taxes and money

The Republican grassroots expects Washington politicians to deliver on their campaign promises of a major tax code overhaul, a sentiment that’s backed up by a new poll by the American Action Network, a center-right advocacy group based in Washington – as well as Republican leaders in an area of Wisconsin where Trump emerged the surprising victor.

The poll, which surveyed Republicans, found that 77 percent of Republicans think tax reform is extremely or very important. It also found that Republican rank-and-file voters are most concerned that the current tax code is too complicated and tax rates are too high.

“As President Trump and conservatives in Congress work on tax reform, this constituency is strongly behind them and overwhelmingly supports center-right tax reform. It’s clear, now is the right time to deliver on a simple tax code with lower rates for all Americans,” said AAN Executive Director Corry Bliss in a statement.

Brian Westrate, chairman of the 3rd District Republican Party – a historically blue district Trump won handily – framed the imperative to reform the tax code as a moral one.

“Those in power in our nation’s capital have a moral duty to the people they represent to tackle the over 75,000 pages that comprise the current tax code, to deconstruct it line by line, and reform it as a simple, effective, efficient, and fair new law,” Westrate said.

Bill Feehan, chairman of the La Crosse County Republican Party, said rank-and-file Republicans are very much in tune with the conversation in Washington and expect bold tax reform, especially after Trump – who made tax reform a centerpiece of his campaign – won the presidency in November.

“Tax cuts are the fastest way to stimulate our economy. Income tax cuts put more money in people’s pockets and most of the money gets spent right away,” Feehan said.

“This gets the economy going from the bottom up. Allowing businesses to keep more of the money they earn results in pay raises for employees, new equipment purchases and investment in business expansion,” Feehan added.

AAN’s poll also went into specifics about Trump and Congressional Republicans’ job performance and asked respondents about their tax reform plan. Respondents overwhelmingly support the broad outlines of the GOP’s plan, with 85 percent approving. Respondents also said tax reform should make it easier to create jobs, raise wages, and expand opportunity. A new tax code should grow the economy and encourage job creation.

Respondents also viewed President Trump favorably – 89 percent registered their approval. As for Congressional leadership, 77 percent approve of the job GOP leaders are doing.

The high support for Trump and Congressional leaders should be a boost for fence-sitting Republicans who might be afraid of the electoral ramifications of major tax reform. “This will take courage, and fortitude, but now that the conservatives in Washington control all levers of power in Washington they must use this opportunity to serve the people,” Westrate said.

“They must kill the tax beast built by progressive socialists over the course of the last 100 years.”

Both Trump and Congressional leaders in the majority party can maintain those relatively high numbers, it seems, by advancing a bold, pro-growth tax reform plan and doing it sooner rather than later. “Republicans should move quickly on tax cuts,” Feehan said.

“With great power comes great responsibility, the American people have given conservatives the power, now it’s time to accept the responsibility,” said Westrate.

This column also appeared at the MacIver Institute.

Photo credit: The Motley Fool
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The Eighth grade just ain’t what it used to be.

I remember taking ILA (integrated language arts), science, math, social studies – mostly a basket of stuff like geography and economics – and of course PhyEd (gym class).

The political and ideological indoctrination didn’t really begin until around our senior year. Mostly, at my public middle school, we were just a bunch of kids learning stuff and hanging out like 13 year old kids do. Ok, some snuck off and smoked or whatever – but the school didn’t offer lessons in cigology or evading the cops.

That quaint old paradigm seems to be eroding, at least in Abigail Swetz’s alternative-universe eighth grade class at O’Keeffe Middle School in Madison. Not only does she permit the exploration of some very adult topics that many parents would prefer to keep within the realm of their home and family, but she actively encourages these kids – the ultimate captive audience – to literally talk trash. The classroom and the extracurricular off-campus events she brings the kids to seem to be bubbles of a parallel universe in which all social norms have been completely eviscerated and anything goes.

While these kids are using adult works to talk about adult topics, I wonder how many are at grade level on Algebra, or can identify a photo of John Adams or a real social justice warrior like oh, I don’t know, Harriet Tubman or Frederick Douglass.

