Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Government Not a Business or an Unpopular Place to Work

George Lightbourn of the conservative Wisconsin Policy Research Institute (WPRI) published an op-ed on WisOpinion today about the graying of Wisconsin's governmental workforce.

Lightbourn concludes that as retirement age hits and many government employees head for the golf courses, the biggest challenge facing the governor of Wisconsin is how to make government smaller and simultaneously more efficient in order to please the public and bring the vitality that attracts young employees.

There are a couple false assumptions with this op-ed.

One, Lightbourn consistently refers to government as a business. This is not accurate. The two have, in fact, fundamentally different purposes. Governments exist to provide for the public good--whether that's through protective services, education, health services, transportation needs, etc. Businesses, on the other hand, exist to turn a profit, pure and simple. Business products may serve a purpose in society, but they won't exist for long--needed or not--if a profit can't be made on them.

Therefore, while governments can certainly be innovative in the manner that they provide services, the determination of what services to provide will always be largely reactive to the needs and wants of the public. The same is not true for businesses, which are able and often encouraged to take risks. This is a complimentary relationship, not a synonymous one, and it demonstrates exactly why it's necessary both are strong to have a successful economy.

Two, government in Wisconsin is still a very competitive field to enter for young people. Careers in public sector fields such as police, fire, education, public policy, etc., are highly sought after by many people in my generation (I'm 27 years old). I have worked in the public sector my entire short career, and each position I've applied for has put me in competition with dozens of other applicants. In the one 0.70 FTE teaching position I had at Monona Grove High School, for example, I was one of over 200 applicants--and that was for a job that paid around $20,000 per year. Countless other people interested in public teaching careers must toil in substitute teacher land for a number of years before earning a teaching job. Professorships at public universities are even harder to come by. Speaking to friends who are looking for police jobs around here, just to name another example, life on the public protective services job market isn't any easier.

The fact is any attempt to reduce the size of government will make it do less, not work more efficiently. And if there's ever a way to push young people away from the public sector, it's by arbitrarily shrinking the size and importance of government.

Counting the Ways the Civil Unions and Marriage Ban is Ridiculous

Today the state Assembly votes on whether to pass on to the voters a constitutional amendment that bans the possibility of gay and lesbian marriages and civil unions in Wisconsin, along with legally jeopardizing the existence of domestic partner benefits enjoyed by many committed couples currently in the state.

Although I consider myself a progressive liberal, I feel it’s important to compromise on most issues when it comes to formulating public policy. In other words, while I think ideology can and should be pure, the legislative process, in most instances, needs to involve some negotiation in order to work. We live in a diverse society, which needs to be reflected in our public policymaking. This is why I would be willing to support some form of concealed carry and why I also support the school voucher agreement that’s currently moving through the state legislature.

There are some issues, however, that cannot be compromised because to do so would involve acquiescing to discrimination. Such was the case when dealing with Southern Dixiecrats during much of the last century. And it’s also the case with the discriminatory amendment going before the state Assembly today.

When trying to discuss the proposed amendment, I’m reminded of a Saturday Night Live skit poking fun at the Trent Lott comment a few years ago that the country would’ve been better off if segregationist Strom Thurmond was elected president in 1948. In the “Hardball” sketch, Lott—played by Al Gore—made some comment about only meaning with his statement that the country would be better off if black people and white people were separated. Chris Matthews, played perfectly by Darrell Hammond, responded: “As soon as I stop counting all the ways that’s stupid, I’ll start yellin’ at ya.”

I can, however, muster up a few broad comments on the issue of barring gay and lesbian citizens from being in legally recognized relationships in the State of Wisconsin.

One, while many people may not think about it this way, we already have the institution of civil unions in Wisconsin—it’s called marriage. Marriage is a state institution, not a religious one. I don’t care where you physically get married, without a license from the State of Wisconsin (or some other state) that marriage is not legally recognized in this country. A religious ceremony is just that—purely ceremonial. So any hope of using the Bible or any other religious text to defend this ban misses the point (side-note: Carrie at What's Left has a great rundown of what life really would be like under the Bible).

Two, in response to the “Let the people decide!” argument, public opinion—which isn’t heavily anti-gay and lesbian marriage to start—should not be the determinant of our marriage policy. If that was the case, interracial marriages would not have been allowed in this country until the 1990s, which is when public opinion polls first started to consistently show a majority of the country in support of such legalized unions. And if we broke it down state-by-state, there may be some parts of the country that would still outlaw interracial marriages. Thankfully, a Supreme Court decision in 1967 trumped public opinion at the time and allowed for interracial marriages across the country.

Three, gay and lesbian marriages are not gateway unions. Meaning that just because we allow committed, consenting, adult gay and lesbian couples to have a legally-recognized relationship in Wisconsin does not mean that it will lead to allowing siblings to get hitched nor will it lead to allowing humans to start marrying farm animals. That (largely offensive) line of logic isn’t any more sound than asserting that concealed carry should never be allowed solely for the reason that it will surely open the door for submachine guns being added to the roof-tops of cars. It’s a ridiculous argument that misses the point of the issue completely.

Four, as an editorial in today's Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel puts it: "Gay unions pose no threat to marriage. What threats there are generally come from heterosexuals."

These are just a few broad comments on the amendment topic. As I continue to count the ways the proposed marriage and civil unions ban is ridiculous, I’m sure I’ll have more to add in the coming days, weeks, and months.

Monday, February 27, 2006

Amendment about Revenue, Not Taxes

The Baraboo News Republic is among many local newspapers in Wisconsin to cover the revenue restrictions amendment over the past few weeks. The paper, however, seems to miss a key point about the amendment, which was prosposed by conservative Wisconsin state Republicans in early February.

According to the article,
"As proposed Feb. 14, this amendment to the state constitution would limit increases in state and municipal taxes, restricting hikes to a complicated formula based upon the rate of inflation, personal income growth, population increases and new construction."

This is simply not true. The revenue restrictions amendment restricts revenue, not taxes, which is why the title given to it by Republicans--the "Taxpayer Protection Amendment"--is not accurate. But based upon the article by the News Republic and some other media outlets, the Republican name seems to be creating some confusion about the amendment, which I have no doubt was the intent.

Under the amendment, governmental units could actually raise taxes beyond the rate of inflation plus population growth as long as total revenue only increased at those rates.

According to the amendment:

"'Revenue' means all moneys received from taxes, fees, licenses, permits, assessments, fines, and forfeitures imposed by the state or a local governmental unit, lottery proceeds net of prizes, tribal gaming proceeds, and all moneys received from bonds, but not including moneys generated from municipal economic development bonds, from the refinancing of bonds, or from short−term cash flow borrowing."

So with a few small exceptions, all revenue generated for governmental units will be subject to restrictions under the proposed amendment. While not included directly, even federal dollars provided to the state would be
adversely affected.

