From anti-business to neutral

The headline is pretty much how Kurt Bauer of Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce describes state law up to now:

Unfortunately, Wisconsin doesn’t control its own economic destiny and wrong-headed federal policies and uncertain global economic and geopolitical conditions are holding us back. But, that shouldn’t be an excuse to take our foot off the reform accelerator in order to improve Wisconsin’s business climate. Here are some reforms the 2015-16 Legislature should consider.

Worker Freedom: Should joining a private-sector union be voluntary as it is in 24 states or should it be mandatory? Beyond the personal freedom component to this debate is the economic development argument. It is well-known that site selectors who decide where businesses expand or relocate shun closed shop states like Wisconsin in favor of Right to Work states like Iowa, Indiana and Michigan.

Regulatory Reform: A majority of the most expensive regulations that retard growth are federal, but there are two major state-level regulatory reforms that the Legislature should address.

The first is aligning the state and federal versions of the Family Medical Leave Act.  Wisconsin enacted its version before President Bill Clinton signed the federal law in 1993.The Wisconsin law is now a duplicative compliance headache and should be replaced.

The second is Worker’s Compensation (WC) reform. WC costs in Wisconsin are higher and are growing faster than in almost any other state. Last summer, WMC formed a working group that includes health care providers, businesses (i.e., payers) and insurers to explore ways to reduce costs.

Taxes: Despite more than $2 billion in tax relief since Governor Scott Walker was first elected in 2010, Wisconsin is still in the top 10 of the highest taxed states, according to the most recent ranking from the DC-based Tax Foundation. Eliminating the highest personal income tax bracket, which was created by Governor Jim Doyle, would offer relief for many small businesses and should finally drop us out of the infamous top 10.

Infrastructure: Three of Wisconsin’s most important economic sectors – manufacturing, agriculture and tourism – depend on quality infrastructure. But as automobiles become more fuel efficient the gas tax is not generating the revenue needed to maintain our roadways, let alone build new ones. Bonding isn’t a long-term solution. The simplest way to fund roads is through a modest gas tax hike and increasing the vehicle registration fee.

Mining: Wisconsin doesn’t have shale oil, but we do have the sand used for hydraulic fracturing. As a result, Wisconsin is enjoying a sand boom that has created thousands of good paying jobs in largely economically challenged rural areas.

But the radical environmentalists who have so far failed to stop fracking have now targeted frac sand mining. Their goal is to stop sand mining by driving up local regulatory costs that create a patchwork of illogical rules. WMC will advance legislation to promote statewide regulatory certainty and uniformity.

Workforce Training: Wisconsin’s worker shortage will soon become a crisis, which is why Congress needs to act on immigration reform. At the state-level, Wisconsin should continue its impressive investment in worker training and rebuild our once strong apprenticeship programs.

The Republican Party is not on board with all of this. There appears an insufficient amount of support to get a gas tax increase passed, at least for now. Increase vehicle registration fees, and costs for businesses that use vehicles increase. And of course immigration is a dicey issue for Republicans now, splitting the business wing from the deport-the-illegals part of the party.

 

Barack Obama, anti-Democrat

The Washington Post’s Jennifer Rubin:

President Obama has been rotten for the Democratic Party. Under his presidency, both the Senate and House majorities were lost. Democratic governors went from 27 in 2009 to a measly 16. Democrats control only 11 state legislatures, the smallest number since the 1920s.  Jon Thompson, spokesman for the Republican Governors Association tells me, “Under Obama, Republicans have increased their number of governors from 22 in 2008 to 31 in 2015, the most for either Party in 16 years. Nearly 200 million Americans will live in a state with a Republican governor in 2015, almost 2/3 of the country.” If not for New York and California, the Democratic Party would nearly be a bit player on the national scene. (Those two states give the Democrats an almost automatic 4 Senate seats, 84 electoral votes, two governors and nearly 58 million people.)

 

And the numbers go beyond seats won: The Democratic Party has lost the advantage according to polls in its ability to handle top issues ranging from the debt to foreign policy. Overall the party is at an all-time low in favorability at 36 percent. According to Gallup, Democrats are in trouble in affiliation as well. “Prior to the elections, 43% of Americans identified as Democrats or leaned toward the Democratic Party, while 39% identified as or leaned Republican. Since then, Republicans have opened up a slight advantage, 42% to 41%, representing a net shift of five percentage points in the partisanship gap.”

