1.0 to 1.4 is still financially responsible but invites oversight from DOE, including cash monitoring.

Schools with scores of less than 1.0 are considered financially irresponsible and can only participate in federal student financial aid programs under a provisional certification.

Sixty-five nonprofit institutions currently fall into the failing category, according to the National Association of College and Business Officers. The Washington, D.C.-based postsecondary advocacy group says an additional 62 private nonprofits are in the 1.0 to 1.4 range.

“NACUBO and other associations have long questioned (the Department of Education’s) methodology in calculating the composite scores,” the organization explained in a statement this week.

It’s not yet clear how the Trump administration will address the Obama-era regulations, but the options are clear: stay the course, rollback unnecessary overreach or effectively scrap the new rules altogether.

According to the Department of Education, composite financial score ratings, like the gainful employment rule, “is not a reflection of the quality of education at a given school.”

William Patrick is a Florida reporter for Watchdog.org. Contact him at wpatrick@watchdog.org and @WmPatFL.

Vermont governor supports deporting some illegal aliens

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 09:01
Part 11 of 11 in the series Sanctuary Policies

MONTPELIER, Vt. — Speaking at a press conference Thursday, Republican Gov. Phil Scott said he would consider deporting some criminal aliens residing in Vermont illegally.

The statement represents a modest change in the governor’s approach to illegal immigration, which has been at odds with the Trump administration’s policy and executive orders.

ILLEGAL ALIENS: Vermont Gov. Phil Scott, who has been in opposition to President Trump’s immigration policy, said on Thursday that he would deport illegals in the state with “egregious” criminal records.

Scott expressed concerns about illegal aliens convicted of violent crime and DUIs, saying they represent a potential threat to the safety of other residents. However, Scott was unable to provide either a clear definition of what justifies an illegal immigrant’s deportation or the number of alien residents that should be deported.

“If you’re convicted of criminal activity, I think you should be deported,” Scott said. “[But] I will clarify… [I am speaking of] egregious crimes.”

On March 28, Scott signed into law S.79 , a bill crafted to shield illegal immigrants from “compulsory collection of personally identifying information, or dissemination of that information for purposes of establishing a mandatory federal registry or database.”

Immigration experts have told Watchdog that concealing data about illegal immigrants could cause Vermont to lose federal dollars it receives to support a variety of programs, including law enforcement.

RELATED: Hiding illegal resident identities from police could cost Vermont federal funds

Rebecca Kelley, the governor’s communications director, told Vermont Watchdog that “our understanding is that our state policies are compliant with federal law and, therefore, there would not be a justification for withholding federal funds.”

Vermont Watchdog has reported that among the characteristics the state wants hidden from federal immigration enforcement officers are immigration status, national origin, religion, race and color. But, following Scott’s statement on Thursday, it is uncertain how deportation in Vermont can occur without some state officials revealing the status of criminal immigrants in contradiction to the spirit of S.79.

Louis Varricchio is Vermont bureau chief of Vermont Watchdog.org. You can contact him at lvarricchio@watchdog.org.

Experts warn no good options as Scott moves to shut down Vermont Health Connect

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 08:26

Last week, Gov. Phil Scott announced that his administration is preparing to move away from Vermont Health Connect, the state’s insurance marketplace that has cost taxpayers over $200 million.

“We’re looking to bring a proposal forward before the next legislative session … [and hope to move] away from VHC by next January,” the governor told reporters at his weekly press conference.

PULL THE PLUG: Gov. Phil Scott, left, inherited the troubled Vermont Health Connect from former Gov. Peter Shumlin, center, who refused to pull the plug on the exchange and left his successor to clean up the mess.

While the governor has not released detailed information about the changes, he claims the proposal will be an innovative plan “others throughout the country could take a look at and follow.”

Scott inherited VHC from the Shumlin administration. The insurance marketplace failed multiple benchmarks set by Gov. Peter Shumlin, yet the former governor refused to pull the plug.

The marketplace has likely cost more than $200 million, though the exact figure is not certain due to the state’s failure to report expenses, a violation of federal law. Despite the continued investment in the health exchange, workers still have to process changes of information by hand, and customers remain frustrated.

Scott said his decision was based on the health care reform slowdown from lawmakers in Washington as well as recent security breeches, including the disclosure of social security numbers online through the online system. “ This is a new world for us. [Data breeches aren’t] going to subside. This is going to intensify,” Scott said.

But health care experts tell Watchdog that Scott has few good options, including his idea of merging marketplaces with states like Connecticut to stabilize the system and share costs.

Robert Graboyes, a senior research fellow at the Mercatus Center at George Mason University, says the logistics that caused the plan to fail apply to other health care proposals thrown out by Republicans.

“State officials, especially insurance commissioners, are highly protective of their turfs,” Graboyes told Watchdog.

Graboyes said the state also would have to mediate legal battles constantly, such as how to make rates and insurer regulations the same for each state. Even consumer complains, he added, would become more complex to manage.

“The logistical conundrums this idea presents underlines one big reason I am deeply skeptical of conservatives’ favorite reform idea — buying and selling health insurance across state lines,” he said.

“My guess is the state’s real option is to follow the example of Oregon: close the state exchange and accept the federal healthcare.gov website as the state’s exchange. There are costs involved, but there are no costless options.”

In December, a state-commissioned independent review of VHC advised against joining the federal exchange due to costs and lack of ease. However, those findings may lack objectivity since the group conducing the study, Strategic Solutions, is often hired to fix state exchanges.

When Nevada transitioned to the federal exchange in 2014, lawmakers estimated the change would cost about $20 million. That is roughly half the cost of annual VHC operational costs. However, the transition would likely cost more due to penalties written into the Affordable Care Act relating to states pulling out of state exchanges.

Additional problems keeping Vermont from the federal exchange are that health policies have less flexibility and are extremely dependent on federal funding.

Michael Cannon, director of health care policy at the Cato Institute, says that it is not possible for states to opt out of both a state and federal exchange.

“There really is nothing that states can do to fix Obamacare’s problems,” he told Watchdog. “All Obamacare provisions apply in all states, regardless of what the state does.”

The failed exchanges of Hawaii, New Mexico, Oregon, and Nevada collectively cost taxpayers $733 million. Vermont Health Connect may add millions to lost taxpayer dollars spent on state exchanges.

Cybersecurity audit finds students can access obscene material on school computers

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 05:00

BUSTED: A cybersecurity audit by the Mississippi State Auditor’s office found objectionable material or possible access to objectionable material on a survey of 150 computers from nine school districts.

 

There could be more than just homework on your child’s school-issued laptop or tablet, according to a recent cybersecurity audit report released by the Mississippi State Auditor’s office.

