Category: Wisconsin politics

Bad News Barnes

Dan O’Donnell writes about this state’s lieutenant governor:

Mandela Barnes is a serial liar, of that there can no longer be any doubt. He is now even lying about his lies. After admitting to The Isthmus that he never graduated from Alabama A&M University after years of claims to the contrary, he blamed the confusion on a staffer.

The Associated Press reported Thursday:

A candidate questionnaire that Barnes’ campaign returned to the Wisconsin State Journal last year said Barnes had a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from Alabama A&M University.

But Barnes told Isthmus newspaper for a story published Thursday that he didn’t graduate from college because he didn’t complete a course. A&M spokesman Jerome Saintjones confirmed Barnes attended the school but didn’t graduate.
Barnes spokesman Earl Arms said in an email that Barnes has always said he attended A&M rather than saying he graduated. Arms said the questionnaire response was an error by a campaign staffer, and that Barnes “regrets that oversight.”

This is a rather obvious lie. Barnes himself has been claiming throughout his political career that he graduated from college. What other possible inference could one draw from this tweet?

Or how about this retweet?

The article linked in the tweet indicates that “Barnes graduated from college in 2008 and got his start as a field organizer for Obama that year in Louisiana.” Where would The Atlantic have gotten that information? From a staffer? Or from Barnes himself since The Atlantic interviewed him for the story?

Barnes himself said on the “Wedge Issues” podcast in September that he “finished college in 2008.” He said the same twice in a November interview with The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The plain meaning of the phrase “finished college” is to graduate, so while Barnes may have thought he was being clever with semantics since he technically didn’t say he graduated, but that was clearly the inference he wanted readers to make.

It is also completely untrue.

This fits into a troubling pattern of dishonesty from Wisconsin’s lieutenant governor, who lied about a delinquent property tax bill in June. When The Journal Sentinel’s Dan Bice confronted him with this unpaid bill, Barnes tried to claim that he was in fact paying his taxes in installments and sent a screenshot of his bill as proof.

“There is no installment plan, and the taxes are delinquent,” Jesicca Zwaga of the city Treasurer’s Office said Friday.
Barnes disputed the information earlier this week, sending the Journal Sentinel a screenshot of a portion of a 2018 tax bill that he said was proof that he was paying his property taxes in installments.
But Zwaga said the record from Barnes was just the original tax bill that included the monthly amounts he would owe if he opted to pay in installments instead of a lump sum. She said he failed to make the first payment in the agreement by Jan. 31.
“It is delinquent,” Zwaga said.
Barnes countered: “How is there no installment plan if it (the bill) says installment plan? I’m done with this one.”

That wasn’t his only lie.

Records show Barnes bought his Milwaukee condo in October 2017. There is a small unpaid tax bill for about $70 for the 2017 tax year, according to city records.
Barnes said there was a problem with that debt because the bills were being sent to Arizona where the previous owner of the property moved. He said she owed that sum.
But Zwaga of the city Treasurer’s Office said Barnes would owe this outstanding sum. “Taxes follow the property, not the owner,” she added.

In spite of this, Barnes doubled down on this demonstrable falsehood in a tweet when the story was published.
A month earlier, when Barnes came under fire for the exorbitant cost of his security detail and extensive use of State Patrol vehicles, he lied about using them only for official government business.

Only more work wasn’t being done. Barnes wasn’t just using state vehicles and security detail for official state work. As The Wisconsin State Journal reported:

The records show that Barnes had protection for seven days when he had no official events, based on the WisPolitics.com review. Three of those days were Sundays, when the only entry on Barnes’ calendar was church. Another day, a Saturday, all Barnes had listed was a 30-minute phone interview.
On one of the Sundays, Barnes received 18 hours of protection when he attended church with Evers in Milwaukee and then came to Madison six hours later.

In other words, the cost of shuttling Barnes around the state wasn’t sky high because he was doing so much more work than his predecessor. It was because he just wanted to have State Patrol officers guarding him whenever he felt like it.

Once again, he lied.

This seems to be his natural defense when confronted with his various misdeeds. No matter how minor an infraction–failing to graduate from college, for example–Barnes believes he can lie his way out of it.

More troubling, however, is his equally instinctive accusation of racism against anyone who calls him out on his dishonesty. The Isthmus reports:

He calls the GOP narrative about him “race baiting.”
“They don’t challenge me on my policy positions, ever,” he adds. “This is a tried and true strategy: racism. It’s not any different than what Reagan did with that supposed welfare queen. It’s not a dog whistle if everybody can hear it. And these are people who hate taxes. Which is a disgusting irony.”

Answering legitimate criticism of his irresponsibility with the vile presumption that such criticism is race-based is both beneath the dignity of his office and yet another example of Barnes’ fundamental dishonesty. Republicans constantly challenge his policy positions: They just spent the past seven months battling him and Governor Evers on the state budget. Did a single Republican launch a single attack on Barnes that could possibly be construed as racist during that tense fight? Of course not. Yet Barnes hurled the smear anyway.

This reveals far more about his character than that of his critics, and this entire episode has shown Barnes’ character to be quite lacking. There is simply no other way to say it: Mandela Barnes is a fundamentally dishonest person.

A conspiracy theory I hatched after the 2018 election was that Tony Evers was just a figurehead and that Democrats had Barnes as the real power in the governor’s office. Whether my theory is correct or not, our Barack Obama wannabe will remain lieutenant governor because of Barnes’ skin color and because Democrats are feckless.

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Tony Evers, enemy of the First Amendment

The MacIver Institute proves that anyone who claims that only Republicans hate the news media are lying:

The MacIver Institute is suing Gov. Tony Evers for excluding its journalists from press briefings and refusing to provide them with press material that is shared with other news outlets.

Since Gov. Evers took office in January 2019, his administration has refused to include MacIver News Service reporters on invitations to press events, which makes it harder for the news outlet’s reporters to stay up-to-speed on the governor’s activities. The Evers administration also blocked MacIver journalists from participating in a budget press briefing that was open to other journalists.

The Evers administration’s actions violate the journalists’ constitutional right to free speech, freedom of the press and equal access. While no press outlet has a constitutional right to an exclusive interview or off-the-record tidbit, government officials may not target certain journalists that they disfavor for discriminatory treatment. The First Amendment prohibits government from discriminating against certain news outlets based on their editorial viewpoint. The Constitution also says state governments cannot treat people unequally, which the governor’s office does by targeting MacIver for exclusion while inviting numerous other journalists to these events.

The case, MacIver Institute v. Evers, was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin on Tuesday.

“Gov. Evers should not block MacIver journalists from public press briefings and limit their access to government activities. Our reporters have the same constitutional rights as every other journalist in Wisconsin, and we have a duty to keep the public informed about what’s happening in state government,” said Brett Healy, president of the MacIver Institute. “While we hoped Gov. Evers would do the right thing and treat our journalists they way they treat others, the administration has refused. We now have no option but to sue. A free and vibrant press is critical to democracy, and to ensuring the people of Wisconsin are informed and engaged on what’s happening in their state. We hope to quickly resolve this issue, not just so that our journalists can go about their important work but to ensure no future governor engages in the same unconstitutional practices.”

The MacIver Institute is represented by the Liberty Justice Center, a public interest law firm based in Chicago.

