MacIver Institute

Subscribe to MacIver Institute feed
Updated: 8 hours 31 min ago

Walker's Transportation Budget Sets Up Showdown With Legislature

Wed, 02/08/2017 - 12:40

January 8, 2017

[Madison, Wisc...] Transportation funding is expected to dominate this year's budget debate as concerns over Wisconsin's road conditions clash with concerns over financial mismanagement at the DOT.

Governor Walker insists there will be no gas tax or fee increases for transportation. He plans to bond for $500 million over the biennium, whereas the last budget authorized $850 million in transportation bonding.

Walker also wants to transfer $30 million from the petroleum inspection fund (PIF) into the transportation fund. The PIF is funded by 2 cents of the state's 30.9 cents per gallon gas tax.

In the fall, the DOT requested $522 million in additional funding, and the governor says his proposal meets that request.

The DOT warned, however, even with this increase in funding, three major highway projects would be delayed. Also, the north leg of the Zoo Interchange megaproject would be delayed two years, and work on I-94 would not be funded.

The governor says all active major projects would stay on schedule under his plan. However, the Zoo Interchange "North Leg" would remain on hold, and the state would not enumerate the East-West I-94 project. However, the core of the Zoo Interchange will be completed on schedule.

Walker's plan also leaves $31 million for southeast Mega Projects for the North-South I-94 project, although work on that will not be finished on time.

Last month after the Audit Bureau released its report on the DOT, Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said "construction delays are driving up costs unnecessarily, our road conditions are only getting worse and a long-term solution is needed. It's clear Wisconsin is trying to do too much with too little and taxpayers are not getting their money's worth."

Vos and other lawmakers believe the answer is to increase transportation funding, preferably by raising the gas tax. That is the largest source of revenue in the segregated transportation fund, making up 53.7 percent of it last year.

However, the audit also contained a devastating assessment of the DOT's internal operations, which undermines any efforts to raise taxes on its behalf.

That audit found the DOT regularly breaks state law in budgeting, negotiating, communicating, and managing contracts. Among these statutory violations: the department does not always solicit bids from more than one vendor, it does not spread out solicitations throughout the year, it does not post required information on its website, its cost estimates to the governor are incomplete, and it skips steps in the evaluation process for selecting projects.

These practices manifest themselves through an inescapable reality: the cost of major projects tends to double after the DOT gets approval from the governor and legislature to proceed.

In August 2016, the DOT was $3.1 billion over budget on 16 projects, according to the audit. Shoddy recordkeeping made it difficult to determine the exact cause of this. The DOT has a committee in charge of approving substantial increases, but it doesn't keep minutes and auditors were told it would take months to reconstruct what happened from scattered emails.

Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Pewaukee) zeroed in on these problems in the audit. "A lack of transparency has led to costly overruns on projects, which is unacceptable moving forward," Kapenga explained in a press release.

Kapenga also noted that the audit only scratched the surface. "It is important to know that the audit is not a comprehensive review of DOT. It looked at specific areas, so there is significantly more to this discussion than the audit; however, it highlighted the need for significant reform within the DOT," he wrote.

When Vos reacted to the audit, however, he pointed out $1.5 billion in savings since 2011 under Secretary Mark Gottlieb. (Gottlieb resigned right before the audit was made public.)

In addition to bonding and the transportation fund, the DOT receives funding from the federal government. According to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau, the state received $748 million in Federal Highway Aid in 2015-16. Governor Walker's proposal for transportation funding in this budget does not depend on what the state might or might not get from Washington.

Marquette's Two-Faced Approach to Ben Shapiro Visit

Tue, 02/07/2017 - 09:37

Editor's note: Conservative intellectual Ben Shapiro is scheduled to speak at Marquette University on Wednesday night, and a liberal faculty member is openly trying to hijack the event. The university has come out in support of free speech without doing anything to discourage the faculty member from interfering. Marquette University student, Collin Cummings, explains how the school can't have it both ways.

Special Guest Perspective by Collin Cummings

On Monday, January 30th, a story broke that infuriated many conservatives not just on Marquette University's campus, but around the state of Wisconsin and the rest of the country as well.

With screenshots obtained from Facebook, it was revealed that Christina Nelson, described on her Facebook profile as a program assistant in Marquette's Center for Gender and Sexual Studies, was actively working to undermine a Ben Shapiro lecture taking place at Marquette on February 8th. Nelson encouraged her students to register for as many of the limited number of tickets as possible, so as to "take a seat away from someone who would actually go." This attempt to block free speech by a staff member at an American university should upset anyone who claims to value the constitution. It upsets me both as a Marquette student, who cares what kind of school his tuition dollars helps fuel, and simply as an American citizen. However, sadly, it does not surprise me in the slightest. Whether it is Shapiro being banned from De Paul and threatened with arrest for stepping foot on campus, or violent riots against him at Cal State, or "intellectuels" at Berkeley destroying public property because they don't like Milo Yiannopoulos, irrational responses from the left to free speech have become mainstream, and, in many cases, celebrated.

Marquette's half-hearted, uninterested response to this embarrassment to the university also is not necessarily surprising, but is notably ironic. On January 30th, the same day that the story about Christina Nelson broke, President Michael Lovell and university administration felt they needed to release a statement regarding this "current moment in our United States history." The statement asserted that Marquette "welcomes and benefits from the diversity of seekers within our ranks" and that the university is "steadfast" in its "commitment to serve all as a welcoming learning community that is open to people from a wide variety of backgrounds, perspectives, and national origins."

The question I pose to Marquette (and already have posed many times on various platforms, to which I have received no response) is this: where did you forget to put the "as long as you subscribe to a specific liberal ideology" disclaimer in that statement about the importance of diversity? How can the university stand behind that statement while continuing to employ someone who is actively working to marginalize conservative students on campus because she has decided that her way of thinking is right, and anyone who disagrees must be wrong?

Marquette must be forced to answer for their staff. Their response has been non-existent, and unless university administration would like to see the school continue to be highlighted as one of the most hostile to free speech institutions in America, swift action needs to be taken. It is time for Marquette University to stand behind its pledge to be a home to all backgrounds and all voices.

MacIver Institute Joins Nationwide Coalition Urging Major Tax Reform

Mon, 02/06/2017 - 05:00

February 6, 2017

[Madison, Wis...] The MacIver Institute today joined 29 other free market organizations to urge Congress to act on a major overhaul to the nation's tax system in President Trump's first 100 days in office.

The letter emphasizes the urgency of reforming America's complex, burdensome tax code as soon as possible. "Today, pro-growth tax reform is needed more than ever. It is imperative that lawmakers prioritize an overhaul of the tax code in 2017 and make significant progress in the first hundred days of the Trump administration," the letter states.

The full letter is below:

Dear Speaker Ryan & Chairman Brady:

On behalf of the undersigned organizations, we write in support of your efforts to pass pro-growth tax reform into law in 2017.

Given the importance of this issue, we believe is imperative that the House of Representatives make significant progress in the first hundred days of the Trump administration toward passing comprehensive, pro-growth tax reform.

Passage of tax reform that simplifies and updates the code is key toward encouraging economic growth, creating more jobs and higher wages, and promoting innovation and ingenuity. The release of your "Better Way" tax reform blueprint last year was the first step in achieving this important goal, and we encourage you to continue working to ensure tax reform becomes a reality.

