As I See It

As I See It

Wisconsin's longest running daily commentary, a daily tradition since 1971.

Friday - September 22, 2017 8:57 am

HHS Secretary a frequent flier at our expense

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I think that this is probably covered in the most basic of political courses. It is never good to tell people how to behave, only to do the opposite yourself. U.S. Human Services Secretary Tom Price is finding out now what he should have already known. Price is coming under fire for some of his recent travels. Price has chosen to fly on private jets on five separate trips he took last week. That is a departure from his predecessors, who chose to fly commercial. But more importantly, it is a waste of our money. The money to pay for the trips, about $60,000, is being paid for by taxpayers, even though commercial flights were available, and would have been much cheaper. One of the flights took the Human Services Secretary from Washington to Philadelphia, a distance of just 125 miles. He could have driven there and saved taxpayers big bucks. Instead, that brief flight cost taxpayers $25,000. Price is also showing himself to be a hypocrite. He is an outspoken critic of government waste who promises to cut waste in his department's budget. Apparently he means for everyone but him. And Price is further showing his hypocrisy because when he was in Congress he railed against the use of private jets by government officials. He was right then when he called it another example of fiscal irresponsibility run amok. And we are right when we say the same of what is happening today.

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Thursday - September 21, 2017 9:03 am

More questions than answers on Foxconn

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They call the deal “transformational.” Let's hope that turns out to be true, in a good way. The state of Wisconsin has gone all in on Foxconn, passing a bill promising nearly $3 billion in subsidies to the Taiwan manufacturer. It could bring a $10 billion investment by Foxconn, and could lead to the hiring of some 13,000 workers. But despite lawmakers eagerness to ink the deal, there are still more questions than answers. First, Foxconn has a history of broken promises. Just ask Pennsylvania, or Brazil. The company has not even selected a site for the plant. A shovel in the ground would make us feel a bit more confident. It is not clear where the workers would come from given our low unemployment rate. And even if everything works out as planned, taxpayers won't see a return on their investment until at least 2042. Wisconsin lawmakers bent over backwards to give Foxconn everything it wanted, passing the largest public subsidy to a foreign corporation ever, in the history of the United States. There are questions about the legality about the bill the Wisconsin Legislature passed, as it allows the company to ignore environmental rules, and if sued, bypass the traditional appeal process. Most significantly, we don't even know exactly what the deal entails. There is no fine print to review, and that wasn't even ready before Governor Walker signed the huge incentive deal. And no one from Foxconn ever bothered to come to Wisconsin to explain the deal. There is much to be nervous, or uncertain about with this deal. But let's hope, like they promise, this deal will indeed be transformational.

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Wednesday - September 20, 2017 8:57 am

La Crosse continues to nickle and dime residents

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The city of La Crosse never seems to miss a way to squeeze a few more bucks out of people. The latest example has to do with sprinklers that people install on their boulevards. For years, these La Crosse homeowners have been doing the city a favor by watering the grass on their boulevards, which are owned by the city. They put in the underground sprinklers at their own expense, and paid for the water used to water the lawn. But the city is hardly saying thank you. Instead, those with the sprinklers recently got a letter from the city telling them there would be a new annual charge of $50 if they wanted to continue being nice by watering what is technically city property. The response has been predictable. Most we spoke with aren't going to pay the fee. Some even tore out their sprinklers and sent them to city hall. In recent years, people who want to launch a boat from a city dock, or have a fire in a backyard firepit, have been told they need to pay to get the necessary permits. And most recently, La Crosse's police chief has warned that with a shorter alternate side parking season recently adopted, the city will lose $35,000 in parking ticket revenue. As a result, he warns, there will be some new pay to park system to make up for that lost revenue. That is an admission this whole alternate side parking system is little more than a money grab, and further evidence that city hall can't seem to get by with less.

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Of course it was too good to be true. The new Wisconsin state budget is crammed with items that have nothing to do with state spending. That is a complete reversal from what members of the state's budget committee promised back in April. We congratulated the Joint Finance Committee at the time for its announcement that it would pull all policy items out of the budget. But by the time their work was done, committee members put them all back. It was at the time a bold move. Republican leaders telling their Republican Governor they weren't going to leave items that have nothing to do with state spending in the budget. They removed 83 items from the budget as the began work on the budget. Bu the budget now being sent to the Governor is again filled with non-fiscal policy decisions which have no business in a state budget, and should be put up for public debate and scrutiny. Among the items in the final budget, a requirement that the UW System track how much time their professors are actually teaching. It doesn't matter if that is a good idea. It is a policy decision, not a spending decision, and shouldn't be in the budget. If it is a good idea, it should be able to stand up to public scrutiny. It shouldn't be crammed in a budget so that it can more easily become law. The budget should only be about state spending, just as the budget committee insisted before returning to business as usual.

