MacIver Institute

Subscribe to MacIver Institute feed
Updated: 2 hours 47 min ago

DOT Saves $46.7 Million On Road Project Bids

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 11:55

MacIver News Service | August 2, 2017

By: Bill Osmulski

[Madison, Wisc...] Decreased construction costs and effective bidding are helping the Wisconsin Department of Transportation get its highway projects ahead of schedule, while at the same time providing budget relief, according to DOT Secretary Dave Ross.

On Tuesday, the department released its August report on major and mega projects to the Transportation Projects Commission (TPC). There are currently 15 major and 2 mega enumerated projects.

Last fiscal year, the DOT saved $46.7 million on the majors from let savings, which means vendor bids came in lower than expected. That was due, in part, to lower construction costs. The Wisconsin Construction Cost Index dropped 5.3 percent last year. On top of those lower costs, bidding has also become more competitive recently.

"There's less work especially on the majors, so that meant a lot more competition for those jobs," Jeff Gust, Wisconsin state highway program director told MacIver News. "Everyone's sharpening their pencils."

That $46.7 million in savings allowed it to start work on US Highway 10/441 ahead of schedule. Gust said it was a project that could be completed quickly with maximum benefit to the public.

Since Ross took over, the department has adopted new accounting methods. Before, project costs included reserve funds allocated for a project, but were oftentimes left unused. That inflated the perceived cost of projects. Since eliminating that practice, project cost estimates have dropped by $214 million. Ross said that is merely an accounting change made for the sake of transparency.

"These estimate changes do not make any additional funds available for current spending, but instead only adjust the total cost to complete each individual Majors project," Ross wrote in the report.

The DOT still has $13.1 million left from the let savings. It intends to use those funds to leverage more federal matching dollars later this year.

Altogether, the DOT's current cost estimates are $49 million less than what Governor Walker's budget proposal allots.

Vos Addresses Concerns Over Foxconn Incentives

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 11:42

MacIver News Service | August 1, 2017

By Bill Osmulski

[Madison, Wisc...] The Wisconsin legislature began a special session on Tuesday to take up a bill providing $3 billion in incentives to Foxconn, in exchange for investing $10 billion in a new factory that is expected to create up to 13,000 family supporting jobs. Most of those incentives are in the form of tax credits, which provides some protection to the state in case the deal falls through. MNS' Bill Osmulski has more.

Wisconsin Graduation Rate Decreases, but Achievement Gap Narrows

Wed, 08/02/2017 - 11:26

MacIver News Service | August 2, 2017

[Madison, Wis...] Wisconsin's four-year high school graduation rate fell slightly in 2016 compared to the year prior, according to a new data release by the Department of Public Instruction (DPI). Overall, 88.2 percent of students graduated in four years, down from 88.4 percent in 2015.

At the same time, achievement gaps, particularly between White and Black students, narrowed. The diploma achievement gap for White and Black students is now 28.5 percent, down from 28.9 percent the year prior.

Black and Hispanic/Latino students were the only racial and ethnic groups to improve their graduation rates over 2015. The data release shows 64.2 percent of Black students graduated in four years, up from 64.0 in 2015. Hispanic and Latino students showed the largest single-year improvement, with 79.9 percent of students graduating in four years, up from 77.5 percent the previous year.

Compared to five years prior, all racial and ethnic groups have improved their graduation rates, but Hispanic and Latino students posted the greatest overall improvements.

Students at Milwaukee Public Schools, the state's largest and most troubled school district, improved their graduation rate by 0.5 percent over the previous year, with 59.7 percent of MPS students graduating in four years. Over the last five years, the graduation rate at MPS has trended generally downwards and is still nearly 30 points below the statewide average. In 2012, 61.8 percent of MPS students graduated in four years.


Unlike in past years, State Superintendent Tony Evers did not release a public statement about the data release. The data was released to the public several months later than its usual spring release.

The data also came with massive "asterisks" in the form of data errata, or corrections, for 19 school districts. According to a DPI letter, the data "contains known errors identified after the collection closed, which are not corrected for the certified report." As a result, data for certain districts was removed from statewide totals and in some cases does not match statewide numbers.

Correct graduation rates will be included in high school report cards, which will be released this fall.

Foxconn First, Budget Next, Or The Other Way Around?

Tue, 08/01/2017 - 18:38

MacIver News Service | Aug. 1, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wisc...] Assembly Republicans say they want to act swiftly but diligently on a $3 billion incentives package for mammoth electronics manufacturer Foxconn and its plan to build a $10 billion factory in Wisconsin.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, however, is calling for a more deliberative pace and a focus first on finishing the state budget - now a month late.

On Tuesday, four days after Gov. Scott Walker called the Legislature into special session to consider the unprecedented, $3 billion economic development proposal, Assembly Republicans packed the Assembly parlor for a press conference on the package and that legislative plan of action.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) said the hope is to have the bill to the floor by the middle of the month.

But Fitzgerald and his caucus say, slow it down, folks.

"I think the members here were kind of like, 'We need more information. We want to see something from the (Legislative) Fiscal Bureau...' Until we have that stuff we're just going to continue to focus on the state budget and make sure we can hopefully get the finance committee back in," the Juneau Republican told reporters late Tuesday afternoon.

"...(L)et's get the state budget done. Let's give K-12 their funding numbers. Let's make sure everyone knows we've got this under control before we try to jump in with both feet on Foxconn," the senator added.

.@SenFitzgerald after caucus today: Let's focus on the budget before diving feet first on #Foxconn. #WIbudget #wipolitics pic.twitter.com/m2rDvK6a0D

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) August 1, 2017

Fitzgerald said his caucus, unlike Assembly Republicans, wants to see the Foxconn bill go through the Legislature's budget committee.

Walker has said he prefers the Foxconn bill and the budget advance on parallel tracks.

The proposal was introduced Tuesday in the Assembly Committee on Jobs and Economy, chaired by Rep. Adam Neylon. The Pewaukee Republican said the committee has scheduled a hearing for 1:30 Thursday. If all goes as planned, Neylon said, the committee could vote on the bill next Tuesday.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke says Republican leaders haven't received any "drop dead date" on when an incentives package must be in place, but time is of the essence.

"Obviously, in a situation like this we want to make sure we follow the process, but we also want to get it done in a shorter amount of time," he said.

Also Tuesday, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau released an 11-page policy memo on the Foxconn bill. The agency will publish a fiscal impact statement in the coming days.

Provisions of the incentives package include:

- Creation of Electronics and Information Technology Manufacturing (EITM) Zone. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp would be granted authority to create the zone and precisely where it would be located. Vos told reporters Tuesday that the site of the proposed Foxconn development - expected to stretch 20 million square feet (the size of 11 Lambeau Fields) - has not been selected yet.

- EITM Zone Payroll Credit. Foxconn would receive up to $1.5 billion in tax credits for creating as many as 13,000 jobs. Credits would be distributed on full-time jobs paying between $30,000 and $100,000 per year.

- Tax Credits for Capital Expenditures. Up to $1.35 billion in such tax credits would be available to Foxconn for "significant capital expenditures." The credits could not exceed 15 percent of Foxconn's capital expenditures in the EITM zone in the taxable year, according to the Fiscal Bureau memo. Credits would be distributed over a seven-year period. WEDC is required to adopt policies and procedures defining "significant capital expenditure."

- Sales Tax Exemption. Foxconn would receive up to $150 million in sales and use tax exemption for building materials, supplies, and equipment and taxable landscaping and lawn maintenance services involved in the construction of the massive plant.

"Let's remember, not a single dollar is paid out until one of two things occurs," Vos said. "No. 1, a shovel is in the ground...They won't get a single dollar until they've actually spent money on construction."

And Foxconn can tap into the payroll tax credits only if it's paying people to work at the plant, jobs expected to pay on average north of $54,000 a year.

"There really is about as much protection that we could put into the bill because it requires direct spending on construction or direct spending on paychecks" in order for Foxconn to realize the tax benefits.

But the bill puts state taxpayers on the hook for local development costs under a "Moral Obligation Pledge." The Legislature would, if called upon to do so, pay up to 40 percent of the principal and interest of a local government's obligations related to the Electronics and Information Technology Manufacturing Zone.

The bill also would authorize $252.4 million in general fund-supported bonds to help pay for the Interstate-94 North-South corridor project, part of the southeast Wisconsin freeway megaprojects program. The state Department of Transportation wouldn't be able to spend the money from the bonds unless the federal government provides matching assistance for the project.

Assembly Republicans have been adamantly against increased bonding to pay for transportation projects, while Senate Republicans have pushed for higher borrowing than the governor's transportation funding plan. GOP leadership in the Assembly has urged gas tax hikes and vehicle registration fees as sustainable solutions to Wisconsin's transportation infrastructure needs.

Vos noted Walker's previous compromise offer on bonding. The Assembly said at the time it would be willing to "use some bonding contingent on federal revenue," Vos said.

"I think in Gov. Walker's offer to us, he probably knew that this (Foxconn deal) was likely to happen," Vos said. "We accepted that offer so I would say the potential to do matching federal revenues was a major motivator for our caucus, at least be open-minded to it, but I think the $250 million is probably more of a cap than a floor."

Vos insists the incentives package has "almost zero" fiscal impact. In the grand scheme of things, he may be right. The state, if it pursues the I-94 North-South project bonding, would be looking at $2.94 million in additional debt service for 2018-19, and $10 million for a state grant program to assist local governments with infrastructure and public safety costs associated with the economic development project.

Environmentalists already are up in arms about the bill's provisions exempting the project from Department of Natural Resources' permitting requirements. Vos says the bill simply streamlines the permitting process. In some cases, he said, the bill strengthens environmental protections, like a provision requiring two acres of wetland replacement for every acre of wetlands disturbed.

The federal environmental process will be "as rigorous" as it is on any other project, the speaker said.

The federal regulatory approval quest has proved costly, if not deadly, for previous development projects, particularly during the previous presidential administration.

"We're always concerned about federal overreach and what they may do to gum up the works, but we're hopeful that under a new administration that they think along the same lines we do, that economic development is critical and we can both protect the environment and have economic development at the same time," Steineke said. "I'm hopeful we're living in a little different world than we had in the last eight years."

With President Donald Trump personally involved in the Wisconsin-Foxconn project and his administration's efforts to rein in regulators, it's likely the kind of bureaucratic delays once so prevalent won't dog the Foxconn development.

Attorney:Former Speech Cop Kevin Kennedy Broke John Doe Secrecy Law

Sun, 07/30/2017 - 17:57


[Madison, Wis...] Some guys just can't walk away.

Kevin Kennedy apparently is one of those guys.

Wisconsin's longest-serving free speech cop retired more than a year ago, on the verge of being unceremoniously shown the door. But the man who presided over the collapse of the state Government Accountability Board, in the wake of arguably Wisconsin's most infamous political investigation, likes to reminisce about the good old days.

Kennedy waxes nostalgic for a simpler time when, with the help of the now-deduct GAB, law enforcement agents could storm into the private homes of citizens at the break of dawn in pursuit of campaign finance law violations. He seems to long for the return of years-long spying operations from partisan prosecutors and "ethics" attorneys, collecting mountains of personal information ultimately used as opposition research by their friends on the political left.

And he seems to lament that multiple courts put an end to an unconstitutional investigation into just about every right-of-center organization in the state - an investigation deploying a "screamingly unconstitutional" tool that froze conservative speech and destroyed the lives of innocent people.

Kennedy shared his sob story of bureaucratic love and loss in December with an organization and people the career government administrator has often found succor - the innocuous-sounding Council on Governmental Ethics Laws, or COGEL. The acronym kind of sounds like cudgel, and that's a more fitting descriptor for a government regulator cabal efforting to reset the First Amendment in its likeness.

FIRST TEXT BOX - When Kennedy gave a speech to COGEL in 2016 break the secrecy order of the John Doe

In a presentation befitting a man who seems to be carrying a heavy martyr complex, Kennedy, according to multiple sources, broke down the fall of the GAB in 2015-16, when the Republican-controlled state Legislature put an end to the ruse that was the "nonpartisan" accountability board.

"A View to a Kill: A Behind-the Scenes Look at the Demise of the GAB" was Kennedy's chance to tell his sympathetic audience all about the ills of free-market speech and share some details about the years-long John Doe probe his agency helped lead.

That last bit of sharing not only showed incredibly poor judgment on the part of Mr. Kennedy, it could land him in serious legal trouble, according to an attorney who represented one of the targets of the Doe.

Bound by John Doe

Kennedy rolled out a PowerPoint presentation during his Tuesday, Dec. 13 morning chat with old speech cop pal and event moderator Michael Sullivan, director of the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the New Orleans conference. Sources confirm that, unlike many of the COGEL conference presentations, there is no public record of Kennedy's session. There are a few surviving photos and tweets on Twitter, government employee notes obtained by MacIver News Service, and the COGEL agenda description.

A source familiar with the situation said Kennedy showed the audience a copy of a Sept. 14, 2016 story from liberal British news publication, the Guardian, that included hundreds of pages of leaked documents from the court-sealed John Doe case.

"He put it on a projector PowerPoint with the (Guardian's) website address and told everybody to go and look at it," said the source, who asked not to be identified for fear of retaliation.