As you know, it has been more than 30 years since comprehensive tax reform was last signed into law. Since then, our foreign competitors have drastically reduced their rates, simplified their codes, and updated their systems to be globally competitive. Meanwhile, our tax code has almost tripled in size and has failed to keep pace with the norms of global tax competition.

Tax reform should be viewed as an opportunity to reduce rates for all taxpayers while also repealing many of the discriminatory and preferential provisions in the code in favor of a broader base. Lawmakers also ought to repeal a number of unnecessary taxes like the Death Tax and the Alternative Minimum Tax, which only add to the complexity of the system.

On the business side, tax reform should ensure our small businesses and corporations can compete against foreign competitors, while also ending the confusing, arbitrary system of depreciation in favor of immediate, full expensing of business investments.

Where possible, changes to the tax code should be permanent changes to law. When lawmakers have enacted short-term tax legislation in the past, it has inevitably come under threat in the future by legislators that want to increase the scope and size of government through higher taxes. In contrast, permanent legislation will give families and businesses much-needed certainty and will help contribute to a stronger economy.

Today, pro-growth tax reform is needed more than ever. It is imperative that lawmakers prioritize an overhaul of the tax code in 2017 and make significant progress in the first hundred days of the Trump administration.

Sincerely,

Grover Norquist
President, Americans for Tax Reform

Pete Sepp
President, National Taxpayers Union

James L. Martin
Founder & Chairman, 60 Plus Association

Dan Weber
President, Association of Mature American Citizens

Lindsey Boyd
Policy Director, Beacon Center of Tennessee

Jim Waters
President, Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions (Kentucky)

Tom Schatz
President, Council for Citizens Against Government Waste

Chip Faulkner
Citizens For Limited Taxation (Massachusetts)

Chuck Muth
President, Citizen Outreach (Nevada)

Katie McAuliffe
Executive Director, Digital Liberty

Palmer Schoening
Chairman, Family Business Coalition

Adam Brandon President and CEO,
Mario H. Lopez President, Hispanic

Carrie L. Lukas
Managing Director, Independent Women's Forum

Heather R. Higgins
President and CEO, Independent Women's Voice

Andrew Langer
President, Institute for Liberty

Dr. Robert McClure
President and CEO, The James Madison Institute (Florida)

Lisa B. Nelson
President and CEO, Jeffersonian Project

Brett Healy
President, The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy (Wisconsin)

Allen Gutierrez
National Executive Director, The Latino Coalition

Seton Motley
President, Less Government

Colin Hanna
President, Let Freedom Ring

Dee Hodges
President, Maryland Taxpayers Association

Brian McClung
Chair, Minnesota Center-Right Coalition

Jordan Harris
Executive Director, Pegasus Institute (Kentucky)

Charlie Gerow
CEO, Quantum Communications (Pennsylvania)

Paul J. Gessing
President, Rio Grande Foundation (New Mexico)

Andrew Moylan
Executive Director, R Street Institute

Karen Kerrigan
President & CEO, Small Business & Entrepreneurship Council

David Williams
President, Taxpayers Protection Alliance

DOT Audit Exposes Systemic Problems

Sun, 02/05/2017 - 17:07

February 7, 2017

By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

It's hard to see how former Department of Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb could look worse after the recent report by the Legislative Audit Bureau (LAB). No audit of any state agency is going to look pretty, but what came out of the LAB looks like it could have been written by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley.

It's hard to imagine that any agency crying poverty as much as the Wisconsin DOT could be so reckless with the taxpayer dollar. You'd think the Board of Regents was running the DOT.

Let's start with the most basic responsibility of the agency, picking contractors for road projects. The audit found, "DOT potentially could have saved $44.7 million, or an average of $4.5 million per year, if it had received two bids on each of the 363 construction contracts that had actually received only one bid from January 2006 through December 2015."

The 363 projects represent 16.2 percent of the contracts awarded in that period, totaling $1.1 billion in contracts that only received one bid. Not surprisingly, these one-bid winners were "6.7 percent more than the estimated amount that design engineers had determined."

Using the Federal Highway Administration's standard of competitiveness for bids, the audit found less than adequate competitiveness on 545 contracts (24.3 percent).

It was not until June of last year that the DOT decided to give contractors more time to look at construction plans before making bids, hoping this would encourage more bids. However, it's limited to "prequalified contractors."

While it's a lot easier on DOT bureaucrats to only have one bid to choose from, over 36 construction projects per year with only one bid should have raised some flags that there's a problem with the procurement process. Even the Sopranos faced competition on the garbage routes from rival organized crime organizations.

The audit also found that the timing of the bids hurt the taxpayers, too. As any homeowner knows, bids on work to be done on the house will always be cheaper in the off-season because the contractors are trying to lock in work to fill up the calendar. When the construction season is full-swing and every contractor is booked, the price of getting new windows or a roof on the house is going to go up.

The Wisconsin DOT knows this, too. Given the limits of Wisconsin weather, it's not surprising that the DOT has tries to get "67.0 percent of the total contract amount solicited in a given fiscal year should be solicited from October through March." The LAB confirmed the wisdom of the approach:

We examined all construction contracts executed from FY 2006-07 through FY 2014-15. We found that the winning bids submitted by contractors for solicitations held during the quarters from October through December and from January through March were generally lower, compared to the amounts estimated by design engineers, than the winning bids submitted in the other two quarters. As a result, DOT benefited financially when soliciting contracts from October through March. However, the goals were not met. The LAB found that had the DOT met its goals, it could have spent $53.1 million less over the nine-year period, or an average of $5.9 million per year.

But what's surprising in an agency supposedly strapped for funding is the bizarre behavior when the DOT did save money by soliciting bids during the proper times. According to the LAB,

DOT also indicated that if winning bids early in a fiscal year are lower than expected, or if it unexpectedly receives additional funds, it may later in the fiscal year solicit bids for additional contracts that otherwise would have been solicited in future fiscal years.

So when the DOT did the right thing by spending less by soliciting bids in the off season, it would then take the "savings" and do the wrong thing by soliciting bids during the summer months to spend the new-found money when those extra road projects would be even more expensive.

It would be like saving money on getting your driveway sealed because you signed the contract in January and then using the "saved" money in June for a new boat. You could smash a bottle of Dom Perignon on the side, "I dub thee, the Taxpayer's Remorse."

Did nobody at DOT say that perhaps the money would be better spent covering the cost overruns on the existing projects underway? Because while the DOT was crying poverty, it kept underestimating the costs of the projects in which it was engaged.

Here's where the real money is lost, and the legislature bears part of the blame, too. The audit found:

The cost estimates reported for 16 ongoing major highway projects increased from an estimated $2.7 billion at enumeration to an estimated $5.8 billion as of August 2016, or by $3.1 billion. DOT budgeted to complete more major highway project work than could be completed with its available funding because it did not sufficiently take into account the extent to which inflation and unexpected cost increases would increase project expenditures over time.

At some point the state needed to say that it could not complete all of the major highway projects on the wish list. Instead, costs were underestimated as inflation and "unexpected cost increases" for the major projects more than doubled what was actually spent.

Why is the DOT's underestimating the costs of major projects so important? "DOT provides the Governor and the Legislature with an estimate of total project costs when a major highway project is considered for enumeration. The Governor and the Legislature use these cost estimates to help determine whether to enumerate a project."

