As I See It

As I See It

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

Wisconsin lawmakers have largely wrapped up work on the current legislative session. There wasn't a lot of heavy lifting this session. No doubt our lawmakers were exhausted after finally passing a state budget more than two months late. They did tackle a couple thorny issues, like allowing toddlers to legally hunt in Wisconsin. And even though technically their legislative session won't adjourn until mid-spring, there is little left on the legislative calendar. One issue that should be on the top of lawmakers priority list is redistricting reform. The current process of redrawing legislative boundaries in Wisconsin is currently before the United States Supreme Court. And although prior courts have ordered the state to come up with a better system of drawing boundaries rather than allowing the political party in charge to gerrymander the maps to benefit their candidates, the only response so far has been to continue filing lawsuits. Given that our lawmakers have plenty of time on their hands before they hit the road to beg for campaign cash, this would be a perfect time to schedule public hearings on this important issue. The public should be allowed to be heard on this. But they don't much like hearing outside opinions. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos got in the face of Ohio Governor John Kasich who had the audacity to say he favors fair election maps and opposes partisan gerrymandering. Our lawmakers have plenty of time, but little on their agenda. This would be the time to let the public speak out about how Wisconsin's system of drawing political boundaries can be improved.

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Tuesday - November 21, 2017 8:57 am

An idea for paying for roads

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What is the solution to solving Wisconsin's road crisis? That continues to have our politicians scratching their heads. Meanwhile, Wisconsin's infrastructure, already rated among the worst in the nation, continues to get worse. Our elected officials in Madison have been unable or unwilling to come up with a long-term, sustainable way to pay to fix our pothole-filled roads. In recent years, they have chosen to put off many road repairs, and those which have been fixed have been put on the credit card for future generations to pay off. One possible solution, being championed by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, would be a user-based system, with people paying for roadwork based on how many miles they drive. It is not a radical idea. We pay for electricity, natural gas and water based on how much we use. In Illinois, I-Pass users are essentially paying based on how far they travel. Under the current system, gas taxes are the primary source of revenue for road repair, but that fund has dwindled as the state's gas tax is no longer indexed for inflation. Meanwhile, millenials are driving less, and we are driving more fuel efficient vehicles. And because politicians have chosen to borrow to pay for road work in recent years, more and more of the gas tax is going to fund debt service rather than filling potholes. This idea of a user based system may not be the ideal solution to paying to fix our roads, but it is a solution. Which is more than the politicians have come up with so far.

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Monday - November 20, 2017 9:42 am

Slow down on tax reform

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Lawmakers in Washington are eager to pass a tax reform bill. After all, they have yet to pass a single meaningful piece of legislation in the current session of Congress. President Trump wants the bill on his desk by Christmas in hopes of getting something under his tree for the holiday. But when it comes to overhauling the nation’s tax code, which is long overdue, it is more important that our elected officials get it right than moving quickly. Just two weeks after first unveiling the massive 429 page bill, members of Congress voted to pass it and send it to the U.S. Senate. It is doubtful members of Congress had time to read the fine print. And there is a lot of fine print. Their work crafting the bill was done behind closed doors, without a single public hearing to explain what the bill actually does, and how it will affect everyday Americans. From what we’ve seen, there is both good and bad in this bill. It would reduce the number of tax rates, but would also eliminate deductions on state income taxes, essentially taxing us twice. The House bill would also allow churches to make statements relating to political campaigns without jeopardizing their tax-exempt status. And the bill would add more than a billion dollars to the federal deficit. It is good that Congress is eager to get this legislation passed, but they need to slow down and make sure they get this right and provide tax reform that makes sense for everyone.

