March 24, 2017
Perspective By Jerry Gonzalez
MacIver Institute Board Member
The following column originally appeared in The Hill.
Long banned under the U.S. Constitution are federal minority set-aside programs.
These laws were once used to target and stimulate minority private sector growth. Changing that law is not likely on the list of to-dos for a new 2017 Republican administration despite its stated interest in embracing support in minority and impoverished political places.
However, should the Trump Administration now revisit Empowerment Zones (EZs) to fight economically blighted areas?
Could this be the political charge into communities long thought lost to Republicans?
What happens if EZs disproportionately help minorities...okay...?
Could this become the "doable" Republican agenda item that soundly answers the pre-election demand of "What have you got to lose" to minority and poor communities around the United States, asking them to further support a Republican candidate through an invitation back to an American private sector they were told was beholden to the American one percent and as such, of no use to them?
The EZ concept arose out of an effort to encompass a geographic area in which policies are implemented to encourage economic growth and development. This enterprise zone concept was brought to the forefront of the U.S. policy arena in a bipartisan effort by two former New York congressmen, then Congressmen Jack Kemp and Robert Garcia.
The early idea generated considerable support among conservatives readily because it was based on free-market principles of private investment, reduced regulation, and no large-scale public spending.
However, it was Democratic President Bill Clinton who further advanced this concept by creating Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Communities for highly distressed urban and rural communities. President Clinton used a combination of grants, tax credits for businesses, bonding authority and other benefits and passed the Empowerment Zones and Enterprise Communities initiative of August 10, 1993.
Then sitting President Clinton also referred to the use of zones as a "reformation of affirmative action."
The final product was indeed a zone of sorts, however it suffered from standard pro-government twists and tape that arguably eliminated any true liberation of the free market in the zones themselves.
Since then, EZs have limped forward with extensions of tax credits and have been renewed every so often through piecemeal legislative efforts.
One can only wonder what would be the political result of a 2017 private sector Republican President embracing a pro-private sector initiative with...corporate private-sector buy-in and support?
Would this be a radical step toward economic healing and growth in often heavily populated minority communities?
What affect would President Trump have on companies if he spoke toward better chances at federal contracts and even more favorable taxes for any company doing business in economically blighted communities often a few close miles away from major corporate facilities?
Would corporate America step up and step into the zone?
Yes and they would publish it particularly if EZs were reworked into a truly pro-free market focus.
Economic inclusion, especially under law, is race neutral, and can steer clear of the sticky politics which could derail such efforts. The Center for International Private Enterprise defines Economic Inclusion as follows:
Economic inclusion refers to equality of opportunity for all members of society to participate in the economic life of their country as employers, entrepreneurs, consumers, and citizens. EZs can avoid the political problems arising on the right by soundly supporting, advocating, promoting and bragging about neutral EZs that would harness the might of the American private sector to serve the economic least fortunate.
Disenfranchised Americans could first-hand recognize the effects of proper deregulation policy, American ingenuity and how they too can participate.
EZ's can be justified and also defined by economic measures including but not limited to factors such as unemployment, income, and percentage of government assistance recipients. See Adarand Constructors, Inc. v. Peña, 515 U.S. 200 (1995).
Federal contracting carrots for businesses willing to enter the zone, set up shop or otherwise work in the zones could radically change the political landscape making the private sector the answer it has always been, not the modern day scapegoat some want it to be.
EZs were birthed by a prominent Republican Congressman in a bipartisan effort furthered by a sitting Democratic President, then politically sidelined with attacks on the private sector these past few years. EZs, if seized and tweaked by this Administration, could potentially redefine the parameters of minority politics for a generation to come. Perhaps President Bill Clinton was right in saying "No amount of affirmative action can create opportunity where there was none."
Perhaps this time, care needs to be taken to not saddle EZs with an over-reliance on community power brokers who may feel threatened by a rebirthing of private sector independence in their communities? Instead, EZs should be overhauled to give true meaning and freedom to participants to economically heal our communities.
This opportunity to lead is ripe and waiting for the Trump Administration. It is also a glaring political opening into minority and impoverished communities tired of decades of failed promises. I suppose the question for the Administration now becomes, "what have you got to lose?"
Gerardo (Jerry) H. Gonzalez is a pro-free market advocate and a board member of Wisconsin based think tank MacIver Institute, which promotes free markets, individual freedom, personal responsibility and limited government. He is managing partner of Gonzalez Law, LLC, located in Arizona and Wisconsin.
March 24, 2017
Guest Perspective by Richard Chandler
Secretary, Wisconsin Dept. of Revenue
Among Governor Walker's top priorities are encouraging work, promoting economic growth and reducing taxes. Wisconsin's Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) helps accomplish all these goals, and the Governor's proposed budget bill would make it even more effective.
The Earned Income Tax Credit may sound technical but it addresses a widespread issue that affects people who are deciding whether to enter the workforce in entry level jobs. People who haven't been working notice that when they take a job, they start paying taxes and they also lose public benefits they've been receiving. The combination of new taxes and lower benefits can make it economically unattractive to take a job.
The solution to this problem is the EITC, which is a tax credit that offsets some of the taxes imposed and benefits lost when people start working. It helps encourage people to take entry level jobs, then phases out as people gain job experience and move up the wage ladder. Lower-income wage earners with children qualify for the credit.
There's a federal EITC, and Wisconsin and 25 other states add to it with a state EITC. The Governor's 2017-19 state budget bill proposes an expansion of the state EITC to encourage more people to join the workforce.
A review of Wisconsin's EITC showed that, compared with other states, we had one of the most robust EITCs for people with three or more children, but were at the lower end of the scale for people with one child. The Governor proposes to increase Wisconsin's EITC for workers with one child, raising it to 11 percent of the federal EITC. This would benefit an estimated 130,000 lower-income working families.
One other issue with Wisconsin's EITC is that, in some cases, workers who receive the EITC will see a smaller payment if they marry. The Governor proposes to remove this disincentive to marriage by saying that if EITC recipients marry, there will be a three-year "honeymoon period" when their EITC payment will be the larger of the married couple EITC or the payments they received when they were still single. This would help an estimated 8,000 filers in the first year after it's enacted.
The EITC benefits workers all across Wisconsin. It is easy to administer because people simply claim it when they file their tax returns. In short, it's a sensible and effective way to encourage work and reduce poverty.
We know that work gives people a sense of purpose and self-worth and enables them to contribute to their communities, in addition to supporting themselves and their families. It's also well-known that Wisconsin employers have many job openings and are looking for workers. Making sure Wisconsin's EITC is as effective as possible will encourage more people to start climbing the job ladder, help employers fill jobs, and strengthen Wisconsin's economy.
Richard Chandler is the Secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Revenue.
March 23, 2017
By Ola Lisowski
MacIver Institute Research Associate
[Madison, Wis...] One major component of Gov. Scott Walker's 2017-2019 biennial budget proposal is his continuing efforts to reform welfare programs. The Walker team began unveiling their "Wisconsin Works for Everyone" plan as early as January of this year. As preparation for the coming Joint Committee on Finance agency briefings and public hearings continues, let's look at the Governor's proposal.
Wisconsin Works for Everyone touts four initiatives:
Rewarding Work - Helping Wisconsinites Move Towards Self-Sufficiency
A cornerstone provision of the plan is the expansion of the FoodShare Employment and Training (FSET) program, both through requiring new portions of the population to enroll and by increasing voluntary referrals.
The reforms are a massive new expansion to the FSET program and a key portion of Walker's hopes for his legacy as a welfare reformer.
"I want to look back and say I've done everything in my power to make sure those who are able to work -- are able to," Walker said earlier this month in an interview with the Washington Examiner.
Currently, only able-bodied adults without dependents who receive FoodShare benefits are required to participate if they do not work or receive job training 80 hours per month. Walker's proposal would also require able-bodied adults with children above the age of six and who don't work or attend job training 80 hours per month to participate in FSET. That's a considerable change, and one which should attract some attention once the budget process gets moving.
Another provision would require parents who receive FoodShare benefits to comply with child support orders. If an individual refuses to assist in establishing paternity, or refuses to provide child support when ordered by a court to do so, they would no longer be allowed to receive FoodShare. That's part of a change that the Walker team hopes will encourage both custodial and noncustodial parents to do the right thing.
In a similar vein, Walker's plan expands Learnfare requirements that sanction parents whose children don't attend school. Under current law, an individual's public benefits may be sanctioned if they have children between ages six and 17 who are not enrolled in school. If passed, the proposal included in the budget would expand those sanctions to the parents of children who are habitually truant and who do not cooperate with case management services to improve student attendance.
For the following provisions, half of the funding allocated is from General Purpose Revenue (GPR), and the other half is federal money.
Walker's proposal includes:
The next section in encouraging work focuses on helping ex-offenders integrate back into society. The largest line-item in this category is $2 million in GPR to expand the Windows to Work and Vocational Training programs, which provide job training for inmates before, during, and after their time in a correctional facility. Windows to Work, for example, provides pre- and post-release services, such as assisting ex-inmates in job searches. Another $1.1 million is provided through Wisconsin Fast Forward to fund two new mobile classrooms that will provide job skills training for inmates preparing for release.
Many of these provisions focus on connecting inmates with services sooner so that they can begin creating a path to independence and self-sufficiency.
Other provisions include:
The plan also includes a few provisions that aim to help homeless people improve their lives and build self-sufficiency. $1 million in TANF funding is included to establish a grant program to ten homeless shelters to create employment-focused case management. Another provision sets up a pilot matching grant so that municipalities can deploy a van to pick up able-bodied homeless individuals and pay for them to clean up public spaces. This idea, modeled on Albuquerque's "Better Way" project, allocates $150,000 in GPR funding.