If DOT had provided realistic cost projections, perhaps the legislature could have prioritized better or forced the DOT to find savings earlier rather than wait for the audit. Instead, the legislature now faces the prospect of raising the gas tax substantially if it doesn't want to borrow more money.

We're a long way from where the Walker Administration found the DOT when it took office. Former Governor Jim Doyle played a shell game with transportation funding, taking $1.3 billion from the DOT segregated fund for other budget priorities over eight years. In Doyle's last state budget, the DOT borrowed $1.34 billion to make up for it. An amendment to the state constitution now prevents such raids on transportation funding.

But four years after Gottlieb's request for a jump in the gas tax and the creation of a "miles driven" tax was ignored by the legislature and the governor, the DOT hasn't shown any self-discipline with the funding they've received. Instead, the DOT under Gottlieb has all the self-discipline of a teenage girl with Daddy's gold card at the mall. Telling the legislature that everything is half off and hoping that they'll never see the bill is not behavior that should be rewarded with an increase in the DOT's allowance.

Cost Unknown for Wisconsin's New Electrical Code

Thu, 02/02/2017 - 16:32

[Madison, Wisc...] The State of Wisconsin finished its public hearings for over 2000 changes to the electrical code on Thursday, February 3rd. The Fiscal Analysis states it's impossible to determine how much the new code will cost the state's economy. Some argued, cost shouldn't matter when it comes to safety.

Former Gov. Thompson: Most of Obamacare Can be Undone by New HHS Secretary

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 11:35

MacIver News Service | January 31, 2017

[Madison, Wis...] The vast majority of Obamacare could be swept away by the same bureaucratic rule-making process that the Obama administration used to create it, former governor Tommy Thompson told a crowd in Madison on Tuesday.

Thompson, who was Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush, said that 70-80 percent of the law was actually written after it passed Congress because it relied on countless "the secretary shall" clauses as a replacement for actual legislative language.

Those fill-in-the-blank sections allowed much of Obamacare to be created via the HHS rule-making process after the bill became law, but they will also allow much of the law to be dismantled in the same way.

While a large portion of the law can be reversed by the HHS secretary, Thompson added that other significant pieces of the law will need to be tackled by Congressional Republicans, a caucus he said is deeply divided over how to proceed. Congress will have to decide on whether to immediately repeal Obamacare's trillion dollars in taxes and the individual mandate, and decide on a replacement plan - all points of contention within the GOP ranks.

Given a choice between immediate, full repeal of Obamacare and all its taxes and a more gradual, piecemeal approach, Thompson was confident it will eventually be the latter because of political realities, including disagreement among Republicans on whether to immediately repeal all of the health law's taxes.

"I think getting the Republicans together is going to be a bigger problem than finding the eight Democrat senators," Thompson predicted. Outside of a process called reconciliation that will be used to repeal certain budget-related aspects of Obamacare, the GOP will need to find enough Democrats for a filibuster-proof 60-vote margin on other reforms like selling insurance across state lines, encouraging more consumer-oriented insurance plans, and reforming state insurance exchanges.

The Republicans currently hold 52 seats in the Senate and the tie-breaking vote of the vice president.

Attracting Democrat votes on smaller bills that chip away at Obamacare might be a political necessity, Thompson said, adding that reaching a 60-vote majority on smaller bills might be easier than it seems because of the number of Democrat senators up for re-election in 2018 in states that Trump won.

Thompson also heaped praise on President Trump's nominee for Secretary of HHS, Tom Price. An orthopedic surgeon by trade and former chair of the House budget committee, Thompson said Price understands healthcare and would "do a very good job" in the role Thompson once held.

Thompson said Obama administration HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was put in an untenable situation. "She really didn't understand healthcare," but was in charge of implementing the massive healthcare law. "You won't have that with Tom Price because he understands it."

Asked about Senate Democrats' walk-out and boycott of Price's confirmation hearing earlier in the day, Thompson said, "Sooner or later they've got to come back." He joked that he was looking at Sen. Tim Cullen, who was one of the Senate Democrats who fled the state for Illinois in a failed effort to stop Act 10 six years ago.

Thompson added that, despite the stakes, House Speaker Paul Ryan and other congressional leaders fully understand the opportunity for conservative reforms that a Republican White House and Congress presents. "They are dedicated not to miss this opportunity to change the direction of the country."

Legislative Leaders Seize Opportunity to Restore Federalism

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 05:00

January 30, 2016

By Chris Rochester
MacIver Institute Communications Director

The long-embattled concept of Federalism has new life after the November elections put Republicans in control of Congress and the White House. Judging by President Trump's cabinet nominees, his team will eagerly embrace restoring a proper balance in the state-federal relationship - and Wisconsin is ready.

Federalism, especially in America, is the idea that federal powers are strictly limited by the Constitution. This seemingly forgotten concept is specifically enshrined in the United States Constitution - the Tenth Amendment states that, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

In other words, other than the narrow and specific list of powers and duties enumerated in the Constitution, all other powers of government belong to the states and the people. However, America has gradually but definitely drifted away from this model and completely ignored the Tenth Amendment in the process.

That's why the goal of Federalism today is to restore the balance of power by shrinking the scope of the federal government to its core Constitutional duties, scaling back federal mandates imposed on the states (unfunded and otherwise), and giving states more flexibility to administer programs like Medicaid, education, and other responsibilities that the Constitution doesn't explicitly give to Congress.

In Wisconsin, leaders in both houses of the legislature are already preparing for new responsibilities in anticipation of Washington finally remembering that the states created the federal government, not the other way around. In fact, both the Assembly and Senate now have standing committees dealing with Federalism - the Assembly Committee on Federalism and Interstate Relations, and the Senate Committee on Financial Services, Constitution and Federalism, both created in December.

In letters to Assembly and Senate leadership, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Rep. Jason Chaffetz asked state legislatures around the country for their perspective on and experiences with unfunded federal mandates.

In his reply, Speaker Vos, focused on health and environmental federal mandates. The federal government imposes a chaotic web of redundant oversight programs that create an unfunded and draconian burden on Wisconsin hospitals. The Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) also imposes a bevy of heavy-handed and often confusing mandates and reporting requirements that add significant costs for hospitals.

In just one example, Vos points to a confusing "shared space" and "mixed use space" policy for hospitals that even CMS interprets differently depending on who you ask.


Vos also writes that environmental permitting requirements, the so-called "Clean Power Plan," and Clean Air Act mandates all unnecessarily inhibit business growth in Wisconsin.

"Our goal is to plainly illustrate that these widespread mandates run up a huge tab on local governments and the private sector...Unfortunately, taxpayers end up footing the bill," Vos said in a statement.

In addition, Rep. Dale Kooyenga cited various unfunded federal mandates in education, including staff training and reporting requirements by the Office of Civil Rights, federal testing mandates, reporting requirements in the Federal Lunch Program, and other costly unfunded mandates imposed by federal agencies.

Senators Chris Kapenga and David Craig are taking the lead in the Senate. "When developing policy solutions at the state level, we are continually stymied by federal rules preventing us from solving important problems," the senators wrote in their reply to Chaffetz. Federal funds with unfunded mandates and "strings attached" are commonly used to usurp state and local power, increase costs to the taxpayer, and add more bureaucracy, they added.