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Friday - November 17, 2017 9:30 am

Lawmakers shouldn't need sexual assault training

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The list of people facing allegations of sexual harassment and sexual assault seems to grow every day. The latest, Minnesota U.S. Senator Al Franken, who is accused of groping a woman 11 years ago. There is even photographic evidence. We have heard similar stories charging people in powerful positions with illicit behavior. It started with the allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein and now the floodgates have opened. It is sad that such stories are suddenly so prevalant, but good that women who have been victimized feel the power to come forward and confront the accused. Now the Wisconsin Legislature wants to take steps to ensure this bad behavior does not happen among members of their ranks. Bot the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate have policies against such behavior, but in light of what is happening on a national scale, wants to add new training for lawmakers. Is that really necessary? Shouldn't these people whose salaries we pay know what constitutes bad behavior? Do we have to spell it out for them? We're talking about adults, not incoming college freshmen. Under the legislature's current policy, sexual harassment can include leering, touching, pinching or brushing against another person's body, commentary about a person's body, sexual prowess and unwelcome sexual advances. The only thing lawmakers should need to know is don't do it. Any of it. Keep your hands to yourself. Don't be a perv. If our lawmakers don't know that already, then perhaps they don't belong in elected office.

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Thursday - November 16, 2017 7:25 am

Rent to own industry doesn't deserve special treatment

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Here they go again. Wisconsin republicans are again trying to make it easier for rent to own stores to rip people off. These stores offer furniture and appliances for those who can't afford to buy, but charge them huge interest rates. Wisconsin's consumer protection laws currently protect consumers by requiring rent-to-own companies to disclose the interest rates they charge. But some lawmakers think that is not necessary, and want to exempt rent-to-owns from those laws. They've been trying to do it for years, even trying to hide the provision in a state budget. Now they are trying again, seeking to introduce legislation to make it easier for rent-to-own companies to charge exorbitant rates. That is shameful. These companies typically charge up to four times the cost of buying their products elsewhere. You can get a 50 inch tv at Sam's Club for less than $600. At a rent to own, it can cost more than $1200. This is a predatory industry, preying on the poor. The question has to be raised, why are these lawmakers so insistent on exempting rent-to-owns from the Consumer Protection Act? Money. They have been stuffing their pockets with campaign cash from an industry eager to expand its profits. There can be no other explanation. Doing so would not protect Wisconsin families, it would only protect the company's profits. Of all the businesses to be covered by consumer protection laws, shouldn't the rent-to-own industry be at the top of that list?

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Wednesday - November 15, 2017 9:00 am

Governor says changing license plates udderly ridiculous

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Perhaps change is inevitable. But sometimes doing the same thing for a long time is a good thing. Such is the case with the Wisconsin license plate. The state's plates have changed some over the years. They have been many different colors and have used varying designs. But one thing that has been constant on Wisconsin license plates since 1940 is the use of the slogan “America's Dairyland.” But some think it is time to change that. One state representative is circulating a proposal calling for updating the plates to, in his words, reflect who we are, not what we were. His efforts are a nod to Foxconn, suggesting the state should be known for its efforts to better technology. Now Governor Scott Walker has weighed in on the plate debate, insisting that the America's Dairyland slogan is not going anywhere. He tells Farm Director Pam Jahnke of our Madison radio stations that the state's bread and butter, literally and figuratively is agriculture and manufacturing. Walker is absolutely right on this one. Wisconsin is known across the country for our agriculture, which remains the backbone of our economy. It is good that our economy is becoming more diverse with that new Foxconn plant to be built. But we don't even know if that deal will work out. If it doesn't, do we want to brag about it on our license plates for all to see? Wisconsin remains America's Dairyland, and our license plates should continue to reflect that.

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Friday - November 10, 2017 9:23 am

Wisconsin should consider lower drinking age

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If you're old enough to fight and die for your country, you should be old enough to drink a beer. That argument has been around for decades, but is getting new traction now that some Wisconsin lawmakers are pushing a bill that would lower the state's drinking age to 19. And while the saying may be cliché, it is is true. States were strong-armed into raising the drinking age to 21 back in the 80's with threats from the federal government to withhold highway funding to any state which didn't go along with the mandate. But there are many valid reasons for lowering the drinking age. Let's face it, young adults are already drinking before they turn 21, they simply are doing illegally. Preventing police from having to enforce that law frees them up for more serious matters. And those 19 year olds drinking now often do so at house parties, or in secluded spots where they are away from the watchful eye of others. By making drinking taboo, it becomes more appealing for rebellious teens. And it simply isn't fair when a 20 year old service member returns from serving in a combat zone to marry his sweetheart cannot legally offer a toast at his own wedding. Getting the federal government to agree to continue to provide highway funding to Wisconsin if it lowered the drinking age would no doubt be a tough sell. But consider that among Western nations, besides the U.S. only Indonesia, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Sri Lanka set the legal age that high. We should adopt the European model, where teens are taught to drink responsibly iat an earlier age, in the safety of their own homes.

