Category: Wisconsin politics

The comparative tax hell

Katherine Loughead:

Over the past decade, the state tax landscape has grown increasingly competitive as policymakers have sought to attract investment and promote economic opportunity and growth in their states. The past two years in particular have seen an extraordinary increase in tax reform efforts, given states’ strong revenue growth despite the pandemic and policymakers’ desire to make their states more attractive to an increasingly mobile workforce.

Most of the focus of these reform efforts has been on reducing state income tax rates, as corporate and individual income taxes are widely regarded by economists as more economically harmful than taxes on consumption and real property. Furthermore, states with low or no income taxes have seen significantly stronger gross state product growth and net inbound migration over the past decade than their higher income tax peers, and high-tax states are increasingly taking notice.

That’s why, in Wisconsin, comprehensive tax reform that prioritizes gross state product growth and personal income growth ought to be a top priority for policymakers, especially given the recent reforms made by many of Wisconsin’s regional and national peers.

In 2021, Wisconsin was one of 13 states to enact laws permanently reducing individual and/or corporate income tax rates (several additional states implemented previously enacted cuts in 2021 as well). Thus far in 2022, eight states have newly enacted laws reducing income tax rates, and others may yet follow.

Many states are not only lowering their top marginal individual income tax rates but are also consolidating brackets to create a more neutral, pro-growth environment that avoids penalizing additional labor and investment on the margin. In the first 109 years of state income taxation, only four states converted their graduated-rate individual income taxes into single-rate structures, but in the past year alone, four additional states—Arizona, Iowa, Mississippi, and Georgia—have enacted laws to move to a single-rate structure.

Increasingly, when it comes to income tax competitiveness, states that stand still risk falling behind and losing residents and business investment to their more tax-friendly peers.

Over the past decade, Wisconsin policymakers have enacted multiple iterations of tax relief, including income and property tax relief under Gov. Scott Walker (R), as well as a series of reductions to the three lowest marginal individual income tax rates that were passed by the Republican-controlled legislature and agreed to by Gov. Tony Evers (D). While the rate reductions in 2019, 2020, and 2021 are providing meaningful relief to those at the lower end of the income spectrum, recent tax changes have mostly danced around the edges of the tax code and have stopped short of comprehensive tax modernization that will truly promote long-term economic growth.

The only marginal individual income tax rate Wisconsin has left unchanged since 2019 is the one that has the most detrimental impact on labor and investment in the state: the top marginal rate. At 7.65 percent, Wisconsin’s rate is the 10th highest in the nation, lower than that of only eight states and the District of Columbia. While Wisconsin is among the 25 states that have lower top individual income tax rates now than in 2012, its competitive standing on income tax rates has fallen nonetheless, from 11th highest in the nation at 7.75 percent in 2012 to 10th highest in the nation in 2022 at 7.65 percent.

Reductions to the top marginal rate are more likely to promote economic growth than reductions to lower rates because personal and business decisions regarding additional labor and investment, as well as relocation, are made at the margin—that is, based on how tax rates will affect the next dollar of income, not income already earned. High marginal rates reduce the payoff to additional work and business investment on the margin, resulting in fewer hours worked, lower workforce participation, and fewer capital investments made by businesses.

Like the individual income tax rate, Wisconsin’s corporate income tax rate has also lost competitive standing over the last decade. At 7.9 percent, Wisconsin’s corporate rate was closer to the middle of the pack a decade ago (the 19th highest in the nation) but is now the 14th highest.

Consider neighboring Iowa, which has taken significant strides to improve its tax competitiveness over the past five years. Once the comprehensive reforms enacted in 2018 and 2022 are fully phased in, Iowa will have a more neutral tax base with a flat individual income tax rate of 3.9 percent (down from 8.98 percent) and a flat corporate income tax rate of 5.5 percent (down from 12 percent), along with the repeal of its inheritance tax, some sales tax modernization, and other improvements to the tax code. These reforms have put Iowa on track to go from having the fifth-worst-structured tax code before 2018 to the 15th-best-structured tax code once these reforms are fully phased in.

Nearby Indiana, for 10 years in a row, diligently reduced its corporate income tax rate, lowering it from 8.5 percent in 2012 to 4.9 percent today. The Hoosier State already boasts a flat individual income tax rate of 3.23 percent, third lowest in the nation, but a 2022 law will drop the rate to 3.15 percent in 2023 and use future revenue growth to phase down the rate to 2.9 percent over time.

Even Illinois, a notoriously high-tax, high-spending state, has a flat individual income tax rate much lower than Wisconsin’s top rate. In 2020, Illinois voters soundly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have allowed the legislature to implement a graduated-rate income tax structure with rates similar to Wisconsin’s.

Finally, this year in neighboring Michigan, legislators have passed tax relief legislation that includes reducing the flat individual income tax rate from 4.25 to 4 percent. It remains to be seen, however, whether any tax relief will be agreed upon between the Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Gretchen Whitmer (D).

While high income tax rates are Wisconsin’s most glaring tax policy problem, they are not the only issue holding Wisconsin back from a competitive tax code. The state also has a marriage penalty in its brackets that is imperfectly addressed with a married couple credit, a 3 percent “economic development surcharge” some businesses pay in addition to the 7.9 percent corporate income tax rate, and a nonneutral corporate income tax throwback rule that discourages certain multistate firms from originating sales out of Wisconsin. Wisconsin also continues to levy antiquated, nonneutral, and administratively burdensome taxes on certain forms of business personal property. These and other issues could all be addressed through comprehensive tax reform.

