Happy (?) Tax Freedom Day, Wistaxsin

Wisconsin has arrived at Tax Freedom Day, which according to the Tax Foundation is …

… the day when the nation as a whole has earned enough money to pay its total tax bill for the year. Tax Freedom Day takes all federal, state, and local taxes and divides them by the nation’s income. In 2019, Americans will pay $3.42 trillion in federal taxes and $1.86 trillion in state and local taxes, for a total tax bill of $5.29 trillion, or 29 percent of national income. This year, Tax Freedom Day falls on April 16, or 105 days into the year. …

… Since 2002, federal expenses have surpassed federal revenues, with the budget deficit exceeding $1 trillion annually from 2009 to 2012. In calendar year 2019, the deficit is expected to increase from $981 billion to $1.09 trillion. If we include this annual federal borrowing, which represents future taxes owed, Tax Freedom Day would occur on May 8, 22 days later. The latest ever deficit-inclusive Tax Freedom Day occurred during World War II, on May 25, 1945. …

The total tax burden borne by residents of different states varies considerably due to differing state tax policies and the progressivity of the federal tax system. This means that states with higher incomes and higher taxes celebrate TFD later: New York (May 3), New Jersey (April 30), and Connecticut (April 25). Residents of Alaska will bear the lowest average tax burden in 2019, with Tax Freedom Day arriving on March 25. Also early are Oklahoma (March 30), Florida (April 4), and Louisiana (April 4).

Put another way, Wisconsin has the 16th highest federal, state and local taxes in the U.S., up from 17th one year ago.

This blog follows Tax Freedom Day every year — April 12, 2010, April 16, 2011April 21, 2012April 20, 2013April 22, 2014April 25, 2015April 27, 2016, April 27, 2017, and April 19, 2018. The first eight years were under Democratic presidents, and Democrats raise taxes as often as the sun rises in the east. On the other hand, Republicans controlled the executive and legislative branches of state government from 2011 to 2018, and yet this state’s tax burden got worse, not better.

The difference between 2017 and 2018 is not, sadly, because of major tax cuts; it’s because of a difference in the Tax Foundation’s methodology. As it is, with a Democratic governor and a Legislature apparently hell-bent on increasing gas taxes despite a majority of the public not favoring gas tax increases, our 2020 Tax Freedom Day will probably be later than this year’s.

Given the reality of our overtaxation, this from Yahoo! Finance isn’t a surprise:

As the tax deadline nears, residents of some states are bearing the brunt of it more than others. …

WalletHub looked at four different types of taxation: Real-Estate Tax, Vehicle Property Tax, Income Tax, and Sales & Excise Tax.

Here’s a breakdown of each, based on WalletHub’s data:

Being a homeowner in New Jersey isn’t cheap at all — in fact, NJ residents see the highest effective real-estate tax (otherwise known as property tax) rate in the country, at 8.13%. Trailing behind are Illinois (7.71%), New Hampshire (7.33%), Connecticut (6.89%), and Wisconsin (6.47%). WalletHub calculated these rates by dividing the effective median real estate tax in that state to the median income. …

And if property taxes are an issue, note that Hawaii has the lowest rate at 0.90%. Alabama, Louisiana, D.C., and Colorado aren’t far behind, all under 2%.

In terms of taxing residents income states like Alaska, Florida, South Dakota, Texas, Washington, and Wyoming all have a 0% rate. Yet, in Kentucky, residents pay a 5.01% tax on their income. Maryland, Oregon, and Pennsylvania are pricey too, with tax rates above 4% on their residents.

That is, again, after eight years of Republican control of state government. The GOP and former Gov. Scott Walker deserve complete blame for failing to campaign into the state Constitution Taxpayer Bill of Rights-like permanent controls restricting spending and taxes.


Gov. Empty Suit

Dan O’Donnell:

In less than a week, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers will mark his hundredth day in office with far less fanfare than most heads of state. Since the famous First Hundred days of President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the milestone has been something of a media obsession. What signature legislation can a new president get through Congress? What policy initiatives can the new governor spearhead?

Devoid of any actual achievement during his first hundred days, Evers has instead settled for giving the appearance of diligence while doing absolutely nothing substantive.

In Governor Walker’s first hundred days, he stared down an angry mob to pass collective bargaining reforms that brought Wisconsin back from the brink of financial ruin and set the stage for the economic boom that continues to this day.

In Governor Evers’ first hundred days, he replaced a painting.

The highly publicized move to return “Wishes in the Wind” to the Governor’s Mansion serves as a perfect metaphor for the ultimately meaningless virtue signaling of the Evers Administration thus far. Devoid of any actual achievement during his first hundred days, Evers has instead settled for giving the appearance of diligence while doing absolutely nothing substantive.

Consider his very first executive actions, signed on the day of his inauguration. The first was to “recognize the valuable contributions of state employees, promote positive morale, and foster a collaborative work environment.”

How, exactly? That wasn’t Evers’ concern. His action merely let state employees know that he valued them. Unstated was the implied belief that they hadn’t been under the prior administration. Still, Evers’ action didn’t actually do anything; it only gave the appearance that he cares more than Scott Walker did.

A second order, signed the same day, required state agencies to “develop and implement policies preventing discrimination against people based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.”

This sounds noble enough, but such discrimination is already illegal under the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act. Evers’ executive action essentially amounts to a request that state agencies enact policies to…obey the law.

A month later, Evers ordered 23 “Open for Business” placards taken down from the “Welcome to Wisconsin” signs on the state’s borders and replaced them with boards reading “Tony Evers, Governor.”

Apparently anticipating questions about the wastefulness of this move, Evers’ Department of Administration assured taxpayers that “the old signs would be cut in half with no material wasted.”