For example, the biggest generator of federal dollars for the state is the Medicaid program, which works on a matching system. In other words, the federal government will contibute dollar amounts based upon how much the state pays into the program. In the 2003-2005 biennium, federal dollars for Medicaid brought in a grand total of over $5 billion in funding for people in the state. If state revenue is restricted and fewer state dollars are able to go into programs like Medicaid, contributions from the federal government will decrease, as well. With the costs of health care continuing to rise, this is a potentially
disastrous situation for the over 800,000 Wisconsinites (and counting) who rely upon Medicaid.

Moving forward, anti-amendment advocates need to keep an eye on conservatives who are trying to make this debate about taxes. If the amendment makes it to a statewide referendum next year, which isn't exactly likely, the conservative proponents will do all they can to push the message that this amendment is about taxes, which is just not the case. The debate needs to be focused on revenue, which is what the amendment restricts.

Side-Note: The Baraboo News Republic article includes an interesting comment on the amendment by state Senator Luther Olsen (R-Ripon). According to article, Olsen claimed the amendment is "too vague to take a stance on." Apparently the 2500-word amendment doesn't explain itself enough. I wonder if Sen. Olsen was one of the legislators who wanted Legislative Fiscal Bureau Director Robert Lang to write down his explanation of the amendment at the invitation-only legislative hearing a couple weeks ago.

No Journal-Sentinel Follow-up on UW Survey

I posted below about the additional findings submitted to the Journal-Sentinel by Madison-based PR firm Wood Communications Group regarding the group's public opinion survey on the University of Wisconsin System.

The front-page headline in the JS on Friday, which I wrote about here, was "Survey Scalds UW System." As it turns out, parts of the survey actually gave the UW System a great big kiss, but those parts were left out of the original story because Wood Communications Group left them out of its multiple presentations to UW officials, business leaders, and state politicians since the survey was completed last fall.

The JS mentioned the additional findings in its education-based blog, "School Zone," on Friday, but there has yet to be an actual article in the paper on the pro-UW results of the survey. (I don't subscribe to the print version of the JS; this assessment is based on a fairly close search of the online version of the paper over the last few days. Please correct me in the comments if my assessment is wrong.)

If the originally-released negative findings were important enough for a front-page story, why don't later-released positive findings even warrant an article of any kind in the print version of the paper?

This is troubling for a few reasons.

One, I imagine the blog "School Zone" doesn't get nearly the readership that the front-page of the paper (and website) receives.

Two, the new findings largely contradict the headline of the original JS article--"Survey Scalds UW System." One was that 80% of respondents think the UW System is doing an excellent job of providing a good education.

Three, and perhaps most important, the fact Wood Communications Group chose not to release the positive findings when meeting with UW officials, business leaders, and state politicians more than suggests ulterior motives with the survey--which the PR firm paid for on its own dime and conducted internally. To date the group still hasn't released the full report, claiming instead that the complete findings are its "proprietary data and we may choose to use it for other purposes.”

The wording of the questions used in the survey is probably most important, but the geographic disbursement of the respondents is key, too. Wood Communications Group was pretty clearly trying to net a big client with this survey, which largely taints any results released by the report unless there's full disclosure of the survey, its findings, and its methodology.

Nevertheless, it seems to me the biggest newspaper in the state has an obligation to print a follow-up article that points out the positive findings and the fact Wood Communications Group has been less than forthright with UW officials, business leaders, state politicians, and ultimately the public about the survey as a whole.

UPDATE: I just had a thought about the refusal by Wood Communications Group to release the full report because it's the group's "proprietary data" that it may choose to use at another time. How long is a public opinion survey completed in the fall of 2005 considered accurate? I imagine the reasonable time the PR firm has left to use the results to net future clients is running out relatively quickly.

This suggests to me the group is hesitant to release the full report because it's trying to cover its current investment--the attempted sale of its services to the UW System--not because it hopes to make a future investment out of the data. I have a feeling if we could see the full report, we'd find some interesting things regarding methodology and the phrasing of questions.

Friday, February 24, 2006

More Findings on the UW System Miraculously Discovered!

We should be able to expect more...even from a PR firm.

The Journal-Sentinel published a front-page story today, which I cover here, about a public opinion survey conducted by the Madison-based PR firm Wood Communications Group on the UW System. The headline from the paper was "State Survey Scalds UW System."

This was the overwhelmingly negative conclusion the paper came to after seeing the findings released by Wood Communications Group, as did UW officials and business leaders after the firm's president Jim Wood gave a PowerPoint presentation to them with the same troubling findings. Some conservative politicians across the state, including both GOP gubernatorial hopefuls, also got pretty excited over the findings--one of them even proposed dismantling the UW System as a result.

Turns out those negative results weren't the only ones generated by the survey. Apparently after seeing the front-page story in the JS, the PR firm contacted the paper to release other findings from the survey. These new ones--which were never released to UW officials or business leaders at their meetings with Wood--were overwhelmingly positive.

One was that 60% of respondents think the value of UW education in relation to the cost is good or excellent.

Another was that 80% believe "the UW System is doing an excellent job of providing a good education."

In light of this new info, which presents quite a contrast to the overwhelmingly negative findings initially released, how the questions in the survey were worded becomes all that much more important.

On this note, the JS asked if there were additional findings from the survey. Evidently there are, but Wood Communications Group isn't going to release them--explaining that it's their "proprietary data and we may choose to use it for other purposes.” Any thoughts that Wood was providing this survey as a public service just went out the window with that comment.

Similarly, I haven't heard anything back from Wood Communications Group regarding my request for the complete survey questions and findings, along with the geographic disbursement of those polled. Since the biggest newspaper in the state wasn't able to get anything out of them, I'm pretty sure that means I shouldn't hold my breath for a response.

I wonder why Wood didn't release the positive findings when meeting with UW officials and business leaders? I alluded in my earlier post to the fact that the PR firm was potentially using this survey as a fishing expedition in an attempt to net a big client--the UW System. Turns out that thought may be correct. Nothing like stirring up a little hysteria for your own financial gain.

Transparency in Health Care Prices

The Journal-Sentinel has an article today about varying prices for medical procedures at different hospitals around the Milwaukee area. The prices come from the health insurance group Humana, which is working with local businesses to provide more transparency on health care costs as a means for helping employers to identify cheaper services.

Previously these prices, which are negotiated between the insurance company and the hospital, were kept in secret--and it's no wonder why. A colonoscopy can range in price, for example, from around $1000 at Milwaukee Endoscopy Center to around $3200 at Columbia St. Mary's Hospital-Ozaukee campus. And this is within the same health insurance system! Plus, interestingly, you can get the same colonoscopy procedure at Columbia St. Mary's Hospital-Milwaukee campus for about $2300, which is $900 cheaper than the Ozaukee campus.

How exactly do you explain charging 40% more for a procedure at one of your hospitals than you do for the exact same procedure at another one of your hospitals that's only about 16 miles away?

What the article only lightly touches on is the fact that hospital prices vary not only within health care plans, but also between them and between insured and uninsured patients. Uninsured patients are charged significantly higher prices for health care because their prices are not negotiated, which is the case with those who are insured. Being part of an insurance company is similar to buying in bulk or getting a group rate on something--it's going to be cheaper for each member because you're committing to purchase more.