Walker's plan changes certain tax credits to better reward hard workers. The state's Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), a refundable credit for low-income families, is expanded so that parents with one child could receive up to $371, rather than the current maximum benefit of $135. This provision is anticipated to affect 131,000 filers every year and cost $20.8 million in all-funds spending. Under current law, EITC benefits for families with three children are nearly 16 times larger than the benefits for families with just one child. This change creates more equity across the tax credit and brings Wisconsin closer in line with other states.
The EITC is also expanded to a new population - noncustodial low-income parents who pay child support on time and in full. Those individuals would receive two-thirds of the benefits that custodial parents can receive, to ensure that parents without custody do not receive more benefits than parents with full custody, but also to ensure that people who are working and supporting for their families are rewarded. This provision would affect 1,100 people per year and cost $230,000 in GPR.
The Homestead Tax Credit is also modified under Walker's proposal - benefits for the elderly and disabled would be indexed to inflation to protect those who are unable to work. At the same time, the credit is restructured for able-bodied adults in order to encourage employment. The savings from those changes would be re-invested to pay for the EITC expansion.
A brand new credit, the Young Adult Employment Assistance Credit, is created to help young adults for the first three years after aging out of foster care or those who leave the federal SSI-disabled children program. An estimated 2,000 filers would be affected each year to the tune of $724,400.
Walker's plan also works to reduce barriers to unemployment. A brand new Occupational Licensing Review Council would offer recommendations on the elimination of current licenses, and "Sunrise Reports" would be required from the Department of Administration on any new proposed licenses. Other provisions include:
Fast Forward funds would be made available to develop new employer resource networks to increase the success of workers leaving public benefits programs.
Finally, the plan eliminates the "benefit cliff" in the Wisconsin Shares child care subsidy program. Currently, individuals lose eligibility for child care subsidies as soon as they make 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, making it difficult for individuals to slowly earn more money and leave public benefits programs. Rather, a sliding scale is created, so that individuals could receive $1 for every $3 earned in excess of the eligibility limit.
Still with me? Good. The next section focuses on families:
Strengthening Families - Supporting Parents and Positive Norms
The biggest line-item in this section is a provision for $7.8 million in federal TANF funding to expand the Family Foundations Home Visiting program to serve more families. The program has existed since 2011 and works to support families with children up to age five and helps them develop the skills to raise healthy children, with a particular focus on mental health and increased school readiness.
$1.5 million in GPR would create a new honeymoon period in the state EITC to eliminate the credit's marriage penalty for the first three years a couple is married. Under the current EITC structure, a financial disincentive to marriage exists. This proposal is expected to affect 8,000 filers in tax year 2018.
Both custodial and noncustodial parents who receive FoodShare benefits would be required to cooperate with child support orders as well as any efforts to establish paternity in order to continue receiving benefits.
The Walker team also allocates over $1 million in TANF funding to promote what they call the "Success Sequence:" first graduating from high school, then getting a job, then waiting until after marriage and age 21 to have children. The Success Sequence would be incorporated into the Academic and Career Planning program, and would be the focus of a new public messaging campaign, alongside promoting the importance of fathers in the lives of their children.
Speaking of children, the next section looks at education...
Investing in Success - Prioritizing Education
The largest line-item here is for $500,000 in federal TANF money to create a new two-year performance-based grant program for schools that successfully implement creative strategies to reduce early-grade absenteeism. Another provision would allow W-2 benefits to be sanctioned for the families of children who are habitually truant and who do not cooperate with case management services aimed at improving attendance. Under current law, benefits may be sanctioned if a child is not enrolled in school, but not if that child is habitually truant.
Two new pilot programs that use parent alerts via text messaging are created under this section. One would spend nearly $100,000 in federal funding to text the parents of pre-K students in Head Start programs, and the other would spend $156,700 and add .25 full time positions to try to increase the number of high school seniors who successfully enroll in postsecondary programs. The Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) would be charged with creating a competitive grant process and providing access to the text messaging platform at no cost to the school districts.
The final section works to make public benefits programs more efficient:
Stewardship - Enhancing Program Efficiency and Integrity
Under the proposed plan, access to certain benefits programs would be limited to individuals with low incomes to ensure that they are used for those most truly in need. First, a $15,000 limit on the amount of business and investment losses a low- and moderate-income family can claim for tax credits. Small family farms are exempted from this provision.
$3.7 million total and 10.2 full time positions would be provided to prohibit individuals who are not elderly, blind, or disabled from receiving FoodShare benefits or child care subsidies if the individual lives in a household that has over $25,000 in liquid assets. The State of Wisconsin would have to ask for a waiver from the federal Department of Agriculture to implement this provision.
Finally, the Departments of Children and Families, Health Services, Workforce Development, and Public Instruction would be charged with conducting a new joint study on the overlap of chronic absenteeism and the use of public benefits. The goal of this provision is to examine how the state may most efficiently target services at those who need them most.
The Walker budget also spends $11.5 million in GPR and 2 full time positions for DWD's workforce training grant program, called Wisconsin Fast Forward. Any of the following activities would be made eligible for Fast Forward grant funding:
What do you think? With a breadth of provisions spanning several different departments, the Wisconsin Works for Everyone plan is thoroughly comprehensive. Do you have a favorite provision or section? What should the Walker team focus on more or less? Let us know in the comments and on social media! As always, make sure to follow @MacIverWisc for all your state budget news.
March 22, 2017
The Sweet 16 is here! The 2017-2019 State Budget Sweet 16, of course. Fill out your bracket ranking your favorite item in Governor Walker's proposed state budget. You, the taxpayer, are in charge. Which "team" will come out on top? Income tax cuts or a property tax freeze? Welfare reform or a tuition tax cut? No gas tax increase or more money for K-12 education? You make the call. The "team" with the most votes will advance to the next round.
Fill out your bracket here and make sure to come back on Friday to vote for the Elite 8!
A big picture review of the governor's budget proposal
March 20, 2017
Governor Walker presented his 2017-19 budget before a joint session of the legislature on February 8. Earlier this month, the Legislative Fiscal Bureau completed its analysis of the budget and released its 504-page summary of the governor's budget recommendations.
The 2017-19 budget would spend $76.2 billion in total - $37.5 billion in 2017-18 and $38.7 billion in 2018-19, the first and second years of the biennial budget. That all-funds total includes state general purpose revenue (GPR), federal revenue, segregated revenue and program revenue.
Total GPR spending - a very important category of spending because it is entirely controlled by the state - would be $16.9 billion in 2017-18 and $17.6 billion in 2018-19, for total two-year GPR spending of $34.5 billion.
Compared with the 2015-17 budget, all-funds spending increases by $375 million in the first year and $1.18 billion in the second year - a total increase of $1.55 billion. Using Madison math, or the base year doubled method, that equates to a 2.6 percent increase compared to the last budget. For GPR, spending increases by $862 million. Using Madison math, or the base year doubled method, that equates to a 1.3 percent increase compared to the last budget.
• Spending - The 2017-19 budget all-funds spending is $76.2 billion, of which $34.5 billion is GPR spending. That's an increase of 2.6 percent (base year doubled) and 1.3 percent (base year doubled) over the last budget, respectively. The governor provides a sizable funding increase for K-12 education, Health Services, and tax relief.
• Taxes - The budget reduces the lowest two income tax rates and increases the amount of earnings that fall under the second-lowest bracket for a $204 million income tax cut. It also eliminates the state's portion of the property tax, a $180.5 million tax cut. The budget does not raise the gas tax or vehicle registration fee.
• Bonding - Total new bonding in the 2017-19 budget amounts to $1.027 billion, down from $1.067 billion in the current budget. Of the 2017-19 new bonding, $500 million is for transportation.
• Positions - This budget adds 445 full-time equivalent positions, mostly in UW, the Department of Corrections, and the Department of Health Services.
• Reforms - A major new initiative is to require UW schools to provide a 3-year degree option. The governor also proposes eliminating the state prevailing wage law and incorporates wide-ranging welfare reforms.
Gov. Walker's budget proposal offers individual income tax reform that moves the state to a lower and flatter income tax. By lowering the bottom two brackets and widening the second lowest bracket, an estimated 70 percent of tax filers will see a tax decrease, according to the LFB. In tax year 2017, the total tax decrease is estimated to be $95 million, with the average taxpayer seeing a tax decrease of $44.
It's important to note that everyone's income flows through tax brackets in succession. Under the current tax code, for single filers, the first $11,230 that an individual earns is taxed at 4.00 percent. The income made from $11,230 to $22,470 is taxed at 5.84 percent. Income in the next bracket is taxed at a rate of 6.27 percent, and so on and so forth. That's why a simple 0.10 deduction, from 4.0 to 3.9, in the lowest tax rate, "costs" the government so much revenue. Discounting any exemptions or deductions, everyones income flows through the lowest bracket and then up.
Taxpayers making between $30,000 and $40,000 annually would see the largest net tax rate cut. Those individuals would pay an estimated 3.27 percent less in taxes, or about $32 annually.
The only tax filers who do not see a tax decrease under this proposal would be those with no current tax liability and those who are subject to the alternative minimum tax, a special additional tax intended to make sure no one escapes onerous taxation.
In total, Walker's budget proposes an increase of more than $522 million from the Department of Transportation's (DOT) base funding. That includes nearly $15.9 million in increased transportation aid to counties and more than $30 million in increased aid to municipalities. DOT is also requesting an increase of $14 million for the Local Roads Improvement Program and $5 million for the Local Bridge Improvement Assistance program.