The Guardian story triggered a state Department of Justice criminal investigation to uncover whether those legally bound to protect the John Doe documents from public view broke the law.

Kevin Kennedy, it would seem, is one of the legally bound.

While he is no longer employed by the Wisconsin Ethics Commission, the successor of the Government Accountability Board, the GAB's former executive director and general council was a direct party in the administration of the John Doe investigation. Kennedy and his agents worked hand in hand with investigators and prosecutors of the Democrat-led Milwaukee County District Attorney's office, his board authorized the agency's role in the Doe, and the GAB's former contracted John Doe investigator was hand-picked to serve as the probe's special prosecutor.

Refresher: Wisconsin's John Doe procedure was established before statehood, and has long been used as a secret investigatory process to determine whether a crime may been committed. The secrecy surrounding them was designed to protect the reputations of those being investigated, should no charges ever come from the probe. Unlike its legal cousin, the grand jury, the John Doe is presided over by a judge with extraordinary power to compel witnesses to testify, not a jury of peers. It is not an adversarial process. John Doe judges work closely with prosecutors to make sure they have what they need to determine whether to bring charges forward. And, unlike a grand jury, targets in a John Doe procedure can't step out of the closed proceedings and declare their innocence. Doing so could land them in jail or heavily fined.

That is the threat that dozens of conservatives lived under for years, even as some had their homes raided, their private possessions rooted through, and their reputations ripped apart in state and national news publications.

Keeping secrets

But the John Doe law, reformed by the Legislature in 2015 to prohibit secret political probes, also demands secrecy from the officers of the Doe.

While the state Supreme Court in 2015 declared unconstitutional the John Doe investigation into 29 conservative groups and ordered the probe shut down, the legal secrecy order remains in effect for officers of the investigation.

That would include Kennedy, according to Madison defense attorney Dean Strang.

"I think that from what I know and the notes that I saw, he probably did violate the John Doe confidentiality requirements. It seems to me that is a real concern, that he was disclosing information that by statute can't be disclosed in that setting or by that person. That's how it struck me," said Strang, who represents one of the unnamed movants in the state lawsuit that brought down the Doe.

John Doe statute states a secrecy order "may only apply to the judge, a district attorney or other prosecuting attorney who participates in a proceeding under this section, law enforcement personnel admitted to a proceeding under this section," etc. The Government Accountability Board and staff were admitted to the John Doe investigation, "a decision made by the (Milwaukee County) district attorney and the John Doe judge..." Kennedy wrote in response - or nonresponse - to a previous open records request by state Sen. Rep. Dave Craig (R-Town of Vernon), who was a state representative at the time.

The John Doe law lays out that anyone (prohibited from doing so) who "intentionally discloses the contents of any oral, electronic or wire communication obtained by authority under (the statute), except as therein provided," is guilty of a Class H felony.

Kennedy also was bound by confidentiality language written into the law that created the now-defunct GAB over which he mourns. He and his staff members during the John Doe on many occasions told reporters that they could be in serious trouble if they said anything publicly about a John Doe investigation, or the agency's own probes. The GAB often declined comment on the John Doe investigation, citing the confidentiality clause.

"Were I to respond, I could be charged with a felony and face nine months in jail, a $10,000 fine or both," GAB spokesman Reid Magney told Wisconsin Watchdog during the John Doe legal battles. That provision in the main doesn't go away, even after a court closes out an investigation. That's what plenty of citizens caught up in the investigations over the years have been told.

It's not clear whether Kennedy would get a pass because he no longer is an employee of the GAB or its successor. Strang and other legal experts couldn't be certain.

Officials involved in the probe also are prohibited from disclosure under the orders of various courts.

'I don't remember'

Attempts to reach Kennedy, including at his Madison home and through several colleagues, were unsuccessful. Two top officials from the Ethics Commission said they did not know how to reach Kennedy. One of the commission staffers, David Buerger, is the current staff council who worked for Kennedy for years as an elections specialist in the old GAB.

Contacted by MacIver News Service Friday, Buerger acknowledged that he attended Kennedy's presentation. But he had a heck of a time remembering what his old boss said.

"I don't remember off the top of my head what his presentation included," Buerger said.

He claims he doesn't remember Kennedy showing the Guardian story and some of the accompanying leaked documents to the audience. He doesn't remember, as the source with knowledge of the event wrote down in his notes, Kennedy saying what those records really showed was Gov. Scott Walker and public officials (and the activists who agree with their limited-government policy goals) "groveling before rich and powerful men for political support of their agenda."

Walker's campaign officially was one of the 29 conservative groups swept up in the probe, but the quest clearly was to get the successful Republican governor.

Kennedy, according to the source, also compared Walker and the subjects of the Doe to "poor people we have run across in the French Quarter begging for food and sleeping in the street."

"What does it say about our democracy that the people who make our decisions are supplicating sycophants," Kennedy was heard saying in his COGEL discussion. "Like our treatment of people we see on the streets, the public tends not to solve the problem."

TEXTBOX

Of course, Buerger could always refer to his notes to jog his memory. He took a few pages during Kennedy's session, including a line on "John Doe II investigation," and "Guardian & O'Keefe releases of documents," according to documents obtained by MacIver News Service. The O'Keefe in question presumably is Eric O'Keefe, a political activist targeted in the campaign finance dragnet who, along with other conservatives, lost much in fighting back against the politically driven probe.

'Poor judgment'

Perharps Kennedy would explain that he released nothing that wasn't already publicly consumed from the Guardian coverage, and in the wave of publications that reprinted the court documents.

If all of that is true, Strang said Kennedy still did not display "great judgment."

"This is someone who was formerly the executive director of what was supposed to be an apolitical oversight agency engaging in a very charged political speech that I think would cause fair-minded people to wonder whether he took an apolitical position in the past and whether the same sort of charged viewpoint may persist in the staff who carried over into the successor agency (the Ethics Commission)," the attorney said. "I understand Kevin Kennedy is a private citizen. I'm talking about judgment here and fidelity to a past role."

****TEXTBOX

As they say in politics, the optics aren't real good. The former director of the "nonpartisan" accountability board publicly bashing the people targeted in the John Doe after years of claims he and his agency were not engaged in a partisan witch-hunt. The same "good government" guy the left has long gushed over is praising the reporting and discussing the leaked information from the Guardian, even as the state Department of Justice is collecting evidence and reportedly conducting interviews with former GAB staff about the same said leaks.

As MacIver News first reported, the ethics commission has to ask the governor's office to provide outside counsel to represent staff members in DOJ investigative interviews.

And what of Buerger and Ethics Commission administrator Brian Bell, who also attended Kennedy's presentation? Did they have a legal obligation to report this apparent breech of the John Doe confidentiality orders?

Well, they claim they don't remember much of what Kennedy said.

"I don't remember specifically what he showed in speaking about the Guardian (story) and I really am not as familiar with the restrictions of the John Doe other than what has been publicly reported," Bell said. At the time of Kennedy's chat, Bell said he was dealing with commission concerns and wasn't paying attention to much of it.

"None of the commission or staff are, to my understanding, covered by any of the secrecy orders related to the John Doe. I believe that was limited to the members of the GAB," he said.

What about the innocent people Kennedy, the GAB, the special prosecutor and the Milwaukee County District Attorney's office hounded - the ones who were told by law enforcement that they, their spouses, their children, could face steep penalties if they talked about the John Doe?

You'll forgive them if they have little sympathy for Kevin Kennedy and the "demise of the GAB."

FDA Pulls Back on Burdensome E-Cig Regulations

Fri, 07/28/2017 - 17:58

MacIver News Service | July 28, 2017

By Chris Rochester

[Madison, Wis...] After months of public pressure, the federal government is putting the brakes on a costly new set of regulations that vaping industry advocates say would decimate their budding industry and run countless businesses into the ground.

Scott Gottlieb, commissioner of the federal Food and Drug Administration, announced Friday the agency will extend by four years a key deadline in the battle between the FDA and the vaping industry. That gives operators of e-cig, or vaping, businesses breathing room in submitting costly new applications to the FDA to keep their products on the market. The new deadline will be Aug. 8, 2022.

The announcement came the day after the Village of Hartland sent a letter to the FDA demanding the agency begin proceedings to coordinate its regulations with local governments or face a lawsuit. "Coordination" by federal regulators is the process of - and requirement to - work with localities heavily impacted by new regulations.

"Today the FDA opened the door to coordination," said Mark Block, founder and director of the Electronic Vaping Coalition of America, which has led efforts to block the burdensome regulations.

"Hartland has insisted on public input starting with its third day of hearings back in April. And pushing back the timeline for what would have been a very costly preapplication process shows the FDA clearly recognizes what Hartland has advised - it needs far more information from actual stakeholders before implementing such vague overreach," Block said.

The regulations would pinch Hartland, a Wisconsin village of just over 9,000, especially hard. Johnson Creek Vapor Company, based in Hartland, is a major local employer. It's America's top producer of e-liquid, the nicotine-containing fluid that is converted to vapor in e-cigarettes and the second largest e-liquid manufacturer in the world, according to Johnson Creek Vapor CEO Christian Berkey.

Berkey estimates the Obama-era rule would cost his company alone a staggering $200 million. The local impact spurred Hartland to take action, including the July 27 letter to the FDA.


The onerous Obama-era rules, called "deeming" regulations, categorize vaping products as tobacco products and subjects them to a rigorous new application and approval process. The regulations also grandfather products on the market as of Feb. 15, 2007, exempting traditional cigarettes.

But Friday's decision marks a major shift in how the FDA will regulate tobacco and nicotine products in the future, with a new focus on harm reduction. The new direction is intended "to make certain that the FDA is striking an appropriate balance between regulation and encouraging development of innovative tobacco products that may be less dangerous than cigarettes," the FDA stated.

The FDA also wants to ensure its regulations are guided by "the proper scientific and regulatory foundation." Studies have shown vaping to be a less-harmful alternative to traditional, combustible cigarettes. One study by Public Health England showed e-cigarette use to be 95 percent less harmful than smoking.

In an interview earlier this year with the MacIver Institute, Berkey said he was optimistic the then-incoming Trump administration would be more responsive than the outgoing Obama administration. "They are far more reasonable and amenable...today I'm far more hopeful that we'll get a resolution, and fairly soon," Berkey said.

While the FDA's regulations would run most e-liquid producers like Johnson Creek out of business, it would also have a dramatic impact on numerous small "vape shops" that sell e-cigarette products in communities throughout Wisconsin and the country.

When EVCA surveyed vape shop owners throughout Wisconsin, the majority said they had already reduced or eliminated inventory and would be forced to lay off employees as a result of the new regulations.

"If you want to see how regulations can destroy an entire industry, this is it," said Berkey. Fortunately for him and entrepreneurs across the country, the FDA has relented in its war on their businesses - at least for a few more years.

Wisconsin Celebrates Foxconn Future

Fri, 07/28/2017 - 11:46

MacIver News Service | July 28, 2017

By: Bill Osmulski

Foxconn CEO, Terry Gou joined Governor Scott Walker at the Milwaukee Art Museum on Thursday to sign the memorandum of understanding that brings a $10 billion investment to southeastern Wisconsin. The event included an impressive display of Foxconn's cutting edge technology, which will form the cornerstone of Wisconsin's new tech corridor dubbed "Wisconn Valley." Walker pointed out that this investment was only made possible because of years of hard fought reforms. MNS' Bill Osmulski has more.

The 'Wisconsin model' Is a Big Reason for the Foxconn Deal

Thu, 07/27/2017 - 16:22

MacIver News Service | July 27, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] There's been a lot of hoopla about Foxconn Technology Group's White House announcement Wednesday that it plans to build a massive factory in southeast Wisconsin. And there should be.

But Foxconn's proposed $10 billion development and the tens of thousands of jobs it is eventually expected to spur does not happen without three things:

- Conservative reforms over the past 6 1/2 years
- Wisconsin Republicans' very prominent seats at the national political table
- President Donald Trump's passionate pursuit to bring manufacturing jobs back to America, and his keen interest in vacant Kenosha land where a Chrysler/American Motors plant once stood.

Of course, $3 billion in taxpayer-funded incentives doesn't hurt, either.

There's been a lot of political bow-taking in the past day. Some deserve to. Some don't.

Gov. Scott Walker and his fellow Republicans running the state Legislature truly have opened Wisconsin for business since sweeping into power in 2011. They promised and delivered on billions of dollars in tax relief, robust regulatory reform, and a pledge to restore power to taxpayers. Those reforms opened the eyes to business, that the Badger State is a place to expand and locate - not flee, as Illinois firms have been doing amid mounting state debt and record tax hikes.

"We have created this environment where companies are looking to Wisconsin," state Sen. Leah Vukmir, (R-Brookfield) told MacIver News Service Wednesday on the Vicki McKenna Show (Newstalk 1130 WISN).

Vukmir recalls the hostile days of Wisconsin's Act 10 debate, when big labor and their friends on the left crammed the Capitol to disrupt Walker's state collective bargaining reform initiative that has saved taxpayers billions and signaled to the world that reformers of big government meant business. Act 10 nearly cost Walker and several conservative senators their jobs. Their political survival emboldened conservative lawmakers across the country, convincing them that they could successfully challenge the bureaucracy status quo.