This is the basic rationality behind the single-payer system. Now before conservatives get overly-excited that I'm pushing "socialized medicine," I should point out that moving closer to a single payer system does not require a system like the one in Canada. In fact, many countries have a public-private hybrid form of health care.

Such is the case in France, which actually provides a much better example for the US than Canada. As health policy analyst Kate Steadman describes it, "The public component establishes a baseline of quality and care, along with the efficiency of single payer. ... Then the private component allows patients more access elective and experimental treatments and shorter waiting times."

According to a 2003 article (sub. req.) in the American Journal of Public Health, France expended only about 9.5% of its GDP on health care in 2000 while the United States was around 13% that year--and that's despite the fact coverage in France was universal while in the US we currently have about 41 million uninsured...and counting. In addition to the lower cost, French hospitals offer about 8.4 beds per 1000 people, while US hospitals only offer 3.6 beds for the same amount of people.

As the American Journal of Public Health article concludes:

"The French health care system delivers a higher aggregate level of services and higher consumer satisfaction with a significantly lower level of health expenditures, as a share of GDP, than in the United States. Add to this the enormous choice of health delivery options given to consumers, the low level of micromanagement imposed on health care professionals, and the higher level of population health status achieved by the French, and some would argue that the French model is a worthy export product."

Sounds pretty nice, doesn't it?

Perception vs. Reality in the Debate over the UW System

The Journal-Sentinel today is fronting a story about a public opinion survey on the UW System taken by the Madison-based PR firm Wood Communications Group. The survey was completed last fall, but in the midst of an election year and the revenue restrictions amendment debate, it’s starting to catch the attention of many people lately, especially aspiring politicians.

What jumped out at me in the JS story is that the president of Wood Communications Group, Jim Wood, paid for the survey himself. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb to suggest Wood wasn’t doing it solely out of the goodness of his heart.

According to the JS article: “Wood said he shared the results with Reilly and Don Nash, UW System executive vice president. He also has begun using them to try to create a roundtable of business leaders to advise the UW System and help it win more state support.”

So a PR firm conducts an internal survey on its own dime and then freely shares the disturbing news to an already PR-beleaguered UW System in the hopes of…what? I can only imagine Mr. Wood saw the act as an investment, not a gift.

After all, if the results showed the UW System was in good public standing, what benefit would they be to a firm that makes its living off bettering an organization’s public standing? I doubt they even would’ve been shared, in that case, with UW System officials and business leaders.

It’s tough to comment on the results of the survey before seeing the questions asked, the complete results, and the geographic disbursement of the people surveyed (I’ve recently contacted Wood Communications Group for this info and will post it if I get something back). The phrasing of the questions is especially important.

One comment I will make is that it seems the questions—based on the small amount of wording noted in the JS article—deal with public perception, as is the case with most public opinion polls, as opposed to reality. This is important to note because at the time of the survey last fall the UW System was under heavy media fire for troublesome situations like the highly-publicized Paul Barrows case.

How does fiscal reality match-up with the negative public perception highlighted by the Wood survey?

According to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau report from January 2005, between the 1994-1995 and 2004-2005 school years, state funding for the UW System only increased an average of 1.48% per year, which is undoubtedly far below the annual increases in the costs of providing a high-level university education. And, in fact, state funding to the UW System has decreased each year since 2002-2003, which is when students saw their tuition jump the most.

As for the charge that not enough money is going toward the classroom, in reality the numbers tell a different story. According to the LFB report, of the $807 million collected in tuition during the 2004-2005 school year, 99.5% went toward instruction. The remaining 0.5% went toward academic support and student services. It’s state funding—which, again, has only increased annually at 1.48% over the last decade and actually decreased in recent years—that covers the majority (61%) of what could be considered the costs of administration (the remaining 39% comes through federal dollars, gifts & trust, etc.).

So it’s pretty clear public perception (or at least what was perceived through the Wood survey) and the fiscal reality of the UW System situation don’t exactly match-up on all counts. But, unfortunately, in politics like in PR, perception is king. How much we’re going to allow perception to dictate our public policy is the important question.

Thursday, February 23, 2006

(Actual) Public Hearing for Revenue Restrictions Amendment Set

The location? The conservative bastion of Waukesha County.

Nothing like putting it right on your home turf. Why not Madison or Milwaukee, I wonder? Madison seemed to be good enough for the invitation-only hearing last week...I guess it's a fine locale as long as the crazy Madisonian liberals aren't allowed to talk.

Waukesha County Executive Dan Vrakas is one of two local government officials to actually come out in favor of the amendment. The other, Scott Walker, is really more of a candidate for governor than a local official, so we might want to put the real tally of local officals at 1 1/2. In any event, I'm sure Vrakas will be on hand for the event and, if the cameras are rolling, we can probably expect Walker to make an appearance, too.

Other particulars...

Date: March 4
Time: 4:00pm
Location: Country Springs Hotel in Pewaukee

In other news, the anti-gay marriage amendment is set for a vote in the Assembly this coming Tuesday. If it passes, as expected, there will be nothin' left between our state constitution and institutionalized discrimination except the people.

GOP Fearing the Wrath of Its Base?

I'm just spit-ballin' here, but the inclusion of restrictive measures on recall elections tucked into the election reform package currently being pushed through the Wisconsin state legislature may be borne, at least in part, out of fear.

I don't want to read too much into it because, as the Journal-Sentinel points out, the reform package has broad legislative support and Doyle is expected to sign it, but it would be interesting to see who added the restrictions on recall measures to the package. (Note: I'll look into the issue later, but if anyone knows, feel free to share.)

Granted, Democrats are prone to recall elections, too, but the volatile nature of conservative base these days--particularly over the revenue restrictions amendment, which isn't exactly raking in the positive press--may have struck some fear into the hearts of GOP state legislators.

The other day, I highlighted a post from Boots and Sabers, in which Owen makes very clear the only acceptable result for the amendment is passage--and not just that, but intact passage.

Owen concludes:

"The best thing for the GOP leadership to do is put a strong version of the TPA up for a vote. If it fails, then so be it. We, the base, can focus our anger on those Republicans who voted against it. If the leadership tries to play us for a bunch of morons by passing a watered down TPA that isn’t worth a politician’s promise, then there will be hell to pay."

And in the comments section, Owen gets a resounding "Hell, yeah!" from his conservative readers.

Seems some in the GOP may have heard them, loud and clear.

UPDATE: I found a legislative bill from last year that, I believe, is the basis for the recall part of the election reform bill that's making its way through the state legislature. It has 19 assembly sponsors, 17 of whom are Republicans, and 4 senate sponsors, 3 of whom are Republicans.

Walker Trying Desperately to be Noticed

The polls show Scott Walker doing unfavorably in relation to both Mark Green and Jim Doyle statewide in Wisconsin. The cash-on-hand campaign finance numbers show Walker (here) considerably behind both Green (here) and Doyle (here) in funds.

And two recent proposals by Walker show desperation.

