MacIver News Service | April 29, 2017
By M.D. Kittle
[Madison, Wis...] - Government bureaucracies are rife with irony.
Here's one: State agencies that promulgate costly rules and regulations for businesses, property owners and communities are now concerned that figuring out just how expensive said regs are could be costly to the agencies.
An amended version of the bill originally authored by Sen. Devin LeMahieu, R-Oostburg, and Adam Neylon, R-Pewaukee, this week narrowly passed in the Committee on Government Operations, Technology and Consumer Protection.
LeMahieu tells MacIver News Service the bill is in a "good place."
"We're hoping to get it on the Senate calendar in the next couple of weeks," the senator said, adding that he believes he has at least 17 votes, but the amended version could push that to 20.
The Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny, or REINS, proposal is similar to legislation moving through congress, but with lower thresholds. It provides greater legislative oversight of the regulations adopted by state agencies. Any rule or regulation with an economic impact of more than $10 million would require legislative approval.
And it gives the legislature's Joint Committee for Review of Administrative Rules more muscle. The committee would be empowered to request a public hearing earlier in the rule-making process and call for an independent review of the proposed regulation's economic impact.
While LeMahieu said there has been relatively little pushback from bureaucrats regarding the REINS Act legislation, some agency officials have expressed concern that state departments could be subject to costly reviews of the regulations they propose. They worry that they'll have to find money they don't have in their budgets to cover the costs - much like the businesses and property owners the agencies force to comply with expensive regulations.
Such sentiments pretty much sum up the reason for the REINS Act, LeMahieu said.
"If it is going to have a relatively large impact on businesses or municipalities, essentially the citizens of Wisconsin, we should probably know that going forward," the senator said.
The changes give agencies a bit of a break, to a point.
If an independent analysis sought costs over $50,000, the Joint Finance Committee would decide who would pick up the tab. The agency could still be on the hook.
Should an independent review show the proposed regulation's impact to be more than 15 percent higher than the agency's original estimate, the department would bear the cost of the outside analysis. It's an incentive, the amendment's author says, to foster agency accuracy.
The amended bill also gives the administrative rules review committee the ability to halt a proposed rule, LeMahieu said.
"I think that's important. It beefs up the committee a little bit, giving legislators the ability to halt a rule if it is going above and beyond what the agency should be doing," the lawmaker said.
LeMahieu noted a 2010 Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources stricter rule on phosphorous emissions. A 2015 economic impact review found the rule could cost businesses and municipalities $708 million per year. Costs could top $7 billion in 20 years.
Source: National Association of Manufacturers
U.S. businesses on average pay around $10,000 per employee in government regulations, according to a study by the National Association of Manufacturers. The cost is closer to $19,000 for manufacturers. Government rules and regs cost more than $2 trillion per year, the report finds.
The most recent semi-annual survey by Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce found that businesses see regulations to be the top obstacle to growth, for the first time edging out perennial favorite, taxes.
"That puts a fine point on the squeeze businesses are feeling," said Scott Manley, senior vice president of Government Relations.
Excessive regulation takes away cash that businesses could be using to create jobs, expand operations, and grow the economy, Manley said. Ultimately, consumers pick up much of the costs.
The governor has the power to veto legislative decisions on an executive branch regulation. It would then be up to the legislature to to override the veto.
REINS has its share of supporters and critics.
The legislation is supported by free-market, limited-government advocate, Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin.
"AFP strongly supports a key concept of this legislation - that citizens deserve to have a voice through their elected officials on regulations that threaten to significantly impact their lives or could put their jobs or businesses in jeopardy," the organization stated in a recent press release.
Democrats and environmental activists see catastrophe written all over the REINS Act.
"While the legislation may seem innocuous on its surface, the proposal is rife with opportunity for corporations and politically connected interest groups to undermine regulations aimed at protecting the public good," state Rep. Dianne Hesselbein, D-Middleton, told Wisconsin Public Radio earlier this month.
The bill's authors say the proposal is about accountability, something too often missing from government.
"This bill will ensure that officials elected by Wisconsin citizens are able to hold state agencies accountable and have the necessary oversight over rules that impact citizens and businesses in all corners of our state," Neylon said at a recent public hearing.
Sources say the bill is expected to soon move in the Assembly, where similar REINS Act legislation passed in the last session only to die at the Senate's door step.
MacIver Institute's M.D. Kittle talks to Northwoods Patriots founder Kim Simac about the group's rally scheduled for Saturday afternoon.
A MacIver (8-Bit) Perspective
No, Atari did not release a game about roundabouts in the 1980s. This is a "homebrew" game programmed by MacIver reporter Bill Osmulski. In this video he runs you through the levels while talking about some of the random roundabout facts he's come across while investigating Wisconsin's transportation funding. By the way, yes, the game can actually be played on a real Atari 2600 if you still have one.
MacIver News Service | April 27, 2017
By Bill Osmulski
[Milwaukee] There's no getting around the fact Milwaukee's roads are in terrible condition, but there's nothing the state can do to change that. Solving the problem depends entirely on the local city government making road maintenance and improvement a priority.
The city government bears the sole responsibility for maintaining 987 out of 1,273 miles of roads in Milwaukee. It cannot use any state or federal aid to maintain or improve those roads.
Out of a total budget of $1.5 billion, the City of Milwaukee budgeted a mere $16 million for Local Streets and High Impact Streets in 2017. That will address only 30 miles of city streets this year. At that rate, it will take Milwaukee 30 years to get to all the 987 miles it's responsible for.
Meanwhile in Madison, lawmakers are calling for more local aids, seemingly unaware that even if they increase funding, it won't do local governments much good. The City of Milwaukee can only use that aid on 286 miles (22 percent) of its roads. And even then, it is limited on what it can spend that money on. For example, Local Road Improvement Program funds can't be used for routine maintenance like filling potholes and sealing cracks. General Transportation Aids can be applied to a wider range of projects, but it is merely meant to "partially offset" costs to local government.
