The following column first appeared at the MacIver Institute.

The ground should’ve shifted beneath Madison recently when the latest Marquette University Law Poll found most Wisconsinites aren’t nearly as concerned as many have long claimed about the issue of transportation, the debate that’s plagued the state Capitol and budget process for months.

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Marquette’s poll, conducted at the end of June, found that a mere 23 percent of respondents identified transportation as their top priority. More Wisconsinites identified healthcare (25 percent) and K-12 education (37 percent) as their number one concerns.

Even more tellingly, the Marquette poll found that a slim majority – 51 percent – of those who said transportation is their highest priority would not be willing to pay higher taxes for transportation, while just 46 percent said they would pay more. By contrast, 75 percent of respondents who said K-12 education is their top concern would be willing to pay higher taxes for that priority.

When given the chance to list their top two priorities, just 42 percent of respondents in the Marquette Poll included transportation, again trailing K-12 education (63 percent) and healthcare (52 percent).

In other words, transportation isn’t that hot a topic outside the beltline, and even those who say it’s their most important issue are squishy when asked to put their money where their mouth is.

Proponents of increased revenue point to a different, privately-financed poll conducted in late May to early June by Public Opinion Strategies as evidence they’re on the right side of public opinion. That poll found that 76 percent would pay $4 more a month “if it meant creating an immediate solution to fix Wisconsin’s roads,” according to a Transportation Development Association press release, which commissioned the poll.

The poll leads respondents to a desired answer by implying a measly $4 a month in higher taxes would instantly result in every single road in the state being transformed into pristine condition. It’s very easy to respond yes to that question, but fixing state’s transportation morass isn’t nearly that simplistic.

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The TDA poll also found that voters oppose increased borrowing for transportation. But Governor Walker’s budget actually decreases road bonding to $500 million, down from $850 million in the last budget and the lowest level of bonding since the 2001-03 budget. Walker also recently offered to cut bonding to $300 million – an offer rejected by Assembly leadership.

The “revenue enhancement” crowd loves to compare transportation bonding to putting road work on the credit card, but a better comparison is buying a home. While it would be ideal to buy a house with cash, only a select few can cut a check that big.

It’s simply not reasonable to think the state can or should pay for a billion-dollar interchange project in cash.

Speaking of billion-dollar road projects, respondents to the TDA poll also oppose delaying southeast mega projects. That’s not surprising – reasonable people oppose delays in roadwork because every motorist has sat in a traffic jam surrounded by construction barrels. No one likes delays – but the fact is, the vast majority of projects throughout Wisconsin would proceed without delay under Walker’s proposal.

So while the TDA poll found large majorities generally support a small revenue increase if it would fill every pothole, seal every crack, and finish every project on time without borrowing, the Marquette poll revealed that Wisconsinites aren’t that passionate about the issue and are much more hesitant to pay more when not presented with a low-cost magic fix.

The Marquette poll contradicts claims by the “revenue enhancement” crowd that there’s an angry mob of motorists clamoring for a price hike at the pump. Proponents of a gas tax increase also like to point to spontaneous and supposedly uncoached letters that have been appearing in various newspapers around the state demanding action on road funding.

Nearly the same letter appears in newspapers around the state, all written under the same two names – Megan Delaney and Shannon O’Connell. In the Janesville Gazette, Delaney claims to be from Janesville. In the La Crosse Tribune, she says she’s from Onalaska. In the Wisconsin Rapids Daily Tribune and Stevens Point Journal, O’Connell claims to be from Wisconsin Rapids, but in papers serving Baraboo, Beaver Dam, and Portage, she says she’s from Fall Creek. In the Rice Lake Chronotype, she says she’s from nearby Barron.

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Even if there are two Megan Delaneys, one living in Janesville and one living in Eau Claire, and three Shannon O’Connells, each very concerned about our transportation infrastructure and the need for higher gas taxes, the similar language used in papers from Janesville to Rice Lake suggests something else may be afoot.

This is an astroturf campaign, the tactic of special interests that want to make it look like the rest of the state cares about their cause and sides with them.