The governor's budget also proposes nearly $30 million for highway maintenance and traffic operation needs, $33.7 million for routine maintenance performed by the counties, and one-time transfers of $19 million in FY18 and $19 million in FY19 as revenue to the segregated Transportation Fund.
In all, Walker increases aid to a variety of local transportation funds by $77 million.
Walker's budget proposal sends $2.2 billion in GPR to the UW System. That's a $273 million increase from the last budget, or 3.6 percent more in GPR. Including all other funds, such as federal dollars, Walker's budget allocates $12.4 billion, a 1.9 percent increase over the base or $26.7 million more than the UW System requested.
Walker fleshed out his tuition cut proposal in his budget, which provides more than $100 million more in state aid to the UW System in addition to increased funding to pay for the tuition cut.
The governor's budget proposes a 5 percent tuition cut for resident undergraduate students, saving the average student $360 per year on average. His budget offsets the reduced tuition by providing $35 million more in state aid to the UW System.
In addition, Walker grants the UW System's request for $42.5 million in additional funding but ties it to performance measures for campuses, including improved affordability and attainability, work readiness, the success of graduates, administrative efficiency, service, and two other benchmarks to be decided by the Board of Regents. Each campus will have to produce a new "Performance Funding Report Card" that will be used to determine how the additional funding is allocated.
In late January, the governor introduced a significant welfare reform package that beefs up work requirements for participants and makes it easier to transition from government assistance to work.
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 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 recipient's 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 with the intention of removing barriers to work.
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.
Portions of Walker's welfare reform agenda will require waivers from the federal government. However, one major change since the state's last budget is the occupant of the White House. How open will President Trump's administration be to issuing waivers, or to make even more substantial changes to how states administer their welfare programs? We'll find that out as 2017 moves along.
The largest expenditure, not surprisingly, is on the Department of Health Services, which will receive about $24.4 billion in total, a 5.4 percent increase over the agency's base year doubled funding. That includes a 5.1 percent increase in GPR spending, a 5 percent increase in spending from federal sources, and a 15 percent increase in program revenue (PR) spending.
As always, the Medical Assistance (MA) program is the largest expenditure within the DHS budget. This program includes the behemoth known as BadgerCare, or Medicaid. Over the two-year budget MA spending will be $20 billion, with $6.1 billion coming from GPR and $10.8 billion from federal sources. That's an all-funds increase of about $800 million from the $19.2 billion base-year-doubled.
The budget includes $326 million in new GPR funding for Medicaid over the biennium. The previous three biennial budgets increased GPR spending on Medicaid by $650 million, $685 million, and $1.6 billion. While $326 million is a lot of money, the rate of increase in Medicaid spending during Walker's tenure has slowed significantly. Medicaid's GPR cost to continue is $279 million over the biennium - the smallest cost-to-continue in recent years.
In all, under this proposal DHS will spend $7.94 billion in GPR funds for a total of $24.4 billion in all-funds spending.
The Department of Public Instruction (DPI) receives $12.2 billion in GPR, a 3.5 percent increase that adds up to $418 million more than the 2015-17 budget. Including all funds, DPI would get $14.2 billion, or a 3.1 percent increase overall.
The Governor's budget provides nearly $649 million in new spending - more than three times larger than the 2015-17 budget's increase, which grew public school spending by $203 million overall. Of the new spending, $509 million is allocated for a per pupil funding increase. Notably, school districts will need to verify that their employees are making Act 10's required healthcare and pension contributions before receiving the additional funding.
Walker provides significant increases for rural schools. His proposal offers massive commitments to rural areas through Sparsity Aid, which is funding for small rural districts with fewer than 745 pupils and a population density of less than 10 pupils per square mile of district attendance. Walker's proposal increases Sparsity Aid by $20 million, bringing the fund to $55.4 million over the biennium, or $12.3 million more than DPI requested. The 2015-17 budget allocated $35.3 million to Sparsity Aid across the biennium.
The governor's budget completely eliminates what's left of the state's prevailing wage law, which artificially sets wages based on the federal Davis-Bacon law. The previous budget eliminated prevailing wage for local projects as part of a compromise, leaving state projects on the hook for inflated costs.
How much could Wisconsin taxpayers save if Walker's complete repeal is passed? One study from the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance showed that Wisconsinites could have saved $200-$300 million on vertical construction projects in 2014 in the absence of prevailing wage. That estimate doesn't even consider all other public construction that goes on in the state, including billions of dollars on road construction projects.
Joint Finance Committee to Begin Review
Now that the LFB has released its analysis of the governor's budget, the legislature will swing into work. Individual legislators will hold listening sessions back home. The Joint Finance Committee - the powerful budget committee that will review the budget - will travel the state to collect public input.
As the public reacts to the budget and the legislature embarks on a months-long process of finalizing a version to send to the governor for his signature, the MacIver Institute will continue reporting all you need to know about the budget at each step of the process.
Before the budget debate gets going, a look into the major provisions for the University of Wisconsin System
March 20, 2017
By Ola Lisowski
MacIver Institute Research Associate
[Madison, Wis...] In February, Gov. Scott Walker introduced his biennial budget for 2017-2019, officially launching this year's budget season. With the news that the Joint Finance Committee has finalized its dates for the forthcoming public hearings around the state, it's a good time to review what's in the queue for the University of Wisconsin System in this budget.
Overall, I summarize the goal for the System in one word: efficiency. As someone who hates the phrase "common sense" to describe policy, I found myself using it a lot in reviewing this portion of the budget. Many provisions had me shaking my head, asking, "this isn't already law? Crazy!"
Out of concern for you, the taxpayer, let's start with a basic overview of the scope and numbers of this proposal.
Total state spending (GPR): $2,191,070,500, a 3.65% increase
Total full time positions, all funds: 35,560.08, an increase of 159.22 positions
Total full time positions, general purpose revenue: 18,035.88
Total proposed spending, all funds: $12,431,997,800
Percent difference from the last budget: 1.94% funding increase
Portion of overall state spending: 6%
What's the Takeaway?
The Governor's budget grows the size of the University of Wisconsin System. Unlike prior budgets, Gov. Walker comes right out of the gate with $77 million more in state funding compared to 2017. That's an increase of over 3 percent from last year, and to no one's surprise, it's been warmly welcomed by System officials.
The biggest string on that funding increase? Performance. The Governor's budget provides $42.5 million to be distributed to institutions that perform well on the following state priorities:
Now that the overall numbers are out of the way, it's time to cover the most important UW-related provisions in this budget, starting with the one that has caused the most ruckus...
Frozen Tuition in Year One, Tuition Cut in Year Two
Gov. Scott Walker revealed his hope to cut resident undergraduate tuition at the UW System early this year during his State of the State Address to immediate outcry. Legislators on the left and the right immediately leapt at this provision, saying it would either drain the system's resources or be far too expensive for the state.
Under the Governor's proposal, resident undergraduates would enjoy a fifth year of the tuition freeze, setting the cost of a year of tuition at UW-Madison at $9,273. In the 2018-19 school year, tuition would be lowered by 5 percent, down to $8,809. The Governor's budget specifically allocates $35 million to the System to offset the lower amount of tuition dollars flowing in - just as System officials asked.
As a free marketer, I don't believe that a freeze is a sustainable long-term solution, but given the student debt crisis we're in now, it's the best option out there. Ever since the government began offering guaranteed loans for prospective students, the cost of higher education has skyrocketed. Rather than growing government at the latter end by creating new loan and grant programs, it's best to control costs to begin with and keep the cost of tuition from growing.
From the second Gov. Walker uttered the words "cut tuition" in his State of the State address, it was clear that some legislators wouldn't bite. It's a bit ironic that many legislators - who I will bet have boasted about the tuition freeze and how much money they've saved young Wisconsinites on nearly many pieces of lit that they've produced in the last four years - are balking at the cost.
Under the proposed reforms, students who began as freshmen at UW-Madison in 2015 would save $12,105 for a degree compared to the pre-freeze trend. How do you go after a growing student debt crisis? Cut the cost of a four-year degree by a full fourth.
Pathways to Three-Year Degrees
Under another proposal, the UW System would be charged with to creating pathways to three-year degrees for 10 percent of programs by 2018, and 60 percent of programs by 2020. The System will also have to report on the number of three-year graduates and the percentage of programs for which a three-year pathway exists an annual accountability report.
This proposal doesn't add additional burdens on students or ask the System or universities to create completely new programs. Rather, universities will have an opportunity to examine bloated degree requirements while shedding light on meaningful options for students. If passed, this proposal would save students valuable dollars - the benefits of which need not be explained here.
For purposes of transparency, the additional reporting requirement is a nice touch. Now let's work on that full audit.
One new requirement would have the UW System and Wisconsin Technical College System Board (WTCSB) ensure that for each course of study, no fewer than 60 core general education credits are transferable within and between each system institution. The System will also be required to submit a report to the Legislature describing any barriers to credit transferability by 2018. Under current law, only 30 credits are fully transferable within and between institutions.
Perhaps more than any other provision on higher education in this budget, this one is a no-brainer. Wisconsin's set of universities and tech colleges exist to serve our residents and get them prepared for the future, and any provision that helps them get there and streamlines the bureaucracy between institutions should be a welcome one.
Wisconsin's state institutions should be as flexible as possible for our residents and students while maintaining the high quality of education that the public expects. In this vein, the institutions should strive to complement one another and to maximize the ways in which students can benefit from them and complete their degrees. It's tough to tell how many students, exactly, will benefit from this provision, but the number is undoubtedly not zero. Besides, this should have been the rule from the beginning.
By requiring that a substantial number of credits transfer between each institution, each school's bureaucracy steps out of the way - just the slightest bit - in the favor of students.