That means, the ultimate responsibility for local roads lies with local government. It doesn't matter what state lawmakers decide to do with transportation, roads in cities like Milwaukee will stay in terrible condition until the local government decides to make road improvement a priority.
Wisconsin's 40th ranking shows that there's still work to do on tax relief
April 27, 2017
It's Tax Freedom Day for the Badger State, the day when hard-working Wisconsinites have finally earned enough money to cover their total tax burden for 2017, according to the Tax Foundation's annual Tax Freedom Day initiative. That's right - we work the first 117 days of the year to cover our tax bill.
National Tax Freedom Day was April 23 - 113 days of work - but since Wisconsin taxpayers still bear a heavier-than-average tax burden compared with the country as a whole, we must toil away for four more days.
Tax Freedom Day in Wisconsin ranks #40 on the Tax Foundation's Tax Freedom Day list, meaning Wisconsinites pay off their tax bill before residents of New York, California, Minnesota, and Illinois. However, taxpayers are better off in four Midwestern states: Iowa (#14), Indiana (#19), Ohio (#27), and Michigan (#32).
Wisconsin's #40 ranking held steady from 2016 but is down from #37 in 2015. Also, in 2015 Tax Freedom Day was on April 25, two days earlier than this year. Despite efforts to reduce the tax burden in the Badger State, it seems that other states have leapfrogged Wisconsin by taking on even more dramatic tax reform.
Wisconsin is the lowest-ranked state with a Republican trifecta - where the GOP controls both houses of the legislature and the governor's mansion.
While Wisconsin has enacted many much-needed tax reforms over the past 6 years that have saved Wisconsinites nearly $5 billion, there is clearly still more work to do to remain competitive nationally and keep our ranking going in the right direction - down.
Perhaps it's time to talk about a major income tax overhaul, such as the MacIver Institute's Glide Path to a 3 Percent Flat Tax...
MacIver News Service | April 26, 2017
By M.D. Kittle
[Madison, Wis...] - Call it a communication gap, but 12 percent has suddenly become contentious again.
Some public school officials are upset with a carrot and stick in Gov. Scott Walker's 2017-19 budget that ties additional state aid payments to compliance with a key component of Act 10 - Walker's 2011 law that reshaped the negotiating relationship between the taxpayer and public employees.
Act 10, among other reforms, prohibits local government employers that health insurance through the state's Group Insurance Board to pay more than 88 percent of the "average premium cost" of plans in the program. Those general government employees are required to pay at least 12 percent of the premium cost.
The exception includes law enforcement personnel, firefighters and transit workers.
Walker's budget calls for $649 million in increased state public education spending, but districts with health insurance plans outside of the state Group Insurance Board system would have to comply with the 12 percent premium provision in order to pick up additional per-pupil aid. Currently, the 12-percent requirement does not apply to those districts on independent plans.
The Madison Metropolitan School District has been in a lather over missing out on $16 million in state aid if it continues to absorb more employee health insurance obligations than would be allowed.
Madison's progressive school board had long resisted making employees pick up their premium costs, instead asking taxpayers to foot the bill. Last year, teachers began paying 3 percent of their premiums.
Mike Barry, budget director for the Madison school district, told the Wisconsin State Journal that the district found ways to offset the cost of covering employees' required share. Barry described it as "the Madison Way."
The Madison Way calls for yet another property tax increase ($94 on an average home), at least under the recent "balanced budget" proposal presented by Madison School District Superintendent Jennifer Cheatham.
Cheatham's plan seeks an $8.4 million increase over this school year's $389.7 million operating budget.
While the district is contemplating following the 12 percent compliance provision, it again intends to do so in "the Madison Way."
"The budget for next school year also could require district employees to pay 12 percent of their health insurance premiums -- though the budget plan recommends doing it in a way that wouldn't actually take any more money out of district employees' pockets," the State Journal reported. "Instead, the district could find cost savings and use them to raise wages and salaries."
Republican supporters of Walker's compliance requirement argue that the law is the law, and that it shouldn't be difficult to follow.
But some contend that the 12 percent requirement is too rigid, particularly in a highly competitive world of teacher recruitment. More so, districts that cut costs elsewhere to make up for covering more than 88 percent of employee health insurance premiums shouldn't be penalized, they argue.
The potential bigger problem, according to a Wisconsin Legislative Council memo obtained by MacIver News Service, is the broader compliance language in Walker's budget. It states that any district that receives the pledged additional per-pupil state aid must require its employees to pay at least 12 percent of "all costs and payments associated" with employee health care coverage plans.
That raises questions about the intent of the bill.
"This language is similar to, but does not precisely overlap, the Act 10 requirement for local public employers who are participating in the state's program to pay no more than 88% of the average premium cost of plans offered in the program," states the March 1 Legislative Council memo.
The broader "all costs and payments" could be "interpreted as being more expansive than applying only to premiums and like contributions," the memo states.
What about the variety of health plan designs operating outside of the basic premium model? What about cost sharing of deductibles, co-payments, or co-insurance? Health savings accounts? Are these areas included, the Legislative Council memo asks. If not, is there a disparity in public employee/employer payments under the compliance language?
Among other possible revisions, the council proposes the new requirement provide a "similar effect," including only traditional premiums and like contributions and excluding high deductible plans and out-of-pocket costs.
Walker earlier this week said he hopes the Legislature keeps some of the measure in.
"If they want to tweak it slightly, that's fine," the governor said Monday.
Members of the powerful budget-writing committee have said they plan to keep intact the governor's $649 million increase for K-12 schools, but he believes the funding hike should come with accountability requirements like the Act 10 compliance proposal.
School districts would have to certify that school employees are paying the required percentage of health care coverage costs, a requirement known as the "Act 10 compliance provision."