Transportation funding has been the bull in the budget china shop for months here in Madison, but the Marquette poll and the copy-paste-repeat letter campaign suggests a different reality: Wisconsinites are not clamoring for a tax increase like some in the media are trying to portray. Real Wisconsinites are not obsessed with finding ways to increase transportation funding. Remember, according to the Marquette poll, even among those who are concerned about transportation, a MAJORITY of those transportation-concerned individuals DO NOT favor a higher gas tax or registration fee.

Legislative leaders have come up with a cavalcade of ideas for raising taxes and fees to achieve their transportation goals. They and others have floated the idea of applying the sales tax to gasoline, adding toll roads, taxing farm equipment, tacking on a new heavy truck fee, and increasing the sales tax by $1 billion – among other ideas.

The “just tax it” crowd has it backwards. Instead of using manufactured public outcry to justify wringing more money out of Wisconsin motorists, farmers, and truckers, they should support a commonsense budget that focuses on the real concerns of the majority of the taxpaying public.

To paraphrase a famous quip by Governor Lee Dreyfus, Madison is 77 square miles surrounded by reality. The heated and protracted debate over transportation funding taking place in the state Capitol is a perfect case-in-point.

The following first appeared at the MacIver Institute.

[Madison, Wis…] House Speaker Paul Ryan threw some cold water on the idea that the federal government would swoop in with more federal dollars to fund some of the state’s largest projects at a MacIver Institute event on Friday.

“Our goal is not to maximize federal spending,” Ryan said when asked about the possibility of a major spending package aimed at infrastructure. Instead, the Janesville Republican said he hopes to use fewer federal dollars with more private money to match it.

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“We need to take the federal fiscal footprint and make it smaller to leverage more of the private sector dollars,” Ryan said.

That’s bad news for Wisconsin infrastructure hawks who may have seen a ray of hope in Gov. Walker’s compromise proposal to cut transportation bonding by $200 million and link more spending on the state’s Southeast Freeway Mega Projects to a windfall of federal money.

The Department of Transportation reportedly plans to request $341 million in federal transportation money, significantly more than the state’s typical request of the feds.

Walker offered the revised plan in an attempt to break an ongoing budget impasse centering on the transportation budget. In addition to reducing bonding by $200 million, the compromise plan asked the Legislature to approve contingency bonding for the Southeast Freeway Mega Project program, projects receiving federal financial assistance and carrying a price tag of $500 million or more.

“Interstate 94 North/South, the Zoo Interchange and Interstate 94 East/West are high profile projects in southeastern Wisconsin. We propose contingency bonding that would be linked to additional federal funding for mega projects,” Walker wrote. “Wisconsin is well positioned to qualify for additional federal funding to help support mega projects.”

Sen. Alberta Darling (R-River Hills) is also hopeful more money from D.C. is in the offing. “The federal government budget comes out in August. We’re hoping there is opportunity for us to get a big investment out of the federal government,” said Darling, co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee.

Ryan’s comments hint that a substantial boost in federal funding is unlikely to materialize.

Walker’s offer – which does not increase the gas tax or vehicle registration fee, one of the governor’s core promises in the budget – doesn’t seem to have persuaded Assembly leadership, which is insisting on additional revenue for the troubled DOT.

Assembly Majority Leader Jim Steineke called Walker’s proposal a “good step in the right direction” in an interview with the MacIver News Service on News/Talk 1130 WISN, but reiterated that he still believes new revenue is needed. “We need to keep some of these projects on track…and without new revenue, that’s going to be impossible to do.”

Stevens Point Democrat peddles falsehoods while stoking hyper-partisan bonfire

 

The following column first appeared at the MacIver Institute.

The day after a crazed Bernie Sanders campaign worker fired 60 rounds in an attempt to assassinate congressional Republicans, state Rep. Katrina Shankland (D-Stevens Point) took to social media to perpetuate the kind of rhetoric that seemingly motivated gunman James Hodgkinson.

On Facebook, Shankland posted a mock “GOP Health Plan” card reading “In case of emergency: Die quickly.” The unsubtle implication is that Republicans want people to die – a sad local installment of a national messaging campaign by Democrats desperate to stop the repeal of Obamacare by any means possible.