Similar to report cards for K-12 schools, each System institution will be required to publish single-page report cards beginning in 2018. The report cards will summarize each institution's performance during the prior year, based on the performance funding criteria and with metrics determined by the Board of Regents.
Any provision that increases transparency for the public is a good thing. Let parents and students have easier comparisons for and between each state institute. Another no-brainer.
The Governor's budget allocates $10,000 for the UW System to review and revise policies related to academic freedom. The Board of Regents will be charged with producing new language that codifies its commitment to students' right to free speech.
In an age of "free speech zones" on campuses - where every inch should be considered a free speech zone, not just a small corner - this provision is relevant and timely, as we've written here before. After all, college is a time for young people to open their eyes to new experiences and perspectives. No, it's not always comfortable. It's not supposed to be.
It's important to note that the UW Board of Regents already adopted written free speech principles known as the Chicago Principles in 2015, and reaffirmed them in 2016. However, such commitments to free speech haven't played out.
In November, protestors physically blocked conservative pundit Ben Shapiro from speaking on UW-Madison's campus. Shapiro eventually spoke, but protesters shouted down him and his supporters, including Vicki McKenna, who was repeatedly shoved and harassed but nevertheless kept filming.
The continual sifting and winnowing of ideas in the pursuit of truth can only occur if dissent in speech is continually protected. On, Wisconsin, indeed.
Freedom of Expression
In a similar vein to the academic freedom provision, the Board of Regents and each institution and UW College campus is charged with committing to free and open inquiry for the UW community as a whole. This provision for the UW System specifies that all members of the UW community share the responsibility to maintain a climate of mutual respect, and that concerns about civility can not be used as a justification for closing off the free and open discussion of ideas.
This provision goes on to specify that while the UW's commitment to free speech and debate is crucial to its mission, the Board and institutions may restrict any expression that breaks the law, falsely defames a specific individual, constitutes a genuine threat or harassment, or that unjustifiably and substantially invades privacy. The Board and each institution are expressly given permission to "reasonably regulate" such speech as long as the fundamental commitment to the principle of discussion of ideas is not harmed. The bill language specifically writes that UW community members may not obstruct or interfere with the freedom of others to express their views on campus, even while they may reject or loathe such views. Rather, they are free to criticize and contest views with which they disagree, and the Board and each institution is charged with protecting the freedom of debate and deliberation.
I'll be curious to see what such "reasonable regulation" actually looks like, but I maintain heartened by the fact that this provision, and the one before it, make clear the System's commitment to free speech.
The System will be charged with creating a new system to monitor faculty and adjunct workloads, and rewarding those who teach more than the standard workload. By 2018, the System will have to devise policies for faculty members to regularly report their teaching hours on an accountability dashboard.
As a proud alumnae of UW-Madison, I value my alma mater's reputation as a research institution. I also valued my professors having time to help me understand their classes and more than anything, I valued those classes that were engaging, thought-out, and comprehensive.
Ask any student if they can tell which professors showed up to class unprepared. They'll be honest with you. By tracking and reporting faculty workloads, professors will have the ability to be honest, too.
Opting Out of Seg Fees
One provision would allow students to opt out of allocable segregated fees (known as seg fees) starting in the 2018-19 school year. Students would be able to decide whether or not they want to fund student organizations such as Sex Out Loud, the Tenant Resource Center, and Associated Students of Madison (ASM) bus passes.
One essential distinction - which is described in detail by ASM here - is that between allocable and non-allocable fees. This provision would not affect the non-allocable fees, which remain 83 percent of overall seg fees. Non-allocable fees fund things such as University Health Services, Recreational Sports, the Union, as well as all debt services and ongoing payments for building projects.
I'd be curious to see a breakdown of how many students would actually opt out of paying seg fees. My gut instinct tells me the majority of students would continue paying the fee because they enjoy the presence of such services on campus. But if they don't? That's their prerogative, and that's the way it should be.
Increased Flexible Options
The budget proposal requires the Board of Regents to expand the number of degrees offered through the UW Flexible Option program by at least 50 percent by December of 2019. At least one of the new programs created must be geared towards helping certified nursing assistants in becoming registered nurses, and another must help prepare nonteacher school district employees successfully complete standardized exams as a condition of becoming certified teachers. The proposal also offers $700,000 in financial aid for students who are enrolled in programs through the UW Flexible Option platform.
Currently, the Flex Option offers five degree programs and three certificates. The program is "made for busy adults" and catered towards individuals who want to get their degrees but who may already be working full time, supporting a family, or otherwise unable to attend traditional college courses.
Only UW-Milwaukee, UW-Parkside, and UW Colleges offer the Flex Option.
Wisconsin Tech College System
It's not just the UW System - WTCS is also affected by the Governor's budget. The biggest provision is one which would freeze tech college tuition for two years, providing $5 million to offset lost program revenues. According to the Governor's office, revenue per full-time enrollee at tech colleges has risen over 20 percent over the last five years and is at its highest level ever. Clearly, the system won't be bled dry by letting students save more of their hard-earned dollars.
Local tech college districts will be allowed the flexibility to drop tuition lower than the statewide frozen amount. I won't hold my breath and wait for any districts to jump at the opportunity to make less tuition money, but it's nice that they'll be allowed the option.
WTCS will also be required to submit an annual accountability report to the Governor and Legislature, just as the UW System already does. Such transparency is necessary and welcome.
Required Work Experience
I've written on this issue here, leaning heavily on my experience as a young graduate who has never had to be told that getting a job is important. Maybe that's just me, though. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Other Odds and Ends
I could wax poetic on all the provisions in this budget for thousands of words, but in the interest of keeping my readers awake, I'll go through the last of the provisions here:
That's about it, folks. In your opinion, what's the most important provision related to higher education in this budget? As always, follow us at @MacIverWisc to stay up-to-date on all the latest state budget issues.
A deep dive into the numbers
March 20, 2017
By Ola Lisowski
MacIver Institute Research Associate
[Madison, Wis...] Now that the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau's budget analysis is finally available to the public, let's look back at Gov. Scott Walker's K-12 education proposals for the 2017-19 biennial budget. First, the numbers:
Overall, the Department of Public Instruction sees a large increase of overall funding - $648.2 million more in total school aid than the last budget, a 6.0 percent increase. The biggest single increase comes in the form of $508.7 million for per pupil aid.
Currently, districts receive $250 per pupil in aid. Under the Governor's budget proposal, they would receive $450 per pupil in 2017-18 and $654 per pupil in 2018-19. One major caveat, though, is that districts will need to prove that they're in compliance with Act 10's requirements on employee healthcare contributions in order to receive the extra bump in funding. Act 10 required many public employees to begin paying at least 12 percent of total health care costs, but certain districts, such as Madison Metropolitan, extended their old contracts rather than moving into compliance immediately.
Under the provision, districts will need to certify to DPI that school district employees are paying at least 12 percent of their total health care costs for that school year. If districts don't or can't ensure that their employees are contributing to heath care coverage, they could miss out on the new funding. Madison Metropolitan and Beloit School District are among the districts that are currently not in compliance.
Behind per pupil funding and general school aids, the single largest line-item increase in Walker's proposal is over $20 million for sparsity aid. Under current law, districts qualify for an additional $300 per pupil if they have an enrollment of fewer than 745 pupils and a population density of fewer than 10 pupils per square mile of the district's attendance area. Under the budget proposal, district payments increase to $400 per pupil, and districts with an enrollment of up to 1000 students with the same population density will also qualify.
Rural schools also receive over $10 million for high cost transportation aid and increased transportation reimbursement rates to the tune of $92,000 over the biennium. Pupils that are transported more than 12 miles between home and school would receive a $65 reimbursement increase up to $365 beginning in the 2017-18 school year. Summer school reimbursement rates would also increase from $4 to $10 for students traveling between two and five miles, and from $6 to $20 for students transported more than five miles.
Another $6 million is sent to special education transitions incentives grants. Last budget, these grants received just $100,000, making this fund the single largest percentage increase in Walker's DPI budget, at 3,050 percent more than the base year funding. This proposal would provide an additional $1,000 per pupil for children who meet the following criteria:
attended school in the district or charter school in the 2014-15 or 2015-16 school years
had an individualized education program (IEP) in place
has been enrolled in a higher education program, postsecondary education or training program, or employed for at least 90 days
Currently, DPI estimates that schools receive $60 per pupil under this program. Gov. Walker's budget also includes an additional $1.5 million for special education transition readiness investment grants in the 2018-19 school year.
Other focuses on children with special needs in this budget include a provision that requires a DPI ombudsman to ensure that private school pupils have equal access to special education services. To that end, the provision creates a new "fiscal agent" to ensure that private schools receive federal funding for special education services and other benefits.
Along the same lines, the budget also specifies that independent charter schools and noninstrumentality charter schools would be allowed to employ personnel and create special education programs on the basis of demonstrated need. DPI would be required to certify to the Department of Administration the amount expended by each school for salaries and related services, and would be reimbursed for such expenses. Entities such as school boards and the board of control of cooperative educational service agencies (CESAs) would also be required to provide special or additional transportation for students with disabilities, as required in any pupil's IEP.
The State Superintendent is also required to certify reimbursement costs for special education aid, if satisfied with the services provided. The State Superintendent would be allowed to audit costs related to special education transportation services in order to ensure that reimbursements are limited to the actual costs.
Focus on Milwaukee
Schools in Milwaukee receive extra attention in this budget, with $5.65 million provided for Milwaukee Public Schools (MPS), district charter schools, independent charter schools, and private schools in the Milwaukee Parental Choice Program (MPCP).