Fittingly, they were turned into “Detour” signs since the move served no other purpose than to signal a detour from the Walker Administration.

Evers, though, hasn’t been content to merely virtue signal his opposition to Walker-era slogans; he also used his office to symbolically lash out at the Trump Administration. Just two weeks after removing the “Open for Business” signs, Evers signed an executive order pulling Wisconsin’s National Guard troops from America’s southern border.

“There is simply not ample evidence to support the president’s contention of a national security crisis at our southwestern border,” he tweeted.

Nothing, however, could have possibly topped the pomp and circumstance with which Evers on Friday announced that he was…redecorating his living room.

The move had virtually no impact on President Trump’s mission at the southern border, as the 112 Wisconsin Guard members were simply replaced with the 3,750 active-duty troops the Pentagon had deployed in early February, but that didn’t matter: Evers had told Trump, hadn’t he?

A month later, just hours after Dane County Circuit Court Judge Richard Niess inexplicably ruled that the Wisconsin Legislature’s December extraordinary session was unconstitutional, Evers directed Attorney General Josh Kaul to file a motion allowing Wisconsin to withdraw from a federal lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act.

In the few days between Judge Niess’ laughably incorrect ruling and the Wisconsin Court of Appeals decision putting it on hold, Evers could have done anything. Instead, he did the one thing that had no practical effect whatsoever. Nearly 20 other states remain as plaintiffs in the case, which continues to make its way through the federal court system with or without Wisconsin’s involvement.

Again, though, Evers simply wanted to make a statement even if his action had no actual impact. This is the very definition of virtue signaling.

Nothing, however, could have possibly topped the pomp and circumstance with which Evers on Friday announced that he was…redecorating his living room.

Gone was the portrait of Old Abe—a Civil War painting put up as part of Walker’s 2011 commemoration the war’s 150th anniversary—and returned was a hyper-realistic picture of modern-day Milwaukee children playing with bubbles.

“Looking into their eyes should remind us of the responsibility we all share to work together to ensure a bright future for all kids in Wisconsin,” Evers said.

How exactly is the Governor working to ensure such a future? By holding a press conference to signal to Wisconsin that he cares more than Scott Walker ever did. You see, Walker even got rid of that painting so he wouldn’t have to look in those kids’ eyes. Well Evers is looking! See that, everybody? Evers is looking! Look at him looking and caring!

“Look-at-me” grandstanding is the last refuge of the ineffectual politician; a desperate attempt to pave the road to re-election with good intentions.  With his shameless virtue signaling, Evers is signaling nothing except his own ineptitude.

He is incapable of using sheer force of will and hard work to ram through legislation over the objections of a hostile legislature. He is incapable of using the power of persuasion to reach a compromise. He is incapable of using charm and charisma to convince the people of Wisconsin of the wisdom of his agenda.

He seems to be capable only of telling Wisconsin how good and virtuous he is—so much more so than his predecessor and his political opponents.

That isn’t public policy, it’s a Facebook post. And just like a Facebook post, the Evers agenda—such as it is—has been surprisingly easy to see, give a quick eyeroll, and ignore.

Maybe that’s why, Benjamin Yount observes …

Voters across Wisconsin are apparently souring on Governor Tony Evers.

The latest Marquette Law School Poll shows the governor’s disapproval rating jumped 15 percent since January.

Back then, 22 percent of people didn’t like the job that the governor was doing. This month, the poll said, 37 percent disapprove.

To be fair, Evers’ approval rating jumped as well. In January, 39 percent of people in Wisconsin approved of the governor. This month, the poll said, 47 percent approve.

The shift comes from more voters coming to a conclusion about Governor Evers.

In January, 38 percent of people didn’t have an opinion of the governor. This month, that number shrank to just 15 percent of people who don’t have an opinion.

In other words, most of the people who made up their minds about have decided that they don’t like the new governor.

Why? Because he is doing what he promised to do. He’s going to tax and spend.

It’s wonderful that the voters in Wisconsin are waking up. But wouldn’t it have been nice had people woken-up last November.

On Tax Day

Dan Mitchell:

There are some fortunate people (in the Cayman Islands, BermudaMonacoVanuatuAntigua and Barbuda, and a few other places) who don’t have to pay income taxes.

The United States used to be in that lucky club. The income tax did not become a permanent blight upon the nation until 1913 (there was a temporary income tax during the Civil War and an attempted income tax in 1894 – ruled unconstitutional in 1895).

Indeed, this odious tax is a relatively new invention for the entire world. If my memory is correct, the first income tax was a temporary measure imposed by the United Kingdom to finance the fight against Napoleon. And the U.K. also was the first country to impose a permanent income tax (ironically, to help offset lower taxes on international trade).

In every case, politicians followed the same script. Income taxes originally were supposed to have low rates and only apply to the rich.

But it was simply a matter of time before small taxes on the wealthy became punitive taxes on everybody.

Since today is tax filing today for Americans, let’s take the opportunity to highlight two specific unfortunate consequences of the income tax.

First, it enabled the modern welfare state. You can see from the chart that the explosion of redistribution spending only occurred after politicians obtained a new source of revenue (a problem that was exacerbated in Europe when politicians adopted value-added taxes and were able to further increase the burden of government spending).

Needless to say, this is a reason to oppose an energy tax, a wealth tax, or a financial transactions tax. Giving politicians a new source of revenue is like giving alcoholics the keys to a liquor store.

Second, the income tax enabled costly economic discrimination. Prior to income taxes, governments largely relied on trade taxes and excise taxes, and those levies did not create many opportunities for mischief.

An income tax, by contrast, allows the government to impose all sorts of special penalties – either with discriminatory tax rates or with extra layers of tax on saving and investment – on people who generate a lot of economic output.