"I remember sitting in that room off the Senate chambers, just the Republican senators in our caucus listening to the vuvuzelas and the chanting and on and on and on," Vukmir said. "There was so much pressure for us not to make the right decision. I remember standing up and talking to my colleagues and saying, 'We cannot back down. If we do, no other state will consider doing the reforms we are trying to do here.'"

Those battles - and wins - put Wisconsin on the radar screen as "an epicenter of reform," Vukmir added.

Walker calls the savings through "wise fiscal management" the "reform dividend." Reform is paying off in myriad ways.

Wisconsin's 3.1 percent unemployment rate in May was tied for the 7th lowest jobless rate in the nation, significantly lower than the national rate. And the state boasted the fifth highest employment participation rate. Private-sector wages soared 7 percent between September 2015 and 2016, among the strongest rates in a decade, according to the state Department of Workforce Development.

Earlier this summer, Chief Executive magazine rated Wisconsin as a top 10 state to do business. Not long before Wisconsin's conservative revolution in 2010, the nation's top chief executives ranked Wisconsin as one of the worst states for business, a state ladened with high taxes and stifling regulation. While the Badger State has a long way to go to improve its tax status (even troubled Illinois has a flat tax rate, although more than 1 percentage point higher as of this month, thanks to tax and spenders) conservative reforms have sent a powerful message.

"We have worked hard to get Wisconsin out of the worst states for business and into the top 10 best states," Walker said in a statement. "We did it by cutting taxes, putting the power back in the hands of Wisconsin workers, and enacting common sense conservative reforms."

For Walker's critics who blast Walker for failing to hit his 250,000 new jobs goal he first campaigned on in 2010, the Foxconn deal is a breath-taker. Walker and his supporters have long said it would take time for their reforms to pay off. Foxconn, they say, is big proof positive

Wisconsin's federal power brokers have played a big role taking the "Wisconsin model" to congress and to a significantly more receptive White House. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Janesville), Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh) and White House chief of Staff Reince Priebus, are powerful political PR agents for their home states.

"Paul Ryan has said this over and over again, (that) we're going to take the Wisconsin model and go national," Vukmir said. "Paul Ryan is right. We have a huge opportunity here to take our reforms and emulate that on a national basis."

And Priebus, regardless of the mainstream media's five alarm reporting, still seems to hold considerable sway with Trump.

Priebus earlier this week told TMJ4's Charles Benson that the idea to make Wisconsin a major player in the Foxconn deal began in April, following the president's press event at Snap-on Inc. in Milwaukee. Trump and Priebus were flying over Kenosha, Priebus' hometown, when inspiration struck.

"I saw my house. I pointed down to my house," Priebus told Benson. "Then we got to the part over the city of Kenosha where the old Chrysler/American Motors plant was, and (Trump) said, 'What is that? Why is all that land vacant?' And I told the story about Kenosha and how it lost (the factory). And he said, 'That land should be used.' So, when Foxconn came into the White House, into the Oval Office, the president said, 'I know a good spot you should go: That place in Kenosha.' And then, all of a sudden, the conversation started and the governor came on board, and Walker has been doing a lot of work ever since."

The story certainly fits with Trump's "Make America Great Again" campaign pledge that helped get him get elected president in November, the first Republican to win Wisconsin since Reagan in 1984.

A big part of Trump's slogan is underpinned by his "America First" push, a commitment to bringing jobs back to America.

The United States has seen the disappearance of 5 million manufacturing jobs since 2000, according to U.S. Department of Labor Statistics figures. Trump wants those back.

Earlier this year, the president worked out a deal with Carrier to keep its Indiana plant from shutting down. While the parent company has decided to move some 600 jobs to Mexico, it agreed to maintain the Indiana factory and retain 800 employees.

At a White House announcement Wednesday, Trump said the deal to bring Taiwan-based Foxconn to Wisconsin wouldn't have happened without him.

"If I didn't get elected (Foxconn) definitely wouldn't be spending $10 billion ... This is a great day for America," Trump said.

There is much truth in that statement. Would a President Hillary Clinton bring arch enemy conservatives Paul Ryan, Ron Johnson, Scott Walker and Reince Priebus in on the Foxconn location conversations, even if the deal had come her way?

Trump and his administration say they have been in discussions with Foxconn executives for months. A senior administration official told the Washington Times that Wednesday's announcement was the "culmination of many months of discussion" between the White House and Foxconn, the result of "numerous meetings" at the White House. The official said the company decided to invest in the U.S. due to Trump's pro-growth agenda.

Business eyes opened when Trump, fresh in office, declared a moratorium on new federal regulations, and told federal agencies to identify costly regs for the chopping block. The president says he wants to hammer away at what the White House estimates to be at least $2 trillion in regulatory costs.

It's a much different business climate than the previous eight years under President Barack Obama. A report by the Daily Signal late last year found that the Democrat imposed hundreds of billions of dollars in regulatory burdens on Americans, at an average cost of $1,300 per person, during his tenure. Hillary Clinton, who ran as Obama's successor, campaigned on the same expanded-government policies.

The Foxconn deal, celebrated Thursday in Milwaukee by a host of political and governmental leaders, is massive by just about any economic development comparison. The tech supplier to Amazon, Apple and Google, plans to build a 20 million square-foot facility in southeast Wisconsin - the size of 11 Lambeau Fields. Ultimately, the tech giant is expected to create some 13,000 jobs on a $10 billion investment in the coming years.

The deal also comes with a hefty $3 billion incentives package, by far the largest Wisconsin has ever paid. About half would be targeted for capital costs, the other is tied to job creation. Walker said if Foxconn doesn't hit the thresholds, it won't collect incentives.

"When this investment is complete, Foxconn has the potential to create more manufacturing jobs than we've seen in many, many decades," Trump said. "Foxconn joins a growing list of industry leaders who understand that America's capabilities are limitless and that our workers are unmatched."

As Walker and the rightful movers of the Foxconn deal do their victory dance this week, they are being joined by the usual tax-and-spend crowd more than willing to take a bow.

In an odd press release, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin blamed Walker for the deal while praising federal Dems, U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, for "encouraging new economic activity in southeast Wisconsin." These two ultra-liberals had nothing to do with the Foxconn deal. Their support and promotion of expensive government regulations and tax hikes have created the kind of environment that has for so long kept business away.

The same goes for guys like Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca (D-Kenosha). Barca, by his very position as a Kenosha representative, is a cheerleader for the development deal, but the Democrat has at every turn attempted to thwart the kinds of government reforms that caught Foxconn's attention. Abele may have been involved in the periphery, but his leadership is a legacy of failed liberal, job-killing policies.

The real credit for landing this "once-in-a-century" deal are the people who said to do business, Wisconsin must be open for business. That means more than political platitudes and empty promises, and it certainly doesn't mean growing government and class warfare platforms. It's the Wisconsin model, and the rest of the nation is learning its powerful impact.

Article Glosses Over Key Facts in Declaring That Obamacare's Not a Failure

Thu, 07/27/2017 - 11:19

July 27, 2017

Perspective By Chris Rochester
MacIver Institute Communications Director

In an article in Sunday's Journal Sentinel headlined, "Is Obamacare failing? No. Flaws? You bet. Fixes? We'll see," Guy Boulton pulls off a rhetorical Cirque de Soleil act in defending Obamacare, downplaying its worsening problems, and conveniently ignoring the real-world impact on middle class Americans.

Boulton notes that Wisconsin's individual insurance market remains "somewhat in flux," because of Obamacare. That's the kind of language you'd expect in a press release from the Obama HHS, not an honest and balanced analysis of Obamacare's worsening problems.

Yes, Wisconsin has historically had a more robust and competitive health insurance market than other states, and it remains so - relatively speaking. While better off than other states, Wisconsin's market has been taking on water ever since Obamacare took effect.

Wisconsin's Obamacare market lost an average of 1.39 insurers per county from 2016-2017, according to a MacIver analysis of data from the Office of the Commissioner of Insurance. Fourteen Wisconsin counties have just one or two insurance companies offering Obamacare plans in 2017. Between 2014 and 2016, the number of insurers offering plans on Wisconsin's individual insurance market has dropped from 54 to 41 - a 24 percent decline, according to OCI data.

The exit of more major insurers in 2017 doesn't bode well for next year. Aetna and Anthem Blue Cross/Blue Shield announced earlier this year they would join Humana and UnitedHealth in completely withdrawing from Obamacare's exchanges. That's four out of the five largest insurers in the United States that have abandoned the former president's rapidly sinking law.

In 2013, before Obamacare took effect, a remarkable 87 percent of Wisconsinites had health insurance. For those with pre-existing conditions, Wisconsin's Health Insurance Risk Sharing Plan, or HIRSP, offered a solution.

"HIRSP provided Wisconsin consumers with peace of mind by providing high quality, comprehensive coverage to over 20,000 of our friends and neighbors," but Obamacare squeezed the successful program out of existence, wrote Wisconsin's insurance commissioner Ted Nickel.

Wisconsin's health insurance market wasn't broken before 2013, but Obamacare tried to fix it anyway. It introduced into Wisconsin the idea that a government mandate could force people to buy a bloated health insurance plan they don't want. The predictable result is healthy people opting out, an imbalance in risk pools teeming with the least healthy, most expensive individuals, massive losses by insurers, and their withdrawal from the market.

Boulton also glosses over a major problem with Obamacare: middle class families who don't qualify for subsidies are stuck paying for all of the disastrous law's increasing premiums and ballooning out-of-pocket expenses.

The cost of Obamacare plans is staggering. In its report last year, the MacIver Institute found that a family of four in Wisconsin would fork over an average monthly premium of $1,609 for a platinum plan - about $20,000 per year - while a mid-level silver plan would cost them $1,297 in average monthly premiums, or more than $15,000 per year.

Obamacare proponents constantly point to the number of people who are at least nominally insured because of Obamacare. Repeatedly, Boulton implicitly conflates health insurance coverage and access to health care, a fallacy that pervades the health insurance debate.

Exploding out-of-pocket costs that plague Obamacare plans prevent enrollees from accessing actual health care. In Wisconsin, for a mid-level silver plan, the average deductible in 2017 is $7,015.71 for a family and $3,491.92 for an individual. The average catastrophic plan deductible is $14,300 for a family and $7,150 for an individual.

What good is having insurance, subsidized or not, if your deductible is so high that you'll go bankrupt anyway?

As costs for the overall Obamacare system explode, taxpayers are also taking it in the teeth. We were promised no family making less than $250,000 would see a tax hike. In reality, Obamacare saddles the middle class with 18 tax hikes, penalties, and fees.

Obamacare also established a network of nonprofit health insurance co-ops, including Wisconsin's Common Ground, to supposedly provide more competition in the marketplace. Problem is, these Obamacare nonprofit businesses are drowning in debt. Taxpayers forked over $1.7 billion to set up these shops around the country and even more to prop them up.

These state-based health insurance co-ops have been a failure. To date, all but four have closed shop. Common Ground survived 2016 thanks to a mysterious cash infusion, but it has lost at least $84.8 million and owes the federal government $107.7 million. It's unlikely taxpayers will see much or any of that money repaid.

As a solution to patching up Obamacare, Boulton lists two suggestions. First, he'd like to see "a reinsurance fund to cover very high medical claims." But if a new pipeline of taxpayer money to prop up giant insurance companies is the left's answer, then "progressivism" is not what it used to be.

Another solution Boulton lists makes some sense - "allowing insurers more flexibility in designing their health plans, enabling them to offer lower-cost plans with fewer benefits that would appeal to more to people who are healthy," suggested health care consultant Karen Bender.

It's unfortunate that the idea of allowing insurers to provide greater choice comes across as a sensible suggestion in the current debate. Allowing choice should be a total no-brainer, but the law's myriad mandates eliminate choice in all facets of health care, from the consumer to insurers and providers.

Obamacare can't be patched up. Every syllable of the law should be repealed and replaced by market-oriented reforms that minimize government's role in health care, create price transparency, and let doctors, patients, and employers work out arrangements that suit their own unique situations.

No tepid analysis in a newspaper will change the basic fact that Obamacare's fundamental flaws make it a sinking ship, and lawmakers should abandon it.

Foxconn Makes It Official

Wed, 07/26/2017 - 14:52

MacIver News Service | July 26, 2017

By: Bill Osmulski

[Washington, D.C.] By Wednesday afternoon the news was no longer a surprise, but it was now official. Foxconn will build its new US plant in Wisconsin.

Foxconn announced its intentions to build a US factory back in January. Earlier this month, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos announced southeastern Wisconsin was in the running, and the sighting of a Foxconn jet at the Milwaukee airport fueled the rumors.

This Monday, Mark Belling broke the news that Foxconn would pick Wisconsin on his late afternoon radio show. Wednesday morning, Governor Walker tweeted out that he would be making a big announcement with President in the afternoon.

Major Jobs Announcement for Wisconsin today at 4:00pm CT at the @WhiteHouse with @POTUS

— Governor Walker (@GovWalker) July 26, 2017

Governor Walker and Assembly Speaker Vos flew out to Washington DC for the official announcement with President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan at the White House. The official memorandum of understanding between Foxconn and Wisconsin will be signed on Thursday.