Accountability has been a sore spot. The MacIver Institute has conservatively estimated Act 10-related savings at more than $5 billion, but that information has been extremely difficult to come by. Savings stem from employee contributions to health care premiums, state pensions, and limits on wage increases, among other public sector collective-bargaining reforms.
"I just believe that when we're putting more in, whether it's K-12 or technical colleges or the University of Wisconsin System, that we should have some degree of assurance that it's going to be in performance, that it's actually going to deliver the promises made," Walker said. "And in this case, I think using the tools that were given to school districts under Act 10 ensures that those dollars will go into the classroom where they're intended to show student success."
MacIver News Service | April 26 2017
By M.D. Kittle
[Madison, Wis...] - A resolution that could make Wisconsin the 30th state to call for an Article V convention in pursuit of a federal balanced budget amendment appears on track for a vote next month on the Senate floor, multiple sources tell MacIver News Service.
Sen. Chris Kapenga the resolution's author, said sponsors are working through the political process, trying to bring reluctant members along.
"We are discussing right now to see if we can get it on the May calendar," the Delafield Republican said Tuesday. "A couple of members have concerns. The reality is politics are playing in, which is part of our process."
Kapenga sounded confident that the resolution will make it to the Senate floor and that it will pass.
While Dems generally hate the idea of a balanced budget amendment and employing the never-used Article V mechanism to do so, Kapenga's bigger challenge is selling his specialized bill to some of his fellow conservatives.
States may call a convention to craft constitutional amendments under Article V of the U.S. Constitution, but it requires at least 34 states to do so. It takes three-fourths of the states, 38, to ratify any proposed amendment that would come out of such a convention.
Amendments, to this point, have been the domain of Congress. "Congress, whenever two thirds of both houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose amendments to this Constitution," Article V states. But the Founders in the same article gave the states the power to do the same.
As things stood Tuesday, 29 states have passed Article V resolutions calling for a federal balanced budget amendment.
Christian Schneider may be among the more vehement of Article V critics. In a recent piece, the conservative columnist for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel colorfully summed up the trepidation expressed by some on the right.
"...(C)racking open the Constitution in 2017 could be as horrifying as when the Germans cracked open the Ark of the Covenant at the end of (the movie) 'Raiders of the Lost Ark,' Schneider wrote. "Once you're inside, there's no telling what you'll find."
The fear from the right and left is that invoking the constitutional power could unleash a "runaway convention."
Democrats like Assembly Minority Leader Peter Barca of Kenosha insist Americans' rights could be "up for grabs" at a constitutional convention.
"These are unsettling times and there is probably not a worse time to have a Constitutional Convention in our nation," Barca told the Associated Press last month.
But liberals, too, have jumped on the Article V bandwagon for a cause they hold dear: overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's Citizens United ruling that widened the gates on campaign finance and political speech.
Schneider of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel laid out what he and other conservatives see as the potential perils of the convention.
"...Republicans would put at risk all the other existing amendments that have defined America for centuries," he wrote. "Just within the past three years, Senate Democrats introduced a proposed amendment that would have drastically altered the freedom of political speech provided by the First Amendment."
Kapenga asserts the anxiety is unfounded. His resolution specifically calls for a convention on a federal balanced budget amendment - and nothing more.
Kapenga has introduced a separate measure requiring Wisconsin convention delegates to faithfully follow the rules laid out last summer by the Assembly of State Legislatures.
While a separate conservative-led movement calls for expanded amendments to rein in the power of the federal government, those who worry about runaway federal spending say a balanced budget amendment is of primary concern.
"It's immoral for one generation to borrow and spend beyond its means and leave the bill to the next generation," Scott Rogers, director of the Balanced Budget Amendment Task Force, told the New York Times. Representatives from the Task Force did not return MacIver News Service's request for comment.
With the U.S. debt approaching $20 trillion and recent Congressional Budget Office report painting a bleaker picture for the next few decades, Kapenga said voters are, for good reason, worried about the federal government's out-of-control spending. While transportation, education, health care and other fiscal issues take center stage in the Badger State's budget debate, Kapenga said ever-rising national debt remains in the public eye.
That's why he's confident his Article V resolutions will move forward in the days ahead.
"No one looks at the federal debt and says it's not a big deal," he said.
MacIver News Service | April 25, 2017
By M.D. Kittle
[Tomah, Wisc...] - Kris Ottman battled insurgents and terrorists during two tours of duty in Iraq only to fight the war of big government red tape back home.
But the 31-year-old Iraq War veteran has won a critical victory against the VA machine after going public with his struggles in obtaining disability benefits for a service-related medical condition.
Ottman tells MacIver News that the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has reversed its position on the veteran's disability rating, changing it from zero to 30 percent for a claim related to his esophageal disorder. The agency also has backdated his claim to 2010. Ottman will receive some $33,000 in back pay for benefits the agency should have awarded over the past six years, and he will receive a monthly check moving forward.
Previously diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder caused by his military service, Ottman will now be rated at a combined 50 percent on the VA's disability chart, and he will receive benefits based on his dependents.
While thrilled with the outcome, Ottman asserts the VA's change of heart came after his bureaucratic struggles were featured in a Wisconsin Watchdog story earlier this month.
"I got a call from a regional VA representative who said she saw the article," he said. "They reviewed my case and noticed there was an error" in the VA record.
Initially, the VA offered to rate Ottman's esophageal disability at 10 percent and backdate it. Ottman told the representative that the rating system requires that for his type of medical disorder, a 30 percent disability rating is demanded.
Last year, Ottman had gone through his latest round of corrective medical procedures that have been shown to improve his esophageal pain and suffering - at least for 12 to 18 months. He has had the procedure performed multiple times since he had laparoscopic surgery more than a decade ago to repair his esophagus.
The VA soon conceded, and awarded Ottman the higher disability rate and benefit payment.