Kapenga and Craig pointed to burdensome EPA regulations, education mandates, the Davis-Bacon federal prevailing wage law, and Dodd-Frank banking regulations as areas where the federal government could ease the burden on state and local governments. They also focused on rules and mandates across more than 150 different welfare programs as their main sources of frustration with the federal government.

A failed 50-year war on poverty shows us that the one-size-fits-all federal approach doesn't work, they wrote. Instead, the senators requested that the federal government provide block grants for those 150 welfare programs, which would shrink the federal bureaucracy and free the state from a vast network of federal rules governing the management of the programs. This is especially important in light of Gov. Walker's recent welfare reform proposal that would add work requirements for welfare recipients but requires waivers from various federal rules.

"Underprivileged families will be best served under a federalist approach, in which states are given the latitude to test new ideas and learn from one another how to best address poverty," Kapenga said.

"In many ways our hands have been tied by the Feds. We now have an opportunity to see real reforms come out of Washington which would give us the freedom and flexibility to continue Wisconsin's march forward," Craig and Kapenga said in a joint statement.

Both the Senate and the Assembly made it clear in their letters to Chaffetz that their suggestions are far from exhaustive. In taking the reins of a deeply entrenched federal leviathan, President Trump and his team have a lot of work to do - work that must be done if the new president intends to keep his promise to America to get Washington out of the micromanagement business and "drain the swamp."

Study: Obama Department of Education Effort Spent $7 Billion, Had No Effect

Mon, 01/30/2017 - 05:00

MacIver News Service | January 30, 2017

[Washington, D.C...] A new report from the federal Institute of Education Sciences has revealed that the Obama administration's School Improvement Grant (SIG) program failed to create any academic gains for students. The controversial grant program spent $7 billion over eight years, and was the largest-ever federal investment in failing schools.

Then-Education Secretary Arne Duncan promised that the major effort would turn around 5,000 failing schools through a series of incentives. Duncan declared it to be the administration's biggest bet.

Now we know - as some have been warning for years - that the schools which received federal dollars posted no significant differences in academic outcomes, graduation rates, or college enrollment than the schools which received no money under the program.

Read more over at EdNext.

UWM Faculty Publicly Attack White, Conservatives as Racists

Thu, 01/26/2017 - 09:47

January 26, 2017

[Milwaukee, Wis...] This Saturday, UWM faculty will try to prove to Milwaukee's African American community that white conservatives are racist.

The UWM Department of Africology will be giving a presentation at the Community Brainstorming Conference in Milwaukee this weekend called, "The Mainstreaming of Hate in American Electoral Politics."


Assistant Professor Nolan Koplin will explain how whites are racist, while Visiting Professor Gladys Mitchell-Walthour will talk about how conservatives are racist. Koplin's presentation will focus on his research "The White Backlash Against Obama's Post-Racial Presidency." Mitchell-Walthour will provide an international comparison with her work "Conservatism and Discrimination in Brazil: Parallel Paths of Hatred in the USA and Brazil."

Harwood McClerking, another assistant professor from the department, will also be sitting on the panel, and Dr. Ruth Russell, Director of the UWM Academic Opportunity Center, will be moderating.

Nine faculty members work in UWM's Africology Department, which "exposes students to historical texts and literature, modern social issues, philosophical questions and political crises through an African-centered lens," according to its website. This prepares students for careers in business, government, education, public health, communication, social services, and public policy. The department offers bachelors, masters, and doctoral degrees.

Kopkin's salary from UWM in 2015 was $96,455. The combined salaries of the department for 11 faculty members was $812,505 that year.

UWM has a partnership with the Community Brainstorming Conference, which seeks to address current issues affecting the African American Community.

Last year's topics included: "The New Assault on Blackness: The Restructuring of Higher Education" presented by UWM's Africology Department and "Human Trafficking Post Traumatic Stress Disorder," with panelists from MPD and the court system.

The conference also has hosted candidate forums, and some attendees included Chris Abele, Pedro Colon, Jeff Stone, and JoAnne Kloppenburg.

The Community Brainstorming Conference Breakfast Forum goes from 8 to 11 am at Saint Matthew C.M.E Church, 2944 North 9th Street, Milwaukee, WI. The event is open to everyone.

PLA Reform Bill Gets First Hearing in Assembly, Senate

Thu, 01/26/2017 - 05:00

January 26, 2017

[Madison, Wis...] Project Labor Agreements (PLAs) were center stage in the Assembly and Senate this week as both bodies held hearings on a bill that would prohibit governments from requiring the union-friendly agreements as a condition to bid on public projects.

The bill, Assembly Bill 24 (AB 24), was introduced by Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield) in the Assembly and Sen. Leah Vukmir (R-Brookfield) in the Senate. It would essentially forbid state and local governments from requiring that a contractor employ union labor as a prerequisite for being awarded the contract on a taxpayer funded project. Instead, bidding would be open to all contractors, both union and non-union shops.

Rep. Hutton testified before the Assembly Committee on Labor on Tuesday morning. He made the case that his bill wouldn't forbid the use of PLAs, but that it would level the playing field between union and non-union shops when bidding on publicly funded projects.

.@StateRepHutton testifying before Asm Labor Cmte on PLA legislation pic.twitter.com/rIJ5nlBZam

— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) January 24, 2017

Hutton: legislation does nothing to eliminate #PLA's from govt projects. It only prevents them from being used as a prerequisite to bid.

— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) January 24, 2017

Democrats on the committee continued asking Hutton if he was opposed to local workers and veterans working on projects, good paying jobs, retirement, and even workers being able to put bread on the table, all of which they claimed Hutton's bill threatened.

Rep. Ohnstad asking Hutton if he's opposed to local workers, veterans working on projects. Hutton says he's not opposed to any workers.

— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) January 24, 2017

Rep. Sinicki asks Hutton if #PLA bill would lead to out of state firms coming into WI. Hutton says it could help create jobs in WI.

— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) January 24, 2017

Sinicki asks if Hutton is opposed to good paying jobs, retirements, bread on table. Hutton says #PLA bill will help all firms in economy

— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) January 24, 2017

.@StateRepHutton: #PLA legislation opens more opportunity for non-union firms that employ veterans.

— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) January 24, 2017

A speaker testifying for the state AFL-CIO made the claim that without union labor, Wisconsin's infrastructure could end up looking like the infrastructure in Bangladesh, a claim Rep. Dan Knodl pushed back against.

AFL-CIO representative testifying on #PLA bill at Asm Labor Cmte pic.twitter.com/zBjaatQyTJ

— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) January 24, 2017

Rep. Knodl challenges union testimony that WI roads and bridges could end up looking like Bangladesh if not for #PLA's, union work.

— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) January 24, 2017

John Mielke, testifying for Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC) of Wisconsin, said government should spend taxpayer dollars prudently and fairly. He said it's unfair for non-union workers to pay taxes, yet have no opportunity to work on their local taxpayer-funded projects because of a PLA.

John Mielke of @ABCofWisconsin testifies before Asm Labor Cmte on @StateRepHutton @LeahVukmir #PLAreform bill pic.twitter.com/hFLcOds32K

— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) January 24, 2017

Mielke: when spending taxpayer dollars, govt should spend fairly. Not fair for nonunion workers to pay taxes, not have opp to do the work

— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) January 24, 2017

A representative from ABC's national organization made the case that PLAs are essentially a government-enforced monopoly for union shops, paid for by the taxpayers.

