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Here’s my column from the Sunday, March 12 edition of the La Crosse Tribune.

The nightly news and the morning paper are great ways to keep informed. Unfortunately, they’re also great avenues for politicians to peddle their schemes for foisting new taxes on unsuspecting taxpayers.

When I heard La Crosse County wants to become a “premiere resort area,” and that this designation would generate millions to fix roads, at first I felt like I was in Oprah’s audience that day she gave everyone a new car.

In reality, the proposal for a new “Premiere Resort Area Tax,” or PRAT, is more like when you overbid on the showcase showdown on The Price Is Right and the infamous fail horn blares just before you’re escorted from the stage.

The PRAT tax, the latest tax scheme cooked up by La Crosse County officials, is really just another half-percent sales tax that could be imposed on nearly all retail businesses in the county. As with any other sales tax, this $6.6 million new tax will inevitably be paid for by consumers like you.

“But without more money we can’t fill the potholes!” the tax-and-spend crowd keeps shouting in your ear every time you turn on the TV. What they conveniently omit are their own failures to properly prioritize county spending.

La Crosse County budgeted for $136,764,518 in revenue for 2016. It planned nearly $33 million in property tax collections and $11.6 million from the county’s 0.5 percent sales tax. Yes, the county already has a sales tax onto which the proposed PRAT tax would be stacked.

According to the state Department of Revenue, 44 categories of business are subject to this tax in any jurisdiction that enacts it — bars, restaurants, gas stations, clothing retailers, hotels — even a category called “miscellaneous retail stores,” lest any devious boutique business falls through the cracks. In short, pretty much every business that a tourist could theoretically walk into would be subject to the PRAT tax.

The PRAT was conceived for the most innocent of reasons. When the summer residents of certain areas, like the Wisconsin Dells, fled for the winter, the Dells and similar tourist reliant areas needed a consistent revenue source.

Thus the Legislature invented the PRAT, but it required at least 40 percent of assessed property values in the taxed region to be composed of tourism-related businesses in order to be enacted. Thus, only six municipalities in Wisconsin currently have a PRAT tax, according to the Department of Revenue. At 5.3 percent, La Crosse County doesn’t come close to qualifying.

While our home is a beautiful region with plenty of tourist attractions, it’s hardly a “premiere resort area” according to state law. Nobody’s going to be winning a trip to La Crosse on the Wheel of Fortune.

Fortunately for the pro-PRAT crowd, there’s an exemption. After an advisory referendum, the Legislature can pass a special measure allowing the county to proceed with the final steps required to enact the tax.

Taxpayers should keep an eye on the big picture, and I don’t mean the size of their property tax bills.

The county should make better decisions with what it does with taxpayer money, and roads should clearly be a priority. However, when the county board voted to nearly double its debt in 2015 from $59 million to $110 million in one fell swoop, filling potholes or fixing cracks was hardly a priority. Instead, the county embarked on a series of expansions of its office complex downtown.

Thankfully, we have a vast network of paved, pristine bike trails around here–nary a pothole in sight. Or I suppose these days we’re supposed to call them multi-use trails.

The county is clearly taking in significant revenue, it’s just not choosing to spend it on roads. Now, county officials want to hit up hard-working taxpayers for even more. If your neighbor said they desperately needed to borrow money from you, all the while installing an in-ground pool and building a breakfast nook off their foyer, any rational person would raise an eyebrow.

A tax by any other name is still a tax. Taxpayers beware.

Read the original column here.

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I spoke with Vicki McKenna on Madison’s WIBA this afternoon about my Wednesday morning at the state’s Group Insurance Board meeting.

Boring, you say? Usually – but this time, a protester interrupted the meeting with a profanity-laced diatribe. She was angry that the board, in charge of taxpayer-subsidized insurance for state employees, no longer would cover gender reassignment surgery (once called a sex change operation) and attendant hormone therapy and other costs that transgender people incur.

Listen here.

Because the video was too explicit for radio, it’s included below. Profanity warning.

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I had the pleasure of joining Joy Cardin on Wisconsin Public Radio this morning to discuss Gov. Walker’s transportation budget.

Listen here.

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I gave up on making predictions about anything involving politics about halfway through the GOP primary. That was a good choice, because I would’ve continued to be wrong about, well, everything.

That said, Right Wisconsin asked contributors from around the state to weigh in with predictions for 2017, and I couldn’t resist. After all, the election is over. Things will fall into a predictable lull now, right?

I wrote:

I’m hopeful for a year of great progress in 2017 – real progress for the cause of smaller government and respect for the Constitution. Here are my predictions, mostly serious with a dash of tongue-in-cheek:

1. Republicans quickly move to repeal Obamacare. The plan will keep certain components of the law and it will phase out other components on a timeline of several years.

2. Trump administration cabinet secretaries begin shredding reams of Obama-era regulations. Environmentalists freak when they find out the tens of thousands of pages of paper weren’t recycled.

3. Trump’s Supreme Court appointee, Wisconsin’s very own Diane Sykes, is quickly confirmed and union agency fees are ruled unconstitutional in 2017.

4. Wisconsin Republicans are perplexed as they debate only among themselves on various issues, especially in the Senate where minority leader Jennifer Shilling has already declared that the GOP “owns this legislature.”

5. In a pre-2018 appeal to the rural Wisconsin vote, Baldwin tries to pose for a picture with a Winchester Super X, but the photo shoot is interrupted when she panics after discovering the gun is a semiautomatic autoloader.

6. The Assembly and Senate federalism committees find themselves very busy by year’s end after various federal reforms devolve considerable decision-making power back to state legislatures.