"From my dealings with them, it sounds like they don't want to deal with the PR repercussions," Ottman said. "It's a shame it takes having to go through the media to bring things public like this, to get some answers."
Matthew Gowan, spokesman for the Tomah VA Medical Center where Ottman originally received the zero percent disability rating, did not return MacIver's request for comment Monday.
The VA has had plenty of PR black eyes in recent years. The Tomah facility has been dubbed "Candyland" because of its opioid overprescription practices. A 2015 investigative report detailed allegations of abuse by its disgraced former chief of staff, abuses that contributed to the death of a 35-year-old Marine veteran. And nearly a year ago the U.S. Senate's Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, chaired by Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Oshkosh, released a report that found the scandal-plagued medical center was sickened by a "culture of fear."
Ottman claims an examining physician at Tomah conducted a cursory exam without looking at his medical history. Worse yet, Ottman said, VA did not inform him that he had received a zero percent disability rating. Unaware, he missed the 60-day window of appeal.
Contrary to VA public relations campaigns, Ottman says wait times remain a huge problem at Tomah. While he acknowledges the VA health care system is making improvements, particularly for first-time patients, he said delays remain an issue for veterans coming back for follow-up care.
An inspector general report last month found VA medical facilities in North Carolina and Virginia vastly understated wait times for appointments in 2016, according to a story in USA Today. The report concluded VA scheduling data remains a "high risk" area for the agency.
"The miscalculations, outlined in an inspector general report issued Thursday, masked actual demand for care and precluded veterans from getting private sector treatment, which they are supposed to be able to get if they have to wait longer than a month for a VA appointment," the story stated. "The inspector general looked at primary and mental health care appointments for new patients and referrals for specialists and found that overall, 36% had to wait longer than a month for an appointment, but the VA scheduling system said only 10% had waited that long."
Ottman said he's confident the bureaucratic problems at the VA won't stop simply because of media exposure.
"I don't fear there will be more like me because I know that there is," the veteran said. "I hope by me bringing this up it helps to make some changes and reform how the VA system in Wisconsin works."
April 24, 2017 | MacIver News Service
By Chris Rochester
[Madison, Wisc...] A bill repealing what's left of the state's prevailing wage law generated four hours of testimony by speakers on both sides of the issue at a hearing of the Senate Committee on Labor and Regulatory Reform on Monday.
The bill, Senate Bill 216 (SB 216), would eliminate the prevailing wage requirement for state projects. The prevailing wage law, which ties wages on taxpayer funded construction projects to inflated rates paid by unions, was repealed for local projects in the 2015-17 state budget in a compromise.
The partial repeal allowed the market to set wage rates for local construction projects, saving taxpayers from the well-documented cost overruns.
For example, taxpayers in the Village of Grafton were forced to pay an additional $260,000 for repainting and maintenance of two water towers after the work had already been finished. They were also required to pay a nearly $60,000 fine to the Department of Workforce Development for failing to abide by the convoluted and archaic law.
Also, in Vilas County an ATV trail could have cost taxpayers $30,000 per mile - a total of $180,000. Thanks to the state's prevailing wage law, the cost jumped up to $330,000 for the exact same project - an increase of more than 83 percent.
While the law was repealed for local projects, it still applies to projects funded by the state. SB 216 would get rid of the law at the state level, too.
Opponents of the bill, including the Wisconsin American Legion, said the bill would reduce workplace safety, cause veterans to lose work, result in lower quality work, and give out-of-state contractors an advantage in bidding on Wisconsin projects.
Testimonies against SB 216 all have similar theme: the bill would gut workplace safety, harm veterans, slash wages, reduce quality. #wiright— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) April 24, 2017
Several of the bill's critics also took shots at legislators' salaries, benefits, and workload in talking about the kind of work construction crews do.
Rep. Rob Hutton (R-Brookfield), the bill's co-author, said repealing prevailing wage would actually create more construction jobs by reducing the cost of doing a project. It would also open opportunities to work on state projects for the 80 percent of Wisconsin's construction workforce that isn't unionized.
Earlier in April, leaders of the Joint Finance Committee pulled prevailing wage repeal out of Governor Walker's budget proposal along with 82 other non-fiscal policy items. That forced the measure to be drafted and given hearings as standalone legislation. Several speakers cited JFC's action in speaking against the bill, saying the move indicates repeal won't save any money.
AFL-CIO: w/ #PrevailingWage repeal out of budget, bill shouldn't be "rushed" through. Prev speakers also cited removal fr budget to oppose— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) April 24, 2017
However, a 2015 study by the Wisconsin Taxpayer Alliance found that Wisconsin's state and local governments could have saved $300 million on vertical construction projects alone in 2014 had it not been for the state's prevailing wage law.
The savings come from letting the market set wage rates rather than formulas determined by government that lead to inflated wages. For example, in Waukesha County, Wisconsin's prevailing wage law requires taxpayers to pay flaggers $23.55 per hour in wages and an additional $20.03 per hour in benefits. That is the equivalent of earning $96,646 a year if they worked full time for the full year.April 24, 2017
The Senate's Labor and Regulatory Reform committee will hold a vote on the bill in the coming weeks.
The MacIver Institute's Tyler Brandt gets crossed-eyed while admiring Dane County's bike roundabout and finds himself in a Benny Hill tribute chase featuring Vicki McKenna and Bill Osmulski. It's just something to think about the next time you hit a pothole in the area.
April 21, 2017
By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute
Just in time for Earth Day, the Great Lakes Compact Council reaffirmed their decision to allow the City of Waukesha to divert an average of 8.2 million gallons of Lake Michigan water per day. Unless the diversion is stopped in court, a pipeline will be built to Oak Creek. The water, 100 percent of it, will be returned to Lake Michigan via the Root River.
The vote on Thursday, like the original vote ten months ago, was unanimous. That's because it's a good decision then, and it's still a good decision today.