ABC rep: #PLA's are about unions asking govt to give them monopoly over projects at taxpayer expense. #PLAreform prevents that. #wiright

— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) January 24, 2017

Rep from ABC national: Research shows #PLA's increase costs to taxpayers by 12-18%

— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) January 24, 2017

While Dane County Executive Joe Parisi testified against the PLA reform bill, he agreed with committee chairman Rep. Bob Kulp on one point.

.@RepKulp: #PLAreform bill isn't pulling the thread that will unravel western civilization. Co Exec Parisi agrees.

— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) January 24, 2017

The companion bill, Senate Bill 3 (SB 3) was heard before the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform Wednesday. Arguments for and against the bill were much the same as in the Assembly, except one senator who took a different view on special interests getting favors from government.

#Wisconsin Senate hearing on Project Labor Agreements begins #wipolitics pic.twitter.com/OgwfUNQKrF

— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) January 25, 2017

Sen Bob Wirch just said it's ok for politicians to push contracts to special interests. If you don't like it vote for someone else #WISOTS

— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) January 25, 2017

A Glide Path to a 3 Percent Flat Income Tax

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 05:00
A Policy Brief by the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy


January 25, 2017

By Ola Lisowski
MacIver Institute Research Associate

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
Download the executive summary in PDF format here.

Since the beginning of his tenure, Governor Scott Walker has made tax reform a priority for Wisconsin. Walker has said he hopes to lower the tax burden every year of his term. Thus far, he has stuck to his pledge, having lowered taxes by $4.76 billion in under six years.

Both the amount of taxes and the different types of taxes that Governor Walker has cut since he took office is impressive.

It should not be simply glossed over how much progress Wisconsin has made reducing taxes in recent years. In 1994, less than 25 years ago, Wisconsin ranked 3rd nationally in overall tax burden and our taxes were 16 percent above the national average.

Today, property taxes are at the smallest percentage of personal income since 1945, 3.6 percent. The average homeowner in Wisconsin, in 2016, paid $116 less in property taxes than he or she paid in 2010.3 According to the Department of Revenue, the typical family in Wisconsin has seen their income taxes cut by $1,159. Wisconsin's state and local tax burden, as reported in December 2016 Census Bureau data, fell to 10.8 percent of personal income, the 16th highest among the states. By comparison, the year prior, Wisconsin's tax burden ranked the 15th highest at 10.9 percent of personal income.

While Walker and the Republican Legislature should be lauded for all the taxes they have cut, these tax cuts have done little to improve Wisconsin's overall tax ranking. Similar to the Census Bureau data mentioned above, the nonpartisan Tax Foundation's most recent ranking of state and local tax burdens puts Wisconsin at the fourth highest in the nation and highest in the Midwest. In the same study, the Tax Foundation found that state and local taxes take up 11 percent of all personal income in Wisconsin every year. These tax cuts have also done little to stop or even contain the never-ending and seemingly inevitable growth of the state budget. The 2011-2013 state budget spent over $66 billion from all funding sources. The 2015-17 state budget spent nearly $74 billion.

Clearly, it is time to think about the next big and bold reform that will transform our state and make Wisconsin an economic powerhouse for generations to come. It is time for a flat tax in Wisconsin.

Wisconsin's reputation as a high-tax state has a significant impact on the state's ability not only to attract newcomers, but also to retain those who are already residents. Annually, Wisconsin loses an estimated $136 million in adjusted gross income to tax migration. The high tax burden drives individuals to leave for those states with lower tax burdens or no income tax at all, such as Florida and Texas. One study, which examined Internal Revenue Service data from 1992 through 2015, showed that Wisconsin lost $3.40 billion in wealth to Florida, $1.08 billion to Arizona, and $769 million to Texas during the 23-year period. In that time, almost 93,000 people migrated from Wisconsin - that's more than the entire population of Racine, the state's 5th largest city. The loss of so many individuals, their businesses, and their economic activity does not bode well for the economic future of the state. Lower, flatter income taxes are one way to help stem the tide of emigration from Wisconsin.

Low, flat state income tax rates are actually common throughout the country. Seven states levy no individual income tax at all. New Hampshire and Tennessee currently tax dividend and interest income, though recent reforms in Tennessee have set a glide path to total elimination of the income tax in 2022. Eight states have flat individual income tax structures, and 33 states, including Wisconsin, levy progressive tax rates based on income level.

In today's mobile economy, every state must compete for new residents and new businesses or risk losing them to other states. While climate and the local job market are big factors in a person's decision to move, a state's tax burden plays an important role in keeping recent graduates, people looking for a better life, and retirees from moving to a state with a lower tax burden.

The personal income tax, not just the corporate tax, is also becoming a bigger factor in the financial health and growth of businesses. The number of pass-through entities has nearly tripled since 1980, making pass-through businesses the most common business form in the country. Pass-through entities are not subject to typical corporate taxation, but are instead taxed under the individual income tax. Profits are passed through to the shareholders or partners of these companies and become part of their income. More than half of Wisconsin's workforce is now employed by pass-through businesses, giving the individual income tax even greater importance to the livelihoods of Wisconsinites and the success of their businesses. In Wisconsin, pass-through businesses pay a top marginal income tax rate of over 48 percent - the 8th highest rate in the country.

Taking nearly half of a company's income is detrimental to success and economic growth. Many states are wising up to the fact that high income taxes hurt competitiveness by punishing success and hard work. Despite the rhetoric that progressive taxation results in a fairer outcome, evidence shows that progressive income taxes are actually associated with higher income inequality.

THE SOLUTION: A 3 PERCENT FLAT TAX

This report sets out to explain why Wisconsin should continue to ratchet down its relatively high individual income tax system and many different rates to one flat rate. Evidence from a variety of sources - economic, social, and fiscal health metrics, as well as academic studies - demonstrates the benefit of a lower and flatter income tax structure. After examining Wisconsin's position within the Midwest and considering recent reforms around the country, this report will recommend that Wisconsin transform its progressive income tax to a flat 3 percent tax rate for all taxpayers over an eight year period. In subsequent papers, we will continue to build our case through a comparison with Indiana, a state similar in size and demographics to Wisconsin, and will recommend specific steps that Wisconsin can take to make a flat tax a reality.

A systematic glide path to a 3 percent income tax rate would give Wisconsin the most competitive income tax among Midwestern states while greatly improving the state's attractiveness on a national level. Such a move would have a significant impact on the incomes of all Wisconsinites and most importantly, would allow working class people to keep more of their income. A 3 percent flat tax would be a tax cut for everyone in Wisconsin. Under the current "progressive" tax code, our lowest tax rate of 4 percent for those who make just $11,120 per year is the 4th highest tax rate among the 33 states with a progressive income tax system.

Spacing out the rate reductions over a number of years protects the state budget from sudden and steep revenue drops, giving sufficient time to make gradual adjustments so the transition to the new tax system is smooth.

If Wisconsin is serious about becoming a high-performing state in a 21st Century economy, it must continue its recent tax-cutting momentum to fundamentally change the fiscal trajectory of our state and to lighten the tax burden for its hard-working residents.

Our economic future depends on it.