And it’s worth mentioning that the income tax also allows politicians to create all sorts of special credits, exemptions, deduction, exclusion, and other preferences (about 75,000 pages of them) for politically well-connected interest groups.

These penalties and preferences are both morally troubling (rampant cronyism) and economically damaging (back-door methods of central planning).

Let’s wrap up today’s column with this helpful reminder that the income tax is basically a penalty on productive behavior.

P.S. Politicians can play games with other revenue sources (i.e., special VAT rates or differential tariff burdens), but the income tax stands apart because it is capable of generating large amounts of revenue while simultaneously giving politicians considerable ability to pick winners and losers.

The income tax was instituted in Wisconsin to reduce the property tax. Then the sales tax was instituted to reduce the property tax. The state sales tax is two-thirds larger than when originally instituted, and yet property taxes are still considered too high, but then again so are our other taxes in this overtaxed state.

Jeffre Tucker adds:

The income tax is enshrined into law but it is an idea that stands in total contradiction to the driving force behind the American Revolution and the idea of freedom itself. We desperately need a serious national movement to get rid of it – not reform it, not replace it, not flatten it or refocus its sting from this group to that. It just needs to go.

The great essayist Frank Chodorov once described the income tax as the root of all evil. His target was not the tax itself, but the principle behind it. Since its implementation in 1913, he wrote, “The government says to the citizen: ‘Your earnings are not exclusively your own; we have a claim on them, and our claim precedes yours; we will allow you to keep some of it, because we recognize your need, not your right; but whatever we grant you for yourself is for us to decide.”

He really does have a point. That’s evil. When Congress ratified the 16th Amendment on Feb. 3, 1913, there was a sense in which all private income in the U.S. was nationalized. What was not taxed from then on was a favor granted unto us, and continues to be so.

This is implied in the text of the amendment itself: “The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration.”

Where are the limits? There weren’t any. There was some discussion about putting a limit on the tax, but it seemed unnecessary. Only 1% of the income earners would end up paying about 1% to the government. Everyone else was initially untouched. Who really cares that the rich have to pay a bit more, right? They can afford it.

This perspective totally misunderstands the true nature of government, which always wants more money and more power and will stop at nothing to get both. The 16th Amendment was more than a modern additive to an antique document. It was a new philosophy of the fiscal life of the entire country.

Today, the ruling elite no longer bothers with things like amendments. But back in the day, it was different. The amendment was made necessary because of previous court decisions that stated what was once considered a bottom-line presumption of the free society: Government cannot tax personal property. What you make is your own. You get to keep the product of your labors. Government can tax sales, perhaps, or raise money through tariffs on goods coming in and out of the country. But your bank account is off-limits.

The amendment changed that idea. In the beginning, it applied to very few people. This was one reason it passed. It was pitched as a replacement tax, not a new money raiser. After all the havoc caused by the divisive tariffs of the 19th century, this sounded like a great deal to many people, particularly Southerners and Westerners fed up with paying such high prices for manufactured goods while seeing their trading relations with foreign consumers disrupted.

People who supported it – and they were not so much the left but the right-wing populists of the time – imagined that the tax would hit the robber baron class of industrialists in the North. And that it did. Their fortunes began to dwindle, and their confidence in their ability to amass and retain intergenerational fortunes began to wane.

We all know the stories of how the grandchildren of the Gilded Age tycoons squandered their family heritage in the 1920s and failed to carry on the tradition. Well, it is hardly surprising. The government put a timetable and limit on accumulation. Private families and individuals would no longer be permitted to exist except in subjugation to the taxing state. The kids left their private estates to live in the cities, put off marriage, stopped bothering with all that hearth and home stuff. Time horizons shortened, and the Jazz Age began.

Class warfare was part of the deal from the beginning. The income tax turned the social fabric of the country into a giant lifetime boat, with everyone arguing about who had to be thrown overboard so that others might live.

The demon in the beginning was the rich. That remained true until the 1930s, when FDR changed the deal. Suddenly, the income would be collected, but taxed in a different way. It would be taken from everyone, but a portion would be given back late in life as a permanent income stream. Thus was the payroll tax born. This tax today is far more significant than the income tax.

The class warfare unleashed all those years ago continues today. One side wants to tax the rich. The other side finds it appalling that the percentage of people who pay no income tax has risen from 30% to nearly 50%. Now we see the appalling spectacle of Republicans regarding this as a disgrace that must change. They have joined the political classes that seek advancement by hurting people.

It’s extremely strange that the payroll tax is rarely considered in this debate. The poor, the middle class and the rich are all being hammered by payroll taxes that fund failed programs that provide no security and few benefits at all.

It’s impossible to take seriously the claims that the income tax doesn’t harm wealth creation. When Congress wants to discourage something – smoking, imports, selling stocks or whatever – they know what to do: Tax it. Tax income, and on the margin, you discourage people from earning it.

Tax debates are always about “reform” – which always means a slight shift in who pays what, with an eye to raising ever more money for the government. A far better solution would be to forget the whole thing and return to the original idea of a free society: You get to keep what you earn or inherit. That means nothing short of abolishing the great mistake of 1913.

Forget the flat tax. The only just solution is no tax on incomes ever.

But let’s say that one day we actually become safe from the income tax collectors and something like blessed peace arrives. There is still another problem that emerged in 1913. Congress created the Federal Reserve, which eventually developed the power to create all the money that government would ever need, even without taxing.

For the practical running of the affairs of the state, the Fed is far worse than the income tax. It creates the more-insidious tax because it is so sneaky. In a strange way, it has made all the debates about taxation superfluous. Denying the government revenue does nothing to curb its appetites for our liberties and property. The Fed has managed to make it impossible to starve the beast.