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Her social media stunt came with a mournful missive complaining that she had been chided at the Joint Finance Committee for more over-the-top and uninformed comments about new health plan options for state employees the committee adopted.

In an effort to save $63.9 million of taxpayer money, the budget committee agreed to direct the state’s Group Insurance Board to add Consumer-Driven Health Plan (CDHP) options for state employees. CDHPs generally cover basic medical needs, but offer a lower premium in exchange for higher deductibles.

CDHPs are often paired with tax-advantaged health savings accounts (HSAs) or health reimbursement arrangements (HRAs). Employees, often supplemented by employer contributions, can put pre-tax money into an HSA to cover out-of-pocket costs and roll the account over year-to-year. Under plans coupled with an HRA, employers reimburse employees’ heath costs. The two methods can also be paired.

Both HSAs and HRAs coupled with a high-deductible plan give healthcare consumers direct control over their healthcare dollars, creating much-needed price competition in healthcare and driving prices down.

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Shankland claimed giving state employees the option of a high-deductible plan would cause people to forego life-saving care and ostensibly get sick and die. Women would skip breast exams, and people with chronic conditions would allow themselves to wither away. But in reality, CDHPs, HSAs, and HRAs are increasingly popular among large employers. In 2013, 39 percent of employers with 500 or more employees offered HRA- or HSA-eligible plans.

By Shankland’s “logic,” an awful lot of employers, then, want their employees to “die quickly.”

Rep. Mary Felzkowski, who actually owns an insurance firm, tried mixing in some facts. Employers have an innate incentive to keep their employees healthy and productive, she said. Add to that employees’ desire to keep their monthly premiums affordable amid rising healthcare costs and CDHPs come out as a pretty attractive option.

After scolding Shankland for her over-the-top fear mongering – saying she “should be ashamed” – JFC co-chair Rep. John Nygren also interjected with another inconvenient truth omitted by Shankland: the proposed CDHP option is just that – an option. No state employee is going to be forced into a health plan they don’t want. If they like their plan, they can keep it, unlike the millions of Americans whose coverage was cancelled thanks to progressives’ beloved trainwreck, Obamacare.

Wisconsin state employees will be able to choose a plan – if they think it’s best for them – with lower monthly premiums while covering out-of-pocket costs with an HSA or HRA, so they’ll still have essential health and medicine covered.

Offering more plan tiers with CDHP options will also save taxpayer money and help “bend the cost curve down” in the overall health care market.

Shankland is just plain wrong – her rhetoric displays her ignorance about the complexities of health insurance – and the timing of her “Republicans want you to die” rant betrays a jaw-dropping lack of judgment.

Lately, Democrats have been all too willing to use overheated rhetoric and outright lies to turn their health care policy differences with Republicans into a clash of “good people” versus “evil people who literally want you to die.”

Nygren was right. Shankland should be ashamed of herself – not just for her ignorance and over-the-top death mongering rhetoric on health insurance, but for her unabashed eagerness to throw gasoline on the political bonfire that nearly took a congressman’s life.

After unveiling their K-12 funding package at a press event yesterday, Assembly GOP leaders are hitting the road to gin up publicity, and they hope, support for the plan. An analysis can be found here.

Their proposal is the latest source of friction between the Assembly and Governor Walker and the Senate. Walker and the Senate have largely agreed on issues from property taxes, transportation, and Walker’s generous K-12 funding proposal.

Assembly leaders rolled out the funding plan in a press conference, then declared their intention to hit to road on a PR tour. Typically the time for such road shows – or as Sen. Leah Vukmir called it, a “dog and pony show” – would have been long passed and now would be the time for voting. However, the Joint Finance Committee cancelled both of its meetings this week, and whether the committee will meet next week isn’t certain.

By choosing to roll out their initiatives – which challenge Walker’s hard line on raising taxes both on property and gasoline – in grandiose fashion and then embark on a virtually unprecedented traveling circus to promote it, the Assembly appears to be waging a bizarre PR war against the Governor and their colleagues in the Senate.

The ongoing question is…why? MacIver Institute President Brett Healy talked about this on the Vicki McKenna Show today:

 

The following story first appeared at the MacIver News Service.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The MacIver News Service reached out to the offices of Sen. Darling and Rep. Nygren. This story will be updated if they respond to our requests for comment.