Given the strong surpluses Wisconsin has generated in recent years and the continued revenue growth the state is expecting in the future, the Badger State is in a good position to begin tackling comprehensive reform. In fact, state forecasters are projecting Wisconsin will end the current budget cycle with more than $3.8 billion in surplus revenue above and beyond what the state plans to spend.

Next year, policymakers should consider using part of this sizable revenue cushion to provide tax relief in a structurally sound way while dedicating a portion of future revenue growth to flattening, consolidating, and reducing income tax rates and adopting other pro-growth reforms that will make the state more attractive to individuals and businesses alike. Many of the states that have recently enacted reforms have used tax triggers to ensure any future rate reductions are implemented only when the state is in strong fiscal standing and has more than enough revenue to do so. Wisconsin should consider a similar approach.

While Wisconsin has long been one of the highest-tax states in the nation, that distinction is increasingly detrimental as businesses and individuals enjoy increased economic and geographic mobility. Wisconsin policymakers should therefore consider dedicating a portion of the existing budget surplus, plus a portion of future revenue growth, toward improving the structure of the tax code in a manner that will generate stronger economic growth in the future while improving Wisconsin’s competitive standing compared to regional and national peers.

That tax cut wouldn’t exist at all were it not for Republican control of the Legislature, which tied Evers’ hands. Evers by himself would have, and will, raise taxes with Democrats’ help. That should make your choices in November obvious.

 

The most predictable news of the weekend

WISC-TV in Madison:

Madison police and the Fire Department are investigating a fire at an office building on the city’s north side that they said was arson.

Crews were called to the 2800 block of International Lane Sunday just after 6 a.m. and flames could be seen coming from the facility.

Officers and arson investigators have not determined the cause of the fire, but police confirmed a Molotov cocktail, which did not ignite, was thrown at the office during the incident. A separate fire was also started.

Police confirmed that the office of Wisconsin Family Action was damaged in the incident. The group is a PAC that lobbies against abortion rights and gay marriage.

Speaking to News 3 Now, WFA President Julaine Appling said that someone had thrown Molotov cocktails into her office and had burned books. Appling said she did not know the person who would have lit the fire, but said the suspect “left their signature” with graffiti.

“We get veiled and not so veiled threats from time to time,” Appling said. “We’ve never had anything that materialized like this.”

Appling said that she respects people’s right to disagree with her and her organization, but that this incident is taking things too far.

“We can all disagree,” she said. “People disagree with me all the time. I don’t go threaten them.”

Appling said most WFA staff members would be working remotely Monday, though she will need to return to help deal with the insurance company.

The WFA will consider making security-related adjustments going forward, Appling said, but she did not know what those adjustments would be. Right now, the building has now security cameras. She said she was not told to stay away from the office, but felt uncomfortable putting staff members in a tough situation.

“I’m not going to ask my team to be here,” she said. “I don’t think it’s a terribly secure environment right now.”

Madison Fire Department officials said in a statement that investigators believe the fire was intentionally set and that the incident was being investigated as arson.

On Sunday, the Madison Police Department issued a statement regarding their investigation.

The Madison Police Department understands members of our community are feeling deep emotions due to the recent news involving the United States Supreme Court.

Early Sunday morning, our team began investigating a suspicious fire inside an office building on the city’s north side.

It appears a specific non-profit that supports anti-abortion measures was targeted.

Our department has and continues to support people being able to speak freely and openly about their beliefs.

But we feel that any acts of violence, including the destruction of property, do not aid in any cause.

We have made our federal partners aware of this incident and are working with them and the Madison Fire Department as we investigate this arson.

We will provide an update on this case Monday at 2 p.m. Specific details regarding the logistics of this update will be sent at a later time.

Rebecca Downs:

As we’ve been covering at Townhall, pro-abortion activists have taken to threatening and even committing violence, as well as protesting at the homes of Supreme Court justices. Catholic Churches and pro-life organizations have also been targeted in the process, though the Biden administration has failed to sufficiently call it out. Such incidents have been planned and carried out after a draft opinion indicating the U.S. Supreme Court is looking to overturn Roe v. Wade was leaked last week.

At some point on late Saturday or early Sunday, the headquarters of Wisconsin Family Action, a pro-life organization in Madison, was vandalized, leading “Molotov” to trend on Twitter over Sunday.

Alexander Shur, of Wisconsin State Journal, wrote about the incident, as well as tweeted some footage of the damage. As he explained in his report:

Investigators are calling the fire at the building, on Madison’s North Side near the Dane County Regional Airport, an arson.

Julaine Appling, president of the lobbying and advocacy organization, said she and events coordinator Diane Westphall were getting ready for a Mother’s Day brunch in Watertown when a building staff member informed her of the break-in. A person on the way to the airport before dawn saw smoke rising from the building and called police, Appling said.

Police said flames were seen coming from the building shortly after 6 a.m. Nobody was hurt.

Arriving at the office at 2801 International Lane at the same time as a reporter, two staff persons from the group found shattered glass from a broken window covering a corner office riddled with burned books. The smell of smoke persisted for hours after the fire, which damaged the corner office carpet and the wall beneath the window.

The outside of the building was also sprayed with graffiti depicting an anarchy symbol, a coded anti-police slogan and the phrase, “If abortions aren’t safe then you aren’t either.”

“What you’re going to see here is a direct threat against us,” Appling said. The incident comes just days after a leaked U.S. Supreme Court opinion revealed a majority of the high court had agreed to overturn the landmark 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade that legalized abortion across the country. “Imagine if somebody had been in the office when this happened. They would have been hurt.”

Appling said police found remnants of at least one Molotov cocktail.

Police said a Molotov cocktail was thrown inside the building but did not ignite. It appears a separate fire was started after that, police said.