About 35 percent of that funding is earmarked for distribution among eligible schools that received scores of "significantly exceeds expectations" or "exceeds expectations" on the most recent school report cards. Each school would receive a payment directly proportional to the number of pupils in that school.
The remaining 65 percent of performance-based funding would be allocated to schools that show performance increases of three points or more over two years prior on their report cards. This funding would also be split directly proportional to the number of pupils in each school.
MPS also receives an additional $2.8 million for summer school grants, split evenly across the biennium. The MPS Board is charged with creating a program to annually award grants for summer school programs to increase pupil attendance, improve academic achievement, and expose pupils to innovative learning. This pot of money is specifically allocated for public schools in the city of Milwaukee, except for independent charter schools.
Mental Health and Bullying
With an increased focus on mental health care throughout the Governor's budget proposal, DPI sees extra funding in this issue area as well. A new $3 million categorical aid program is created to reimburse school districts and independent charter schools for social workers. Another $2.5 million is provided in 2018-19 for community and mental health collaboration grants. DPI is charged with creating a new grant program for the purpose of collaborating with mental health professionals to provide mental health services to pupils.
Another new program is funded to the tune of $300,000 across the biennium to provide and create an online training curriculum for bullying prevention. Students in grades kindergarten through eight are expected to benefit from this program.
One full time position and $1 million is provided across the biennium to fund training for school districts and independent charter schools to provide mental health screening and intervention services for students.
School Choice Programs
As I wrote here, there are no substantial changes to any of Wisconsin's school choice programs, which are known formally in law as the Parental Choice Programs. Plenty of new regulations, however, are proposed:
All the Rest of It
Other odds and ends in Gov. Walker's K-12 budget proposal include:
Phew! That was a lot, wasn't it? As always, follow our budget coverage here at maciverinstitute.com and on twitter at @MacIverWisc. Comment below and let us know what you think about the Governor's K-12 budget proposals!
A MacIver Analysis By Bill Osmulski
The Legislative Fiscal Bureau recently completed its analysis of Governor Walker's budget proposal, which will be the Joint Committee on Finance's starting point when it begins work on the budget next week. Transportation will be the center of controversial during the budget debate, and it's expected many decisions will be decided based on their potential impact to road funding.
Under Walker's budget, the Department of Transportation would receive $5.9 billion in all funds over the biennium. That's a 6.4% increase from the current budget, or $359 million.
Part of the increase will come from an increase in federal highway aid, which is expected to come out to an extra $136 million.
On the other side of the equation, however, is bonding. The governor wants to decrease new bonding from $805 million in the current budget to $500 million. This decrease is important given the current trend with DOT's debt service payments, which are steadily increasing and eating up a greater portion of its budget. In 2015-16 it was $340.8 million. In 2018-19, it's expected to be $413.4 million. That will take up 22 percent of its transportation fund spending. (By the way, that percentage doesn't include federal aid, bond revenue, or transfers from other funds).
Despite the overall increase of $359 million in transportation spending, there are those who say that is not enough; not by a long shot. Their main area of concern is the State Highway Program.
Governor Walker wants to decrease over spending for the state highway program by $289 million, a 10.4 percent change. That is mostly due to decreased bonding for the Southeast Wisconsin megaprojects.
Right now there are two SE Wisconsin Megaprojects that have been enumerated: the Zoo Interchange and the I-94 North-South Freeway. Walker's budget provides $121.9 million for them: $31 million for the I-94 project and $90.9 million for the Zoo Interchange. Walker says he can do this without any delays on projects currently underway.
His opponents say that level of spending is not enough, and argue the state needs to raise the gas tax to boost funding. They've built their argument on a supposed billion-dollar deficit in the transportation fund, which the MacIver Institute debunked earlier this month. Their efforts have also been frustrated by the results of a recent state audit that focused on the highway program. It uncovered enough examples of inefficiencies, incompetence and illicit behavior at the DOT to convince some lawmakers not to support any additional funding until the new DOT secretary can clean house.
The Senate Committee on Transportation and Veterans Affairs just recommended Dave Ross's appointment as DOT secretary on March 16th. Although not yet confirmed, he's been in charge at DOT since the beginning of January. Ross believes revenue is not the DOT's problem. He says the main problem is spending and that the DOT has taken on more projects than it ever complete in a reasonable timeline. He has committed the DOT to adopt all the recommendations found in the audit.March 16, 2017
In an effort to explore one potential efficiency, Walker is proposing a pilot program concerning the DOT's bid process. Right now, the DOT works with consultants to plan projects, and then bids out the construction phase separately. Walker's budget would authorize a pilot program to see if it makes sense to let the consultants that plan the project also execute it, providing they meet certain requirements.
One of the areas Governor Walker points to when he talks about boosting transportation spending is local aids. His budget would increase county aid by $15.9 million, municipal aid by $14 million, and the local roads improvement program by $14 million. Part of this increase will come from a permanent transfer of funds from the Petroleum Inspection Fund, which is a 2 cents per gallon tax and will raise an estimated $19 million annually during the biennium.
That increase to the Local Roads Improvement Program (LRIP) represents a 25.2 percent boost. The LRIP is a grant program to help local communities pay for capital projects. Currently, grants can cover up to 50 percent of the cost. Walker wants to change that to 60 percent. The total boost in funding to the program would be $14 million, a 25.2 percent increase from last budget.
Under the governor's budget, there would be no change to mass transit funding, but Milwaukee County would be getting new buses from the $26 million Volkswagen Settlement.
Walker's DOT budget includes a pretty significant change to the DMV that will directly affect every driver in the state. He wants the department to send renewal notifications to drivers by email. This would not be a complete replacement for traditional notices, and people would have to request the email service.
Finally, Governor Walker wants to do some department streamlining with this budget too. He's proposing moving the DOT's human resources functions, an accountant, and an IT position to DOA.
The Joint Committee on Finance is expected to begin agency briefs during the last week in March. That will be the JFC's first opportunity to ask the DOT directly about these proposals.
Just one problem - Congress changed the law so more federal funding would go to actual services and less to administrative bloat at MPS
March 16, 2017
By Brett Healy
MacIver Institute President
Milwaukee Public Schools Superintendent Darienne Driver recently announced that the district could face significant financial challenges, once again, as she begins her work preparing for the upcoming 2017-2018 budget deliberations. During an interview with Mike Gousha at a Marquette Law School program, Driver discussed the $1.2 billion dollar budget she will present in May and a potential $50 million dollar shortfall facing MPS. While a $50 million budget gap would normally cause concern, anyone who has followed the trials and tribulations of Wisconsin's largest and most troubled school district just shook their head in disbelief.
One source of MPS' budget trouble? Less Title I funding. The Title I program provides extra federal funding to school districts with high percentages of poor children. The Journal Sentinel covered Driver's comments this way in a March 8th article:"Driver said she is anticipating a cut of about $12 million in federal Title I funds for low-income students under the new Every Child Succeeds Act, in part because it would allow some of those funds to flow to non-public schools."
The way Driver describes the situation, or maybe the way the Journal Sentinel reported the conversation, leaves the reader with the impression that federal Title I funds have been cut by $12 million dollars compared to last year.
The problem is that the assertion that Title I funding will be cut by $12 million doesn't appear to be true. According to MPS' own budget, chart 3.39 found below, MPS is anticipating an $7.6 million dollar increase in Title I funding in 2016-2017.
See the full MPS budget here, and see the above chart on page 3-38.
What did change? Congress and former President Obama made it clear that more of your federal tax dollars should go to help actual children and less should go to pay for bureaucrats at MPS. Oh my goodness! How could President Obama be so heartless and treat bureaucrats in such a callous and uncaring way?
Title I requires school districts to provide equitable funding for children regardless of what kind of institution they attend - public or private. This is not new - equitable funding for public and private students has existed at least since the No Child Left Behind law was passed back in 2001. When President Obama signed into law the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), his cornerstone education reform bill, ESSA required that school districts equitably distribute Title I funding among all low-income students residing in the district. Rather than treating certain students preferentially, the ESSA calculation requires funds to be allocated the way they always should have been allocated - equally for every child. No skim for public school bureaucrats.
Of course, neither Driver nor the writers of the Journal Sentinel piece took the time or care to explain this. Readers are left once again with the false notion that school choice takes funding away from MPS.
Our education system exists to serve all of our students. Education funding should follow the child, regardless of where they choose to receive the education that best fits their needs. Education funding of any kind - Title I, equalization aid, categorical, etc. - should NEVER go to fund bureaucrats or buildings. And MPS would be best to stop blaming everyone else for their continuing troubles. If MPS spent less time looking to blame others and spent more time actually working to fix their problems, the children of Milwaukee would be much better off.
March 16, 2017
By James Wigderson
Special Guest Perspective for the MacIver Institute
Do Wisconsin Democrats need a class in the state constitution? During the debate over an amendment to eliminate the office of the state treasurer, it certainly seemed that way.
The amendment, which passed both houses and is going to the voters in a referendum next year, finishes the job that so many in state government have started by ending the one remaining duty of the state treasurer. The lieutenant governor will now serve on the Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL) instead, along with the state attorney general and the secretary of state.
When the Senate considered the amendment last week, Sen. Dan Feyen, R-Fond du Lac, pointed out that since the lieutenant governor position is a partisan elected official, the seat will still be accountable to the voters.
That prompted a reply from Sen. Jon Erpenbach, D-Middleton, who said:
"Technically the lieutenant governor is not elected. The senator from the 18th had said the commission will be served by three elected officials. Well, it's just essentially two. Since 1967, the lieutenant governor and the governor have essentially run as a package. So I just want the record to show that there is not a separate vote except in the primary for the lieutenant governor here in the state of Wisconsin."