I joined Jim Schneider on VCY America TV’s inFocus for an hour-long live interview on Monday, and took calls from around the state. It was the last installment of the season.

The following report by Jessica Murphy, MacIver Institute Research Intern, first appeared at the MacIver Institute.

Here at the MacIver Institute, we’re dedicated to keeping you – the taxpayer – informed about wasteful spending at all levels of government. If you look closely, you can find questionable line items and waste in just about any arm of government. That’s why we’re skeptical of the constant drumbeat for higher taxes, bigger government, and of course, more and more spending.

Considering the UW System’s never-ending cycle of demands for more state funding, one would hope that they are responsibly spending your tax dollars before they ask for more.

The MacIver Institute decided to dive deeper into the UW system to find places where frivolous spending runs rampant and where cost savings can be found. Our first stop: course offerings in the UW System.

What we found were courses that degrade capitalism, praise Marxism and encourage a “social justice warrior” ideology. We wonder how many employers in the real world are looking to see if you took a class in how to be perpetually aggrieved or permanently pissed at the world?

Check out our list of the Top Five Wasteful Classes in the UW System to see if your school made the cut! We start with number five and make our way to the single most wasteful class in the UW System.

Read the full report here.

The following column (by me) originally appeared at the MacIver Institute.

The mainstream media seems fixated on the insider politics surrounding repealing and replacing Obamacare, but the average person couldn’t care less about parliamentary procedures and intra-party squabbling. They’re faced with an inescapable reality: healthcare is unaffordable and inaccessible thanks to Obamacare. The question they want answered is: What is the point of having insurance if you can’t afford to use it?

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The out-of-touch media coverage reminds me of the apocryphal tale about elite passengers on the Titanic arguing over the bar tab as the ship takes on water. Meanwhile, the people in steerage are stuck behind those gates trying to escape before the water reaches their heads.

The water is rising fast. In 2017, the average premium increase on the individual market in Wisconsin was 16 percent. One of the most egregiously expensive plans was in western Wisconsin, costing $51,000 per year in premiums for a couple unfortunate enough to be in their 50s with three children.

The cost of Obamacare plans is staggering. In a report last year that scoured the federal database of 2017 premiums in Wisconsin, the MacIver Institute found that a family of four would fork over an average monthly premium of $1,609.11 for a platinum plan – $19,309.32 per year – while a mid-level silver plan would cost them $1,297.02 in average monthly premiums, or $15,564.24 per year

Deductibles – the out of pocket cost of using your health insurance – also keep spiraling upward. For a top-tier platinum plan in Wisconsin, we found the average deductible is $900 for a family and $450 for an individual.

However, for a mid-level silver plan, the average deductible is $7,015.71 for a family and $3,491.92 for an individual. The average catastrophic plan deductible will be $14,300 for a family and $7,150 for an individual. That’s not cut-back-on-Starbucks money, that’s bankruptcy court, even for those earning a decent salary.

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Obamacare proponents constantly point to the number of people they claim are insured because of Obamacare. But conflating health insurance with access to actual health care is looking through rose-colored glasses. In the real world, Obamacare decimates household budgets, especially middle class families who don’t receive federal subsidies and are whipsawed by the full cost of both premiums and deductibles.

Despite the double digit price spikes and astronomical deductibles in Wisconsin, we drew the long stick compared with our neighbor across the Mississippi River. Minnesotans on the individual exchanges got stuck with premium hikes as high as 67 percent in 2017.

In response, Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton and the Legislature were forced to bail out 123,000 middle class families to the tune of an additional $313 million in taxpayer money.

“If you like your plan, you can keep your plan,” President Obama said in PolitiFact’s 2013 Lie of the Year. In Minnesota, that lie came with the added asterisk that taxpayers have to come to your rescue after finding out your state’s politicians fell for a federal “free money” scam.

Fortunately, Gov. Walker and Wisconsin’s fiscally conservative legislature were more skeptical of Obama’s P.T. Barnum routine, saving us from a similar fiscal calamity.