The MacIver News Service has approached the administration numerous times in attempts to rectify the situation amicably, but its efforts have been ignored. On April 4, MacIver News Service hand-delivered to administration officials a letter from attorneys for the journalists, demanding that the MacIver reporters receive the same access to public press events and information as journalists from other news outlets. Even after the letter, the Evers administration has persisted in its course of conduct, continuing to exclude the MacIver journalists from media advisories and press briefings.

That’s despite prominent left-leaning contacts being included on those very same lists, such as The ProgressiveMagazine, Devil’s Advocate Radio, The Capital Times newspaper, the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, Democratic legislative offices and left-wing advocacy groups such as One Wisconsin Now.

“The First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press. Courts nationwide have held this means government officials can’t pick and choose which reporters cover their public events. Gov. Evers has spent the past six months excluding the MacIver journalists from his press conferences and briefings. That’s wrong,” said Daniel Suhr, associate senior attorney at the Liberty Justice Center. “Our country relies on vigilant watchdogs from the news media, and government officials can’t duck hard questions by barring anyone who might ask those questions in a briefing.”

The lawsuit seeks to guarantee access for MacIver News Service journalists to all Gov. Evers’ press announcements. It is available online here.

It will take a higher-level judge to tell Evers that politicians do not get to pick and choose who covers them and who can’t.

 

The solution for our political problems

J.D. Tuccille agreed with me:

Speaking on CNN Sunday morning, Democratic donor Tom Steyer blamed recent political violence, included attempted pipe bombings and the murderous attack on a Pittsburgh synagogue, on the nasty rhetoric of Republican President Donald Trump and the Republican Party. Despite his own taste for throwing around the word “treason” and speculating that a nuclear war might be necessary to get Americans to turn against Trump, he might be forgiven his excess—he was the target of one of those bombs, after all. Yet, as leaders of both major American political tribes portray their enemies as not just wrong on policy but dangerous and depraved, they both bear responsibility for making government so frighteningly powerful that Americans increasingly feel that they can’t afford to lose control of governing institutions.

In the current environment, even when Americans don’t love their political allies, they hate their opponents—and have reason to fear their turn in power.

“Record numbers of voters in 2016 were dissatisfied with their own party’s presidential nominee and the opposing party’s nominee,” according to Emory University’s Alan Abramowitz and Steven Webster. So the deciding factor came down to the fact that “large majorities of Democrats and Republicans truly despised the opposing party’s nominee.”

“Negative views of the opposing party are a major factor” in why people belong to political parties, Pew Research agreed this spring. In the U.S., many Democrats and Republicans alike say “a major reason they identify with their own party is that they have little in common with members of the other party.”

Pew had already found that “sizable shares of both Democrats and Republicans say the other party stirs feelings of not just frustration, but fear and anger.”

Why such fright and rage? Is it all about mean words?

No. Heated rhetoric is nothing new (the founders blistered each others’ ears) and insufficient by itself to inspire a Trump supporter to send pipe bombs to prominent Democrats, or to inspire a Bernie Sanders fan to shoot a Republican congressman and several others. Nor are the idiot leftists and right-wingers pounding on each other in PortlandNew York CityCharlottesville, and elsewhere otherwise placid people moved to violence by politicians’ intemperate words. Heated rhetoric and violence have resulted and escalated as government has grown in size and power—and been weaponized for use by those holding the reins against those they see as enemies.

Officials can be vindictive creatures, eager to use the power of the state to penalize those whose lifestyles, economic activity, and political affiliations they dislike. Tax power was long ago turned to such misuse, probably because tax collectors had authority to intrude into people’s lives before other government employees gained such clout. “My father may have been the originator of the concept of employing the IRS as a weapon of political retribution,” Elliott Roosevelt observed of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.

In recent years, federal officials have abused their regulatory authority to squeeze financial institutions to cut off funds to critics such as Wikileaks. The practice was formalized at the federal level by Operation Chokepoint, which sought to deny financial services to businesses that were perfectly legal, but disfavored in certain circles, such as adult entertainers, gun shops, and payday lenders.

New York’s governor extended the abuse of state regulatory power over banks to target not just firearms dealers, but advocates of self-defense rights such as “the NRA or similar gun promotion organizations.”

President Trump has openly pushed the Justice Department to investigate Democrats who have rubbed him the wrong way. He also sees security clearances as personal favors to be doled out to friends and denied to critics. In this, he follows on his predecessor’s distaste for “enemies” and willingness to misuse the organs of government—including the IRS—as weapons.

Even those Americans who aren’t especially concerned with politics can find themselves on the receiving end of laws weaponized for use against businesses and pastimes that those currently in power associate with their political enemies.

“[T]he separation here seeps into the micro level, down to the particular neighborhoods, schools, churches, restaurants and clubs that tend to attract one brand of partisan and repel the other,” the Washington Post reported in 2016 of an era when lifestyle and partisan affiliation increasingly correlate. That makes it easy to punish partisan opponents through things they enjoy, such as hunting, marijuana, and brands of cars, without running afoul of constitutional protections for the way they vote.

There are few areas of human life into which government has not inserted itself. “More and more of what we do is dependent on permission from the government,” I noted in July. “That permission, unsurprisingly, is contingent on keeping government officials happy.”

If the government can reach into virtually every area of life, can grant or deny permission to make a living or enjoy pastimes, and has a documented history of abusing such authority for petty and vindictive reasons, why wouldn’t you be afraid of your enemies wielding such power? How could you avoid growing fearful and angry over their anticipated conduct once they took their inevitable turn in office? And what would you say—and eventually do—to stop them? Especially, if you were a little unhinged to begin with.

Are politicians further stirring the pot with nasty rhetoric about their critics and opponents? Maybe. We may well find that the man who murderously attacked a Pittsburgh synagogue and the guy who mailed poisonous ricin to U.S. officials became more prone to act in an environment in which overt expressions of hatred have become common.

But that rhetoric and the related partisan rancor have been building for years as government has become inescapable, and as victorious factions have used their time in power to punish those who lost the last battle—only to suffer in turn as the wheel turns. If you want violent political battles for control of government to end, make politics matter much, much less. When Americans have less to fear no matter who wins political office, they’ll be less prone to viciously fight each other for control of government.

Everything wrong with politics today is because of the outsized stakes in elections. The more power government has — taxation, regulation or laws that exceed the bounds government should have at any level — the more imperative winning elections is. Nasty rhetoric and (by some definition) too much campaign spending is the logical result.

 

Enjoy buying more expensive school supplies

WLUK-TV in Green Bay:

Back to school shoppers looking to take advantage of a tax-free holiday this year will have to find another way to save on school supplies.

With summer vacation finally coming to an end, students like Bella Callahan are already looking for new school supplies.

“It bittersweet going back to school,” she said. “I’m going to be a senior so I need notebooks, folders, stuff for my locker, pens, and pencil. Normally it cost about $100 for all of our stuff.”

Since back to school shopping can get pretty expensive, Wisconsin held its first tax free holiday for shoppers in early August last year. During that time, shoppers could buy select clothing, technology, and other supplies without paying the 5% sales tax.

“I think they should have the tax free weekend because it helps a lot of parents. Especially when they only have one income and grandparents have to help,” said Callahan.

The tax-free weekend was also beneficial for a lot of stores in the state.

“It helps all the retailers when we have the tax free because they would buy the bigger stuff. If you had a students going back to college they would buy things like furniture, desks and that kind of stuff,” said Meijer Store Manager Don Mettler.