Madison Police Department Chief Shon Barnes said in a statement that the department is working on the arson investigation with federal officials and the Madison Fire Department.

Andy Ngô replied to Shur’s thread, pointing out that some of the graffiti is consistent with Antifa symbols.

He also posted from his own Twitter account that we can expect more attacks from Antifa when it comes to targeting pro-life groups and pregnancy resource centers. This is consistent with threats that pro-abortion groups have been making.

Many were quick to reply in the comments with delight about the act of violence, which is consistent with other tweets encouraging or celebrating violence. This is from random Twitter users and verified accounts alike.

Others claimed the pro-life group faked the attack, in part due to the handwriting.

To his credit, Wisconsin’s Gov. Tony Evers, a pro-abortion Democratic, quickly released a statement, condemning the violence.

Other state officials and candidates are cited in Shur’s report, with Republicans and Democrats alike condemning the violence. Democrats still stressed their support for Roe, though, and the city’s mayor couldn’t help herself from engaging in whataboutism.

From Shur’s report:

Madison Mayor Satya Rhodes-Conway said she understands that people are afraid and angry in the wake of the leaked Supreme Court draft but said violence isn’t an acceptable response.

“Madison believes strongly in the right to free speech, but it must be exercised nonviolently by all sides in this increasingly contentious debate,” she said.

Rhodes-Conway also said pro-abortion rights groups have also been targeted, and she called for Congress to pass a bill codifying the protections guaranteed under Roe v. Wade.

President Joe Biden has yet to address such vandalism, despite repeated calls for him to do so, and this most recent example was no different.

More violence and acts of vandalism is likely to follow. Lila Rose, president and founder of the pro-life group Live Action, tweeted out a call for people to report examples of pro-abortion violence, which her team will track.

The end of Roe v. Wade is not the end of abortion

Jacob Sullum:

Last year, based on a scenario in which 22 states banned abortion, Middlebury College economist Caitlin Knowles Myers projected that the annual number of abortions in the U.S. would fall by about 14 percent. In Texas, which banned the vast majority of abortions last September and avoided early judicial intervention by restricting enforcement to private civil actions, the net impact seems to have been a drop of about 10 percent.

Americans should keep those surprisingly modest estimates in mind as they try to predict what will happen after the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade, as a leaked draft of the majority opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization suggests it will soon do. While many states are expected to respond by imposing severe restrictions on abortion, most probably will not. And even in states that ban elective abortions, workarounds will mitigate the impact of those laws.

Those options, which include traveling to clinics in other states and obtaining pills for self-induced abortions, will entail additional time, effort, cost, and in some cases legal risk. The new burdens will be prohibitive for many women, especially those with low incomes, inflexible work schedules, or pressing family responsibilities. But the net effect will not be nearly as dramatic as pro-life activists might hope or pro-choice activists might fear. “A post-Roe United States isn’t one in which abortion isn’t legal at all,” Myers observed in an interview with The New York Times. “It’s one in which there’s tremendous inequality in abortion access.”

According to a tally by the Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), “abortion will remain legal” without Roe in 21 states where abortion rights are protected by statute or by judicial interpretations of state constitutions. Bans seem unlikely in another seven states. While the CRR classifies 25 states as “hostile” to abortion rights, that list includes Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin, all of which have pro-choice governors.

CRR says “Michigan lawmakers will likely try to prohibit abortion” and “Wisconsin lawmakers may try to prohibit abortion.” But in both cases, they would need a two-thirds majority to overcome a veto. The same is true in Pennsylvania, where the CRR concedes “abortion will likely remain accessible.”

Myers’ projection was based on the assumption that 22 states will quickly move to ban elective abortions. (Her list includes Michigan but omits Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Wyoming, another state that the CRR classifies as “hostile.”) That would make abortion illegal in large swaths of the South and Midwest, plus several states in the West. Myers calculated that the average distance to an abortion clinic for women of childbearing age affected by the bans would rise from 35 to 279 miles. The upshot, according to her model, would be a nationwide reduction in legal abortions of “at least 14 percent.”

One reason that number is lower than you might expect: The states that are likely to ban abortion already have relatively low abortion rates. But it is also true that increasing the distance to the nearest clinic, even as dramatically as Myers expects, will deter some but not all of the abortions that women would otherwise obtain. As Myers emphasizes, the burden will fall heaviest on women of modest means with the farthest distances to travel.

When Texas banned abortion after fetal cardiac activity can be detected (which typically happens about six weeks into a pregnancy), the number of abortions performed by clinics in that state fell by half. But many women traveled to clinics in other states or used pills to perform self-induced abortions. The upshot, judging from studies of both workarounds, was that the net reduction in abortions obtained by Texas women was roughly one-fifth the apparent decrease.

That experience may be misleading as an indicator of what will happen even in Texas after the Supreme Court overturns Roe. Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Oklahoma—all of which saw influxes of Texas women seeking abortions—are likely to ban the procedure once they are free to do so. But abortion is expected to remain legal in three other nearby states: Colorado, Kansas, and New Mexico. Women who live far away from such options—in southeast Texas and Louisiana, for example—will face the biggest obstacles.

The other major workaround is abortion pills. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved the use of mifepristone and misoprostol up to 10 weeks into a pregnancy. The method has potentially broad appeal in the United States, where four-fifths of abortions are performed at nine weeks or earlier.

Last December, the FDA permanently lifted a longstanding requirement that abortion pills be dispensed in person, opening the door to prescriptions via telemedicine and home delivery. That decision is apt to accelerate a preexisting trend: Based on preliminary data, the Guttmacher Institute (which supports abortion rights) reports that “medication abortions” accounted for 54 percent of the U.S. total in 2020, up from 39 percent in 2017.