The Minnesota example highlights an important and all-too-often overlooked point. If you’re unfortunate enough to make too much money to receive a federal subsidy – like most middle class families in America – you’re on the hook for the entire Minnesota OCARE.jpginflated premiums plus exploding deductibles for your Obamacare plan.

Middle class families stuck with Obamacare are drowning in the exorbitant costs, while poorer families who do receive subsidies can’t even afford to see their doctor because their deductibles are so high that the coverage is little more than a piece of paper. Worse, if you’re so cash-strapped that you choose to go without coverage, the IRS slaps you with a fine.

I recently heard the story of one low-income Wisconsin family of five – a husband, a wife, and three kids under the age of 10. Their punishment for going without insurance for three months last year was more than $800.

Only a nanny-state bureaucrat in a Washington, D.C. corner office would be so divorced from reality that they’d think such punitive policies are somehow fair, right, or just. They should get out of their plush enclaves and see how their policies really affect people. Or better yet, if Congress can get its act together, Obamacare bureaucrats should be standing in an unemployment line.

Obamacare cheerleaders can go on cable news and pen all the columns they want touting the expansion of health insurance coverage, but what good is having health insurance if the deductible alone will send your family into bankruptcy?

Obamacare’s continuing price spiral is caused in part by declining competition across the nation. One-third of counties in the United States have only one insurer this year, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation. Residents in these counties will have only one choice – in other words, no choice at all.

Wisconsin’s Obamacare market lost an average of 1.39 insurers per county from 2016-2017 according to our analysis. Fourteen counties have just one or two insurance companies offering Obamacare plans in 2017.

Competition – which inevitably “bends the cost curve down,” to parody another failed Obama promise – is drying up by the week. Just this month, Aetna announced it would stop selling Obamacare policies entirely next year, citing $381 million in losses in the first quarter of 2017 and $700 million in total losses.

Aetna joins insurance giants Humana and UnitedHealth in completely withdrawing from Obamacare in the wake of massive, unsustainable losses. A network of other non-profit health insurance co-ops established by Obamacare have also folded, taking billions of taxpayer dollars down with them. Out of 23 co-ops, only 4 remain, including Wisconsin’s imperiled Common Ground Co-op, which survived only after a secret infusion of cash.

Insurers’ inability to simply break even on Obamacare plans is the result of far more older, sicker enrollees and far too few younger, healthier enrollees to balance the actuarial tables. Obama should’ve been honest with the American people and said the law depends on younger and healthier people paying exorbitant rates for coverage they don’t need in order to prop up the rickety system he and Democrats rammed through Congress.

Obamacare is in a death spiral. Though the House’s version of repeal and replace narrowly passed – certainly a cause for celebration – Congress remains mired in inaction and Americans remain stuck in quicksand. Reporters wringing their hands over CBO scores and telenovela theatrics should remember that few outside the beltway ultimately care about any of that.

There is no bailing out or patching up Obamacare. It will eventually sink to the bottom of the abyss. When it does, nobody in real America will thank the media for keeping them up to date with irrelevant process stories as they go down with the ship.

The following report by M.D. Kittle first appeared at the MacIver Institute.

A synthesized drum pounds, a single echoing shot. The camera trains on a polished Wisconsin Conservation Warden badge.

Cut to images of the wilds of Wisconsin – the Northwoods, a massive buck, a churning waterfall. With each new image the drum beat blasts. The producers of this two-minute-plus promotional video aim to quicken the blood, create a counter of natural beauty and musical tension.

Now, the money shot: A conservation warden easing her DNR patrol boat next to a sleek Crestliner. This agent means business. She does a check of the fishing boat, making sure the angler isn’t over his bag limit, looking over his license.

The Wisconsin Department of Natural Resource’s “Experience the Inside of the Outside” game warden recruitment video has the look and feel of an outdoor action movie. The promotional vehicle also spotlights how heavily armed and equipped DNR agents seem to be these days (Get out of the way of DNR’s boat, The Tim Carpenter!)

It is but one of myriad examples of a powerful state agency doing too much and wasting taxpayer money, according to a northern Wisconsin lawmaker and vocal DNR critic.

DNR officials say the video is at least a couple years old, but it’s still on the agency’s website.

