Two states, two approaches to taxes …

Ronald Reagan was fond of saying that Republicans believe every day is July 4, and Democrats believe every day is April 15.

Case in point, according to Capitalism:

On Sunday, the Illinois House of Representatives considered legislation that would increase tax revenue by $5 billion adding tax rate increases on personal and corporate income taxes and adds services taxes on previously untaxed service industries, among other reforms. Lawmakers passed the measure; however, Rauner has vowed to veto the bill coming from the General Assembly because it would raise taxes drastically—a 32 percent tax increase was attached to this bill.

Illinois is ranked as the most tax-burdened state in the union, according to a WalletHub analysis, with an average combined tax rate–state income tax, local property taxes, other taxes–of 14.76 percent.

Because of the already high tax burden, several Illinoisians wish to leave the state for relief, according to a survey by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute in October 2016. In fact, that survey reports that 47 percent of respondents wish to leave the state.

Migration out of the state isn’t just reserved for the citizens as several companies are shuttering operations or are moving out of state to more business friendly environments.

Taxes would increase for individuals and corporations who wish to remain to shore up the loss of revenue. Simply put, the debt of the state government will drag the state’s economic health down with it as corporate, sales, and personal tax obligations continue to increase. …

The proposal serves as the Democrat’s budget proposal despite Rauner’s, and other Republicans, wish to balance the budget without increasing taxes. Ultimately, the wish of the governor’s administration was to advocate for and ensure the passage of a budget proposal that has several cuts in select areas of the state government’s operations.

To make matters worst, the state legislature failed to reach a budget agreement before the new fiscal year began on July 1st. Such a failure marked three years without a budget.

The Illinois Senate overrode Rauner’s veto on, of all days, Independence Day. The Illinois House hasn’t voted, but could as early as today, according to the Chicago Tribune, and the tax increases passed with a sufficient margin to override Rauner’s veto.

North of the state line, The Capital Times reports:

Gov. Scott Walker has made a career out of cutting taxes. And with $4.7 billion in tax cuts over the span of his two terms as governor, he’s not done yet.

Walker’s proposed 2017-19 budget would bring that reduction to a total of $8 billion since he took office in 2011. The governor argues those cuts, along with other major initiatives including his signature Act 10 legislation, have driven up revenue — a concept he has dubbed the “reform dividend.” While the catchphrase hasn’t quite caught on, the argument has. Conservatives point to the state’s low unemployment rate and proposed investments into education as evidence that Wisconsin is, as Walker puts it, “working and winning.” And with that “reform dividend” comes his justification for even more tax cuts, including a proposal to eliminate the state’s portion of the property tax entirely. …

Meanwhile, within the Legislature — with its largest Republican majority in decades — momentum is growing behind what could amount to more significant changes to the way Wisconsin taxes its residents, including an effort to move the state toward a flat income tax and a proposal to eliminate the personal property tax.

Todd Berry, a longtime tax policy analyst and president of the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, is “not inclined to predict” any major changes to the way the state raises revenue. A proposal to repeal the personal property tax would require an adjustment in priorities. Moving to a flat tax requires more support than currently exists. Even a significant change in transportation funding — the largest source of discord among lawmakers and the governor during the budget process this year — is unlikely, he said.

What is significant in the current climate, Berry said, is that so much of the push for major tax reform is coming from lawmakers, particularly from a group of trained accountants known as the “CPA Caucus.”

The four-member group is composed of three certified public accountants — Sen. Chris Kapenga, R-Delafield, Sen. Howard Marklein, R-Spring Green, and Rep. Dale Kooyenga, R-Brookfield. Rep. John Macco, R-Ledgeview, is a financial adviser. Marklein and Kooyenga both sit on the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, which reviews, refines and rewrites the state budget after it is introduced by the governor.

The accountant-lawmakers have led the charge on tax policy changes large and small: eliminating 18 tax credits in three years, reducing the number of income tax brackets, reducing the number of people required to pay the alternative minimum tax and reducing the so-called “marriage penalty.”

While Walker typically speaks in general terms about simply cutting taxes, the measures coming from the CPA Caucus are more about the particulars of tax policy.

Historically, major tax policy initiatives have come from governors, Berry said, in particular changes made under Warren Knowles, Patrick Lucey, Lee Sherman Dreyfus, Tony Earl and Tommy Thompson.

“When we really had pretty dramatic tax law changes, from both parties, those proposals have come from the governor,” Berry said. “What is somewhat different about, particularly income tax policy in the last several budgets, is that the big change that we saw in 2013-14 and now this new change in 2017-18-19, both came not from the executive branch, but from a small group of Republican legislators with professional tax background.”

Kooyenga, a U.S. Army Reservist and potential U.S. Senate candidate with a penchant for quoting the Broadway musical “Hamilton,” said his goal is to pull back on efforts made by politicians to “move levers” and control behavior through tax policy.

“I’m a firm believer that there should be less power in Madison and less power in D.C. And one of the ways that even Republicans have tried to assert their power is by creating mechanisms in the tax code to try to get people to do what they want to do,” Kooyenga said. “And I think that people should decide what they want to do and try to minimize the government trying to penalize or reward certain actions.” …

“Locked myself in the office this evening to develop a plan to eliminate the state’s personal property tax,” Kooyenga tweeted at 9:48 p.m. on June 6.

Kooyenga has since completed his plan, which he said is now being reviewed by Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.

The personal property tax, implemented in the early days of Wisconsin, when most of its governmental revenue came from property taxes, began as a tax on items like livestock, furniture, jewelry and vehicles. Its property tax counterpart — real property — covers land and buildings.

The list of exemptions to the personal property tax has grown to include, among other items, clothing, personal items, stocks and bonds, vehicles, farm and manufacturing machinery and business computers. The tax now applies, in general, to furniture, equipment, machinery and watercraft owned by businesses.

According to an analysis by the Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance, personal property has accounted for between 2.2 and 2.6 percent of the state’s property tax base since 2005. Compared to the 40 other states with some form of a personal property tax, Wisconsin taxes less than most, but more than most of its neighbors.

While the personal property tax brings in a relatively small sum compared to other taxes, the state Department of Revenue estimates eliminating it would result in a loss of about $261 million per year in funding for schools and local governments. That’s based on a proposal introduced in April by Sen. Duey Stroebel, R-Saukville, and Rep. Bob Kulp, R-Stratford.

Depending on the proposal, the money would either be gone or accounted for with an increase to real property taxes — paid by homeowners and business owners, rather than only business owners, as it is currently.

Kooyenga said in an interview that his plan would reclassify some personal property items as real property, putting the fiscal impact below $240 million. It would also eliminate and reduce some tax credits.

“We would be replacing (the revenue),” Kooyenga said. …

Walker is supportive, with conditions.

“I don’t mind chipping away at that. I’ve said all along, if I started from the ground up and had to build something, there’s no way I would create the personal property tax because it doesn’t make any sense,” Walker said in an interview.

Walker said he would “love” to get rid of the tax, but not at the expense of his other changes, including income tax cuts proposed in his two-year budget.

Competition with other priorities is why the tax remains on the books despite a century-long desire among people of varied political perspectives to get rid of it, said Berry.

“The problem is, it’s never anybody’s top priority for tax cuts, because it’s not sexy,” Berry said. “The sticking point simply is if you get rid of it you’ve got to come up with several hundred million dollars of money so that local governments are made whole, so they don’t lose revenue. And of course there are always other, better things to do.”

In Walker’s 2017-19 budget proposal, income tax cuts fall into the “better things to do” category, as does eliminating the state’s portion of the property tax, known as the forestry mill tax.

His plan would reduce income tax revenues by about $203 million, in part by cutting rates for the two lowest brackets by one-tenth of a percentage point.

Walker’s plan to eliminate the forestry mill tax would amount to a reduction of about $180 million over the two-year budget period. While most property taxes are levied by local governments and school districts, the state’s portion goes to fund the acquisition, preservation and development of forests in the state.

That move helps the governor make good on a campaign promise to keep property taxes on a median-valued home at or below where they were in 2014, when he was last elected.

“That’s just been a target of ours,” Walker said. “It’s not just keeping a political promise, but it’s the one area where people are seeing a tangible difference. I always like to warn lawmakers to be cautious because sometimes people say, ‘Well, we don’t hear as much about property taxes as we used to.’ That’s because we’ve lowered them.”

If property taxes were to increase again, Walker said, it wouldn’t be long before lawmakers would start hearing about them.

Simplicity is listed by those on the left and right as a quality to strive for in tax policy. The disagreement lies in how to achieve it.

Kooyenga’s vision involves gradually adjusting the state’s tax brackets until the income tax reaches a flat 3.95 percent rate for all income levels in 2029. That proposal was included in a sweeping transportation funding plan the lawmaker introduced in May as an alternative to Walker’s budget. …

“A lot of Republicans were upset, as they should be, with (Democratic Gov. Jim) Doyle for raiding the transportation fund. Now the opposite is happening. Now we’re transferring general fund money into the transportation fund,” Kooyenga said. “One could argue that we’re raising too much money in the general fund, by evidence that we have plenty leftover to move to the transportation fund … If you look over the last 10 years, there’s actually been $715 million net that has gone from the general fund to the transportation fund.”

Walker is intrigued, but not committed to supporting the shift to a flat tax. In general, he said, it would be good to have “one simple rate” for income and sales taxes, with limited exemptions and loopholes. Current law places taxpayers in four brackets, with rates ranging from 3.95 percent for the lowest earners to 7.65 percent for the highest earners.

“I think the concept’s a good one,” Walker said, adding that he would want to see a proposal that includes a substantial enough deduction to make sure taxes weren’t increased on working families. “There’s ways you could make it work so the average citizen would either see it as a tax cut or tax-neutral.”

At the heart of the debate are questions about what makes a tax policy fair. These questions are framed around terms like “horizontal equity” and “vertical equity.” A tax policy that is horizontally equitable taxes people within a similar income or wealth range at the same rate. A tax policy that is vertically equitable taxes people with more wealth or income at a higher rate than people who make less money.

