As I See It
As I See It

As I See It

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

Thursday - November 19, 2015 12:00 am

Don't confuse Muslims with terrorists

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Wisconsin's Governor and other politicians can stomp their feet all they want about accepting Syrian refugees, but it turns out they have no real say in the matter. Walker sent a letter to the federal government this week, declaring Wisconsin would not accept any of the 10,000 refugees this country has pledged to accept. But the refugee resettlement program is run by the federal government, not states, so Walker's stance carries no real weight. Other than to encourage fear and violence toward those refugees, who are simply trying to escape their country, which is being destroyed by terrorists. They do not want to leave their country, but do want to protect their family. These refugees, if properly vetted, are not the bad guys. As former Secretary of State Madeline Albright points out, our enemies want to divide the world between Muslims and non-Muslims. By making Syrian refugees the enemy, we are playing into their hands. We shouldn't confuse being Muslim with being terrorists. We have an obligation to help, just as this country has done for decades. Millions of other refugees have come to this country, from places like Vietnam, Cuba and Laos. If governors like Walker truly had the authority to prevent refugees from settling in their states, chances are all those past refugees from other far away lands wouldn't be here now.

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Wednesday - November 18, 2015 12:00 am

Change sign to read "Wisconsin is open for corruption."

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Shortly after taking office, Governor Scott Walker posted a sign along the Wisconsin/Illinois border proclaiming “Wisconsin is open for business.” Soon that may have to be changed to read “Wisconsin is open for corruption.” The only step remaining for inviting more political corruption is for Governor Walker to sign legislation which gets rid of government oversight, and allows politicians to grab even more campaign cash, and makes it harder to find out where the money comes from. Lawmakers this week passed a bill replacing the Government Accountability Board with two new commissions comprised of partisan political appointees. And they passed another bill doubling the amount of campaign contributions they can receive. Neither were issues demanded by the people of Wisconsin, and the people of Wisconsin are those who stand to lose under this legislation. Only the politicians benefit. It will be harder to investigate those accused of wrongdoing in office. It will be easier for incumbents to be reelected. None of that is good for Wisconsin. If Governor Walker signs this legislation, as expected, he will have presided over the official invitation to corruption in politics. So change that sign along the Illinois border to read that Wisconsin is open for corruption. They tend to know a little about corruption in politics, and soon Wisconsin will too.

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Tuesday - November 17, 2015 12:00 am

Support growing for fixing WEDC

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Sometimes things get so bad, they can no longer be ignored. That rattle your car makes. That home repair project. And the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation. The state's signature job creation agency has been a mess from the very beginning. This private-public partnership was created with the lofty goal of creating 250,000 new jobs in Wisconsin in its first four years. That time came and went, with barely half of the promised jobs created. But the bigger issue is not the lack of jobs, but the fact that WEDC has become the poster child for government waste. More than $125 million was handed out to companies which didn't qualify for state help, lied on their applications, and in many cases created zero jobs, yet failed to pay the state back. The agency has been plagued by high turnover and mismanagement. Now there are signs in Madison that republicans who control the legislature may be ready to join democrats and finally do something to fix this rogue agency, which isn't doing the job it was created to do. Ensuring that a government agency is effective and isn't wasting tax money should not be a partisan issue. Fixing WEDC, whether through reform or creating a brand new job creation agency, should be a priority for both political parties. Wisconsin taxpayers deserve that much.

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Friday - November 13, 2015 12:00 am

Working to eliminate government waste can be costly

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It's likely something that all taxpayers can agree on. State government should work to eliminate instances of waste, fraud and abuse. So it sounds good when Governor Scott Walker announces he has signed an executive order to create a commission that will study ways to make government more efficient. According to a statement, the new commission will “ explore methods to reduce government spending, reduce service duplication, eliminate waste, fraud and abuse in government, and look for better ways to operate state government that increases efficiency and reduces the burden on taxpayers.” Who could argue with that? The problem is, we have been down this road before. It was on his first day in office, in 2011, that Walker created the first commission to find $300 million a year in government waste. That group did identify some instances of waste, issuing a 147 page report that purported to identify more than $400 million a year. But there is no evidence that any of those instances identified as waste have been stopped. And critics say many of the issues identified are meant for federal or local governments over which the state has no control. Obviously, if the Governor finds it necessary to create a second commission, the first one must not have been all that successful. Perhaps we can work to eliminate government waste by stopping appointing commissions designed to eliminate government waste.

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Wednesday - November 11, 2015 12:00 am

Believe the judges, not the politicians

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If I had to chose who to believe, between a judge and a politician, I would choose the judge 100% of the time. Both are considered public servants. But a judge is someone who spends their career carefully and fairly deliberating facts and making judgments accordingly. A politician is someone who often does whatever is necessary to advance their agenda, and their careers. That's why in the debate over the future of Wisconsin's Government Accountability Board, I side with the judges. The board, which oversees elections and ethics in Wisconsin government, is currently comprised of six retired judges. People who, after a long career, are still interested in the facts. That's why I side with retired Judge Thomas Barland of Eau Claire, who for the past six years has served as a member of Wisconsin's nonpartisan Government Accountability Board. Barland calls the plans by the Wisconsin legislature to gut the board and fill it not with retired judges, but with partisan hacks, to be a great step backwards. Barland warns of future corruption, and calls the legislation hurtful to good government. This prediction comes from a man, a Republican, who used to serve in the Assembly, and went on to serve 33 years as an Eau Claire County judge. His voice can be trusted. The voices of those eager to gut the GAB cannot. They are interested not in facts, but in promoting their own agenda.