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Thursday - November 9, 2017 8:28 am

Constitutional convention a dangerous possibility

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It hasn't happened since 1787. And for good reason. But now Wisconsin has joined a chorus of states calling for the convening of a convention to amend the United States Constitution. Supporters say such a move is needed to address the growing federal debt, and that the convention would only be designed to amend the constitution to require that the federal budget be balanced. But this is one big Pandora's box. If just 6 other states vote to hold this convention, the entire U.S. Constitution could be gutted, shredded and burned. The ideals on which this country was founded could be gone. This is scary stuff. The fact is it is entirely possible to amend the Constitution without holding a convention where all our current laws are on the table. It only takes a 2/3 vote of both houses of Congress. That process has been utilized to end slavery, to allow women to vote and to provide equal rights. The last thing we need in this bitterly divided country today is the opportunity to tear up the Constitution and start over. If our lawmakers think that requiring a federal balanced budget is a good idea, they should just do it. Republicans control the legislative and executive branches in Washington. They could introduce legislation calling for a balanced budget and hold a vote. They have the power to balance the federal budget without resorting to such extreme measures. The fact that they haven't done it leaves only them to blame.

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Wednesday - November 8, 2017 9:21 am

Carrots healthier than sticks

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Carrots are a healthy snack. And can be an effective tool for changing behavior, at least when compared to the stick. The Wisconsin legislature is finally choosing the carrot when it comes to encouraging those on public assistance to eat healthy. For years, lawmakers have tried to use the stick to ensure food stamp recipients eat healthy by trying to limit what they could purchase. They were offended that those enrolled in Wisconsin's FoodShare program sometimes used the benefits to buy soda and chips. Others were upset that people used public assistance to buy shrimp or salmon, even though those food items are high in nutritional value. Those efforts to require FoodShare recipients purchase only foods that have “sufficient nutritional value” and prohibit them from buying junk food have failed to pass the legislature in recent years. So now, wisely, they are trying the carrot. A pilot program would be created in Wisconsin to encourage healthy eating by those on food stamps by offering them discounts on their purchases of healthy foods. The program would offer 50% discounts on fresh produce and other healthy foods. It would also require a study to see if it actually led to people eating healthier. And unlike past efforts to use the stick approach, the bill has bipartisan support. It is good to see lawmakers finally willing to dangle the carrot. It sure tastes a lot better than the stick.

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Tuesday - November 7, 2017 9:32 am

Many reasons not to like PRAT tax

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Efforts to allow La Crosse county to adopt a special tax are moving along in Madison. Unfortunately, those efforts are misguided. La Crosse County is seeking special permission from the state legislature to institute what is called a PRAT tax. This extra half cent sales tax could generate millions of much needed dollars to pay for road improvements throughout the county. But there are many problems with is idea. The PRAT tax is designed to be issued only to tourism related businesses, but the tax would apply to much more than hotels and restaurants. It would also apply to fabric shops, florists, jewelry stores and department stores. There are 44 business categories on which the tax would be levied. It seems the list of who is charged the tax is longer than the list of who is not. And it would likely tax more locals than those from out of town. The money raised would ostensibly pay for road work throughout the county. But little of that money would pay for road work within the city of La Crosse. Technically, the money doesn't have to be used for road or bridge repair, according to state law. But there is a lot of wiggle room here, and if adopted, La Crosse County could use the extra PRAT money for a variety of purposes. The county has promised it would only use the money to pay for road work. But the current half cent county sales tax adopted 20 years ago was supposed to expire, before being adopted permanently. No doubt, even if this tax passes and raises enough money to fix all our roads, the tax would continue to be levied.

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