Texas and 18 other states already have restricted the use of abortion pills, requiring clinic visits and banning mail delivery. Texas recently went further, making it a felony to supply the drugs for unsupervised use. But enforcement of such bans will face obstacles even more daunting than the difficulties encountered by the war on drugs, since abortion pills will remain legal in most states.

Aid Access, which enables women to obtain abortion pills from abroad based on prescriptions written by a doctor in Austria, saw a huge increase in requests from Texas after that state’s ban took effect. And Aid Access is by no means the only source of abortion pills, which can be obtained through various websites, purchased over the counter in Mexico, or received in states that allow delivery by mail after an online or phone consultation. Organizations such as Hey Jane and Abortion on Demand facilitate that last option.

There is no question that overturning Roe will reduce access to abortion. The obstacles created by state bans will impose real, sometimes prohibitive hardships on many women. But given the inevitability of those bans, abortion rights supporters who are venting their rage at the Supreme Court’s expected decision would have a bigger impact by focusing their energy and resources on alleviating those hardships.

Working to lose an election

The Wall Street Journal:

Michael Gableman isn’t a secret Democratic double agent, but he’s sure acting like one. Mr. Gableman, a former Wisconsin Supreme Court Justice, was hired by the GOP Assembly to investigate the 2020 election. Last week he wrangled an extension. At this rate, Wisconsin Republicans might keep trying to undo the 2020 presidential result all the way to Election Day 2022, or 2024.

Their priority ought to be beating Democratic Gov. Tony Evers. Six months from November, his GOP challengers should be hammering Covid lockdowns and inflation. “Do I think that the election was rigged from the very beginning against Donald Trump ?” former Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch told a radio show last week. “Yes, absolutely.” Mr. Gableman has called on lawmakers to “look at the option of decertification of the 2020 Wisconsin presidential election.”

What option? Wisconsin’s 10 electoral votes for President Biden were counted on Jan. 6, 2021. There is no mechanism to nullify them. A resolution to “decertify” is akin to a voter shouting at the end of the bar at 2 a.m. that his 2020 ballot is hereby rescinded.

***

Mr. Gableman has already issued his report, which includes both points of concern and also red herrings. He cites a handful of examples of residents in nursing homes who cast ballots despite being allegedly incapable. In one case, family “provided copies of that resident’s signature against the signature on the absentee envelope, and they do not match.”

Manipulation of the elderly happens. In February a nursing-home worker in Michigan received 45 days in jail, plus probation. She allegedly forged signatures on ballot applications for residents who hadn’t asked to vote. If that took place in Wisconsin, it should be prosecuted. Yet it’s tricky: Only a judge can strip a Wisconsinite’s franchise. Even people under guardianship can be eligible to vote.

Wisconsin’s approach to this fraught problem is to have Special Voting Deputies (SVDs) who supervise absentee ballots in nursing homes. But when Covid hit in 2020, such facilities barred visitors. The bipartisan state elections commission voted to suspend sending SVDs into nursing homes. Mr. Gableman says this was illegal and enabled abuse. Possibly, though commissioners have defended it as an open public decision to avoid disenfranchising the elderly.

Mr. Gableman’s report claims that at many unnamed nursing homes, including in Milwaukee County, 100% of registered voters cast ballots. Is it true? He doesn’t show his work. The city of Milwaukee’s elections chief says the real figure for her area is 79%, with some facilities as low as 36%. Kenosha says it had 458 registered voters with addresses in residential facilities, and 388 cast ballots.

The Racine sheriff investigated a nursing home with 200 beds and 42 votes, eight from people allegedly incapable. But it doesn’t sound like a coordinated scheme to help Mr. Biden. “If a resident could only point at the ballot,” an investigator said, “that’s what the employee of the facility would mark.” To give a sense of scale, the state election commission says in 2016 there were 17,176 total SVD votes. Mr. Trump lost in 2020 by 20,682.

Mr. Gableman recapitulates GOP complaints about private funds sent to local election offices in 2020 from a nonprofit tied to Mark Zuckerberg. In Wisconsin most of the cash went to five cities. This practice should be banned, because official voter education can easily bleed into get-out-the-vote drives for select constituencies. But courts have said it wasn’t illegal. Mr. Gableman’s assertion that the nonprofit grants constituted “election bribery” is a stretch.

He takes aim at voting equipment from ES&S, which can include wireless modems. “One municipality,” the report alleges, “admitted that these machines had these modems and were connected to the internet on election night. The reason given was to ‘transmit data’ about votes to the county clerks.” In Green Bay, Mr. Gableman claims, ES&S machines “were connected to a secret, hidden Wi-Fi access point.”

ES&S disputes almost every syllable. “Green Bay voting machines have no wireless connection capability,” the company says. Elsewhere in Wisconsin, ES&S scanners use modems to transmit unofficial results on election night. Yet they “do not connect to the public internet, but instead use private network configurations specifically designed for high-security applications.” The final, official tallies later “are physically uploaded at election headquarters.”

***

Republicans have valid gripes about how the 2020 election was run. But it isn’t hard to figure out what flipped Wisconsin. Many voters, Republicans included, didn’t want four more years of Mr. Trump’s antics. In some suburban wards, 10.5% of Mr. Biden’s voters picked the GOP for Congress. This beats the evidence of vote fraud detected by everyone who has looked.

Mr. Trump lost Wisconsin in 2020 on his own, and if Republicans keep chasing ghosts, he will also help them lose in 2022.