State Auditor Stacey Pickering’s office found 20 percent of the 150 laptop and desktop computers from nine school districts “showed evidence that that students were able to access explicit material on school-issued devices.” Worse yet, 86 percent of the computers surveyed from seven middle schools, and 82 percent of devices analyzed from 11 high schools, found objectionable material such as pornography.

The report said the districts’ filtering systems were ineffective at filtering inappropriate material, which is a violation of the Children’s Internet Protection Act. That federal law mandates that schools and libraries participating in the federally-supported E-rate program block and filter internet access that is obscene or harmful to minors.

Several school districts in the state — such as the Tupelo and Clinton school districts — issue laptops and tablets to students under the One to One Digital Learning Initiative for use on their studies, and allow students to access the internet, digital course materials and books. Some of these districts, including the Clarksdale Municipal School District, received federal grants to provide each student with a computer or tablet.

According to the report, the nine districts didn’t enforce internet safety and acceptable use policies. In particular, they didn’t ensure that technology protection measures — such as web filters — were operational and effective. Also, one of the districts didn’t maintain filtering for when students take their computers home.

The auditor’s office said since it was a blind review, the identity of the districts with the compromised computers and monitoring systems won’t be revealed.

The report recommended that the Mississippi Department of Education should do the following:

  • Help districts with alternative solutions to evaluate the effectiveness of their monitoring apparatus.
  • Establish uniform policies for all districts on monitoring and filtering of student internet use.
  • Enact a policy requiring districts to monitor school-issued devices off school grounds with substantial penalties for non-compliance.

The OSA also suggested that districts should regularly test their monitoring systems and inform parents with tips on how to keep their children safe online.

The MDE says it will continue to provide assistance to districts so they can remain compliant with the Children’s Internet Protection Act.

“The MDE provides technical assistance to districts upon request to help districts implement best practices. We will continue to provide technical assistance in the area of internet security,” MDE spokesperson Patrice Guilfoyle told Mississippi Watchdog.

Steve Wilson reports for Mississippi Watchdog. Contact him at swilson@watchdog.org and on Twitter.

Johnson, Baldwin on the Gorsuch ‘judicial war’

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 23:03

MADISON, Wis. – While the media at large went nuclear on the “nuclear option” descriptor Thursday, Wisconsin’s senators defended – from their perspectives – what was and what’s expected to be in the Judge Neil Gorsuch Supreme Court nomination saga.

JUDICIAL WAR OF WORDS: Sens. Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin weigh in on trying times in the Senate.

Looking to quickly break an unprecedented Democrat filibuster, Senate Republicans voted to lower the 60-vote threshold to a simple majority to forward President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee.

Dems were apoplectic, blasting the GOP for changing the way the more deliberative Senate traditionally does business; in essence, checking the minority party’s ability to stall. The so-called “nuclear option” is precisely what Democrats in 2013 sought and used to advance President Barack Obama’s executive and lower court judicial nominees in recent years. But the option was thought to be off limits for Supreme Court nominees.

Republicans had had enough, and moved to end the first-ever partisan filibuster of a Supreme Court nominee just as it was getting started.

“This is the latest escalation in the left’s never-ending judicial war, the most audacious yet,” said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. “And it cannot and will not stand. There cannot be two sets of standards: one for nominees of the Democratic president and another for the nominees of Republican presidents.”

Minority Leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, who lead the opposition movement, said the responsibility for changing the rules will fall on Republicans’ shoulders.

“They had other choices,” he said. “They have chosen this one.”

A final confirmation vote on the nominee is set for Friday.

Gorsuch, a widely respected appeals court judge for the 10th Circuit, is expected to fill the seat vacated more than a year ago by the death of conservative stalwart Justice Antonin Scalia.

Here’s what Wisconsin’s U.S. senators had to say about the political smoke and fire inside and outside the Senate chamber.

Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Madison:

“The people of Wisconsin want an impartial and independent Supreme Court justice who will make decisions that protect the constitutional rights and freedoms of all Americans – not stand for corporate special interests. I have deep concerns about Judge Gorsuch’s troubling record of ruling against disabled students, including a ruling that was so far out of the mainstream the Supreme Court unanimously overturned it, as well has his rulings against workers and against women’s reproductive health care. I also believe that we must have a Supreme Court justice who will serve as a check on the Executive Branch. Based on his record and the many questions he has chosen to leave unanswered, I don’t have confidence Judge Gorsuch would be that justice and I oppose his confirmation to our highest court.”

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh:

“Judge Gorsuch is a highly qualified, mainstream judge who will apply the law, not act as a superlegislator. He is exactly the kind of high integrity jurist needed on the Supreme Court.  Unfortunately, most Democrat senators, including Senator Baldwin, attempted to obstruct the will of American and Wisconsin.”

Commentary: Refusing Medicaid expansion frustrates dependency democracy crowd

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 16:03

MADISON, Wis. – State Rep. Peter Barca fired off a press release Wednesday ripping Gov. Scott Walker for his “failure” to take all of that “free” federal Medicaid money a few years back.

THIS IS WHAT SOCIALISM LOOKS LIKE: Here’s a spoiler alert: Medicaid expansion is paid for by taxpayers somewhere.

Barca’s a politician. It’s what he does. And as the Assembly minority leader of a diminished Democratic Party facing irrelevancy, outrage-laden press releases is about all he can do.

The Kenosha Democrat quotes a Legislative Fiscal Bureau report (completed at his request) that finds Walker’s refusing to drag the state into the costly Obama-led Medicaid expansion campaign will “cost Wisconsin taxpayers” nearly $700 million by the end of this budget cycle. By June 30, 2020, “this failure” will cost Wisconsin more than $1 billion, according to the press release.

“It makes little sense to leave federal money on the table as this puts Wisconsin taxpayers on the hook to make up the difference,” Barca barked.

Of course, what the liberal lawmaker leaves out – as many liberals are wont to do – is the fact that the money didn’t just magically appear on the table. It was taken from taxpayers everywhere. And taxpayers in the 32 states that took the Medicaid bribe are finding out they are on the hook for an increasing share of the expansion.

But beyond the money is the bigger battle of ideas: The left’s fervent belief in the ever-expanding role of government and the right’s maxim that the government which governs best is that which governs least.

Ultimately, it’s a battle between self-governance and dependency democracy.

As an Investor Business Daily editorial late last year put it, “Obamacare made an offer few states could refuse: Expand Medicaid eligibility to 138 percent of poverty – including able-bodied childless adults – and the federal government will cover 100 percent of the costs for three years.” Otherwise, stick with the 58 percent federal share of Medicaid coverage, big federal said, and go it alone, Wisconsin.