But Democratic Gov. Tony Evers has confirmed that the state will no longer participate in the event this year. He said it was a one-time deal enacted under the former Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

“I think parents are going to be purchasing school supplies whether they have an incentive or not. I just don’t think the incentive actually worked,” said Evers.

Without the tax-free weekend, some stores are already looking at other ways to provide financial relief to shoppers

“One of the things we are doing at Meijer to offset that is giving a 15% off to all teachers. So if they come in and show their ID at the service they can get that coupon, and us it all the way till the 28th of September,” said Mettler.

Sixteen states will hold a sales tax holiday this year, which is down from a peak of 19 in 2010.

“The incentive actually worked”? Parents bought school supplies and saved on sales taxes. So it did work to save parents money. But Marie Antoinette Evers is opposed to anything that would slow down the siphon of money from state taxpayers’ pockets to himself.

It should be noted that the Tax Foundation disapproves of sales tax holidays. (Which I am sure had absolutely no effect on Evers’ stupid attitude.) To which Milton Friedman would say …

Parents who voted for Evers last November: Congratulations. Enjoy losing money this year. As for the rest of us …

… maybe you should take a trip to Iowa this weekend.

 

 

News from a former employer

Back in my business magazine days, I went to a business journalism conference at the Journal Communications headquarters in downtown Milwaukee.

In my 10 years of working for the Journal empire, it was the only chance I got to see the headquarters. (Though Mrs. Presteblog purchased a Journal Communications shirt I still own, even though it’s severely faded and two sizes too large.) I got to see Radio City, home of WTMJ and WKTI radio and WTMJ-TV, several times thanks to my appearances on “Sunday Insight with Charlie Sykes.”

Steve makes a point.

I’ve written here before about how working for Journal Communications was better in its employee-ownership days than in its publicly traded days. (The Sykes show came in the latter period; for some inexplicable reason the first time I was invited, in the late 1990s, my boss — who later proved the maxim that most people leave an employer not because of their pay, but because of their boss — said being on Sykes’ show would be a bad idea. A decade later upon my return, that boss thought it would be a good idea.) For one thing, I got very discounted long distance phone service (remember those days?) and discounted subscription rates to the Milwaukee Sentinel and then the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Steve is wary about something. This was the show where, beforehand, Mikel Holt looked at what I was wearing and announced that I “dressed black.” I took that as a compliment, though I wasn’t, and still am not, sure what he specifically was referring to.

George Mitchell writes:

While Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Editor George Stanley likely does not read every story that appears, he surely reviewed Thursday’s piece by Tom Daykin on the relocation of the paper away from its Fourth & State headquarters.

That story included this:

The company’s roughly 260 employees will be moving to the 330 Kilbourn office complex, 330 E. Kilbourn Ave., said Andy Fisher, the Journal Sentinel’s chief business executive.

The new offices will help the Journal Sentinel better retain and attract employees, Fisher said Thursday.

“It’s a more modern facility that I think people will feel a lot more comfortable in,” he said. “It’ll have a really fresh feel.”

That rationale, of course, is preposterous. It’s the kind of spin that would be filleted by the likes of Dan Bice.

Not long ago the idea of the Journal Sentinel leaving a headquarters built almost a century ago would have been unthinkable. It is a dispiriting and symbolic development, particularly for those who can recall when the paper and its predecessors were “must read” documents in the morning (and afternoon).

When I entered the UW-Madison Journalism School in the mid-60s the daily Milwaukee Journal had a circulation of about 375,000. At the time of the 1995 merger with the Sentinel the daily circulation of the new paper was about 325,000. A year ago (February 2018) it was a meager 82,000 — a 71 per cent decline from the merger’s debut edition.

The precipitous decline mirrors a national trend. According to the authoritative Pew Research Center:

U.S. newspaper circulation reached its lowest level since 1940, the first year with available data. Total daily circulation (print and digital combined) was an estimated 28.6 million for weekday and 30.8 million for Sunday in 2018. Those numbers were down eight percent and nine percent, respectively, from the previous year, according to the Center’s analysis of Alliance for Audited Media data. Both figures are now below their lowest recorded levels, though weekday circulation first passed this threshold in 2013.

Specific Pew research on the Milwaukee market is sobering for newspaper adherents. A minuscule 13 percent of adults report they “prefer to get their local news” from print media. The numbers are even worse when considering responses to an open-ended question of where adults “most often” get their news. Only ten percent cited the Journal Sentinel. By comparison, more than four times as many cited the local affiliates of Fox, NBC, and ABC.

The implications of this seismic development, locally and nationally, are wide-ranging. TV news and social media can’t hold a candle to the potential of an economically solid newspaper staff when it comes to comprehensive news coverage and investigative reporting.

My own preoccupation involves how the decline of the Journal Sentinel (and other papers) will affect public policy. What do local officials, legislators, and their staffs now rely most on for information? Do “special interests” now call more of the shots?

What hasn’t changed is the enormous impact our elected officials can have.  They decide who does and doesn’t have educational choice. They decide whether the transportation system is maintained and strengthened. They set criminal justice policy.

Among the myriad groups and associations that seek to influence these issues, all must now have elaborate websites and communication strategies that move their messages to the top of Google searches. This in turn shines a light on the undisputed left-leaning bias of Google, Facebook, Twitter and their ilk.

Yesterday’s story is hard to find on the Journal Sentinel website today. That in no way diminishes the significance. The symbolic nature of vacating the paper’s headquarters for a nondescript private office building is a bummer.

One other piece of interesting news: The Journal Sentinel (now part of Gannett, which may be in the process of being purchased by a company owned by one of the Milwaukee Bucks owners) is moving into the same building as the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty. Maybe WILL can arrange to run into Journal Sentinel reporters and editorial writers and set their minds right.

The return of Damn Near Russia

M.D. Kittle:

With scant public input, Gov. Tony Evers’ administration has just crafted some of the most draconian environmental standards in the world. 

And Wisconsin business leaders are “completely terrified” about the high costs the stringent regulations will bring — for what science suggests are negligible public health outcomes. 

On July 8, the state Department of Health Services published its groundwater quality standards recommendations for 27 chemical substances. On the list are two synthetic compounds in the polyfluoroalkyl (PFAS) with hefty chemical names — perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) and perfluorooctanoic acid(PFOA). 

The synthetics are found in a variety of products, from non-stick cookware and stain-resistant sprays to firefighting foam. There are some 3,500 different compounds under the umbrella of PFAS.

While the compounds are no longer manufactured in the United States, PFOS And PFOA remain in the soil, groundwater and other substances. The problem, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, is that both chemicals are very persistent in the environment and in the human body — meaning they don’t break down and can accumulate over time. 

Certain studies indicate PFOA and PFOS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals, according to the EPA. 

“Due to their widespread use and persistence in the environment, most people in the United States have been exposed to PFAS,” an EPA online backgrounder notes. “There is evidence that continued exposure above specific levels to certain PFAS may lead to adverse health effects.”

But what is considered a safe amount? What’s a toxic level? The science is anything but settled on those questions. 

That fact hasn’t stopped the environmental extremists in the Evers administration from creating what industry experts and business advocates contend are impossibly rigid standards that will ultimately cost the Badger State economy big.