"This is a once-in-a-century opportunity for our state and our country, and Wisconsin is ready," Governor Scott Walker said in a release. "We are calling this development 'Wisconn Valley,' because we believe this will have a transformational effect on Wisconsin, just as Silicon Valley transformed the San Francisco Bay Area. Foxconn plans to bring the future of high-tech manufacturing to America, and Wisconsin is going to lead the way. We are honored Foxconn chose Wisconsin, and I thank Terry Gou for all he has done to make this happen."

Foxconn is expected create 13,000 jobs with an annual salary of $53,875 plus benefits. Foxconn has said it will invest $10 billion in the facility. New details released on Wednesday stated the facility will be 20 million square feet, making it one of the largest manufacturing campuses in the world. Foxconn plans to spend $5.7 billion for the construction, which will support 10,000 construction jobs and another 6,000 indirect jobs. Foxconn plans for the plant to be fully operational in 2020.

Foxconn is one of the largest electronics manufacturers in the world, supplying parts to well-known brands like Apple, Sony, and Nintendo. The Wisconsin factory will produce LCD screens for big screen TVs and possibly other devices. At Wednesday's press conference, Gou said the Wisconsin factory will be the first and only LCD factory in the US.

Foxconn decided to begin opening factories in the US in response to the recent slowdown of globalization. The company's president, Terry Gou, explained to investors last year that trade barriers are increasing as more countries focus on domestic economic development.

"In the future technology industry, we need to move closer to our customers and help them achieve faster time to market to create a win-win scenario," Gou wrote in Foxconn's 2016 annual report.

After thanking WI's congressional delegation, @GovWalker says Republican and Democrat and everywhere in between; we all win with this. pic.twitter.com/v7oGvUruqR

— Tom Evenson (@TomEvenson) July 26, 2017

Wisconsin was completing with six other states for the Foxconn factory: Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Foxconn is a non-union company, which potentially gave Michigan, Indiana, Texas and Wisconsin an advantage since they all have right-to-work laws. Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce say reforms like that made the Foxconn deal possible.

"The transformative tax, regulatory and litigation reforms enacted over the past six years, like Act 10, the Manufacturers and Agricultural Production Tax Credit (MAC) and Right to Work, have fundamentally changed how the world views Wisconsin. Foxconn proves Wisconsin can play and win in the big leagues," Kurt Bauer, WMC CEO, said in a statement Wednesday.

There will be more legislation required to seal the deal. Some experts predict Wisconsin will have to provide anywhere from one to three billion dollars in incentives.

Specifics on the proposed incentive package for Foxconn from the state. White House made it clear no new federal incentives for project. pic.twitter.com/y31cRRFdmB

— Greg Neumann (@gneumann_wkow) July 26, 2017

As of Wednesday morning, state lawmakers had not seen any details about what might be expected. Sources said that will come from the governor's office by the end of the week.

Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald's office wasn't able to say whether the legislature will address the incentives before, after, or with the budget bill.

MacIver Institute Analysis Finds Almost $2 Billion In Wasteful Transportation Spending

Tue, 07/25/2017 - 06:00

MacIver News Service | July 20, 2017

By Tyler Brandt, M.D. Kittle, & Matt Tragesser

[Madison, Wis...] There's a lot of back and forth in Wisconsin's transportation funding fight.

The "revenue enhancer" faction will tell you that a $1 billion transportation budget shortfall - a figure that has been disputed - needs to be filled like potholes with more taxpayer cash. They insist on gas taxes, vehicle fees, something, anything to deliver a "long-term solution" to the Badger State's transpo needs. Bonding is bad, very bad, they say, tantamount to a drunken spender on a credit card bender.

But the band of bonding brothers and sisters say the tax-hike camp is taking taxpayers for a bumpy ambulance ride. They just say no to the notion of gas tax increases and fee hikes. More so, they argue that before the Legislature and the governor ask taxpayers to shoulder more of the burden for the state's roads and bridges, particularly in an era of budget surpluses, the pols should first get a handle on a troubled Department of Transportation that has wasted billions of tax dollars.

Fine, the enhancers fire back. But there isn't nearly enough in DOT waste and inefficiencies to fill the funding gap for all of those crumbling roads and cash suck southeast Wisconsin "Mega Projects," they declare.

Isn't there?

The MacIver Institute has dug into the numbers, taken a deeper dive into DOT projects that are at the very least questionable, if not an outright waste of taxpayer money, and administrative failures that have added substantial and unnecessary costs. We found nearly $2 billion in wasteful Wisconsin projects and practices - $1,965,882,239 to be precise.

As conservative lawmakers weigh gas tax hikes, vehicle fee uppers, tolls, heavy truck taxes, hefty borrowing, even trading income tax cuts for transportation funding, we urge them to revisit the DOT projects and practices that are unnecessarily costing taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.

Here is the list, in no particular order. Find more examples or submit your DOT wasteful project suggestions on Twitter using the hashtag #WISDOTwasted, or send them directly to us using this form.

1) Bublr Stations in West Allis, Shorewood and Wauwatosa - $2 million. TOTAL $400,000 LOCAL SHARE

Given the supposed shortfall in the transportation fund for road projects, is it a good idea to spend this transportation money on a bike project?

2) Milwaukee Bike Rack Program - $680,000 TOTAL $130,000 LOCAL SHARE

Milwaukee is expanding its bike rack program, at a cost of $680k. Local taxpayers would pay $130k. Nothing says fixing bad roads like bike racks.

3) Failed Goals - $191.9 million TOTAL WASTE

Anyone who's ever been on a diet knows you have to set goals - and follow them - if you want to shed pounds or maintain a healthy weight. If the DOT's performance measurement goals were a diet plan, that plan would be built on Chocodiles and saturated fat sandwiches. A legislative audit earlier this year showed DOT staff routinely disregarded established procedures designed to manage and improve operations. From fiscal year 2009-10 to 2014-15, the agency could have saved $191.9 million, or an average of $32 million per year, if its total costs during the construction phase of the state highway projects had not exceeded annual performance measurement goals.

4) Design-Build Savings

Wisconsin is missing out on untold hundreds of millions of dollars in savings by sticking with the old design-bid-build approach to transportation projects - like Chicago Bears fans stick to their failing team. Like Bears fans, the DOT has grown accustomed to losing, but it's the taxpayer on the hook for the agency's failure to recognize the huge cost savings to be had in the design-build approach. The practice integrates the standard activities involved in transportation projects under a single contract. The Texas Department of Transportation, for instance, reported its best-value design-build proposals usually come in 15 to 20 percent below the engineer's estimates, according to a Texas A&M Transportation Institute Study. And design-build projects in the study typically were completed from three to 10 months early, another big cost savings. Twenty percent on a $1 billion project is a Packers-over-the-Bears-style win for Wisconsin taxpayers.

5) Root River Parkway/Greendale Bike Trail - $1 million TOTAL $200,000 LOCAL SHARE

New bike trail for $1 million with locals on the hook for $200k. Root River parkway is a secluded place with minimal traffic where cyclists happily bike on the roads. Why spend an extra million from taxpayers when cyclists already have a safe route?

6) West Allis Cross-Town Connector - $3 million TOTAL $600,000 LOCAL SHARE

The City of West Allis' latest boondoggle is a $3 million dollar bike plan to build a Cross-Town Connector. It will include bike roundabouts, a bike bridge, new paths, and on-street lanes. The path is being built because the Department of Natural Resources believes the route will reduce congestion and pollution in the city of Milwaukee caused by more West Allis residents commuting to work. In the DNR's world, it's Bike to Work Day every day.

7) Roundabout Training Driving Videos - $30,000

The DOT spent $30,000 on videos explaining to drivers how to guide their cars through roundabouts. Wisconsinites hate roundabouts like injustice, so an instructional video on roundabouts is like a handbook on headaches. Nobody wants one, so why would they want to read about it? Here's a video for the DOT: "Dude, Where's My Tax Money?"

8) DOT Bid Failures - $44,700,000

The DOT lost $44.7 million by failing to solicit more than one bid for 363 of its construction contracts between January 2006 and December 2015. Had each of those projects received just one more bid, DOT would have saved $4.5 million per year from '06-'15, according to an audit of the agency. So much for competition. So much for taxpayer savings.

9) A Bridge Too Near - $3.6 Million

A $3.6 million pedestrian bridge was constructed in West Allis even though there is a bridge with pedestrian access just two minutes away. Is it too much to ask citizens to walk an extra block and a half? Isn't Big Government trying to make us exercise more? Is two minutes worth $3.6 million? But there's a bigger issue. West Allis isn't a bicycle commuter community. It's a strip mall city, a suburban outpost serving beer, not bicyclists - unless those bicyclists want a beer.

10) Otter Exhibit - $12.4 million

The DOT offered the Milwaukee County Zoo $8 million when it took 700 parking spaces away for the zoo-interchange project. Of the $8 million, only $2 million would be needed to build a new lot. The Zoo instead sued the DOT and got $12.7 million. It used the extra $10 million taken from the transportation fund for a welcome center and otter exhibit. Really Zoo? You otter be kidding us.

11) Poynette & Portage Rest Stops - $22 million TOTAL, $2.2 million STATE PORTION

In 2010, two of the nicest rest stops in the country were constructed in Poynette and Portage. The old rest stops were torn down and replaced due to overcrowding. Not only did DOT expand the rest stops to be the largest in the state, the agency designed the buildings with ornate Frank Lloyd Wright architecture. The place has the aura of an architectural shrine, but in reality aren't these rest stops really just restrooms? Does $22 million to pee (excuse our language) seem a bit much?

12) Starkweather Creek Bike Path - $312,000 LAWSUIT

The City of Madison put a bike/pedestrian bridge in front of McDonald's. The bridge crippled business and forced the restaurant to move down the street. McDonald's sued the city and won $312,000.

The bridge was built for safety reasons because there have been a few instances of people getting killed trying to cross the street. A couple years after the bridge was built a person was crossing at street level and was struck and killed by a car, yet again. Local residents and businesses were interviewed and most said nobody uses the bridge because it is out of their way. You will find a number of Madison/Dane County bike transportation projects on this list. The DOT and Dane County are literally committing highway robbery, pilfering taxpayer cash from highway priorities to pay for bicycle routes and bridges.

13) Cannonball Bike Path, Bridge, and Roundabout - $3.6 million TOTAL, $720,000 LOCAL SHARE

The Cannonball Path features the state's first bike roundabout. The path also includes 4.5 miles of trail, a bike tunnel, and a bike bridge. It will cost $3.6 million to feed Madison's bike addiction when roads around the state are said to be strapped for cash.

14) Use Public Feedback - $2.3 million

Public feedback is generally a good thing, unless you are a super-sensitive college student who cannot function outside a safe space. The DOT has its own safe space; it simply ignores criticism. Sometimes the public asks the DOT not to do projects because those projects would have adverse effects on nearby communities. The DOT often goes ahed with projects anyway, according to the legislative audit.

15) U.S. 41 Build Out - $6 million

For the U.S. 41 freeway project in Brown County, there are 24 roundabouts being constructed in just a 14-mile stretch. The project also includes the planting of 30,400 plants and shrubs as well as 4,100 trees. A cost estimate puts the roundabouts at about $6 million. That's got to have taxpayers feel like they're going in circles.

16) Siren, WI Roundabout - $3.5 million

The DOT ripped up a perfectly serviceable intersection north of Siren, and replaced it with a roundabout. Why the DOT would waste $3.5 million to put a roundabout in a village of 806 people is hard to understand.

17) Polk County Roundabout - $1.5 million

The DOT replaced a faultless intersection with a roundabout north of Amery, a sparsely populated area. Yet again we see the DOT ripping up intersections in small towns and replacing them with roundabouts, at nearly no one's insistence.

18) Wrightstown Bridge - $632,000

Citizens of Wrightstown (population 2,827) are getting a new bridge to replace an old, deficient one across the Fox River. The bridge may have been necessary, but what about the pedestrian, bicycle, and snowmobile accommodations? The bike path alone is an extra $500,000 to $632,000.

19) Eau Claire Water Street Bridge - $316,000

The new Water Street Bridge in Eau Claire includes bike lanes, pedestrian accommodations, decorative lighting, decorative concrete on the piers and abutments, decorative railings, designs etched into the columns, pedestals at the light locations, arched mask walls at pier locations, antiqued concrete, outside concrete beam painting, and scenic overlooks. This bridge gives new meaning to the expression "bells and whistles."

20) Baraboo Bypass - $200 million

A new bypass was constructed around Baraboo just east of Mirror Lake State Park. But U.S. 12 already is a perfectly serviceable highway, covering the same route as the bypass. Oh, and Baraboo is the only town along the bypass. MacIver went out during rush hour traffic and found that barely anyone uses it. Bypasses are proving to be the most costly and the most wasteful projects that the DOT has been approving in recent years.

21) West Waukesha Bypass - $50 million

A four-lane thoroughfare spanning Waukesha between Interstate-94 and Highway 59 is being constructed for $50 million. Some 550 locals signed a petition opposing the bypass in 2011 and 2012. And yet the transportation money train rolls on.

22) Lower Yahara River Trail - $10.5 million TOTAL, $2.1 million LOCAL SHARE

The largest bike bridge in all of Wisconsin is being constructed in Dane County. The 2.5-mile trail will include more than a mile of bridges and boardwalk. The trail itself will include an innovative "floating boardwalk", rest stops, observation areas, and a fishing pier. Again, the bicycle capital of Wisconsin is costing taxpayers big money.