If Trump didn’t routinely antagonize voters who would otherwise vote for Republicans, vote fraud wouldn’t matter. This is why, regardless of what you think of Trump’s work as president (certainly more positives than negatives, especially compared to the anti-American disaster that is Senile Joe Biden), Trump should not run again. For one thing, by Trump’s own definition he’s a loser, since he lost the 2020 election. For another, in the highly unlikely event Trump were to win in 2024, he would become an instant lame duck, and the 2028 presidential election campaign would start the day after Election Day.

8.5% of Bidenflation

Oliver Wiseman:

Tuesday started exactly as badly for Joe Biden as the White House knew it would. The Bureau of Labor Statistics this morning announced that consumer prices rose 1.2 percent in March and were up 8.5 percent over a year earlier. That is the fastest rise in forty years.

The numbers reveal the problem with the administration’s effort to blame inflation on Russia. “Putin’s price hike” is only part of the story. Prices for all items except for food and energy rose by 6.5 percent year on year. And even the more complicated story that the administration sometimes tells — one that cites Covid disruption and Chinese lockdowns as adding to rising prices for consumer goods — ignores the most awkward fact of all for this administration: the inflation problem is significantly worse in the United States than it is in other advanced economies.

Why is this the case? Recent research by economists at the Federal Reserve Board of San Francisco comes to a pretty clear conclusion: “Estimates suggest that fiscal support measures designed to counteract the severity of the pandemic’s economic effect may have contributed to this divergence by raising inflation about three percentage points by the end of 2021.”

Meanwhile, the president denies the existence of any trade offs when it comes to government spending and price rises. “The American people think the reason for inflation is the government spending more money. Simply not true,” he claimed in a speech at a recent retreat for House Democrats. This is not a throwaway line by a geriatric president but the statement of a delusion held across the Democratic establishment. (Thank God for Joe Manchin.)

The economic news keeps getting worse and the administration does very little to suggest it has a handle on the situation. Around the same time as the inflation figures broke this morning, Ron Klain was retweeting snarky jokes about turkey shortages at Thanksgiving. A small thing, but not the work of a man aware that he is on the frontline of a major crisis.

The hard truth for the White House is that there may only be so much the Biden administration can do about the problem. Today Biden will announce that he is waiving EPA regulations on ethanol to allow the sale of higher ethanol blend gas this summer, a small but welcome tweak. The most important thing within Biden’s control is the avoidance of further harm: don’t splash the cash on all manner of progressive policies that risk making things worse. And yet the Democratic feeding frenzy is only limited by votes in the Senate, rather than any sense of sensible economic stewardship. But even if Biden sees the error of his ways, the mess that he helped get America into may not be one that he can get America out of.

That unappealing job falls to Fed Chair Jay Powell. Reining in rapid inflation without tipping the economy into recession is, historically speaking, not something that many Fed chairs have managed to pull off. All the options the American economy now faces risk making people poorer. Just as there are costs to overheating the economy with taxpayers’ money, so too are there costs to fixing that problem. That’s one reason why stoking price rises is such an unforgivable offense. And, come November, why Biden may pay a deservedly high political price for this mistake.

An award-winning newspaper did a story about U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin’s coming to town. When asked whether government spending, specifically infrastructure bills, should be taking place given current inflation:

Baldwin said current inflation — reported at 8.5 percent Tuesday morning — is the result of “the stimulative effect that was experienced by the various resources that went to families to help cope with job loss or temporary income displacement … people had resources through that and tax cuts, etc., and the supplies were in very short supply because of supply chains and other things. So you saw that, and then of course with Russia’s immoral invasion of Ukraine, the shock effect of perceived shortness of petroleum shot up the gas prices, and so we have to also look at the possibility of price gouging, since there wasn’t a real shortage; it was the shock effect of a perceived future shortage. But those two, I think, account for the inflation we’re seeing much more than the infrastructure bill.”

If you can discern an answer in all that, maybe you should be a political speech writer,

 

How to get people voted out of office

Dan O’Donnell:

“If parents want to ‘have a say’ in their child’s education,” Democratic Wisconsin Representative Lee Snodgrass sneeringly tweeted in February, “they should home school or pay for private school tuition out of their own budget.”

It turns out there was a third option: Take over the school board.  All across the state Tuesday night, conservative parents won decisive victories in school board elections, ousting liberal incumbents and sending a clear message that their communities will no longer stand for mask mandates and radical curricula.

Snodgrass’ quickly deleted tweet served as something of a rallying cry for communities fed up with arrogant, incompetent liberalism.  In Menomonee Falls, three conservative candidates who dubbed themselves the “moms on a mission” swept all three of the school board seats that were up for grabs.

In the more liberal-leaning City of Waukesha, the slate of three conservatives completed a similar sweep, taking out two liberal board members and cementing a solid conservative majority.  Two liberal incumbents went down in Pewaukee, too, where conservatives swept the three seats.

So did conservatives in New Berlin.  And the Whitnall School District.  The conservatives were the top three vote-getters in the Cedarburg School Board race—considered one of the most bitter and divisive in the state—and would have swept all four seats had one incumbent not resigned amid a harassment campaign against her.

The Spring Election was a great one for conservatives.  Even though Democrat Cavalier Johnson predictably won the Milwaukee mayoral race, conservative judge Maria Lazar defeated liberal Governor Evers appointee Lori Kornblum to win a seat on the Second District Court of Appeals while Samantha Kerkman became the first-ever Republican Kenosha County Executive.

Yet the biggest victories were in the smallest races.  School board elections typically don’t generate banner headlines or intense public interest, but paradoxically have the greatest impact on local communities.  Over the past two years, the most intense battles weren’t in Congress or state capitols but in school libraries and auditoriums, where children’s futures were quite literally being decided.