Within that framework, there are progressive taxes, which tax higher incomes at higher rates; regressive taxes, which take a larger percentage from low-income earners; and proportional taxes, which apply the same rate regardless of income.

Opponents of a flat, or proportional tax, say income should be taxed progressively — people who have more resources should contribute at a higher rate. Supporters argue that higher earners would still pay more money than lower earners under a flat tax, just not at a higher rate.

Kooyenga’s plan would scrap the state’s alternative minimum tax, capital gains exclusion, property/rent tax credit, married couple credit and others.

By the time the plan would fully take effect, in 2029, 1.9 million taxpayers would have their taxes cut by $2.8 billion, an average of $1,436 per person, according to an analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

About 340,000 people would see their taxes go up by $53.7 million, or $158 per person. About 30 percent of the increase, or $15.8 million, would be paid by people earning between $30,000 and $50,000.

About 18 percent of the tax cut, or $6.5 million, would go to people earning more than $1 million, and about 28 percent, or $383.4 million, would go to people earning between $100,000 and $200,000. …

Asked what’s good about the state’s tax code, Kooyenga struggled to find an answer. After a few seconds, he named the governor’s efforts to lower property taxes and rattled off some of the changes pushed by the CPA Caucus, like the elimination of some credits.

“I know I’m never going to reach what my utopian tax policy is for the state of Wisconsin,” Kooyenga said. “But definitely we’ll be closer. We have less brackets, less tax credits. That’s what I’m trying to move towards. I don’t think I’ll ever get to exactly what I think the income tax and corporate tax and sales tax should look like, but I think with a lot of my colleagues, I’m doing a good job of playing defense and making the tax code work, and making it fairer, flatter and simpler.”

 

Two states, two different fiscal states

This state’s budget cycle ended Friday, leading the Wisconsin State Journal to report:

What does that mean for most Wisconsinites?

In the short term, very little. Spending levels from the previous two-year budget cycle carry over into the new one, enabling state agencies to continue operating.

If a budget stalemate drags on for months — as has happened a few times in recent decades — highway projects now under construction could be affected, Walker has said. That could mean projects get delayed, adding millions in costs to taxpayers, said Craig Thompson, director of the Transportation Development Association of Wisconsin.

“If this does continue for months, it’s going to have an impact,” Thompson said. “The money won’t be there.”

Wisconsin school districts also could struggle to craft their own budgets since they won’t know how much state aid to expect.

The budget impasse is happening because Walker and his fellow Republicans can’t agree on one. They’re deadlocked on how to fund road projects, how to increase funding for K-12 schools and how to cut taxes. Walker and legislative leaders hinted at progress in budget talks Wednesday, but no deal appears imminent.

If the parties reach a deal in coming weeks, Walker and others have said Wisconsinites would see few impacts.

But in the case of a protracted standoff, road projects would feel the pinch more acutely than other areas of the state budget. That’s because road projects in the last budget relied heavily on borrowing — a one-time measure that, unlike regular spending, doesn’t carry over into the new budget cycle.

How long would the standoff have to continue before road projects would be affected? The Wisconsin Department of Transportation hasn’t said.

But it’s clear something would have to give eventually. The state’s highway improvement program would see a funding reduction of nearly $900 million over the next two years if no new budget were enacted, according to figures provided by the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, told reporters last week that this scenario, described as a “base” budget for transportation, could be an option if Walker and lawmakers can’t agree on a new budget. …

Most school districts in Wisconsin are working on finalizing their budgets for the upcoming school year — which includes setting how many teachers and other staff members they can pay for in the 2017-18 school year.

Department of Public Instruction spokesman Tom McCarthy said because districts aren’t facing a cut in state funding it’s not immediately significant. In other words, school districts will likely end up with more money to spend instead of less, eliminating the prospect of laying off teachers after the school year begins.

Not knowing exact aid levels on July 1 isn’t that big of a deal for districts unless budget deliberations are expected to extend beyond August, he said. School districts often settle their final spending plan after July 1 and don’t receive their first payment from the state until the school year is under way.

“Things start to get serious in terms of a budget not being in place the closer you get to Nov. 1,” McCarthy said. …

Under one-party control of state government by both Democrats and Republicans, the state budget was completed by July 1 in three of the past four budgets.

In 2015, Walker signed the budget July 12 and it was published the next day after a protracted debate over transportation, the prevailing wage and funding for a new Milwaukee Bucks arena, which was taken up in a separate bill.

In the 20 previous budgets, nine were completed sometime in July, including two by July 1, three were completed in June, four were completed in August and four wrapped up in October, November or December.

Budget debates that extended for months after the deadline were usually the result of different parties controlling the Assembly and Senate.

What’s unusual about the budget stalemates of the past two cycles is that Republicans have controlled both chambers and the governor’s office.

Mark Graul, a Republican political strategist, said the budget impasse will be a blip on the public’s radar by the time elections roll around next year, “assuming it doesn’t drag out for months upon months.”

“It certainly doesn’t help anybody if this is a protracted situation,” Graul said, adding that the point at which it becomes problematic would be Labor Day.

“If kids are going back to school and school districts are trying to do their budgets next fall, then it starts to become much more problematic.”

In other words, despite hand-wringing by those who want to make Republicans look bad, this is not a crisis.

To the south is what a real budget crisis looks like. The Chicago Tribune did the same story the State Journal did Friday south of the state line, and …

As Illinois hurtles toward a third year without a budget agreement, the state’s political leaders have managed to accumulate a series of notable, if inglorious, distinctions — the lowest credit rating of any state, just a whisker above junk status; a growing pile of unpaid bills that now stands at more than $14.5 billion; and a yearly population decline that is the highest of any state in the nation.

The standoff is costing taxpayers dearly — consider the $387 million in loans that Chicago Public Schools have recently taken to tide it over until state funding comes through. The loans came at a cost of about $70,000 a day in interest alone, the Tribune reported. Think of it as a payday loan, but on a grand scale.

The stalemate has been felt in human terms as well. Just seven months after missing the first budget deadline, Lutheran Social Services, the state’s largest provider, imposed steep cuts in programs like addiction treatment and senior home care. State employees are now finding that doctors in some cases will not accept their health insurance. Vital roadwork is already being suspended. And hospitals are imposing hiring freezes and cost cuts. …

Without a deal, the impact on the state will only be compounded. What follows are seven critical areas of the state’s economy, government and social institutions and how they will be affected if lawmakers continue with business as usual.

New York bond rating agencies have warned they will downgrade the state’s credit if no budget deal is reached by Friday.

It’s the latest in a series of downgrades that started when Democrat Pat Quinn was governor amid concerns over the state’s huge government worker pension debt and continued under Rauner as unpaid bills hit $14.5 billion, nearly half the amount of money the state brings in each year.

The next downgrade is significant because it would leave Illinois’ credit at the level of junk status. Illinois would have the ignominious distinction of becoming the first state to sink that low in the eyes of Wall Street.

The impact? The state’s debt is considered below investment grade, and borrowing money will cost more because interest rates will be higher. So building roads or refinancing existing debt will be more expensive. A federal judge’s recent ruling that the state would have to start paying down more of its $2 billion backlog in Medicaid bills shook investors and tanked Illinois bond prices.

What else is in the junk-status club? Chicago Public Schools; the agencies that run Navy Pier, McCormick Place and the White Sox stadium; and five public universities: Eastern Illinois, Northern Illinois, Southern Illinois, Northeastern Illinois, Governors State.

The state’s public universities have been caught in a ever-tightening financial vise as state funding has dried up. Schools have received the equivalent of 10 or 11 months of state dollars in the past two years, leading to credit downgrades to junk status. Most state universities typically get more than 20 percent of their annual funding from Springfield.

Now they face another risk, albeit a more remote one. If the state universities are forced to start a third straight school year with no state funding, their accreditation could be at risk.

The president of the Higher Learning Commission, which oversees colleges and universities in 19 states, recently told Illinois leaders that universities still must meet rigorous academic and financial standards to remain accredited, no matter what the legislature is doing.

Schools that continue to lose enrollment, eliminate faculty and staff, empty their cash reserves and cut programs — as is the case with many Illinois state universities — could face sanctions.

The financial struggles could also make it more difficult for universities to fill key jobs. One candidate for chancellor at Southern Illinois University Carbondale recently withdrew from consideration, citing “fiscal concerns at both the state and campus level.”

Illinois has already cut off sales of Powerball lottery tickets and is set Friday night to end sales of its other multistate game: Mega Millions.

The games are popular because Illinois bands together with other states to offer bigger jackpots than just one state could. But, to be part of the games, each state government needs to pass a basic budget authorization to ensure its share of prize money gets paid, and Illinois’ authorization expires Friday night.

The Illinois Lottery estimates both games bring in profit of $90 million a year — or roughly $250,000 a day — to state coffers, nearly all used to supplement tax money sent to schools.

Even without an authorization, the lottery will continue selling the rest of its draw and scratch-off games, but big winners of those games will have to wait for their paydays. That’s because, without the formal authorization, the state comptroller can’t cut checks to winners of more than $25,000. Those winning less than that should still get paid without delay, the lottery has said.

Illinois pavers and bridge builders are shutting down projects to prepare for a possible cutoff of state funds starting this Saturday. If the state cannot pass a roadwork appropriation this week, it will halt about 700 projects valued at $2.3 billion now underway and throw up to 25,000 people out of work, according to the Illinois Department of Transportation.

For the past two weeks, contractors have been holding off on “destructive” work like tearing up old asphalt because they may not be able to finish the job.

Contractors also are starting to move equipment off of job sites, cover up exposed dirt against erosion and put up traffic controls to secure areas while workers are away, said Mike Sturino, president and chief executive of the Illinois Road and Transportation Builders Association. …

With the next school year fast approaching, the stalemate has cast a dark cloud of uncertainty over public schools’ ability to operate.