‘Detrimental Impact’

“Wisconsin’s DHS has recommended one of the most restrictive proposed standards in the nation at 20 parts per trillion combined,” the Water Quality Coalition stated last week in a press release. The coalition is composed of industry associations, scientists, and legal scholars, including the American Chemistry Council, the National Waste & Recycling Association, the Wisconsin Paper Council, and Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce. 

The standards recommended by the Department of Health Services mean enforcement could be triggered by as little as 10 parts per trillion of PFOS and 10 parts per trillion PFOA combined. But DHS takes the stringent standard further, setting out a combined preventive action limit for PFOS and PFOA at 2 parts per trillion, the lowest enforceable limit in the world, according to the Water Quality Coalition. 

“The DHS standard would have a detrimental impact on Wisconsin’s economy. It will significantly impact tax payers, utility rate payers, job creators, and local governments not only with the cost of installing expensive and underdeveloped control equipment, but also the cost of fines and forfeitures when the regulated community cannot meet a nearly impossible standard,” the coalition wrote in its Comments on DHS’ recommended groundwater standards for PFOA and PFOS. 

New York is going down the road with similar aggressive environmental standards, and the costs are adding up. 

Last year, the state set recommended levels for PFOA and PFOS (perfluorooctanesulfonate) at 10 parts per trillion for each compound individually, not quite as stringent as Wisconsin’s recommended standards but thought to be the toughest in the nation at the time. 

The New York agency that oversees community water systems estimates the cost of compliance by the local entities alone will top $850 million in capital expenditures and $45 million in operation and maintenance costs.Those estimates don’t take into account the expensive technology the private sector would have to deploy to ensure compliance. 

More so, DHS groundwater quality standards would apply to businesses that are not even manufacturing PFAS-based products. 

“They’re all completely terrified (of what the stringent new standards could mean),” Lane Ruhland, director of Environmental and Energy Policy for Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce said of Wisconsin business owners. “The technology on that scale, to get to that 2 parts per trillion, if it does exist, is extremely expensive. It means shutting down.” 

Wisconsin’s critical paper industry would definitely feel the pinch, Ruhland said. The Badger State’s paper makers employ 30,000 people and provides about $2.5 billion in payroll. 

“We are deeply concerned that such a standard could devastate Wisconsin’s economy and significantly raise the cost of residential water. It would require municipal utilities, industrial facilities, and energy producers, to reach near-zero discharge levels of compounds that are pre-existing in groundwater,” the Water Quality Coalition stated in its press release.

Unsettled Science

Evers has billed 2019 the Year of Clean Drinking Water. Critics of his administration’s stringent water quality standards assert the year marks the return of environmental extremists running public policy in the Evers administration. 

A DHS official did not return MacIver News Service’s requests for comment this week, but an agency official did comment in a press statement. 

“Using a rigorous, evidence-based process will help us assure that our water is safe, no matter where we live in the state,” said DHS Deputy Secretary Julie Willems Van Dijk in the press release.

But what did the agency’s “evidence-based process” consist of? DHS drew from the Department of Natural Resources’ latest watch list of contaminants and “extensively reviewed scientific literature about each substance,” according to the administration. DHS used federal quality standards as a starting point “when available,” and created a document describing the “rationale” for each enforcement standard, according to the agency.  

“In order to make these recommendations, DHS toxicologists reviewed over 5,000 scientific findings,” states a joint release from DHS, DNR, and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection. 

That’s a stretch, according to the Water Quality Coalition. In its comments to DHS, the coalition noted that, according to recent testimony, “the evaluation was completed by one, single toxicologist at DHS who relied on a total of three studies to set a standard that could shut down a significant portion of industry in our state.”

WMC’s Ruhland said DHS relied on a 2018 study from the Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry. The study examined Minimal Risk Levels, but it cautions that “MRLs are not intended to define clean up or action levels” for any agency. The study was clearly meant to be an especially conservative review of hazardous substances, and its thresholds were not designed to set regulations. 

Ruhland said DHS also reviewed EPA studies. But the state agency failed to stop at the EPA’s 70 parts per trillion recommendation, instead insisting on more stringent standards. That’s fine, as long as the standards are based on significant science emerging since the EPA issued its recommendations, testimony notes. Water Quality Coalition members and other critics of DHS’ standards argue the Minimal Risk Levels study doesn’t fit the definition of significant emerging science because of its qualifying caveat. Absent more settled science, the EPA number should be applied, according to EPA guidelines. 

While there is growing fear about the dangers of PFAS, just how they affect human health remains unclear. Several studies suggest minimal, if any health impact from the compounds — even at levels of exposure several magnitudes higher than what DHS has proposed, according to the the Water Quality Coalition. 

“EPA does not anticipate a person to experience negative health effects if they drink water at or below this level every day over their entire lifetime,” an EPA spokesperson told MacIver News Service in an email response.

The agencies health advisories, however, are non-enforceable and non-regulatory and provide technical information to states agencies and other public health officials on health effects, analytical methodologies, and treatment technologies associated with drinking water contamination, the spokesperson added.

The Agency is moving forward with the drinking water standard setting process outlined in the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) for PFOA and PFOS. EPA expects to publish a proposed regulatory determination for PFOA and PFOS by the end of this year. The Agency is also gathering and evaluating information to determine if regulation is appropriate for other chemicals in the PFAS family.

Under the Safe Drinking Water Act, states may develop regulations that are no less stringent than EPA’s National Primary Drinking Water Regulations, the spokesperson said.

“(T)he body of science necessary to fully understand and regulate these chemicals is not yet as robust as it needs to be,” David Ross, EPA assistant administrator for Water, testified during a March 28 congressional hearing on PFAS. 

“Studies in humans and animals are inconsistent and inconclusive but suggest that certain PFAS may affect a variety of possible endpoints. Confirmatory research is needed,” notes the National Center for Environmental Health on its website.

Environmental Extremism Returns?

If confirmatory research is needed, why is the Evers administration bolting ahead on the rigid PFOA and PFOS standards? More so, why did the governor limit to one day the comment period on DHS’ recommendations? The process provides for 21 days, unless the governor decides to reduce the comment period. 

Administration officials declined to answer those questions. 

But Sen. Tom Tiffany worries Evers is making good on his promise earlier this year to “unleash” the DNR, just as then-Gov. Jim Doyle, also a Democrat, did during his tenure in office.

Tiffany points to Todd Ambs, who directed the DNR’s water division from 2003 to 2010 and led the agency’s costly and failed phosphorus-fighting initiate. In 2014, then-Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, signed a measure easing up the rigid Doyle-era standards. The bill was backed by 100-plus municipal treatment plant operators concerned the previous regulations could cost billions of dollars to meet. Municipal permit-holders, under the law, may delay the more stringent limits if they can show financial hardship. Many could and can.

“This is my concern, and it goes back to what I have talked about since Gov. Evers announced his appointments to various positions. Particularly, does this have Todd Ambs’ fingerprints on it,” Tiffany said. “He gave us phosphorus regulations without legislative approval, and it did very little to reduce emissions.” 

Ambs is back. Earlier this year the environmental activist was named DNR assistant deputy secretary.

As the Water Quality Coalition notes, DHS’ standards recommendations aren’t really recommendations; they must be applied as DNR puts together its enforcement plan. 