It's good for the 71,000 residents of Waukesha. The city is under a court order to comply with the Environmental Protection Agency's limits on radium in the drinking water. Waukesha draws its water from a deep aquifer. As the city drinks deeper from the aquifer, the water is more contaminated with radium and other impurities.
To comply with the radium order, the city mixes in water from a shallow aquifer. However, that's not sustainable in the long run. As the city relies upon the shallow aquifer more, the surface water features of Waukesha County, the rivers and lakes, will be adversely affected.
In addition to all of those problems, by relying upon the deep aquifer the city is actually diverting 1.6 million gallons per day that would flow through to Lake Michigan. After the city uses and treats the water it consumes, the city currently sends the water down the Fox River and into the Mississippi River Basin.
The Great Lakes Compact imposes a ban on communities from outside the Great Lakes Basin from using Great Lakes Water. However, because the City of Waukesha is in a county that straddles the divide between the Mississippi River Basin and the Great Lakes Basin, the Great Lakes Compact allowed the city to apply for a diversion of water from Lake Michigan.
When the Compact was passed with bipartisan support in 2008, it was understood that Waukesha would apply for the diversion under that exception. Environmentalists even used that exception to help sell the Compact to skeptical legislators. To get the diversion approved, Waukesha needed to demonstrate that it had no viable alternative, that it would return the water to the source, and it would get the unanimous approval of the Great Lakes governors. In June of last year, the city's application for a diversion was finally approved.
Now the same environmentalists that touted the exception to the Great Lakes Compact are trying to stop Waukesha from getting water from Lake Michigan.
A group called the Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative filed an appeal last August of the Great Lakes Compact Council's decision. That appeal was rejected Thursday. Now the organization is considering its legal options, which was really the point of the appeal.
The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative is ignoring all of the environmental benefits of the Waukesha diversion. In addition to solving Waukesha's radium problem, the diversion will allow the deep aquifer to recharge. Waukesha will not have to dig the additional shallow wells that will harm the water levels of lakes and rivers. Sending 100 percent of the water will not only keep Lake Michigan's water levels the same, but the lake will actually benefit from the additional water that flows through the deep aquifer without interruption. Finally, the return from Waukesha to Lake Michigan will be an environmental benefit to the Root River.
Every one of the The Great Lakes and St. Lawrence Cities Initiative's concerns about the diversion have been answered. Every concern expressed by the environmentalists has been answered. All that's left is empty liberal animus towards conservative Waukesha. They should focus their efforts on some other protests, like saving the smelt.
Even Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett has said Waukesha is in compliance with the Compact. After opposing Waukesha's application for most of the process, Barrett now wants to sell water to Waukesha. Of course, he's too late and Oak Creek is benefitting instead.
If the environmentalist groups that support stopping the diversion can't see the environmental benefits, then perhaps someone should remind them the Lorax frowns on cutting down trees for quixotic legal briefs.
Will Wisconsin consumers finally see relief from government-mandated higher prices?
Press Release | April 19, 2017
[Madison, Wisc...] On Tuesday, Sens. Vukmir and Craig and Reps. Ott and Murphy introduced a bill to repeal portions of Wisconsin's antiquated Unfair Sales Act. Also known as the minimum markup law, the Unfair Sales Act mandates higher prices and outlaws the sale of retail goods at below cost.
The minimum markup law requires that alcohol, tobacco, and motor fuel are marked up 3 percent at the wholesale level, 6 percent at the retail level for alcohol and tobacco, and 9.18 percent at the retail level for motor fuel. It also forbids retailers from selling most other products below cost.
While the new bill is drafted narrowly, the MacIver Institute welcomed the renewed attention on the larger problem:
"I want to thank Sen. Vukmir, Sen. Craig, Rep. Ott, and Rep. Murphy for their willingness to, once again, raise awareness on this commonsense and overdue consumer-friendly reform. As we have witnessed in the past, the status quo special interests will stop at nothing to keep this Depression-era unjust law on the books," MacIver Institute President Brett Healy said.
"The political pressure to stay silent on this issue and to never utter the words 'minimum markup' is suffocating within the Capitol. The authors of this repeal bill deserve credit for sticking to their free market principles and speaking out about this consumer injustice," Healy added.
Wisconsinites overwhelmingly oppose the minimum markup law. A 2015 poll found that 56 percent of likely voters in Wisconsin support its repeal. Support for repeal increases to 76 percent when respondents were informed about the law's specifics.
Informed opposition to the law is no surprise. The MacIver Institute found the minimum markup law led to significantly higher back-to-school prices in Wisconsin, and made Black Friday doorbuster deals illegal. Also, Amazon Prime day became Amazon Crime day in Wisconsin thanks to this law.
"It is not the proper role of government to prevent consumers from getting a good deal or finding a crazy low price," Healy said.
#WISDOTwasted - Believe or not, a little goes a long way with road funding. We called cities throughout southern Wisconsin to see how much they typically pay for road maintenance. When it costs $27 to fix a pothole, $150,000 to repave a mile of residential street, and $1 million to completely reconstruct a mile of residential street - suddenly $200,000 to build a mile long bike path becomes a significant financial decision.
April 18, 2017
By Chris Rochester | MacIver News Service
[Kenosha, Wisc...] A crowd of hundreds gathered outside tool manufacturer Snap-on's facility in Kenosha Tuesday afternoon. Many were there to protest President Trump, who toured the facility and signed two executive orders during his visit. An equally large crowd, however, showed up to voice their support for the president.