Would they go back to in-person learning?  Would they have to wear masks?  Would they learn America is a racist hellhole?  Would they be encouraged to change genders?

Parents wanted a say in these critical decisions, and the more they were shouted down, locked out of meetings, and even called domestic terrorists by the Biden Justice Department, the more they steeled their resolve.

Tuesday night was the end result of two straight years of subjugation, of the Snodgrassian belief that parental rights end at the schoolhouse doors.  Conservatives burst through them—first at school board meetings and then at the ballot box—and now can get to work undoing the damage.

And in no county will they be better able to do so than in Waukesha, where conservative candidates won nearly every race there was to be won.  It is no coincidence that the Republican Party of Waukesha County’s WisRed initiative was easily the best local candidate voter guide in the state.  The party meticulously vetted candidates in every race and created a simple-to-follow chart of its picks.

This was an invaluable service to voters in the county and should be the model for every GOP group in the state.  In fact, the Republican Party of Wisconsin needs to invest in the WisRed model and expand it statewide.  An all-too-common complaint from voters is that they want to vote for conservatives, but in ostensibly nonpartisan races have a difficult time identifying them on their own.

Now more than ever, with big decisions being made in small school libraries, school board, and village board races cannot be overlooked.  These seats are where the policy that impacts people most acutely is formed.

People want to and deserve to have a say in these decisions, and to ensure that they do, more of them need to be informed, engaged, and motivated to win like they were Tuesday night.

E pluribus non duo

Tony Woodlief:

Viewed in one light, last week’s overwhelming rejection by the New Hampshire state legislature of a bill to put secession to a vote was a resounding win for unity in a fractious time. But it probably won’t be the last time we see such a proposal in a state house. A fatalistic argument from one of the bill’s thirteen supporters explains why: “National divorce is going to happen. It’s inevitable, and we have a chance to get ahead of this.”

He may be right, if polls are to be believed. Last fall, a survey out of the University of Virginia brought the depressing news that 40 to 50 percent of Biden and Trump voters claim “it’s time to split the country.” Commentator David French declared the finding unsurprising, because Democrats and Republicans “loathe each other.” Indeed, French was one of the earliest to speak of national divorce as a possibility, though not with the enthusiasm of pundits Jesse Kelly and Dave Reaboi. Senator Ted Cruz recently joked that if “Texit” happens, Texans should elect Joe Rogan president. What Cruz wasn’t joking about is the underlying hopelessness that propels such talk.

Writing recently in the Atlantic, Fintan O’Toole recalled how Ireland once teetered at the edge of civil war. Political and religious divides certainly made it possible. “However,” he wrote, “the belief that there was going to be a civil war in Ireland made everything worse. Once that idea takes hold, it has a force of its own. The demagogues warn that the other side is mobilizing. They are coming for us. Not only do we have to defend ourselves, but we have to deny them the advantage of making the first move.”

By describing civil war and national divorce as real likelihoods, in other words, we can make them come true.

Of course if pundits and pollsters are simply reporting the truth, we need to face reality. If wide swathes of Americans really do despise one another, we need to understand why, and what we can do about it. But what if it isn’t true? We’ve all been so inundated with negative news about the state of our union that this possibility seems farfetched. Isn’t it an established fact that Americans are deeply polarized?

No, it isn’t.

To begin, pundits and pollsters conflate polarization with party sorting. The latter started in the 1960s, when right-leaning people began gravitating to the Republican Party, and left-leaning people to the Democrats. It explains Pew Research Center polls that show widening gaps between Republicans and Democrats on issues like gun control and immigration. On the surface, those surveys make it seem like Americans are farther apart than ever. But all they actually reveal is that conservatives have gathered under the Republican banner and liberals under the Democrat banner.

When we look directly at how divided Americans — rather than parties — are, we find that the gaps aren’t so large. Researchers at the University of Maryland recently found, for example, that on nearly every policy issue, there were insignificant opinion differences between “red” and “blue” congressional districts. Many districts have enough somewhat conservative people to vote Republican every election, while others have enough somewhat liberal residents to swing consistently Democratic. This doesn’t mean, however, that the people living in them constitute two separate Americas. The ideologues atop our parties are undeniably polarized, but most Americans are not.

Maybe Americans don’t disagree like DC apparatchiks do, but what about surveys showing that Republicans and Democrats hate each other? As it turns out, when we ask Americans what they think of “the other party,” many of them think we’re asking about party elites. Little wonder they report negative feelings. Surveys indicating that large numbers of Americans disapprove of dating or marrying someone from the other party are similarly flawed. As several scholars have recently shown, when respondents are reassured that a perspective spouse isn’t an argumentative ideologue, their opposition to cross-party marriage drops substantially.

So if Americans don’t disagree on all that much, and don’t really loathe one another, why did UVA find that nearly half of America believes “it’s time to split the country”? Such surveys are detecting, as public opinion scholar Omer Yair argues, not animosity toward people in the other party, but fear.

And why have Americans come to fear one another? Because pundits on left and right tell us we should. Because pollsters tell us half the country hates us because of how we vote. Americans are starting to believe those who tell us we’re a bitterly divided nation of extremists, and it makes us willing to give up on a United States.

We’re not on the verge of civil war, nor do most of us want secession. But if we keep listening to the shrill voices who profit from our divisions, that may change.

One contributor is the aforementioned elites’ disinterest in giving up their own political power. The modern Democratic Party has never been about that, but increasingly the GOP isn’t either, even though smaller government is clearly better for preserving individual liberty and lower government spending.

