As I See It

As I See It (349)

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

Thursday - December 29, 2016 10:05 am

WI Transportation Secretary no longer willing to try

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Sometimes, when you shout from the mountain tops long enough, and no one bothers to listen, you lose your voice and have to stop shouting. That seems to be the case with Wisconsin's Transportation Secretary. Mark Gottlieb is retiring from that post after six years of imploring for more state funding to fix our deteriorating roads. He wasn't very successful, but it wasn't his fault. He repeatedly warned Governor Walker and other lawmakers that without a significant infusion of money, the state's roads would continue to worsen. In fact, he argues, that if more money isn't found for road work, the percent of the state's roads rated as poor would double, to 42%. But Walker continues to turn a deaf ear to the state's road needs, relying on borrowing, and delaying a number of road projects across the state. Gottlieb has called for lawmakers to consider things like a higher gas tax, higher vehicle registration fees, even toll roads as a way to generate the needed revenue. But it appears he has given up, and who can blame him? Who would want to come to work everyday tasked with solving a problem, only to continually have your ideas rejected? With Gottlieb gone, Governor Walker can get his yes man. But that certainly doesn't solve Wisconsin's road woes.

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Wednesday - December 28, 2016 9:05 am

Wisconsin not one of the easiest places to vote

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The headline reads “Wisconsin is still one of the easiest places in the country to vote.” That quote comes from Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, who has worked tirelessly to make it harder to vote. He wasn't always successful, as the judges ruled the law was not on his side. Walker was able to get a voter ID law in place before the last presidential election. But he failed in his efforts to limit in-person absentee voting to one location, to limit early voting hours, and to limit weekend voting. The courts struck down those requirements. A judge also overturned efforts by Walker and others to force people to live in the district in which they vote longer than current law. The judges also were critical of the state's efforts to get acceptable forms of ID to those who lack them, and forced the state to try harder. Despite these judicial attempts to ensure everyone who wanted to vote was able, we saw a sharp drop in voter turnout in the November election. That sure seems to suggest it is not as easy to vote as it used to be. And we have heard some behind the efforts to restrict voting admit that was the purpose of their efforts. So it seems a bit hypocritical for Walker to suggest that voting is still easier in Wisconsin than elsewhere. Someone better awaken the Governor, as he appears to be dreaming.

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Why such a fascination with who pees where? Politicians across the country, including Wisconsin, remain intent on trying to determine which bathrooms public school students can use. State Rep. Jesse Kremer introduced a bill in Wisconsin's last legislative session to force LBGT students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their sex at birth, rather than the sex with which they currently identify. That bill failed to advance, but Kremer is ready to try again. That is despite the fact that North Carolina, which passed similar legislation, is facing the loss of as much as $600 million in its economy after many sporting events and concerts boycotted the state over its restrictive law. Kremer insists his legislation is about protecting the privacy of all students. But which bathroom a fellow students uses doesn't seem to be an issue for anyone but the politicians. We haven't heard any issues of privacy or other concerns from those who, knowingly or not, use the same bathroom as someone of the opposite sex. Our lawmakers should focus on the truly important issues facing this state, and not meddle with where people relieve themselves.

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What is it like to be white? That is a question that will be attempted to be answered by some students at UW-Madison. A course entitled “The Problem of Whiteness” is among the course offerings at the university next semester. And some have a real problem with this. Two Wisconsin lawmakers, Reps Steve Nass and Dale Murphy, are demanding the course be pulled and the professor who teaches it be fired. Most disturbingly, they are also threatening that they and fellow lawmakers will withhold state funding to the university if they don't follow through with their orders. Do we really want lawmakers to determine what courses our public universities can teach? These politicians say the university needs to explain to “the hardworking people of Wisconsin” why their money is being “wasted to advance the politically correct agenda of liberal administrators and staff.” Who is to say the money is being wasted? This is a course that students sign up for voluntarily. The course seeks to challenge students to rethink race issues. That is exactly the type of critical thinking about difficult and controversial topics we should want our students to undertake. That is much better than having the politicians telling college students what they can and cannot study.

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Wednesday - December 21, 2016 9:47 am

Kudos for ending homeless among veterans

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Mission accomplished. Those involved in the effort to end homelessness in La Crosse have already completed the first stage of that ambitious project. The La Crosse Collaborative to end homelessness is comprised of representatives from Coulee Cap, The Salvation Army, and the VA. Their goal was to end homelessness among military veterans within 100 days. They identified 13 homeless veterans sleeping on the streets of La Crosse, and were able to provide them all housing. Then they found three more, and found a place for them as well. Just in time for Christmas. They worked with landlords, imploring them to give those vets, many with criminal backgrounds, to give them a second chance as renters. That is quite an accomplishment, something that deserves our kudos, and something that makes La Crosse a better place for all to live. Now the collaborative is ready to take on stage two, finding housing for all the homeless in La Crosse. It is estimated there are 44 people sleeping on the streets each night. With the cold winter upon us, the group is ramping up efforts to find housing for the remaining homeless. This may be an ambitious goal, but as we have seen so far, it no longer seems an unattainable goal.