The first of these proposals, which came two days ago, was Walker's ethics reform package. Part of the package included setting term limits on all state-elected officials and moving to a part-time state legislature. Even Brian Fraley, a big fan of Walker, doesn't like the term limit idea, claiming it would "empower staffers who are not accountable to the electorate." And as Xoff points out, other Republicans who have run for state office on the term limit idea have quickly changed their minds once elected (the advantages of incumbency, apparently, are too tempting to resist).

As for the part-time legislature, which Fraley called "pointless," it's an interesting idea coming from someone who has spent his entire career as a full-time politician (including as a state legislator). Besides, the point is Walker isn't serious about the proposal--to be sure, there's absolutely no way his own party, which currently controls both houses of the state legislature, would go along with it. And there isn't exactly overwhelming evidence it's necessary.

But seriousness and basing the proposal on actual evidence isn't what Walker is going for with these proposals, as the second one illustrates.

The second proposal is to dismantle the UW System. Now this wasn't exactly a formal proposal by Walker, but he did mention it in a debate with Mark Green at Charlie Syke's expose, "Insight 2006," which took place in Milwaukee yesterday. If there ever was a knee-jerk proposal presented in a debate, it was probably this one (although "Need some wood?" from the second 2004 presidential debate is still the most precious). Taking the word of conservative blogger Owen from Boots and Sabers who was in attendance, there seemed to be very little to differentiate Walker and Green in their debate at the event. So why not toss out a half-baked idea to break up the highly-regarded UW System?

At first it was all guns a-blazing for Walker, who exclaimed that it was time to dismantle the UW System "so the money goes into the classroom instead of some of those fools who are running the system." A bit later in the debate, when he was actually questioned on the seemingly spur-of-the-moment policy idea, Walker backed off, claiming he wasn't proposing to actually break up the UW System, but only to "study" the idea. So much for teaching those UW System "fools" a lesson. Maybe Walker should be the one to study proposals, if only just a little, before just throwing them out in public.

To me, these proposals show desperation on the part of Walker. In the case of the ethics reform package, there are some more reasonable ideas in the proposal--but Walker knew quite well which parts would make the headlines. From the JS yesterday: "Walker Proposes State Term Limits." The same could be said for the half-baked UW System proposal. Despite backing off on it, the JS headline from today still runs: "Walker Wants to Shake Up UW System."

Walker's hope is pretty clear. All things being equal, he won't even make it past Mark Green, let alone past Doyle. He's hoping these headlines will both differentiate him and catch the eye of some independent voters by capitalizing on major issues--political ethics and the favorite of media punching-bags lately, the UW System.

To be honest, I don't think these desperate attempts will get Walker anywhere. But it sure is fun waiting to see what policy idea will come out of his campaign next.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Not What You Ask, But How You Ask It

At least two referendums to raise public school revenue failed yesterday. One was in the Mequon-Thiensville School District just outside of Milwaukee and the other was in the Howard-Suamico School District near Green Bay.

Approximately 21% of the voting population voted against the Mequon-Thiensville referendum while about 16% voted for it. The goal of the referendum was to fill in a $6.5 million budget shortfall over the next three years and provide $1 million for technology updates and maintenance repairs. According to the district’s superintendent, the failed referendum will result in the firing of 11 custodians and 15 teachers.

The Mequon-Thiensville School District is among the best in the state (in large part because of money), and it will probably make it through this failed referendum without too much noticeable trouble—despite the firings, the resulting increase in maintenance issues and class sizes, and the lack of technology updates. Over time, however, if school revenues continue to remain stagnate or only increase at a snail’s pace, the district may not be able to afford to reject a funding referendum and maintain its high-stature in the future.

Such is the dire situation in the Howard-Suamico School District. The failed referendum yesterday is the third in the district since November 2004. The referendum was turned down this time by less than 100 votes—2,159 to 2,065. According to district officials, another referendum is not an option—it’s a must. The problem in Howard-Suamico is that the elementary school population is increasing faster than there is room in the elementary schools. The goal of the referendum was to build a new elementary school in Suamico and make expansions to two existing district elementary schools.

The interesting thing about referendums is how they’re phrased. I wouldn’t doubt if the Howard-Suamico referendum was phrased something like, “Do you want there to be enough room at the elementary schools for all of the elementary-age students in the district?” they might have been enough “yes” votes to make up the 95 needed for the referendum to pass. Now, I know, that language is skewed, but my point is that funding referendums are often phrased in such a way that emphasizes the amount of aggregate money requested while downplaying the effects of that money not being allocated.

Here is the actual wording of the Howard-Suamico referendum:

“BE IT RESOLVED by the School Board of the Howard-Suamico School District, Brown County, Wisconsin, (the ‘District’) that there shall be issued, pursuant to Chapter 67, Wisconsin Statutes, General Obligation Bonds in an amount not to exceed $17,800,000 (the ‘Bonds’) for the purposes of paying the cost of constructing, equipping and furnishing a new elementary school facility; constructing additions to, renovating, remodeling and upgrading, and acquiring furnishings and equipment for existing District facilities; site preparation and improvements at all construction sites; and the payment of related architectural and engineering fees and the cost of issuing the Bonds (the ‘Project’).

Shall the foregoing resolution of the School Board of the Howard-Suamico School District be approved?”

While the referendum question does note how the requested funds would be used, there is no indication of the importance of those funds or what would happen if they weren’t approved.

What does stick out very clearly, however, is that the district is asking for $17.8 million dollars from the residents of the district.

My point: Referendums that are requesting money tend to be skewed towards failure because it is impossible to convey the potentially damaging effects of not passing the referendum while the financial impact is inherent in the question.

Moreover, that financial impact always sounds high to an individual voter because it’s the aggregate figure. Divided amongst all of the residents of the district, the amount is much less intimidating. In fact, according to Howard-Suamico district officials, the $17.8 million would only add $78 per year in property taxes for a $200,000 home—but due to a January 2006 Board of Education resolution, the district would actually be able to absorb the entire $17.8 million into the existing tax rate, causing no additional money to be charged to resident’s property tax bill due to the referendum. In other words, the referendum wouldn’t raise property taxes in the district at all.

Where was that info in the referendum question? Granted, those in favor of passing the referendum can certainly work to educate the voters prior to the election day about how the district—due to a Board of Education resolution—can absorb the $17.8 million into the existing property tax rate. But those opposed to the referendum also have that ability to pound into minds of voters the fact that the referendum will cost $17.8 million.

To the average voter who doesn’t have the time or energy to pay close attention to governmental budgetary matters, what do you think sounds more convincing?

UPDATE: I made a couple changes to language at 3:30pm. The substance is the same.

Wisconsin Unfriendly to Businesses?

Throughout the debate over the amendment that is designed to put constitutional restrictions on governmental revenue, pro-amendment advocates have asserted that Wisconsin taxes are too high for businesses. The argument goes that as business taxes become more and more out of control, businesses will start to up and leave the state—taking jobs and state income with them.