Tiffany says he’s hopeful the Evers administration will reconsider what the senator asserts has been a rush job on the governor’s way to a “photo-op.” 

While Republican-led reforms in recent years could ultimately stop the DHS standards dead in their tracks, that could take a while. Wisconsin’s first-in-the-nation REINS Act demands economic impact reviews on government rules and regulations suspected of having a price tag of $10 million or more over two years. Critics say DHS’ standards will certainly do that. 

The Water Quality Coalition contends that until the standards are put into administrative code, the stringent water quality regulations aren’t enforceable. But the Evers administration has been known to push constitutional limits in its first seven months.

Coalition members are not ruling out litigation.

For now, the coalition requests DHS reconsider its recommendation for PFOA and PFOS groundwater standards. 

“The Wisconsin Water Quality Coalition is concerned with the lack of transparency in the crafting of this recommended number as well as the potential detrimental impact on industry and the taxpayers alike,” the organization stated. “We will continue to advocate for regulation based on science that properly balances our health impacts with protecting the future of Wisconsin’s economy.”

When you’ve lost your own party …

Patrick Marley of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

Democratic Gov. Tony Evers is taking fire from within his party over his handling of the state budget.

In an online video for WisPolitics.com, former state Senate Majority Leader Chuck Chvala called Evers’ work on the budget a “disaster” and said the governor and his team “were not up to this budget” — even though that team includes Chvala’s wife.

“I hate to say this, but Robin Vos won the battle of the budget,” Chvala said, referring to the Republican leader of the state Assembly. “Tony Evers lost and it was a disaster.”

Spokeswomen for Evers did not immediately respond Monday to questions about Chvala’s attacks.

Chvala made the comments Friday on “The Insiders,” an online show that features him and former GOP Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen discussing state politics. The pair fought regularly during the 1990s and early 2000s when they led the Legislature, and they left office after a scandal over campaigning on state time resulted in criminal charges.

Chvala said Evers should have vetoed the state budget and forced Republicans who control the Legislature to come up with a spending plan more to his liking. Evers chose not to take that unprecedented step and instead issued 78 partial vetoes this month to put more money toward schools and take out GOP provisions he didn’t like.

“Gov. Evers promised that he would fight like hell for the people of this state,” Chvala said. “Putting together a budget and having a few press conferences and appearing around the state is not fighting like hell. Fighting like hell is going through an uncomfortable summer and fall and getting the people of the state of Wisconsin, who are with you, to make sure that the Legislature comes around. And he would have won. He would have won a lot. Unfortunately, the governor didn’t recognize all the power he had.”

Chvala said Evers had public sentiment on his side on education and health care and could have forced Republicans to side with him. He said Evers had the upper hand because he isn’t up for re-election until 2022, while most lawmakers will be on the ballot next year.

“You would never see Tommy Thompson let an opportunity like this go,” Chvala said, referring to the former Republican governor. “He failed sadly, miserably. He’s a wonderful man. He has the right intentions. He has a good heart and he cares about the people of Wisconsin. But he — Gov. Evers and his team were not up to this budget and they lost terribly.”

Chvala did not note that among the people on Evers’ team is Chvala’s wife, Barbara Worcester. She serves as one of Evers’ deputy chiefs of staff and was heavily involved in putting together the budget.

Chvala did not immediately return a phone message Monday. Worcester did not immediately respond to questions sent by email.

Chvala, Jensen and three other lawmakers were charged in 2002 during the so-called caucus scandal for directing aides to campaign using state resources.

As part of a plea deal, Chvala was convicted of two felonies. Jensen was convicted of one misdemeanor.

(Side note: Chvala and I have a history. I worked on his first state Senate campaign in 1984, years before he turned into the attack dog that ran the state Senate because no other Democrat wanted to. Back in my business magazine days, I referred to him as Chuck “It’s been the rich vs. the rest of us” Chvala, an ironic statement coming from someone who didn’t become poor from politics. However, Chvala has faced some terrible personal tragedy in his life, and so I thought the personal attacks on him in the 1990s were out of line.)

As someone who didn’t really like the budget because it spent too much money, I must say it’s always fun to see Democrats cannibalizing each other. It’s hard to argue with Chvala, though, given that Evers tried to raise business taxes and failed, tried to raise income taxes and failed, tried to raise gas taxes and failed, and campaigned on a bunch of other things that were dead on arrival in the Legislature as well.

One wonders if Milwaukee and Madison realize they got an empty suit elected governor.

The budget after vetoes

The MacIver Institute analyzes the 2019–21 state budget after Tony Evers’ vetoes:

Wisconsin governors might have the most powerful veto pen in the country, but it’s much more useful to conservatives than liberals. The pen can only take things out of the budget and reduce spending. It cannot create new items nor increase spending, at least technically.

And so, when the Republican Legislature presented Gov. Evers with their $81.4 billion budget on Friday, there was nothing Evers could do to get it back to the $84.2 billion he wanted to spend. However, he certainly was not going to sign the Republicans’ budget without making some changes. Here’s what Evers did and did not do in his 78 line-item vetoes.

  • Maintains a $500 million-plus income tax cut as passed by the Legislature. The bottom two individual income tax brackets will fall over the next two years, as shown in the chart below.

  • Increases per pupil school aid payments. The Legislature had proposed increasing those payments to $679 in the first year of the budget and $704 in the second year. Evers’ veto decreased the amount in the second year to $63, and then eliminated the language referring to the second year. The end result combines the $679 with $63 and puts it into effect immediately for a total annual per pupil aid amount of $742.

  • Expands eligibility for a $5.3 million supplemental per pupil aid grant program. More school districts would be eligible for the additional funding compared to JFC’s budget.

  • Rolled back Walker-era welfare reforms. Evers vetoed a work requirement for able-bodied adults with school-aged dependents who receive FoodShare. He also removed drug testing for FoodShare recipients who are able-bodied adults with no dependents.
  • Reduces a $90 million investment in local road aid funding to $75 million, saying that the provision “creates yet another one-time subsidy to the transportation fund and illustrates the missed opportunity to provide a sustainable funding solution that would allow this program to be an ongoing investment in local communities.”
  • Removes a $2.5 million mileage-based fee and tolling study for the Department of Transportation (DOT). As originally worded, this provision would have allowed for the Joint Finance Committee to include any study recommendations in the next biennial budget. Following an outcry, an amendment changed that language to allow the full legislature to pass along recommendations. Now, the entire study is deleted.
  • Makes design-build official without a pilot program, and removes most of the prescriptive language in the item.

  • Eliminates $18.3 million over the biennium to provide laptops for every high school freshman. That provision, which first appeared in the 2017-19 budget, was inserted into the current document in JFC’s omnibus motion on K-12 education.
  • Eliminates numerous earmarks for transportation and otherwise, including a noise barrier along I-41, a required interchange on I-41, and bridge repairs in Kaukauna. Evers vetoed out a lot of items in the budget that included specific locations, but kept in the money so the DOT can spend it wherever it thinks the need is greatest.
  • Vetoes out a provision that would allow Tesla to sell cars directly to consumers. That idea, while a good reform, was introduced in a last-minute amendment to secure the vote of Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield).
  • Vetoes changes to truck fees to bring $7 million more in transportation funding. Evers’ budget retains a uniform $100 fee for trucks under 6,000 pounds, $106 for trucks between 6,000 and 8,000 pounds, and $155 for trucks between 8,000 and 10,000 pounds.
  • Extends funding for 38 more state auditors through the end of the 2025 fiscal year. The JFC budget had authorized those positions through the 2023 fiscal year.
  • Vetoes numerous criminal justice spending items, including funding for a new maximum security prison in Green Bay to replace a current structure.