In the state assembly, Rep. Gary Hebl, D-Sun Prairie, said of the change, "We're passing that money over to DOA under the auspices of the governor, and therefore we lose control of those funds."
Hebl added, "We are getting rid of an elected official and turning over those funds to an appointed official. Bad, bad idea."
Granted, some Democrats think that any election that does not go their way is not a real election. However, what Erpenbach describes, and mischaracterizes, is the election of a state constitutional officer.
The lieutenant governor runs separately from the governor in the partisan primary. If the voters are unhappy with the lieutenant governor, they can support a challenger then.
During the general election, Erpenbach is correct that the lieutenant governor candidate runs with the gubernatorial candidate of the same party as a ticket. However, that means that the two offices are elected jointly, not that the one office is unelected. If the voters really are uncomfortable with a candidate for lieutenant governor, they can vote the whole ticket down.
But what Erpenbach has conveniently forgotten is that current Lt. Governor Rebecca Kleefisch actually ran separately statewide and won. During the recall elections, the lieutenant governor and the governor were recalled separately and had to run in the recall election separately. Kleefisch defeated her opponent with 53 percent of the vote.
So, far from being unaccountable to the voters, the lieutenant governor is actually an elected constitutional officer and can be held accountable just like any other elected official.
As for Hebl's bizarre claim that the lieutenant governor is somehow "appointed," he is apparently ignorant of how the last lieutenant governor of his party was not Governor Jim Doyle's choice and was given no responsibilities by the governor.
But more than that, the administration of the BCPL is still in the hands of three elected officials - not appointed officials, not the Department of Administration. Nor is this "a power grab" by the governor as some have characterized the amendment. He still would have no position on the BCPL. Also, it doesn't matter who "controls" the funds administered by the BCPL because the state constitution dictates how the earnings from the funds are spent.
Opponents to the constitutional amendment eliminating the state treasurer will need to come up with a better case than the sole remaining duty being transferred to another elected official. After all, governors and legislators from both parties have supported the gradual chipping away of the office's duties.
But if the devolving of the treasurer's other duties to the administration is a power grab, it's the most farsighted, slow-motion power grab in political history. Back in 1952, the Waukesha Freeman questioned why the state continues to elect a secretary of state and a state treasurer.
"The fact is, although it is rarely discussed with any candor, that this office and the state treasurer's office are losing public interest and awareness," the editorial said. "The paucity of candidates for this and other offices reveals their diminishing importance and suggests, perhaps, that some day the legislature will recognize reality and abolish them altogether."
As another prominent Democrat would phrase it, the long arc of history has been towards making the office irrelevant. Opponents of the amendment will have to answer the question that if this vestigial office has no authority, and is unlikely to ever be granted it in the future, then why should the voters want to keep it?
March 14, 2017
Perspective By Chris Rochester
MacIver Institute Communications Director
Speaker Paul Ryan and House Republicans rolled out their plan to repeal and replace Obamacare last week, making the legislation available for all to see - a stark contrast with the Democrats' approach to Obamacare (remember, we had to pass the bill before we could see what was in it).
The repeal of Obamacare was bound to be controversial, and now politicians and pundits are in a heated debate over the House bill, the American Health Care Act (AHCA).
On one side, Speaker Ryan and House leaders assert that the AHCA is a vital part of finally getting rid of Obamacare and replacing it with patient-centered healthcare. The bill is the first piece of a larger three-part plan to transform healthcare in America, Ryan explained in an interview with Vicki McKenna last week. The second part is a series of individual free-market reform bills to be passed separately as a result of limitations imposed by Senate rules.
The third part is an overhaul of Obamacare regulations by President Trump's Department of Health and Human Services. As we reported earlier, much of Obamacare was created by President Obama's HHS via the rule making process and can be undone using the same process, without legislation.
On the other side, opponents argue the law is not a full repeal of Obamacare because it leaves in place a number of Obamacare's regulations and taxes, particularly the "Cadillac Tax" on high-value employer sponsored health plans. The bill's failure to completely abolish Obamacare will make the "death spiral" of sicker enrollees and increasing premiums even worse, opponents say. They also argue that the AHCA's healthcare tax credits amount to a new entitlement.
Senator Rand Paul, a leading opponent of the AHCA who coined the nickname "Obamacare Lite", made his case on Fox News last week.
Regardless of where you stand on the debate over the AHCA bill, one thing is certain - Obamacare is a disaster that must be undone one way or another:
To help cut through all the confusion, we decided to give both sides of the debate an opportunity to make their case side-by-side. On one side, Speaker Ryan offers an overview of the AHCA legislation in USA Today. On the other, Daniel Horowitz excoriates the bill as "RINO-Care" in Conservative Review.
"Premiere Resort Area" brings to mind fabulous trips to exotic locations. While La Crosse is a beautiful area, the proposed tax is just another scheme to raise local taxes
March 14, 2017
By Chris Rochester
MacIver Institute Communications Director
The following column originally appeared in the Sunday, March 12 edition of the La Crosse Tribune.
The nightly news and the morning paper are great ways to keep informed. Unfortunately, they're also great avenues for politicians to peddle their schemes for foisting new taxes on unsuspecting taxpayers.
When I heard La Crosse County wants to become a "premiere resort area," and that this designation would generate millions to fix roads, at first I felt like I was in Oprah's audience that day she gave everyone a new car.
In reality, the proposal for a new "Premiere Resort Area Tax," or PRAT, is more like when you overbid on the showcase showdown on The Price Is Right and the infamous fail horn blares just before you're escorted from the stage.
The PRAT tax, the latest tax scheme cooked up by La Crosse County officials, is really just another half-percent sales tax that could be imposed on nearly all retail businesses in the county. As with any other sales tax, this $6.6 million new tax will inevitably be paid for by consumers like you.
"But without more money we can't fill the potholes!" the tax-and-spend crowd keeps shouting in your ear every time you turn on the TV. What they conveniently omit are their own failures to properly prioritize county spending.
La Crosse County budgeted for $136,764,518 in revenue for 2016. It planned nearly $33 million in property tax collections and $11.6 million from the county's 0.5 percent sales tax. Yes, the county already has a sales tax onto which the proposed PRAT tax would be stacked.
According to the state Department of Revenue, 44 categories of business are subject to this tax in any jurisdiction that enacts it -- bars, restaurants, gas stations, clothing retailers, hotels -- even a category called "miscellaneous retail stores," lest any devious boutique business falls through the cracks. In short, pretty much every business that a tourist could theoretically walk into would be subject to the PRAT tax.
The PRAT was conceived for the most innocent of reasons. When the summer residents of certain areas, like the Wisconsin Dells, fled for the winter, the Dells and similar tourist reliant areas needed a consistent revenue source.
Thus the Legislature invented the PRAT, but it required at least 40 percent of assessed property values in the taxed region to be composed of tourism-related businesses in order to be enacted. Thus, only six municipalities in Wisconsin currently have a PRAT tax, according to the Department of Revenue. At 5.3 percent, La Crosse County doesn't come close to qualifying.
While our home is a beautiful region with plenty of tourist attractions, it's hardly a "premiere resort area" according to state law. Nobody's going to be winning a trip to La Crosse on the Wheel of Fortune.
Fortunately for the pro-PRAT crowd, there's an exemption. After an advisory referendum, the Legislature can pass a special measure allowing the county to proceed with the final steps required to enact the tax.
Taxpayers should keep an eye on the big picture, and I don't mean the size of their property tax bills.
The county should make better decisions with what it does with taxpayer money, and roads should clearly be a priority. However, when the county board voted to nearly double its debt in 2015 from $59 million to $110 million in one fell swoop, filling potholes or fixing cracks was hardly a priority. Instead, the county embarked on a series of expansions of its office complex downtown.
Thankfully, we have a vast network of paved, pristine bike trails around here--nary a pothole in sight. Or I suppose these days we're supposed to call them multi-use trails.
The county is clearly taking in significant revenue, it's just not choosing to spend it on roads. Now, county officials want to hit up hard-working taxpayers for even more. If your neighbor said they desperately needed to borrow money from you, all the while installing an in-ground pool and building a breakfast nook off their foyer, any rational person would raise an eyebrow.
A tax by any other name is still a tax. Taxpayers beware.
Chris Rochester is a Holmen native and director of communications for the John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy, a Madison-based free market think tank.
March 13, 2017
It's Sunshine Week, an annual celebration of government transparency and accountability, a topic of great importance to all Wisconsin taxpayers. As part of Sunshine Week, the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council sponsors the Opee Awards to recognize those who work to keep government honest.
As a past winner of this award, the MacIver Institute knows the importance of keeping government honest - and we wish to recognize those who promote transparency in government.
It's heartening that Gov. Walker recently expanded last year's efforts to make state government more easily accessible. During Sunshine Week last year, Walker ordered state agencies to track records requests, set up accountability dashboards, and set limits on how much agencies can charge for open records requests and how long they can take to fulfill them.
Walker's recent executive order builds on last year's efforts by ordering state agencies to identify which records are most commonly requested and make them publicly available without a records request. His order also expands agency dashboards that report an agency's responsiveness, among other important steps toward a more open, efficient government.
MacIver also salutes two Opee Award winners in particular, who worked with our friends at the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) and Watchdog.org to expose government misconduct.
One is Citizen Openness (Copee) Award winner John Krueger who, assisted by WILL, sued the Appleton Area School District for denying him access to certain meetings discussing district curriculum. The case has now moved on to the Wisconsin Supreme Court.