Can one president do this much damage to a party? There is another way of looking at this. It is not so much that Obama has been bad for the Democratic Party as the 21st century has been bad for liberalism. Faith in government has declined. The liberals’ historic national healthcare plan turned out to be an albatross around the necks of Democratic lawmakers. Only 37.9 percent of Americans approve of the Democratic Party while 52.5 percent disapprove in the RealClearPolitics poll averages.

The parties have become so ideologically polarized that for all intents and purposes the GOP is the party of conservatism and Democratic Party that of liberalism. With respect to the latter it is not so much the liberalism of FDR with a coalition of immigrants, workers, farmers and the poor but of green activists, media elites, trial lawyers, public employee unions and Silicon Valley and Hollywood moguls. (Jim Webb put it: “The Democratic Party has lost the message that made it such a great party for so many years, and that message was: Take care of working people, take care of the people who have no voice in the corridors of power, no matter their race, ethnicity or any other reason. The Democratic Party has basically turned into a party of interest groups.”)

Just as the political glue that united the party has dissolved, the intellectual backbone of the left has crumbled. Its most prominent think tank, Center for American Progress, has been hobbled by controversies and is seen as a political adjunct to the White House. (Much criticism comes from the left: “One former CAP staffer described ‘total synchronization’ between the administration and the think tank, which he said routinely allowed Team Obama to vet reports prior to publication. ‘We were constantly in touch with the White House,’ this person said. ‘Once I was on the phone with four White House lawyers who wanted to know what I was going to say [in an upcoming report].’”) It has been overshadowed by a bevy of conservative think tanks (while Brookings has become decidedly centrist on everything from defense spending to anti-poverty measures to the law of war).

The literary left has gone through convulsions. The New York Times was racked with accusations of sexism when it fired editor Jill Abramson. Newsweek failed on liberal doyenne Tina Brown’s watch. And now The New Republic – whose owner Chris Hughes won’t even call it a magazine – has eaten its own, laying off journalistic stars and earning scorn from both ends of the political spectrum. Commentary’s John Podhoretz recalls that the Weekly Standard, still going strong, was formed consciously as an intellectual opponent to TNR. There is no competition now. He vividly describes the pattern: “So I’d argue that what has befallen the New Republic is, in some ways, what has befallen liberalism writ large. It became unserious, and is about to become more unserious still, because that it what has happened to liberalism as a governing philosophy.”

And then there is the other great bastion of liberalism — higher education. Between speech code controversies, sexual assault allegations, sports and cheating scandals, their ongoing spasm of thinly disguised anti-Israel propaganda and discrimination it is evident once prestigious institutions have lost their intellectual and moral bearings.

What happened? Three trends are evident.

First, liberalism’s moral superiority led to intellectual laziness, a refusal to look at the way the world is (e.g. the failure of Keynesian economics, the nature of Islamic fundamentalism, the shortcomings of the liberal welfare state, disregard for the benefits of free markets). With that laziness came a distasteful tone. Twitter seems the perfect medium for the snarly left — filled with one-liners, personal attacks, snap judgments and just plain meanness. Identity politics, the last refuge of a movement with few policy innovations to offer, becomes the default mode for the left.

Second, the faults in liberal ideology became more acute as society became more complex. Yuval Levin (conservative philosopher, policy wonk and editor who has no liberal counterpart) writes: “But the size and cost of the liberal welfare state are a function of its basic character, and it is that character that is really at issue in most policy debates between liberals and conservatives. The fundamentally prescriptive, technocratic approach to American society inherent in the logic of the Left’s policy thinking is a poor fit for American life at any scale. The liberal welfare state ultimately cannot be had at an affordable price. It is not the architecture of one or another particular program that makes it unsustainable. It is unsustainable because the system as a whole must feed off of the innovative, decentralized vitality of American life, yet it undermines both the moral and the economic foundations of that vitality.” To be blunt, a set of assumptions about society and the world that were wrong but passable in 1960 are an obvious debacle in 2014. Giving the left power in the form of their dream president proved a fatal move, allowing all to see its gross shortcomings.

Third, the left’s disdain for limitations on its quest for power (the rule of law, factual accuracydue process, personal civility) has proven to be unwise and self-destructive. Smash-and-grab politics cannot sustain itself. The president can’t simply make up facts and seize power from the legislative branch to achieve what he wants. The narrative cannot be accurate if the facts are wrong. Fair-minded people revolt against kangaroo courts and institutional railroading. And loss of polite debate and respect for opponents erode the public square and obviates the requirement for much needed self-reflection and reasoned argument. As universities fall down on their job of instilling ethical and intellectual excellence the failures of other liberal institutions (the media, the think tanks) leave a movement adrift and shallow.