23) Capital City Trail Extension - $1.8 million TOTAL $360,000 LOCAL SHARE

This bike path will become the state's largest once completed. However, one mile of this proposed bike path will cost $1.8 million, which is significantly higher than the usual $200,000. That's $341 per foot.

24) West Towne Path: High Point Road to Junction Road - $3.6 million TOTAL $720,000 LOCAL SHARE

A half-mile bike path in the City of Madison is set to be completed in 2018, at a cost of $3.6 million. Part of the expense is a $1 million bike underpass that is much costlier than DOT's averages for similar projects. How much money could we save if we stop giving Dane County bike funding?

25) Ice Age Junction Path - $2.5 million TOTAL $500,000 LOCAL SHARE

Two miles of bike path are set to be completed in the city of Madison in 2018-19, costing $2.5 million. This project includes up to nine bridges and underpasses, which seems excessive considering the amount of bike routes already existing in the city.

26) St. Croix Crossing - $650 million TOTAL $285 million STATE PORTION

The Minnesota Department of Transportation and Wisconsin DOT collaborated to build a new bridge crossing the St. Croix river between Houlton and Stillwater, Minn. A new bridge seems necessary but over-engineering puts the project into question.

The new bridge is a state-of-the-art "extradosed" bridge, only the second of its kind built in the nation, despite low traffic counts and an existing bridge 15 minutes south. Also, the old bridge was not torn down, but remodeled and designed to be a bike/pedestrian crossing with rest areas and viewing platforms. The old bridge is now part of a 4.5 mile bike-loop which also connects around the new bridge.

Another part of the cost was a $1.7 million communication contract to hire a PR manager with the sole task of drumming up support for the bridge. Selling the taxpayer on a massively expensive bridge doesn't come cheap. What's more, the $650 million bridge costs more than it would to fix all of the 1,149 structurally deficient bridges in Minnesota. Priorities.

27) Wisconsin Highway 67 - $28 million

In Oconomowoc there was a large build-out of roads, a highway overpass, civilian paths, bike lanes, and much more as a result of Pabst Farms plans to build a regional outdoor shopping mall. The original plans for the mall failed, meaning there wouldn't be any major increases in traffic, making the highway build wasteful.

28) St. Croix County Bike Path Plan - $33.2 million

First of all, Wow! $33.2 million for a bike path. Think about that for a moment. The plan includes 69 projects in this rural county. Supporters claim a head-scratching return on investment of $9 for every public dollar spent. That claim is based on a North Carolina Outer Banks case study. Makes sense. St. Croix County is, of course, exactly like North Carolina's Outer Banks. The thinking by project promoters: Well, if it could happen there, it could happen here. Hey, it worked for Sinatra in New York, New York. The bike path plan is just that, a plan. So we didn't add the price tag to our list of wasteful projects. But we've all seen this movie before. St. Croix County isn't going to come up with the full $33.2 million. Local government officials will have their hands out, expecting state and federal taxpayers to pick up much of the tab for the bike path.

29) Hidden Valley Bridge - $360,000

The Hidden Valley Bridge was built in Sylvan, a hamlet with a population of 543 people. Over one-third of construction costs went toward design and supervision.

30) Lake Butte Des Morts - $54 million

This bridge boasts an extravagant design, including nine bridge structures and aesthetic earth, fire, and water murals on the columns. The build also includes pedestrian, bike, and fishing accommodations. Why spend money on murals that only the fish can see? Sound fishy?

31) Janesville Road - $1,913,739

Two identical segments of Janesville Road in Muskego were recently reconstructed, one using federal dollars and the other using solely local transportation dollars. The mile-long segment completed with local dollars cost $6,280,000, while the mile-long segment completed with federal dollars cost $8,193,739. There's a wrong turn in here somewhere. This $1,913,739 difference shows how federal regulation of road projects drives up costs. A bill originally proposed by Sen. Duey Stroebel and Rep. Rob Brooks, both Republicans from Saukville, would "swap" a portion of federal funds within transportation programs with existing state transportation dollars, removing "burdensome, expensive and ineffectual federal regulations.

32) Buffalo-Winona Great River State Trail Connector - $3-4 Million TOTAL, $1,320,000 LOCAL

A bike trail in a rural, sparsely populated area between Winona, Minn., and the outskirts of La Crosse was constructed. The project cost between $3 million and $4 million with the master plan connecting Winona to Madison. Again, if the priority is roads, why is $4 million for a bike trail part of the budget?

33) Lake County Trail Underpass - $227,000

A pedestrian tunnel is being constructed under WIS 67 at Oconomowoc parkway as a result of expected increased traffic from a proposed regional outdoor shopping mall. The original Pabst Farms shopping mall plans failed and there will no be significant increases in traffic, making the tunnel a waste. Another bad transportation bet. More so, there are plenty of bicycle trails in Waukesha County. Is it the government's job to tie together an elaborate bike trail system or is it to maintain roads and public safety? If budgets are about priorities, it looks like the pushers of this project took a wrong turn.

34) Wolf River Bridge - $14 million

In the little town of Winneconne, a bridge will be constructed next to a 75-year-old draw bridge. The draw bridge has been determined to be safe for travel by the DOT, but the national bridge inventory has identified it as deficient based on its own ratings. The new project calls for two fishing piers on each side of the river and a trail for snowmobiles on one side of the bridge that will serve just 2,400 citizens. DOT's motto: While building the unnecessary, why not add a few perks.

35) Vilas County ATV Trail - $330,000

Vilas County could have constructed an ATV trail with an original bid total of $180,000, but prevailing wage artificially pushed the cost up to $330,000 for the same exact project. The county went on with the project despite the inflated cost. That's Exhibit A on why prevailing wage reform has been so critical to taxpayers.

36) State Roundabouts - $10 million

Forty roundabouts are planned to be constructed in the state within the next four years. These roundabouts will total over $10 million. That bears repeating: $10 million in roundabouts. That's a dizzying figure for something so despised.

37) La Crosse North/South Corridor - $143 million

The DOT has been obsessed with building a road through the La Crosse River marsh for decades. The initial proposal was dubbed the "North/South Corridor" and would have paved a four-lane highway through the marsh from near Interstate-90 to the city's downtown. The price tag recently jumped to $143 million after the DOT audit found the department had low-balled cost estimates.

After La Crosse voters overwhelmingly rejected the DOT's North/South Corridor plan in a referendum in 1998, by a two-thirds vote, the DOT has returned to the idea. In recent years the department has identified a number of alternatives to the rejected plan. While DOT struggles to fund other projects that are underway throughout the state, it seems insistent on spending $143 million it doesn't have on a project in La Crosse that nobody seems to want.

38) 17th Street Lift Bridge - $14 million TOTAL, $3 million-plus LOCAL SHARE

Yes, this 60-year-old bridge in Two Rivers was found to be suffering from structural deterioration. But the city administrator acknowledges that a relatively new, four-lane Wisconsin Highway 42 bridge, just five blocks to the north "could handle all vehicular traffic crossing the East Twin River." Still, the council "and many local residents" got behind the "lift bridge or no bridge at all" project "in order to maintain a vital vehicular, bike and pedestrian link from our downtown to the City's east side and Lake Michigan beach." The rest of the taxpayers in every other part of the state - and the federal taxpayers around the country who chipped in $8 million - might not have felt the same passion to build this bridge too near. But, then again, they didn't have a choice in the matter.

39) Enforce Engineering Delivery Cost Index Prices - $6.6 million TOTAL

For the past 20 years, the DOT has spent considerable effort determining what engineering work should cost for state projects. It recalculates this every year. This should improve engineering efficiency - that is when staff doesn't ignore the report.

40) Prevailing Wage Savings

This one's on the Legislature. Ending Wisconsin's antiquated and costly prevailing wage law should have been done a long time ago. Case in point, Vilas County, which could have constructed an ATV trail with an original bid total of $180,000, but prevailing wage artificially pushed the cost up to $330,000 for the same project. The county went on with the project despite the inflated cost. That's Exhibit A on why prevailing wage reform has been so critical to taxpayers. Here's Exhibit B: As http://www.maciverinstitute.com/2015/07/competing-prevailing-wage-plans-offer/
http://www.maciverinstitute.com/2015/07/competing-prevailing-wage-plans-offer/">MacIver News Service reported in 2015
, a flagger - someone who stands on the side of the road and turns signs - makes $23.55 an hour and collects $20.03 in benefits per hour. That's equivalent to $90,000 per year, although flaggers typically don't work a full year. For comparison, median annual household income in Wisconsin was $55,638 in 2015, according to the latest data available.

41) Freeway Service Teams - $2.1 million TOTAL

Why join AAA when the state offers the same great services at taxpayer expense? The DOT's Freeway Service Teams can change your flat tire, fuel you up when you run out of gas, open your door when you lock your keys inside, and even tow you to the dealer. What's next, discounts on motels and Disney travel packages?

42) New Stop Light Designs - $57.5 million TOTAL

Given the choice between two equally effective options to solve a problem, the least expensive option is usually the road most traveled. That's not how Wisconsin's DOT rolls. New traffic signal poles, called "monotubes," cost between $250,000 and $275,000 per intersection. The old "trombone style" intersections cost between $200,000 and $225,000. So naturally, the DOT goes for the more expensive "monotube" style. So far it has installed over 1,100 of them.

43) Rebar Usage in Road Construction - $30 million TOTAL

For many of its road and bridge projects, DOT used a stainless steel rebar instead of an epoxy coated rebar. Using the stainless steel rebar cost far more and does not offer the same high life expectancy as the epoxy coated rebar. Just what every taxpayer and consumer wants: A product that costs more and does less.

44) DOT Added Staff - $10 million TOTAL

DOT added 180 engineering positions in the 2015-2017 state budget. These new positions cost nearly $10 million per year in salaries. The figure jumps when considering health and retirement benefits. Great! More engineers to forget to include inflation in the cost of road projects while never forgetting the DOT's great love affair with roundabouts. You've heard the old joke? How many engineers does it take to waste hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer money? A: Apparently 180 more.

45) Resurface with oil and stone mix - $??? TOTAL

The public works director in Montello told the MacIver News Service he uses oil and stone instead of asphalt whenever possible to resurface the city's roads. It makes for a bumpy ride for bicyclists and skateboarders, but it makes for a serviceable road at a fraction of the cost. He can do a mile for $9,000 compared to $80,000 for asphalt.

Total Cost to Wisconsin: $1,671,320,239

Total Local Cost: $294,262,000

Total Overall Cost : $1,965,882,239

Is a Coordinated Copy-Paste Letter Campaign Creating a Phony Gas Tax Groundswell?

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 06:05

July 24, 2017

Perspective By Chris Rochester
MacIver Institute Communications Director

It would appear a letter-writing campaign begging lawmakers to squeeze more money out of motorists for Wisconsin's roads and bridges is a groundless groundswell.

Supposedly spontaneous letters that have appeared in newspapers around the state have an awful lot in common, including the writers' names and virtually identical language urging legislators to take action on fixing the state's roads.

In December and January, letters were published in newspapers from Janesville to Rice Lake with a common just fix it message about the state's infrastructure problems. The writers went by the names Megan Delaney and Shannon O'Connell. Their letters, according to a MacIver News Service review, used various combinations of the exact same language, each one including this passage almost word-for-word:

"In this divisive political time, it can be rather difficult to have an actual discussion on the merits of any infrastructure plan. Do we raise money via a gas tax and increase tab fees, do we borrow the money, or do we just scrap improvements altogether?"

The letters then sprinkle in some local flavor and several move on to repeat:

"No one wants a raise in taxes or tab fees, but road taxes could be made to be specific to ensure that all money raised goes directly to the roads and not some government slush fund."

Letters using this and other very similar language appear in newspapers around the state, while the two writers claimed to be from local communities. In the Janesville Gazette on Dec. 8, 2016, a Megan Delaney who claims to be from Janesville wrote a letter headlined, "Put aside differences to fix our roads."

In the La Crosse Tribune on January 15, another Megan Delaney who says she's from Onalaska wrote a letter entitled, "We need to fix roads, grow jobs." Both the Janesville and Onalaska Megan Delaneys declare that "These infrastructure plans are definitely needed in Wisconsin".

Shannon O'Connell's name shows up as the author of letters to the editor in at least four different papers. In a letter in the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune on January 19, O'Connell claims to be from Wisconsin Rapids. In that letter, headlined "Good roads will bring more jobs," O'Connell seemingly copy-pastes both Megan Delaneys' declaration that "These infrastructure plans are definitely needed in Wisconsin".

The same letter appeared in the Stevens Point Journal on Jan. 20. O'Connell's letters in these two papers also criticize Gov. Scott Walker's road funding plan. "Scott Walker's plan is to keep delaying (also known as abandoning) ongoing construction projects in the more densely populated areas of our state," the letter reads.

In yet another letter dated Jan. 12, O'Connell claims to be from Fall River in papers serving the nearby cities of Baraboo, Beaver Dam, and Portage. The letter to those papers was titled, "Use taxpayer money to fix infrastructure." In addition to the verbatim language, the letter cites a local road, Park Avenue, that apparently needs repairs.