Another is Whistleblower of the Year (Whoopee) Award winner Ronald Klym, a federal employee who blew the whistle on the gross incompetence taking place in a Milwaukee disability office. Watchdog.org reported the story. Klym was allegedly the subject of significant retaliation - including being fired - for exposing the misconduct at the office.
"Now, more than ever, protecting Wisconsin's traditions of open government depends on the courage and initiative of individuals," said Bill Lueders, president of the Wisconsin Freedom of Information Council. "We saw a good deal of that in 2016."
March 13, 2017
By Jessica Murphy
MacIver Institute Research Intern,
University of Wisconsin-Green Bay, Class of 2017
The fight for free speech on college campuses has never been more important than now, with liberals dead set on silencing speech that doesn't align with their values. Protesters shout, chant, and even get physically aggressive with the goal of disrupting or cancelling conservative and libertarian leaning events. Most recently, students at Middlebury College shouted down speaker Dr. Charles Murray and violently attacked Murray and a professor as they were leaving campus. University administrators, generally under pressure from triggered students, sometimes deny speakers (often conservative) from accessing their venue. Before Ben Shapiro came to UW Madison in November, he was barred from speaking at DePaul University and their administration went so far as to threaten to arrest him. UW system administration, on the other hand, has made strides in protecting free speech.
The UW Board of Regents adopted their own version of the University of Chicago principles of free speech in 2015 and reaffirmed them in 2016. These principles embody the First Amendment and the notions of free expression and a free academia. So far these have only been empty promises. Despite their legal obligation to provide for the students, the Board of Regents has not enforced policy changes to be made at the university level. While the sentiment of the Chicago Principles is important to embody, it is vital to push for change at the level that will directly affect the students.
Governor Walker plans to do more than simply pay lip service to the UW students, as we see in his next biennial budget. The Governor emphasizes his dedication to academic freedom by allocating $10,000 to the UW System in fiscal year 2018 to provide "funding...to review and revise policies related to academic freedom". This provision upholds the principles of free speech in a powerful way.
This emphasis on fighting for free speech at the UW System comes at an opportune time, as student organizations such as Young Americans for Liberty have been promoting free speech activism on UW campuses for years. What many students at the UW campuses don't know is that there are campus policies that are rated as unconstitutional by the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education (FIRE) - a nonprofit organization that defends individual rights on college campuses.
FIRE uses a traffic light system to rank schools and specific university policies as either green, yellow, or red. Their website explains that a green light ranking "means that FIRE is not currently aware of any serious threats to students' free speech rights in the policies on that campus," a yellow light ranking indicates "policies restrict a more limited amount of protected expression or, by virtue of their vague wording, could too easily be used to restrict protected expression," and a red light ranking means there is "at least one policy that both clearly and substantially restricts freedom of speech."
Of the eight UW schools listed on the FIRE website, five are ranked yellow, one is ranked red, and two are not yet rated (UW-Superior and UW-Whitewater). UW-Green Bay, UW-La Crosse, and UW-Stout all ranked red in the 2014-15 academic year and updated policies to earn a yellow rating the following academic year.
UW-Oshkosh is the only red-light school in the UW System. They impose three explicitly unconstitutional policies relating to inclusivity and diversity, harassment, and tolerance. One school policy goes so far as to say it is every student's "right to expect...an environment that is free of insulting and demeaning comments...based on race, ethnicity, gender, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability, military status, socioeconomic status, family status, or political views". It is insulting that the UW-Oshkosh administration is attempting to censor the voices of almost 14,000 students to avoid hurt feelings. How do they expect their students to learn, develop critical thinking skills, or strike out on their own if they are constantly silenced and sheltered?
All universities in the UW System enforce a myriad of unconstitutional policies. Some of these policies include the Systemwide Conduct on University Lands (yellow rating), applicable to all campuses in the UW System. This policy vaguely states that an individual may not "annoy or offend another person". Another vague policy in place at UW-Green Bay states that students "may be sanctioned if behavior...tends to provoke an immediate violent response" (yellow rating), which implies that an individual should be held accountable over another's actions. It continues that administration will "not tolerate behavior aimed at discriminating, degrading or hurting people- whether physical, emotional, or indirect (notes, signs, gestures)." To read more unconstitutional policies at Wisconsin universities, check out FIRE's website.
UW administrators in charge of the policy revision should collaborate with FIRE, which offers free consultations and policy suggestions. I am optimistic that if Governor Walker's commitment to academic freedom is passed in the biennial budget, university campuses in Wisconsin will once again become a haven for open intellectual discourse. Wisconsin's fight for free speech on college campuses will have a ripple effect throughout the entire state, and will set an example for other publicly-funded universities across the country.
MacIver News Service | March 10, 2017
By Bill Osmulski
[Madison, Wisc...] Thistle Pettersen is not afraid to publicly question "gender identity" policies and politics - but it's come at a cost.
Transgender activists in Madison have been conducting campaigns to get Thistle fired from her day job and music gigs. She was even banned from performing at one event she organized herself. Thistle says she's also been the victim of constant online bullying.
"So much talking about me online and offline that I literally cannot walk into public without worrying that somebody is going to come up and punch me in the face because those are the types of threats that I'm seeing," she said in court.
On Wednesday she tried to get a restraining order against Wendi Kent, who Thistle believes is the one organizing the attacks.
Kent admitted that she asked people to contact Thistle's employer to get her fired. She said that she considered Thistle's beliefs to be violence and that there are social consequences to that.
The hearing revealed a couple terms that transgender activists use to insult women. "TERF" means Trans-Exclusionary-Radical-Feminist, and "'CIS" refers to a woman who was born as a woman. Thistle claimed that Kent once referenced her "CIS-privilege."
Kent said that TERF is simply an acronym, but went on to cryptically explain, "I see 'trans-exclusion' as being violence so in general I would usually use that term for someone that I find, that's their practice."
Thistle did not back down from her opinions on transgender activism.
"I don't believe in the term 'transphobia'. I don't believe that's a real thing. I feel that it is a made-up term to target women who have questions about transgenderism the ideology. And not just the ideology, but also the policies starting to be put into place, like Title 9, for example, which was put into place in 1972. Well they want to take away sex-based protection for women and girls and replace it with gender identity protection for anyone who identifies as a girl or a woman. And I have concerns about that," Thistle explained.
Thistle is not alone. Women all over the country are expressing similar concerns and being attacked for them. The bullying has gotten so bad that extreme liberal activists are partnering up with the very conservative Heritage Foundation hoping to put an end to it.
Last month the Foundation hosted a forum that included Miriam Ben-Shalom, a well-known liberal gay-rights activist from Milwaukee.
"I am in debt to the heritage foundation, because they have offered us something that no organization on the left did, which was a safe place to speak. So I don't feel too bad about being here because I'm not being yelled at or screamed at or threatened," she said.
Ben-Shalom also stated that she is a lesbian, that transgender issues are not lesbian issues, and that many gays and lesbians would like to see the "T" in "LGBT" go away. She said, "Biology isn't bigotry. Biology is the truth."
"I watch women at the Michigan Women's Music Festival be forcefully and forthrightly threatened with mutilation so that they would understand what it means to be transgender," Ben-Shalom explained at the Heritage Foundation.
Ben-Shalom also talked about Thistle's situation in Madison as another reason she's speaking out.
Unfortunately for Thistle, proving online bullying isn't always easy. She was unable to produce any specific emails or posts that would have proved Wendi was organizing the attacks against her. Therefore, the judge did not grant the restraining order.
March 10, 2017 | MacIver News Service
The research group Education Next has released a report that surveys parent satisfaction across different types of schools, including traditional public schools, charter schools, and private schools.
The survey, which is administered by the National Center for Education Statistics, found that charter school parents are 13 percentage points more satisfied with expectations for student achievement than district school parents. Overall, private school parents report the highest satisfaction with expectations for student achievement, with 87 percent of respondents reporting that they are satisfied or very satisfied.
District school parents are most dissatisfied with teacher quality, instruction in character or values, and school discipline compared to private and charter school parents. District school parents also reported the highest levels of dissatisfaction with school safety.
Such results are not a new phenomenon - as MacIver News reported, despite years of efforts and billion of dollars spent, federal efforts to improve public schools through carrot and stick incentive systems often fail to have any meaningful impact on academic outcomes.
For more information, check out the interactive map at Education Next to view parent satisfaction with teacher quality, school discipline, safety, and more.
Note: The survey reports both raw and adjusted values. In this piece, we utilize the adjusted response values.
MacIver News Service | March 10, 2017
By Chris Rochester
[Madison, Wisc...] On Thursday, the Wisconsin Assembly debated a bill that would reform how governments can use Project Labor Agreements. PLAs stipulate that only union firms can bid on a project, and many units of government require them - shutting out non-union shops. The reform bill prohibits a government from requiring a PLA as a condition to bid on a taxpayer funded project.
Democrats argued the bill would harm a laundry list of demographic groups - except taxpayers.
After three hours of debate, project labor agreement reform passed along party lines.
Rep. Jarchow vows never to repeat this past mistake...
March 7, 2017
By Rep. Adam Jarchow
I screwed up and I'm sorry. When's the last time you heard that from a politician? Let me say it again. I screwed up and I'm sorry. Last session, in his budget, Governor Walker proposed adding 102 new auditors to the Department of Revenue. I didn't like the proposal, nor did many of my colleagues in the Legislature. A number of us tried to remove it from the budget. When that failed, to our discredit, we went along with it. We shouldn't have.