While it’s probably true some businesses have decided to leave Wisconsin for the lower costs of the South and foreign lands, I started to wonder about the extent of this exodus in light of some recent major headlines. Just a couple weeks ago the City of Milwaukee approved a $25 million city financing package for Manpower Inc. to move its headquarters downtown. And only yesterday the State of Wisconsin approved giving Logistics Health Inc., run by former Gov. Tommy Thompson, $4 million in tax credits to build a facility in La Crosse.

The differences between conservative rhetoric in the amendment debate and what seemed to be the reality of the situation made me decide to look into these charges of unfriendliness a little more closely.

In my hunt for more info, I ran across a Legislative Fiscal Bureau report from 2005 that assesses Wisconsin’s state and local government revenue collections. As part of its assessment, the report looks at the level of corporate income taxes paid in Wisconsin between 1982-1983 and 2001-2002 (page 69). According to the report, the total corporate income taxes paid in Wisconsin between those years averaged an annual increase of 2.2%, amounting to a cumulative change over the two decade period of 51.7%.

This may sound like plenty of an increase, but when we turn our attention to individual income taxes paid in Wisconsin over the period (page 66), the situation is a bit different. Between 1982-1983 and 2001-2002, the average annual increase of individual income taxes was 5.7% for a cumulative increase of 186.8% over the two decade period. (Side-Note: Before pro-amendment advocates get overly-excited about this being evidence that a revenue restrictions amendment is needed, I should point out that individual income taxes relative to personal income in 2001-2002 were actually the second lowest they've been over the two-decade stretch--they were 8 cents lower per $1000 of personal income in 1989-1990; besides, the proposed amendment deals with revenue, not taxes.)

The situation with property taxes isn’t any different, according to another Legislative Fiscal Bureau report from 2005. In 1970, businesses paid 37.1% of all property taxes in the state, while homeowners and renters accounted for 50.6% of all property taxes in Wisconsin. By 2004, the percentage had decreased to 25.5% for businesses while increasing to 69.2% for homeowners and renters.

About the same time as those LFB reports came out in 2005, the La Follette School of Public Affairs at UW-Madison held a conference on government revenue. One of the conclusions to come out of the conference was that Wisconsin businesses paid less in total taxes than businesses in any of our neighboring states including Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota and Ohio. Plus, the conference discovered that the State of Wisconsin spends nearly $2.7 billion directly on businesses in the state, which is higher than any of our neighboring states.

And governmental leadership in Wisconsin also doesn’t seem to matter, as Democratic Governor Jim Doyle hasn’t been exactly oppositional to corporate interests since ending the reign of Republican governors four years ago.

Plus, businesses in Wisconsin surely benefit from the state’s highly educated population, which is mostly due to our excellent K-12 public schools and our top-notch UW system. I remember moving to Madison a couple years ago and hitting the job market there. I was hoping my advanced degree would stick out a bit, but when I arrived the response seemed to be, “Join the club.” Businesses certainly don’t need to look hard to find one of us, and you’d really be at a loss to find a community in the state that doesn’t have a sizable group of people who received a bachelors or associates degree from one of the well-regarded UW or state technical schools in Wisconsin.

After looking at all of this information, I’m wondering—how exactly is Wisconsin unfriendly to businesses?

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Image is Everything

Everyone knows about the preparations that are made when the president comes to town. Just yesterday we experienced it right here in Milwaukee. But what happened to 32 workers at the Energy Department's National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Golden, Colorado takes the cake.

Bush's poll numbers on energy are down (to go along with everything else), so his latest tour is aimed at pumping the need for finding renewable energy technologies--the exact type of technologies that the Colorado laboratory develops. However, two weeks ago the lab had to fire 32 workers because $28 million it expected to get from the federal government never made it.

So here was Bush, all set to come talk at the lab today about how important renewable energies are to his administration and to US national security, and the lab just canned 32 employees for a lack of federal funds.


Never fear, though, because if there's anything this administration will work to protect at the drop of a hat, it's the president's image. All it took was one call from Energy Secretary Samuel Bodman over the weekend and miraculously $5 million was sent to the Colorado lab to re-hire the 32 workers just in time for the president's big speech.

In his speech to the lab today, Bush said the missing appropriations must have been the result of a mix-up. "Sometimes, decisions made as the result of the appropriations process," Bush explained, "the money may not end up where it was supposed to have gone."

Too bad they haven't been able to locate the remaining $23 million the lab was shorted.

Retail Health Care?

The San Francisco Chronicle has a story today about the increasing presence of urgent care facilities in shopping malls and other retail areas.

I've seen a health clinic at Brookfield Square Mall, but I'm not sure about the other malls in the Milwaukee area or around Wisconsin.

I have mixed feelings about these facilities.

On the one hand, cash-paying health care services are a big part of the reality that comes from people losing their health insurance, which is happening on an increasing rate across the country.

On the other hand, these places aren't nearly as comprehensive as a traditional health clinic. It would be devastating for them to be viewed as an equal replacement for our traditional primary care health facilities, particularly since these retail health outlets largely rely on high turnover to make a profit off what are indeed cheaper rates for services. Haste isn't exactly a virtue in health care.

One aspect of these retail health centers that should be celebrated is their use of nurse practitioners to perform primary care functions. In many areas, particularly rural, this has already happened on a broader scale; but, for the most part, the female-dominated field of nurse practitioners still faces unwarranted biases from some in the medical community and the public at large.

If we're serious about getting health care costs under control in Wisconsin and the US, we need to start looking into turning over primary care duties to nurse practitioners who often don't charge the same high rates as physicians, but who most definitely have the expertise and skills required in the primary care setting.

False Assumptions in Revenue Restrictions Debate

In a recent post, Rick Esenberg at the Wisconsin blog "Shark and Shepherd" does a nice job of making some misleading points out of a comment I made on his blog yesterday.

My comment was about how the budgetary process in Wisconsin should privilege a discussion of the need and desirability of public services rather than solely considering cost (which shouldn’t be confused with the ability to pay, as I discuss below). Rick then goes on to suggest that the budgetary process, as it currently exists, is slated against the majority of people in the state because of the power special interests exert on the legislative process. The revenue restrictions amendment would, he claims, “balance the interests of those who pay against those who receive.”