This is analogous to Obama’s continuing to get awards from gun sales organizations as the Salesman of the Year, thanks to his continuing rhetoric against our Second Amendment rights.

The same situation has occurred in this state. When Obama was inaugurated president in 2009, Wisconsin had a Democratic governor and Democratic control of both houses of the Legislature, two Democratic U.S. senators, and four Democrats in the majority party in the House of Representatives. Since the 2010 election, Wisconsin has had a Republican governor and Republican control of both houses (except for the brief Democratic Senate majority during Recallarama) of the Legislature, one Republican U.S. senator, and five Republicans in the majority party in the House.

Democratic candidates tried to talk about the middle class and working families this fall. Apparently voters weren’t buying it, and it’s not hard to see why when your party is in fact in thrall to “green activists, media elites, trial lawyers, public employee unions and Silicon Valley and Hollywood moguls.” Wisconsin has neither a Silicon Valley nor Hollywood, nor many moguls, but certainly the rest applies to this state.

Predictions of the demise of a political party based on one bad-for-them election are foolish. (You may recall the GOP was supposedly dead after 2008 — and for that matter 1992 — and some people still feel that way for spurious demographic reasons.) It took the Democrats three losing presidential elections to think differently a quarter century ago. Neither Hillary Clinton nor Elizabeth Warren look like saviors.

 

The Second Amendment sheriff

CNN actually ran this from Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke:

The problem with the gun in America is that the left has politicized it. An entire advocacy has been developed and is part of their political platform. Their call for gun control is deceptively wrapped around a theme of reducing street violence and mass killings. The flaw in their argument is that none of the remedies they offer to reduce these senseless acts has anything to do with why this violence occurs. For the anti-gun cabal, this is more about defeating a political adversary, the influential National Rifle Association, than it is about reducing gun violence.

Universal background checks and limiting magazine capacity are offered as reasonable approaches to reducing violence. Neither of these suggestions is directly associated with gun violence. Instead, these technical fixes frustrate the overwhelming number of law-abiding American gun owners.

Our system of jurisprudence is predicated on punishing those individuals directly involved in committing crime, not those who are not. Gun control has never worked to eradicate violence. The cities of Chicago and Washington have had some of the strictest gun laws in America, yet they continue to experience high levels of gun-related, violent crime.

A little-talked-about truth is that gun control in America has its roots in racism.

Its original intent was to keep firearms out of the hands of black people, more specifically, newly-freed slaves. As Charles C.W. Cooke noted in his article “The Great Equalizer,” civil rights champion Ida B. Wells said this about the value of bearing arms, “…the only case where the proposed lynching (of a Black man) did not occur was where the men armed themselves.”

She went on to say that the “lesson that teaches, and which every Afro-American should ponder well, is that a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.”

In a recent New York Times article, Charles W. Cooke quoted civil rights champion Ida B. Wells on the value of bearing arms: “‘…the only times an Afro-American who was assaulted got away has been when he had a gun and used it in self-defense.'” And, quoting her further: “‘… a Winchester rifle should have a place of honor in every black home, and it should be used for that protection which the law refuses to give.'”

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass also supported the right of blacks to arm themselves to guard against mob violence. As noted in Stephen P. Halbrook’s book, “That Every Man Be Armed: The Evolution of a Constitutional Right,” Douglass believed that “slaves without arms” could never attain freedom. Even the U.S. Congress at the time recognized the key role that arming blacks played in the ending of slavery.

In 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court granted Otis McDonald, a Chicago resident, that same protection by validating his right to keep and bear arms when they struck down the city’s unreasonable gun control ordinance. McDonald sued Chicago, claiming that the restriction prevented him from protecting himself and his home from gang violence.

Preventing private citizens the right to arm themselves for their own defense is a de facto death sentence.

Here are more effective ways to reduce gun violence:

First, let’s rid ourselves of the fantasy that strict gun control is even achievable. In his blog for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Marquette University law professor Rick Esenberg said that “such a conversation about gun violence should be tempered by constitutional, political and practical realities. We are not about to ban the private ownership of guns in the United States.”