O'Connell's name also showed up in the Rice Lake Chronotype - part of a chain of papers spanning the northern part of the state - on Dec 7. In that paper, O'Connell claims to be from nearby Barron in a letter headlined, "Improve roads, cut down on debt."

Shannon O'Connell of Barron and Megan Delaney of Janesville both decry borrowing for roads and the benefit of road spending for average working people. "Let's agree to less debt through unwarranted borrowing, better roads, and a better future for the working class," both letters implore.

A quick Whitepages search finds no records of a Megan Delaney or Shannon O'Connell living in any of the communities their letters claimed to be from.

Maybe there are two Megan Delaneys and three Shannon O'Connells. Maybe each is very concerned about our transportation infrastructure and sincerely want higher gas taxes to pay for it. But the nearly identical language used in their letters suggests something else may be afoot.

This looks a lot like a classic astroturf campaign, a tactic used by special interests and lobbyists when they want to make it look like the rest of the state cares about their cause and takes their side.

The letters provide cover for proponents of a gas tax increase, who can point to them as evidence that the public is so concerned about transportation funding and crumbling roads that average local citizens are taking the time to sit down and write supposedly uncoached, unplanned, uncoordinated letters to their local papers to voice their concerns.

If this is a coordinated campaign, who is behind it? That's unclear - but nearly identical letters also appeared in newspapers in Michigan and Washington state, albeit less frequently than in Wisconsin. The name Megan Delaney was used in Cheney, Wash., and the name Shannon O'Connell was used in Ludington, Mich.

Professional astroturf campaigns are hard to spot, but in this case all the letters shared the same passage word-for-word, making it possible to track down with a few Google searches.

These letters could just be the tip of an iceberg.

As I wrote Tuesday, special interests in Madison are desperate to make it seem like there's a groundswell of average citizens demanding action on road maintenance - and increased gas taxes. Are these interests placing fake letters to the editor in a smoke-and-mirrors PR effort?

The copy-paste language used by these two letter writers, and possibly others that are yet to be uncovered, suggests the answer is yes. It certainly is the same: More taxes for transportation.

Outdoor Reporter's 'Hatchet Job' Leaves Out Inspiration For Checking DNR Warden Power

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 06:04

MacIver News Service | July 24, 2017

By M.D. Kittle

[Madison, Wis...] -In his breathless coverage last week of a bill aimed at reining in the power of DNR game wardens, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel's Paul A. Smith forgot something.

He forgot to mention one of the inspirations for the bill, Robert Joseph Stietz, 69, who spent a year in prison in large part for the crime of minding his own business on his southwest Wisconsin farm.

Stietz doesn't see conservation wardens - a couple in particular - as "the 'good guys' in natural resource protection," as Smith characterizes.

Stietz and his family, who have been through hell thanks to the very long arm of the state Department of Natural Resources, certainly don't see the legislation as the "greatest threat in the 138-year history of the force," as Smith insists.

The newspaper's outdoor editor cited the "robust show of support" that Wisconsin's "thin gray line" received from opponents - many of them former conservation warrants - at a committee hearing Wednesday on Assembly Bill 411.

Smith heavily quoted the dozens of critics, including members of conservation groups, who testified the bill is a "disaster waiting to happen," and that the proposal is a "poacher's dream."

Here's what the bill intends to do: Wardens would no longer be free to pop onto citizens' private property without reasonable suspicion of a violation.

Under the "open fields doctrine," DNR wardens can do warrantless searches of "the area outside a property owner's" home without running afoul of the Fourth Amendment's protections against unreasonable searches and seizures.

State Rep. Adam Jarchow, lead author of the bill, says DNR agents have taken liberties with the openness of the open field doctrine at the expense of private property owners' liberty.

"The reason for this bill is very, very simple. I'm a constitutionalist and I believe in the constitution," the Balsam Lake Republican said. "The open fields doctrine says wardens can waltz onto your property any time they want, for any reason."

"We are setting the lowest constitutional bar, reasonable suspicion, ... the same standard law enforcement has to have when they pull over a car to check license and registration," added Jarchow, a private attorney. "Police have to have some reason to pull you over. Here, (DNR wardens) don't have to have a reason to go on private property to check your license."

But there is good reason, the former wardens and their Journal Sentinel PR agent contend.

"If wardens were prohibited from checking game law compliance on private land, it would seriously undermine protection of the public resource," Smith wrote in his rant against the legislation.

The wardens will not be prohibited from checking compliance, but they must have reasonable suspicion before they enter PRIVATE PROPERTY.

"I don't know what experiences you've had with Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources wardens, but in my four decades of licensed hunting, angling and assorted outdoor recreation in the state, I've come to know them as the 'good guys' in natural resource protection," Smith wrote.

In other words, Jarchow's bill makes wardens out to be the bad guys. It does no such thing, the lawmaker says. It gives private property owners protection from those abusive agents who cast aside the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution in the name of law enforcement.

Exhibit A: Robert Stietz.

The Lafayette County farmer was sentenced to a year in prison in 2014 on charges of resisting arrest and pointing a gun at an officer. Last month, the state Supreme Court in a 4-2 decision ordered the lower court to grant Stietz a new trial because Circuit Court Judge James R. Beer refused to instruct the jury on Stietz's defense of self-defense.

On the last day of the gun-deer season in November 2012, Stietz was on the lookout for trespassers. It was a recurring problem for the farmer, who, according to testimony, has long dealt with trespassers hunting on his land and vandalizing his property. All of that was in his mind as he was checking his fences as two DNR wardens approached him, according to case files. The wardens had noticed Stietz's car parked in his field, about a quarter mile from the highway.

It was nearly dark when the wardens, wearing their blaze-orange DNR uniforms, confronted Stietz.

"Stietz testified that he did not see the DNR insignia or badges as the men approached, and that in his mind, the blaze-orange signified hunters. In addition, Stietz testified that neither man clearly identified himself as a game warden as they approached him, leading him to suspect they were two trespassers hunting illegally on his land," wrote Deborah Spanic in a piece for the State Bar of Wisconsin.

"After the wardens asked Stietz if he had seen any deer, they then asked if his rifle was loaded. He said yes. One warden asked twice for the rifle and Stietz said no both times. Stietz testified that at this time he feared for his life. The warden then grabbed Stietz by the front of his jacket while reaching for the rifle."

After one of the agents grappled with Stietz and grabbed his rifle away, Stietz said he saw the other warden reaching for his handgun. Stietz then took out his handgun, telling the wardens he had a right to protect himself. A standoff ensued, broken only after deputies arrived and assured him that he wouldn't be "gang tackled." Stietz was promptly arrested.

In a concurring opinion, Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote that the wardens "were not in a public place" and that they "did not have reasonable suspicion that Stietz was breaking the law when they drove onto private property to investigate."

"A car legally parked on private property does not, alone, create a reasonable suspicion of a hunting violation. A mere 'hunch' that the car means someone is hunting illegally is also insufficient," the Supreme Court justice wrote.

The state cited the open fields doctrine in its case against Stietz, arguing the law "justified the wardens' intrusion on private property, reasoning that the doctrine made Stietz's secluded, remote land a 'public place' on which the wardens were privileged to traverse," Bradley noted.

"The state is wrong."

Stietz's wife, Sue, described to committee members the price her family has paid and laid out why the bill is so important for all private property owners in Wisconsin.

"For me, the DNR's belief that it somehow was free to open the cattle gate to our pasture land, wander around inside for merely curiosity and then disarm my husband who was checking the fence line and obeying the law, that almost cost me my husband of over 40 years. It almost cost my kids their dad. And it almost cost my grandchildren their grandpa," she testified.

"That confrontation on our land and on our easement did not have to happen," Sue continued. "Bob was obeying the law and the DNR had no reason to believe he wasn't. And it wouldn't have happened if the DNR needed just reasonable suspicion to barge into our pastureland, a quarter mile off the nearest public road."

"This has been a nightmare. Words can't even describe it. It was so humiliating that this happened to our family," she said.

The nightmare isn't over. The Stietz family has racked up tens of thousands of dollars in legal bills, more than the Stietzes paid for their farm in 1985, Sue said.

"That's why people don't fight these things," she said. "But you can't put a dollar on a life...We fought for everyone," despite hearing from some who told them they couldn't win, that the DNR can do whatever it wants.

But you won't find any of that in Smith's account in the Journal Sentinel. He has a right to his opinion, but leaving out Stietz's account is a journalistic sin of omission.

Smith contends AB 411 promotes a "very anti-American principle," privatizing wildlife.

What about the very American principle of private property rights?

Jarchow called the piece a "hatchet job."

"It might as well have been written by the former DNR wardens," the lawmaker said. "It's embarrassing that the paper of record for the state of Wisconsin publishes this kind of story. That thing was masquerading as news."

Smith wrote that a DNR warden is welcome in his camp or boat anytime. Would he feel that way if her were standing in Robert Stietz's boots?

Pro-Free Speech Democrat Ostracized, Punished for Working with Republicans

Mon, 07/24/2017 - 06:00

July 24, 2017

By Jessica Murphy

Democrats who try to work across the aisle could face a bleak future - Rep. Daniel Riemer (D-Milwaukee) is living proof.

Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum) spoke with MacIver News to explain what happened. Kremer says he first asked Rep. Evan Goyke (D-Milwaukee) to work with him on the Campus Free Speech Act. Goyke suggested that free speech may be more up Riemer's alley since he graduated from the University of Chicago - the matriarch of free speech principles.

Some of Kremer's caucus members were hesitant at first, questioning Riemer's motives and wondering "what's he trying to pull?" Kremer insisted that his goal was to try to get the bill "to the point where both sides of the aisle could...agree on some things...and at the same time we're not compromising our bill, but that we think our entire caucus would vote for."

The morning of June 21st, the day of the bill's assembly vote, Riemer pulled Kremer out of caucus to bounce ideas around on how to improve the bill. Kremer commented that "some of his ideas weren't that bad, they actually made the bill better, stronger even." As they worked in the back of the parlor, Rep. Peter Barca (D-Kenosha) and Rep. Chris Taylor (D-Madison) were "hovering around, watching us, kind of like vultures...but [Riemer] kept working."

Things got dicey when Kremer went to the floor to introduce his new amendment to the bill, which revised the Council on Free Expression to give the Board of Regents oversight rather than directing them to create a separate committee. Kremer said that "Barca flew off the handle because he said we don't know anything about this... We said that we were working with someone on his side of the aisle that had an amendment that we thought we wanted to vote for. [The democrats] said there is absolutely no way there's a rogue democrat amendment that [they] are going to even consider and [they] don't want this being brought up."

When Barca called for informal session to review the new amendment, Kremer "heard Chris Taylor was just screaming at Rep. Riemer. [Democrats] were cursing him out on the floor when we had taken that break. They were all over hovering around his desk. After this all happened I looked over at him and he was sitting there with his head down for the next hour and I thought he had just given up and he was just beat back, but no. He came over to my side of the room...and he brings the amendment over to me says I've been reviewing this...and it looks good to go."

Public humiliation on the floor wasn't the only retaliation from his fellow democrats. The Assembly Chief Clerk's office confirmed that Riemer was removed from the Ways and Means committee on June 28th and replaced by Rep. Melissa Sargent (D-Madison). Legislators with sophomore standing or above, like Riemer, are allowed one and a half staffers, but after the free speech blowback Riemer lost his half staffer. His staff is now equivalent to that of a freshman legislator's. According to Kremer, Riemer expressed concerns earlier that day that this might be the end of his political career.

Kremer reiterates that free speech should not be a partisan issue, but that the democrats are making it one. "This used to be the democrat's high ground. This used to be something that was one of their big issues and all of a sudden now that it's a republican issue they want nothing to do with it. [Riemer] knew what this was about and he knew it was the right thing to do. I think a lot of them over there knew it's the right thing to do. But for whatever reason, they just have to follow lock, stock, and barrell right down the party line," Kremer commented.

This is not the first time Kremer has experienced issues working with democrats. Earlier this session when he was working with Rep. Dave Considine (D-Baraboo) on an industrial hemp bill, Considine got cold feet at last minute and released the bill on his own. The next week, Kremer released his own version of the bill, but with significant bipartisan support.

Kremer hopes democrats are not dissuaded from trying to work with him and fellow republicans, but says people may be leery working with the democrats based on this vengeful behavior.

Rep. Dianne Hesselbein (D-Middleton) and Rep. Goyke told Kremer that the democrats "don't do a lot of education with new representatives and [they] don't really tell them how to work with the other side and how to manage their office," which Kremer found eye-opening. Regardless of the reasoning behind the lack of collaboration, Kremer states "it is what it is, and I think whatever Peter Barca tells them to do, they're going to have to do or they're going to get slammed down."

Another reason Kremer thinks the democrats fought so strongly against the friendly amendment - messaging strategy. "They wanted the story line to be what One Wisconsin Now had been touting - that this is a republican bill, there is no democrat support for it. Which is too bad," Kremer stated.

According to Kremer, Riemer deserves immense respect for standing his ground and fighting for principle over party. He reached out to Riemer as a friendly gesture to apologize for the way his fellow democrats are treating him and express hope that they can continue to work together in the future.