---

Download the full report here.

---

Former MacIver Institute researcher Matt Crumb contributed to this report.

Gov. Walker Announces New Welfare Reform Plan

Mon, 01/23/2017 - 18:34

Former Gov. Thompson joins Walker to unveil ambitious "Wisconsin Works for Everyone" initiative

MacIver News Service | January 23, 2017

[Madison, Wis...] Governor Scott Walker announced his plan on Monday to make it easier for people on welfare to re-enter the workforce. The initiative, called Wisconsin Works for Everyone, is intended to help people move off government assistance by finding jobs.

The wide-ranging plan expands work requirements for those on the state's FoodShare program, requiring able bodied adults with school-age children to either work 80 hours per month or enroll in a job training program. It would also expand work requirements to working-age able-bodied adults on housing assistance.

The new work requirements expand on Walker's 2015 FoodShare reform, which required able-bodied childless adults to work 80 hours per month or enroll in the FoodShare Employment Training program. Since that reform was implemented, 21,000 participants have found employment.

The plan also seeks to eliminate the "benefits cliffs" in the childcare assistance and Medicaid Purchase Plan (MAPP) programs. In both programs, a recipient loses all benefits at a certain income threshold, which means taking pay raises, promotions and more hours at work could cost the recipient all their benefits. Walker's plan introduces a phase-out model for the benefits as a recipients' income rises.

In addition, Walker's plan would reform occupational licensing practices in the state, providing more scrutiny for proposed new occupational licenses and a review process for existing licenses.

It would also strengthen child support work programs in a pilot program involving five counties, help offenders re-enter the workforce with vocational training and work placement, and provide grants to help develop employer resource networks that connect job seekers with work. The plan also creates two new tax credits to incentivize work.

Former governor Tommy Thompson and many of his administration's officials joined Walker at a news conference Monday afternoon to help unveil the agenda. Thompson said that before his administration's 1996 Wisconsin Works welfare reform, 200,000 people were on the state's welfare rolls. After W-2, only 5,000 were enrolled.

"Wisconsin Works for Everyone, like Governor Thompson's original W-2 initiative, is based on the fundamental principle that work is dignifying and connects individuals to society and to its values," Walker said.

Top Senate Republicans praised Walker's plan.

"Our goal is to transition the government from the role of provider to connector, ensuring everyone has the opportunity to realize their full potential and improve their lives," said Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), chair of the Senate Committee on Public Benefits, Licensing, and State-Federal Relations.

"The governor's plan moves Wisconsin one step closer to achieving that goal and promotes economic opportunity by addressing our state's burdensome occupational licensing regulations," Kapenga added.

Sen. Duey Stroebel (R-Saukville) said, "As I travel my district and speak to employers, I have heard stories of government assistance recipients who will become worse off by taking a new job or pay increase. Government assistance should incentive - not penalize - full-time work. These ideas make it easier to climb the economic ladder."

More specifics of Walker's reform initiative will be provided in his budget proposal next month.

Norquist, Healy: Repeal Obamacare

Mon, 01/23/2017 - 09:43

January 23, 2017

By Grover Norquist and Brett Healy

The following op-ed first appeared in the January 22 edition of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

As its first act of 2017, Congress is set to repeal Obamacare through a process known as budget reconciliation. This will fulfill the promise made by congressional Republicans to reverse Obamacare's higher health care costs, give patients better choices and finally end billions in wasteful spending.

Repeal also is an opportunity for Congress to give Americans of all income levels more than a trillion dollars in lower taxes by repealing all of Obamacare's new or higher taxes. Above all else, repeal of Obamacare should be hailed as a big win for middle-class families.

When President Barack Obama signed Obamacare into law he broke his promise not to sign "any form of tax increase" on any middle-class family. Many of the Obamacare tax hikes directly or indirectly hit middle-class families and increase costs, drive down wages and hinder creation of new jobs.

For years, conservatives have called for replacing Obamacare with a health care system that reduces costs, increases access and affordability of care, and empowers doctors and patients to make the best choices they need. The first step toward achieving this goal is through eliminating the many taxes that are used to enforce this system of government-controlled health care.

Families faced with high medical bills -- almost all of which are in the middle class -- face an income tax increase because of Obamacare. Around 10 million families pay $200 to $400 in higher income taxes each year because the law increases the threshold at which families can deduct medical expenses paid out of pocket. Prior to the law, the threshold was 7.5% of AGI, but Obamacare increased this to 10%, a tax hike that affected taxpayers earning an average of $53,000 prior to implementation.

Not only does the law directly increase health care costs, it then drives up costs through a number of taxes on life-saving and life-improving medical products and services, including innovative medicines and medical devices. In addition, through the $130 billion tax on health insurance, Obamacare directly increases the costs of insurance for small businesses and families. This tax increases the bill for Wisconsin families by more than $3 billion a decade, and will increase the costs of insurance by more than $5,000 per American family over the same period, estimates the American Action Forum.

What makes this tax even worse is the individual mandate that explicitly forces everyone -- including middle-class families -- to purchase "qualifying" health insurance, as defined by the federal government. Failure to do so is an income tax penalty totaling more than $2,000 for a family of four. Then, when middle-class families try to save for future health care expenses they again face several tax hikes through restrictions on the use of tax-advantaged Health Savings Accounts and Flexible Spending Accounts.

Specifically, Obamacare punishes families for using HSA and FSA dollars for over-the-counter medications. Families had been making such household medicine cabinet purchases for years. The law also hikes taxes on FSAs by imposing a cap ($2,500) on the amount of income families can contribute to FSAs and increases the tax penalty on early withdrawals from HSAs.

These tax-preferred savings accounts are used in conjunction with insurance plans, which tend to cover large and/or unexpected health events and allow individuals to make choices that best fit their needs. Under Obamacare, their use has been restricted based on the false idea that government knows best.

Lawmakers in Wisconsin and across the country can give middle class families a needed tax cut by repealing all of Obamacare's trillion dollars in taxes.

Grover Norquist is president of Americans for Tax Reform, a Washington D.C. based advocacy group. Brett Healy is president of the MacIver Institute.

Read the original op-ed here.

Image credit: BBC

Harry Potter and the Prudent City Council

Mon, 01/23/2017 - 08:43

[Edgerton, Wisc...] After hosting a Harry Potter festival for two years, the organizers said they were $100,000 in the red and wanted the City of Edgerton to pick up some major expenses for this year. They predict the festival will draw over 100,000 people this year, and that all those visitors will benefit the city. The list of items they requested from the city would cost taxpayers around $200,000. They said if Edgerton isn't willing to pitch in, a lot of other cities would be happy to take their now famous Harry Potter Festival away from them.

UW-Oshkosh Scandal Proves More Oversight Needed

Thu, 01/19/2017 - 10:10

Should serve as a reminder - taxpayers deserve an independent, comprehensive audit of UW System

January 19, 2017

[Madison, Wisc...] Recently revealed allegations of the misuse of public funds by the former chancellor and vice chancellor at UW-Oshkosh should have taxpayers and legislators outraged - and demanding a long-overdue independent audit of the entire UW System.

In response to the unfolding scandal at UW-Oshkosh, MacIver Institute President Brett Healy issued the following statement:

"Taxpayers should be outraged that their hard-earned dollars were allegedly used illegally as a financial guarantee for building projects and that university officials transferred university funds to pay for private projects."