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They must be exhausted. Members of the Wisconsin Legislature finally wrapped up their work to complete a new state budget. Two and a half months after that work was due to be completed. And once again, our lawmakers took shortcuts, passed pet projects, and put off the difficult decisions. Those we send to Madison have struggled for years to plug the huge hole in the state’s transportation budget. But once again, rather than figure out how to fix it, they simply put hundreds of millions of dollars in road spending on a credit card. That will cost us more in interest, and put off a number of needed road projects. In this latest budget, lawmakers continue their assault on local communities, taking away local decisions on quarries and recreational trails. The budget does nothing to help working families, but does find $4 million for airport improvements so rich guys can play golf in Wisconsin Rapids. Although Wisconsin is last in the nation in business startups, this budget does nothing to help entrepreneurship. And the state is going all in on Foxconn, providing the largest government giveaway to a private foreign company ever. It is good our lawmakers can go back to their districts with their work completed. They have done enough damage as it is.

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Thursday - September 14, 2017 8:58 am

State should not limit school referendums

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As work continues to wrap up a new budget for the state of Wisconsin, much of the focus has been on how to fund transportation needs, and how much of the store to give away to Foxconn. But also buried in the budget is a provision that prevents local school districts from raising the money they need to educate their students. If approved, the law would restrict how often, and for what reasons, schools could appeal to voters in referendums asking if they will pay more in property tax to fund schools. This is a policy issue that doesn't belong in a state budget. It should be be debated and voted on on its own merits. But what business is it of Madison if the La Crosse school district or any other wants to hold a referendum to build new schools, or improve technology or safety in existing ones? Isn't this the same political party which rails against big government? It has become increasingly common for Wisconsin schools to hold referendums. In just the last six years, 40% of Wisconsin school districts have turned to voters in a referendum. Little surprise, given that state aid to schools has dwindled in Wisconsin, as money is funneled from public education toward private voucher schools. Also not surprising is that 70% of those referendums have been approved by Wisconsin voters. Clearly, voters continue to value a public education, even if our elected officials do not.

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Wednesday - September 13, 2017 9:21 am

Tragedy again brings out our best

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We have seen it many times. When the United States suffers tragedies, good people turn out to do good things. We are seeing it now with the devastation in Texas and in Florida. Average people going out of their way to lend a hand. Whether by donating money, or filling trucks and heading to the trouble spots, it restores our faith in humanity to see so many people willing to help complete strangers. Six members of the La Crosse fire department are in Florida helping people recover. Workers from Xcel Energy are there to help restore power. Churches in La Crosse and throughout the country are soliciting donations to help hurricane victims. One of the more heartwarming stories we heard was that of a woman in Florida who rushed to the hardware store as the hurricane approached, needing a generator for her husband's oxygen tank. The threat of a power outage was real, and she needed power to keep her husband breathing. But when she got to the hardware store, she was too late. Someone had just bought the very last generator. She broke down crying. But the person who bought the last generator heard her story, and gave her the piece of equipment she needed to save her husband's life. Didn't even ask for any money in return. In today's world, where it often seems people prefer to be angry over just about anything, it is good to see that complete strangers are so willing to help others. Its just too bad that it often takes a tragedy for that too happen.

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Friday - September 8, 2017 9:30 am

Foxconn can't skip legal appeals process

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Apparently, our democracy is for sale in Wisconsin. Our elected officials are so eager to get Foxconn to the state, and its promise of 10,000 jobs, they are willing to not just bend the rules, but to shatter them. The incentive package being offered to the Taiwan company includes not just billions of our tax dollars, and not just the offer to waive environmental regulations, but also a plan to desecrate our democracy. The package approved by the Joint finance Committee would carve out a huge exception for Foxconn, allowing the company to completely ignore the rules that govern our judicial system. If this deal passes, any lawsuits filed against Foxconn, and there are certain to be some, Foxconn could bypass the appellate courts and appeal the lawsuit directly to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Further, any lower court order against Foxconn would be suspended until a ruling from the state's highest court is issued. This is unprecedented, outrageous, a violation of our system of checks and balances, and most likely unconstitutional. No person, or organization, or business in Wisconsin, even the biggest ones, are allowed to have their own rules in the event of a lawsuit. Why should other businesses have to be bothered by the rules if Foxconn does not? Do we craft the rules of our democracy based on how many people a company employs? That is not a democracy. It is corporate rule. And that is not how we do things in Wisconsin.

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