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Plans to move the offices of La Crosse County’s administrative center have been in the works for some time. But the word plan implies something predictable and well-run. For La Crosse, the plan has been a boondoggle and a joke, the butt of which is the La Crosse County taxpayer. But you’ll have to read this whole piece to reach the punchline.

By way of background…

The current La Crosse County Administrative Center (the interior of which is pictured above, someone pointing out what we must assume is a nest of asbestos bees) was built in the 1960s. Like many buildings from that era, its walls and ceilings cover beams and pipes sprayed with asbestos, a carcinogen that’s no joke. The asbestos currently sits undisturbed and is a relatively benign problem in a building that’s seen recent renovations and boasts more modern amenities that most of the buildings at UW-La Crosse. Across the street is the county jail, and lying diagonally to the administrative center is a large parking lot covering a city block. Also located nearby is an office building owned by Associated Bank. Ok, got it?

I’ll make the implied explicit: I am a cynic when it comes to ostensibly unassailable estimates, costs, and projections presented by any political leadership. My chronic inability to believe the “facts” and “figures” proffered by County Board chairwoman Tara Johnson, former chairman Steve Doyle, county administrator Steve O’Malley, and others is informed by a basic distrust of those in power and my assumption, born too often from experience, that these people hold some level of disdain for the intelligence of the people they represent, and thus a disrespect for their rights as taxpayers.

Now back to the story.

The La Crosse Tribune reported that the supposedly intransigent asbestos has actually been removed in some areas of the building in this persuasion piece from November of 2013, discrediting the argument that an entirely new building was needed. But the basic proposition of renovation rather than razing was apparently not the focus of extended consideration by any official; instead that boring option was the target of a propaganda-driven effort to justify building anew. Eight-figure numbers are thrown around in this piece like an out-of-control tennis ball launcher, but the basic idea was that renovating the current building while removing all remaining asbestos would run about $23-24 million.

In that same story, that same firm, River Architects, estimated the cost of building a brand new building in the aforementioned parking lot at several million less than remodeling the otherwise-fine current building, for a total cost of $21.2 million. Shocker. That the preferred outcome of those in charge would just happen to cost out cheaper isn’t the question, the question is who in the county knew who at River Architects.

I remind you: I doubt these numbers’ core veracity not only out of the agony of a chronic cynicism, but because the liberal majority has never produced any competitive bids or even offered proof that such bids were solicited; they have refused to prove the numbers undergirding their arguments have not been rigged, or at least slanted to fit the purpose of a new building. Someone at the county made a call to River Architects, brought in a guy, and cranked out some numbers with sufficient specificity as to sound credible for presentation to the newspaper. That’s most likely what produced these figures – because to assume a half-asked job was done on behalf of using a patsy newspaper to report slanted figures is simply to err on the side of realism.

Shiny and new.

The decision to remodel or move wasn’t agonizing for the County Board, particularly because it’s controlled by a large spend-happy majority who no doubt would love to start new rather than remodel the current building. That’s just what liberals do, and the 6 or 8 conservatives – some of whom have themselves been some combination of wet-waffle and a patsy in supporting this scheme at one turn or the next – are powerless to stop them. So to build new is where they started.

The plan initially was to build an entirely new administrative center in the parking lot, which spanned (it’s now a hole full of cranes) the entire block across the street from both the current administrative center and the county jail, which itself was recently nearly doubled in size. Facing headwinds as to the need for a new building, the loss of parking, and the concurrent loss of City of La Crosse property tax base by not putting something private-sector on the parking lot, the next option was to buy and move into the Associated Bank building mentioned at the top of this piece.

As for the current county administrative center? It was sold for nearly the average cost of a single family home in Onalaska: $250,000. It will be redeveloped into student housing by a partnership of local developers with whom the county has gotten too cozy. To this cynic, the low price sounds a lot like back scratching that throws the interests of the taxpayer, yet again, under the bus.

In an undue haste, a deal was made that forced county leadership, and, less-wittingly, city leadership, into a very tight and financially risky timetable.

Banking on Plan B.