Everything, from paying the teachers and janitors, to funding extracurriculars, to getting children to and from school, depends in some way on state funding. And without a budget agreement, those plans cannot be made.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool have assured Chicago residents that the city’s schools will be ready to welcome students. Emanuel has said that local officials will “meet our responsibility” to open schools on time this fall, and Claypool has said they’ll “do whatever is necessary.”

But they won’t get more specific than that, pending the outcome in Springfield. The mayor, after all, has said that spilling the city’s plans while lawmakers negotiate an education budget “would be the dumbest thing you could do.”

On a more practical level, budget plans that schools must make for the coming year are also stuck in a holding pattern. Principals won’t see potential spending plans, for example, which delays needed decisions on hiring or laying off staff members and setting up class schedules.

Nowhere has the impact of the state budget stalemate been felt more acutely than in the myriad social service agencies and nonprofits that are so dependent on state funding.

Andrea Durbin, chief executive of the Illinois Collaboration on Youth, had a stern warning Thursday before a state House of Representatives hearing. “In order for services to flow to the community, people have to be paid,” she said, “and for that to happen, we need a budget.”

Durbin is also chairwoman of the Illinois Pay Now Coalition, which filed two lawsuits against the state seeking payment for services. One suit was dismissed, and one is pending.

It’s among hundreds of Illinois social service agencies, nonprofits, treatment clinics and outreach providers whose services to poor, sick or otherwise vulnerable people are at risk if no budget deal is reached.

Durbin cited the case of a downstate domestic violence shelter, Courage Connection, which faces closure without a budget.

Chicago’s Haymarket Center, a drug treatment program that treats a mostly low-income clientele, cut its caseload by more than a fifth as the state budget crisis caused payments to dry up.

A spokesman, Jeffrey Collord, said that the decline would continue if the stalemate goes on, and could accelerate if the state fails to set aside matching funds needed to secure a federal grant.

Readers will recall that 2011 Act 10 was delayed in passage because of the Fleeting Fourteen, the 14 Democratic state senators (including Sen. Kathleen Vinehout (D–Alma), now starting to run for governor) who ran to Illinois to prevent a quorum and a vote. Apparently Illinois is where politicians with bad fiscal skills go to hide, or live.

 

Taxes and workers

Former Blue Cross–Blue Shield United of Wisconsin CEO Tom Hefty:

Employers are struggling to find workers. A regional newspaper’s front-page headline screamed, “WANTED: MORE WORKERS.” Politicians have jumped on the bandwagon, proclaiming Wisconsin’s new goal is “workforce, workforce, workforce.”

Unemployment in Wisconsin is at record lows. Workforce participation rates are among the highest in the country. Wages are rising. Things are getting better.

A June op-ed in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel by a conservative economist from the Manhattan Institute celebrated the state’s job growth and concluded, “Wisconsin essentially has run out of people who are unemployed.”

So why are people leaving Wisconsin in record numbers? The U.S. census ranked Wisconsin 39th in net migration to other states — losing over 12,000 people in each of the past three years. At the current rate, people are leaving Wisconsin in numbers equivalent to losing the population of Green Bay every decade.

The Milwaukee rankings on out-migration are even more troubling. In the March 2017 U.S. census report, Milwaukee had the sixth-highest domestic out-migration of any major metro area in the United States. Milwaukee County lost over 13,000 people. Worse yet, the rate of out-migration from the county doubled from 2012-’13 to 2015-’16.

Building a workforce requires people — the natural growth of the population, attracting residents from other states and internationally, and keeping existing residents here. Claiming to have a workforce strategy without a real strategy to attract and retain people makes little sense.

People move for a variety of reasons: jobs, family, weather, quality of life, schools, housing costs and taxes. Although academic studies differ on the level of importance, every study finds that taxes are one reason that people move. Sometimes, taxes are found to be the significant reason for migration to another state. Taxes have been found to affect even the location of star university scientists.

Some of the potential reasons for the growing out-migration can be eliminated. Many things haven’t changed in Wisconsin. The winters are still cold. Family and in-laws are the same as ever. The quality of life is good in every national survey. Housing costs are below the national average.

During the 1990s, Wisconsin gained residents in state-to-state migration. However, in the past 20 years, Wisconsin went from attracting people from other states to exporting people to other states.

What changed?

Wisconsin taxes today are relatively higher for upper-income individuals and on all investment gains. Those tax increases took effect during the Doyle administration and have not been reversed. Other states have cut taxes across the board. Wisconsin has not focused on individual tax cuts but rather on business tax cuts.

The specific driver on out-migration is the tax burden for middle- and upper-income families in Wisconsin. The state ranks seventh-highest for income taxes on middle-class families. The 2017 ranking for property taxes for a middle-class home is fourth-highest in the country, costing Wisconsin residents more than twice what average homeowners pay across the country.

What does this mean to a middle-class family in Wisconsin? The difference is more than $5,000 per year — comparing Wisconsin income and property taxes to the median among the states. Property taxes are $3,248 for the median-priced home in Wisconsin, double the national average.

A closer look at who is leaving Wisconsin confirms the conclusion. As a Princeton University study in 2008 pointed out, Wisconsin attracts low-income individuals with lower levels of education — and Wisconsin loses upper-income individuals with higher levels of education. Wisconsin already had the third-worst migration pattern in the country in 2008. (See WPRI article “Wisconsin Flunks Its Economics Test.”)

In 2014, a presentation to the Wisconsin Economic Development Association by a University of Wisconsin-Madison business school professor made the same point. Wisconsin attracted individuals from other states with lower levels of education — a net inflow of over 2,700 low-income individuals per year from 2008 to 2012. In that same period, Wisconsin lost 14,000 college graduates each year — the much discussed “brain drain” from the Badger state.

A 2016 report to the Future Wisconsin Summit by another UW-Madison professor repeated the point in comparing those leaving Wisconsin and Minnesota. Over half of those leaving Wisconsin are ages 26 to 65. Over 60 percent of those leaving Wisconsin have incomes above $25,000.

Naysayers might blame Act 10 — the 2011 Wisconsin law that sharply curtailed collective bargaining for most public employees — but the data contradicts that argument. Madison, the metro area most affected by Act 10 with its high proportion of government workers, continues to gain population.

In contrast, Milwaukee, the metro area with no major state government offices, has a growing out-migration. Milwaukee ranks 48th out of 53 major metro areas in out-migration.

Some reports show a declining Wisconsin tax burden, but those compare total taxes collected from all sources to total personal income. By looking at total taxes collected, equal weight is given to selective special interest tax breaks as to across-the-board tax cuts — changes that would attract and retain workers. The bulk of recent tax changes in Wisconsin did not go to middle-income families, the ones who are leaving the state.

What does the future hold for the Wisconsin workforce? Natural population growth is not going to solve the problem. The number of individuals 17 and younger is down by 3 percent since 2010. The natural population pipeline is dry.

Unless out-migration is reversed — or newcomers are attracted — Wisconsin will face growing workforce shortages in the years ahead. The Wisconsin Taxpayers Alliance did an excellent summary of the issues in “Wisconsin’s Migration Challenge” in July 2016.

There are two fundamental policy directions to address workforce shortages.

• Increasing state spending on workforce development and education. That increased spending puts pressure on raising taxes. Wisconsin already spends generously, ranking 12th in per-capita spending on post-high school education.

• Cutting taxes to reduce out-migration and to attract new residents. The fastest-growing states have lower taxes than does Wisconsin.

However, there is a third, middle-of-the-road choice: changing how Wisconsin’s taxing and spending decisions are made.

Ten years ago, Wisconsin debated a Taxpayer Protection Amendment, often referred to as a taxpayer bill of rights, or TABOR. The amendment to the state constitution would have capped all state and local taxes and required voter approval for tax increases and for major spending projects.

Wisconsin rejected the amendment after an assault on the concept by public spending groups in Madison.

But Wisconsin does have half of a taxpayer bill of rights. For local government and school spending, tax increases and bonding require a local referendum. And those taxes are tied to schools. Local taxes can be increased by referendum, but there is no similar taxpayer power to cut other local taxes. There is no TABOR on state taxes. Wisconsin had a one-way TABOR — up — and only for some local taxes.

Colorado adopted TABOR 20 years ago. Taxes are low. The economy is booming. That state is attracting strong in-migration. TABOR voters are smart — voting for increased spending on K-12 education, for the arts, light rail, airport expansion and even for taxation of legalized marijuana.

Why not give Wisconsin voters the same opportunity to make the decision?

Other states have begun looking at the competitive impact of state taxes. All of the Midwest faces demographic challenges. This is not to argue for simply slashing taxes. But it is time to address the growing workforce shortages and the out-migration causing those shortages. And it is time to move from a top 10 ranking in family taxes to a more competitive position for Wisconsin workers. A taxpayer bill of rights may be an alternative worth consideration.

In June 2017, a more liberal commentator — Urban Milwaukee’s Bruce Thompson — published an article noting the growing Wisconsin out-migration and asked, “Who is leaving Wisconsin?” He did not consider tax burden but noted that middle-aged workers were leaving. His conclusion was, however: “There are more mysteries than answers.”

Wisconsin is losing its workforce — a trend noted by conservative and liberal commentators alike. It is time to find out why. Let’s survey former state residents and ask them.

A TABOR-like device is grossly overdue in this state, regardless of which party is in power. The state Constitution needs to include these things:

  • Requirements that all units of government, including state government, balance their budgets by Generally Accepted Accounting Principles. (All units of government except state government are now required to GAAP-balance except for state government, which is only required to cash-balance.)
  • Limits on spending for all units of government, including state government, to inflation plus population growth.
  • Required voter approval for all tax increases, including such spending projects as schools and municipally-built buildings.

In a previous mention of TABOR I got the comment that fiscal policy should not be part of the state Constitution. However, Article VIII covers public finance, including requirements that taxation be uniform. Elsewhere in the Constitution includes a ban on taking private property for public use without “just compensation,” and Article I section 22:

The blessings of a free government can only be maintained by a firm adherence to justice, moderation, temperance, frugality and virtue, and by frequent recurrence to fundamental principles.