Second, end social engineering experiments in the criminal justice system that see criminal perpetrators in a warped view as victims of society to be treated leniently. Punishment, when applied early in a criminal’s career, is an effective deterrent to crime.

Finally, stop conditioning society that guns are evil. They save many more lives than they take. Instead, start providing gun safety education that teaches people to respect firearms, not fear them.

The Golden Eagles, the Panthers and their meccas

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports on Milwaukee’s two basketball schools and their respective arenas, which are in view of each other:

Panther Arena, formerly the US Cellular Arena, formerly the MECCA, formerly the Milwaukee Arena, is shown at lower left, opposite the BMO Harris Bradley Center.

Marquette University, which has been at the BMO Harris Bradley Center since its inception in 1988, wants a better handle on what Bucks owners Wes Edens, Marc Lasry and Jamie Dinan have in mind. For now, the Bradley Center is an important asset to Marquette’s men’s basketball program. Recruits are told they will play in the same arena as the Bucks.

The University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee has a different challenge. UWM, which signed a 10-year, $3.4 million agreement last summer with the Wisconsin Center District for the naming rights to the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena, as well as the right to stage additional programming, is concerned it will lose the arena to the wrecking ball.

The Bucks’ preferred choice is land now occupied by the headquarters ofJournal Communications, the UWM arena and, possibly, the Milwaukee Theatre. A source with knowledge of the site-selection process said Bucks officials are eager to get control of the Journal Communications building, which houses the Journal Sentinel and sits on the block bordered by W. State St., N. 4th St., W. Kilbourn Ave., and N. Old World Third St.

The Bucks are focused now on negotiations with Journal Communications and hope to have a site in place in a month. Should that fall through, the Bucks have other sites in mind, including land just north of the Bradley Center, a city-owned parking lot at the corner of N. 4th St. and W. Wisconsin Ave. and land at N. 2nd and W. Michigan streets.

If the Bucks secure the Journal Communications block, the team is expected to turn its attention to the UWM arena, first opened in 1950. Franklyn Gimbel, chairman of the Wisconsin Center District, which owns and operates the UWM arena, Milwaukee Theatre and the Wisconsin Center convention center, has been adamantly opposed to giving up the arena.

Marquette’s lease at the Bradley Center expires in March 2017. Brian Dorrington, a Marquette spokesman, said President Michael R. Lovell has met with the Bucks owners multiple times “to get a better understanding of their overall vision and plans.”

“These discussions haven’t dealt with one specific aspect of the project, but rather the comprehensive vision for the new arena, the overall development plan and Marquette’s prospective role,” Dorrington said. “President Lovell has often stated that he feels it is important that Marquette is at the table for the region’s most important discussions, and we are continuing to work to gain a better understanding of the Bucks’ detailed plans.”

The Bucks say many parties are involved in discussions over the effort to build a new arena downtown.

“Marquette is an important stakeholder in the arena discussion,” Bucks team spokesman Jake Suski said. “We plan to work closely with them and important stakeholders as we move forward for the benefit of the entire community.”

The Bucks also have met with UWM officials, and interim chancellor Mark Mone has said the university’s goal is to maintain a presence at the UWM Arena. If the UWM Arena is demolished to make way for an alternative facility, UWM has said it wants an alternative facility.

Francis Deisinger, a local attorney and a backer of UWM Athletics since the late 70s, says he is frustrated by the talks so far.

“My biggest frustration is it doesn’t have to be this way. Why does it have to be here?” he asked of the UWM arena site.

Deisinger noted there are other sites available in the downtown area.

“This would be very much like the destruction of the Chicago & Northwestern depot on the lakefront — the difference being that while the trains had stopped running to that beautiful building, the arena is still a living, working building,” he said.

The issue isn’t the Bradley Center’s size (at least from the Bucks’ perspective), it’s its lack of 21st-century accouterments. On the other hand, Marquette doesn’t come close to selling out the Bradley Center unless Wisconsin plays there. The Bradley Center is far too big for UWM. Marquette has the Al McGuire Center, and UWM has the Klotsche Center, but neither on-campus facility means NCAA Division I minimum capacity requirements.

Some schedule irony: Marquette is hosting Wisconsin Saturday. Marquette refuses to play UW-Milwaukee or UW-Green Bay, believing that that would be beneath the Warriors … I mean Golden Eagles … I mean Gold … I mean Golden Eagles. (Translation: A Marquette loss to Milwaukee or Green Bay would look really bad.) Wisconsin not only plays all the other in-state schools, but even plays road games against them.