The county decided to buy the nearby Associated Bank office building for $4.6 million, remodel it, and move in – at a cost of about $19.4 million. The bank building promised to be modern, right-sized, and – most importantly – free of asbestos. It’s also near the current county campus of buildings including the jail and relatively shiny and sound Health and Human Services building.

A complex series of deals and digging has ensued in which the parking lot (formally called Lot C for the sake of convenience) is being redeveloped by local businessman Don Weber. A strict timeline that Weber’s organization is strictly holding to is necessary to make sure Associated Bank can move into new digs at that development site before the county moves into the bank’s old place. The parking lot will also host additional developments, from retail to office to residential.

I’m the last to argue that turning a weed-strewn old glob of pavement into a new development is anything but good for downtown La Crosse, but a very important question was kicked down the road by a listless county board: where will all those people park? That’s a huge parking lot that’s being eliminated. To put it briefly, the answer is still elusive. The new development will feature some underground parking to replace the surface lot it’s supplanting. Now, Weber’s organization may be forced to purchase another nearby property and build another parking ramp, potentially exposing the City of La Crosse (a unit of government we must distinguish from La Crosse County; the two have been at odds) to financial risk.

One thing’s clear thus far: were it not for the leadership of Weber (in other words, if the county was handling this by itself), the unnecessarily complex and tight timeline that hasty decisions by the county necessitated would have devolved into unmitigated failure.

Whoops…

Another option considered early was to expand the nearby county Health and Human Services Building and convert the building into a nexus of county operations. That option was quickly nixed in favor of buying the bank due to its size and smaller impact on the already-short parking situation.

As it happened, the bank was never big enough to meet the county’s needs, despite earlier reporting that the current asbestos-ridden hellhole was actually too big. Reported the Tribune early last year, “While the bank’s drive-through area would be enclosed and converted to offices, the approximately 50,000-square-foot building still doesn’t have enough space to completely meet the county’s needs.” So the HHS addition will be needed, anyway.

An old restaurant saying goes, “proper prior planning prevents pisspoor performance.” Perhaps if county admin Steve O’Malley, whose current contract essentially shovels a million dollars into his early retirement/yacht fund, bought into this crude phrase, homeowners in La Crosse County wouldn’t have tire tracks on their face.

So in an article entitled “Firm Recommends HHS Building Addition,” the paper reported that millions more would need to be spent to expand the HHS building, in part to support jobs that are currently at the whim of temporary federal grant money, risky money which is somehow portrayed by the paper as a financial windfall, like a desperate job-seeker who buys a new Tesla after getting a temp job at a concert venue.

Oh, and the firm cited by the article is a familiar one: River Architects.

Taxpayers pay the price.

The County Board recently voted to more than double the county’s debt load to more than $100 million to fund this interlocking series of hasty decisions and boondoggles that will continue until Don Weber and La Crosse mayor Tim Kabat figure out a way to solve the parking disaster the county has created.

Just a few weeks ago, the Tribune again pressed the plunger on the morphine syringe, reporting a relatively manageable impact on taxpayers from these projects “The $23 million in bonding for the three projects will raise the county tax rate by 6 cents in 2016 and 2017, then another 8 cents in 2018. It will add about $20 to the annual tax bill on a $100,000 home, officials said.” That sounds like a good deal!

I urge La Crosse taxpayers to adopt my suspicion of numbers proffered by officials interested in self-promotion and the retention of their own jobs. Figures presented don’t take into account recently relieved debt service on the first jail addition; it doesn’t account for the tremendous expenditures at the county landfill; it doesn’t account for the pressing need for road improvements, which is now spurring its own new tax, a wheel tax surcharge on vehicle registration. These and others were potential inflection points for tax rates – up or down? The current leadership chose the upward trajectory.

More importantly, in a region in which municipal, school, county, and technical school property taxes have continued to rise far faster than wage inflation, area districts are referendum-happy, and tens of millions disappear without notice into unquestioned projects like the Hillview Nursing Home revamp, the real lost opportunities are 1. Tax savings by adopting fiscal restraint and 2. The itinerant financial flexibility such a course opens for frivolities like filling potholes.