Without a Taxpayer Bill of Rights in the state Constitution, government is arguably violating the state Constitution.

 

I will not drink to this

The MacIver Institute reports:

A high-profile meeting last Thursday attended by many – but not all – of the stakeholders affected by proposed changes to the system regulating Wisconsin’s alcoholic beverage industry ended with very different accounts of what transpired and more questions than answers, multiple sources tell MacIver News Service.
Attendees agreed to return to the table as soon as next week for further discussions.
There is a push by the state’s alcohol distributors and the Wisconsin Tavern League to tweak the current three-tier regulatory system of the production, distribution and sale of alcohol by creating an Office of Alcohol Beverages Enforcement, appoint a new ‘alcohol czar’ and hire an additional six enforcement officers with more authority to crack down on violations.
State Rep. Rob Swearingen (R-Rhinelander) said he organized the meeting “to address the misinformation in the media,” about the draft proposal.
“It was a working document,” Swearingen said, adding that one of the top priorities for the meeting was to explain the proposal’s implications to the various stakeholders.
Swearingen owns a restaurant and is a member and former president of the Tavern League.
According to Swearingen, the list of attendees included representatives from the newly formed Wisconsin Craft Beverage Coalition: the Wisconsin Brewers Guild, the Wisconsin Distillers Guild, and wineries; lobbyists Eric J. Peterson and Scott Stenger; and Reps. Rob Brooks (R-Saukville), Shannon Zimmerman (R-River Falls), Rep. Dale Kooyenga (R-Brookfield) Swearingen, Rep. John Nygren (R-Marinette) and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester.
“Once people from the wine and beer wholesalers explained the proposal, the group almost came together for the most part,” Swearingen said.
Others who attended had a different assessment of the meeting.
Brian Samons, president of the Wisconsin Distillers Guild, said the proposed changes to an incredibly complicated body of laws and codes are moving too fast. And too many stakeholders are being left out of the discussion, he said.
“There’s no need to rush, if we’re talking about making good policy, and I hope we are,” Samons said. “We’re not against enforcement of the rules and rules that make sense, good public policy. The problem is when it’s neither clear or good policy.”
The big concern is that the crafters of the “drafting instructions” will try to sneak the changes into the budget through a “999 motion,” or concluding wrap-up motion that dodges public scrutiny.
William Glass, president of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild, said he was disturbed by the number of lawmakers in the room who seemed satisfied with tacking the measure onto the end of the budget process.
“The problem is there are still people not in this room debating this bill,” he added. “The special interests are trying to force an issue without having the proper avenue to vet it.”
But Swearingen said the Legislature is not prepared to act unless all the stakeholders can reach a consensus about what steps the state should take.
If that happens, it could either be part of the budget or separate legislation.
Swearingen led the discussions, but sources said Vos was very involved in the meeting, which some attendees described as “uncomfortable,” and “heated” at times.
Kooyenga said the meeting was a “huge step forward.”
“For many years there has not been a representative from the wineries, the distillers, or the small brewers in the room,” he said.
Vos’ office did not return an email request for comment Thursday or Friday. Kit Beyer, Vos’ spokeswoman, told MacIver News in a story Wednesday that the speaker was “asked to join the group.”
“Rep. Swearingen, as chair of the Assembly State Affairs Committee, is holding the meeting to see if there are things that all sides can agree on,” she said.
Beyer made clear that Vos “does not support the three-tier proposal.”
Sources said Vos urged the participants at Thursday’s meeting to voice their support of the long-standing three-tier regulatory system, however.
Glass said the proposal seems to run afoul of free-market principles. He said he was heartened when one lawmaker raised the same point.
“John Nygren did make a comment in the meeting about how this does not politically align with conservative values,” Glass said. “He said, ‘We’re not for growing government or restricting entrepreneurs but that’s what we’re talking about here.”
The Prohibition-era system in general aims to keep alcoholic beverage makers, wholesalers and retailers, including restaurants, bars, and liquor stores, out of each others’ businesses. The law has long aimed to stop monopolies and protect smaller operators, but it has locked entrepreneurs out and carved out protections for established players.
“Breweries, wineries, and other alcohol-beverage producers can distribute their products only to independent, licensed wholesalers (also called distributors). These wholesalers then distribute the products only to independent, licensed retailers. Only licensed retailers can sell the products to the public. Thus, under a strict three-tier system, alcohol beverages must pass through both a licensed wholesaler and a licensed retailer before reaching the consumer,” a State Bar of Wisconsin piece summed up.
There are many exceptions to the rules, and apparently that’s what the “drafting instructions” look to clarify.
Americans for Prosperity-Wisconsin and other critics are warning that the plan is to beef up the onerous “three-tier restricting” law.

Beer and cookies

There is good news and bad news on the food freedom front.

First, the good news, from Matt Kittle:

The latest version of Wisconsin’s “Cookie Bill,” legalizing the sale of home-baked goods, passed – again – in the Senate this week.

But thanks to a southwest Wisconsin judge, a free-market law firm and some very persistent “cookie ladies,” small bakers of brownies, muffins and cookies no longer have to fear going to jail or paying big fines for selling their goods.

On Friday, Lafayette County Judge Duane Jorgenson signed an order finalizing his decision last month that declared unconstitutional the state’s ban on the sale of homemade baked items.

The judge did so after the state Department of Agriculture Trade & Consumer Protection told a home baker she would not be protected under the court ruling, according to Erica Smith, attorney for the Institute for Justice, which represented three Wisconsin women in the case against the state.

Smith said the department told the woman that the ruling only applied to the three plaintiffs.

“We did a brief with the court, and the court just today signed an order putting an end to it,” the attorney said.

“Wisconsin is a lot freer today than it was last month,” she added.

Jorgenson ruled that anyone in the state can bake and sell without an artificial cap on sales, as long as the goods are not considered potentially hazardous. Cookies, cakes, breads, muffins fit the nonhazardous column.

Wisconsin residents Lisa Kivirist told the Washington Times in 2016 that she and her family serve muffins and other baked goods to the guests of their Inn Serendipity Farm and Bed and Breakfast near Monroe, but they face fines and jail time if they sell them, under the state ban.

“It’s not clear to me why I can serve you this muffin legally, but I cannot sell you this muffin legally,” she told the publication.

Kivirist, Kriss Marion, and Dela Ends sued the state. It was their last resort.

For years, the Wisconsin women have begged legislators to change the law. They had success on two separate occasions in the Senate, but reform bills died in the Assembly. Speaker Robin Vos, owner of a popcorn business, opted not to bring the bills to the Assembly floor.

The Rochester Republican has said the legislation would have created an unequal playing field, with homemakers getting a break on the costs of regulations licensed businesses are required to pay.

Smith and other free-market advocates say the state’s restrictions on cottage baked goods is driven by special interests that want to lock competitors out.

Jorgenson agreed, ruling that there is no connection to the commercial baking complaint that lifting the ban would present public health concerns.

“I think if we (the Institute for Justice) hadn’t been suing the government for 25 years and seeing how outrageous government can be, we would have been shocked that there is such a thing as a law against selling home-baked goods,” Smith said. “This was another instance of special interests shutting out competition and that’s not what America is all about.”

Just days after the court ruling, Vos began circulating the Bakery Freedom Act in the pursuit of sponsors. The proposal does away with licensure requirements for commercial bakeries, and eliminates health safety inspections. The bill, Vos said, would “level the playing field” in the wake of Jorgensen’s decision.

The Senate bill, its third try at reforming a law now deemed unconstitutional, allows entrepreneurs to sell up to $25,000 in homemade goods per year before being subject to licensing and the accompanying requirements.

“There is good news for home bakers in Wisconsin! The cookie bill passed the state senate,” Sen. Howard Marklein (R-Spring Green) declared in a press release.

“I know there are many home-based bakers who are ready to share their talents and delicious products with consumers and I am proud to have supported this bill,” the senator said.

Kit Beyer, Vos’ spokeswoman, said the speaker does not support the Senate bill. She said the Bakery Freedom Act, introduced by Vos and state Rep. Michael Schraa “levels the playing field, allowing every baker to sell their product under the same standards.”

The Institute for Justice’s Smith said passage of a “Cookie Bill” is unnecessary now that the court has decided the ban on the sale of homemade goods is unconstitutional.

The Wisconsin Department of Justice, however, is considering appealing the ruling.

I am unclear why Vos and his sycophants are not on the side of free enterprise. You know what they say about power corrupting.

Now, the bad news, from Chris Rochester:

Americans for Prosperity is warning lawmakers about a possible plot by anonymous special interests to push small breweries, wineries and artisan distilleries out of business.

AFP has a draft proposal they say came from lobbyists who want to prevent microbreweries, wineries, and distilleries from operating taverns and selling their products to wholesalers, which is currently common practice.

This would mean beefing up an onerous “three-tier restricting” law where producers, wholesalers, and retailers are all separate entities. AFP says this would involve creating a new bureaucracy, an Office of Alcohol Beverages Enforcement in the Department of Revenue to enforce the new law.

Mark Garthwaite, executive director of the Wisconsin Brewers Guild, says the three-tier system is archaic and overreaching.

“I see no need for erecting these barriers,” Garthwaite told the MacIver News Service, adding that other states use less burdensome regulatory systems that serve the public just fine. Craft brewers support reasonable regulations that protect the public, but not protectionist ones meant to benefit particular special interests, he said.

Eric Bott, AFP-Wisconsin State Director, sent a letter on Thursday to Sen. Alberta Darling and Rep. John Nygren, co-chairs of the budget-writing Joint Finance Committee, detailing what he’s learned about the effort. AFP got its information from small businesses that would be affected and from sources in the Capitol.

Larger, well-established alcohol producers would have a much easier time complying with the strict three-tier system than smaller producers like microbreweries, small wineries, and boutique distilleries that have become increasingly popular. That increasing popularity also poses a competitive threat to larger alcohol producers.