Spokesman James Dick says the promotional video was produced in-house at a cost of “approximately $17,000, which could easily have been 45 to 50 thousand dollars if produced by an outside vendor.” Dick said video captured during the filming process but not used in the recruitment video has been featured in several other video projects, including recreational safety messages.

“That’s efficient use of time and helps reduce the cost of those other projects as well,” the spokesman said.

State Rep. Adam Jarchow questions the need for such elaborate productions at an agency constantly “crying, We need more money!'”

“In a time when we are trying to prioritize the spending of taxpayers’ dollars, I’m not sure this is the kind of video that is the best use of our limited tax dollars,” the Balsam Lake Republican said.

Dick said there is no warden shortage in the state now and there wasn’t “back in 2014 when the idea for a recruitment outreach program, including the video, was developed.” The DNR typically hires 10 to 15 recruits per year for various reasons – retirements, wardens leaving for other jobs, etc. What the agency noticed in 2014, Dick said, was a trend in what seemed to be a “drop-off in the numbers and quality of applicants” for the positions.

“So, an outreach plan was developed to reach a wider audience of potential recruits and introduce more people to the opportunities and benefits of become a DNR conservation warden,” the spokesman said. “The video, completed and posted in April 2015, was just a part of that outreach.”

Environmentalists and Democrats have decried moves by Gov. Scott Walker and the Republican-controlled Legislature to make the agency more efficient and more accountable to the hunters and businesses it regulates. Walker’s previous budgets have trimmed nearly $60 million from the department and did away with nearly 200 DNR positions.

“So many changes and roadblocks have tied DNR’s hands so dramatically that they’re really not able to do the job the public expects them to be doing,” Amber Meyer Smith, a lobbyist for environmental advocacy group Clean Wisconsin, told the Associated Press earlier this year.

But it seems the DNR has enough money to produce high-action warden recruitment videos and hold training events at some of Wisconsin’s higher priced hotel and conference destinations, Jarchow said. The lawmaker’s initial review has found the DNR has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in the current biennium on conferences, seminars and other training events, including the hotel accommodations that often go with them. Jarchow last week said he is waiting on an open records request to track what he asserts are unnecessary expenditures. MacIver News Service, too, is seeking similar information through an open records request.

Initial payment vouchers through the state’s billing system show one statement for nearly $12,000 at Wisconsin’s Dells’ Chula Vista Resort.

Dick said he could not speak to the training expenditures until the financial information becomes available.

The DNR spokesman insists the recruitment video has been successful, noting a class of 13 qualified candidates was hired last year.

“The feedback we’ve received on the video (individual and conservation partners) has been outstanding,” Dick said, adding that the recruiting website receives approximately 1,000 hits weekly and increases “considerably” during the conservation warden hiring processes.

Jarchow isn’t sold.

“This reaffirms my opinion that the DNR does way too much, and this is why earlier this year I had proposed splitting the DNR,” the lawmaker said. “Now we find out in addition to all of its duties that it also creates videos. “It just reaffirms that this is an unwieldy agency that seems to have no boundaries.”

The following column originally appeared at the MacIver Institute.

At long last, the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee will have to make a decision on whether to adopt a self-funded insurance system for state employees’ health insurance. The bad news is that Governor Walker’s proposal to make the switch and save $60 million is all but dead in the state Legislature.

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On Monday, the Group Insurance Board submitted contracts with third-party administrators for a self-insurance system. Those contracts spell out in black and white at least $60 million in savings over the biennium – that’s on top of $22 million in possible savings if Obamacare and its obscene tax burden is not repealed. With the contracts in hand, JFC now has about three weeks to convene a meeting and make a decision.

“Since taking office, we have sought to reform government to make it more accountable and cost effective to the hard-working taxpayers,” Walker said in a statement on Monday. “Moving to self-insurance is one of these reforms and we urge the Joint Committee on Finance to approve these contracts and invest these savings into the classroom.”

Unfortunately, it appears that JFC is prepared to leave this windfall for taxpayers on the table. Why? We’ve heard a carousel of arguments against self-insurance that have all stalled, but the final stand for self-insurance naysayers might boil down to pure politics.