Let’s just run through some of the false assumptions with that:

  • Rick makes the misleading comment that consistently pops up in conservative rhetoric on this amendment issue—namely, that it’s about the state’s ability to pay. “Shouldn’t legislators be just as concerned,” Rick notes, “over what the state can afford?” Unfortunately for Rick’s rhetoric and that of other conservatives on this point, the amendment is not about the ability of the state to pay. The amendment restricts revenue to the rate of inflation plus population growth, which isn’t the same as the growth in state personal income.
  • Rick assumes that discussions which privilege the need and desirability of a public service will inevitably result in the expansion of that public service. This couldn’t be further from the truth. If a honest and complete public discussion over a public service or public agency takes place, and the public decides—through the established legislative process—that a public service is too bloated or unnecessary based on its own merits, then by all means make the necessary cuts. It is probably true that most honest and complete discussions of most public services provided today by our state and local governments would result in at least maintaining the current level of service provided, but that only indicates the importance and desirability of our government programs to the public. And, as I mentioned above, public services in Wisconsin are not outpacing the public’s ability to pay for them. According to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau report (see page 63) from January 2005, the governmental revenue collected from Wisconsin sources (i.e., not including federal dollars) in 2001-2002 was the lowest it’s been relative to state personal income since 1982-1983.
  • Rick makes an assumption that all, or at least the majority, of state money is dictated by special interests. I wonder what the people who are a part of the BadgerCare or Family Care programs think of that one—or the people who are represented by the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families (WCCF) organization which is opposing this amendment because of the harm it will do to necessary and desirable public social services. Or how about the parents in the North Shore suburbs of Milwaukee (where both Rick and I live), along with those in many other parts of the state, who reside there largely because of the top notch public schools and the excellent protective services provided. All of these social service programs, which benefit the less fortunate and more fortunate in our communities, would be negatively impacted by the revenue restrictions amendment. Indeed, how exactly do you quantify the costs of hampering or loosing necessary and desirable public services? Public money is most often used to protect and enhance the livelihood of the public, as well as benefit economic growth; it’s not vanishing down a special interest black hole, as Esenberg seems to be assuming. Besides, if the main concern here is special interests, then we really should be discussing campaign finance reform, not revenue restrictions. As I’ve said before, I’m completely on board with publicly financing the entirety of state and local campaigns--there would be no better way to ensure the interests of those who pay are balanced with the interests of those who receive than public campaign financing.
  • Piggy-backing on the point above, Rick makes it seem like no special interest has anything to gain from the enactment of the revenue restrictions amendment—it would instead provide an alleged balance between those who pay and those who receive. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The BIGGEST SPENDING special interest group in the state—Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce (WMC)—has taken on this amendment as its primary advocacy issue, even spending thousands of dollars to produce and run ads in its favor throughout the state. Since the amendment would make government in Wisconsin an increasingly smaller part of the state economy, leaving more for the private sector, it’s no wonder WMC is pushing so hard for the amendment’s passage. Make no mistake, the WMC interest in the issue has nothing to do with balancing anything.
  • Rick ends his post with this line: “My view is that the state will be better off in the long run because legislators will be forced to make the hard choices that they currently avoid.” The fact is the revenue restrictions amendment is about having the government do less, not work more efficiently. This point is made very clear through the current situation in Colorado, which is reeling from the negative impact the amendment has had on public services in the state since its TABOR amendment was passed over a decade ago; today Colorado hardly stands as a beacon of government efficiency.
If conservatives think a public service or agency is too bloated then they should focus the discussion on limiting that public service or agency. This would put the emphasis of the discussion on the need and desirability of the public service or agency; if the discussion leads us to make cuts, then cuts will be (and are) made. That was the point I was making when commenting on Rick’s blog. Implementing a one-size-fits-all solution with government finances is harmful to the public good because it puts cost (again, this is not synonymous with the ability to pay) ahead of need and desirability. We need more budgetary flexibility for our diverse state, not more rigidness.

UPDATE: I made one change to the language after re-reading Rick's post. The general points I made before are the same.

Medical Malpractice Bill About Partisan Politics, Not Public Policy

It appears conservative state legislators in Wisconsin are trying to cap non-economic (i.e., "pain and suffering") awards for medical malpractice suits again. According to the bill's co-author, Rep. Curt Gielow (R-Mequon): "Good public policy would suggest we have to have something that puts certainty back into the insurance market."

In reality, however, this bill has nothing to do with public policy and everything to do with partisan politics. It's about dredging up in an election year the non-issue that trial lawyers are supposedly at the forefront of running up the costs of health care in Wisconsin.

As I've noted before, this is just simply not the case--and the Wisconsin Supreme Court agrees.

Health care costs, however, are an issue that needs to be addressed at the state level, but the lead solution needs to come from the national level. And as I've noted here and here, the Bush administration's sole answer to the problem, pushing Heath Savings Accounts, is a failure waiting to happen.

SIDE-NOTE: For excellent discussions on the state of health care in the US and how it intersects with politics, check out "The Health Care Blog" by Matthew Holt. You can also subscribe to a free daily e-newsletter by FierceHealthcare that highlights health care news from around the country by visiting here.

Monday, February 20, 2006

What Public-Private Partnerships Really Mean

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett gave his State of the City address today. The major theme: partnerships.

There is an important difference between the true partnerships proposed by Barrett and the privatization efforts proposed by Scott Walker in his State of the County address a couple of weeks ago.

Barrett is looking to stabilize public finances through forging joint relationships with area businesses. One example of this is the partnership between the city and Columbia St. Mary's Hospital to work collaboratively on public health initiatives. Another example is the city's agreement with Midwest Fiber Networks, which is building a wireless network for the city.

Walker, on the other hand, is looking to sell off Milwaukee County's public obligations to the highest private bidder--hardly the makings of a true partnership. Rather than investigate creative ideas for solving the parks budget defecit, for example, Walker vetoed the formation of an investigative County Board-supported commission, choosing instead to move forward with ideas to privatize management of the parks and maintenance staffing.

Ph.D. Barry Poulson, Reporting for Duty

Economist Barry Poulson continues his tour of duty in Wisconsin with an op-ed at WisOpinion today. In it Poulson echoes much of his generalized “expert” testimony provided to the invitation-only legislative hearing on the revenue restrictions amendment last week.

Not a single actual number is mentioned by Poulson in his op-ed. All he really does is assert that governments as a rule can’t keep from spending in good times and bad, claim taxes are too high in Wisconsin, allude to the fact that high taxes are bad for business, and then predict that the revenue restrictions amendment would have the modest effect of giving taxpayers control over the fiscal situation in Wisconsin.

There are many problems with Poulson's generalizations, but I'll focus on three.

One, the revenue restrictions amendment says nothing directly about taxes or spending—it’s about the collection of revenue. The original TABOR was about spending, and that misguided initiative failed. Theoretically, taxes could increase under the revenue restrictions amendment as long as total revenue only increases at the rate of inflation plus population growth.

Two, in terms of total revenue collections—again, which is what the amendment is really about—Wisconsin is actually a very average state. According to UW-Madison economist Andrew Reschovsky, who actually completed a formal analysis of the Wisconsin situation, our state ranks 23rd in the nation in terms of revenue collections in relation to personal income. In fact, we’re just a few tenths of a percentage point above the national average in this regard.

Three, this amendment would hardly give taxpayers control over the fiscal situation in Wisconsin. While it’s true referendums could be called by governmental units—the state, counties, municipalities, school boards, etc.—to increase the level of revenue that can be generated under the amendment, it’s the state legislature that has the power to categorize the referendum as recurring or non-recurring. If determined to be recurring, the most a referendum can generate above the amendment-imposed restrictions is the greater of $50,000 or 15% of the total amount of revenue allowed under the amendment’s limits. In other words, the referendums—which are a very inefficient way to deal with a fiscal crisis to start—are highly circumvented by the state. What's more, under the amendment citizens would actually lose representation in the state economy as the place of government in it recedes.