According to Garthwaite, Wisconsin has 131 active craft brewers that produced 500,000 barrels of beer in Wisconsin in 2016, 10 percent of the overall beer market. In 2011, Wisconsin had 73 craft breweries, according to the Brewers Association.

Garthwaite also said craft breweries have a significant economic impact, both statewide and locally. “Customers like to go to the places where their beer is made.” The proposed regulations “fail the consumer” in favor of entrenched interests, he said.

The economic impact of craft breweries in Wisconsin exceeded $1.7 billion in 2014, according to the Brewers Association.

The regulations would certainly have a negative impact on the craft brewing industry, and would essentially halt the formation of new microbreweries or brewpubs – an increasingly popular phenomenon – by forbidding businesses that produce alcoholic beverages from also operating bars and restaurants. “It would kill off a lot of startups,” Garthwaite said.

AFP believes the draft proposal could be slipped into the budget’s “999” motion. That’s historically the final action JFC takes on the budget, and it’s where many policy items can be attached to the budget anonymously and at the last minute, often before even lawmakers have time to review them.

“When government takes the next step of attacking individual small business owners in secret to help the politically connected it rises to a new level of repugnancy. It’s no wonder the proponents of this motion conduct their work in the shadows,” Bott wrote to Darling and Nygren in the letter.

The Capital Times reported the proposal was supported by the Tavern League of Wisconsin, the Wisconsin Beer Distributors Association and the Wisconsin Wine and Spirits Institute. All three support the anti-competition status quo. None of the three deserve your business if this bill becomes law.

 

D is for (re)defeated

If you think the Republican Party has problems, Thomas B. Edsall shows how they’re not nearly as bad as the Democrats’ problems:

Sifting through the wreckage of the 2016 election, Democratic pollsters, strategists and sympathetic academics have reached some unnerving conclusions.
What the autopsy reveals is that Democratic losses among working class voters were not limited to whites; that crucial constituencies within the party see its leaders as alien; and that unity over economic populism may not be able to turn back the conservative tide.

Equally disturbing, winning back former party loyalists who switched to Trump will be tough: these white voters’ views on immigration and race are in direct conflict with fundamental Democratic tenets.

Some of these post-mortem conclusions are based on polling and focus groups conducted by the Democratic super PAC Priorities USA; others are drawn from a collection of 13 essays published by The American Prospect.

A consistent theme is that the focus on white defections from the Democratic Party masks an even more threatening trend: declining turnout among key elements of the so-called Rising American Electorate — minority, young and single voters. Turnout among African-Americans, for example, fell by 7 points, from 66.6 percent in 2012 to 59.6 percent in 2016.

Priorities USA, in surveys and focus groups, studied “drop off voters,” those who lean Democratic but failed to vote in either 2014 or 2016. By and large, these voters were members of the coalition that elected and re-elected Barack Obama:

people of color (41% African-American, Hispanic, or Asian), young (22% under the age of 29), female (60%), and unmarried (46% single, separated, widowed, or divorced).

Priorities found that drop off voters were distinctly lukewarm toward Hillary Clinton:

Just 30% describe themselves as very favorable to Clinton, far lower than the 72% who describe themselves as very favorable to Barack Obama.

Priorities also studied Obama-to-Trump voters. Estimates of the number of such voters range from 6.7 to 9.2 million, far more than enough to provide Trump his Electoral College victory. The counties that switched from Obama to Trump were heavily concentrated in the Midwest and other Rust Belt states.

To say that this constituency does not look favorably on the Democratic Party fails to capture the scope of their disenchantment.

… A solid majority, 77 percent, of Obama-to-Trump voters think Trump’s economic policies will either favor “all groups equally” (44) or the middle class (33). 21 percent said Trump would favor the wealthy.

In contrast, a plurality of these voters, 42 percent, said that Congressional Democrats would favor the wealthy, slightly ahead of Congressional Republicans at 40 percent. …

Geoff Garin is a partner in the Garin-Hart-Yang Research Group which, together with the Global Strategy Group, conducted the surveys and focus groups for Priorities USA. Garin wrote in an email:

The biggest common denominator among Obama-Trump voters is a view that the political system is corrupt and doesn’t work for people like them.

Garin added that

Obama-Trump voters were more likely to think more Democrats look out for the wealthy than look out for poor people.

“After economics,” Garin wrote,

the other main drivers for Trump were very specifically about immigration and race, and feelings about both things were powerful and raw.

Garin described Trump’s use of the race issue as “both masterful and dastardly” in exploiting “the polarization on race around Black Lives Matter and the shootings by and of police.” In doing so,

Trump accentuated people’s feelings that battle lines were being drawn in the country and that the forgotten American (a.k.a. working class whites) had to take sides.

I asked Nick Gourevitch, a partner in Global Strategies, to rank the importance of economics, race, immigration and cultural alienation in driving support for Trump. He emailed:

My take is that economics and culture/race are quite intertwined. The Obama-Trump shift happened in places that are no doubt economically distressed and when you do focus groups with Obama-Trump voters, the conversation always starts about the economy, jobs leaving, towns and places that are no longer as vibrant as they used to be.

As focus group discussions continued, Gourevitch noted, cultural and racial issues began to emerge in force:

So it may be that within economically distressed communities, the individuals who found Trump appealing (or who left Obama for Trump) were the ones where the cultural and racial piece was a strong part of the reason why they went in that direction. So I guess my take is that it’s probably not economics alone that did it. Nor is it racism/cultural alienation alone that did it. It’s probably that mixture.

If the Priorities analysis is bleak, the 13 American Prospect essays are even more so.

Stan Greenberg, the Democratic pollster, writes in his Prospect essay:

The Democrats don’t have a “white working-class problem.” They have a “working-class problem,” which progressives have been reluctant to address honestly or boldly. The fact is that Democrats have lost support with all working-class voters across the electorate, including the Rising American Electorate of minorities, unmarried women, and millennials. This decline contributed mightily to the Democrats’ losses in the states and Congress and to the election of Donald Trump.

Greenberg voiced an exceptionally sharp critique of his own party and its candidates. First, he takes on Barack Obama:

Working-class Americans pulled back from Democrats in this last period of Democratic governance because of President Obama’s insistence on heralding economic progress and the bailout of the irresponsible elites, while ordinary people’s incomes crashed and they continued to struggle financially.

Hillary Clinton does not escape Greenberg’s wrath:

In what may border on campaign malpractice, the Clinton campaign chose in the closing battle to ignore the economic stress not just of the working-class women who were still in play, but also of those within the Democrats’ own base, particularly among the minorities, millennials, and unmarried women.

Greenberg does not stop there, shifting his focus from individual Democratic politicians to the Democratic Party itself:

Past supporters

pulled back because of the Democrats’ seeming embrace of multinational trade agreements that have cost American jobs. The Democrats have moved from seeking to manage and champion the nation’s growing immigrant diversity to seeming to champion immigrant rights over American citizens’. Instinctively and not surprisingly, the Democrats embraced the liberal values of America’s dynamic and best-educated metropolitan areas, seeming not to respect the values or economic stress of older voters in small-town and rural America. Finally, the Democrats also missed the economic stress and social problems in the cities themselves and in working-class suburbs.

Along parallel lines, three analysts at the pro-Democratic Center for American Progress, Robert Griffin, John Halpin and Ruy Teixeira, argue that:

Rather than debating whether Democrats should appeal to white working-class voters or voters of color — both necessary components of a successful electoral coalition, particularly at the state and local level — a more important question emerges: Why are Democrats losing support and seeing declining turnout from working-class voters of all races in many places?

Griffin, Halpin and Teixeira argue that

Democrats allowed themselves to become the party of the status quo — a status quo perceived to be elitist, exclusionary, and disconnected from the entire range of working-class concerns, but particularly from those voters in white working-class areas.

In the 2016 campaign, they continue,

rightly or wrongly, Hillary Clinton’s campaign exemplified a professional-class status quo that failed to rally enough working-class voters of color and failed to blunt the drift of white working-class voters to Republicans.

For Democrats who argue that the adoption of economic populism is the best way to counter Trump, Guy Molyneux, a partner in Garin’s polling firm, warns in his American Prospect essay, “A Tale of Two Populisms,” that voters drawn to Trump are anti-government, deeply wary of a pro-government Democratic Party.

“Many analysts and leading Democrats,” Molyneux writes “have attributed Donald Trump’s impressive 2016 vote margin among white working-class voters to his embrace of economic populism.” He quotes Bernie Sanders’ postelection comments:

Millions of Americans registered a protest vote on Tuesday, expressing their fierce opposition to an economic and political system that puts wealthy and corporate interests over their own…. Donald J. Trump won the White House because his campaign rhetoric successfully tapped into a very real and justified anger, an anger that many traditional Democrats feel.

While “Democrats can take obvious comfort in a story about Trump winning in large measure because he stole our ideas,” Molyneux writes, “this assessment misses the mark in important ways.”

Why? Because

Trump’s brand of populism — and more importantly, that of working-class whites — differs in important ways from the populism of Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

While the populism espoused by Sanders and Warren is economic, challenging C.E.O.s, major corporations and “the billionaire class,” Trump is the messenger of what Molyneux calls “political populism,” which “is, fundamentally, a story about the failure of government.”

Molyneux writes:

White working-class voters’ negative view of government spending undermines their potential support for many progressive economic policies. While they want something done about jobs, wages, education, and health care, they are also fiscally conservative and deeply skeptical of government’s ability to make positive change. So political populism not only differs from economic populism, but also serves as a powerful barrier to it.

Or, as I have writtenelsewhere, Democrats cannot simply argue in favor of redistributive government on economic matters because defecting whites are deeply hostile to a government they see as coercive on matters of race.

For decades, the perception that an intrusive federal government promotes policies favoring African-Americans and other minorities at the expense of whites has driven anti-government animosity.

In May, the Public Religion Research Institute released a report, “Beyond Economics: Fears of Cultural Displacement Pushed the White Working Class to Trump.” It found that

more than half (52%) of white working-class Americans believe discrimination against whites is as big a problem as discrimination against blacks and other minorities

and that “four in ten white working-class Americans agree” with the statement that “efforts to increase diversity almost always come at the expense of whites.”