Chodorov was correct about the evil of the income tax. Its passage signaled the beginning of a century of despotism. Our property is no longer safe. Our income is not our own. We are legally obligated to turn over whatever our masters say we owe them. You can fudge this point: None of this is compatible with the old liberal idea of freedom.

You doubt it? Listen to Thomas Jefferson from his inaugural address of 1801. What he said then remains true today:”…what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? Still one more thing, fellow citizens a wise and frugal government, which shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.”

An accidentally revealing look into the media

George Mitchell:

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s Dan Bice teed up an interesting Facebook exchange following Brian Hagedorn’s apparent victory. Bice provides insight into the newsroom’s mindset regarding Hagedorn’s traditional Christian views. It’s a reminder of how far the paper has drifted away from traditional journalistic standards.

(Disclosure:  I am decidedly not a fan of Bice. I argued here that resignation would be the honorable thing to do in light of his John Doe writings.)

Bice began his Facebook string by citing an excellent column by Rick Esenberg of the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty.

Here’s Bice:

Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty chief Rick Esenberg argues in a column that Judge Hagedorn’s victory is a “vindication for religious tolerance.” Interesting spin on Hagedorn’s less-than-tolerant position on same-sex marriage and gay rights. Intolerance = tolerance.

Got that? Hagedorn is “less-than-tolerant” for adhering to a traditional Christian view, one that also is prominent in Hebrew and Muslim doctrines.

Bice thus passes judgement. Reporters are not supposed to do that. While a “columnist” is afforded leeway in expressing personal views, Bice’s writing in the recent campaign constituted a key part of the Journal Sentinel’s news coverage. It’s crystal clear here what he thought of Hagedorn’s beliefs while reporting on the campaign.

At a later point in the Facebook exchange, Bice adopts the classic Journal Sentinel pose of neutrality and objectivity:

I let people know that Hagedorn had written a number of controversial things on his blog. I also wrote about Neubauer’s family ties to Planned Parenthood. I didn’t ask either candidate to do anything in response. I let voters know about this info. They decided the merit of the info.

But other comments from Bice offer a much different perspective. Amazingly, at one point he includes opposition to same-sex marriage in a litany of bona fide historical American black marks. Check this out:

Religious people in American history have used their faith to argue for slavery, Prohibition, eugenics and against civil rights and same-sex marriage.

As Esenberg separately noted in the exchange, “…as recently as 10 years ago, Barack Obama would have been ineligible to be President” if opposition to same-sex marriage was a litmus test.

In a vintage Journal Sentinel style mastered by the paper’s editor, George Stanley, Bice also knocks down some straw men.

He says, for example, “Because people base their political positions on faith doesn’t mean those opinions are above scrutiny.”  I know of no one who said Hagedorn’s political positions are “above scrutiny.” The objection to the Journal Sentinel coverage was that is so obviously reflected a non-neutral assessment Hagedorn, i.e., he is “less-than-tolerant.”

Bice includes me in his straw men targets, to wit, “George Mitchell‘s point about religious tolerance is nothing more than an effort to shut down public debate — an odd position for a free speech advocate.” Yeah, I seek to “shut down public debate.”

Many factors, Craig’slist, for one, explain the precipitous demise in Journal Sentinel circulation. Other issues, notably the newsroom’s blinders when it comes to loss of objectivity, also are prominent. I, for one, thought the early 2019 hits on Hagedorn from Bice and Molly Beck doomed the Hagedorn campaign. Never have I been more encouraged to have been so wrong.

There is another dimension here of how the media (about whom I wrote here yesterday) might have contributed to Hagedorn’s win and with the slump in newspaper readership. My thesis is that most people in my line of work are out of touch with their readers.

In the shower the other day (where I do my best thinking) I came up with a five-part test for people in the media — is or are (insert journalist name here):

  1. Married?
  2. A parent?
  3. A homeowner? (Side question: Do you work in the same community where you live?)
  4. A regular church attendee?
  5. Someone who owns guns and uses them (i.e. hunting or target shooting)?

Notice there is no mention of the journalist’s political worldview, though the more No answers, the more likely someone is to be a liberal. The first three get to the subject of commitment, and questions two and three are about commitment where you are, not merely considering where you live to be your next stop on your career journey. Moving when you own a house is not a very snap decision.

Marriage (as opposed to living together) is making a public commitment to your spouse. (It also reflects on the ability of a journalist to remain in journalism given that many journalists are the smaller contributor to their household income.)

Being a parent only changes your entire life, and in ways you can’t predict when you find out a child is on the way. Being a parent means you become concerned about the state of the schools your children attend, but also how much they cost in terms of property taxes on your house. Property taxes fund other government services, so home ownership translates into interest in local government.

The last two relate to how the journalist relates to the dominant culture in “flyover country.” Media in at least the Madison and Milwaukee markets fail this test repeatedly. Maybe that’s why the Madison and Milwaukee media, at a minimum, guessed wrong about Donald Trump’s winning Wisconsin and the future Justice Hagedorn.


Breaking judicial news and news

The Wisconsin State Journal:

Wisconsin Chief Appeals Court Judge Lisa Neubauer announced she has conceded to opponent Brian Hagedorn in the race for Wisconsin Supreme Court, bringing the closest judicial race in recent memory to its conclusion.

Neubauer’s announcement comes just over a week after a statewide election whose results, reminiscent of the razor-thin margins of the 2018 governor’s race and 2011 Supreme Court race that ended in a recount, showed the conservative-backed Hagedorn with a lead of about 6,000 votes out of about 1.2 million votes cast, or a margin of about 0.49 of one percentage point.

The tally was close enough for Neubauer to have requested a recount, which she had considered up until today, but her campaign would have had to pay for it.