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Fights among inmates. Inmates abused by guards. Intimidation. Staff shortages. The problems at Wisconsin's youth prison have been well documented. But Wisconsin is not alone in facing challenges in its juvenile justice system. Missouri faced the very same problems, 45 years ago. Back in the 1970s, Missouri began a concerted effort to revamp its troubled youth prisons, largely the same problems Wisconsin faces today. And that blueprint may be what it takes to repair the dirty and dangerous conditions that exist in Wisconsin. Missouri closed the doors of its large juvenile lockups in favor of smaller facilities closer to the offender's home. The focus is on therapy rather than punishment. Not just therapy, but also education and skills training. It hasn't always been easy, but it has worked. Only 12% of juveniles released from Missouri's correctional system were back behind bars in a year. In Wisconsin, that number is three times higher. And within 5 years of their release, 60 % of released juveniles are back behind bars in the Badger state. Clearly, what we are doing now isn't working. Our lawmakers should look to the Missouri model for answers on how to provide juvenile justice reform in Wisconsin. Figuring out how shouldn't be hard. There is a 45 year track record of success just a few states away.

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Monday - December 19, 2016 9:41 am

No more twists in this final chapter

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What next in this crazy election season? We have witnessed the unpredictable election of a man many considered unelectable to the office of President of the United States. We have witnessed a pointless recount, but also allegations of Russian hacking. Today, the final chapter in this election will be written. The 538 members of the Electoral College will cast their ballots today to make the outcome of this election official. But some suggest the story isn't over. At least one Republican elector vows not to vote for Trump, the candidate to whom he is pledged. Many of these electors, never before in the spotlight, have been called out by name and inundated with phone calls and emails urging them not to vote for Donald Trump. It would take 36 members of the Electoral College switching away from Trump for this effort to work. It won't work, and it would be futile to even try. Even if the electors prevented Trump from assuming the office of the Presisdency, that would simply leave it up to Congress to decide. There is no doubt what the Republican controlled Congress would do. Despite all the twists and turns of this presidential election, it seems this roller coaster ride is finally over.

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Friday - December 16, 2016 8:59 am

Gov Walker, fundraiser-in-chief

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Tis the season of giving. Unless you are Governor Scott Walker, for whom the season of taking continues. Our fundraiser-in-chief held another fancy fundraiser for himself last night. It was at the posh Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee, where the wealthy and elite eagerly plunked down as much as $5000 per person to dine with Walker. So-called “general guests” could spend just $250 each to enjoy some holiday cheer with the Governor. Of course, such holiday cheer is nothing new for Walker. Last year, he offered people the chance to ice skate with the Governor for $20, or a chance to dance and drink with Walker at his inaugural ball. He even once, in a fundraising letter to donors, suggested that putting money in his campaign coffers would be money better spent than buying gifts for their children. And he once even offered up the chance to pray with the Governor for the bargain price of just $25. The problem is that Walker is in the midst of putting together the next state budget. No doubt this holiday season, those who give money to the Governor will find themselves on his nice list, while the rest of us can expect another lump of coal in our stockings.

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Tuesday - December 13, 2016 9:03 am

More oversight, rules, needed at WEDC

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Wisconsin's chief job creation agency is back in the news, and once again the news is not good. It turns out that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation continues to hand out our tax dollars to companies that then ship jobs overseas. But at a board meeting today, WEDC will be asked to adopt stricter reporting requirements. Two years ago, WEDC insisted that any companies which get state tax dollars to create jobs, but then ship those jobs overseas, would have to notify the state within 30 days. But it turns out that policy is only being applied to new contracts. Since the policy was enacted, the Eaten Corp accepted more than $37,000 from the state, but then outsourced hundreds of jobs to Mexico. Some companies allegedly received past awards, outsourced the jobs, then received new contracts from the state. Apparently, the WEDC board likes giving our money away, even with little in return. Critics hope to force WEDC to notify the state of job cuts or outsourced jobs no matter when they received the contract. The new policy would also require the agency to tell its board about companies that cut jobs, and those companies which fail to notify the state when they do. These new policies are needed because we can't afford to allow the state to keep playing Santa Claus with our tax dollars.

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Monday - December 12, 2016 9:37 am

Funding Wisconsin parks should be a priority

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A budget is a matter of establishing priorities. Determining how to best spend money for the best results. But that doesn't seem to be the case for our lawmakers in Madison. In the 2015 budget, they pulled all state funding for all of Wisconsin's state parks, leaving them to survive only on fees. Not surprisingly, the cost of visiting those parks went up sharply. Admission fees went up by as much as $11 a day. But Wisconsin's parks are still struggling, with an estimated budget deficit of $1.4 million. So the DNR wants to raise fees even more. Significantly. If approved, the cost of visiting some of Wisconsin's most popular state parks would go up by an additional $10. And the DNR wants to be able to sell naming rights at our state parks as a way to generate additional revenue. We don't need to slap corporate names on our pristine parks. Those parks are one reason Wisconsin gets so many summer visitors. Make it too pricey, and those numbers are sure to drop. But more importantly, properly funding our parks should be a priority of our lawmakers who should invest in one of the things that make Wisconsin a great place to live and visit.

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