Two of Evers’ vetoes are improvements. Design–build in road projects is grossly overdue. The Legislature should never have put the per-mile study in the budget. I eagerly await someone’s explanation of why spending should increase as much as it has when enrollment is decreasing as much as it is.

Matt Kittle observes how Evers has channeled his inner James Doyle (the Democrat who, when Republicans controlled the Legislature, famously said we could not and he would not increase our taxes … until Democrats gained control):

Gov. Tony Evers made a lot of promises on the campaign trail.

On Wednesday, the Democrat traded in some of those key campaign pledges — Medicaid expansion at the top of the list — for a boatload of new money.

At a press event surrounded by cabinet secretaries, Dem lawmakers, and, of course, children, Evers not-so-begrudgingly signed into law an $81.4 billion biennial budget crafted by the Republican-controlled Legislature. The governor made the document a bit more to his liking with 78 line-item vetoes, cutting some GOP initiatives while bolstering K-12 funding by $63 per pupil over the life of the budget.

The Republican budget, Evers insisted, was “insufficient,” and he claims he “strongly considered” vetoing the bill in its entirety “because it did not do enough to ensure our kids and our schools had the resources they needed to be successful.”

But this governor asserts he’s all about putting people above politics.

“Vetoing this budget in its entirety would have been more of the same divisiveness and petty political theatrics that the people of Wisconsin had to put up with for far too long,” he said, taking a shot at Republicans who had controlled both the Legislature and the executive branch up until November, when Evers narrowly defeated two-term Republican Gov. Scott Walker at the polls.

Perhaps Evers was trying to rise above the “divisiveness and petty political theatrics,” but he clearly saw a golden goose opportunity.

Republicans have spent the past couple of months in a funding arms race against the Democrat, crafting a big budget that spends big to, as they have acknowledged, keep a full-budget veto threat in check.

The final document includes more — significantly more in K-12 education spending, transportation, health care, capital projects, and higher ed. It pumps some $44 million into rural broadband funding, and adds nearly $100 million more in special education. Rural hospitals get more, there’s more for child welfare programs, more for nursing homes and personal care workers, there’s, well, there’s much more.

And Evers knows it.

A full veto would have cost his liberal-spending agenda a lot more.

Yet, the Democrat campaigned on Medicaid expansion, building his budget on all of the “free” money that is supposed to come with the Obamacare commitment. Dismissing the myriad problems that have come with the government program, Evers made expanding Medicaid his political line in the sand, threatening to veto any budget that did not include his proposal. His liberal allies egged him on, urging him to outright reject the Republican spending plan.

But then he saw all the money the Republican-led Joint Finance Committee dumped into Medical Assistance, and the governor seemingly made peace with the idea of letting go of his No. 1 campaign promise. He finds comfort in telling himself his first budget, mainly written by Republicans, is merely a “down payment” on his “People’s Budget.”

Besides, the Democrat said, vetoing the entire budget would fail to acknowledge that because of his massive spending plan, “Republicans finally took a step forward in making the investments for progress to occur.”

Republican leadership applauded Evers for signing the budget that they ultimately wrote, a budget that maintains the majority party’s $500 million-plus income tax relief package. The tax-cut lowers individual income tax brackets over the next two years. The Republican plan also didn’t include a gas-tax hike, something Evers said was critical to transportation funding.

“I want to thank Governor Evers for signing the budget into law today, including fully embracing the middle-class tax cut,” Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said following Evers’ budget-signing ceremony.

Fitzgerald said the final budget “targets state investments more responsibility” at about $2 billion less than the governor’s original plan.

Republicans, however, are not happy with Evers’ vetoes.

“This conservative budget crafted by the Republican legislature deserved to be signed into law, but without the political, partial vetoes,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) said in a statement. “These vetoes remove dollars from important programs, give more spending authority to government bureaucrats, and allow people to cheat the system by not following the welfare reforms we passed.”

Evers vetoed a work requirement for able-bodied adults with school-aged dependents who receive FoodShare. He also removed drug testing for FoodShare recipients who are able-bodied adults with no dependents.

“Because of his partial vetoes, he’s starving programs that incentivize work, undermining their implementation and skirting the law. We know people support drug testing and work requirements for welfare recipients and this budget ignores that fact,” the speaker added.

The governor axed a $2.5 million controversial mileage-based fee and tolling study for the Department of Transportation. Critics were concerned about the original language of the measure, which gave the Joint Finance Committee authority over recommendations from the study.

Evers also vetoed out a provision that would allow Tesla to sell cars directly to consumers. That idea, while a good reform, was introduced in a last-minute amendment to secure the vote of Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield).

It’s clear Republican leadership believes they collected a win in the final budget, despite Evers’ vetoes. The governor signed the 2019-21 budget just three days after the last two-year budget expired, curtailing what could have been a long and contentious summer budget battle.

Fitzgerald said Evers vetoes didn’t come with too many surprises and, ultimately, didn’t greatly alter the budget.

“There’s a list of items but none of them jump out so significantly to me that you can make the case that he significantly changed the document that we passed on the floor of the Assembly and Senate last week,” he said.

“I am pleased today to see Governor Evers celebrate many of the record investments made by my Republican colleagues,” said Sen. Alberta Darling, co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, in a statement.

Darling pointed out the irony of Democratic lawmakers celebrating the budget the governor signed.

“I hope the Democrats who stood behind the Governor today but voted ‘no’ on many of the items in this budget will reflect on the many shared priorities the governor approved. Whether a Republican or a Democrat sits in the Governor’s office, I will fight to protect taxpayers and make sure every budget is responsible and sustainable,” Darling said.

 

The shrinking state of Illinois

I saw this on social media Wednesday:

University of Michigan–Flint Prof. Mark J. Perry shows the other side of that meme, so to speak:

The No. 1 U.S. state for outbound migration in 2017 was Illinois, moving up from No. 2 in the previous year. And Wisconsin is one of the top beneficiaries of this migration pattern.

There were 534,527 moves in 2017 for Illinois — 339,435 outbound moves (63.5% of the total) and 195,092 inbound moves (36.5% of the total), for a -27.0% net outflow. That put the Prairie State far ahead of No. 2 New York at -22.7% net outflow and No. 3 New Jersey at -19.3%. This is based on a recent analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau’s annual “State- to-State Migration Flows” database for 2017 that I did for a report titled “Top 10 Inbound vs. Top 10 Outbound U.S. States in 2017: How Do They Compare on a Variety of Tax Burden, Business Climate, Fiscal Health and Economic Measures?”

When compared on a variety of 10 measures of tax burdens for individuals and businesses, business climate, state fiscal health, labor market robustness and economic growth, the migration patterns of U.S. households (and businesses) followed some predictable patterns.

There is strong empirical evidence that Americans “vote with their feet” and are moving from high-tax states that are fiscally unhealthy, economically stagnant and unfriendly toward businesses to fiscally sound states that are more economically vibrant, dynamic and business-friendly, with lower tax and regulatory burdens and that offer more economic and job opportunities.