Neubauer Wednesday morning said in a statement she had called Hagedorn to concede, and that she wishes him the best.

“Judge Hagedorn said that he was running to get partisan influences out of our courts, and I hope he lives up to his promise,” Neubauer said. “Our courts are strongest when politics are set aside and we follow the law regardless of personal views.”

The outcome of last Tuesday’s election means the Wisconsin Supreme Court will begin its new session later this year with a 5-2 conservative majority on the court. It ensures that, even if the conservative-backed Justice Dan Kelly runs and loses his race next year, the court will remain dominated by conservatives through at least 2023.

That outcome will likely extinguish the possibility of the expansion of voter rights, revisiting controversial cases such as Act 10, the 2011 law that limited the power of public-sector unions, or tempering the Republican advantage over drawing the state’s political maps in 2021.

Neubauer’s campaign manager, Tyler Hendricks, said Neubauer does not plan to mount another bid for Supreme Court, though she does plan to seek re-election for her Appeals Court seat.

This is two announcements in one, given that Neubauer decided not to run for the Supremes in 2020, leaving the next great liberal hope, whoever that is, to run against Kelly in 2020, when the spring general election will coincide with the presidential primary. The assumption is that Kelly will suffer from a large Democratic turnout, but one wonders if that will be the case if the Democratic nomination is a done deal by next April 7, since 31 states will already have had primaries or caucuses by then.

I figured a recount was inevitable, but the fact that there was little change from the canvasses that have been completed so far must have indicated to the Neubauer campaign that a recount was unlikely to change the outcome, only the margin.

Act 10 and Evers

C.J. Szafir and Collin Roth:

In Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes mystery “The Adventure of Silver Blaze,” the dog that didn’t bark reveals the greater truth. The same might be said of Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers’s first state budget proposal. Derided by critics as a “liberal wish list,” Mr. Evers’s budget proposes to expand Medicaid, freeze school choice, overturn right to work, fund Planned Parenthood, add more than 700 government jobs, increase spending by $7 billion, and raise taxes by more than $1 billion.

But the budget dog that didn’t bark is the bigger story. Mr. Evers’s budget leaves alone former Republican Gov. Scott Walker’s 2011 collective-bargaining reforms, known as Act 10, revealing that strong fiscal reforms can create a legacy that is practically impossible to unwind even when the political pendulum inevitably swings back.

Mr. Walker and a Republican-controlled Legislature passed Act 10 to solve a $3.6 billion state budget shortfall. The law, among other things, significantly limited public employee unions’ ability to bargain collectively and required public employees to pay more for their benefits—5.8% of pension contributions and 12.6% of health-care premiums.

This spurred political warfare in the Badger State. Nearly 100,000 activists descended on the State Capitol. Republican lawmakers received death threats. Democrats and labor unions that tried and failed to remove Mr. Walker in a 2012 recall election have pledged to overturn Act 10.

On the campaign trail last year, Mr. Evers enthusiastically promised to repeal it: “I fought against it as state superintendent. I spoke at the Capitol. I’ve seen the either unintended or intended consequences of it. I think collective bargaining is a right, and people should be able to do that.”

Yet as governor, Mr. Evers has been silent on repealing Act 10. No speeches. No executive orders or regulations. No bill requests. And not even a partial repeal of Act 10 in a state budget proposal packed with progressive priorities.

The reason is simple. Act 10 has become an integral part of how government operates in Wisconsin, from the statehouse in Madison down to local school districts. Rolling it back would cripple government finances and lead to higher taxes or curtailed government services.

When public employees were required to contribute more to their pensions and health care, every level of government in Wisconsin experienced enormous savings; the conservative MacIver Institute estimates more than $5 billion statewide, $3 billion of which has been realized by local school districts. The city of Milwaukee under two-time Scott Walker opponent Mayor Tom Barrett saved $20 million.

Savings from Act 10 bent the cost curve for public-employee benefits, keeping Wisconsin safe from Illinois-style fiscal disaster. “Act 10 has become so ingrained in operational savings that it would probably cost more than it has actually saved over the last eight years to try and repeal it,” said Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow, a former state assemblyman who voted for the reforms in 2011.

Without mandated collective bargaining with unions, local governments now have the freedom to make decisions on employee benefits that occur in the private economy every day. School districts can shop around for the best health-insurance plans rather than being forced to purchase union-supported plans. In the first year after Act 10’s passage, the Elmbrook School District saved $2.6 million on health-care costs alone through changes to their health plan and increased employee contributions.

Many school superintendents won’t admit it publicly, but weakened teachers unions have given them unprecedented freedom to make important decisions about the schools they oversee. The ability to offer better pay and incentives has school districts across the state competing for the best teachers.

“Act 10 changed the way we as school administrators do business,” says John Humphries, school superintendent in rural Thorp and a 2017 candidate for state superintendent. “The relationship between management and teachers is much easier. We as administrators have to do things to retain teachers because of the new marketplace.”

This new market for teaching talent has had a significant positive effect on student outcomes. A 2018 report from the Wisconsin Institute for Law & Liberty concluded that Act 10 led to higher math test scores in the state. A 2016 study found no difference between Wisconsin’s student-teacher ratios and gross teacher salaries and those in Michigan, Minnesota, Iowa and Illinois, which, at the time, had not enacted similar reforms.

The Evers administration didn’t respond to our requests for comment. But it’s likely that what candidate Tony Evers did not understand, Gov. Tony Evers now does. The fiscal and collective-bargaining reforms of Act 10 ushered in an era of political tumult in Wisconsin, but they also unlocked savings and unleashed government innovation. This makes even proposing going back to the pre-Act 10 days unrealistic.

Act 10 is a reminder that good policy transcends partisan politics. Reform-minded governors and Washington politicians should take note.