Walker said, thanks but no thanks. His administration turned down the money and opted to prioritize state spending to expand Wisconsin’s Medicaid program, known as BadgerCare Plus. Tom Evenson, the governor’s spokesman, says the decision had paid off.

“Our state ranks as one of the best states in the nation for health care coverage, and we did it here without taking the Obamacare expansion,” Evenson wrote in an email. “Thanks to Governor Walker’s reforms, for the first time everyone is covered with insurance and our taxpayers did not have to buy into the uncertainty (that) surrounds Obamacare.”

Walker’s recommendation, approved by the Republican-controlled Legislature, expanded BadgerCare eligibility for childless adults below the poverty level and cut in half the income eligibility ceiling for parents – from the previous cap of 200 percent of the federal poverty level. The federal plan demanded an income threshold of at least 138 percent of FPL.

Adults above the fixed poverty levels still are eligible for the expansive federal subsidies baked into the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare), which has turned out to be much less affordable than advertised.

Walker argued the Obamacare Medicaid offer was one Wisconsin should refuse because, like so many other federally mandated programs, the Medicaid expansion would be unsustainable. States taking the Medicaid bribe are now learning the residual costs of “free money.”

Beginning this year, receiving states will have to kick in 5 percent of the costs for the new Medicaid enrollees. In coming years, it will be 10 percent. Walker and fellow conservatives jaded by the bad history of unfunded federal mandates are betting it will eventually be much more. Those states are poised to see their Medicaid costs climb by nearly 6 percent this year, compared with 4 percent for Wisconsin and the other states that said no, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

At least eight of the expansion states are pushing new taxes and fees on insurance providers to cover those costs, according to the Kaiser Foundation. Sock it to the wealthy insurance companies, right? Not so much. Those costs are either passed on to consumers or they will no longer be countenanced by insurers that are escaping the untenable government-influenced markets. Other states plan to tap into their general funds to cover the rising costs. Those funds, of course, are filled by taxpayers.

“In other words, states that expanded Medicaid will either have to boost health costs, raise taxes or cut spending to cover this ObamaCare ‘freebie.’ Given that Medicaid is already swamping state budgets, this will not be good news,” the Investor Business Daily editorial asserted.

Indeed. Take a look at Wisconsin’s neighbor, which saw its health care insurance markets on the verge of collapse.

“When the Obamacare Medicaid expansion was offered, Governor Walker believed it would be unsustainable in the future, and that if Wisconsin had bought into the program it would be risky for taxpayers,” said Evenson, Walker’s spokesman. “What transpired in Minnesota suggests we were right. Insurers are leaving Minnesota’s exchange and it will now cost Minnesota taxpayers $310 million to help offset the massive increase in premiums to those who had enrolled.”

Barca is correct in saying that Wisconsin could grab a total of $2.7 billion by 2019, had it fully expanded BadgerCare. And, as the author of the fiscal bureau report notes, even when the federal coverage drops from 100 percent to 90 percent, 90 is still better than the current 58 percent.

But Barca paints his picture without a background, that the federal money Wisconsin has “missed out” on is cash grabbed from taxpayers of every state. And the hundreds of billions spent is only exacerbating a $20 trillion U.S. debt.

Last year the Congressional Budget Office raised its 10-year cost projection for the Medicaid expansion by $136 billion. Somebody is paying for that.

As Walker noted ad nauseam during the last presidential campaign cycle, liberals like Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama measure success on how many people are dependent on the government and the tax dollars that keep it going.

“There’s a reason we celebrate July 4 instead of April 15,” Walker likes to say, comparing Independence Day with Tax Day.

While the sentiment seems a disconnect from Wisconsin’s reliance on myriad federal program subsidies of all kinds (Obamacare included), the philosophy is as right as rain.

“In America, we celebrate independence from government, not dependence on it,” Walker has said. “It’s time for government to get out of the way.”

Widely divergent campus sexual assault bills move forward in two states

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 13:23

DUE PROCESS: Lawmakers in Georgia appear poised to pass a bill that would require colleges to report sexual assaults to the police.

Bills relating to campus sexual assault in Maryland and Georgia have moved forward after previously appearing to have stalled in each state’s legislature.

In Maryland, a bill that would require K-12 students be taught the policy of affirmative consent during sexual education classes received an “unfavorable report” from the state’s House Ways and Means committee and was subsequently withdrawn.

The Maryland victory was short-lived, however. A separate bill, HB 1560 that requires children as young as 10 receive affirmative consent training passed the Maryland House of Representatives in mid-March.

Affirmative consent effectively turns sex into a contractual rather than passionate or romantic act, requiring each person involved in sexual activity to continuously ask for permission to engage in heightened levels of activity throughout the event. Affirmative consent does not prohibit non-verbal communication, but as it can often be ambiguous (and later reinterpreted), it puts people at greater risk of an accusation if they don’t rely on verbal communication.

Even if each person engages in this type of question-and-answer session, there’s no way to prove one followed the policy. It still remains a “he said, she said” situation, and as usually happens on college campuses, the accuser’s (almost always a woman) statement is given more weight. Further, accusers who don’t follow affirmative consent do not face sexual assault hearings themselves, meaning that the person ultimately responsible for asking for constant permission is retroactively the person who gets accused.

In Georgia, a measure that would have required campus accusations of felony sexual assault to be handled by the police passed the House earlier this year, but died in the state Senate.

But in late March, all but one provision of the measure was incorporated into an unrelated piece of legislation as a substitute amendment, the College Fix reported.

The one provision not included would have required schools to proceed with an investigation only if the accuser participates. Under current law, accused students in Georgia can face disciplinary hearings without being able to confront their accuser.

Georgia lawmakers supporting the bill are responding to a system created at universities that requires a lower standard of proof and denies due process to the accused. It’s a system that’s bad for both the accused and the accuser.

 

Currently, the worst thing a college can do is expel a student, which punishes the innocent while putting actual rapists out on the street to harm others. This is, as attorney Adam Goldstein of the Student Press Law Center noted, the “best case scenario” for colleges, but the “worst case outcome of the criminal justice process.”

The best thing for victims is to lock away rapists, but that would require police involvement, evidence, and a narrower and more realistic definition of sexual assault, the point of the Georgia legislation.

As Trump pushes corporate tax cut, CBO notes the U.S. has world’s highest rate

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 10:28

As President Trump pushes for a reduction of the corporate tax rate, the Congressional Budget Office recently released a report showing that the U.S. rate is among the highest in the world.