The lengthy list of difficulties in splitting up the U.S. is exemplified in Wisconsin. Is this a red state (Legislature and current House representation) or a blue state (governor and most presidential elections)? And in most states urban areas lean Democratic while rural areas are more Republican and suburban areas are swing areas. So how do you split those?

From Wi$tax$in

Benjamin Yount:

The latest tax map in the United States might add to the debate over whether Wisconsin should end or reduce its personal income tax.

The Tax Foundation’s new report looks at income tax rates across the country, and Wisconsin comes in as one of the most taxed states in the Midwest.

The Tax Foundation notes that Wisconsin’s 7.65% tax rate is third highest in the Midwest, behind Minnesota and Iowa; and it’s the third highest among all Great Lakes states. Only New York and Minnesota are higher on that list.

Among our neighbors, both Illinois and Michigan have lower income tax rates than Wisconsin.

“I think a lot of Wisconsinites would be surprised to learn that Illinois of all places has a flat and much lower income tax rate. If Wisconsin wants to attract businesses and residents from high-tax Minnesota and highly regulated Illinois, policymakers should start by dramatically lessening our tax burden,” The Badger Institute’s Michael Jahr told The Center Square.

The report comes as Republicans at the Wisconsin Capitol push toward lowering and eventually eliminating Wisconsin’s personal income tax.

Jahr said the Badger Institute has worked with the Tax Foundation on a range of tax reform options that would make Wisconsin more competitive.

“A fair and pro-growth tax structure, combined with Wisconsin’s overall fiscal health, would make the Badger State an even more inviting place to do business. Whether it’s through flattening, eliminating or better balancing our various taxes, the need for reform is pressing,” Jahr said. “People factor in things like taxes when deciding where to live or locate a business. States without an income tax clearly have an advantage as evidenced by the population and business growth they’ve experienced in recent years.”

There are seven states without a state income tax, and another 11 that have flat income taxes. Wisconsin is not on either list.

The Tax Foundation’s report states that income taxes make-up a sizable chunk of state revenues across the country, accounting for about 36% of all monies that states take-in. In Wisconsin, that number is closer to 50%.

The Tax Foundation map:

Iowa is proposing a 4 percent flat tax, so it my drop even farther behind Wisconsin in tax rate.

I remain unconvinced that eliminating the state income tax is going to happen. For one thing, the most complained about tax is not ]income taxes, nor is it the sales taxes, it’s property taxes, to relieve which income and sales taxes were created and raised repeatedly.

How COVID should have been (and should be) handled

James Taranto:

The Omicron surge has triggered a mutation in the conventional wisdom about Covid-19. The virus “is here to stay,” oncologist Ezekiel Emanuel and two other experts who advised the Biden transition proclaimed in a Jan. 6 article for the Journal of the American Medical Association, “A National Strategy for the ‘New Normal’ of Life With Covid.” That means no more “perpetual state of emergency”: “The goal for the ‘new normal’ . . . does not include eradication or elimination.”

Joseph Ladapo reached the same conclusion almost two years earlier. “Please don’t believe politicians who say we can control this with a few weeks of shutdown,” Dr. Ladapo, then a professor at UCLA’s medical school and a clinician on Covid’s frontline, wrote in USA Today on March 24, 2020. “To contain a virus with shutdowns, you must either go big, which is what China did, or you don’t go at all. . . . Here is my prescription for local and state leaders: Keep shutdowns short, keep the economy going, keep schools in session, keep jobs intact, and focus single-mindedly on building the capacity we need to survive this into our health care system.”

“That was before it became political,” Dr. Ladapo, 43, says in an interview conducted in person, indoors and unmasked. An orthodoxy soon hardened in the medical establishment and most of the media. He says his UCLA faculty colleagues’ reactions to his commentaries went from “Thanks, Joe, for providing us another perspective” to “How can we make Joe stop writing?” He believes USA Today “would never have published anything along that vein later in the pandemic.” But the Journal would: Since April 2020, I have accepted a dozen of Dr. Ladapo’s articles for these pages. One of them, in September 2020, was headlined “How to Live With Covid, Not for It.”

As policy makers’ views began to converge with Dr. Ladapo’s, he became a policy maker. His writings caught the attention of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who in September 2021 appointed him surgeon general, the state’s top health official. “It’s fun that I’m sitting here because of you,” Dr. Ladapo tells me—though he’s also sitting here because Mr. DeSantis had been quicker than most politicians to see the folly of lockdowns and the necessity of living with Covid.

The governor declared a state of emergency in early March 2020, followed in April by the first in a series of executive orders reopening the state. Restaurants, bars, gyms and movie theaters were back in business by June 2020, and public schools were in session that fall. In May 2021 Mr. DeSantis suspended all local Covid-19 restrictions, including mask mandates, and signed legislation ending them permanently. Last summer’s Delta wave hit Florida hard, but the Sunshine State imposed no new restrictions. The state became a punching bag for journalists and other enthusiasts for harsh Covid policies. The hashtag #DeathSantis periodically trended on Twitter.

In Florida as elsewhere, Omicron has brought an unprecedented explosion in reported cases but a considerably smaller increase in severe ones. “It’s been really a blessing that the Omicron variant is less virulent,” Dr. Ladapo says, though he cautions: “We don’t know what’s around the corner, because these case counts are still very high.” Florida recorded an average of 65,551 cases a day for the week ending Jan. 12, up 165% from the Delta wave’s August peak. But hospitalizations of Covid-positive patients, at 10,526, were 41% lower than the August high.

One way to bring the case count down is by testing fewer people. “Historically in public health, for respiratory viruses in the general population, we consider ‘cases’ to be people who have symptoms, not a PCR test,” Dr. Ladapo says. “But during the pandemic, you can have a positive PCR and be completely healthy but be considered a case and be required to behave like a case, which is to isolate and those types of things.”