Which is not surprising. The chances of Evers’ getting Act 10 changes through the Legislature are presently zero, and will remain zero as long as Republicans control one house of the Legislature. Act 10 changes will be opposed by superintendents, school boards and taxpayers.

Nothing you delete ever really gets deleted

The continuing war between the news media and Republicans reached Wisconsin in a strange way last week.

On Tuesday I got this email at work from Carly Atchison of the National Republican Congressional Committee:

Hey there – 

Where does Ron Kind stand on leaving a newborn baby alone to die on the delivery room floor?

For weeks, socialist Democrats have blocked a bill requiring doctors to provide care for babies who survive an abortion, so now House Republicans are trying to force a vote using a discharge petition.    

Republicans proposed the Born Alive Survivors’ Protection Act in response to far-left efforts in New York and Virginia to legalize abortions up to the moment of birth, and even after birth in the case of racist Ralph Northam. 

In the wake of those efforts, polling shows a dramatic swing in voters who now identify as pro-life.

To force a vote, at least 218 members of Congress must sign the discharge petition. Will Ron Kind be one of those 218?

Before we resume: I get a ton of these emails from both parties and organizations that support both parties. They never appear in the newspaper, because they are never news. Nor does anything from a politician who does not represent anyone who reads the newspaper, for the same reason.

Politicians and political groups tend to send self-promotional (either directly or indirectly by bashing the opponent or opposing party) emails whether or not the targeted media outlet is likely to run them. That could explain, I suppose, why that particular email went to the Cheese Reporter, a Madison-based publication whose stance on abortion rights is unknown if not nonexistent.

The correct response to irrelevant political emails is to (1) ignore them, (2) trash them or (3) label them as spam or junk mail. None of those were the response of Cheese Reporter assistant editor Moira Crowley, who emailed back instead:

As you can guess by what you’re reading, Atchison did not leave it there, sending an email to Crowley’s employer …

… and the Washington Examiner picks up the story from there:

According to emails provided to the Washington Examiner, Atchison replied: “Moira – My personal story is none of your business, but suffice to say your comments are personally hurtful and disgusting. There is an unsubscribe button at the bottom of the email. I hope you learn to conduct yourself in a more professional manner and pray that the hatred you hold in your heart heals. -Carly.”

The reply from Crowley’s account was: “Oh, I unsubscribed Carly. And I just donated $50 to Planned Parenthood in your name.” The Cheese Reporter’s slogan is: “Serving the World’s Dairy Industry Weekly since 1876.”

Facing an immediate backlash when Atchison shared the first email, Crowley, 45, told the Washington Examiner, via the same email address: “Our email has been compromised and the message is fake.”
The @cheesereporter Twitter account sent out a message: “Recently, one of our employee’s email was hacked and deplorable messages were transmitted. Cheese Reporter and the employee ask for your understanding during this difficult time and in no way does Cheese Reporter or the employee condone or endorse any of these hacked messages.”

Another message from @cheesereporter said: “For those who recently began following us for the hacked comments, please unfollow our Twitter account as we do not want to be a messenger for your beliefs.” …

Cheese Reporter is a newspaper and website based in Madison, Wis. It bills itself as “the leading newspaper serving the world’s cheese manufacturing and milk processing industries every week.”
The publication’s previously most political communication appears to have been a tweet sent just after Trump’s inauguration saying: “Obama left office with a pretty noteworthy record when it comes to policy that will be difficult for Trump to top.”

For what it’s worth, there are left-wing farmers. Just look at the National Farmers Union, and I would guess that organic farmers are generally more left than right, though I know that is not universally the case. Nevertheless, I think the percentage of farmers who voted for Hillary Clinton instead of Trump is rather small.

The political inclinations of farmers are not the issue here. The issue is the unprofessional conduct of a member of the news media, who instead of ignoring an email that didn’t adhere to her apparent political views and/or unsubscribing, felt the need to share her views on a topic that is not relevant to her work or her employer using her employer’s resources. (No, I do not believe the email hack story.) Once upon a time that was a firing offense.

Of course, in the way that even a driver hit by another car is legally partially at fault because the driver was there (if the driver wasn’t there, no crash happens), the NRCC probably needs to update its email list. Cheese Farmer might be interested in Congressional Republicans’ positions on issues affecting dairy farmers, but from what I’ve seen of NRCC emails they are less informational than attempting to get people in the media to write opinion pieces about how horrible those Democrats are and how wonderful those Republicans are.


Irrational exuberance

New York Magazine:

In Wisconsin’s gubernatorial race last year, Democrat Tony Evers defeated Scott Walker by one percent statewide — but won a majority of votes in only36 of the state’s 99 Assembly districts. That same night, Democratic candidates won 53 percent of all ballots cast for the state Assembly, even as Republicans won a 27-seat majority in that body.

In other words: The 2018 midterms confirmed that the GOP has gerrymandered Wisconsin’s electoral maps so aggressively, it will be essentially impossible for the Democratic Party to gain control of that (purple) state’s legislature until its maps are redrawn.

This point was not lost on the Wisconsin GOP. Immediately following Evers’s victory, Republicans convened a special legislative session to transfer powers from the popularly elected branch of government that Democrats had just won to the undemocratically elected branch that the GOP couldn’t lose.

These developments forced Wisconsin Democrats to confront a harrowing possibility: that their triumph in the governor’s race would not stop the GOP from locking up the state legislature for another decade. In 2021, Wisconsin will redraw all its electoral maps to comport with the new census. And Evers will have the power to veto any gerrymander the legislature enacts. But Republicans could reject that veto, and bring a lawsuit claiming that the legislature has authority over redistricting. And if the conservative majority on Wisconsin’s Supreme Court buys that argument — just as it bought the GOP’s case for the constitutionality of voter-ID laws and union-busting measures (that likely cost Democrats the Badger State in 2016) — then it will be game over. And Democrats will be all but incapable of governing Wisconsin before 2030.

