As I See It

As I See It (349)

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

Wednesday - March 15, 2017 10:25 am

Dozens voted illegally, but did nothing wrong

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Those who claim that our system of voting is ripe with fraud may be pointing to a new report which finds some people voted illegally in Wisconsin as proof of their claims. But once again, they would be wrong. A report the state Elections Commission will submit to the legislature finds there were some 60 cases of people voting in last fall's primary and general elections who were not yet of legal voting age. Were these people trying to rig our elections, as some have claimed? No. These were 17 year olds who wanted to be part of our democracy, to have their voice heard. What they did hear, on social media and elsewhere, is that people could vote in the primary election if they would be turning 18 by the November election. That may be true in some states, but not in Wisconsin. These teens didn't know that, and showed up to vote, having been told they could. That was the case for one La Crosse county teen, who voted despite not yet being of legal age. But he freely told the poll workers he was 17, so he told no lies. The La Crosse District Attorney wisely is not prosecuting the case, telling Wizzum this voter truly believed he was eligible, and did not attempt to circumvent the process. The real mistake made here was by a poll worker, who should not have let him vote. But while some may see the headline that 60 17 year olds voted in Wisconsin as proof our elections are rigged, the truth is our election system works, and when it doesn't, we catch those not eligible to cast a ballot.

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Like many communities, La Crosse has a problem with binge drinking. But a proposal to be debated by the La Crosse city council designed to prevent the problem is not a good solution. The council will debate putting an end to those all you can drink specials offered by some bars. Customers pay five bucks, get a wristband, and can drink as much as their stomach's allow. The proposal would put an end to these all you can drink specials. But that would likely do little to curb binge drinking. First, only a small handful, maybe 3 or 4, La Crosse bars even offer these specials. There are also enough places to get cheap drinks, even without all you can drink specials, that you could get good and loaded for just a few bucks. This proposal does nothing to prevent young people from partying at home before even heading downtown. But if this legislation were to be approved, it would also likely have to include a ban on all you can drink specials at bars, but also at community events, like the Between the Bluffs Beer and Cheese Fest, or the Craft Beer Night at Oktoberfest. These events both are very popular, and bring lots of people to town. Both have a significant economic impact on our community. Do we really want to put an end to these popular events, just so we can feel like we are doing something to prevent binge drinking?

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Wisconsin's open meetings laws are pretty clear. Basically, they insist that the people's business be done in a public forum. But some of our elected representatives would rather you not know what they are doing. Members of the Assembly Corrections Committee plan a tour of Wisconsin's troubled yourth prison. They want to see first-hand the conditions of this facility, which is currently the subject of a federal investigation alleging physical and sexual assaults of inmates by guards. It is good that our legislators are finally looking into these long-standing problems, but it is troubling that they would prefer to do so in private. So they have developed a plan to circumvent Wisconsin's open meetings laws. Instead of all of the members of the committee visiting the prison at once, which would make it a public meeting, they have decicded to go halvsies. Today, five members of the 11 member committee, not enough to constitute a forum, will tour Lincoln Hills. The remaining members of the committee will tour later. This allows members of the committee to deny reporter's access to the tour. But we the public should have access, and we should be outraged they are purposely avoiding complying with the law, especially as we begin Sunshine Week. They should let the sun shine in on Lincoln Hills.

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Friday - March 10, 2017 8:59 am

Do politicians really create jobs?

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Politicians like to take credit for creating jobs. But how many jobs do they really create? Not nearly as many as they claim. There is little scientific evidence of how many jobs government actually create. Some economists suggest governors are only responsible for about five to ten percent of the changes in employment numbers over their term in office. They point out that most of the things that affect a state's economy are beyond a governor's control. That didn't stop Governor Scott Walker from famously promising to create 250,000 new jobs during his first term. He fell well short, and there is no evidence of how many of those jobs were created based on the governor's policies. Often, efforts to create jobs fall flat. Consider the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, which uses tax dollars to encourage businesses to expand or relocate to Wisconsin. We know how that turned out. WEDC failed to keep track of loans, gave money to companies which didn't qualify for state help or who lied on their applications. That was hardly a good use of our tax dollars. No matter what our politicians tell us about how good they are at creating jobs, many other factors have a much more significant influence on how many jobs exist at any given time.

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Wisconsin has taken a variety of approaches to the lottery. Lawmakers were reticent to legalize games of chance years ago, but have come to rely on the revenue generated for state government, and property tax relief. In fact, Governor Walker is proposing, as part of his state budget, an increase in spending on lottery advertising. Walker says if we spend an additional $3 million a year on lottery advertising, ticket sales will increase, and people will get more property tax relief. But what no one ever mentions, or perhaps chooses to forget, is the restrictions put on lottery advertising when the games were first legalized. But in fact, it is clearly written in the constitution. It states, “The expenditure of public funds or of revenues derived from lottery operations to engage in promotional advertising of the Wisconsin state lottery is prohibited.  Any advertising of the state lottery shall indicate the odds of a specific lottery ticket to be selected as the winning ticket for each prize amount offered. “ So, the constitution says we can advertise the lottery, but cannot promote the lottery. Have you seen the lottery ads? Sure, they explain the odds, but they certainly promote playing the games. How else do you explain those cheesy smiles on those actors who look so happy playing their scratch games. Before Wisconsin spends any more money on lottery advertising, our lawmakers should refresh their knowledge of the state constitution.