"It is even more troubling that these sorts of shenanigans keep happening at the UW. If the UW cannot prevent financial abuses like this from happening, taxpayers need greater protection. When the UW was caught with a billion dollars in surplus funds in 2013, the Legislature passed a requirement that the UW undergo an independent audit to ensure that the taxpayers' money was being spent properly."

"UW officials claimed at the time that an audit was unnecessary and wasteful. Clearly, the Oshkosh scandal shows that they were wrong."

"It is time to protect the taxpayer. It is time for an independent and comprehensive audit of the UW System and all affiliates of the UW."

Healy concluded: "How can the public be assured that their hard-earned tax dollars are being used properly? Without a comprehensive, independent audit, the answer is simple - they cannot."

Vos Backs Down on Gas Tax

Wed, 01/18/2017 - 13:56

[Madison, Wisc...] Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said don't expect a gas tax increase during a WISPolitics luncheon at the Madison Club on Wednesday.

Vos was responding to a woman's blunt question in the audience, "Will you please raise my gas taxes to help pay for the roads?"

"Probably not," Vos admitted.

The speaker described the situation in terms of a poker hand. "If you're a card player, I have a pair of twos, the governor has a straight and I have to draw three of a kind to win. Now it's not impossible, but I wouldn't bet on me," Vos explained.

He said since the governor is determined to not raise the gas tax, the legislature needs to consider other options. However, Vos said the answer is not simply eliminating waste in the DOT.

"You're not going to solve the problem by eliminating roundabouts," he stated.

He also does not believe ending prevailing wage is a realistic option. He suggested, for now, the state needs to prioritize its needs, while keeping all options on the table.

After the luncheon, Vos told reporters that he did not concede on transportation funding. He said he's seen research that the public overwhelmingly agrees that road funding is a problem, which means he's optimistic lawmakers will be able to find a solution.

Vos said he believes the legislature will be able to find ways to lower taxes in the budget, which will allow for increasing revenues to transportation. He insisted that would not mean a gas tax increase.

Obama, Reconsidered

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 12:26

What were Obama's biggest failures and disappointments?

January 17, 2017

By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute

Any assessment of President Barack Obama's two terms in office will begin, inevitably, with where he ranks among the presidents. It's shorthand among some conservative commentators, talk radio hosts and even on social media that Obama is the worst president ever. But any objective examination of history tells us that's not case, any more than when his supporters said that about Obama's predecessor, President George W. Bush.

President James Buchanan surely ranks as the worst. Buchanan allowed the South to secede, allowing those states to take military assets that would later be used in the Civil War. Congress even refused to pay for Buchanan's presidential portrait.

Woodrow Wilson inflicted upon the country the income tax and widespread repression at the end of his second term. Rutherford B. Hayes took office after the infamous Compromise of 1877 when the Republicans agreed to end Reconstruction by withdrawing federal troops from the South in exchange for control of the White House. Andrew Jackson agreed to the Indian Removal Act of 1830 which caused the Trail of Tears for the Cherokee Indians. Richard Nixon was nearly impeached for misconduct in office, and we're still paying for his domestic policies today. Bill Clinton was impeached. Jimmy Carter's own party grew tired of his incompetence and he faced a challenge from Sen Ted Kennedy.

So Obama was not the "worst president ever." But an honest assessment of Obama's record would not put him in the top tier, either. His own ambition was to be a transformative figure like Ronald Reagan, and his long farewell to the American people is supposed to remind people of George Washington. Instead, Obama's ambition outweighed his ability, and the last week has us wishing Chevy Chase was back on Saturday Night Live - "Our top story tonight, Barack Hussein Obama is still saying goodbye to the American people."

Let's remember the promise of eight years ago when Obama was the change he was seeking, or something like that. He took office after a terrible financial collapse and recession. However, the Bush Administration had already taken the immediate steps of the Wall Street bailout to stabilize the economy, and it was Obama's fortune to preside over the nation's economic recovery.

Obama's $804.6 billion stimulus, crafted by Congressional Democrats, contributed to doubling the national debt in his time in office. It's estimated that only $33 billion went to "shovel ready" transportation spending. Much of the money was spent shoring up state government spending on Medicaid and education, including here in Wisconsin. But at least the Recovery.gov website was redesigned, and it only cost $18 million.

The "summer of recovery," like the effects of global warming described by Al Gore, never seemed to arrive. Economic growth through the beginning of 2016 averaged just 2.1 percent. While unemployment is down, labor participation is the lowest it's been since Jimmy Carter was in office, and that's only partially due to demographics.

It certainly didn't help that under the Obama Administration the Federal Register, the book of federal regulations, is now over 97,000 pages long. Worse, according to Forbes the problem isn't just the regulations but the growth in "Agency guidance documents and memoranda, notices, bulletins, circulars, other decrees."

Meanwhile, the Obama Administration's environmental policies didn't help, either, including his war on coal. Yes, natural gas got cheaper, thanks to fracking technology, but much of the coal industry was hit hard by EPA regulations, putting thousands out of work and raising energy costs. The good news is that Obama never addressed the public on energy costs wearing a sweater and suggesting we adjust our thermostats. We can thank the private sector and fracking.

Finally, the greatest disappointment of the Obama domestic agenda has to be Obamacare. The greatest lie Obama ever told was the promise that if you liked your health insurance you can keep it. Not only did that turn out to be a lie, but people were having a hard time keeping their new insurance policies through the exchanges, too.

Insurance companies like Aetna, Humana and UnitedHealthCare dropped out of the exchanges when it became clear they couldn't make money by being in them. The insurance companies remaining in the health care exchanges often have such high deductible and premium costs to make them unaffordable, even with government subsidies.

Obamacare co-ops were designed to create more competition, but only seven of the original 23 co-ops now remain, according to The Hill. In Illinois, Oregon and Ohio, 92,000 people had to scramble to find insurance when their co-ops failed in 2016.

As large private health insurance companies leave the market and the co-ops fail, many consumers are left with no choice. Business Insider reports a study by Avalere Health said 36 percent of the "exchange market regions" may only offer one insurance carrier in 2017. Nearly 55 percent will have two or less carriers. The Heritage Foundation says that number could grow to 70 percent of the counties in the United States next year.

Obama said recently that 20 million people have health insurance coverage that did not have coverage before. The Heritage Foundation points out the number is closer to 14 million, and 11.8 million of them received coverage through expanding the rolls of Medicaid, not private insurance. As many of them are discovering, "coverage" does not equal care, and are frustrated by the number of doctors that do not accept Medicaid.

So, no, Obama didn't preside over a civil war, although race relations actually got worse during his time in office and police departments feel besieged by liberal politics. He didn't get impeached, although his administration was hardly scandal-free. Obama is not the "worst president ever."

But his domestic policies can be graded a failure on the Obama standard. Instead of the transformative figure he hoped to become, Obama's policies should be swept away by a Republican congress that achieved success when it ran against the Obama agenda.

Why Obamacare's '20 Million' Number Is Fake

Tue, 01/17/2017 - 09:47

January 17, 2017

As the debate about how to repeal Obamacare heats up, no doubt we'll be hearing a lot about the "20 million" people who have health insurance coverage because of the law. The Daily Signal, however, breaks that number down and reveals it to be phony.