But there was one way out of this maddening impasse. In 2019 and 2020, Wisconsin would hold Supreme Court elections. And if liberal judges could win both those contests — which would be settled by the good old-fashioned popular vote — then Democrats would ensure their influence over redistricting. And not only that: A liberal State Supreme Court could also roll back the GOP legislature’s power grab, its various voter-suppression efforts, and perhaps even its assault on collective-bargaining rights.

What’s more, liberals were in prime position to win the 2020 Supreme Court election, as it would be held the same day as the state’s presidential primaries — when Democrats are expected to turn out in far larger numbers than Republicans, since their party’s nomination will be hotly contested, while Donald Trump is all but certain to win renomination in a cakewalk.

So, to liberate Wisconsin from anti-democratic rule, all Democrats really had to worry about was winning this year’s Supreme Court election. And in a rare stroke of luck, Wisconsin conservatives managed to rally behind a reactionary judge so extreme, two of the GOP’s most reliable donors — the state’s Chamber of Commerce and Realtors Association — could not bring themselves to support him. Specifically, Judge Brian Hagedorn had written that the NAACP was a “disgrace to America,” and that homosexual intercourse should be a criminal offense because the “idea that homosexual behavior is different than bestiality as a constitutional matter is unjustifiable.” The judge had also recently cofounded a K-8 Christian school in the Milwaukee suburbs that does not allow LGBT teachers, students, or parents on its campus.

His liberal counterpart, Wisconsin Court of Appeals chief justice Lisa Neubauer, had no similar baggage. And she had a commanding advantage in fundraising for most the race. Some conservative groups resigned themselves to her victory weeks before Tuesday’s election.

So, a lot of Wisconsin Democrats are suffering from a bad case of 2016 déjà vu this morning:

The Wisconsin Supreme Court race that liberals needed to win to have a shot at taking majority control of the court next year appeared headed for a recount, with the conservative candidate declaring victory while holding a narrow lead following Tuesday’s election.

… Conservative Brian Hagedorn, who was Walker’s chief legal counsel for five years, led liberal-backed Lisa Neubauer by 5,911 votes out of 1.2 million cast, based on unofficial results. That is a difference of about 0.49 percentage point, close enough for Neubauer to request a recount but she would have to pay for it.

Hagedorn declared victory early Wednesday morning.

It’s conceivable that a recount could throw the election to Neubauer (so conceivable, Republicans are already laying the groundwork for delegitimizing such a result). But, for the moment, it appears that, while we were all debating a presidential primary that’s still ten months away, many progressives slept through an immensely consequential — and, by most accounts, easily winnable — election against a reactionary bigot in Wisconsin (again).



The April election hangover blog

Today’s blog continues a tradition that began decades ago with a Wisconsin Public Television “WeekEnd” show the Friday after an election.

Dan O’Donnell analyzes the Supreme Court election (assuming the recount doesn’t change the result, about which more later):

Brian Hagedorn was a dead man walking. Michael Screnock’s 12-point drubbing a year ago seemed like a best-case scenario. His liberal opponent had an overwhelming fundraising advantage, hundreds of thousands of dollars more in support from Eric Holder’s PAC and Planned Parenthood, and the residual wave of Governor Evers’ stunning upset just five months earlier.

Hagedorn couldn’t possibly win, not with the endless news reports about his old blog posts, Christian school policies, and Alliance Defending Freedom speeches.

His campaign was less a victory march than it was a march to the electoral gallows.

Just as importantly, the institutional conservative movement behind him was in shambles.

Finger-pointing over Governor Walker’s loss led to an overhaul of the Wisconsin Republican Party in the middle of Hagedorn’s campaign, and the Wisconsin Realtors Association’s very public rebuke of him left him politically toxic.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Wisconsin Manufacturers and Commerce refused to spend on his behalf, thinking that his was a lost cause. One could hardly blame them, either. Nobody, it seemed, gave Hagedorn even a puncher’s chance.

Yet Hagedorn punched anyway, and punched back so hard that it got Wisconsin’s vaunted conservative grassroots off the mat and in his corner. His campaign, to borrow Rocky’s tagline, was a million-to-one shot, but the grassroots were willing to take it with him even if no one else was.

New Republican Party leader Mark Jefferson returned power and autonomy to local party branches to coordinate get-out-the-vote efforts, Americans for Prosperity led the way in voter contacts, and even the voters themselves made phone calls, sent texts, and posted Facebook messages stressing to everyone they knew the importance of this race.

It is, of course, still too close to call and as of this writing well within the margin for a recount, but Hagedorn has also built enough of a lead that it will almost certainly hold. In the 27 statewide recounts over the past 20 years, the average swing was just 282 votes. The largest swing ever was 1,247 votes in the infamous Florida recount of 2000.

Once Hagedorn is sworn in, conservatives will take a 5-2 majority on the Supreme Court and, more importantly, indemnify themselves against the possibility of losing control next year. Had Hagedorn lost, the resulting 4-3 conservative majority would have likely been turned into a 4-3 liberal majority in the Spring of 2020 when incumbent conservative justice Dan Kelly has to run on the same ballot as the Democratic presidential primary.

The inherent liberal advantage there would have meant a near-insurmountable hill to climb, but if Hagedorn’s win should remind Wisconsin of anything, it’s that grassroots conservative activism is capable of pulling off major upsets.

A significant reason is acute awareness of the significance of the stakes. Once it was understood that this year’s race was essentially for control of the Court, conservatives steeled their resolve. Once they recognized that Hagedorn was essentially being attacked for his Christian beliefs, their resolve turned titanium.

