Wisconsin's longest running daily commentary, a daily tradition since 1971.
It sure didn't take long for the gloves to come off. Within minutes of former Wisconsin U.S. Senator Russ Feingold announcing his plans to run for his old seat, his political rivals began spewing their vitriol. One could even suspect the news release and talking points were hammered out well in advance, awaiting Feingold's announcement so they could pounce. And pounce the did. For example the Wisconsin Republican Party issued a news release with the headline, “Washington Insider Russ Feingold announces plan to regain lost power,” followed by “Feingold's radical agenda already rejected by voters for good reason.” The release continued it demeaning tone saying Feingold dedicated his career to expanding the size and scope of the federal government, increasing our nation's debt and increasing the tax burden on hard-working American families. And it boldly states that Feingold's only accomplishment during his 18 years in the U.S. Senate is legislation that “made it harder to achieve the American Dream.” That is all he accomplished? Feingold's opponent, incumbent Senator Ron Johnson, issued a statement that began with a positive tone, saying “I welcome Russ Feingold into the Senate race.” He quickly followed the lead of his party bosses as he went on to say “While I was creating jobs, Russ was building Washington into the gigantic, debt-ridden, tax-eating, unresponsive and freedom-squashing government we had today.” Apparently before Feingold began in politics, our government was small, debt free and responsive? Yes, the gloves have come off early, and this one looks to get even uglier before it's over.
As the saying goes, those who can, do. And those who can't, teach. That is an oversimplification of course, but perhaps that is the theory behind a plan to make it easier for people to become teachers. Governor Walker's plan would create an alternate path for people with life-experience to become licensed teachers. No longer would they have to go to college to get a degree in education. Instead, those with knowledge of certain areas could get a license to teach from the state. That completely undermines the years of schooling that today's teachers are required to undergo before becoming a teacher. It is a slap in the face, suggesting anyone can become a teacher. Maybe so, but that doesn't make them a good teacher. There is more to helping young people learn than having knowledge about the subject matter. How to teach is a big part of the equation, and that is only learned through proper training. Things like lesson plans, and how to deal with unruly children. Walker claims his plan to make getting a teacher's license easier will help fill teaching jobs. But last time I checked, there were no shortage of applicants for teaching positions. If people with knowledge of a particular subject want to become teachers, they should absolutely do so. But first they should get the necessary training, just like today's teachers have done.
Bicyclists in Wisconsin are under attack from lawmakers. Governor Walker has proposed eliminating the Complete Streets program as part of his budget. Complete Streets laws dictate that when new roads are built, designers must take into account the needs of bicyclists and pedestrians. That has led to more paved shoulders, bike lanes and fewer dangerous intersections. Walker claims eliminating Complete Streets would save more than $7 million over four years, although others suggest the savings would be much less. And now we're learning that some in the Wisconsin legislature would like to impose a $25 sales tax on all new bicycles made in Wisconsin. And to add insult to injury, that money would be added to the general transportation budget, rather than being dedicated for projects that promote bicycle safety. Basically, those who buy new bicycles would be getting nothing for the extra money they would have to spend. And our roads would be less safe. The desire to tax bicyclists seems to come from the view that they are some sort of freeloaders, who don't pay their share for roads because they use less gasoline. They may not be paying as much in gas tax, but they also aren't inflicting the same level of damage to our roads, or causing as much pollution. Our lawmakers should reject the proposed repeal of complete streets, and ditch the idea of collecting a new tax from those who are trying to be health and environmentally conscious.
It looks like it may be time to start over. It has been a tough week, to say the least, for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. We learned that yet another audit of Wisconsin's chief job creation agency found a trail of mismanagement, with the agency still failing to keep track of loans. And we learned that top aides to Governor Walker lobbied hard for a half-million dollar loan to a company which ended up creating no jobs and has yet to pay back the loan. And it turns out that same company was already being sued by the state for its failure to pay taxes. Oh, and the head of the company was maxing out his contributions to Walker's re-election campaign. Clearly, things aren't working at WEDC. Governor Walker serves as the chairman of the agency, but claims he knew nothing about the political contributions, or the pressure for the state to loan the company money. If that is true, then it would seem Walker's role as chairman is purely ceremonial. Given the troubles this agency has clearly demonstrated, it would seem the agency needs more than a ceremonial chairman. In fact, it may be time to blow up the agency and start over. Because whatever lawmakers come up with as a way to help spur job growth in Wisconsin can't be worse than what we have now.