Whether or not taxpayers should pony up the funds for a new Bucks arena, that decision has consequences on others.

If you see a fork in the road …

Kevin Binversie:

You would think state liberals would be cheering the state Department of Transportation’s 2015-17 budget proposal and not trying to score cheap political points. After all, the budget largely reflects the success of the liberal environmental agenda. …

For those that missed the headlines, on Friday DOT Sec. Mark Gottlieb dropped a staggering request for the next state budget. Totalling $751 million, the proposal radically restructured the state’s existing gas taxes on unleaded and diesel gasoline, raises vehicle registration fees on electric and hybrid vehicles and raises fees on new vehicles sales. All of which are designed to acknowledge a reality facing all 50 states and the federal government – cars and trucks are getting more mileage, and as such, gas tax revenue is shrinking.

For years, the state’s largest source of highway funding has been the gas tax. Since it is a “per use” tax, only those buying gasoline by the gallon pay it. As cars become more fuel efficient, they need less and less gasoline and thus the tax is paid less and less. If you add in new hybrid or even electric cars, the tax is paid even more infrequently or not at all.

So as cars on the roads become more fuel efficient and less revenue comes in through traditional sources, governments are scrambling to find ways to pay for roads, bridges and other infrastructure projects. Most transportation experts will tell you this tends to go into three different routes.

1.) More and more toll roads.

Federal law forbids states to establish toll roads on existing roads. It does however, allow them to be established on either newly built roads or when existing roads go under reconstruction or increase their capacity. Given how anathema toll roads are to the average Wisconsinite, it would both take too long and be too costly to establish a viable toll road system on Wisconsin’s high use roads in Milwaukee, Madison, Waukesha, Green Bay and other locales.

2.) Mileage Use Taxes.

Imagine if you will, a state where every vehicle has a GPS tracker installed. This tracker measures not just how much you’ve driven, but also gives to government agencies detailed information in real time such as where you’ve been, how fast you got there, and any detours you took while along the way. You’re taxed by the mile and sent a monthly bill.

Could police use this data to give driver’s speeding tickets and other traffic violations? Likely. Is this all a series of extreme violations of one’s civil liberties? Probably, but many don’t want to wait for the U.S. Supreme Court to sort it out.

3.) Reconfiguring Traditional Gas Taxes / Increased Registration Fees

The old standby and the route Gottlieb seems to be going.

Given the 2005 fight in which Wisconsin conservatives successfully ended Wisconsin’s practice of gas tax indexing to inflation, one would understand legislative hesitation to go anywhere near DOT’s proposal. After last week’s election, the last thing a newly-minted legislative Republican majority wants to hang on the state is a huge gas tax increase and new user fees related to numerous kinds of vehicles.

Critics of the DOT plan will no doubt mention how Gov. Walker never proposed any of this during the campaign. Then again, Mary Burke didn’t come with any specifics herself.

While the solution is far from perfect, Gottlieb should be applauded for getting the conversation started. Because the past ways; where fund raids and indebting the next two generations with bonds so the highways of today could be paved were all too common, won’t cut it anymore.

When it comes to deciding how best to fund roads, the legislature will either have to get with the times and devise a system that encompasses new technologies into old revenue streams or learn to go with less when it comes to road-building.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports:

A $751 million boost in taxes and fees isn’t the only way Gov. Scott Walker’s transportation chief wants to keep major road projects on schedule.

Over two years, Transportation Secretary Mark Gottlieb also wants to borrow more than $805 million, study the feasibility of tolling and use $574 million in funds that typically go toward schools and health care.

Under another part of Gottlieb’s plan, the state Department of Transportation would gather odometer readings when drivers register their vehicles each year — a move that would help it review whether the state should create a new fee based on how many miles people drive.

Gottlieb’s proposal is in its infancy. On Tuesday, Walker told The Associated Press he would make significant changes to it before submitting a transportation plan to the Legislature as part of the overall state budget early next year.

He declined to rule out raising the gas tax, saying he was “not making absolutes on anything right now.”

Once Walker gives his plan to lawmakers, they will spend months modifying it before returning it to Walker for his final approval. The Legislature is controlled by Walker’s fellow Republicans.

Legislators from both parties have been muted in their responses to Gottlieb’s plan. They have said they see a need for more money, but also have expressed reservations about increasing taxes and fees or relying too much on borrowing.