The conservative Republicans are trying desperately to push Poulson into the limelight of this debate, but the Colorado economist really has nothing to add to the discussion. To me, that only says that the state GOP has very little to justify this amendment, as well.

UPDATE: Paul Soglin at Waxing America provides an excellent point-by-point rebuttal of Poulson's op-ed. Well worth the read.

Scott Walker: The Man Who Doesn’t Want to Hear a Plan

At the end of his State of the County address last month, Scott Walker said this: “These are just a few of the ideas that came out of a planning session last month with our top staff and cabinet. More will follow in the weeks and months ahead.” Evidently he wasn’t referring to the county parks in this statement.

Instead of being open to generating creative ideas on how to deal with the county parks budget deficit, Walker decided this past Friday to veto the creation of a County Board-supported parks commission charged with studying alternative revenue sources for the parks. He called the commission a “Trojan horse” for a sales tax increase, which is an idea already being pushed by a growing number of Board members. Since the sales tax increase proposal is already out there, I’m assuming Walker is worried the proposed commission might find some justification for the increase. How terrible it would be for our local government to study options already on the table and try to think of new ones before moving forward.

According to a Journal-Sentinel article on the issue, “[Walker] is concentrating on boosting parks revenues through lease partnerships with food and retail vendors, pointing to the Starbucks coffee shop at Red Arrow Park as a model. He said he was examining privatizing more parks maintenance staffing, and looking at more private management of county golf courses in the parks.”

Now why would we crazy liberals get so freaked out, as conservative blogger Brian Fraley put it, about privatization of the parks when all Walker did was make a harmless suggestion in his State of the County address to add a couple coffee shops to some “marginal areas of park land” around the county?

Tuition, Energy Costs, and the Revenue Restrictions Amendment

There were two good articles in the Journal-Sentinel yesterday that indirectly related to the revenue restrictions amendment, or Bride of TABOR, proposed by conservative state Republicans just over a week ago.

The first is an article that discusses how rising tuition rates, combined with federal freezes in financial aid options such as Pell Grants, have largely kept low income students out of the UW System. The key question to ask is why tuition rates have risen so sharply in recent years. The answer is really unsurprising, but nonetheless an important one to pay attention to in light of the recent revenue restrictions amendment debate.

Here is what the article had to say about the why question:

“After the Legislature cut its funding by $250 million, the UW System increased tuition by 18% in 2003 and 16% in 2004. The system has received a shrinking portion of the overall state budget in recent years as the Legislature has increased spending for other priorities, such as prisons and highways.”

It’s very clear that as revenue allotments to the university decrease, tuition increases. In his analysis of the revenue restrictions amendment, UW-Madison economist Andrew Reschovsky predicted that if the amendment was enacted in 1985, “in 2005 tuition would have to increase by about $200 million to make up for the reduced UW System appropriations, an increase equal to 25 percent of actual tuition revenue in 2005.”

While conservative critics will undoubtedly quibble about the exactness of Reschovsky’s numbers, they can’t deny the fact that UW System appropriations would decrease under the revenue restrictions amendment—thus causing tuition to rise significantly higher than it is today, keeping out even more students and saddling a good portion of the rest with even higher amounts of debt after graduation.

The second article that indirectly deals with the revenue restrictions amendment looks at rising energy costs faced by local governmental units across the state this winter. Even with the mild winter (until this past weekend, anyway), schools and municipal governments are strapped with energy costs that are projected to increase as much as 40-50% over last year. Right now the increased costs are up around 31%, but energy company officials aren’t ruling out a spike as the heating season continues over the next couple months.

There are two points that are interesting about this article in relation to the revenue restrictions amendment. The obvious one is that these rising energy costs are far outpacing the rise in inflation and population growth, which are the rates at which governments are expected to limit themselves under the amendment. And energy costs are just one of a number of costs to governmental units that are not reflected in the inflation rate (health care jumps out as another big one).

The less obvious point from the JS article is the steps that are being taken by every single local governmental unit mentioned in the article to keep their energy costs down. In Milwaukee County buildings turned on the heat later in the year than usual and are keeping less-used rooms at colder temperatures than the heavy traffic ones. The Waukesha School District used 27% less gas this January than last January (due to higher costs, the 2006 bill for the month was still $20,000 more than the one in 2005). The Cedarburg School District drops its temperatures at night and doesn’t start to heat them up until later in the morning than in previous years.

So contrary to the view that governments will spend, spend, spend whenever they get the chance, these governments are seeking out ways to save money on energy costs and undoubtedly other costs, too. My entire, albeit short, career has been spent in the public sector, and in each place I’ve worked—whether in Minnesota or in Wisconsin—there has been an emphasis on reducing costs whenever possible.

Granted, the local governments highlighted in the JS article and the public sector jobs I’ve had are all under tight budget constraints even without the revenue restrictions amendment—but that’s exactly the point. There isn’t a need for such a drastic constitutional amendment because governments in our state do not engage in out-of-control spending. We shouldn’t give all or even any governments a blank check—which is why we don’t. Of course there is some excess and waste in some areas, but the same is true for any private sector operation on the scale of our governmental units. What’s more, we already have processes in place that work to spot and remedy these instances of excess and waste in the public sector.

The fact is the revenue restrictions amendment is not going to make life in Wisconsin any cheaper for most citizens and it’s only going to make government do less, not work more efficiently.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

Conservative Base Getting Ready to Eat Their Own

Check out this post by Owen at "Boots and Sabers." Wisconsin state legislators seated on the right side of the aisle should especially take note.

It gets really interesting in the comments section. You can almost feel them whipping themselves up into a frenzy over the thought that the revenue restrictions amendment won't pass.

It's kind of got a Sopranos meets the Donner Family feel to it.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Belated Comment on Voucher Agreement

I’ll start by noting that I agree completely with Jay’s assessment of the sad attempt by conservatives to claim Doyle caved on school vouchers.

Now, on to the actual agreement.

Overall, I reluctantly support it. It’s not perfect, but the nature of a compromise is usually imperfection.

The one big hole in the agreement is that a funding flaw still plagues the program. It’s completely unreasonable to ask Milwaukee residents to pay $1000 more for each voucher student than they pay for a MPS student. Even John Gard called this a “legitimate concern.” So then why wait until 2007 to deal with it? The money is there—the state is essentially bankrolling $3000 annually for each voucher student. What’s the delay in shifting $1000 per voucher student back to Milwaukee residents? Even an outlined plan would’ve been nice, with some verbal commitments to follow through with it from both sides. The shunning of the funding flaw was almost enough to tank the agreement for me.

But, as it turns out, I pretty much like everything else in the agreement. I would’ve liked to see SAGE get the $500 per student increase Doyle initially proposed rather than only $250, but any increase to that proven program is a bonus to kids and schools across the state. I think the accreditation requirement is good, as are the plans to raise the income eligibility cap and eliminate prior-year eligibility rules. Setting the enrollment cap at 22,500 should keep the program solvent into the foreseeable future, particularly in light of the prediction by the Public Policy Forum that voucher enrollment is leveling-off.