POMERLEAU: CBO report is evidence the U.S. needs to cut its corporate income tax rate.

The Tax Foundation said that discourages investment and encourages profit sharing.

The CBO report noted the United States’ top federal statutory corporate income tax rate is 35 percent, and has been so since 1993. When including state taxes, the top rate is 39.1 percent, making America’s rate higher than any other G20 country. Japan is the closest at 37 percent.

America fared better — if only slightly — when examining average and marginal corporate tax rates. The average corporate tax rate, a measure of the total amount of corporate taxes a company pays as a share of its income, was 29 percent in the U.S., ranking the nation third. The effective marginal corporate tax rate, a measure of a corporation’s tax burden on returns from marginal investments, was an estimated 19 percent, or fourth highest among the G20.

Kyle Pomerleau, director of federal projects at the Tax Foundation, said these high rates are a reason why many think the U.S. should reform its corporate income tax. He noted that multi-national companies can shift profits out of the U.S. to reduce their tax burdens.

“If the next dollar of profits is taxed at the statutory rate, companies have an incentive to locate their profits in countries with lower statutory tax rates,” he said.

Pomerleau pointed out, too, that companies are more willing to pursue investments in countries with lower marginal tax rates, which usually mean those nations allow more deductions for new investments.

“The lower the marginal tax rate on new investment, the lower the pre-tax returns on those investments need to be to satisfy investors on an after-tax basis,” he said.

AT&T, for one, told analysts the company would make more investments in the U.S. if Trump successfully lobbied for the tax cut.

“We know at AT&T that if you saw tax rates move [lower] to 20 percent to 25 percent, we know what we would do — we would step up our investment levels,” Randall Stephenson, the company’s chief executive, said of a cut in the statutory rate.

But, like many politicians, Trump is finding his campaign promises — he vowed to reduce the rate to 15 percent several times during his presidential run — no easy feat. Insiders told the New York Times the target had been increased to 20 percent, but even that now seems unlikely, as a plan proposed by House Speaker Paul Ryan to drop the figure to that number hinged on the repeal of Obamacare.

The Times pointed out a tax package that would include a cut in the corporate rate is likely to be as high as 28 percent — a number pushed by former President Obama the last few years of his presidency. That’s because it would take a rate that high to be deficit neutral after 10 years, as pointed out by Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform. A bill with a deficit neutral status would allow the Senate to pass it with a simple majority because the legislation would be considered as budget reconciliation.

Johnny Kampis reports on national issues for Watchdog.org. Contact him at jkampis@watchdog.org and on Twitter.

Voters choose Evers, $464.7 million in new bonding for schools

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 09:32

WAUKESHA, Wis. – Education was on the ballot in the spring election Tuesday. In addition to the election for the nonpartisan state Superintendent for Public Instruction, 44 school districts asked voters for more money to support education.

EVERS WINS EASILY: Incumbent Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Evers, an opponent of expanding private school vouchers won easily in Tuesday’s election with 70 percent of the vote.

Incumbent Superintendent Tony Evers easily defeated Lowell Holtz, the former superintendent of the Whitnall and Beloit school districts, with 70 percent of the vote. Evers was backed by teachers unions and received support from the Democratic Party. He has been critical of expanding private school vouchers.

Holtz was a supporter of private school vouchers and made opposition to Common Core standards an issue in the campaign. His campaign was hampered by allegations that he sought a position with the state Department of Public Instruction in exchange for dropping out of the race in favor of another candidate, John Humphries, who lost in the February primary election. Holtz’s campaign was also unable to match Evers’ television advertising expenditures.

On election night, Evers said he received bipartisan support for his campaign.

“I think there are Republicans who are supporting me out there,” Evers told the Associated Press. “They may not want to say it out loud.”

Holtz said the campaign gave him a platform to “raise serious issues regarding the condition of education in Wisconsin.”

“I wish Dr. Evers well in his new term, and I hope this campaign has broadened the way people view education reform in the State of Wisconsin,” Holtz said in a statement.

Wisconsin’s school districts had mixed results on ballot questions, with 40 of 65 referendums passing on Tuesday.

State law imposes limits on school district tax levying authority as a way to hold down property taxes. School districts can exceed the limits by asking voters to approve an increase through a referendum. Of the 36 referendums to exceed the state’s revenue limits, 24 passed.

The largest of the referendums to exceed the caps occurred in Green Bay. Voters approved, with 62.7 percent of the vote, an increase of $16.5 million over the revenue caps for 10 years.

In the West Allis-West Milwaukee School District, voters rejected a request to exceed state revenue limits by $2.5 million each of the next five years. According to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the district wiped out $17.5 million in reserves over 10 years. The overspending included at least $14 million during the 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.

School districts also may go to referendum to ask for bonding authority to borrow for construction or maintenance. Voters approved 16 of 29 of these referendums for a total of $464.7 million in new bonding.

In the Verona Area School District, voters approved nearly $183 million in bonding for capital improvements in two referendums. The larger bonding referendum, suported with 72.7 percent of the vote, will allow the district to spend $162.8 million on a new high school, the largest bonding referendum this year.

The second referendum, for $18.5 million in bonding, which passed with 60.8 percent of the vote, will allow the district to build an indoor swimming pool and two athletic fields at the high school. Voters approved another $2.29 million in increased spending over the state revenue caps every year to cover increased operational costs resulting from the expanded facilities.

The spending will be mitigated by an additional $140 million in additional tax revenue over the next 20 years from a now-closed tax incremental financing district, according to the Wisconsin State Journal. If the referendum for the new high school had not passed, property taxes would have decreased by $2.53 per $1000 in value. Instead, taxes will increase $.42 per thousand, a net change of $2.97 per $1000 or $742.50 for a $250,000 home.

SEE RELATED: ‘Informational materials?’ School districts spend more than $325,000 to advertise referendums

Meanwhile, the Arrowhead Union High School District referendum for $36.7 million in bonding for a campus-wide building improvement program was rejected by 62 percent of the voters.

This was the second referendum attempt by the school district to ask the voters for bonding authority in six months. In November, the district asked voters for $64.7 million in borrowing authority for renovations and construction. That referendum failed with 54.3 percent voting no. The district also asked for an additional $173,000 annually from the taxpayers for operational costs, and that referendum failed with 56 percent voting no.

A bill in the state legislature last year authored by Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, that would require a year between referendums failed to receive a floor vote.

James Wigderson reports for Wisconsin Watchdog. Contact him at jwigderson@watchdog.org and follow him on Twitter @jwigderson.