In a separate argument, Nicholas Carnes and Noam Lupu, professors of political science at Duke and Vanderbilt, challenge a basic premise on the left — that the populism of Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren could have stemmed the loss of non-college whites to Trump.

Carnes and Lupu contend instead that the oft-cited theory that Trump won because of support from the low-income white working class is itself wrong.

The two scholars provide data showing that

among white people without college degrees who voted for Trump, nearly 60 percent were in the top half of the income distribution

and that

white non-Hispanic voters without college degrees making below the median household income made up only 25 percent of Trump voters.

Democratic pessimism today stands in contrast to the optimism that followed the elections of 2006, 2008 and 2012.

At that time, the consensus was that Democrats had found the key to sustained victory. The party saw its future in ascendant constituencies: empowered minorities, singles, social liberals and the well-educated.

Democratic activists saw the Republican Party as doomed to defeat without a radical change of course because it was tied to overlapping constituencies that they viewed as of waning significance — for example, older, non-college, evangelical white Christians.

Today, in a world of angry, fearful voters, it is liberal optimism that is at a low ebb — buffeted by a drumroll of terrorist incidents, rising levels of hostility toward immigrants and a broad animus toward difference, the unknown and the other.

John Tamny demonstrates that Democrats don’t know what to do about this:

In a column from December of 2015, the Wall Street Journal’s Mary O’Grady unveiled a rather inconvenient fact that poverty warriors on the American left and right would perhaps prefer remain hidden: from 1980 to 2000, when the U.S. economy boomed, the number of Mexican arrivals into the U.S. grew from 2.2 million in 1980 to 9.4 million in 2000. The previous number is a clear market signal that the U.S. is where poverty has always been cured, as opposed to a condition that requires specific U.S. policy fixes.

O’Grady’s statistics came to mind while reading a recent New York Times column by Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. He writes that a “highly progressive agenda [from Democratic scholars and politicians] has been coming together in recent months, one with the potential to unite both the Hillary and Bernie wings of the party, to go beyond both Clintonomics and Obamanomics.” The problem is that the agenda that’s got Bernstein so giddy has nothing to do with the very economic growth that is always the source of rising economic opportunity for the poor, middle and rich.

Up front, Bernstein expresses excitement about a $190 billion (annually) program that he describes as a “universal child allowance.” The allowance would amount to annual federal checks sent to low-income families of $3,000/child. It all sounds so compassionate on its face to those who think it kind for Congress to spend the money of others, but given a second look even the progressive and hysterical might understand that economic opportunity never springs from a forcible shift of money from one pocket to another. If it were, theft would be both legal and encouraged.

The very economic growth in the U.S. that has long proven a magnet for the world’s poorest springs not from wealth redistribution, but instead from precious capital being matched with entrepreneurs eager to transform ideas into reality. Just as the U.S. economy wouldn’t advance if Americans with odd-numbered addresses stealthily ‘lifted’ $3,000 each from those with even-numbered addresses, neither will it grow if the federal government is the one taking from some, only to give to others. Economic progress always and everywhere springs from investment, yet Bernstein is arguing with a straight face that the U.S.’s poorest will be better off if the feds extract $190 billion of precious capital from the investment pool. As readers can probably imagine, he doesn’t stop there.

Interesting is that Bernstein’s next naïve suggestion involves “direct job creation policies, meaning either jobs created by the government or publicly subsidized private employment.” Ok, but all jobs are a function of private wealth creation as Bernstein unwittingly acknowledges given his call for resource extraction from the private sector in order to create them. This begs the obvious question why economic opportunity would be enhanced if the entrepreneurial and business sectors had less in the way of funds to innovate with. But that’s exactly what Bernstein is seeking through his $190 billion “universal child allowance,” not to mention his call for more “jobs created by the government.” Stating what’s obvious even to Bernstein, government can’t create any work absent private sector wealth, so why not leave precious resources in the hands of the true wealth creators? Precisely because they’re wealth focused, funds kept in their control will be invested in ways that foster much greater opportunity than can politicians consuming wealth created by others.

Still, Bernstein plainly can’t see just how contradictory his proposals are; proposals that explicitly acknowledge where all opportunity emerges from. Instead, he calls for more government programs. Specifically, he’s proposing a $1 trillion expansion of the “earned-income tax credit” meant to pay Americans to go to work. As he suggests, the $1 trillion of funds extracted from the productive parts of the economy would lead to family of four tax credits of $6,000 in place of the “current benefit of about $2,000.” Ok, but what goes unexplained here is why we need to pay those residing in the U.S. to work in the first place.

What gives life to the above question is the previously mentioned influx of Mexican strivers into the U.S. during the U.S. boom of the 80s and 90s. What the latter indicated rather clearly is that economic growth itself is the greatest enemy poverty has ever known. It also indicated that work is available to those who seek it, and even better, the work available is quite a bit more remunerative than one could find anywhere else in the world. Rest assured that the U.S. hasn’t historically experienced beautiful floods of immigration because opportunity stateside was limited. People come here because the U.S. is once again the country in which the impoverished can gradually erase their poverty thanks to abundant work opportunities. If Mexicans who frequently don’t speak English can improve their economic situations in the U.S., why on earth would the political class pay natives who do speak the language to pursue the very work that is the envy of much of the rest of the world? Put rather simply, those who require payment above and beyond their wage to get up and go in the morning have problems that have nothing to do with a lack of work, and everything to do with a lack of initiative. Importantly, handouts from Washington logically won’t fix what is a problem of limp ambition. At best, they’ll exacerbate what Bernstein claims to want to fix.

Most comical is Bernstein’s assertion that the tax credits will allegedly mitigate “the damage done to low- and moderate-wage earners by the forces of inequality that have steered growth away from them” in modern times. What could he possibly mean? The U.S. has long been very unequal economically, yet the world’s poorest have consistently risked their lives to get here precisely because wealth gaps most correlate with opportunity. Translated, investment abundantly flows to societies where individuals are free to pursue what most elevates their talents (yes, pursuit of what makes them unequal), and with investment comes work options for a growing number. Doubters need only travel to Seattle and Silicon Valley, where the world’s five most valuable companies are headquartered, to see up close why the latter is true.

Similarly glossed over by this rather confused economist is that rising inequality is the surest sign of a shrinking lifestyle inequality between the rich and poor. We work in order to get, and thanks to rich entrepreneurs more and more Americans have instant access at incessantly falling prices to the computers, mobile phones, televisions, clothing and food that were once solely the preserve of the rich. Just once it would be nice if Bernstein and the other class warriors he runs with would explain how individual achievement that leads to wealth harms those who aren’t rich. What he would find were he to replace emotion with rationality is that in capitalist societies, people generally get rich by virtue of producing abundance for everyone. In short, we need more inequality, not less, if the goal is to improve the living standards of those who presently earn less.

Remarkably, Bernstein describes the ideas presented as “bold” and “progressive,” but in truth, they’re the same lame-brained policies of redistribution that the left have been promoting for decades. And as they’re anti-capital formation by Bernstein’s very own admission, they’re also inimical to the very prosperity that has long made the U.S. the country where poverty is cured. To be clear, if this is the best the Democrats have, they’ll long remain in the minority.

This is not just a national Democratic problem. The current flavor of the day for the next electoral victim of Gov. Scott Walker is Madison Mayor Paul Soglin, the very embodiment of what we non-Madisonians hate about Madison. Read Katherine Cramer’s The Politics of Resentment: Rural Consciousness in Wisconsin and the Rise of Scott Walker, and then ask yourself what kind of moron would think someone who has been mayor of the People’s Republic of Madison for, on and off, 45 years would be a good choice to run for governor.

 

Gov. Soglin (now stop laughing)

The Wisconsin State Journal’s Chris Rickert takes the possible gubernatorial run of People’s Republic of Madison premier Paul Soglin seriously:

The last person the state Democratic Party sacrificed to one of Gov. Scott Walker’s finely tuned, soulless campaigns was a fresh face with a solid business background, deep pockets and good ideas who nevertheless couldn’t inspire passion among voters who needed to feel passionate for her to win.

Say what you want about Madison “mayor for life” and potential Walker challenger Paul Soglin — he ain’t Mary Burke.

Soglin’s thinking on why he might have a shot next year is understandable in an age when a pleasant fly-over state like ours gives a major-party primary win to an irascible 74-year-old Democratic Socialist from Vermont, and its 10 electoral votes to a darling of the alt-right who brags on tape about sexually assaulting women.

If Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders mean anything, it’s that conventional is out. The louder, less scripted and more fringe, the better.

Soglin in this calculus is obviously Sanders. Both are in their 70s and unapologetically leftist. Like Soglin, Sanders was once the mayor of a liberal city in a rural state.

The usual knock against Democrats from Madison is that they can’t win statewide election. The rest of the state, say the experts, is apparently not as enamored of Madison as Madisonians are.

But Sanders’ Wisconsin success could mean Soglin’s connection to Madison isn’t as much of a knock as it was — or maybe it’s not as big a knock as the experts think.

As UW-Milwaukee professor and former Democratic lawmaker Mordecai Lee pointed out, former governors Gaylord Nelson and Jim Doyle were from Madison, and so is U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

“So it’s not insurmountable,” he said.

Soglin is also not as easily stereotyped as the typical touchy-feely, identity-politics-obsessed Madison elitist. He’s recently been something of a city budget hawk — at least by Madison standards — and he’s been less interested in coddling trouble-making homeless people, excusing crime or dismissing personal responsibility in crafting social policy.

Plus, “he’s a strong guy” and “can take on Walker and not be the least bit intimidated,” said former Democratic state Sen. Tim Cullen, who considered a run against Walker himself but said it’s too early to start handicapping challengers.

Like Sanders, Soglin is kind of a grump — a “get off my lawn liberal” in a state that just voted for a “get out of my country” president.