MacIver News was there providing live coverage. Trump supporters and protesters gathered on opposite sides of Kenosha's 80th Street outside the Snap-on plant. Be aware, some portions of this report contain profanity.April 18, 2017
Walking through the crowd, we found a number of Trump supporters mixing in with the Trump protesters.April 18, 2017
While police officers were hesitant to estimate the crowd size, we estimated several hundred total - a far cry from the more than 5,000 anti-Trump demonstrators who showed up in downtown Milwaukee immediately after the election. And this time, roughly half were there to support the president.April 18, 2017
President Trump's arrival was a tour de force. Three Osprey aircraft and two helicopters flew over the crowd and landed behind a blockade of semi trailers in the vast Snap-on parking lot - the last of which likely carried the president.April 18, 2017 April 18, 2017
While President Trump was inside the Snap-on facility, groups of anti-Trump protesters crossed the street to chant and march through the pro-Trump crowd.April 18, 2017
At one point, passions among the Trump protesters got heated.
Verbal scuffle betw pro and anti Trump demonstrators pic.twitter.com/EkOzLFQdHV— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) April 18, 2017
One Trump protester with a bullhorn lingered among the Trump supporters chanting "No Trump, no KKK, no fascist USA," a commonly heard chant at Tuesday's demonstration. This particular protester sought out crowds of Trump supporters to approach with his bullhorn, possibly looking to incite a confrontation.April 18, 2017
One of the more provocative protest signs portrayed President Trump as Hitler and stated he's "genocidal" and an "enemy of black people."April 18, 2017
After about an hour and a half, the five aircraft that arrived with President Trump took off, and the crowds quickly dispersed.
The five aircraft have left Snap-on. Crowd beginning to leave too. pic.twitter.com/zJ56Nt7Oeb— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) April 18, 2017
Except for a few last minute chants
Remaining anti Trumpers chanting "this is what democracy looks like" and "f*** Trump." One family on Trump side exasperated w/foul language— MacIver Institute (@MacIverWisc) April 18, 2017
April 18, 2017
Perspective by Chris Rochester
MacIver Institute Communications Director
It's that time of year when Americans across the country break out the lawnmowers and pruning shears, ready for life to spring into the trees and flowers, and ready for the chores that come with keeping a tidy yard. It's also tax day, a time when Americans come together to shovel their hard-earned dollars down the bottomless pit of our country's wildly overgrown federal government.
All across the country, productive, hard working citizens line up to be shaken down, lest a single nickel of their contribution to the country's bloated $4.27 trillion-a-year spending spree goes uncollected by the IRS.
Now that the kids have finished finding their Easter Eggs, it's the adults' turn to go on a hunt - for the missing chunk of their paycheck that vanishes into thin air every payday.
Some people will get money back, of course, and most of them celebrate the supposed "windfall." In Wisconsin, the average refund is about $2,400. Nationwide, 111 million Americans got a refund in 2015 totaling more than $317 billion.
But keep in mind, that check from the IRS is money you overpaid in taxes throughout the year - you and millions of other taxpayers simply loaned it to the federal treasury for the year at a zero percent interest rate. It's quite the deal for the feds, just don't try pulling that scam on your fellow citizen or you might end up in the slammer.
Others are stuck cutting a check to the treasury, often because they were either too industrious or too poor. Did you make the mistake of withdrawing cash from your retirement, possibly because of a financial hardship? Expect a stiff 10 percent penalty from the IRS on top of regular income taxes.
Or, maybe you made the mistake of not being able to afford health insurance. These days, thanks to Obamacare, you'll get nailed for that trespass to the tune of $470 on average in 2015. The penalty is designed to increase over the years. Only a DC bureaucrat would think penalizing someone for being broke is good or fair policy.
If you made the mistake of working too hard, such as by putting in overtime, you also may find yourself cashing out your emergency savings account and sending it to Washington. If your regular wage is $20 per hour, and you work an eight hour overtime shift, then on average you'd be forking out 45 percent of that hard-earned overtime pay - $114 - to Uncle Sam, according to the CATO Institute. If you earn a bonus, expect the same treatment by our friends at the IRS.
Maybe you put in extra hours on the side as an independent contractor. For your extra effort, the IRS will be only too happy to soak you for not just regular income and payroll taxes, but also the employer match, an extra 7.65 percent. Better sack away half of that check and pray your car's transmission holds out a while longer.
Perhaps you're the unsuspecting owner of a small business who made the mistake of hiring someone in 2016. Hopefully you paid all 7.65 percent of their earnings in withholding taxes and complied with all the other onerous burdens the IRS puts on businesses. Just don't slip up by making too much profit or you might spend some quality time with an IRS auditor.
Then of course there's the absurd complexity of the Internal Revenue Code. In a futile attempt to comply with the 70,000 pages of tax code and related rules and regulations, many people hire professional tax preparers, who in turn take a chunk of their refund - in effect a "tax code complexity surcharge" that goes straight to places like H&R Block.
On the campaign trail, Bernie Sanders and other liberal politicians say there's no reason someone who works full-time should have to live paycheck to paycheck. They then peddle big government schemes as the solution to everything from student loan debt to rising electric bills.
Maybe if government didn't take so much in taxes in the first place, only to waste it on crony giveaways and bloated bureaucracies, those working people Sanders and friends claim to champion would be able to afford their student loans and utility bills.
But hey, there's always welfare. Just be careful not to qualify as "rich" by left-wing politicians - not that they've ever defined what amount of income they think makes you "rich." Slapped with the depressing reality of their tax bill, middle class Americans would be right to suspect that the left secretly considers them to be "rich" using their enigmatic standards.
When the income tax was enacted in 1913, the entire tax code was 27 pages long. The income tax at first only applied to one percent of the income of the top one percent of income earners. Nowadays, even lower middle class people must work the equivalent of three or four months of every year before the fruits of their labor are really their own.
Like your lawn, the natural direction of government is to grow bigger and more tangled, sucking up more and more resources. This tax day, let's demand politicians chop government down to size so hard work and success actually pay off.
By: Bill Osmulski
[Neenah, Wisc...] The economy has been good to Wisconsin's transportation fund this year, and the trend is expected to continue through the next budget, Governor Scott Walker announced in Neenah on Thursday.