7. After realizing they are the party of free markets, Wisconsin Republicans finally repeal the Minimum Markup law.

8. Democrats decide on their candidates for Governor and AG for 2018. After hearing the news, Republicans hit Maduro’s and share cigars over their opponents’ painfully thin benches.

9. Rex Tillerson, coming off a bruising confirmation process and discovering the depth of Obama’s foreign policy mess, is found trying to escape in a dingy to a remote offshore oil rig but is caught by the coast guard and forced back to his Washington office.

10. In their quest for new transportation revenue, Assembly leaders start seriously considering tolls for the state’s interstate system.

Whole thing here.

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I talked with Vicki McKenna on her WIBA show about the Electoral College vote, which took place at the state Capitol yesterday.

I was there to cover the event and document the anticipated antics of the inevitable protesters. Possibly the two most noteworthy protester moments were when one lady screamed “We’re all going to go to war and die because of you!!!” at the electors and another who audibly thanked all the people who came from out of state to help with the protests. RPW and Electoral College chairman Brad Courtney also gives his perspective.

Listen to the podcast here.

 

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In today’s La Crosse Tribune I argue that proposals to raise the gas tax are the easiest solution, not the best solution. An excerpt:

Politicians and special interests have lined up to raise Wisconsin’s gas tax, a contentious issue that the recent election did not resolve. But the simplistic solution of a gas tax hike overlooks the complexity of the transportation funding issue and the buffet of alternative options available to legislators who are willing to be creative.

While Wisconsin’s “other season,” construction season, is quickly coming to an end, you still can’t drive more than a few miles in the state without finding a sea of orange construction barrels. There’s also the endless struggle over the contentious north-south corridor, which could put a four-lane highway through the La Crosse River Marsh.

Let’s acknowledge that there’s plenty of work to do as our region grows and demands on our infrastructure increase. Let’s also acknowledge that a gas tax won’t solve the problem. A breathtaking 28-cent-per-gallon hike — a 91 percent increase — would be needed to fully fund all of Wisconsin’s transportation priorities, according to a recent memo by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau.

By contrast, the state Department of Transportation’s 2017-2019 budget proposal does not raise the gas tax or registration fees at all. Instead, it redirects more funding to local governments, who will get the largest funding boost from the state that they’ve seen in 15 years. This proposal will help local governments carry out needed maintenance.

The DOT proposal would increase general transportation aid by $65 million, an increase of 8 percent for counties and 4.7 percent for municipalities over the last budget. That’s $14 million more for local roads and $5 million more for local bridges — the largest increase since 1998. It also boosts the highway maintenance fund to $1.7 billion, the largest that fund has ever been.

Whole thing here.

Photo credit: La Crosse Tribune
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Periodically, RightWisconsin asks the chattering class from around the state (myself included) to weigh in on important topics. This week, they asked what the focus of the next legislative session should be.

After a sweeping victory at the ballot box last week, the opportunity to crank the reform furnace to the max has never been better. Legislators should work overtime to enact free-market, limited-government reforms – and they should be willing to listen to the rural legislators who pulled off some of the most impressive victories last Tuesday and will be important to expanding the GOP’s appeal beyond the WOW counties and the Fox Valley to cement a long-term majority.

Here’s what I wrote:

The legislature should focus on, in a word, opportunity. It should expand economic opportunity by tackling suffocating occupational licensing requirements. It should extend healthcare opportunity by enacting common-sense reforms that will embrace innovative new practices (and continuing to reject Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion). It should make opportunity equally available to all citizens via dramatic tax code reform. It should ensure tomorrow’s workforce has the opportunity to learn valuable, marketable skills by continuing to pursue education reform and connecting workers with good jobs. The list could go on.

The pendulum swings predictably between conservative and liberal control, and it will swing again some day. Right now, reform conservatives have a golden opportunity to do what’s best for Wisconsin’s future.

Whole thing here.

Over at RightWisconsin, some of the state’s top conservative pundits gave soothsaying a shot, predicting what will unfold in Wisconsin in 2015.

I wrote that the Dems, under the dynamic Tate-Shilling duo, will continue their long slog through a dark, dense forest; but the GOP will be reinvigorated by a lot of newly elected talent. Also, one guy whose loss stunned a lot of people will make a resurgence.

Read the whole thing here.

Over at RightWisconsin, Chris writes,

Spiteful conservatives who truly hate liberals are out there, but they’re kept in check. Conservatism is inherently a pluralistic, intellectual, introspective philosophy. The GOP believes it’s made stronger by internal disagreement, dialogue, and primaries. That’s to our advantage, because hatred is inferior to good ideas and hard work as political tools.

The Left, by contrast, offers stale ideas that have a proven record of failure and an inherently arrogant philosophy that at its core proposes that liberals and their appointees are uniquely qualified to make decisions for others. They try to prevent partisan primaries. Their ideas can’t withstand much debate – it’s The Left that constantly seeks to shut down debate, not the right.

Whole thing here.

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The following except is from my Sunday column in the La Crosse Tribune: 

Rep. Ron Kind will probably never forget the earful he got from people on both sides of the health care debate. It was 2009 at a listening session in Whitehall, and the clock was ticking until the time the bill now known as Obamacare would become law.

A staunch defender then and now of the proposal, he even repeated President Barack Obama’s notorious promise that if you like your doctor and insurance, you can keep them. But unknown to those in that auditorium in Whitehall, Kind had 346,000 reasons to support the bill, and not a single one was in the room.

That’s how much money the congressman received during his 2008 and 2010 campaigns from the insurance, pharmaceutical and health care industries, according to OpenSecrets.org and Federal Election Commission data. Since 2012, his most recent election, Kind has enjoyed gifts totaling $211,550.

Read the rest at the La Crosse Tribune website.