Bonding more than $800 million for road projects is “not sustainable,” said Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills), co-chairwoman of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee.

She said she would listen to her constituents on what to do when it comes to funding transportation.

“I’m all ears,” she said. “I honestly hear about two different pictures of Wisconsin. Some people say we have enough roads already. Others point to what bad shape the Zoo Interchange is in.

“We have a problem. People agree we have a problem, but when you say, ‘How about these solutions,’ they say, ‘None of the above.'”

Brett Healy, president of the conservative MacIver Institute, said Gottlieb would have a tough time persuading people to sign onto his plan.

“Everywhere drivers look, all they see is road construction and orange cones but now the department says they need more transportation funding,” he said by email. “Adequate transportation funding is critical to economic growth but there must be taxpayer balance.

“Higher transportation taxes and fees in this economy and this political environment will be difficult to justify.”

One thing not mentioned is a closer look at what WisDOT wants to fund — for instance, mass transit, which is not used by most Wisconsinites, but you’re paying for it. Gas taxes also pay for such non-motorized-transportation as bike paths. So the first thing the Legislature needs to do is to stop using the transportation fund on things that don’t benefit drivers, including drivers of tractor-trailers. Mass transit is directly contrary to people’s freedom to go where they want when they want.

The gas tax in theory is a proper tax because it’s paid by drivers in proportion to their use of roads. If you drive more, you buy more gas, and therefore you pay more gas taxes. The problem is that as vehicles become more efficient, their drivers purchase less gas. (The Obama Recovery in Name Only has also reduced driving, which also has reduced gas tax revenue.)

User fees are in theory better than taxes because non-users don’t pay them. On the other hand, making car ownership more expensive is not beneficial to users of roads. (This demonstrates, among other things, that Republicans in Madison really haven’t done nearly enough to reduce government in other areas to be able to afford higher spending in transportation. As you know, state and local government is twice the size it would be had it been had government been limited to growth in inflation and population growth the past three decades.)

The feds have a pernicious influence as well. Federal mandates to spend money on mass transit and other things that don’t benefit drivers need to be repealed by Congress. So do prevailing-wage requirements, which make construction projects, including road projects, considerably more expensive than they should be in a supposedly free-market economy.

There have been proposals for several years to devote tax revenues generated by transportation for transportation, particularly sales tax proceeds from vehicle purchases. That makes sense, particularly in keeping with voters’ wise choice to keep legislators’ hands off transportation funds for political convenience (see Doyle, James).

The toll study, however, is a waste of time, because there is no political support for toll roads, even if toll roads today aren’t like the Illinois Tollway of the 20th century. You want more recalls? Create toll roads, and you will have them.

Making driving more expensive by increasing taxes has a direct effect on taxpayers’ wallets, as we all discovered during the $4-per-gallon era of gas prices earlier this decade. Whether people drive less or not, gas prices affect the price of everything that is transported by vehicle, so if you increase gas taxes, you increase the price of things people buy at stores, particularly food.

Walker (and others) vs. government employee unions

The Wisconsin State Journal printed this Jay Ambrose column that must have infuriated the State Journal’s liberal readers:

Scott Walker, the Republican governor of Wisconsin, took on public employee unions about to sink the state and reduced their bullying powers sufficiently to save the government billions and help rejuvenate a tepid economy.

Despite a variety of retaliatory efforts by the unions and rival politicians to then sink him — some of the efforts about as dirty as dirty gets — he rose high, he overcame and, in the recent elections, was happily victorious.

Three other Republican governors beat back intense opposition from public unions they had challenged — Rick Scott in Florida, John Kasich in Ohio and Rick Snyder in Michigan. That’s major, but the story does not end with Republicans.

For yet more reason to applaud, look to Democrat Gina Raimondo, who, as Rhode Island’s treasurer, reduced pension costs that could not be long endured at the rate they were growing. She alertly, expertly, courageously and successfully pushed for the necessary state laws to correct the trajectory, and this year ran for governor. Some unions vowed to cripple her ambitions and definitely tried. She won anyway, and the upshot of the multiple victories is that America won anyway.

We are on course to being saved from the seemingly immoveable power of the unions to distort democracy, devastate finances, render governmental operations less efficient and even, in some cases, cheat children out of the kind of education necessary for them to have a decent future.