He also elicits strong emotions. Just ask any number of City Council members who can’t stand him. This is an era when people relish emotion in their politics. Just listen to cable news, read Twitter or watch a City Council meeting.

“There’s an enthusiasm that’s absent” among Democrats, said Madison lobbyist Brandon Scholz, although he doesn’t think Soglin brings a Sanders-like enthusiasm to the governor’s race.

Cullen’s right that it’s early, but it’s not too early to predict that if the Democratic establishment opts for a candidate who merely checks off a lot of boxes on a list of what voters are supposed to want, the candidate will lose — and bigly.

If they go with someone who can throw a little spit and vinegar at Walker’s well-oiled machine, they have a chance.

Well, anyone who runs for office theoretically has a chance. This analysis misses on several points.

Rickert’s analysis is written from the perspective of Madison, which has endured Soglin as its mayor for 20 years, due largely to knee-jerk robotic thinking and voting. How do you suppose Soglin’s act will go over up North, where they like their Second Amendment rights, or the Fox River Valley, where people work for a living without government as their employer? (Consider how many members of the Madison Common Council cannot stand Soglin, despite the fact they all vote the same in November elections.)

I have taken on Soglin not for office (who would vote for me in Madison?), but in TV debate on the late Wisconsin Public Television “WeekEnd” show. The second time before my comment was finished I heard him yelling in my ear (from Green Bay) “That’s not true! That’s just not true!” The third time, when we were in the same WHA-TV studio together, after my statement (that the way to clean up campaigns was to reduce the stakes in elections by reducing the size and scope of government), he literally sputtered a non-rejoinder that closed the show. I take this as my effort of revenge on behalf of my parents for the thousands of dollars they paid in property taxes to Soglin for my hometown’s downward-spiralling quality of life.

The comparisons of Trump to the GOP and Sanders to the Democratic Party make sense, but neither Sanders nor Trump won in Wisconsin because they were such great candidates. Sanders won the Democratic nomination, and Trump the state’s electoral votes, because Hillary Clinton was such a godawful candidate so arrogant as to think she didn’t need to visit a bunch of swing states, most of which went for Trump. Walker has taken on everything Democrats could throw at him in three statewide elections and won each.

Soglin is 0-for-1 in running for office beyond Madison, having lost to U.S. Rep. Scott Klug (R–Madison) in 1996, while Bill Clinton was being reelected president. And as much as Rickert thinks Soglin might be able to “throw a little spit and vinegar” at Walker, Walker (and his well financed supporters) can fire much more back at Soglin. I can see TV ads with …

… people a lot of Wisconsinites don’t care for, along with reports about Madison’s high taxes and increasing crime and violent crime rate. Someone also might report how Soglin got elected mayor, then made money as an attorney representing business clients in the morass that is City of Madison government that Soglin helped create. Walker has already correctly pointed out that all of Madison‘s economic growth under Soglin is completely attributable to being the state capital and hosting a world class university (run by the state, not the city) and nothing to do with anything Comrade Soglin has done.

Lee’s statement about Madison Democrats sometimes winning statewide races encompasses, in order, (1) someone who last won an election in 1974, (2) someone who ran against an acting governor and weak candidate (as the candidate, Scott McCallum, himself admitted on election night), and (3) someone who won a statewide race the same night Barack Obama was reelected against a weak candidate following a divided GOP primary. To think that people who voted for Trump last year will vote for Soglin next year is a triumph of liberal hope over experience.

Soglin may well rev up Wisconsin Democrats, who have had little to get excited about this decade. Nothing says fresh new face quite like a 72-year-old ex-hippie first elected to office 50 years ago as of next year. Of course, the Democrats may get revved up because they still haven’t gotten past losing three elections, including Recallarama, to Walker. Every time some Democrat shoots his or her mouth off about Walker, Walker’s voters take that as a direct personal insult. And three consecutive Walker wins proves that’s not working as a campaign strategy.

The likelihood of Soglin getting non-Democrat votes is about as likely as the Brewers winning the World Series this year.

 

More advice Democrats aren’t taking

William McGurn:

Nine years after Barack Obama accused small-towners of clinging to guns or religion, nearly three years after Jonathan Gruber was shown to have attributed ObamaCare’s passage to the stupidity of the American voter, and eight months after Hillary Clinton pronounced half of Donald Trump’s voters “irredeemable,” Democrats are now getting some sophisticated advice: You don’t win votes by showing contempt for voters.

In the last week or so a flurry of articles have appeared arguing for toning down the looking-down. In the New Republic Michael Tomasky writes under the heading “Elitism Is Liberalism’s Biggest Problem.” Over at the New York Times, Joan C. Williams weighs in with “The Dumb Politics of Elite Condescension.” Slate goes with a Q&A on “advice on how to talk to the white working class without insulting them.” Stanley Greenberg at the American Prospect writeson “The Democrats’ ‘Working-Class Problem,’ ” and Kevin Drum at Mother Jones asks for “Less Liberal Contempt, Please.”

None of these pieces are directed at Trump Nation. To the contrary, they are pitched to progressives still having a hard time coming to grips with The Donald’s victory last November. Much of what these authors write is sensible. But it can also be hilarious, particularly when the effort to explain ordinary Americans to progressive elites reads like a Margaret Mead entry on the exotic habits of the Samoans.

Mr. Tomasky, for example, informs progressives that middle Americans—wait for it—“go to church.” They have friends (“and sometimes even spouses”) “who are Republicans.” “They don’t feel self-conscious saluting the flag.” Who knew?

Most of these writers allow that there is at least some fraction of Trump voters who are not deplorable. What they do not appreciate is how condescending they can be while advising their fellow Democrats to be less condescending. Exhibit A: Mr. Drum’s recommendation that Democrats can “broaden [their] appeal” because these are “persuadable, low information folks.”

Still, Mr. Drum comes across as Gandhi when set against the writer at Slate who interviews Ms. Williams. The following question conveys the tone: “What attitude should we be taking toward people who voted for a racist buffoon who is scamming them?”

Ms. Williams, a University of California law professor who has written a new book on the white working class, generously avoids telling her interviewer he is a perfect instance of the problem. But the larger progressive dilemma here is that contempt is baked into the identity politics that defines today’s Democratic Party.

When Mrs. Clinton labeled Trump voters deplorable (“racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, you name it”) she was simply following identity politics to its logical conclusion. Because identity politics transforms those on the other side of the argument—i.e., Americans who are pro-life, who respect the military, who may work in the coal industry—from political opponents into oppressors.

Which is precisely how they are treated: as bigots whose retrograde views mean they have no rights. So when the Supreme Court unilaterally imposes gay marriage on the entire nation, a baker who doesn’t want to cater a gay reception must be financially ruined. Ditto for two Portland women who ran a burrito stand that they shut down after accusations of cultural appropriation regarding their recipes.

No small part of the attraction of identity politics is its usefulness in silencing those who do not hew to progressive orthodoxy. This dynamic is most visible on campuses, where identity politics is also most virulent. It’s no accident, in other words, that the mob at Middlebury resorted to violence to try to keep Charles Murray ; after all, he’s been called a “white nationalist.” In much the same way identity politics has led Democrats to regard themselves as the “resistance” rather than the loyal opposition.

The great irony here is that this has left Democrats increasingly choosing undemocratic means to get what they want. From President Obama’s boast that he would use his pen and phone to bypass Congress to the progressive use of the Supreme Court as its preferred legislature to the Iran and climate deals that made end runs around the Constitution, it all underscores one thing: The modern American progressive has no faith in the democratic process because he has no trust in the American people.

Here it helps to remember the tail end of Mr. Obama’s snipe about guns and religion: it was a crack about voters clinging to “antipathy toward people who aren’t like them.” Sounds like a pretty accurate indictment of contemporary American liberalism, judging by all these articles begging progressives to be a little more broad-minded.

So good luck with the idea that the Democratic Party can restore its relationship with Middle America without addressing the identity politics that fuels it. Especially when it starts from the premise that the Americans they are condescending to will remain too stupid to figure it out.

Exhibit A would be the Wisconsin Democratic Party, whose seething contemptuous hatred of Gov. Scott Walker has been so successful that their party has been losing elections left and left since Recallarama, which culminated in …

 

How to lose the next election by a bigger margin

Before this weekend’s Democratic Party convention in the suburbs of the People’s Republic of, the Associated Press reported:

Wisconsin Democrats say they are increasingly optimistic about their chances of knocking off Republican Gov. Scott Walker next year, even though a top-tier candidate has yet to emerge and they’re still recovering from a devastating 2016 election.

Democrats gathering this weekend for their state convention say liberals are energized in opposition both to President Donald Trump and to Republicans like Walker closely tied to him. Walker’s approval rating has been below 50 percent since early 2014.

“I think there’s a ton of opportunity for Democrats,” said Democratic state Rep. Chris Taylor. “What we need to do is have a bold, inspiring agenda.”

Trump became the first Republican presidential candidate to win Wisconsin since 1984, with a narrow 23,000-vote victory that was the third-closest of any state he won. In that same election, Republican Sen. Ron Johnson outperformed Trump on his way to a surprising re-election win against former Democratic Sen. Russ Feingold.

While Democrats are looking for a candidate to take on Walker in 2018, they also have to defend the Senate seat held by Tammy Baldwin. And they must rebuild a weakened infrastructure that has suffered repeated losses against Walker. His campaign operation was molded in part by Trump’s chief of staff, Reince Priebus, when he was state party chairman before leading the Republican National Committee.

Walker, who remains popular with his Republican base, has all but announced his re-election bid, saying he’s “ready” for another four years and questioning why he wouldn’t run again — given a bevy of positive economic data, including a 17-year low state unemployment rate.

His state budget proposal also is designed to give him something else positive to run on, with proposed funding boosts for K-12 schools and higher education after years of cuts.

Walker’s list of accomplishments as governor is long. He’s known best nationally for a measure ending collecting bargaining for Wisconsin’s public workers, spurring an unsuccessful attempt to recall him in 2012.