Kremer's Campus Free Speech Act bill passed the Assembly in late June is awaiting a Senate vote in the fall.

At the time of publication, the offices of Barca, Taylor, Goyke, Sargent, and Riemer did not return MacIver's request for comment. Riemer's remaining staffer was unable to verify his ex-coworker's last date of employment.

Weekly Roundup: Top Stories in Wisconsin Politics

Fri, 07/21/2017 - 18:15

July 21, 2017

Happy Friday, readers! The Capitol was abuzz this week with indications that Gov. Scott Walker and legislative leaders may soon be reaching a turning point in biennial budget discussions. The Senate GOP caucus released their budget blueprint for consideration, the Governor showed he was willing to compromise in order to get the budget finalized, and the Assembly Republicans made it clear they were not impressed by the Senate's attempt to move the budget debates forward.

Keep reading for more tidbits of the week's top news stories!

1. Senate GOP Budget Unveiled
On Tuesday, the Senate Republicans released their budget proposal. The plan is quite similar to Gov. Scott Walker's biennial proposal, with the exception of bonding: the Senate plan would raise bonding to $712 million, up from the $500 million proposed in Walker's plan.

In an interview with MacIver News Service, Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke reacted to the underwhelming reveal by stating "there was nothing new in anything that they said. I found that kind of surprising. I thought there would be some kind of revelation."

Another surprising change - the Senate's blueprint calls for the elimination of the Gov's income tax reduction provision, which would lower tax rates for the bottom two tax brackets and widen the second bracket to tax more income at a lower rate. MacIver Research Associate Ola Lisowski authored the Glide Path to a 3% Flat Income Tax earlier this year, and the Assembly plan calling for a 3.95% flat income tax over a 12-year period seemed to be moving in that direction.

.@SenFitzgerald says @wisgop Senate budget proposal is what's advancing the #WIbudget debate, not the @WIAssemblyGOP letter. Still no deal. pic.twitter.com/bmMCRgwSnG

— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) July 20, 2017

Read more here and here.

2. Senate K-12 Plan: More Money for Low-Spending Schools, Slightly Expanded School Choice
K-12 education is the other main issue area that has yet to be tackled in the budget decisions. The Senate's plan released on Tuesday includes stark differences compared to the Gov's proposal - $24 million more in spending, six additional DPI positions, adjustments to allow for certain districts to increase local property taxes, and an increase in the statewide voucher program's income limits to 220 percent of the poverty line.

MacIver's Ola Lisowski breaks down the K-12 Senate plan in detail here.

How does @WIGOPSenate's K-12 plan compare to Gov, Assembly? We break the complex plan down here: https://t.co/QZ2VRKhUye#wiedu #wibudget

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) July 20, 2017


3. Budget Breakthrough? Walker Deal Trades Income Tax Cuts for Transportation
With the budget three weeks past due, the pressure is intensifying for the Senate, Assembly, and Gov to come to an agreement about key issues such as transportation and education. To break this impasse, Walker offered to shift money for income tax cuts into the transportation fund. Assembly Republicans accepted the suggestion, but Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) made it clear that this compromise is not enough to sway them.

The compromise would stop a gas tax hike, but at a cost. Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) noted that "if you are going to use general revenue to fund transportation you are going to have higher income taxes [and] by forgoing income tax cuts now we can probably afford greater tax cuts down the road."

Updated: Walker deal trades income tax cuts for transpo, but Fitzgerald says not so fast: https://t.co/naS7DT0N0R#wibudget #wipolitics

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) July 21, 2017

Read more here or listen to MacIver President Brett Healy discuss the surprising situation on the Vicki McKenna Show below:

4. Tween Entrepreneurs Battle 'Big Brother' to Sell Ice Cream
The government melted the dreams of two kids who wanted to bike around selling ice cream this summer. Two 12 and 13 year old brothers from Wausau, Nic and Mac Ruffi, wanted to embrace their entrepreneurial spirit this summer rather than play video games all day, but burdensome regulations have stopped them in their (moose) tracks.

Wausau's new youth vendor city ordinance fee charges a small fee of $15, but also requires parents of the entrepreneurs to take on $100,000 liability coverage and list city of Wausau as an insured party. For many parents, including the Ruffi's, that's asking for too much.

The government messed with the wrong momma bear. Sara Ruffi, mother of the young aspiring businessmen and owner and attorney at Ruffi Law Offices in Wausau is fed up with the bureaucracy stopping her sons from their ambitions. Ruffi says "I think the government's job is to get out of their way and encourage them to be entrepreneurs and follow that spirit rather than say, 'Hey, we're going to make it difficult and expensive for you to get into business.' I think that's just wrong."

This story has a happy ending - Rep. Joel Kleefisch (R-Oconomowoc) plans to introduce a 'Lemonade Stand' bill to get pesky, burdensome, and arbitrary regulations out of the way for young entrepreneurs. The bill would allow kids under 18 to start small businesses, like the Ruffi boys' ice cream operation or a lemonade stand.

Angry Wonka would be proud: Wausau regs would cost 12-yr-old entrepreneur $620 just to sell ice cream from a bike:https://t.co/aEPvdzYi3J pic.twitter.com/JT7hbbWauu

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) July 18, 2017

.@KleefischJoel to introduce 'Lemonade Stand' bill to get regulators out of the way of young entrepreneurs https://t.co/rWX0r6QpVH #wiright

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) July 20, 2017

Read more here and here.

5. DOT Secretary Warns Budget Stalemate Could Risk Federal Funding
In an address to the La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce last Friday, Department of Transportation Secretary Dave Ross warned that the budget stalemate could lead to loss of federal funding and delays in projects.

In order to receive certain federal grants, the state DOT needs to show it can match the federal funds. While they are able to shift funds around in the department to make ends meet, Ross emphasizes the need for a budget. "We think we can cobble together enough dollars in the agency to match those grants and not miss that opportunity, but this is not the way we should be running state government. This is absolutely not the way we should be running the state government," he said.

ICYMI: On Friday, DOT Sec Ross said the agency needs a budget soon, but doesn't need new revenue.https://t.co/queD5zpP1E#wibudget #wiright

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) July 18, 2017

Read more here.

6. Supreme Court Ruling Prompts New State Private Property Rights Bill
A St. Croix County family wanted to sell one of their lots, but the county, state, and US Supreme Court all denied them since the lot is adjacent to another lot they own. This legal battle inspired Rep. Adam Jarchow (R-Balsam Lake) to introduce a bill to ensure private property violations like this don't happen in the future.

Jarchow introduced the private property rights bill, also known as the Homeowner's Bill of Rights earlier this week. He explains that the bill "grandfathers substandard lots, prohibits merger provisions, [and] provides standards with respect to conditional use permits."

MacIver News Service's Bill Osmulski covers the story here.

https://t.co/i2K92BS6dS [Madison, Wisc...] A St. Croix County family owned two lots, side-by-side, and wanted to sell one of them. The cou... pic.twitter.com/11UIsOlR2Z

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) July 20, 2017


7. Do Wisconsinites Really Want to Pay More for Roads?
The latest Marquette University Law Poll shows that transportation isn't as much of a priority to Wisconsinites as many claim. Only 23 percent of respondents considered transportation a top priority, while 25 percent viewed healthcare and 37 percent viewed K-12 education as their top priorities.

Of the group who view transportation as a top priority, only 46 percent would be willing to pay higher taxes for improved transportation. This is a stark contrast to those who consider education their top priority, of which 75 percent said they would be willing to pay higher taxes to improve K-12 programs.

MacIver's Chris Rochester takes a closer look at the numbers here.

ICYMI-Do Wisconsinites really want to pay more for roads? @MULawPoll found an answer. Hint....https://t.co/rn5ZNwJkSe#wibudget #wipolitics pic.twitter.com/TDrUKeq7K2

— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) July 19, 2017

Interested in more in-depth coverage on any of these issues? Check out our coverage from this week on budget discussions, arbitrary regulations, and more on Twitter.

Fraud Crackdown in DHS Reports Another Year of Tremendous Success

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 16:20

Report details $51 million in overpayments and future savings in 2016, result of Walker program to cut down on waste, fraud, and abuse in Department of Health Services

MacIver News Service | July 20, 2017

By Chris Rochester

[Madison, Wis...] An effort to crack down on waste, fraud, and abuse in the Department of Health Services found $51 million in overpayments and future savings in 2016 alone, according to a new annual report by the Walker administration.

The second annual report by the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) of the Department of Health Services (DHS) released on Thursday identified $32.6 million in overpayments and $18.5 million in "cost avoidance" savings - taxpayer money saved by averting future fraud - last year from the state's Medicaid and FoodShare programs.

"Since the creation of OIG, we have saved taxpayers well over $150 million with our fraud prevention and detection efforts, including savings and overpayments established of more than $51 million in 2016 alone," states the OIG in a letter to DHS Secretary Linda Seemeyer.

Waste, fraud, and abuse in Wisconsin's Department of Health Services has been significantly curtailed since Walker created the OIG in 2011. In its first five years the inspector's office has identified $38 million in overpayments to Medicaid and FoodShare recipients, increased the number of audits of Medicaid providers to 2,000 per year, and collected almost $90 million in national settlements, the report states.

A fraud reporting tip line and online portal was among the OIG's first creations, and 2016 was a record year for the system. The tip line received 3,846 complaints in 2016 - 2,599 online and 1,247 phone calls.


The return on the investment has been increasing for taxpayers. The $21 million in overpayments found in 2016 is up 74 percent from the previous year's report, and the $17.5 million in cost avoidance savings is up 21 percent over the $14.5 million found in the year prior. The OIG also conducted 16,870 Medicaid and FoodShare investigations in 2016, up 58 percent from 2015.

In one case in 2016, OIG investigators found that one family was claiming a child for benefits in Wisconsin, but the child actually lived in Texas. The family also failed to report the income received by both adults. The OIG determined the family was overpaid $127,000 in benefits and is taking steps to recoup that money.


The OIG also avoids and identifies fraud using the federal Public Assistance Reporting Information System (PARIS), which allows the OIG to identify individuals fraudulently receiving public aid from more than one state, which can result in them being barred from receiving further assistance. Through this system, the OIG identified nearly $1.8 million in overpayments and $980,464 in cost avoidance savings in 2016.

For example, the OIG used PARIS to identify a man who was claiming his grandchild was living with him in Wisconsin, but the child actually lived in Nevada, resulting in the overpayment of benefits to the tune of $37,000.

The OIG has also been successful cutting waste, fraud, and abuse in the state's FoodShare program, including tracking down illegal trafficking of FoodShare benefits by pursuing tips received through the tip lines and monitoring social media.

Through the office's efforts, 1,382 recipients were suspended from the benefit program in 2016 - up from 1,313 last year - because of intentional fraudulent activity. Federal law requires the suspension of anyone found to have intentionally violated FoodShare rules.

In one case, the OIG identified a Milwaukee County FoodShare recipient who failed to report that her husband and father of her children lived with her, resulting in $58,500 in FoodShare benefit overpayments.

In another case, the inspector's office discovered that the operator of a food cart in Milwaukee was using trafficked FoodShare benefits to buy fryer oil and french fries for her business. The woman has agreed to repay $14,000.

The report also states OIG continues to investigate violations by retailers in the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, resulting in the disqualification of 10 WIC vendors engaged in trafficking of benefits and providing alcohol and tobacco in exchange for WIC benefits.

"Wisconsin was the only state in the Midwest region to disqualify vendors for trafficking, alcohol, or tobacco violations during Fiscal Year 2016," the report states.

The OIG also works with county governments to identify fraud, providing $1 million annually to boost local anti-fraud programs. A consortium including Brown, Door, Marinette, Oconto, and Shawano Counties found nearly $7 million in savings from investigations into FoodShare and Medicaid fraud since 2012.

A similar consortium of Kenosha and Racine Counties has saved nearly $10 million since 2012. Eau Claire County has saved more than $4.3 million, and a consortium of Barron, Burnett, Chippewa, Douglas, Dunn, Eau Claire, Pierce, Polk, St. Croix, and Washburn counties has collectively saved nearly $10 million.


Gov. Scott Walker created the OIG in 2011, consolidating staff and resources that had been previously dispersed, lacking coordination and communication, according to the OIG's inaugural report last year.

"When Governor Walker first took office in 2011, FoodShare benefits issued for Wisconsin alone topped $1 billion every year. And yet, Wisconsin had only one person at the state investigating claims of recipient fraud," the new report states.

The reorganized OIG increased the number of staff dedicated to preventing waste, fraud, and abuse within DHS from one to 23. It also implemented a variety of measures to identify and prevent fraud and recoup fraudulently collected payments.

"Public assistance programs are an important safety net for those who need them," Walker said in a statement. "The fraud prevention and detection work done by the Office of the Inspector General, along with strong partners at the local level, ensures the integrity of these programs and protects taxpayer dollars."

Budget Breakthrough? Walker Deal Reportedly Trades Income Tax Cuts For Transportation

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 15:17


July 20, 2017

[Madison, Wis...] Is there a budget breakthrough brewing?

There certainly seems to be significant movement in snapping the stalemate that has bogged down work for months and pre-empted passage of a 2017-19 state budget, now three weeks past due.