Rather than take regional growth for granted, La Crosse County needs to adopt a more fiscally responsible modus operandi. Nay – simply a more responsible one.

The punchline.

Brad Williams of WIZM recently reported that asbestos has been found in the bank building; this, the bank building whose purchase plunged La Crosse County taxpayers into a debt spiral because it would be the right size, and because it didn’t have the asbestos.

Asbestos is a bad thing. But when an incompetent local government sets out to fix it, it manages not to do so, make a huge mess that others must clean up, all the while spending tens of millions, doubling taxpayers’ debt load, debt which today’s first graders will still be paying when they’re looking for their first house in La Crescent.

La Crosse taxpayers: this is a joke, and it’s on you.

 

fiornia

Anyone who followed Carly Fiorina prior to her dominating performance in Thursday’s junior varsity debate was disappointed that she didn’t make it into the top ten to qualify for the main stage. Fiorina has confidently, articulately, and forcefully spoken the language of conservatism for months.

But when the pundits and social media lit up over her great showing, it became obvious she was a Sturgeon in an aquarium. Perhaps she was on just the right stage at this point in her campaign; her incandescent dominance over a mini-field of soggy waffles and shoulda-beens demonstrated that she should be in the big leagues next time around.

Rather than analyze the specifics of what she said Thursday (you can find it on YouTube), let me opine about the candidate in general. Carly Fiorina is the Iron Lady of the Republican Party right now, a master of soundbites in an era where those are important, but also a master at putting conservative objectives like tax code reform, smaller government, and the imperative of a strong national defense into commonsense language that both excites the GOP base and incites thoughtful introspection.

This contrasts with some candidates who proclaim their severe conservative credentials but who deliver an equivocating agenda (God bless Mitt, but he had issues boiling down Buckleyism the way Reagan could).

As the rise of Trump shows, people are sick of the political class that says all the right things but so rarely does the right thing. Fiorina is poised to tap into the same vein of discontentment with the political class, politically correct blandness, and fear of using forceful rhetoric. Consider the irony of that: we have a GOP field seeking to command the most powerful military in the history of the world who are afraid of calling a narcissistic, serial liar a narcissist and a serial liar (that would be Hillary, to make a Huckabee-esque clarification).

Forget Trump. Fiorina from day one of her campaign has spoken real truths from a position legitimately outside the orbit of the ruling class, but in a manner worthy of what ought to be the most dignified office on the planet, Obama’s degradation of that perch notwithstanding.

The trouble with conservatism is that it’s an ideology fit more for William F. Buckley than Debbie Wasserman-Schultz. In other words, it’s not easy to bring conservative ideas to a kitchen table, to relate it to the lives of people who don’t spend their time pouring over the works of Adam Smith, Voltaire, and John Locke, and sharing tea with Milton Friedman.

Fiorina can do this because she understands conservative ideas, the world at large, and how average people will understand the benefits of Republican solutions to their lives. She roundly has earned a spot on the next big stage, where she will begin a steady rise toward the top of the pack.

At least I sure hope – a hope that’s being stoked. Fox News has ramped up its advocacy for Fiorina. Other news outlets are offering praise. But more importantly, following her impressive showing in front of an audience of 6 million conservatives (though just a quarter of the main debate, still a staggering number for a primary pre-debate) social media has been blowing up over her. In Wisconsin, for example, a Facebook page “Wisconsin for Carly Fiorina” started over the past 48 hours and is garnering a considerable following, organically at that.

It’s time for Republicans to follow Fiorina the way they’ve thus far followed Trump. Trump may be a Five Hour Energy Drink, but Carly Fiorina is an MRE.

Always good to talk about the up-and-comers for the movement.

More interviews from Wisconsin Conservative Action Conference

American Majority Executive Director Matt Batzel talks about getting involved in races big and small — plus how the ground game has shifted in the last few decades.

More Interviews from Wisconsin Conservative Action Conference:

MacIver Institute Communications Director Nick Novack talks about grassroots involvement to influence policy and how to get involved — plus what’s next for the prevailing wage law.