On Jan. 6 Dr. Ladapo issued guidance that only people who have Covid symptoms and a risk factor (old age, certain diseases, or current or recent pregnancy) “should” get tested. Those with symptoms but no risk factors are advised to “consider” a test. For the asymptomatic, the guidance discourages testing, saying it “is unlikely to have any clinical benefits.”

“A test is most valuable when it’s most likely to lead to a change in a decision, a change in management,” he says. “I mean, that’s so basic.” To keep hospitalizations down, he adds, the state has made clear “that we expect clinicians to treat patients with risk factors” using therapies including monoclonal antibodies, new antivirals from Pfizer and Merck, and fluvoxamine and inhaled budesonide, two medications that have shown promise in off-label use against Covid-19.

He describes the asymptomatic as “a very special group, because this group—you can’t feel any better than not having symptoms. So this group can only be harmed from treatment”—not to mention the “personal downside to them” of being expected to isolate.

Grow a pair, or buy a gun

Jason Rezalan writes ni the Washington Post:

The year 2022 is not looking particularly promising for press freedom. In fact, the United States is one place where journalists could start seeing an increase in the types of threats that many of our colleagues in many illiberal societies already face.

If we don’t take corrective measures quickly to increase media literacy and slow the spread of disinformation, journalists working in the United States will become bigger targets for those who disagree with the information and perspectives we disseminate.

It’s already happening.

Last month, a judge in New York sentenced a man to three years in prison for threatening dozens of people, including journalists and members of Congress, for accurately reporting the results of the U.S. presidential election. The man, Robert Lemke, 36, sent text messages and voice mails, including pictures of the gravesite of CNN reporter Brian Stelter’s father and a message that described his mother’s house, implying Lemke was there.

Lemke believed the “big lie” and was prepared to threaten others for disagreeing with his demonstrably false views.

Traditionally journalists have wanted to stay away from the center of the stories they cover. Most of us would like nothing more than to do our jobs of chronicling and analyzing events with some measure of privacy. But that’s becoming impossible.

The pressure is on to make our work stand out, as success is increasingly linked to web traffic. And as journalists’ profile and perceived influence rise online, leaders with authoritarian mindsets, and their followers, see the reach and independence as a threat to their power.

Many journalists have endured years of online harassment and abuse in silence. The industry has become desensitized to these attacks, accepting them as an occupational hazard. We see the opportunity to inform a wide audience as a privilege that comes with responsibility — and you have to have thick skin, we tell ourselves.

The stakes, though, keep getting higher as our society becomes more polarized. Of course, this was most evident on Jan. 6, when Trump supporters attempted a coup at the U.S. Capitol.

Acknowledging the gravity of the moment, Post publisher Fred Ryan honored 38of our colleagues who covered the Jan. 6 insurrection with The Post’s annual Ben Bradlee Award for Courage in Journalism.

The award honored their commitment to carrying out the job in a volatile and dangerous environment, and also acknowledged the tremendous personal risk they took. These journalists need recognition, but they also need care and support. We tend to forget that as an industry.

We don’t talk enough about the trauma many journalists endure — in large part because we are not supposed to know about it: Journalists never want to eclipse the subjects and broader themes at the heart of our stories.

As journalists covered the insurrection, documenting the most direct threat to our democracy since the Civil War, people hurled threats and insults in their direction. “Murder the media” was scratched into a door of the Capitol. Some in the mob chanted “CNN sucks” as they destroyed equipment owned by the Associated Press.

“I’ve covered conflict abroad and it wasn’t until reporting on social unrest throughout 2020 that I had to consistently go out with a military-grade gas mask, a bulletproof vest and eye protection,” Maranie Staab, an independent journalist who has been covering protest movements that erupted in different U.S. cities, including Pittsburgh, Portland and Syracuse, told me.

Staab says she witnessed “countless instances where the press was targeted, attacked and obstructed by law enforcement as well as groups on the far right and factions of the far left.”

Without proper accountability, we are bound to face more and better organized assaults on our democratic institutions. And that includes the free press.

I have written about the decline in press protections in Mexico, Iran and many other countries. The dehumanizing treatment of critical journalists by the nationalist Indian government, led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, has led to India becoming one of the deadliest places in the world to report. In 2021, four journalists were murdered and no one has been held accountable for those crimes.

We monitor press freedom to shine a light on those who want to obstruct the free flow of information in different societies. And that knowledge offers important tools for press freedom defenders across the world.

The United States, which prides itself of having a constitutionally enshrined right to freedom of the press, is seeing the tactics of dehumanization and intimidation long deployed by nondemocratic states.

Discrediting the press isn’t new, but this country is entering a new and darker chapter. President Donald Trump didn’t write it, but his brand of hateful showmanship was uniquely successful at fanning the fire. Putting it out will be difficult and, frankly, less “catchy” — headlines about disinformation and attacks on public figures don’t get a lot of sympathy, or clicks. But that’s precisely why it has to be a priority. Because if press freedom crumbles in the United States, if journalists feel threatened and vulnerable for speaking truth to power, then the outlook for democracy — here and abroad — will become bleaker than it already is.

In other countries, journalists get killed, beaten and imprisoned. That is not generally the case in this country, which makes journalist fears for their skin rather over the top. (I write that as someone whose skin actually has been threatened, in contrast to most in my line of work, and as someone who has had to stand up to authority in person, in contrast to most in my line of work.)

My suggestion is that journalists learn self-defense, including buying and learning how to shoot a gun if necessary. That, and figuring out that more than one-third of voters are not the enemy, in contrast to what this writer believess.

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