Keep this in mind the next time a liberal politician tries to pull at your heart strings as President Trump and Republicans start to dismantle the (un)Affordable Care Act.

From The Daily Signal:

Liberals are notorious for caring about "groups" of people, but when it gets down to individual persons, not so much. You're about to see this play out in spades as Democrats cry crocodile tears over the coming repeal of Obamacare.

You hear it over and over again: "This will be catastrophic for the 20 million people who were previously uninsured but now have coverage! You can't take away their health care!"

First of all, no one is talking about doing that. Any repeal legislation will have a transition period for those who got coverage through Obamacare to move to new plans. And second, they will have more choices and better options. Win. Win.

But liberals would rather focus on quantity, how many millions we've given something to, versus quality, what does that "gift" mean for individual people.

The Obama administration claims 20 million more Americans today have health care due to Obamacare. The reality is that when you look at the actual net gains over the past two years since the program was fully implemented, the number is 14 million, and of that, 11.8 million (84 percent) were people given the "gift" of Medicaid.

And new research shows that even fewer people will be left without insurance after the repeal of Obamacare. Numbers are still being crunched, but between statistics released by the Congressional Budget Office and one of the infamous architects of Obamacare, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Jonathan Gruber, it's estimated that anywhere from 2 to 7 million people now on Medicaid would have qualified for the program even without Obamacare.

That further discredits the administration's claim of 20 million more Americans having health insurance because of Obamacare.

Multiple studies have also shown that even those who are uninsured often have better outcomes than those with Medicaid. A University of Virginia study found that for eight different surgical procedures, Medicaid patients were more likely to die than privately insured or uninsured patients. They were also more likely to suffer complications.

And it is important to note that this study focused on procedures done from 2003-2007, prior to the geniuses in Washington deciding it was a good idea to put even more people on the already overburdened Medicaid system.

Additionally, despite what proponents of the law promised, there is little evidence to show that the use of emergency rooms, which have a higher level of medical errors, has decreased due to Obamacare.

Then there is this reality: While Obamacare has handed out millions of new Medicaid cards, that does not mean the recipients now have quality health care. In fact, it doesn't ensure they have health care at all. That's because increasing numbers of doctors aren't accepting Medicaid.

As a Louisiana woman told The New York Times, "My Medicaid card is useless for me right now. It's a useless piece of plastic. I can't find an orthopedic surgeon or a pain management doctor who will accept Medicaid."

Read the full article at The Daily Signal.

Wastebook: Porkémon GO!

Mon, 01/16/2017 - 09:47

January 16, 2017

Wisconsin might not be the worst offender in Sen. Jeff Flake's annual report on federal pork projects, but the state still provides some embarrassing examples of wasteful spending.

While scientists in California study the endurance of fish using treadmills, the Bad River Band in Wisconsin received a grant to see if they can use herring eggs for caviar.

Also, while private dairies have invented hundreds of delicious products, the Burnett Dairy Cooperative in Grantsburg received $250,000 to 'help expand the sales of meat infused string cheese.' Meanwhile, it would seem plenty of other innovative dairy products sell without the benefit of government subsidies. What exactly is meat-infused string cheese anyway?

Wisconsin's final contribution to Sen. Flake's "Wastebook" involves the VA, which probably wouldn't surprise anyone. Apparently the Madison VA spent $313,000 for two robots to help distribute supplies. No one ever turned them on, and the department sold them back to the manufacturer unused two years later for a paltry $2,000. You can get a better trade-in on your diesel VW Jetta.

Sen. Flake continues his tradition of rooting out and publishing wasteful spending by the federal government in his annual "Wastebook." This year, he fills 206 pages with nearly $5 billion in wasteful spending on everything from fish on treadmills to giant glow-in-the-dark doobies. $5 billion might be just a rounding error in the budget if you're a federal bureaucrat, but in the real world, that's serious money.

Will President Trump come through on his campaign promise of rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse in the federal ledgers? This report would be a good start. See the report below:

Thanks to the office of Sen. Jeff Flake for making this insightful report on wasteful government spending available yet again, exposing some fishy federal spending in 2016.

Wisconsin Coalition Supports DeVos for Secretary of Education

Fri, 01/13/2017 - 14:24

January 13, 2017

[Milwaukee, Wis...] The MacIver Institute and five other Wisconsin organizations sent a joint letter on Friday to U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander, chairman of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions in support of Betsy DeVos, President-elect Trump's nominee for Secretary of Education.

The letter states in part, "As you know, Wisconsin is home to the nation's oldest school choice program. We have witnessed firsthand here the need for dramatic reform of a status-quo education system and we can testify to the incredible impact empowering parents can have on a child's education and their future...Mrs. DeVos has worked with local advocates for education reform in Wisconsin for decades to give parents a greater say in the education of their children."

The MacIver Institute is joined by School Choice Wisconsin, Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty, Hispanics for School Choice, and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce in urging the timely confirmation of DeVos.

The full letter follows and can be downloaded here:

The Honorable Lamar Alexander, Chairman
U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
428 Dirksen Senate Office Building
Washington, D.C. 20510

Dear Senator Alexander,
We write today to support President-elect Donald Trump's nomination of Betsy DeVos as the next Secretary of Education.

As you know, Wisconsin is home to the nation's oldest school choice program. We have witnessed firsthand here the need for dramatic reform of a status-quo education system and we can testify to the incredible impact empowering parents can have on a child's education and their future.

Mrs. DeVos has worked with local advocates for education reform in Wisconsin for decades to give parents a greater say in the education of their children. Mrs. DeVos has been a relentless fighter for all of our children, regardless of their skin color, where they live, their economic status or what type of school they attend.

Simply put, Mrs. DeVos has pushed to make the education ecosystem better in Wisconsin so every child has a chance to be successful in school and every child has a chance to pursue their dream after graduation. We believe she is the right choice to reform our nation's education system.

Clearly, our nation needs Mrs. DeVos' leadership and educational vision right now. According to the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress, less than forty-five percent of our fourth graders are proficient in reading and mathematics. Our lowest-achieving students are performing worse than ever and only about a third of our high school seniors are ready for college math and reading classes. The news is not much better on the international level. Thelatest Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) results show lower math scores for American students and flat scores in science and reading compared to students from across theglobe. Our PISA performance in math now ranks the United States near the bottom among the thirty five industrialized nations in the world. This is unacceptable.

We are also excited that Mrs. DeVos believes that education policy should be driven by parents and experts at the local level, not a one-size-fits-all dictate handed down from unelected federal bureaucrats on high. We need a federal education department that recognizes the importance of local control - an idea that might work in California might not work in Wisconsin - and we believe Mrs. DeVos will allow Wisconsinites to figure out how to best educate our children and prepare them to succeed in the global economy.

We believe Mrs. DeVos is an outstanding pick by President-elect Trump for Education Secretary. We ask that the United States Senate confirm Mrs. DeVos in a timely fashion so that she can get to the task at hand - turning around our nation's education system - and give all of our children an opportunity for success and a better future.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Brett Healy
President
The John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy

Jim Bender
President
School Choice Wisconsin

Kurt Bauer
President/CEO
Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce

Richard Esenberg
President & General Counsel
Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty

Jason Crye
Executive Director
Hispanics For School Choice

Tim Sheehy
President
Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce

Pages