The problem with the unions has not been that their members are somehow bad human beings happily doing damage to others for their own sake. In negotiations, unions reasonably enough aim for the best they can get. What then usually happens in the private sector and not enough in the public sector is that management will finally agree to no more than it can afford.

In the public sector, unions deal with often corruptible politicians whose elections they can help assure. They can do this with heaps of cash — teachers unions this past year spent $60 million helping election campaigns — and by getting out the vote for those who cooperated and fighting fiercely against those who did not.

Even when the office holders are more or less honest, they can be irresponsible, neglecting to think through the ramifications of the deals they make and especially favoring lavish, feel-happy bargains when the good times roll. It is when you have bad times, such as the fiscal crisis and ensuing recession in 2008, that everyone notices what a jam they have gotten us into.

How do you pay the bill? Do you raise taxes to the point of shriveling the lives of average citizens? Do you take the money from schools and road repair? Or do you maybe find ways to bring collective bargaining, pensions and more under control?

Money, of course, is not the only issue, and articles on a new book by Joel Klein, former chancellor of public schools in New York City, point to some of his concerns, such as how union contracts made it impossibly difficult to fire a teacher. As New York Times columnist Frank Bruni notes, it could take more than two years and cost more than $300,000 to do the deed. A consequence of such difficulties around the country is that bad teachers keep their jobs and students pay the price.

The outcomes of the latest elections signal to the political class that it is possible to do what’s right and get by with it, meaning that some tardy souls may get going on required reforms and others will keep at it.

 

Buck(s)ing against taxpayer dollars

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos apparently thinks his fellow Republicans are not really interested in providing state funding for a new Bucks arena, reports the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

The Milwaukee Bucks investors who are seeking public money for a new arena will have to negotiate a difficult political path in Madison, where Republicans have widened their control of the Legislature.

The latest sign of trouble for those wanting public money for the arena came from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester), who said he thinks Bucks co-owner Marc Lasry made a mistake by greeting President Barack Obama at the airport in the lead-up to last week’s election.

Obama was in town Oct. 28 for a rally at North Division High School on behalf of Democrat Mary Burke. A week later, Republican Gov. Scott Walker beat Burke to win a second term.

Vos said Lasry’s appearance “did not make my job easier” in terms of persuading Republican legislators to back a possible financial plan to build a new, multipurpose arena in Milwaukee.

“It’s a tough sell when you’re asking for millions of dollars,” Vos said.

The Bucks want to replace the aging BMO Harris Bradley Center with a new downtown arena at a cost of $400 million to $500 million. Lasry, co-owner Wes Edens and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce have said some public funding would be needed for the project.

Lasry and Edens have committed $100 million toward a new arena. Former U.S. Sen. Herb Kohl has also said he would put $100 million toward an arena, and additional private investment could bring the total commitment to $300 million. Kohl sold the Bucks to the two hedge-fund investors this year for $550 million.

Finding state money for the project will be difficult. Some lawmakers are ideologically opposed to using public money for a private facility. Others are open to the idea, but the proposal must compete with other issues they hope to tackle. …

A detailed proposal has yet to be put forward on getting public money for a new arena, though one idea under consideration is capturing the income taxes paid by professional athletes and other employees at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. An estimate from the Legislative Fiscal Bureau concluded that the athletes and other employees paid state income taxes of approximately $10.7 million in the 2012 tax year. If accurate, that could potentially support state bonding totaling $125 million or more.

[Gov. Scott] Walker has called that idea interesting and said he wants to keep the Bucks, but he has not publicly embraced a particular plan.

“Governor Walker has said that we first need to hear details of a plan from elected officials, Bucks officials and civic leaders in Milwaukee,” Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said by email. “Then we will review and evaluate any role that might involve the state government.”

Sen. Rob Cowles (R-Allouez) said he had not been briefed on ways to fund the arena, but expressed skepticism on using income tax receipts that are already earmarked to fund schools and an array of state programs.

“I’d be very cautious” on using funds the state generates from income and sales taxes, Cowles said.

One idea — extending the 0.1% Miller Park sale tax in five counties — appears to be dead.

“That will not happen on my watch,” Vos said.

Walker has also rejected that idea, saying there is no support for it.

Approving the sales tax was a difficult political battle that resulted in the 1996 recall of then-Sen. George Petak (R-Racine), who voted for the stadium tax after saying he wouldn’t.

The stadium fight has “salted the earth” on using a sales tax to fund a sports facility, said Rep. Cory Mason (D-Racine).