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Early arguments by opponents of self-insurance breathlessly claimed that the move would gut state workers’ health insurance plans. Ignoring how out of step these lavish plans are compared with their private sector counterparts, it quickly became clear this doom-and-gloom claim had no basis in reality – especially after the actual proposals were received.

Next, the self-insurance doom-mongers portrayed the switch as a journey down a long, dark tunnel. The fact is that there’s nothing mysterious or scary about self-insurance; Wisconsin already partly self-insures its dental plan and its pharmacy plan.

At least 20 states completely self-fund their state employee health plans, including Minnesota, which moved to 100 percent self-funded insurance in 2002. Also, 46 states use self-insurance in some way.

In the upper Midwest, no states are fully-insured, meaning none completely rely on private insurance and all are self-funded at least in part.

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More than 90 percent of all large employers, companies that employ 5,000 or more employees, also use self-funded insurance. To say adopting this system would be risky and experimental is diametrically untrue. In fact, it would be routine and economical.

Critics then moved on to prophesizing that the switch could pose a potentially catastrophic financial risk to the state. True, the state would be directly assuming the risk rather than putting insurance companies in the middle. But barring an unprecedented epidemic sweeping state office buildings, the risk factor has been greatly hyped.

The risk would actually be low because of the sheer size of the state’s workforce, which means total annual payouts would be predictable and fluctuations minimal, according to insurance expert Dean Hoffman, who recommended the switch to the Governor’s Commission on Government Reform last May.

Legislative Republicans are also uncertain about the future of Obamacare, which imposes a variety of taxes and fees on the insurance marketplace that would be absorbed by taxpayers in Wisconsin.

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JFC co-chair Sen. Alberta Darling cited Wisconsin’s relatively low premium increases at a Tuesday press conference. “Why would we want to shift out of that and into uncertainty at this point?” she asked.

Caution isn’t unreasonable, but moving to self-insurance would actually protect Wisconsin taxpayers from uncertainty. Taxpayers should be the focus, not protecting the platinum health insurance of government employees.

Obamacare hits the insurance market, and thus taxpayers, in two big ways. The reviled Obamacare Cadillac Tax applies an exorbitant 40 percent tax on all employee benefits exceeding $10,200 annually for an individual, $27,500 for a family.

Sadly, the AHCA healthcare bill that passed the House last week retains the Cadillac Tax, although it pushes off the starting date of the Cadillac tax until 2026. Self-insurance would help mitigate that cost by eliminating the middle man in the current setup.

Then there’s the insurer tax, a special levy charged to private insurance companies that’s tied to the insurer’s premiums collected in the previous year. In 2016, the insurer tax ranged from 1.5 to 3.5 percent, with future rates yet to be decided. As the state’s deputy commissioner of Employee Trust Funds, Lisa Ellinger, pointed out last year, the state pays out about $1.4 billion annually in premiums.

Self-funded insurance systems are exempt from this tax. Quick cocktail-napkin math shows that switching to self-insurance would conservatively save tens of millions on top of the $60 million outlined in the contracts.

Despite ongoing uncertainty about Obamacare, keeping the status quo is precisely the wrong decision. Assuming Obamacare’s taxes are here to stay, seizing the $60 million moment would be responsible management of taxpayer dollars. Keeping the status quo and hoping Washington politicians do the right thing would not.

Instead, legislative leaders are considering “finding” $60 million in savings within the existing system. “We’re not saying no to savings. If we do that we’re going to find a similar amount of savings in some way, shape or form,” said JFC co-chair Rep. John Nygren on Tuesday.

If that’s actually possible, it begs the obvious question: how much taxpayer money has been wasted by not finding these supposed savings years ago?

With most of the arguments against self-insurance out of gas, opponents’ final stand may betray the truth: self-insurance is good policy, but protecting the status quo is even better politics. Or protecting the status quo is better politics for any politician worried more about the next election and less about taxpayers. Unfortunately for taxpayers, just about every politician in Wisconsin fits in that category.

The fact that self-insurance is good policy is evident from how many states and large employers use it successfully.

The likely end result is that Wisconsin taxpayers will get a watered-down half-measure that goes through the motions of saving taxpayer money while keeping the bloated and expensive existing system in place. That’s bad public policy.