Town clerk says Selectboard ‘on a power trip’ in alleged voter fraud case

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 09:08

ALLEGED VOTER FRAUD: Carol Easter, center, is a defendant in a case before the Vermont Superior Court that accuses her and others of participating in voter fraud. This week, she spoke out against two Selectboard members who are trying to exclude her husband, Lionel Easter, from the board. Lionel Easter is one of two board candidates awaiting a run-off election that has been postponed by a judge’s order.

VICTORY, Vt. — A Vermont town clerk at the center of a voter fraud lawsuit claims that two members of the local three-person Selectboard are “on a power trip” to get her.

The assertion came a week after Victory Town Clerk-Treasurer Carol Easter told Essex County Superior Court Judge Elizabeth Mann that a security camera was used to spy on her. Easter, a defendant in a voter fraud case before the court, alleges that Selectboard member Walt Mitchell did the spying.

Easter told Vermont Watchdog she believes local officials are being “downright devious” and hounding her. She also said they are plotting to exclude her husband, Lionel Easter, from the board.

At a March 28 hearing, the court issued a temporary restraining order to stop a a scheduled April 5 Selectboard run-off election between incumbent Lionel Easter (Carol Easter’s husband) and Otis McKennistry. The pair deadlocked in a tie on Town Meeting Day, March 7.

Judge Mann cancelled the planned run-off election, claiming that the town’s voter checklist contains unqualified voters and non-residents. A new date for election will be set at a May 4 hearing.

Attorney Deborah Bucknam, representing plaintiff Tracey Martel, alleged in a March 21 complaint and mandamus petition that 18 defendants engaged in “massive voter fraud” by placing non-residents on the voter checklist. Martel, who ran against Carol Easter in the March 7 clerk and treasurer races and lost by fewer than four votes, is likely to seek her own re-vote.

A helping hand?

In addition to concerns about her management of the voter checklist, Carol Easter is accused of having helped a voter fill out a ballot during Town Meeting Day — an accusation she denied.

“I did not fill out a ballot for another voter,” Easter told Watchdog.

“The voter that is in question … sometimes has a hard time comprehending something, especially if it’s a long passage [of text]. … She asked me for help. She did not understand the questions and so I explained it to her. … She made up her own mind. I did not mark her ballot in any way.”

At last week’s court hearing, Easter said that the accusation of marking a ballot stems from images captured by an electronic camera in town hall, which supposedly shows her placing a mark on the voter’s ballot.

“That security camera was put in that building for safety purposes,” Easter said. “But [Selectman] Walt Mitchell … cut the lock off from the camera [cabinet] and put his own lock on, and would not let anybody get into that cabinet. Finally, he let my husband [Lionel Easter] in there one day and guess what: The user manual and the password are gone. That camera has been used to spy on me.”

“Harassing me”

The town clerk alleges that Selectboard members Mitchell and Walt Neborsky want her husband off the board.

“These two selectmen had a meeting in Montpelier with the town’s attorney Dan Richardson to discuss the run-off,” Carol Easter said. “My husband Lionel received a telephone call at 3 p.m. about this meeting being held at 10 a.m. the next day. Well, he’s on oxygen getting over a severe case of shingles, so he asked the men if he could phone-in to attend. Neborsky said ‘no.’ Now, according to state law, Lionel had a right to be a part of that meeting.”

She added that the Selectboard members’ actions showed a partisan support for run-off candidate McKinnistry, even before the re-vote can be rescheduled.

In response to another accusation from Bucknam’s complaint that Easter intentionally mishandled absentee ballots for political purposes, Carol Easter said her ballots were “on time and time stamped on a thumb drive.”

The town clerk told Vermont Watchdog that she had no personal or political axe to grind, or any reason to manipulate voters and the balloting process. “I get paid only a few dollars an hour for this position. I am in it for the taxpayer, not for personal advantage,” Easter said.

Walt Mitchell Mitchell and Otis McKinnistry did not return Watchdog’s request for comment.

Lou Varricchio is the bureau chief for Vermont Watchdog.org. You can contact him at lvarricchio@watchdog.org.

Arizona undertakes sweeping reform of occupational licensing laws

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 07:25

This past week saw two major reforms for Arizona’s occupational licensing regime, which could kick off a lightening of the regulatory burden in the state.

On March 29, Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey issued an executive order requiring all state licensing boards to report on their minimum requirements for obtaining an occupational license. Should those requirements exceed national averages, the order requires that boards justify them in “specific reference to potential harm to individual Arizonans.”

REGULATION: Gov. Doug Ducey signed off on two major reforms to Arizona’s occupational licensing regulations.

This was followed by an even more sweeping change on March 30, when Ducey signed SB 1437 into law.

Known as the Right to Earn a Living Act, the legislation restricts Arizona’s regulatory boards from issuing regulations which “on their face or in their effect limit in the entry into a profession or trade,” unless they can be shown necessary to the health and safety of Arizonans.

Taken together, these reforms represent a sweeping change to Arizona’s occupational licensing regime, which is considered one of the most burdensome in the nation.

The burden that occupational licensing places on individuals and the economy has become an increasingly salient and bipartisan issue in recent years. In 2012, the Institute for Justice, a public interest law firm, released an exhaustive report on the topic. Titled “License to Work,” the study found that occupational licensing laws in the U.S. were costing the country almost three million jobs and over $200 billion a year.

“[Occupational licensing] does this by preventing competition, by preventing people from working in a field,” said Paul Avelar, an attorney with Institute for Justice Arizona. “When you have fewer professionals in a field, you have higher prices for consumers.”

This conclusion was supported by a 2015 nationwide study on occupational licensing published by the Obama White House. This report found that a quarter of professions required some form of licensure, a five-fold increase since the 1950s, when only 5 percent of occupations needed a government permission slip.

The end result of this growth in professional regulation, according to the White House report, was to “raise the price of goods and services, restrict employment opportunities, and make it more difficult for workers to take their skills across State lines.”

Arizona, despite its free market reputation, has proven particularly restrictive in terms of occupational licensing. The 2012 Institute for Justice report ranked Arizona the sixth most restrictive state in the country.

Most of this, Avelar says, is due to the sheer number of professions that Arizona has licensed. Some 64 low-to-moderate income professions in the Grand Canyon State require licenses, including even door repairmen and security alarm installers.

Arizona’s state regulatory boards, which are responsible for establishing licensing requirements, have been aggressive in how they use their authority. In one instance, a Tucson resident was investigated for offering free haircuts to the homeless without a license by the State Board of Cosmetology.

The board eventually backed down after Ducey sent a scathing letter calling for them to end their “outrageous” investigation. Ducey called the free haircuts “exactly the kind of citizenship we should be encouraging and celebrating.”