Gas tax, vehicle registration, and railroad collections are up, giving the DOT an extra $13 million this year and putting it on track to collect an extra $25 million over the next two years. Although this increase was unexpected, revenues to the transportation fund have consistently increased annually since the last time the gas tax was increased in 2006.April 13, 2017
"We are also generating more revenue for transportation without raising the gas tax or registration fees," DOT Secretary Dave Ross said.
In addition to increased revenues, the DOT is also realizing significant savings in contract negotiations. This year's bids (internally called "contract lets") have come in at $93 million, or 12 percent, less than originally estimated. Over the previous five years, bids had consistently come in higher than expected resulting in, what the DOT describes as, "negative let savings."
The DOT plans to put $65 million of the "let savings" towards 21 new projects throughout the state. The biggest one is US 10/441 in Neenah, priced at $23.5 million. The other $27 million is going towards current projects.
"The redirected let savings and increased revenue forecasts are great news for the state," Walker said. "We'll do more projects and bond $44.8 million less than planned. We are working and winning for Wisconsin."
In the past, let savings were simply spent by the DOT's regional offices without direct oversight from Madison. Sec. Dave Ross has changed that policy and directed the new disbursement.
April 11, 2017
Days after a provision to repeal the state's prevailing wage law was yanked from Gov. Walker's 2017-19 budget by leaders of the Joint Finance Committee, Sen. Leah Vukmir and Rep. Rob Hutton have re-introduced the measure as standalone legislation.
On Thursday, JFC co-chairs Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. John Nygren removed prevailing wage repeal along with 82 other items in the budget identified by the Legislative Fiscal Bureau as non-fiscal policy items. The memo states those items need to be re-introduced as standalone legislation.
While removing some policy items from the budget is routine, this is just the second time in 25 years that JFC stripped all non-fiscal policy proposals from a governor's budget. Darling and Nygren said they were open to returning some of the items after they receive individual public hearings.
Vukmir said she was disappointed the repeal proposal was pulled. "I think it has a direct impact on the transportation budget. I don't think the budget gets passed without a full repeal," Vukmir told the Wheeler Report.April 11, 2017
"As lawmakers, we have a responsibility to manage the transportation budget efficiently," Vukmir said in a joint statement with Hutton. "It's unrealistic to do so without the accessibility of all tools. Repealing this burdensome red tape will ensure the use of taxpayer dollars are maximized."
There's a chance the repeal could be returned to the budget, but Hutton was optimistic that prevailing wage repeal could pass as a standalone bill. "While I was encouraged that the Governor put complete repeal of prevailing wage in the budget, the fact that the legislature can now pass this as a standalone piece of legislation shows that we are taking our responsibility as legislators seriously," he told Wheeler.
"Two years ago we passed prevailing wage reform for local governments," Hutton said in the statement. "It is now time to finish what we started and pass full prevailing wage repeal. As we look at the transportation budget this spring, we must ensure taxpayers are receiving the best value for their tax dollars."
The prevailing wage law, which mandates artificially inflated wages and increases labor costs, was repealed for local projects in the last budget, but without full repeal, state projects remain on the hook.
April 10, 2017
By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute
With the failure of Congress to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare, Democrats in Wisconsin are again calling for Governor Scott Walker to change his position on expanding BadgerCare, the state's Medicaid program.
The latest call comes from Congressman Ron Kind, D-La Crosse, who sent a letter to Walker on March 29 asking him to accept increased federal funding under Obamacare in order to raise eligibility for receiving Medicaid to everyone under 138 percent of the federal poverty line.
"Projections indicate that your budget bill could lead to a shortfall of over $1 billion," Kind wrote to Walker. "Meanwhile, by refusing to accept federal funding and expand BadgerCare, Wisconsin taxpayers will miss out on net savings of more than $1 billion, according to estimates. Expanding BadgerCare would help the fiscal health of the state while providing access to quality health care for tens of thousands of Wisconsinites."
We're going to assume that Kind's $1 billion "net savings" is the number from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau's (LFB) memo on Medicaid expansion requested by Senator Jon Erpenbach in 2015. The LFB found that, using the Obamacare reimbursement rates available to states at the time, Wisconsin would have "saved" $1.07 billion in general purpose revenue (GPR) for the state through the 2021 fiscal year.
However, the projected budget "shortfall" to which Kind refers is for the biennial budget in 2019-21. Given that this is already 2017, the "net savings" to GPR is only $392 million by the next budget, not $1 billion as Kind wrote. No wonder the federal government is $19.86 trillion and growing.
Kind also ignores that the so-called projected shortfall isn't a real deficit at all, but a projected cost-to-continue. Unlike Washington D.C., where the actual budget deficit is $559 billion, Wisconsin has actually experienced a surplus after every one of Walker's budgets.
At the end of his letter, Kind suddenly remembered that the money that funds for the federal government actually comes from taxpayers.
"Federal taxes are collected and dispersed around the country to pay for state Medicaid expansions," Kind wrote. "It is only right for Wisconsinites to have the health care we have paid for and I encourage you to change your policy to expand Medicaid for Wisconsinites."
What Kind should be doing is working with Republicans in Congress to repeal Obamacare instead of trying to expand Medicaid in Wisconsin which will only make matters worse for Wisconsin taxpayers. While there is a savings in GPR at the state level, overall taxation has to go up, or more borrowing has to occur, for any Medicaid expansion.
Expanding Medicaid in Wisconsin will actually cost taxpayers $1.15 billion in increased federal spending over the next budget cycle for a net loss to taxpayers of $761.8 million. By the end of the 2021 budget cycle, instead of saving taxpayers $1 billion, the projected net cost (increased federal spending minus GPR savings) of Medicaid expansion in Wisconsin is actually $1.59 billion. So much for saving Wisconsin taxpayers $1 billion.
Kind notes in his letter that a number of Republican governors have already taken the extra Obamacare money from the federal government, and that more are considering it. Apparently Kind's mother never said to him, "If your friends jumped off a bridge, would you jump off a bridge, too?"