No surprise there. And no surprise that Illinois led the coun- try in outbound migration in 2017 given its poor rankings on most of the 10 measures of business friendliness, tax burden and economic dynamism. In addition, the Mercatus Center ranks Illinois No. 50 for state fiscal condition, mostly due to its large ($446 billion) and growing unfunded pension liabilities.

Where are the outbound households and businesses from the Land of Lincoln moving? One increasingly popular destination is across the northern border into Wisconsin.

In 2017, nearly 27,000 people left Illinois for Wisconsin, compared with fewer than 13,000 moving in the opposite direction — for a net inflow to Wisconsin of nearly 15,000 people. That followed a record net inflow of nearly 16,000 in 2016, 11,500 in 2015 and 15,370 in 2014 (Figure 1).

There has been a net outflow from Illinois to Wisconsin of more than 116,000 residents between 2006 and 2017. About half of that net gain has taken place in the past four years at an average net gain for Wisconsin of nearly 40 residents moving from Illinois every day between 2014 and 2017. …

On 14 different measures of labor market dynamism, economic growth, various tax burdens, business climate and fiscal health, Wisconsin comes out ahead of neighboring Illinois on all but one of those measures — state individual income tax rate. Taken together, these results suggest that compared with Illinois, Wisconsin is a relatively more pro-growth and fiscally sound state, a more economically vibrant and business-friendly state, with a lower tax and regulatory burden for businesses and a more robust labor market.

Overall, the Badger State offers citizens, workers and businesses greater economic and job opportunities, with greater future prospects for economic growth than the Prairie State. Reflecting the greater relative degree of economic vibrancy and business friendliness in Wisconsin compared with Illinois, residents and businesses are increasingly leaving the Land of Lincoln for brighter economic opportunities across its northern border.

The state-to-state migration flow patterns that exist at the national level are consistent with what is happening between Wisconsin and Illinois at a local level, summarized as follows: Residents and businesses in Illinois are increasingly “voting with their feet” and escaping across the northern border to Wisconsin — at a net rate of 40 every day — from a relatively stagnant, high-tax, fiscally unhealthy, business-unfriendly state to a fiscally sound state that is more economically vibrant and business-friendly with greater economic prospects for resi- dents, businesses and workers.

One key takeaway from this analysis is that it’s relatively easy to attract a net inflow of residents and businesses from a fiscally insolvent neighboring state with a struggling economy like Illinois, and Wisconsin is certainly doing that and deserves credit for doing so. To maintain that inflow from Illinois and to attract migration from elsewhere, Wisconsin should pursue the proven formula for states to attract those inflows: low tax burdens, less regulation, greater fiscal stability, right-to-work laws, resisting calls for higher minimum wages and creating business-friendly climates. Wisconsin is doing very well on many of those measures, especially compared with its neighbor to the south.

Further improvements in the Badger State’s attractiveness to residents, workers and businesses will pay off in the same way that it’s now working to attract large and increasing inbound migration from Illinois. One improvement would be to reduce the state income tax burden as is currently being proposed and which is the one measure out of the 14 discussed above that gives Illinois a competitive advantage. And Wisconsin should keep its labor costs for low-skilled workers at a competitive level and resist the political pressure to follow Illinois’ lead with a 100% hike in the minimum wage to a job-killing level of $15 per hour.

Of course, this all depends on whether Republicans maintain control of the Legislature after next year’s elections and, before and after that, whether they act like real Republicans and not Democrats Lite.

 

Tony Evers and the Supremes

Even for mere political reasons the 4–3 decision in favor of the so-called “lame duck” laws passed by the state Legislature should have been obvious.

It should have been obvious because the Legislature has passed so-called “lame duck” laws numerous previous times with no court challenges, as George Mitchell points out:

Credit Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice Shirley Abrahamson for knowing how to keep a secret.

We learned Friday that Abrahamson has watched quietly throughout her decades-long tenure as Wisconsin legislators acted, time and again in her opinion, outside the limits of the state’s constitution.

How else to understand her agreement with Justice Rebecca Dallet that:

The Legislature unconstitutionally met in an “extraordinary session” in December 2018 and…[i]n order to uphold the constitutionality of the December 2018 extraordinary session, the majority opinion subverts the plain text…of the Wisconsin Constitution.

By signing Dallet’s dissenting opinion, but adding no comment of her own, Abrahamson was spared the task of explaining the apparent illegitimacy — in her view — of extraordinary sessions held on many occasions during the last four decades.  (Justice Ann Walsh Bradley, first elected to the court in 1995, joined Abrahamson in concurring — without comment — in Dallet’s dissent.)

Former Democratic Assembly Speaker Tom Loftus recently wrote an op-ed in The Capital Times on the history and constitutional basis for extraordinary sessions.  He said, in part:

[T]he legislature is always in session. The reality of one continuous two- year session was formally acknowledged by a constitutional amendment ratified in April 1968: “Shall Article IV, Section 11 of the Constitution be amended to permit the Legislature to meet in regular session oftener than once in two years?” The amendment was ratified in a 670,757 to 267,997 vote.

The Legislature, under the Constitution, governs itself — setting its own rules of organization, procedures and calendar. So an extraordinary session is simply a floor period added to the dates adopted at the beginning of the two-year session, but, like a special session, it is restricted in subject matter.

Extraordinary sessions came to be part of the Legislature’s way of doing business when I was Assembly speaker and Tommy Thompson was minority leader. The leaders call the session dates and the subject.

The legal staff of the nonpartisan Legislative Reference Bureau has addressed this issue on at least two occasions, once in the late 1990s and again earlier this year. Abrahamson and Bradley must have shuddered when reading the 1998 LRB report, but they kept their concerns to themselves all these years — until last Friday.

There is, of course, an alternative explanation. Both Abrahamson and Bradley never saw a problem with extraordinary sessions until one directly pitted a Republican legislature against a newly elected Democratic governor.  Their concurrence with Dallet’s dissent is a reminder of how Wisconsin’s high court has become, for the left, a venue for undoing lawful legislative action with which it disagrees.

As Justice Daniel Kelly seeks election to a full term next year, the long-term implications of Dallet’s outcome-driven dissent are clear. Had Justice-elect Brian Hagedorn not prevailed in the April 1 election, the left would be a single vote away from a Supreme Court willing to do its bidding.

Matt Kittle picks winners and losers, beginning with, well, the losers:

“The circuit court invaded the province of the Legislature in declaring the extraordinary session unconstitutional, enjoining enforcement of the three Acts, and vacating the 82 appointments. We vacate the circuit court’s order and remand the matter to the circuit court with directions to dismiss the League’s complaint,” asserts the majority opinion in the 4-3 decision, written by Justice Rebecca Grassl Bradley.

Surprising to some court watchers was the split decision, with all three liberal justices dissenting. In the deeply divided Badger State, such jurisprudence division has become par for the course on Wisconsin’s high court.

The majority opinion, however, is crisp and clean, and quickly dispatches a liberal legal argument that is tenuous at best.

“We hold that extraordinary sessions do not violate the Wisconsin Constitution because the text of our constitution directs the Legislature to meet at times as ‘provided by law,’” Bradley wrote. She pointed to statute that “provides the law giving the Legislature the discretion to construct its work schedule, including preserving times for it to meet in an extraordinary session.”