Indeed, Ducey has made reforming occupational licensing a major focus of his administration. His first action upon taking office in 2015 was to issue a moritorium on regulatory rulemaking by state agencies. This was followed by taking aim at Arizona’s licensing laws in his second State of the State address, where Ducey said the practice resulted in “a maze of bureaucracy for small business people looking to earn an honest living.”

“The state of Arizona actually licenses talent agents. I say let’s leave the job of finding new talent to Adam Levine and Gwen Stefani, not state government,” he said in the address.

That same year, Ducey worked closely with the Legislature on two bills that would have substantially reorganized the state’s healthcare licensing board. But as Watchdog previously reported, those efforts were frustrated when opposition from board members forced a withdrawal of one bill and amended another to the extent that Ducey vetoed it.

Since that initial defeat, momentum for reform has only grown.

At the beginning of the legislative session, Senator Barto, a Scottsdale-area Republican, introduced the aforementioned Right to Earn a Living Act, working in conjunction with the Goldwater Institute, a free-market think tank.

The purpose of that bill, according to Goldwater Institute attorney Jonathan Riches, is to shift the burden of justifying regulations off the citizen and onto the government. Riches said this would stop courts from “rubber-stamping impairments to getting a license.”

Riches also said he hopes the new judicial standards now applicable to occupational licensing will get regulators to think more about the impact of regulations.

SB 1437 encountered some opposition from Democrats, however. During the March 30 House session, state Rep. Kirsten Engel, D-Tucson, fretted that requiring government to show a public health necessity for new regulations might to be too stringent a standard. Still, the House passed the bill by a 34-20 vote, and the governor signed it later that day.

Combined with Ducey’s order for a comprehensive review of state licensing regulation, Arizona could move from one of the most restrictive occupational licensing states to one of the freest.

Christian Britschgi is a reporter for Arizona Watchdog. Contact him at cbritschgi@watchdog.com and on Twitter @christianbrits.

Town votes again to table gun-range restrictions

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 04:23

WILLISTON, Vt. — For the second time this year, the Williston Selectboard had on its agenda an ordinance that would have substantially limited operations for the North Country Sportsman’s Club. And for the second time this year, the board voted to table the proposal.

Not quite as many orange vests filled up the room as in February, but enough hunters showed up to make their presence felt. And many wondered why the board was going over this well-trod ground again, especially since the parties are awaiting a Supreme Court decision on a suit the club filed against the town in mid-2015 over noise-ordinance citations.

FALSE ALARM: The Town of Williston has twice considered a sound ordinance that would have substantially limited operations of the North Country Sportsmen’s Club.

“There’s a lot of folks out there wonder why this is coming now when almost certainly there is going to be a Vermont Supreme Court decision within the next month,” said Evan Hughes, vice president of the Vermont Federation of Sportsmen’s Clubs. “It’s causing a lot of questions about why this is going on tonight.”

Town Manager Richard McGuire addressed that concern at the start of the meeting.

“If the board makes a decision on this tonight, then you may not have to make a change after that [Supreme Court] decision is made,” he said. “Of course, there’s no certainty on that. the Supreme Court decision could change the nature of what the rules are. If the amendments are not adopted, then we are guaranteed going to have to make a change.”

Hughes saw no reason to act before they had to.

“I would suggest that the board wait and see what the Supreme Court comes down with and not lend itself into a lot of speculation as to why you are doing this at this late hour,” Hughes said.

Bob Otty, president of the North Country Sportsmen’s Club board, also spoke, telling the Selectboard that if the town wishes to continue to have constructive dialogue with the club on how to resolve the matter, it would be in everyone’s best interest to wait on the court.

“We’ve been around and around on this and I think there are additional comments that could be made but they may be a moot point depending on what the board’s inclination is for this evening,” he said.

The outcome could have implications for towns and ranges across the state, Hughes said, because lying at the heart of the dispute is the Vermont Sportsmen’s Bill of Rights.

“To regulate or prohibit the use or discharge, but not possession of, firearms within the municipality or specified portions thereof, provided that an ordinance adopted under this subdivision shall be consistent with section 2295 of this title and shall not prohibit, reduce, or limit discharge at any existing sport shooting range, as that term is defined in 10 V.S.A. § 5227,” reads the relevant statute, 24 V.S.A. § 2291. “Nor shall this ordinance apply to the discharge of firearms on any existing sport shooting range, as defined in 10 V.S.A., section 5227.”

Hughes added that Williston has adopted its own firearm discharge ordinance for gun range operations that models the language of the Sportsmen’s Bill of Rights.

While the Selectboard’s decision to table the proposal came after about 10 minutes of discussion, there was still some impassioned statements in defense of the value of the range to the community. John Vibber, club member and former board member, tried to persuade board members that they should look at the club as an asset, not a liability.

“Given what we see elsewhere, should we take our culture for granted?” he said. “If you lose it, you won’t get it back. Hopefully we can maintain this culture if our next generation of gun owners continues to get their gun safety and proficiency instructions from parents and relatives as well as from 4-H and Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts alike, but they will not be safe shooters from those lessons alone. Maintaining safety and proficiency comes from continued practice.”

Michael Bielawski is a reporter for Vermont Watchdog.org. You can contact him at mbielawski@watchdog.org.

SSA whistleblowers ask, where’s the justice?

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 16:24
Part 60 of 61 in the series Deadly Delays

MADISON, Wis. – Now that a federal investigation has found multiple examples of misconduct and abuse at a Wisconsin Social Security Administration office, some employees who blew the whistle have one question: When will justice be served?

WHISTLEBLOWER QUESTION: Two months after federal investigators substantiated many of their misconduct allegations at a Madison Social Security Administration office, whistleblowers want to know what, if anything, will happen to the wrongdoers.

In February, SSA’s Office of the Inspector General released a fact sheet on its lengthy investigation into the Madison Office of Disability Adjudication and Review. Among other incidents of misconduct, investigators found that the director of the scandal-plagued hearing office used official leave and sick leave to gamble at an area casino, while a group supervisor got paid a full day’s wage to watch a Green Bay Packers football game at Lambeau Field.

The fact sheet states the law was broken at the Madison ODAR facility and that managers held whistleblowers to significantly stricter standards than other staff.

“An Office of Inspector General investigation found serious problems, including time and attendance fraud, and showed that two whistleblowers in the office experienced disparate treatment from other workers,” U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson wrote SSA’s acting commissioner. “I request information about how SSA will address these problems.”

As of last week, the agency had yet to comply, once again asking for more time to respond.

Johnson is chairman of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, which in June launched an inquiry into the Madison and Milwaukee ODAR offices.