The LFB memo is a rosy scenario that assumes the federal government does not change the reimbursement rates for Medicaid expansion, even if congressional Republicans and President Donald Trump are unsuccessful in repealing Obamacare.
We're past the window of 100 percent reimbursement for Medicaid expansion, and Kind would probably agree that it's unlikely Congress will suddenly increase spending for Obamacare expansion. The current schedule for declining reimbursement is 95 percent for 2017, 94 percent in 2018, 93 percent in 2019 and 90 percent in 2020. It's not hard to imagine a scenario where those reimbursement levels are lowered ahead of schedule and even more drastically as Congress wrestles with its budget deficit.
President Barack Obama actually proposed decreasing the rate of Medicaid reimbursement for the normal caseload not included in the Obamacare expansion. Given that precedent, surely governors and legislatures that are placing their trust in the current Obamacare reimbursement rates are cheerfully marching their states up the stairs to the fiscal gallows.
It's also worth reminding Kind that expanding Medicaid, the "health care we have paid for," is not a good health care option. Medicaid patients are limited in their physician and health facility choices due to Medicaid's low reimbursement rates for providers. One study of Oregon's Medicaid expansion found it did not improve health overall and actually increased visits to the emergency room by 40 percent.
Kind shouldn't expect a different health care outcome from Medicaid expansion than from the sprawling Veterans Affairs hospital system, which Kind is familiar with now, and neither should taxpayers.
In his response to Kind, Walker reminded him,"The Kaiser Foundation shows that Wisconsin has no coverage gap. We found a Wisconsin-specific way to cover everyone living in poverty under Medicaid for the first time in state history. For those living above poverty without coverage, we helped transition them into the marketplace. Today, Wisconsin outranks 43 other states for coverage."
Wisconsinites should ask Kind, if the system isn't broke, why are you proposing a replacement that will cost more money and not work as well as what we have now?
April 6, 2017
The Joint Committee on Finance released its budget procedures memo on Thursday outlining what items they will consider from the governor's budget and what items they are rejecting.
JFC stripped all 83 non-fiscal policy items out of Gov. Walker's budget proposal, including many proposals popular with conservatives like prevailing wage repeal and numerous reforms for the UW System and K-12 education.
While removing some policy items from the governor's budget is routine, this time JFC removed all of them - a rare move, especially with a governor of the same party. This is just the second time in 25 years that JFC stripped all non-fiscal policy proposals from a governor's budget.
In addition, JFC scrapped Walker's transportation budget entirely, choosing to ignore the agency request and the governor's proposal. Instead, the committee will start from scratch on the contentious question of how to fund the state's transportation system. This is the first time in ten years that JFC has scrapped an entire portion of the governor's budget.
JFC will be using a method called "base-year doubled" budgeting in building a transportation budget, which simply means taking this year's level of funding and doubling it to see what a cost-to-continue scenario would look like over the next biennium. This technique was used last summer (with other alterations) to create the illusion of a billion-dollar transportation deficit, which started the gas tax debate. MacIver's analysis of that dubious math can be found here.
The 83 non-fiscal policy items JFC stripped from the governor's budget will be drafted as individual bills separate from the budget. JFC co-chairs Rep. John Nygren and Sen. Alberta Darling both indicated some could be put back into the budget after each gets a public hearing. However, many of the conservative policy items were important to balancing out the governor's proposed spending increases - both fiscally and politically.
Some of the more notable items JFC removed include:
For the rest of the budget, JFC will use the governor's proposal as its starting point, including Walker's K-12 education proposal. There had been concerns that the committee would also start from "base-year doubled" for K-12, which could have meant less aid compared to the governor's plan.
State teachers' union decline continues, new report finds
April 6, 2017
By Chris Rochester | MacIver News Service
[Madison, Wis...] Wisconsin's largest teachers' union suffered a decline in revenue of more than $3 million between 2014 and 2015, the largest decline in the country, according to a new study by the Education Intelligence Agency.
The Wisconsin Education Association Council's (WEAC) revenue in 2014-15 was $3,373,510 less than in 2013-14. Only the Indiana State Teachers Association came close in lost revenue, suffering a year-over-year decline of slightly less than than $3 million.
Late last year, WEAC put its 51,000-square-foot headquarters up for sale with an asking price of $6.9 million.
WEAC also lost 5,239 members during the same period, the third largest decline among state teachers' unions. Only the Alabama Education Association and the Michigan Education Association lost more members, the study found. The Alabama union lost 9,766 members and Michigan's lost 6,290.
The Alabama Education Association is on the brink of bankruptcy after backing a series of failed liberal candidates for state office. Indiana also imposed limits on collective bargaining for teachers in 2011, and Michigan enacted Right-To-Work legislation in 2012.
Last year, the MacIver Institute reported that WEAC lost 5,100 active members in the year prior, a 12.3 percent drop from 2014. Before the passage of Act 10, WEAC had almost 100,000 members. Today, the union stands at just 36,074 active members.
The new EIA report includes overall membership declines, while last year's report included active members.
The trend of declining teachers' union fortunes continues at the national level. Twenty-five state unions reported declines in revenue from 2014 to 2015, and 22 saw a decline in active membership. Last year, nearly 9,000 members left the National Education Council, the national umbrella teachers' union. Since 2011, the organization's active membership across the country has dropped by almost 10 percent.
Gov. Scott Walker's signature law, known as Act 10, allowed Wisconsin's public employees the freedom to decide whether or not they want to join a union and pay dues. In 2015, Wisconsin became the twenty-fifth state to enact a Right to Work law, extended that freedom to all workers.
Public unions must now also hold annual recertification votes. In order to become recertified, a majority of union members must vote yes. As the MacIver News Service previously reported, 100 fewer unions chose to seek recertification in 2014.