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Wednesday - March 8, 2017 10:30 am

Let farm to school program continue to grow

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It is a seed that has really started to germinate. The Farm to School program in Wisconsin has continued to grow since its inception. The program provides a partnership between local schools and area farmers, providing fresh fruits and vegetables for students to enjoy. Wisconsin has become a national leader in the farm to school movement. But not for much longer. Governor Walker has proposed eliminating the position of the state's farm to school coordinator as part of his new budget. That would be a mistake. Eliminating the position provides only modest savings to taxpayers, less than $90,000 a year. The program helps students understand where their food comes from, and gets them thinking about what they put in their bodies. The program benefits not only students who get to eat fresh, healthy, locally-grown food, but also benefits our farmers. Eliminating the program also sends the message that our kid's health isn't important if the state can save a few bucks along the way. This farm to school program has accomplished great things, and is a bargain for taxpayers. Legislators should reject the Governor's call to eliminate the coordinator position, and restore that small amount of funding when they approve the budget.This program should be allowed to continue to grow.

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Governor Walker likes to boast that he is tough on crime. He famously refuses to issue pardons to inmates, no matter their circumstances. Now Walker wants to eliminate the Wisconsin Parole commission, which determines when inmates should be eligible for early release. Currently, the commission is comprised of eight members, although 5 of those seats are vacant, and Walker refuses to fill them. He wants to eliminate the commission, and put just one person, someone of his choosing, in charge of determining when Wisconsin's prison inmates should be released. But there are thousands of parole-eligible prisoners in Wisconsin. How can putting all that work in the hands of just one person streamline the process as the Governor claims? More likely, the change will lead to a backlog of cases. But more importantly, it is good to have a difference of opinion among board members. With a handful of board members, there is a collaborative decision-making process. Putting all that power into the hands of just one person could reduce the board's independence. It seems that while Wisconsin's current parole system may be broken and unfair, this proposed change would only make it worse.

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Monday - March 6, 2017 9:01 am

What to do with these wild accusations?

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It is getting hard to know what to believe. We often hear people make accusations, even unsubstantiated ones, even unbelievable ones, and we can dismiss them as fiction, or fantasy. But we aren't used to hearing such bold claims from the President of the United States. In the form of a tweet. But that is what we awoke to this weekend, with Donald Trump tweeting the wild accusation that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the campaign. He went on to refer to Obama as a bad guy, and compared the so-called scandal to Watergate. Trump has offered no proof, but isn't afraid to make the claim. Of course we have heard this before. Trump previously tried to tell us the election was rigged, that millions of illegals voted, that his inaugural crowd was bigger, that Barack Obama wasn't even born in this country. It seems the more Trump tweets, the more we ignore him. Even his own White House didn't issue any follow up statements to his wiretapping yarn. Fellow republicans said little on the campaign trail. It seems that these days when the President of the United States makes bold claims, America is largely choosing to ignore them. But how are we to know when we should listen?

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Friday - March 3, 2017 8:57 am

No more snow days?

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Remember waking up on a snowy weekday morning, hoping Mother Nature would cause school to be canceled? It is not uncommon in our part of the country. But really, that school day isn't canceled, just postponed, typically until the end of the school year. A snowy winter often means kids are still in school well into June. But in Minnesota, that may no longer be the case. Minnesota legislators are considering doing away with snow days. Instead of canceling classes during the harshest winter days, students would learn from home. They would get on their laptops or tablets and follow along with the teacher's online instructions from home. This makes sense. Kids already spend as much time as possible with their eyes fixed on a small screen. This way they wouldn't have to go to school in the summer, when attention spans for both students and teachers are likely shorter as the weather warms. If approved, Minnesota schools would not be required to teach online on snow days. Instead, it would be an option for districts. There may be some hurdles, like how to teach students who don't have internet access at home. But this idea has merit, and is something that Wisconsin lawmakers should consider as well.

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Thursday - March 2, 2017 9:13 am

More money for lottery ads a waste

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Do you play the lottery? Would you play more if you saw or heard more advertisements encouraging you to play? That is the hope of Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who is proposing spending significantly more to promote the games of chance. Walker wants to increase state spending on Wisconsin Lottery advertising, to the tune of an an additional $3 million. His budget calls for total lottery advertising spending of $10.5 million. Wisely, the extra ad money would come from lottery sales, not from taxpayers. But still this isn't a good idea. There is little evidence that increasing spending on lottery ads translates to more ticket sales. And while the lottery generates property tax relief for Wisconsin homeowners, that money tends to be transferred from the low income who are more likely to play the lottery to middle and upper income property owners. And the last time Wisconsin increased its spending to promote the lottery, lottery sales actually declined the following year. It the Governor wants to provide additional property tax relief, he would be better served to write us each a check, rather than encouraging people to buy more lottery tickets.

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