Repeated attacks on mainstream Christian beliefs as being disqualifying for public office backfired spectacularly, as untold thousands of Christian conservatives (and, anecdotally, even a handful of Christian liberals) viewed them as a personal affront.

That was the ultimate motivator, as it provided a flashpoint for the pervading sense that liberalism was encroaching on Wisconsin’s values. First it was Holder’s hundreds of thousands trying to buy the Court, and then it was his allied groups intimating that a hateful Christian like Hagedorn, like you, wasn’t morally fit to sit on it.

This led voters to personally identify with Hagedorn in a way that they never did with Screnock or even winning candidates like Rebecca Bradley, David Prosser, Michael Gableman, and Annette Ziegler. All of them won hard-fought races and were predictably demonized on their way to the Court, but none experienced the intensely personal persecution that Hagedorn did.

That bonded conservatives to him and turned casual participants in this race into active supporters willing to go the extra mile for him. It wasn’t just that liberals were going to take over the Court, they were going to make sure someone like Hagedorn, like you, could never possibly hope to sit on it ever again.

This, apparently, was all it took to re-engage conservatives and re-awaken Wisconsin’s sleeping giant. Looming large now is the recount, but what lingers from this race is the sense that conservatism in this state can never be counted out.

J.R. Ross Tweeted the following, which is why it reads as it does:

Some notes on things I picked up last week and wrote about at :

Conservatives sensed an uptick in enthusiasm among their base, whether it was due to budget, Dane County rulings against lame-duck session laws, the Mueller report, etc. …

? was if there was $ and ground game to capture it. came in late with $; latest report shows more than $1.2 million in spending over final week. Groups such as AFP, WFA, Susan B. Anthony, WRTL, AMA, FreedomWorks reported IE work on behalf of

Another question was whether had done enough to excite the liberal base or if the knocks on over his views, blog posts, being legal counsel were enough.

ran a very traditional SCt race, insiders said. Focused on experience, endorsements and often avoided specifying positions. was more explicit in his views, more like ’18 race.

also had superior air cover. I saw today had her and Greater Wisconsin outspending and RSLC by more than $2M on broadcast, cable, radio.

If holds lead, changes dynamic of ’20 race, which looks to be uphill fight for conservative Justice Kelly. Would put conservative majority back to 5-2, meaning they’d hold court even if liberals win next year. Dem prez primary expected 2 be big influence on turnout

Oh, and for those looking to make a definitive statement on ’20 prez race off tonight, remember: won by 11.5 points April ’18 won by 1.1 points Nov. ’18

In ’08, conservative SCt candidate Gableman knocked off liberal incumbent Justice Butler with 51.2 % that April. That November, won Wisconsin with 56.2 %. But you do you, social media. Hyperventilate away.

Charlie Sykes Tweeted that, as well as …

GOP pol texts me: “The base is awake”…. reacting to what they see as Dem overreach in WI…

How is Neubauer taking this? This reportedly is a new fundraising email from Neubauer’s campaign:

“Judge Lisa Neubauer is a fair, independent, and impartial, and she was running against an avowed homophobe, who founded a private school that embedded discrimination into their mission and who gave multiple paid speeches to a hate group.

We’re disappointed that this race is too close to call, but we’re not defeated. This campaign isn’t over, and we need your support to ensure that every vote gets counted — please chip in $20.19 today.

Dark-money right-wing forces want to win this race so they can keep rigging legislative district maps in Wisconsin.

So they can continue to strip powers from the Democratic Governor and give them to Republican leaders in the Legislature.

Brian Schimming explains what may happen next:

Having co-directed Justice David Prosser’s recount effort with Judge Jim Troupis in 2011, I’ve been getting a ton of messages and inquiries. Let me offer a few top-of-the-mind thoughts …

– Judge Hagedorn’s lead is approximately 5,800 out of 1.2 million cast statewide. Prosser’s was 7,316 out of almost 1.5 million
– The counties will very likely conduct their official “county canvas” next week, send results to state Elections Commission who will then, presumably, certify it. Judge Neubauer will then have a prescribed number of days to request a recount.
– Judge Hagedorn’s current unofficial margin is less than one per cent so Judge Neubauer would be, by statute, eligible to ask for a recount. But since the margin is more than .25 per cent, she would be required to “pay” a determined fee for the costs. She also could only partially recount as well.
– Post-county canvas, the likelihood of the result being changed or dramatically altered is infinitesimally low. After the 2011 recount Justice Prosser’s margin only dropped a little over 300 votes statewide.

Having said all this – we may need to get to the barricades, people. Not speaking for the campaign here, but it is completely plausible, if Judge Neubauer”s campaign even appears to be moving into a recount posture, hundreds of volunteers will be needed on short notice statewide to monitor the county canvas and/or a full or partial recount. Many of you stepped up for us in a big way in the 2011 effort and I know I speak for Justice Prosser when I say he is eternally and most sincerely grateful.

Could be “Deja by all over again.” Stand by, we’ll see.

As I’m given to declare at moments like this: “This is The Truth until Further Notice.”

There will be those who decry the nastiness (yet again) and all the money spent on this race. Most of those people will fail to grasp why this is the case. Since the court system has now become the third branch of the Legislature, the rules of partisan politics now apply to the court system. To quote UCLA football coach Red Sanders, winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing.

$2 billion Tony, or D means Deficit

Benjamin Yount:

Republican lawmakers in Madison knew Gov. Tony Evers would want to spend more and raise taxes. He campaigned on it.

But Republicans at the statehouse now say they’re shocked at just how much Evers’ proposed budget would spend.

The Legislative Fiscal Bureau this week said Evers’ two-year state budget would spend $2 billion more than Wisconsin has to spend.

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