OIG investigators found that the employee who took in the Packers game on taxpayer time, former Madison ODAR group supervisor Wayne Gentz according to multiple sources close to the situation, “violated federal law, federal regulations, and the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch.”

Former Hearing Office Director Laura Hodorowicz “used official and sick leave to gamble at an area casino,” Johnson wrote. “The OIG found this conduct violated federal law and federal regulations.”

Hodorowicz, accused of leading a “culture of corruption and cover-up” at the Madison office, was removed from the office and relieved of her management duties in August amid the OIG investigation.

Gentz, too, was removed from the office and his position.

Both remain on the agency payroll, working for SSA’s Chicago-based Region 5 remotely from their homes, according to sources.

Meanwhile, whistleblowers claim they continue to be retaliated against, some forced to fight for telework accommodations necessitated by their declining health. Those health problems, they say, are directly related to the stress they have experienced in their long and painful whistleblower odyssey.

“Are they (Gentz and Hodorowicz) having to fight to work from home?  Laura should have actually been fired but there she is, sitting in the comfort of her own home, collecting six figures,” one SSA whistleblower said.

Asked about the status of the Madison ODAR managers, Doug Nguyen, SSA regional spokesman, said what he has often said, that the agency cannot comment on confidential personnel matters.

“The agency is committed to ensuring a workplace free of harassment and retaliation for all employees,” Nguyen said in an email response to Wisconsin Watchedog. “We are working proactively in that regard.”

Amid multiple federal investigations last fall, two top administrators for the Chicago region said they would be stepping down. They haven’t.

In October, it was announced that  Sherry D. Thompson, chief administrative law judge for SSA’s Region 5, and Assistant Regional Chief Administrative Law Judge John J. Rabaut would be resigning from their leadership positions at the end of 2016.

As of this week, Thompson and Rabaut remained at their posts. Nguyen did not comment on the administrators’ status.

At the time, Gregory Senden, a representative for the government union that represents many SSA employees, sent an email to several staff members advising of the changes.

“Hopefully the new leadership that is chosen will be effective and professional, and willing to work with AFGE (American Federation of Government Employees) to improve the morale of ODAR employees and improve service to the public that we serve,” Senden wrote in the email obtained by Wisconsin Watchdog.

RELATED: Read Wisconsin Watchdog’s series, Deadly Delays, here.

M.D. Kittle is bureau chief for Wisconsin Watchdog and First Amendment reporter for Watchdog.org. Contact him at mkittle@watchdog.org.

Treasurer: ‘Glaring example of stupidity’ to cost taxpayers $90 million in rent payments

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 14:57

MADISON, Wis. – The state official who has campaigned on eliminating his own position says he wants to provide a greater public service to taxpayers before he goes.

WASTE SPOTLIGHT: State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk in the coming weeks intends to shine a light on wasteful state leases.

In the weeks ahead, State Treasurer Matt Adamczyk says he plans on issuing periodic press releases detailing  costly state property leases.

And the treasurer has a doozy to start.

Adamczyk asserts the state is on track to waste $90 million on one “bad” lease over its 20-year extended life.

“This is a glaring example of stupidity,” the treasure said of the sprawling Wisconsin Department of Corrections headquarters, currently leased at north of $5 million a year.

As Wisconsin Watchdog first reported in December 2015, the lease will cost taxpayers more than $51 million over a decade, between fiscal 2012 and fiscal 2021, according to a copy of the lease.

That’s nearly three times the $14.38 million assessed value of the 14-acre property in 2015.

The state will pay nearly $1.1 million more in escalating lease payments over the period, with annual payments rising from $4.6 million in fiscal 2012 to $5.697 million in fiscal year 2021.

The  last-minute deal — some say a “sweetheart deal” —  was orchestrated between then-Gov. Jim Doyle’s administration and a Madison real estate firm.

MIG Commercial Real Estate signed the five-year extension on Dec. 22, 2010, just days before Democrat Doyle’s second term ended and his successor, Republican Gov. Scott Walker, took office.

But Adamczyk says the suspect stewardship of taxpayer money goes back more than a decade before, to the end of Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson’s tenure.

In 2000, the DOC and the Department of Revenue were each in need of more than 200,000 square feet of office space. State leasing agents took two very different approaches to meet those needs.

The state constructed a new building for Revenue, at a cost of $30.1 million. The total bonded cost was around $45 million. That property, Adamczyk noted, was built to state specifications and constructed to last half a century. He said the state will own the building outright in the next few years.

State leasing agents opted to rent space for Corrections. Rent payments began in July 2001. Over the 20-year life of the lease, total rent payments are expected to hit $90 million.

“What does this mean for us taxpayers?  Well, it’s not good,” Adamczyk said in the press release. “Over those two decades from about 2000 until 2020 the DOC building will cost taxpayers about TWICE as much as the DOR building for similar square footage. What’s worse, at the end of the lease in 2021 the state will not own the DOC building and will need to either continue renting or build a new facility.”

Bradley L. Hutter, president of MIG, told Wisconsin Watchdog in December 2015 that the extended agreement has been a good deal for taxpayers. The deal did provide the state with hundreds of thousands of dollars in allowances, including carpet and lighting upgrades. But the bigger savings came from the ability of a far-flung Department of Corrections to consolidate and put all of its administrative operations under one roof, the developer said.

PRICEY PROPERTIES: Lawmakers say the state’s Madison-centric focus on agency building sites has driven up lease costs, ultimately paid for by taxpayers.

Adamczyk said spending $90 million on rent payments for a Department of Corrections building with nothing to show for it is a “terrible deal for taxpayers.”

An official with the Department of Administration, the agency that negotiated the deal, agreed the 2010 lease extension was “not a good deal for taxpayers.”

DOA spokesman Steve Michels said that under Walker’s leadership, the Department of Administration has focused on reducing the state’s overall office footprint and consolidating agencies to state-owned buildings.

“In fact, the Madison Master Plan and construction of the New Hill Farms building reduces by 15 the number of state leases in privately owned buildings scattered throughout Madison, saving taxpayers more than $3 million a year in rent, maintenance and energy costs,” Michels said in an email to Wisconsin Watchdog.

He said the DOC lease is set to expire in June 2021. What happens next is on the table.

“As part of our long-term planning, we are gathering space needs and requirements in order to complete a request for proposal.  The competitive proposal is projected to be released in spring of 2018,” he said.

Rent control

Fiscal hawks like Adamczyk say there’s a long way to go to roll back leasing agreements that are soaking taxpayers.