In a hand-delivered letter Thursday to Gov. Scott Walker, 14 Assembly Republicans, including Speaker Robin Vos (R-Burlington) say they accept. That is, they accept Walker's apparent latest offer to shift money slated for income tax cuts into the troubled transportation fund - a move that could bring the GOP majority closer to finalizing the budget.

"We believe this compromise utilizes our current resources wisely by taking all or a significant portion of the proposed income tax cuts from this budget and using the savings to provide funding for the transportation system," the Assembly Republicans wrote.

More so, according to Vos and company, Walker's offer includes the "possibility" of no new transportation bonds.

Exactly what the other major players on the budget front think about the Assembly's letter is not clear. Walker spokesman Tom Evenson could not be reached for comment Thursday afternoon. Myranda Tanck, spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau), said Senate Republicans planned to caucus mid-afternoon to talk about the governor's concessions and the Assembly's letter.

It's a safe bet that some of the Senate's fiscal hawks won't be happy with the political horse trade of income tax cuts for transportation, particularly in light of an audit showing a Department of Transportation riddled with inefficient and wasteful practices that have cost taxpayers billions of dollars.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke (R-Kaukauna) praised the governor for his leadership in coming up with a "solution that works and is conservative, that helps keep the major projects on track." It's not the long-term fix Assembly Republicans had hoped for, Steineke said, but it "adheres to" their principles.

Walker and Senate Republican leadership have been dead set against gas tax hikes and fee increases suggested by the lower house. The compromise would hold true to that pledge, but at a cost to taxpayers.

Steineke said it's a fair trade.

"I think a vast majority of people do understand the importance of transportation infrastructure. If you talked to them and said, 'You could have a few dollars back in your paycheck every week or invest it in transportation,' I think they'd probably say, 'Use it, as long as we get reforms (to the DOT) done," the majority leader told MacIver News Service.

Earlier this week, Senate Republicans unveiled their own budget, a proposal that stays fairly faithful to Walker's plan but includes $712 million in new transpo bonding. Fitzgerald at a press conference reiterated that his caucus was not interested in new revenue (tax hikes) to pay for transportation until the DOT gets it's financial house in order.

While Assembly Republicans have stood firm against borrowing, in the letter to Walker they say they understand there is a "possibility of new bonding based on future federal appropriations and revenue-supported bonding."

"The Wisconsin State Assembly has stood strong on finding a comprehensive solution to our transportation funding challenges; we have to reduce the more than $1 billion deficit and continue to improve our state's infrastructure system," the letter to Walker states. "We believe the broad framework that you provided is responsible because it acknowledges that the state should not issue more transportation bonds without having a sustainable way to pay for that debt."

The authors conclude with a hope for a "renewed effort to negotiate in good faith and pass a budget in the very near future."

Supreme Court Ruling Prompts New State Private Property Rights Bill

Thu, 07/20/2017 - 11:46

MacIver News Service | July 20, 2017

[Madison, Wisc...] A St. Croix County family owned two lots, side-by-side, and wanted to sell one of them. The county, the state, and the US Supreme Court all told them no. Because the two adjoining lots had the same owner, they were legally the same property according to state law. State lawmakers are now working to change that law. MNS' Bill Osmulski has more.

Budget Blog - 'Deference' But Still No Budget Deal In Sight

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 23:53

July 20, 2017

[Madison, Wis...] One of the main players in the state's budget drama emerged from high-level discussions Wednesday with "deference to the Senate," but there's still no deal in sight.

As the stalemate drags on, what is becoming increasingly clear is the Republican-controlled Assembly and Senate are trying to out-conservative one another.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos stepped out of his mid-week meeting with Gov. Scott Walker and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) sounding upbeat, encouraged that negotiations are continuing.

Vos (R-Burlington), said the Republican triumvirate didn't "go into any great depth about specifics" on the Senate's budget proposal, unveiled the day before.

"So hopefully over the course of the next week we'll be able to digest what the Senate said and listen to some of their ideas and see if we can come together," Vos told reporters.

The Assembly will have to "digest" a spending plan that stays fairly true to Walker's budget blueprint and stands by his adamant rejection of gas tax hikes and vehicle fee increases. Like Walker's proposal, Senate Republicans lean on bonding, although more heavily, to fund what they see as the more pressing transportation needs.

That's a lot to swallow for Assembly Republican leaders who loathe the notion of borrowing to meet funding obligations for a growing list of road projects, preferring a "long-term solution" to fill a disputed $1 billion transportation budget hole.

"Yeah, we saw (Majority Leader Jim) Steineke say (Tuesday) we have problems with bonding at $500 million, which is where Gov. Walker was, so obviously a number significantly north of $500 million doesn't make sense," Vos said. The Senate budget plan calls for $712 million in transportation borrowing. "But at the same point, I appreciate the fact that they have ideas on the table and we will attempt to negotiate..."

The speaker said the "vast majority of Americans" believe that improvements to the nation's infrastructure are critical. Perhaps, but as MacIver News Service's Chris Rochester reported this week, the latest Marquette University Law School Poll found most Wisconsinites aren't nearly as concerned about transportation issues as tax-hike advocates have long suggested.

"Marquette's poll, conducted at the end of June, found that a mere 23 percent of respondents identified transportation as their top priority. More Wisconsinites identified healthcare (25 percent) and K-12 education (37 percent) as their number one concerns," Rochester wrote.

Senate Republicans and the governor, among others, have derided tax increases as anti-conservative. Vos took aim, conservatively, at that assertion.

"It's not more conservative to borrow than it is to continue to spend," he said. "So that's the Assembly's position. It's where we've been literally for months, so nothing has changed."

Doesn't sound like a recipe for a speedy resolution to the budget impasse. But the two sides - in this case, the same side - continues to talk.

In releasing the budget plan, Fitzgerald said the Senate has been working through the budget process even as the Assembly hasn't shown the same sense of "urgency." Vos shot back Wednesday that he's glad to see Senate Republicans have finally laid out their positions in a proposal.

"The Assembly over the course of the past several months has had positions and we've been putting a lot of those out, so you've already analyzed where we've been on transportation, education, all those kind of things," Vos said. "So we now want to give the deference to the Senate. They put their plan out, we want to take the time to talk about it and listen. And that's where we continue to negotiate, try to find the common ground between where the Senate believes they need to be and where the assembly needs to be."

Democrats, meanwhile, blame the Republican governor, in advance of next year's election in which Walker will be a formidable two-term incumbent. At an impromptu Senate Dem rebuttal Tuesday, Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, blamed the governor no less than five times before he blasted Republicans at large for "playing the blame game." Democrats have not presented their own full budget plan because they feel they have been locked out of the process by the majority party, Erpenbach said.

Senate K-12 Education Plan: More Money for Low-Spending Schools, Modest Statewide School Choice Expansion Compared to Governor

Wed, 07/19/2017 - 18:03

July 19, 2017

By Ola Lisowski
MacIver Institute Research Associate

[Madison, Wis...] After weeks of delays, the Senate Republican Caucus released a full budget proposal on Tuesday. Transportation remains the hot topic - read our full rundown right here - but the Senate plan also includes substantive tweaks to Gov. Scott Walker's proposal for the Department of Public Instruction (DPI).

The Senate plan spends $24 million more than Walker's already-generous education proposal, which sent $648 million more to public schools than current funding levels. It also adds six more positions to DPI compared to the governor's plan. The biggest chunk of that spending increase comes in the form of categorical per pupil aid, which is the same in the Senate plan as in Walker's proposal.

Categorical per pupil aid is money that all districts receive if certain criteria are met. This aid is sent to districts outside of normal revenue limits. The governor and Senate both propose investing more than $500 million into categorical per pupil aid increases consisting of $200 per pupil in 2017 and another $204 per pupil in 2018.

One place where the Senate shifts away from Walker's proposal is the low-revenue adjustment, allowing certain school districts to levy higher property taxes. The low-revenue adjustment is currently set at $9,100 per pupil, and Walker's budget proposal maintains the same level. The Senate plan would increase that number to $9,300 in 2017, then by another $100 per pupil each year until it hits $9,800 in 2022-23.

That would increase certain school districts' levy authority by $23.2 million statewide, allowing those districts to increase property taxes at the local level.

The idea is similar to one floated by the Assembly Republican Caucus in June. The Assembly package, championed by Rep. Mary Felzkowski (R-Irma) and Joint Finance Co-Chair Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette), would have raised the low-revenue adjustment to $9,800 in the second year of the budget. That adjustment would raise the statewide revenue limit authority by $92.2 million overall.

"I don't think anybody will dispute the fact that it's a huge inequality. It's lack of opportunity. If you've got a large district, they're levying at over $10,000. There's more opportunities for kids," Felzkowski said at the time of the Assembly proposal's release. Looking at school districts like Elkhorn or Merrill, she said, "where their levy limits are locked down at $9,200, they're struggling to meet the requirements to get these kids into college. The opportunities aren't there. I don't think anybody can say that's fair or that we're doing a good job."

Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) praised the Senate plan, which also repeals the state property tax, the personal property tax, and state prevailing wage, and announced that she would support it.

"Our constituents sent us here to hold the line on taxes. This budget does that and more," Vukmir said in a press release. "Not only are we eliminating the state property tax, but we are also abolishing the personal property tax, which will give much needed relief to small businesses and startups."

As for school choice, the plan would increase the statewide voucher program's income limits to 220 percent of the poverty line in 2018-19, or $53,460 annually for a family of four. Under current law, families making up to 185 percent of the poverty line are eligible for the statewide program, far below the 300 percent limit for Milwaukee and Racine. Assembly leadership said in a press release that the Assembly would remain committed to increasing statewide income limits to 300 percent, creating equity across the state.

An estimated 550 more pupils will enroll in the statewide program as a result of the changes. Other changes to the programs include prorating summer school payments for schools, allowing private choice schools to establish virtual education programs, and increasing the public school open enrollment transfer amount by $100 per pupil starting in 2017-18 and again each year until 2020-21.

The Senate plan also removes some bureaucratic barriers to the choice program in the second year of the budget. For example, one regulation says that students can only apply for the Special Needs Scholarship Program if they are first denied from public school open enrollment. Students can only apply for the scholarship if they are currently attending a public school. The Senate proposal does away with both barriers, bringing in an estimated 250 more pupils.

In a May interview with MacIver News Service, Bill Koehn, administrator and head teacher at St. Coletta Day School of Milwaukee, said such rules pose "significant" barriers for families struggling to provide a quality education for their children.

Rather than requiring school districts to verify that employees are paying at least 6 percent towards pension plans and 12 percent towards healthcare, the Senate plan would instead have districts annually report details of employee healthcare plans. The so-called "Act 10 requirement," a contentious provision introduced in Walker's budget, is aimed at tracking Act 10 savings across the state and links compliance with Act 10 to increased state aid.

Some will likely be disappointed in Act 10 compliance no longer being linked to additional state aid. However, the reporting requirement is still significant - for the first time, districts will regularly report true Act 10 savings, allowing the public to accurately track the law's immense impact.

The Senate plan would limit school district referenda to regular election days, except in cases of emergency. That idea is adopted from a legislative package introduced earlier this year by Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) and was also included in the Assembly Republican plan.

Other changes are less likely to be embraced by the Legislature's staunch conservatives, including $9.2 million in state spending for laptops for every high school freshman, regardless of income. The program would start in 2018 and would require schools to match $125 contributions in order to receive funding. The Assembly's K-12 plan also included free laptops for students, but would have started the program one year earlier, to the tune of $18.4 million in the biennium.

The plan pulls back on performance-based funding for Milwaukee's schools. Walker's plan would have spent $5.6 million for public, charter, and private choice schools in the City of Milwaukee. Of that, nearly $2 million would be set aside for the best-performing schools, who would receive awards based on their total number of pupils.

Instead, the Senate plan deletes the $2 million allocation for top schools, sending all of the performance-based funding to schools located in failing school districts in addition to any schools in the City of Milwaukee. In order to receive the extra funding, schools would have to develop a school improvement plan targeting math and reading, and must have increased their overall report card score from three years prior.

Walker's proposal would have eliminated renewal requirements for teacher and administrator licenses, effectively creating so-called "lifetime licenses." The Senate plan would instead create provisional three-year licenses for new employees, followed by a lifetime license upon the successful completion of six consecutive semesters.

While the Senate plan would spend $24 million more than Walker overall, it cuts back on certain allocations while creating several new programs.

Walker's plan would have created a new "level" of sparsity aid funding for districts with 745-1,000 pupils or only 10 pupils per square mile, and would have increased current sparsity aid funding by $100 more per pupil. The Senate saves $18 million over Walker's plan by cutting back on the governor's proposed changes to sparsity aid, instead providing school districts that have grown too large to receive sparsity aid 50 percent of the funding they received in the prior year.

Brand new allocations include $2 million for a pilot program for shared services, $750,000 in incentives grants for districts that participate in whole grade sharing or who consolidate with other districts, and $1 million for a rural school teacher talent program.

The Senate plan also includes several provisions that had been proposed by Walker but were tossed out by the Joint Finance Committee as non-fiscal policy items. One restored provision would require schools to include more information on annual report cards, such as the number of students participating in early college credit programs, youth apprenticeships, and AP courses offered and credits taken.

As always, follow MacIver on Twitter for more up-to-the-minute coverage on Wisconsin's state budget.

Pages