Democrats and their liberal allies were livid in early December when the Republican-led Legislature passed three bill packages, many of them measures limiting the power of then-incoming Gov. Tony Evers and Attorney General Josh Kaul, both Democrats. The Legislature also signed off on scores of appointments to state boards and commissions. Outgoing Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed the bills into law. 

Democrats called it all a “power grab.” Republicans said they were merely trying to protect the government reforms they had put in place over the past eight years.

Evers clearly encouraged his left-wing partners to sue the Legislature. The League of Women Voters, Disability Rights Wisconsin, Black Leaders Organizing for Communities, and union leaders quickly complied.

The plaintiffs argued that extraordinary sessions are unconstitutional. Consequently, all legislation passed during the session is void and that the Senate’s confirmation of 82 gubernatorial appointees during the session was invalid.

Liberal Dane County Judge Richard Niess agreed. He sided with the League and temporarily blocked the laws from implementation. Niess also vacated all 82 appointments. The Evers administration hastily forced out some of the appointees, including Public Service Commission Chairwoman Ellen Nowak. Nowak, attempting to show up for work, was turned away on orders of the governor’s Department of Administration.

Niess’ ruling created confusion in its wake, principally begging the question: If the December extraordinary session was unconstitutional, aren’t all of the laws that came out of similar sessions over the past four decades or so unconstitutional? That would include the law that effectively built Milwaukee Fiserv Forum, where the Milwaukee Bucks play.

Even some critics of the laws from the session saw the plaintiffs’ legal argument as absurd.

The Legislature argued that extraordinary sessions conform with the Wisconsin Constitution and state statute. The First Branch can set up its calendar as it sees fit, in accordance with the constitution.

On Friday, the Supreme Court agreed with that legal argument.

“We are pleased by the Supreme Court’s common sense decision. The Court upheld a previously non-controversial legislative practice used by both parties for decades to enact some of the most important laws in the state,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos (R-Rochester) and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald (R-Juneau) said in a joint statement.

“This lawsuit, pursued by special interests and Governor Evers, has led to an unnecessary waste of taxpayer resources. We urge the governor to work with the Legislature instead of pursuing his political agenda through the courts,” the lawmakers concluded.

Here are the Winners and Losers of Friday’s Supreme Court Ruling.

WINNERS

  • The Republican-Controlled Legislature — The majority opinion is a clear victory for the Legislature’s majority. It upholds the scores of laws passed in the weeks before liberal candidate Tony Evers became Gov. Tony Evers, and before liberal attorney Josh Kaul became Attorney General Josh Kaul. It also fully restores to their posts good public servants, many of whom were used by Evers as political pawns in the legal battle.
  • The Wisconsin Constitution — Whether or not you like the legislation that came out of the extraordinary session, the Supreme Court ruling shows the Republican majority was well within its constitutional rights to meet and pass legislation. How did the court’s conservative majority arrive at that decision? The state constitution and laws clearly say so. More so, the court’s decision is an affirmation that the constitution is not to be trifled with, and that the founding document designates the Legislature as the First Branch for a reason. The Legislature makes the laws, and it does so on the schedule it sets.
  • The Taxpayer — While the left is apoplectic over the so-called “power grab” laws, several measures approved during the session do protect taxpayers. Many of the reform laws will limit bureaucratic power grabs and bring more oversight to executive branch policies that could be costly for business and average taxpayers alike.

LOSERS

  • The Lawsuit Happy Left — Will liberals ever learn? Doesn’t appear so. They sued over Act 10. They sued over redistricting. They sued over right-to-work. Their default position over the past eight-plus years it seems has been to file a lawsuit against any bill passed and signed by Republicans. Former Attorney General Brad Schimel used to joke that the way a bill became a law in Wisconsin during the Walker era was that the Republican-controlled Legislature passed it, Democrats quickly challenged it in a liberal Madison court where it was struck down, ultimately to be ruled constitutional by higher courts. Democrats and their liberal, grow-government allies have cost state taxpayers untold millions of dollars over the past eight years hoping to use activist courts to further their political agenda.
  •  Gov. Tony Evers — The Democrat lamented Friday’s ruling, calling it “all too predictable.” In a press release the governor said the decision is “based on a desired political outcome, not the plain meaning and text of the constitution.” As noted, the Wisconsin Constitution is crystal clear on the authority of the legislative branch. Evers and fellow liberals hoped to block legislation they didn’t like through a faulty interpretation of the law that didn’t hold water upon sober review. Sour grapes aside, Evers, his grow-government administration, and liberal policy defender Attorney General Josh Kaul do lose a great deal in this ruling. There is now a greater legislative check on potential abuses of the executive branch.
  • Supreme Court Minority – Again, the liberal justices on the state Supreme Court never cease to amaze. Long-time justices Shirley Abrahamson and Ann Walsh Bradley have been particularly consistent in their defense of the political left at the expense of the constitution. Friday’s ruling is just the latest example. Written by the court’s newest liberal addition, Justice Rebecca Dallet, the dissenting opinion does some amazing jurisprudence gymnastics to arrive at its core belief — that the extraordinary session “subverts the plain text of Article IV, Section 11 of the Wisconsin Constitution.” Spoiler Alert: As the majority opinion notes, the session did no such thing.

Wait! There’s more, from Wisconsin Public Radio:

The Wisconsin Supreme Court has ruled in favor of a conservative advocacy group in a case that will shift oversight of some school policies from the state schools superintendent to the governor.

The court ruled 4-2 in the case that began when Gov. Tony Evers was state schools superintendent and former Gov. Scott Walker was in office.

In the case, then-superintendent Evers argued he did not need to get executive approval for rules he wrote for the state Department of Public Instruction, despite a state law called the REINS Act, which requires state agencies to get approval from the governor’s office and state Department of Administration, which is controlled by the governor.

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty filed the lawsuit in 2017, arguing Evers, as superintendent, wasn’t following the law adopted that same year.

Evers argued the state schools superintendent is a publicly elected, rather than appointed, state officeholder with executive power, thereby allowing him to circumvent the REINS requirement.

The court rejected that argument.

The decision split along the court’s ideological lines, with conservatives writing the majority opinion.

“Article X, Section 1 vests supervision of public instruction, an executive function, in the (superintendent),” the opinion reads. “In contrast, when the (superintendent), through the (Department of Public Instruction), promulgates rules, the (superintendent) is exercising legislative power that comes not from the constitution but the legislature.”

Conservative Justice Rebecca Bradley wrote a consenting opinion with the majority, but noted an area of disagreement.

“I join the opinion except for those portions espousing the ostensible importance and necessity of the legislature’s delegation of power to the administrative state,” Bradley wrote. “The concentration of power within an administrative leviathan clashes with the constitutional allocation of power among the elected and accountable branches of government at the expense of individual liberty.”

Justice Shirley Abrahamson withdrew from the case. Liberal Justices Ann Walsh Bradley and Rebecca Dallet dissented, with Bradley writing the minority opinion. …

The Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty lauded the ruling Tuesday morning. The organization brought the case on behalf of a public school teacher, Kristi Koschkee, who said she was “thrilled” by the decision.

“As a public school teacher and taxpayer, I am thrilled that the Wisconsin Supreme Court has recognized that the Superintendent of Public Instruction must follow the law and allowed for greater oversight on the Department of Public Instruction, an agency that is notoriously hostile to K-12 education reform,” Koschkee said in a prepared statement.