“It is a tougher path than it was before. And if you don’t believe me, ask George Petak,” Mason said.

Another way to fund the project would be to create a modified tax incremental financing district.

Tax incremental financing districts borrow money to pay for public improvements and other expenses. Property taxes from the new developments are used to pay off the debt.

For the arena, the TIF district would also capture state income taxes and state sales taxes generated within the district to repay that debt.

For the moment, Vos’ comments about Lasry’s visit with Obama have grabbed the headlines on the issue. In addition to his statements to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, he made similar ones to the Milwaukee Business Journal and WISN-TV’s “UpFront with Mike Gousha.”

“If you’re looking to people for support, you certainly don’t want to poke people in the eye,” Vos told the Business Journal.

The Bucks, meanwhile, are hoping to stay out of the political fray and are reaching out to both parties.

“We don’t view revitalizing downtown Milwaukee as a political issue. Our objective is to have a transparent, open discussion with all the stakeholders to come up with a plan that unifies the city and state to do something transformative,” said Bucks’ spokesman Jake Suski.

The Milwaukee Business Journal adds a partisan wrinkle:

Despite Vos’ displeasure with Lasry, he said he anticipates Walker will consider strategies to support the Bucks.

“I support what we can do to save a business,” Vos said. …

The biggest arena cheerleader besides the Bucks so far has been the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, which is friendly with Republicans. MMAC president Tim Sheehy said Wednesday he believes both Walker and Vos are open to considering state funding.

After the election, both the state Assembly and the state Senate remained in Republican control.

“Knowing who the make-up of the leadership in Madison is — from the governor to both the Assembly and Senate — the leadership is very helpful in thinking through potential approaches to address our need for a new civic center, home for the Bucks,” Sheehy said.

Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce, which spent heavily in support of Walker and against Burke, believes “Milwaukee needs thriving arts and entertainment options to keep and attract a dynamic workforce and quality of life,” said WMC CEO Kurt Bauer. That position echoes statements Sheehy has made in support of a new arena for more than a year.

“We may become more involved when the details are revealed,” Bauer said.

Would legislative Republicans go against one of their biggest supports, the business community?

Well, yes, they would, or at least they did in the mid-1990s during the Miller Park vote. That was a truly bipartisan vote in that Republicans and Democrats both favored and opposed the stadium sales tax.

That, however, was for a stadium funded by a five-county sales tax. Lambeau Field’s early-2000s improvements were funded by a 0.5-percent Brown County sales tax. And the Brewers and Packers are much more statewide teams than the Bucks. In terms of statewide interests, the gap between the Bucks and the Brewers, Packers and Badgers is the approximate size of the drive from Superior to Platteville.

Not surprisingly, the hypocrisy is strong on this issue. Those who complain about Vos’ comments apparently ignore the fact that if the new Bucks owners were Republicans, then Democrats would be complaining about a new arena being a “playground for the rich” staffed by minimum-wage workers with zero benefit beyond the Milwaukee city limits, and would suggest that the new owners should fund it themselves.

According to the MacIver Institute, Vos is floating a proposal to devote proceeds from income taxes of players and Bradley Center employees, about $10.7 million per year, to bond up to $150 million for a state contribution to the new arena project. The arena is estimated to cost $400 million to $500 million, so Vos’ idea would work, if you don’t mind the state’s paying $214 million (including interest) over 20 years for an arena. (Cue Democrat complaints about state debt levels in 5 … 4 … 3 …)

It would be hypocritical to complain about walling off this $10.7 million — which in a $35 billion annual budget isn’t much — when state voters just approved (correctly) walling off transportation funds from the next fund raid attempt. But where is the City of Milwaukee’s contribution? Where is Milwaukee County’s contribution?

This blog has previously reported that the purchase of the Bucks has a National Basketball Association buy-back option if the Bucks don’t get a new arena. A Bucks move is certainly possible, though it would make more financial sense for the NBA to add two teams instead of moving the Bucks.

Of all the new stadium projects, this makes the least sense for anyone outside Milwaukee. The Bucks may be Wisconsin’s only NBA team, but the Bucks are far from a statewide team.

I think the Republicans will make a deal to get an arena built. Not that they necessarily should. The Packers are a statewide team, and yet Brown County paid for the stadium expansion. The Brewers needed Miller Park and its roof to become a statewide team. The Bucks are not now, and are not likely to become absent Michael Jordan-era Chicago Bulls success, a statewide team.