He also has worked with the Republican-controlled Legislature over the past seven years to enact a host of other conservative priorities. Those include requiring photo identification to vote; making the state right-to-work; legalizing the carrying of concealed weapons; making abortions more difficult to obtain; expanding school choice programs; freezing University of Wisconsin tuition; and cutting taxes by nearly $5 billion.

Walker’s critics say his agenda has devastated public education, severely harmed worker rights and wages, removed protections for the most vulnerable and weakened the state’s economy. While unemployment is low, Wisconsin lags its Midwest neighbors in private sector job creation, and Walker has yet to hit the promise he made in 2010 to add 250,000 private-sector jobs.

But it’s vital that Democrats have their own message rather than just running as counter to the Trump-Walker Republicans, said Joe Zepecki, a strategist who worked for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Mary Burke in 2014.

“All of the makings are there for a really good year for Democrats if we can walk and chew gum at the same time,” Zepecki said.

Republicans cast the Democratic Party as in a state of disarray, frequently citing decisions by several potential candidates not to take on Walker, including Rep. Ron Kind, venture capitalist Mark Bakken and Wisconsin Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling.

“Wisconsin is a top 10 state for business and education with an unemployment rate at its lowest point since 2000, so it’s no surprise that serious Democrats are refusing to run against Wisconsin’s comeback,” said Walker’s campaign manager Joe Fadness

Milwaukee businessman and political newcomer Andy Gronik and state Rep. Dana Wachs, of Eau Claire, are two of the most frequently discussed possible candidates. At least a half-dozen more are possible.

Democrats quite obviously still can’t get past their seething hatred for Walker. And the list of Democrats who have declined to run dwarfs the list of those who might.

And the latter list may include, the Wisconsin State Journal reports:

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin said Saturday that he’s considering seeking the Democratic nomination for governor in 2018, the winner of which likely will challenge Republican Gov. Scott Walker.

It marked a reversal for Soglin, who said in December he had “no interest” in challenging Walker, who is very likely to seek a third term as governor.

Soglin said the surprising appeal of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, particularly in Wisconsin, is part of what changed his mind about a potential run for governor.

As a Madison liberal, Soglin told the Wisconsin State Journal Saturday, he used to believe it would be a struggle to sell himself to voters in a statewide election. But he noted Sanders, a self-described “democratic socialist” with a large base of support in Madison, easily won the state’s 2016 Democratic presidential primary. Soglin was a Sanders delegate to last year’s Democratic National Convention.

“His success is one part of it,” Soglin said.

Soglin said he long has been encouraged to run for governor. What changed in recent months, he said, was the amount of encouragement he got from areas outside Dane County.

Soglin said Madison’s economic growth could be a focal point of a run for governor. He said Walker “is running around the state claiming economic victory” while much of the state’s job growth is happening in Dane County — a liberal area with a political philosophy that Soglin said is completely opposite of Walker’s.

“The (low) unemployment rate (Walker) boasts about is driven by what’s going on in the Madison area,” Soglin said. “If it can work here, it raises an interesting question: Can’t it work statewide?”

If there is anything more unpopular in Wisconsin than a Milwaukee mayor (two-time gubernatorial loser Tom Barrett), it would be a Madison mayor. As for Madison’s economic success, if you can’t grow jobs in a state capital and a home of a world-class university, there is no help for you. Soglin has for years deluded himself into believing that he has something to do with the city’s economic success, and of course he won’t take any blame for the city’s rising crime and violent crime rates, including Tuesday’s murder.

Soglin, by the way, is 72, three years younger than Comrade Bernie, who won Wisconsin because of how horrible a presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who is three years younger than Soglin.

 

More left than left

Jerry Bader reports on this weekend’s Democratic Party convention in Middleton and another convention:

It is almost poetic that the Democratic Party of Wisconsin’s convention this weekend falls just two days before the 5th anniversary of the failed recall attempt of Governor Scott Walker. Wisconsin Democrats have been so marginalized since that crushing defeat that infighting among Republicans on transportation generates most of the drama in Madison these days.  Wisconsin has turned deep red since June 5, 2012 and Democrats will be deciding whether to stay the course with Chairperson Martha Laning or pick someone from the Bernie Sanders wing of the party. The outcome of that vote likely will determine the significance of another liberal gathering three weeks later in Steven’s Point. That’s where “Our Wisconsin Revolution (OWR)” will be holding its “Founding Convention.”

OWR is essentially stitched together remnants of  Bernie Sander’s Wisconsin presidential campaign: its interim organizing committee was comprised of former Sanders delegates. An OWR outline platform draft obtained by Media Trackers leaves little doubt that the Founding Convention will be very much informed by Sanders’ socialist platform. The entire platform is standard liberal fare, but several items reveal a far left socialist agenda:

  • Show leadership in combatting (sic) global warming by making Wisconsin energy production fully carbon-free by 2030. This would mean a 100% transition to carbon-free energy production in 13 years.
  • Transition to “free” (publicly funded) tuition for all UW and Technical colleges and universities (Yet, just last week Democrats decried continuing a tuition freeze as harmful to students.)
  • Recognize housing as a human right and adopt and implement a plan to realize that right for all residents (free housing for all to go with free tuition?).
  • … work toward  single-payer public system of health care  in Wisconsin and nationally.
  • explore the feasibility of  a state basic income guarantee; and establish a state-sponsored retirement plan for private workers. This idea isn’t new but is gaining traction in liberal thinking. As explained at “The Economist in 2013, an unconditional or “standard” basic income would replace existing anti-poverty (welfare programs). And it appears it would fulfill some liberal Utopian dreams:

Philippe Van Parijs, a Belgian philosopher, believes a UBI provides “the real freedom to pursue the realization of one’s conception of the good life”, whether that means surfing and living small, or trading stocks and living large. Erik Olin Wright, a Marxist sociologist at the University of Wisconsin, posits that a basic income could even hasten a march toward communism (without the messiness of violent revolution) by raising the bargaining power of the proletariat. If you don’t need your job to survive, Mr Wright reasons, you can command a higher salary and better benefits from your boss. Ms Lowrey points out the opposite is also a possibility: McDonald’s has little pressure to pay you a living wage if the government is sending you supplemental cheques every month.

  • Widen the  sales tax base to include all goods and services outside food, education, and healthcare; make it progressive by raising it steeply on purchases more than twice the median state family income. So, big ticket items would carry a steep sales tax in Wisconsin. It’s hard to imagine auto dealerships on the Minnesota, Iowa and Michigan borders not loving that idea.

Apparently if you’re a Democrat and you have won basically three elections (U.S. Senate in 2012 and secretary of state in 2010 and 2014) vs. all your losses since Scott Walker became governor, the key to overcoming failure is to do what doesn’t work harder.

The alternative, apparently, is to stand for nothing, as Victor Davis Hanson reports:

Is there a Democratic-party alternative to President Trump’s tax plan?

Is there a Democratic congressional proposal to stop the hemorrhaging and impending implosion of Obamacare?

Do Democrats have some sort of comprehensive package to help the economy grow or to deal with the recent doubling of the national debt?

What is the Democratic alternative to Trump’s apparent foreign policy of pragmatic realism or his neglect of entitlement reform?

The answers are all no, because for all practical purposes there is no Democratic party as we have traditionally known it.

It is no longer a liberal (a word now replaced by progressive) political alternative to conservatism as much as a cultural movement fueled by coastal elites, academics, celebrities — and the media. Its interests are not so much political as cultural. True to its new media identity, the Democratic party is against anything Trump rather than being for something. It seeks to shock and entertain in the fashion of a red-carpet celebrity or MSNBC talking head rather than to legislate or formulate policy as a political party.

The result is that in traditional governing terms, the Democratic party has recalibrated itself into near political impotency. Barack Obama ended the centrism of Bill Clinton and with it the prior Democratic comeback (thanks to the third-party candidacies of Ross Perot) from the disastrous McGovern, Carter, Mondale, and Dukakis years.

Indeed, Obama’s celebrity-media/identity-politics/community-organizing model brought him more new voters than the old voters he lost — but so far, his new political paradigm has not proven transferable to any other national candidates. No wonder that over the eight years of the Obama administration, Democrats lost the majority of the state legislatures, the governorships, local offices, the Senate, the House, the presidency, and, probably, the Supreme Court.

Most Democratic leaders are dynastic and geriatric: Bernie Sanders (75), Hillary Clinton (69), Elizabeth Warren (67), Diane Feinstein (83), Nancy Pelosi (77), Steny Hoyer (77), or Jerry Brown (79). They are hardly spry enough to dance to the party’s new “Pajama Boy” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” music.

Yet those not past their mid-sixties appear unstable, such as the potty-mouth DNC head Tom Perez and his assistant, the volatile congressman Keith Ellison. Or they still believe it is 2008 and they can rally yet again around “hope and change” and Vero possumus. That politicos are talking about an amateurish Chelsea Clinton as a serious future candidate reflects the impoverishment of Democratic political talent.

In such a void, a traditionally progressive media, including the entertainment industry, stepped in and fused with what is left of the Democratic party to form the new opposition to the Republican party and in particular to Donald Trump. The aim now is to alter culture through the courts and pressure groups rather than to make laws.

A disinterested observer would have seen that the Democratic antidote to Trumpism was a return to Bill Clinton’s focus on working-class, pocketbook issues — the issues that might win back swing voters in the proverbially blue-wall states. But that won’t happen. The Democratic party is now in the hands of Obama progressives, who in turn follow the lead of the hip, cool, and outraged media that have no responsibility other than to appear hip and cool and outraged. Trump apparently understands that and so focuses most of his invective not against a tired Nancy Pelosi or the shrill Chuck Schumer but at the major networks, mainstream newspapers, and Hollywood celebrities — the heart now of the progressive fusion party.

Think the Republicans are messed up because of their pro-Trump and anti-Trump factions? Think the state GOP has a problem because Gov. Scott Walker and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos don’t see eye to eye on things? The GOP, both national and state, is far, far better off than their Democratic opposition.