I am hesitant about the standardized testing requirements, but not for the reason some of you may think. I’m not an opponent of the idea of standardized testing, but I am strongly against directly tying funding of any kind to standardized testing—particularly when that testing isn’t designed as locally as possible (the state, in my opinion, isn’t local enough). I’ve explained my feelings on standardized testing before (see here and here), so I won’t go into them on this post. I need more explanation of how the scores of these mandatory standardized tests will be used once reported to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau. They should certainly be used to scrutinize the voucher schools, but they should not be tied directly to funding like testing in the public schools is through No Child Left Behind—two wrongs, in this case, would not make a right.

Most of all, I’m happy an agreement was reached on this issue. I hope it moves quickly through the legislature. And the thought of needing to stomach another attack ad by Charlie Sykes makes me hope the school voucher program isn’t an issue on this scale for a long time.

Michael Berube Answers Sean Hannity

This is too good not to post.

This week on Hannity and Colmes, Sean Hannity asked: "Kids are indoctrinated. They're a captive audience. What can be done to remove these professors with these radical ideas from campus?"

Michael Berube, professor of literature and cultural studies at Penn State, decided to answer Hannity on his blog. The response is played out as if Berube was actually on the program (which he wasn't).

That’s a great question, Sean. Let’s break it down into two parts.

Kids are indoctrinated. They’re a captive audience.

The process all starts with the captivity, really. As you know, Sean, in America, students are assigned to their universities by the Federal Education and Re-education Committee. Once they arrive on campus, they are subjected to a rigorous system of mandatory coursework. We like to call it “basic training,” and let me tell you, the foreign language requirements are especially punitive. Now, the FERC records tell of a student who tried, in 1988, to “choose” an “elective” course at a Big Ten university. That student was sentenced to twenty years in the Nevada silver mines, where she works today. And I don’t think I have to tell you what happens to undergraduates who violate curfew!


Now, you mentioned indoctrination. Let me dilate on that for a bit.

Once they get into my course (required for graduation), Advanced America-Blaming and Applied Appeasement of Terrorists, they are graded primarily on attendance and recitation. They are also required to turn in two essays, one in which they blame America first, the other in which they propose a strategy for appeasing a terrorist enemy. I am very strict about these essays. I demand that their essays conform to the MLA Handbook for Writers of Research Papers, Sixth Edition, and that they spell America with a k. (Extra credit for three k’s!)

The results are quite dramatic. Many of my students come from conservative backgrounds, but by the tenth week of class, they can chant “all power to the Supreme Soviet” with the best of them. Basically, we party like it’s 1929. At the end of the semester, they leave my classroom and plaster the campus with posters reading “Meat is Murder” and “Bush is Hitler.” Two years ago, one enterprising student came up with a “Meat is Hitler” poster. I have recommended that student to some of the nation’s top graduate schools.

My thinking is that if we can’t get them in college, we inevitably get them in graduate school. Look at young Ben Shapiro. When he got out of UCLA he was still an ultraconservative firebrand in the D’Souza/ Coulter tradition. He even wrote a book called Brainwashed, even though he himself had not been brainwashed. But after just two years at Harvard, he’s dropped out of law school to join the national touring company of The Vagina Monologues.

As to the second part of your question:

What can be done to remove these professors with these radical ideas from campus?

That’s actually quite easy, Sean. I think a simple auto da fé should do the trick. But let me answer you in a song.

Hey Sean Hannity, whaddya say?
I just got back from the auto da fé
Auto da fé? What’s an auto da fé?
It’s what ya oughtn’t to do, but ya do anyway

Sean Hannity:

Great tune, Michael! Let me join in!

Auto da fé? What’s an auto da fé?
It’s what ya oughtn’t to do, but ya do anyway

Fox News Channel, what a show.
Fox News Channel, here we go.
We know you’re wishin’ that we’d go away!
So all you professors better get a clue
We got big news for all of you:
You’d better change your point of view . . . today!
‘Cause Sean Hannity’s here and he’s here to stay!

Friday, February 17, 2006

The League of Women Voters: Public Enemy #1

Numerous organizations have come out against the revenue restrictions amendment since it was introduced just over one week ago, but the opposition by the League of Women Voters of Wisconsin seems to have really caught the attention of conservative state Republicans. Perhaps it’s because the League of Women Voters is a grassroots political organization, unlike the other groups opposing the amendment that represent unions, student associations, children and family services, and local government (who cares what they think, right?).

In a press release by state Rep. Frank Lasee (R-Bellevue), the League of Women Voters (LWV) is criticized for releasing a “poorly written attack” on the revenue restrictions amendment that “ignore[s] their own mission statement.” Lasee continues, “They’re simply parroting the usual liberal talking points, and pushing that as their agenda.”

So what would’ve prevented this catastrophe? According to Lasee, “They haven’t talked to me or the other authors to find out what [this amendment] does. If they had, they’d know what they’re saying is wrong.”

Thus, in order to truly understand the revenue restrictions amendment, a group must first talk to the authors and supporters of the amendment who will gladly clear up any confusion. (Side Note: As Carrie at What’s Left reported yesterday, some of our elected state legislators may not be the best equipped to explain the amendment to others.)

Here is what’s actually in the LWV release:

“Limiting taxes has a general appeal, but cutting government services does not. We believe in adequate financing of essential government services – services such as building and maintaining roads, parks and schools, providing safe and healthy communities, educating our children, protecting the environment, and making available health care and other aids for people in need.”

How terrible, right?

And then there’s this:

“TABOR/TPA would produce an inflexible tax structure that would inhibit the ability of a municipality or county to adjust to new situations. Touted largely as a way to reduce local property taxes, this amendment would also ‘freeze’ state revenues, thus reducing the funds that go to local governments to decrease local property taxes. Funds passed by referenda for critical shortages will fall on the local property tax, not the state budget. TABOR/TPA would diminish the power of local officials to make decisions they were elected to make. Similarly it would lessen the responsibilities of the Legislature and the Governor to carry out their proper functions.

TABOR/TPA would make major changes in the economy as well as in governmental programs. Government services under-gird the economy by building and maintaining the infrastructure. They support the high quality of our institutions of higher education which attract businesses, and they help many individuals and families increase their participation in the economy as workers and as consumers.

Much as some legislators would like to gain the support of their constituents by their campaigns to lower taxes, the truth is that our local elected officials are watching their own budgets closely and judging the needs of their constituents carefully. The League will continue our opposition to TPA/TABOR and any other tax freeze proposals, especially those sought through a constitutional amendment.”

The only point that the LWV is slightly off the mark on is the notion of a “freeze” on revenues and taxes. The amendment, in fact, would restrict revenues to increases in inflation and population growth. Since neither of these factors would allow revenues to keep up with the cost of providing services, however, the effect of the amendment is accurately portrayed by the LWV.

So it’s really more of a slowly tightening chokehold on government revenues rather than a freeze.

That changes everything, right?

UPDATE: The League of Women Voters of Wisconsin responds to Lasee.