Lawmakers have proposed legislation requiring more oversight of big-ticket government leases. A bill authored by state Rep. Rob Hutton, R-Brookfield, and  state Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, would require DOA to conduct a cost-benefit analysis before signing a lease. And the bill requires the secretary of the Department of Administration to sign the contract. All leases totaling more than $500,000 must be submitted for a 14-day “passive review” by the Joint Committee on Finance.

Another bill, by state Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, R-West Allis, and Sen. David Craig, R-Town of Vernon, aims to change a Madison-centric point of view when it comes to state agency real estate.

The measure would require the DOA to identify the “most appropriate and cost efficient locations to place an agency when securing or renewing a lease.” Leasing agents would have to consider situating a state agency where it provides the most services, and identify multiple locations – at least two of which are outside Dane County.

“You see these buildings all right there around the Capitol, for the most part,” the lawmaker told Wisconsin Watchdog last month. “These landlords know (about the DOA policy) and they screw us 10 times from Sunday when it comes to these leases.”

RELATED: Bill aims to change Madison-centric state leases

Adamczyk proposes the state tap into the resources of the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands to save taxpayer money. The treasurer is one of three members of Wisconsin’s oldest state agency, serving alongside Secretary of State Doug La Follette, and Attorney General Brad Schimel. They preside over the School Trust Funds, with $1 billion in Trust Fund assets and more than 77,000 acres of School Trust Lands.

Adamczyk said the BCPL has plenty of money available, earning almost no interest in the current low short-term interest climate. The board could “easily write” checks to pay for construction of agency buildings, collecting rent on them.  Any rental income profits the BCPL receives must constitutionally flow back to all K-12 public schools yearly on a per pupil basis.

It’s a double-win, the treasurer said. Taxpayer money for rent would “flow back to the same taxpayers that paid the rent.”

“I’m a fiscal conservative. It is amazing for me to say that building these buildings is more efficient than renting them from some real estate firm,” Adamczyk said. “If we’re going to have these state employees, and I think we are, they need to be housed somewhere. Why not put them where it’s more efficient and costs less?”

Candidates seek to replace conservative Rep. Job Tate

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 14:55

Rep. Job Tate, R-Mendon, is resigning due to the deployment of his U.S. Naval reserve unit.

Editor’s note: This article was updated at 10:45 a.m. Thursday.

Last week, Rep. Job Tate, R-Mendon, announced he was leaving his seat in the Vermont House due to the deployment of his U.S. naval unit. The replacement candidates now under consideration are unlikely to have the same conservative credentials.

On Friday, the Rutland County GOP presented the governor with a list of three candidates who could replace Tate. With 51 votes needed to preserve a veto from Republican Gov. Phil Scott, each of the current 53 Republican seats is direly important, and few successors are likely to be as conservative as Tate.

Scott began interviewing candidates this week, and Tate informed the governor that April 14 is his deadline.

RELATED: State Rep. Job Tate’s replacement won’t be as conservative as he is

The U.S. Naval Construction Battalions, of which Tate is a reservist, is based in Gulfport, Mississippi.  The unit is an expeditionary force and handles initial construction and infrastructure needs of the Navy, usually in hostile areas.

Tate is an explosives specialist and heavy equipment operator. As a courtesy to the rest of his unit, he has not disclosed details of the deployment.

Meet candidate Dave Soucy

Dave Soucy, one of the three on the Tate replacement list, has been general manager for the Green Mountain National Golf Course in Killington for the past 11 years. The job requires regular coordination with local government.

DAVE SOUCY: general manager for the Green Mountain National Golf Course in Killington.

“I’m used to municipal government,” Soucy told Watchdog. “Vermont is a small state, and our politics are close to home.”

Before working for the golf course, Soucy started several Vermont businesses, experience he says informs his economic policy. “I know what it’s like to run a business in Vermont and how difficult it is.”

When asked about his views on a Democrat proposal to raise Vermont’s minimum wage, he added, “I’d have a difficult time doing that. It’s not easy to give people good jobs. … At this point I would not support it.”

Soucy said that, if elected, he has a plan to get caught up: “I’m a voracious reader anyway, so I will read everything possible. I’ll reach out to Republican leadership to get their views and get information from other legislators. It’s difficult to take a position when following important topics through the press unless you’ve read all the documentation.”

He says his economic policies are conservative and align with Tate’s. However, he was hesitant to confirm his views on social issues in the state. “The only way I really can do this job is to look at issues and look at what is in constituents’ best interest. I can’t function if I’m worrying about what Job would have done.”

Soucy approached the Vermont Republican Party after he heard Tate’s chair would be vacant. He said that trips to Montpelier and coordinating with lawmakers in connection to the golf course has piqued his interest to take his political involvement to the next step.

Meet candidate Jim Harrison

Jim Harrison lives in North Chittenden with his wife, Pat. Last year, he retired from a 30-year position as president of the Vermont Retail and Grocers Association. The organization represents 800 retail stores, 200 suppliers and 120 food producers in Vermont. Through this position he participated in lobbying and policy efforts in Montpelier.

“Given my experience at the Statehouse, I am very familiar with many of the issues before them. I keep up with the daily House and Senate agendas and stay informed through conversations with lawmakers,” Harrison told Watchdog.

Jim Harrison: 30 year president of the Vermont Retail and Grocers’ Association.

He added, “No doubt there are issues I am not as familiar with that I will need to get more knowledgeable on if appointed, but I feel confident I could be up to speed very quickly.”

Harrison said his focus is on economics, lowering taxes and job creation. He wants to take a hard look at permitting processes for businesses, find ways to increase state bargaining power, and generate competition for state funds going toward utilities and insurance.

As president of an association that employs a high number of minimum wage workers, Harrison also rejects a raise in the minimum wage.

“A strong economy will do more to increase everyone’s wages than a new dictate from Montpelier,” he said. “Additionally, a significantly higher minimum wage will cause some loss in jobs, which could actually hurt many people that such proposals are trying to help.”

Harrison said he shares Tate’s embrace of fiscal conservatism. “Overall, I think we share a lot of similarities in a fiscally conservative approach to our state budget and supporting positions on legislation that are pro-economy. Like any two individuals, I am sure there are differences in how we may approach some issues.”

Meet candidate Whit Montgomery

Whit Montgomery, the third candidate nominated, is Killington’s police chief and a former constable. He graduated from the Vermont Police Academy in 1999 and began his 14-year career working as part of Killington’s law enforcement. He co-founded Killington Search and Rescue, a nonprofit specializing in rural, limited-access emergency response.

Montgomery did not respond to Watchdog’s request for an interview.

Emma Lamberton is Vermont Watchdog’s health care and Rutland area reporter. Contact her at elamberton@watchdog.org and @EmmaBeth9.

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