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Tuesday - November 10, 2015 12:00 am

New rules needed for rail safety

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Just how much longer should we have to wait? Will it take a catastrophe to get new rules in place to prevent derailments of toxic shipments on the railroad tracks in our backyards? There were two derailments of trains in Wisconsin over the weekend, including a derailment just up river in Alma on Saturday which resulted in 32 cars leaving the tracks. A number of those rail cars were carrying ethanol, which spilled into the Mississippi River. It is estimated more than 18,000 gallons spilled before it could be contained. Another derailment on Sunday on the other side of the state led to the spilling of crude oil. It was the third derailment on the Upper Mississippi Wildlife Refuge in nine months. Fortunately, no one was killed or injured, but people nearby did have to evacuate their homes. And the spill came as waterfowl migrate along the Mississippi Flyway. We don't yet know the extent of the damage. We may have dodged a bullet this time, but next time we may not be so lucky. The La Crosse based group CARS continues to call on the federal government to improve rail safety, or to remove hazardous cargo from our tracks. We shouldn't have to wait until people, or our environment, suffer a catastrophe before we finally realize it is time to act.

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Friday - November 6, 2015 12:00 am

New poster child for government waste

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There is a new poster child for government waste. This one makes those $900 hammers look like a bargain. The Pentagon spent $43 million on a compressed natural gas station in Afghanistan. It is a project that was doomed from the start. But the worst part is that no one can account for who made the decisions behind the waste. That is the finding of an Inspector General's report that was released this week. The Department of Defense says because it has shut down the Afghanistan business task force that built the pricey project, it is no longer answering questions about the decisions it made. The goal of the project was to try to prove to Afghanistan the feasibility of using compressed natural gas, rather than relying on imported fuel. But according to the Inspector General's report, the Pentagon didn't bother to conduct feasibility projects for its projects. As a result, they never realized that Afghanistan doesn't have the infrastructure to distribute natural gas. And Afghans couldn't afford the conversion necessary to make their cars capable of running on natural gas. This project was clearly a waste from the very beginning. But the Pentagon still spent $43 million of our money to complete the project, even though a similar project in Pakistan cost only $300,000. So far, the Defense Department hasn't been able to say why this project cost so much. Congress should drag those in charge to Capitol Hill to explain this. Maybe we can sell them a $900 hammer when they arrive.

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Thursday - November 5, 2015 12:00 am

Public housing should be for only those who need it

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It is important that the federal government provide housing assistance to those in need. It should also be important that only those who deserve such federal help receive it. And for the most part, that is the case. Butnot in all cases. This problem is just now coming to light. It seems that the income limit for receiving assistance through HUD is about $50,000 per household. But there are some families receiving federal assistance to live in public housing who make much more than that. A new report from the Office of Inspector General finds more than 25,000 families receiving public housing assistance make in excess of the income requirements. How is that possible? Because people who apply for the federal Department of Housing and Urban Development program only have to meet income requirements at the time they sign up for the program. Once they are on the program, they can continue to receive government assistance indefinitely, even if their family income rises. So if someone is living in public housing, but wins the lottery, then can continue to receive government assistance without doing anything wrong. A family in Wisconsin has income of about $100,000, but still receives the benefits. That is wrong. Why not have recipients report any rise in income, or file an updated income report every year to determine if they are still eligible for the program? Otherwise we will continue to subsidize housing for those who no longer deserve it.

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Wednesday - November 4, 2015 12:00 am

Who visits Gov mansion? Still waiting to find out

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It is not something that generates a lot of discussion at the water cooler, but it is important nonetheless. Just who has been visiting the Governor's mansion in Madison? A liberal advocacy group submitted an open records request seeking the log of visitors to the Governor's residence between Nov. 5, of last year through April 7 of this year. Not coincidentally, that is the time when Scott Walker began and ended his run for the presidency. It may be somewhat of a witch hunt. The group is looking for evidence that while Scott Walker was serving as Governor, he was keeping busy running for higher office. But what is troubling is the response to the group's request. There was none. For six months. Then the group was told the records simply didn't exist. That is despite a very clear state law that says government must respond to open records requests as soon as practicable and without delay. Six months is neither practicable or without delay. And it seems a little fishy that they have no record of who visited the Governor's mansion. Especially since the law requires such information be kept. Again, most people probably don't care who paid visits to Walker, or the purpose of their visit. But what is troubling is what appears to be a growing intolerance on the part of our politicians for releasing public records, despite very clear laws stating such information is to be transparent.

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Tuesday - November 3, 2015 12:00 am

Time to end lawmakers golden health-care parachute

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Wisconsin lawmakers enjoy a pretty comfortable living. A nice salary, the best benefits, and even meal money when they are in Madison. What most don't know is that our lawmakers also earn sick leave. Even though they don't have to call in sick if they don't come to work. And that they can convert their unused sick days into money to pay for their health insurance when they leave the legislature. We're not talking small change here. It is not uncommon for individual lawmakers to have upwards of $100,000 worth of sick time accumulated when they retire. This health-care golden parachute is costing taxpayers dearly. It is estimated together, members of the Wisconsin Assembly and Senate have accumulated $3.4 million in sick leave time. Predictably, lawmakers have not been keen to the idea of giving up this perk. Legislation to do away with sick time has been introduced in each legislative session since 2007. Until this year, the plan wasn't even brought up for debate in the Senate. Rather than have to defend the practice, they just buried their heads in the sand. This legislation would not revoke the sick leave current and former lawmakers have accumulated. It would simply end the practice for future lawmakers. But even allowing them to keep what they have will likely be a tough sell.

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