It didn't take me long to recognize the mistake I had made, and when I did, I authored a bill to begin to reverse it. Unfortunately, the bill went nowhere. As a result of this mistake, a number of Wisconsin's small businesses have been subjected to audits. For these small businesses, audits are terrifying, time consuming, and expensive. They are also the functional equivalent of a government shakedown. You see, most small businesses operate above-board. They do their best. But no one is perfect. This is particularly true when you have an awful tax code like ours. It's riddled with exemptions, credits, inconsistencies, and ambiguities. Even CPAs make mistakes.
Nearly every time a business is audited, it's no surprise the auditor finds something and when they do, it's usually after wasting weeks of a small business' time and resources. After being put through this, the business owners just want it over. So even if they believe the auditor is wrong, they are unlikely to spend the time and significant resources on attorneys and CPAs necessary to fight the government. Instead, they just pay.
Amazingly, this surrender is what the government is counting on. The state budget actually depends on each new auditor bringing in significant revenue each year. I suspect that's part of the reason why the Governor's current budget proposes adding another 46 new auditors (combined with last session, this would amount to 148 total new auditors). It's estimated that each of the 46 new auditors would bring in around $695,000 each year of this biennium ($64M total). In my opinion, that's the wrong way to balance the budget.
However, we can fix this. Instead of 46 new auditors at DOR to shake down hard-working small business owners, we should authorize 46 new auditors or inspectors general to audit every part of every state agency. As the DOT audit showed, incompetent agencies are wasting billions of dollars. So instead of harassing hard-working small business owners to generate revenue, we can find significantly more money by closely scrutinizing agency budgets.
I will not repeat my past mistake. I will not vote for any budget that authorizes even a single new auditor and would be hard pressed to vote for one that doesn't begin to fix the mistake we made in the last budget. In the next few days, I will offer a budget motion to (i) delete the 102 auditors authorized in the last budget; and (ii) amend the current proposal so that the 46 auditors are hired to examine state agencies instead of small businesses.
March 7, 2017
By Jason Crye
Executive Director, Hispanics for School Choice
The following column originally appeared at The Fordham Institute.
20 billion dollars.
With that kind of investment in education President Trump can create a program more recognizable than that omnipresent comb over. Sure, some will argue that it shouldn't be done, but this is Wonkathon 2017 and we're going to spend that money like we're at the Trump Taj Mahal--before it closed.
So let's create Trump Student Success Zones!
The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) requires states to identify schools that perform among the bottom 5 percent on their accountability systems and where fewer than 67 percent of students graduate from high school. Such designations have to be made at least every three years and are based on both academic and nonacademic criteria. If underperformance persists for four years, states are required to intervene.
The Trump Student Success Zones will be geographic areas that include the schools the ESSA mandate identifies and their surrounding neighborhoods. No one relishes telling individual schools they are failing, and increasing student success in a larger, multi-school area will avoid the political wrangling that often stalls individual school turnaround efforts.
Trump zone czars would be appointed to manage each zone. The czars would execute their duties in cooperation with a volunteer advisory board they form composed of leaders representing participating schools and community leaders in each zone. Metro areas may have more than one success zone. Instead of closing struggling public schools, the success zones will provide the resources to turn them around. At the same time, the capacity of high quality, high potential, and start-up success zone schools in all sectors will be fostered.
This would be an optional federal program, but the Trump administration would incentivize state participation by providing all schools within designated success zones a "huge" per pupil funding increase if they commit to the implementation of any number of recommendations for their zone. This could include, for example, an overhaul of teacher recruitment and training, extended school years, or the establishment of zone wrap around services to assist families. The Trump zone per pupil increase subsidy would pay for program reforms and help finance school expansion and start-ups.
The Trump Student Success Zones would also include two additional educational savings account (ESA) programs.
The first would provide funding for out-of-school educational, arts, and recreational activities within the success zones. This ESA would be made available to all students attending schools in the success zones.
The second ESA would provide funding for success zone students who have been identified as gifted. Individual schools cannot be expected to develop programming appropriate to every gifted child they serve. This ESA would enable parents to tend to the individual needs of their gifted children. Tutors and non-public online learning programs are examples of how this program would help underserved gifted students maximize their potential.
In sum, the Trump Student Success Zones will support traditional public schools by providing a framework to turn around consistently underperforming schools, support poor families via wraparound services and neighborhood cooperation, and advance the principles of school choice while improving educational opportunities for all students.
While efforts in each success zone will vary greatly, all Trump Student Success Zones will share the following guiding principles:
Community members will be included in the process. The zone czars shall include parents and community members among the appointees to the success zone boards to help guide program development and ensure community input is considered at all stages. Church and business leaders within the zones would be natural advisors and organizers.
Research supported reform
Under ESSA, districts are required to design "evidence based" strategies to turn around their perennially underperforming schools. As we know, there's been some discussion about what constitutes "evidence," but the Trumps zones will help states seize the day and encourage innovative, research-based ways to improve schools.
All sector participation
In addition to members of the community, no success zone will be successful if it fails to meaningfully involve all types of schools within its borders. While the goal is to have every zone school fully participate in the program, realistically that may not always be possible. In such cases the success zone czar and board will actively find ways to include non-participating schools.
Jason Crye is a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.
No Consistency On Way Road Conditions Are Reported
The Feds, the State and local governments use different reporting methodologies
MacIver News Service | March 6, 2017
By Bill Osmulski
Talking about roads is like talking about the weather - people never get tired of the topic and everyone has their own opinions. Apparently, even for the pros, the state of Wisconsin's roads lies in the eye of the beholder.
For example, when the Department of Transportation announced last year that 91 percent of local roads in the state were in fair or better condition, the Counties Association said there was no way.
"Unfortunately, this analysis is, at best, a poor interpretation of the data that is provided to WisDOT or at worst, just wrong," according to a WCA press release at the time.
Of course, there is reason to be skeptical of what WISDOT or anyone else says about the condition of Wisconsin's roads. There are three different methods used to assess pavement conditions, and they all yield different results.
The DOT uses the International Roughness Index (IRI) to determine how smooth roads are, which is required for federal reports. It also uses the Pavement Condition Index (PCI) to determine the overall integrity of roads, which relies on an individual engineer's personal assessment of photographed cracks on the surface. Then there are local units of government, which required to collect data on local roads. Most use a system similar to PCI called PACER. The DOT says PACER data cannot be used together with PCI, because they use different measurement scales. All these methods require different equipment for collection.
"There's kind of been multiple sides in the discussion on the condition, the funding, and the management of the system. I think regardless of where you come down on this, I think there are bullet points or there's some meat in here for you," Rep. John Nygren stated at the public hearing on the DOT audit.
"How can we really understand the true condition if we can use different scales? My fear is with different measures, it appears as if it makes it easier to craft a message," Senator Chris Kapenga (R-Pewaukee) later said at that same hearing.
Abundant road condition data leaves plenty of room for interpretation. pic.twitter.com/79iDuvg66N— MacIver News Service (@NewsMacIver) March 3, 2017
Kapenga and Nygren are correct in their assessment. Within the DOT audit there were three different sets of results for road conditions in 2014. The IRI results indicate 32 percent of the state's roads are in good condition. According to CPI, 64 percent of backbone highways are in good condition and 40 percent of non-backbone highways are in good condition. Using those three sets of results, you could also say either about 1 percent or 9 percent or 17 percent of Wisconsin roads are in not acceptable, poor or worse condition.
Then there's always the statistics game, where you can pick and combine different categories. By combining the IRI's results for Good and Acceptable roads, you could say 91 percent of Wisconsin roads are in fine shape. That's what the DOT was able to do in the example above.
When MacIver News wanted to take a closer look at the IRI data and see how the results change over time, the DOT provided the link to a Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) report. Now in the audit, there were three categories for IRI: Good, Acceptable, and Not Acceptable. In the FHWA report, there are eight different ranges: <60, 60-94, 95-119, 120-144, 145-170, 171-194, 195-220, and >220. Also, roads fall into one of eight different types: interstate rural, other freeways and expressways rural, other principal arterial rural, minor arterial rural, interstate urban, other freeways and expressways urban, other principal arterial urban, and minor arterial urban. MNS asked the DOT, how was all this official data condensed into the one neat table broken into good, acceptable and not acceptable roads? The DOT did not respond.
There are reasons for the different rating systems. IRI is the most objective and easiest method to employ. PCI provides the most data, but it is expensive, subjective, and time consuming. PCI is mostly used by local governments across the country, because it makes sense on that scale. The Federal Highway Administration requires states to report using the IRI data, because CPI data collection is so inconsistent from state to state. It learned this when conducting a study on I-90 in 2012 and compared data from South Dakota, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
Most states only collect IRI because they have to, and many consider CPI to be too impractical to collect on a statewide level. Wisconsin, however, believes that CPI is invaluable in decision making, and so the state collects the IRI for the feds and CPI for the state.
During the Audit hearing, one of the auditors related what DOT officials have been telling him for years "You can have a bumpy road, but the underlying quality of the road could be very good. A bumpy road doesn't necessary mean the DOT would have to initiate rehabilitation or major highway work to fix it. So that's why DOT has moved to that Pavement Condition Index that involves high resolution photography and an experienced DOT engineer looking at the condition of the road, and not only saying how many cracks does this road segment have, but what types of cracks... because different cracks mean different things."
If you were to ask the DOT, these measures show road conditions are getting better all the time. In fact, according to a January 2017 DOT report, 97.6 percent of state (backbone) highways and 78.8 percent Non-backbone highway were in fair or better condition.
This month, the Joint Committee on Finance starts its work on the 2017-19 budget, and transportation funding will likely be the most contentious issue it addresses. With so much room for interpretation, pavement conditions will be a focal point for both sides hoping to bolster their arguments. And in the end, the final determination will be - how many potholes did you hit on your drive home?